More Than Words


“Testimony” is a word steeped in religious and legal overtones. Church-goers know it traditionally as an emotionally charged story to convict people to get right with the Lord. It usually involves sexual sin, out of wedlock pregnancies, STDs, drugs, rehabilitation, and everything else that defines a free for all society. And on the internet, you can read “How I Turned Sexual Temptation Into A Blessing” and “Delivered From Sexual Addiction.” The same soap operas can be heard in churches today. Should we take it for granted today that everybody has had sex by 14 and that the idea of chastity can only provide punch lines on late night TV? That’s the message teenagers are getting. They are being tossed words that provide them with only entertainment. Unfortunately, many parents think sex-laced, broken but forgiven drama is the only way to keep them on the straight and narrow. If you didn’t know better, you would think Tom T. Hall was leading every church service with “Faster horses. Younger women. Older whiskey. More stories.” Testimonies are certainly effective witnessing tools. But it seems today that the Christianity presented to the world is less about saying yes to Christ and modeling our lives after him and more about recovering from tragedy and having a story to tell and about making sure not to make anybody feel uncomfortable. As blogger Libby Anne recently wrote:

“I was one of those good little evangelical children who listened to speakers talk of pasts full of drugs and sex and their changed lives and wished that I could have a “testimony” as powerful as theirs. Christianity had the power to change lives, to completely transform people—or at least, that’s what I was taught. And those whose lives reflected that—those who were in the past addicts or criminals but whose lives were changed by Jesus—were the proof of the transforming power of Jesus.”

We have indeed reached a low point when purity is not considered a powerful testimony or the transforming power of Jesus, when Christianity requires a fall into the depths of depravity to be authentic. For youth groups, hearing about another person’s sexual exploits often plants the seeds of what they’re missing in their impressionable minds. And when these “times of sharing” come around, it is only those who engaged in premarital intercourse or other illicit activity who come forward to rehash their sordid tales — not those with no sexual history. But it’s about more than words. Let’s face it. There are not too many teenagers who are going to get up and tell their non-story of waiting on sex after hearing the details of sexacapades in the city from their peers – because it leaves them even more self conscious about being different. Not many are going to walk out on a limb of chastity in such an environment– especially guys. They will always see personal testimonies of sexual behavior as sexual conquests, just with a little guilt written on their faces. Even worse, experience-based testimonies reinforce the widely accepted belief that fornication and adultery are inevitable for everybody and that you get a lot of attention when you do “stumble.” Breaking news for the church — Teenagers love attention. Most don’t get it at home.

These stories also validate the error of visually-based ethics. “I know it when I see it” replaces all standards set forth in the Bible. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart would feel quite at home today. They also present men as being inherently unable to control their desires and reinforce the belief that women are objects as well as victims. “Well, I met this guy” becomes as predictable as the doxology. In these fallen and repentant testimony roundtables, purity is presented as an ideal, a “project” to keep working on, something to dream about – as a way to prevent STD’s, teen pregnancies, and to uphold family (i.e., church) honor. But that’s what happens when the world comes into the church. The spiritual nature of sex gets detached from the physical body, the logic behind waiting is never addressed, everybody gets homogenized into a nice rainbow, and the truths presented in the Bible become hazy relativity. After hearing Brother Mike retell his alcohol binge out on the streets with a different prostitute every night and waking up in an emergency room after falling into a gutter, the definitions of “purity” and “self control” become quite hazy indeed.

Premarital sex today is glorified in all shapes and forms; from the bedroom to the boardroom, from the streets to the pulpits. But testaments are about more than words. They’re about more than what we do. They’re about more than what we see. They’re also about what we don’t do in the process of reflecting Christ’s love in our lives and respecting the dignity of other human beings and God’s creation. They’re about remaining faithful if you accepted Christ as a child and about the capacity to serve as mothers and fathers for those children who don’t have them. I encourage everybody on the journey of chastity before marriage to stand up and let your voices be heard and church leaders to step away from the world and reconsider the witness of inexperience, the witness of something more than words.

On a personal note, I thank Kerri and The Coffee & Christ Show in Huntsville, AL for asking me to share my story. You can watch it here:

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