Am I being “soft on sin”?

In the aftermath of my post on idolizing virginity and Sarah Bessey’s post on being damaged goods, there are some who say we do not have a “holy hatred” for sin. We are told that we are “soft on sin” and, as one commenter said to me, she prays I will one day cherish the virginity God helped me keep.

I want to make something perfectly clear: what we are rejecting is a culture of mass shaming, making a public example of God’s precious children and scaring them with fearful rhetoric. What we are rejecting is the fetishizing and idolizing and objectifying of virginity. 

Rejecting a culture of shame is NOT being “soft on sin” it is being kind to sinners.

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? 
Romans 2:4 (NASB)

The Greek word translated as “kindness” in this verse is: χρηστός. It is the same word used in St. Matthew 11:30 to describe Jesus’ yoke as easy. In Ephesians 4:32, this same word describes Christian behavior: be kind to one another. In I Peter 2:3, this same Greek word is used to describe the Lord as gracious.

Kind, easy, gracious. This is the heart of God toward us. 

The Biblical usage for χρηστός is mild, pleasant, benevolent–it is the exact opposite of harsh, sharp and bitter.

Here’s the truth: nobody came to a true, authentic understanding of grace and forgiveness through hard, sharp, bitter words and actions. Nobody came to true repentance through threats, intimidation and fear-tactics.

It is the kindness of God which leads to repentance. It is the graciousness of our Lord which draws us closer. It is the the easiness of Jesus’ yoke which makes us His devoted followers.

Kindness, grace and easiness make us feel safe, loved and cherished–IN SPITE of what we do or don’t do. This χρηστός of God is what frees us from the shackles of fear and shame.

As long as we are bound by shame and crouching in fear, we are unable to experience this shame-free life. And as long as Christians shame and scare each other, we actually hinder the freedom of Christ in others’ lives.

Yes, virginity is wonderful. I value it. I tell my children to wait until they are married to have sex. But my husband didn’t love me more because I was a virgin. He loved me because I was me.

Our dignity and worth as human beings has NOTHING to do with what we do or don’t do.

I am not my first kiss. Or my lack thereof.

I am not my virginity. Or my lack thereof.

I am not my hymen. Or my lack thereof.

I am not my sex life. Or my lack thereof.

I am precious because I exist. 

WE are precious simply because WE.ARE.HERE.

  • Mistie Holler

    People only say things like that because they don’t believe the grace of God is sufficient and think it has to be backed up by scare tactics from controlling pastors.

  • Mistie Holler

    I don’t know if you take requests Elizabeth ;-), but I would really like to read about or hear from you or a commenter about ‘soul ties’. I was told that I am somehow mystically joined to some guy I met when I was a teenager and whose name I am hazy on (I was pretty drunk) because we slept together. I don’t understand it. I mean, if I can go for literally years without thinking about this person, if I don’t even remember his name and wouldn’t even recognise him if I saw him again, if it all happened years ago and I barely remember, if I couldn’t pick him out of a lineup and I haven’t experienced any spooky events that I could only attribute to being ‘soul-tied’ to a stranger – how can such a thing exist? I don’t get it. I know it’s based on 1 Cor 6 :16 –17 “Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.”. I’m inclined to think, though, that Paul was making a rhetorical point and that, since the Bible says it’s God who joins two people together and not man, sex alone without vows made in the Presence of God can’t join two souls together. I mean, Genesis says that a man will leave his mother and father and unite to his wife, so doesn’t that mean that there has to be a leaving and a joining and a commitment to setting up a new family with this person – not just a drunken fumble? And didn’t Jesus say ‘what God has joined let no man separate’? Well, God didn’t ‘join’ me to Random Bar Guy. I did. Alcohol and poor judgement and teenage rebellion and disfunctionality did. So how can I be ‘soul-tied’ to this person? Sorry if it seems like I’m trying to hijack your post. It’s just that ‘soul ties’ was such a hurtful, shaming thing for me, and my ex used to tell me how awful it was that he had to one day marry someone who was ‘soul-tied’ to someone else.

    …also, thanks for addressing the issue of purity. It’s such an important topic.

