Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Communal Chastity

The past couple of week I've been re-reading Lauren Winner's, "Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity". It's a very good book although it is a tad cerebral, but I think it's justified considering the vulgarity with which our culture treats sexual topics. One of the final chapters is on the importance of Communities of Chastity (chastity here being defined as the discipline of keeping sex in appropriate spiritual contexts, hence every Christian practices chastity). In this chapter she discusses celibate communities, but the principles are very appropriate and applicable for non-celibate Christian communities as well.

For monks and nuns, the practice of celibacy begins with a vow. The men and women of religious orders come before their community and profess celibacy to God. Their community helps sustain their sisters and brothers in their vow. Somehow the True Love Waits pledge cards signed in adolescence only dimly approximate this. Perhaps the cards seem flabby because they are so often misunderstood as an individual pledge of the will, and not as a promise made by and with the entire Body of God...

The essential insight of celibate members of religious orders is that transformation-- including but not limited to, the disciplining of sexual desires-- happens in a community. Without the presence and commitment of the community, it would be impossible for people to change; it would seem naive to expect people to be different from their parents, or different from what their culture tells them to be. So like most spiritual disciplines, chastity is better practiced in community than alone. It is not enough for a Christian to decide to be chase; the church must be a community that works toward chastity, a community whose structures and rhythms make chastity seem plausible and attainable.

Here, we can take our cue not only from monasteries, but also from twelve-step groups; Alcoholics Anonymous creates a place where radical change of behavior makes sense because it creates a community. It sustains relationships that are organized around the vision of changed lives. The church, too, needs to be a community where chaste behavior makes sense, where people commit to a shared vision of lives transformed by the gospel, where transformation is expected.

To me, this embodied the concept I've been trying to develop in describing the blessing of my friends. I still cannot fathom how grateful I am to have been graced with people throughout my life who have served as these communities of Christian accountability for me. When I was living in environments where there was little Christian (or moral) influence, I would call my friends just to reinforce our beliefs and our shared goal towards holiness.

Communal support and accountability are critical in walking the Christian path, whether in the area of chastity, workplace ethics, physical wellness, or relationship health. I am eternally grateful for the blessing of community and true friends I have had who've helped me keep the vision of our common goal throughout my life.

No comments: