Saturday, 23 June 2007

Sex and the Single Christian

There was a story in the news recently about a 16 year old girl who has been trying to take her school to the High Courts for discrimination against Christians. She claims that the school's banning of her wearing a purity ring as a symbol of her faith-based commitment to celibacy is an impingement of her right to freedom of religious expression.

I'll make no secret of the fact that I'm a committed Christian, and I support the church's teachings of 'chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within'. But I think the school has acted perfectly reasonably in this instance, and that the girl is wrong to pursue her case to this extent.

Don't get me wrong - good on her for having principles and being willing to be open about them. I don't know if I could have been so forthright at her age. But there are many values that Christians are called to uphold, aside from sexual purity. Obedience and respect, for example. In Romans 13:1-7, for example, Paul teaches that Christians should submit to governing authorities. His reasoning is that authorities have been instituted by God and thus rebellion against them is rebellion against God. Now, I'm not saying your average head teacher is God-appointed (can you imagine the kind of ego-trip that might induce?!). Nor am I suggesting the St Paul had school uniform policies in mind when he wrote that. Or that any kind of political protest is wrong, if we see authorities acting unjustly. But the passage goes on to say:

Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.
I think the underlying message here is that respect and submission to authority where its due. If a school has a uniform policy then you don't disobey that without very good reason. I don't think wanting to wear a purity ring constitutes a very good reason. If the school banned her from discussing her values with other people, or publicly ridiculed her for her beliefs, then that would be an issue that needs addressing. But not wearing a purity ring doesn't diminish from one's commitment to chastity.

Wearing a purity ring isn't an integral part of Christian faith expression. Even wearing a cross or crucifix isn't required in order to be a 'good Christian', although it's sufficiently common that it is a universally recognised outward sign of faith and, as such, I felt that the case of the BA employee who was told to remove hers was a slightly different matter. I hope that the girl stays true to her proclaimed values, and isn't being coerced into any of this by other people. I hope that she still finds the courage to stand by her views without the reassurance of physical symbols. But I also hope that she and her family have the grace and humility to stand down on this challenge and divert their energies to more pressing concerns.

7 comments:

Custard. said...

So do you support kids being allowed to wear muslim headscarves, even though it isn't an essential part of their faith but is rather a cultural statement?

Ginger said...

There are two aspects of religious dress here:

There are items that are required to be worn/carried by the rules of a religion. That would include the silver bangle worn by Sikhs. I had assumed that the hijab also came under this heading, but I’m happy to be corrected.

Then there are items that are perhaps not expressly required by a religion, but are so widely adopted that it is reasonable to expect them not to be suppressed, as such a move could be considered representative of suppressive of that belief system . I would include crucifixes in that category. And the hijab if it didn’t fit into the above category.

If a woman wears hijab because of teachings about modesty in personal dress, then to ask her to remove it would be to make her feel immodest. The headscarf is actually assisting her in sticking to that teaching. If a Christian wears a purity ring as an outward symbol of his or her commitment to chastity, removing that ring doesn’t make him/her less chaste. It doesn’t prevent him/her from talking about his/her commitment. It doesn’t aid him/her in keeping that commitment in any way.

So yes, I do think they are non-comparable issues. From a Christian perspective there is also the issue of the nuances of witness. We should act as witness to our faith and not be too scared to stand up for our values. That kind of thinking may well prompt people to start wearing a purity ring in the first place. (I should make it clear that I have nothing against the notion of the rings in general, just the details of this case). But we are also warned against ostentatious displays of faith (Mt 6: 1-18), so there’s a delicate balance to be struck between the two.

I think there was no harm in her wanting to wear one. I think that, if challenged by the school, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to explain her reasons and see if it affected their decision. But in the event of the school sticking to its uniform policy, that should have been the end of it. If the girl and her family are so very concerned about religious persecution and right to freedom of religious expression, then I would rather they channelled their energies elsewhere. What about Christians who are actively persecuted for simply being Christians? What about women whose commitment to chastity and fidelity is violated by a culture of rape and sexual violence?

Custard. said...

I agree that the hijab is on the same level in this as a crucifix, and that it's difficult to see purity rings as at the same level, except maybe in some bits of the US. I'd also say that schools should be able either to allow or ban stuff like that.

As I understand it, the hijab is a cultural application of the commandment about modest dressing. But as with bits of Christianity, it's easy for cultural applications to get confused with absolute dogma (e.g. the attitude of the Southern Baptist Church to alcohol, or many presbyterians to music with an audible beat).

I also do agree that there's an issue with whether the purity ring is essentially showing off. That depends on individual details of the case.

Ginger said...

What do the Presbyterians have against music with a beat?!

Custard. said...

It's difficult to explain, largely because it doesn't make sense...

Here's an example.

I suspect it stems from what is known as the Regulative Principle, which was a favourite among some of the radicals in the Reformation (rather than mainstream reformers like Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, Hooker). The idea is that if something is not explicitly commanded by Scripture, it is wrong.

How such people manage
a) to go to the toilet or use a computer
b) not to notice that the Bible does command the use of all kinds of instruments (e.g. Ps 150)
somehow escapes me.

It's worth adding that there are plenty of sensible Presbyterians too.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I entirely agree here. For this girl, it would seem, the purity ring was an important expression of her faith. Maybe for you and me, it isn't, but for her I think it was.

Maybe she was showing off - she wouldn't be the first person to do that with the symbols of their faith. But maybe, for her, purity is the aspect of her faith that is, for now, the most important thing. I am not sure I would want to judge that, especially not simply because for me it isn't.

SC

Ginger said...

I'm not saying I have a problem with purity rings as a general concept. If people find that they help them, then fair enough. But to argue that being asked to remove one, when the school's uniform policy was presumably already clear in not allowing that kind of jewellery, is an offence to human rights strikes me as being way over the top.

As I've said: I'm not implying she shouldn't ever wear one. I'm not saying that she shouldn't have tried to explain to the school why she was wearing one. I *am* saying that she should have stopped at that.

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