    • KatR

      Based on that teaching, a rape survivor is “soul tied” to her rapist, which is a horrendous, evil idea.

      Like you said, there is so much more that goes into a marriage/commitment to another person besides what two bodies do. The soul-tie teaching sounds like one in a long line of things told to people to try and scare or control them into getting the desired behavior.

      • http://twitter.com/dinaenlacocina Dina

        Based on that teaching, a rape survivor is “soul tied” to her rapist, which is a horrendous, evil idea.”

        Whoa. I have seriously NEVER considered this idea before. I haven’t heard anyone use that term lately, but I am sure that as a “goody two shoes” teenager & college student, I believed the soul-ties view because I wasn’t mature enough to believe or understand otherwise. I would never have thought about it from that point of view, but now I see it as extremely damaging & horrifying. And now I can see that it’s damaging regardless of whether there was rape, it gives waaaay too much significance to our sexual choices and leaves no room for grace. “Oh, sure, you can have a second virginity! But there will always be those soul ties!” Ick.

        Thank you for your thoughts.

    • RoboPA

      The “soul tie” idea, which I heard a lot when I traveled in christian circles, is one that needs to be put to rest as ancient and outdated, just like most of Paul’s others ideas of the human psyche and sexuality.

    • http://heathershodgepodge@blogspot.com HeathersHodgepodge

      Yeah, that was one of the things that I heard growing up too, and even in light of the fact that I was raped. In fact, some members of my fundy church believed in the OT teaching that rape victims should marry their rapists. I don’t doubt that people can have “soul ties” to the person they sleep with, but a drunken haze or rape doesn’t lend itself to such an event (thank God!). I think Paul was trying to emphasize the fact that sex isn’t something that should be done casually, and some Christians have mistakenly interpreted it literally.

      • Mistie Holler

        “In fact, some members of my fundy church believed in the OT teaching that rape victims should marry their rapists.”
        Wow. I’m so sorry you went through a rape and faced that kind of nonsense.

    • Handsfull

      I have heard teaching about soul ties, but was also taught that soul ties can be broken. They are permanent, until you break them.

      • Mistie Holler

        But if they do exist then how can they be broken? Is it done in a verbal renunciation ceremony? The church I went to as very into saying loudly ‘I renounce you, spirit of such-and-such’, and ‘I break the curse of blah blah blah over my life’, etc. For example, one time we had to stand round in a circle and hold hands and say ‘I renounce you, spirit of lesbianism!’, which seemed ridiculous to me because I thought that I HAD been ‘renouncing the spirit of lesbianism’ all my life by just not being a lesbian. Saying out loud that I have renounced the spirit of lesbianism hasn’t made me any less inclined towards lesbianism than I was already*. And there was always a question mark over whether you had quite renounced things enough. I was prayed over several times because I had sex once. I had to repent a number of different times, I guess to just make sure none of the residual sinfulness still clung to me. I wonder to myself: where’s the grace in that? Where’s the acknowledgement that Jesus is capable of washing away all sin in His sight instantly? Why did I have to always say these magic incantations about renouncing things?
        The more I think about it, the more I think all the mystical soul tie stuff must be hokum. One of my heroes is the Victorian feminist Josephine Butler. She opened her house up to working class women who wanted to leave prostitution. She took them in and helped them find new lives – and she never once mentioned their sexual histories. No renouncing spirits, no breaking soul ties, no spiritual warfare with lustful spirits… just compassionate love and practical care. And she changed the face of the nation.
        *To be clear, I think homosexuality is natural and normal and healthy.

        • Anonymous

          I think you are on your way! If you believe in Jesus Christ as the son of God and that his sacrifice on the cross atoned for all of your sins, past, present, future, then look at the grace of God, not some set of rules that do nothing to sanctify you. So many churches/people put so much emphasis on the Rules of Paul, like the Jews did of the Torah and Talmud. Paul wrote to specific people at a specific time about specific issues. I don’t believe for a moment that his letters are now taking the place of the 10 Commandments. If we are no longer under the Law, that includes any arbitrary law that humans devise to ensure you ‘get to heaven’. Live in the freedom that the blood of Christ has purchased for you.

