In June, the Washington Post reported on an interview with Olympic hurdler, Lolo Jones, who revealed that at age 29 she remains a virgin. Jones remarked:
"It's just a gift I want to give my husband. But please understand this journey has been hard. There's virgins out there and I want to let them know that it's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. Harder than training for the Olympics. Harder than graduating from college has been to stay a virgin before marriage. I've been tempted, I've had plenty of opportunities."
As Jones spoke, the interviewer had a hard time restraining laughter and at points simply didn't. The interview went viral and comments ranged from mockery to admiration, depending on the perspective.
Lolo Jones is a marvelous Olympic hurdler who learned her trade the hard way -- by overcoming difficult hurdles in her life. She is determined to carve out for herself a very different future, and her Christianity is fueling her resolve. It is a sad commentary on our culture that sexual purity is regarded as archaic, naïve and joke fodder for late night television. Jones and others, such as NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, are to be commended for their principled stances. We all know that Christians have their work cut out for them to counteract prevailing American sexual mores that reduce male/female relationships to sex and little else.
But there is so much more to say. Christianity is not confined simply to premarital virginity. On the one hand, any single Christian who commits to sexual purity in obedience to Christ should be esteemed. On the other hand, the so-called "virginity movement," helpful as it may be, is not nor should it be equated with Christianity. To do so sells the Gospel short and leads to all sorts of false notions of where young women find their true worth and what young Christian men should prize in them. Here's what I mean.
A message of purity and abstinence, as important as this is for young women (young men too) comes too late for huge numbers of young American girls, including those in church pews. It is utterly devastating to the one-in-four girls who is sexually abused before she reaches her 18th birthday. We live in a world where by the age of 18 an estimated 70 percent of girls have had sex at least once and not always by choice, where globally countless women and girls are in the grips of sex traffickers, where an appalling 48 women are raped every hour in the Congo, where within our own borders sexual freedom has opened the door for young women to be as sexually promiscuous as men, and where some girls with the very best of intentions succumb to temptation. I grieve all of this, but do not for a second imagine that any of this means a woman has less to offer a husband or that in any sense it diminishes her worth.
The Gospel message for women and girls is bigger than moral purity. It is a life-changing message that secures every young woman's place in God's Story and leaves no woman or girl behind. Against the changing winds of culture and the other voices that beckon to her, this message secures her identity as a woman as well as her purpose and meaning for the road ahead, no matter what she sees when she looks in the rearview mirror.
Every girl, virgin or not, bears God's image in her soul. God created his daughters and his sons to be his image bearers. His vision from creation was for his daughters to be his representatives in this world -- to speak and act on his behalf. This gives significance to every aspect of a girl's life and means, of course, that God wants every one of his daughters to know him in deep ways, to love what he loves, and to invest her life to advance his kingdom wherever she may find herself.
Every girl, virgin or not, is a warrior for God's good purposes on earth. When God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper [ezer] for him" (Genesis 2:18), he was establishing the fact that his sons and daughters need each other. The Hebrew word ezer (rhymes with razor) is a military term used 16 out of 21 times in the Old Testament for God as the Help of his people. As ezer-warriors, God's daughters join their brothers in the fierce battle against the Enemy. The mission of God in the world requires, by God's own statement, the joint efforts of his sons and daughters. They are to be a Blessed Alliance in taking back territory the Enemy has seized -- both within marriage and also as members of the Body of Christ.
This vision raises the bar for every young woman by calling her to use her mind, as well as her heart, soul and strength, in pursuit of a deeper relationship with God and of the wisdom and courage to represent him. With Jesus as her North Star, she sees what needs to be done and does it. When she sees suffering and injustice in God's world (as do so many young women today), she acts as God's image bearer and takes responsibility to right the wrongs and to share the good news of Jesus.
I'm thrilled that Christians like Lolo Jones are in the Olympics. But what she has to offer a husband is more precious than her virginity or a gold medal. As a bearer of God's image and as an ezer-warrior for God, she will be a blessed ally to a husband as together they engage the challenges of life in a fallen world.