  • deodate.wordpress.com

    Very well said! There are two ways to obey – one is fear and the other is love. God wants our love, that’s why he gives us free will.

  • http://twitter.com/waywardson23 James

    Sounds like someone is into works righteousness (Pelegianism).

  • JessieLeigh

    I don’t mean for this to sound as harsh as it’s likely to, but here goes… I honestly think people say such things for two main reasons:

    1) People want to believe that “the other guy’s sin” is worse than their own.

    2) When a particular sin is not “theirs” and is unfamiliar, it’s super easy to demonize it.

    • amanda

      Well said!

    • Anonymous

      Amen. We should hold no right to judge someone just because they sin differently than we do.

  • Susan

    Amen.

  • RoboPA

    You’re only being “soft on sin” in the eyes of those who are still beholden to “original sin” and penal atonement as “the Story”. If instead we view our lives with “original blessing”, than the problem really is our human brokenness, not some finite offense that becomes infinite in the eyes of an angry God.

    • http://kansasbob.com Kansas Bob

      Original blessing! I love that RoboPA!

  • TheresaEH

    AMEN!! I will admit I was was very shocked at what I read in the comments and various links about the CRUEL actions done to people (mostly women) in religious and church circles. LOVE the sinner, HATE the sin.
    I thank our Blessed Lord that he instituted the sacrement of reconcilation. We are frail, we fall. God is NOT some nasty old guy ready to hurl lightening bolts down on us when we mess up. Think of the parable of the prodgical son.

  • Christine

    I think it’s telling that those who espouse shame tactics like this promote the value of virginity. Not chastity, not choosing to not have sex before marriage. It fits right in with Libby-Anne’s comments on how this lets the threat of rape be such a powerful tool: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2013/01/the-threat-of-rape-is-a-tool-for-controlling-women.html . If you want to convince me that all the shame and judgement is about living up to a purity code, rather than about control, about who is out and who is in, then make it about who you are, and what you choose, not who you were, what you chose, and what was done to you.

  • Rachel

    Us vs. them. That is always the danger. When humans begin to look for ways to distinguish themselves as better than others they begin to be harsh, critical and judgmental. Love is lost. I was better because I did this or my child did that. They are worth less because they did this or didn’t do that. Our most favorite area to do this is in the arena of sex… and we lose sight of the reason we came to God to begin with, love. Love by God for his creation. Love for each other. Love for a person, as inherently valuable. The only way that Christ ever told us we would be known as Christians would be through our love for each other.

  • Aprille

    I LOVE this post! well said EE!!!

  • anonee moose

    “(You) will one day cherish the virginity God helped (you) keep”. Does this mean that God didn’t love me enough to help me keep mine? I was raped. Is this what she means? Seriously?

    • Katharine

      No, that’s not what I meant. Seriously. I believe your purity was not taken.

      • anonee moose

        Perhaps, then, you should think before you type. Purity culture, and those that speak on its behalf, is devastating to those like me. The abused. The mistreated. The raped. If virginity is truly the most precious gift from God, according to your logic, he didn’t care! He didn’t “let me keep” mine!

        • Anonymous

          Unfortunately, we humans are klutzy. We write what we think and feel, to the best of our ability. We don’t think about the effect our words can have on every other person. We can’t imagine all situations. And we are only writing of ourselves, trying to get others to understand *us*.

          Because we live in a fallen world, we can’t take to heart everything that has happened to us. It is not ‘punishment’ if it is bad. It doesn’t mean God doesn’t care. He knows your whole life, from birth to death. If you are willing to work with him, he will cause your pain to result in the greatest good. Not just for you, but for others. I am learning this as I am studying Genesis through BSF this year. What a blessing! Otherwise, that first sentence of this paragraph is just a bunch of Christianese that makes no sense.

          I read all these comments with something like curiosity. I grew up in the Catholic Church, but 50 years ago, that just meant Mass and CCD. Apply to life? What the heck does that mean? I came of age during the sexual revolution. I didn’t become a disciple of Christ until around age 50. Funny thing is, after all these years, I now feel like I was a virgin when I married my 2nd husband. I know that sounds stupid. But the love that we share now is that deep. Its like it has wiped out the past (even though it is all in my memory). No. The forgiveness of God has wiped out the past. All praise and thanks to him as he offered his son up for the likes of me!

  • http://www.lara-thinkingoutloud.blogspot.com/ Lara

    Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes!!!! Thank you for your strength!!

  • Katharine

    I wrote that I prayed that you would one day cherish the purity God helped you to keep because you really seem to be
    so angry at the shame and blame of the purity culture that I’ve wondered if you regret that you didn’t get to mess around.

    I wanted to expound on why I think you should cherish it, but the truth is I am ashamed. I am ashamed of the countless men
    I’ve slept with, the std’s and abortions. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this shame. I am forgiven, and I forgive myself, but the natural outcome of sin remains, true shame that brings repentance.

    I actually envy you in some way. My parents were completely lax about sex, even to the point of putting me on birth control and helping to pay for an abortion. I’m not sure which is worse abuse.
    I don’t agree with the means your parents used to keep you pure, but I see grace through it.
    Even in the midst of it somehow God was there preserving something that is very precious. All things work together for the good of those who love Him..

    • Kreine

      I think perhaps you are conflating shame and regret. We all have things we wish we had done differently, had we known then what we know now. That is regret.

      Shame makes us feel worthless, and that is not part of salvation. Christ’s sacrifice shouts to us that we are precious, we are worthy in His eyes. Repentance is restoration and there is no room for shame there.

      Your sins are not greater than my sins, or anyone’s sins.

      The shackles of your shame are loosed and you do not have to remain prisoner to your past. Behold, He has made all things new! Walk freely into the restoring grace of God, my sister.

      • Patricia

        So lovely! And so loving. Amen.

    • Handsfull

      I am in awe of your bravery in sharing your story like this. I can understand why you feel the way you do about EE’s story… I guess the point is that both extremes are bad and do damage. You experienced one extreme, EE experienced the other, and both of you have been wounded. But both of you have also experienced the forgiveness, love and healing of God. All things most definitely can work together for good for those who love Him :)

    • http://kansasbob.com Kansas Bob

      Ditto what Kreine said about the difference between shame and regret. We who are forgiven no longer need to walk in shame even though we often regret past actions. That said, I so applaud your honest and transparent sharing Katharine.

  • http://www.leighkramer.com/ HopefulLeigh

    Shouting “Amen!” after every line. This preaches, EE. Let those who have ears, hear.

  • trenchbuddy

    Thank you EE for this .
    He. Loves. me. because. I. am. here.

    Now, I am coming from the perspective of one of those parents who took their girls away for a weekend of Purity “EVERYTHING”. Dad took the guys.

    No ring though.. thought they were kinda dumb. How did this pan out? Did it help? Did it hinder?

    Well, my children have stories and their story is not gonna be about no princess kiss that is for sure.

    May I say though that I consider them all Kings and Queens of God?

    Molestation, rape, allergic swings to the other side of the codified expectations with which they grew up…. yep.

    And what now? Me, a parent of friggin’ strong ass kids…?

    They have suffered A LOT.

    They have been given the kind of life that one uses the word SURVIVOR for.

    They are so much more than that. They are amazing beautiful individuals who have been forced/given the opportunity to find their own voice.

    They are still covering their ears and running straight away from the non-sensical irrelevant Purity theology that they are way too familiar with.

    What good did it do them?

    The problem with that kind of presentation of information is that there is no context given to it…

    What about the sexual abuse survivor?

    What about the date rape survivor?

    What about the run from the yuccy-overbearing christian group survivor?

    The first two situations leave one with no choice.

    The last one forces a person to use their body as a means of saying F-you to all the warped morays they were force fed when they were young.

    They have to know … ” I BELONG TO MYSELF..” not to all of these ridiculous expectations forced upon me..” I WILL CHOOSE FOR MYSELF”

    And according to purity speak… it means they will never be princesses or princes?

    OH. MY. GOD.

    and don’t worry I did not use His name in vain…. I prayed…

    I prayed with the heart of a broken momma.. a momma who wishes she could turn back the tide of time and choices.

    A momma who wishes she had understood the signs of a perpetrator.

    The momma who wishes she could take back what was taken from her child forcefully.

    A momma who laid heavy burdens on the backs of children….

    Please tell me again…

    He. Loves. Me. because. I. Am. Here.

    He. Loves. Me. because. I. exist.

    He. loves. Me.

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    Amen, amen! (I feel like I’ve been saying that a lot this week- all these posts on virginity are saying stuff that NEEDS TO BE SAID.)

  • http://twitter.com/byzcathwife priest’s wife

    let’s be like Jesus! He forgave the woman found in sin AND He told His apostles to forgive 70 x 7!

  • http://heathershodgepodge@blogspot.com HeathersHodgepodge

    Yes, sin is sin and we need to call it what it is. BUT, there is a difference between saying “go and sin no more” – which acknowledges that sin took place and it needs to stop – and stoning the sinner. If we truly are striving to live as Christ, then we need to show grace. Even if that means our own children date someone with a past. Just because someone has a less-than-perfect background doesn’t mean that they are a second-class Christian and shouldn’t hope to marry a godly Christian.

  • presbybug

    Hallelujah, Amen.

  • Anonymous

    I love what you say here. As I have been repeatedly broken-hearted by the growing backlash to Christianity, I have to admit that much of it comes from the very vocal Christian right. They love to proclaim they “hate the sin and love the sinner,” much of their rhetoric is far from loving or gracious.

    I have been turning over in my mind whether or not the real answer to winning souls to Christ is NOT open condemnation, but rather, open love. Why are we so afraid to believe that God is powerful enough on his own to make a person aware of their sin and create a heart change in that person as they are drawn to Him and grown into a new person in the process of sanctification?

    I can understand confronting bad teachings that teach or condone sinfulness – I am not explicitly doing so. Rather, I’m saying that my own journey has taught me to love God’s law as the best for me. I didn’t need anyone brow-beating me to know when decisions I made hurt myself or were not good for me, or to recognize that sensation when I disobeyed God’s leading and knew it was outside of his will.

    Why do we believe that God is so impotent that he cannot work within a sinner’s heart to further lead them in growth to his perfect will?

  • http://faithandfood.morizot.net/ Scott Morizot

    Too many Javerts in the Christian world today…

  • http://kansasbob.com Kansas Bob

    Wow! Magnificent post Elizabeth!

  • Mark S.

    Magnificent post. You have captured the essence of the unconditional love shown us by God in a fantastically nuanced way that is both clear, and orthodox. I am saving this post and would like to use it (with attribution if you permit me) in the future to teach in RCIA and in other similar settings.

  • Elisabeth

    Amen, Sister!
    ALL people are precious to God because God says so- and “not by works, so that no man can boast”.
    And I wonder (not for the first time) when exactly Jesus told us to be “hard on sin”? We are not even supposed to notice other people’s sin- only our own.

    Jesus was constantly getting called out by Pharisees for being “soft on sin”. He was widely known for having dinner parties with people the pharisees wouldn’t go near.

    So what does that tell me? If I am “hard” on someone else because of their sin, I am a Pharisee. If I want to be like Jesus, the first thing to do is Break Bread with the outcast.

    I’m so glad you broke this topic open, because it’s time we as Believers started being softer on others regardless of their sin. It’s time we started acting like the lives of others are precious and meaningful, not dirty and shameful.

    If being “soft on sin” means I get to minister God’s wonderful Grace to someone, then count me Soft!

  • Lynn Grey

    I agree with all this. Too often, Christians put more emphasis on sin and righteousness than they do on love and forgiveness.

    With this particular issue, I would even go one step farther and ask if sex before marriage truly is a blanket sin. I think it is fair to put that question on the table along with questioning virginity culture.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, and amen. It took me until I was an adult to even begin to grasp what you have said here, and I still struggle with it. He is kind, not vindictive. He is merciful, and not punitive. This is our God. Bless you, EE.

  • Bad Christian

    You are not being soft on sin. You are crushing the sins of shaming, judging, oppressing, and fear-mongering. Don’t let anyone sell your faith short. All sins must be called to account, even, especially, those found within the church.

  • Lindsey

    Preach!