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February 5, 2000
Column #962

(second of a two-part series)

FOR VALENTINE'S DAY: CONSIDER CHASTITY

     In last week's column, I made a case for women to reconsider courtship and chastity via a new book by Leon and Amy Kass: ''Can modesty transform lust into love?'' they ask. ''Men make advances, women should offer resistance plus the promise of yielding should the man prove worthy....If women as a group exercise more sexual self-restraint and eschew cohabitation, men will be compelled to court them.''

     But if chastity makes sense for women, why not for men as well? Why assume men must be promiscuous, and that it is up to the woman to say no?

     The New Testament certainly is clear and is not gender-based. ''It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God,'' Paul writes in I Thessalonians: 4:3-5.

     To his young disciple, Timothy, Paul wrote, ''Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.''

     Joshua Harris, a young author barely out of his teens has written a powerful and to an American male, a disturbing book that takes those Scriptures seriously. Its title is shocking: ''Kiss Dating Goodbye.'' Yet it has sold hundreds of thousands of copies! An excerpt:

''We shouldn't pursue intimacy without commitment. In God-honoring, male-female relationships, the burden of intimacy is commitment in marriage. If we're not ready or capable of committing ourselves to someone we aren't ready to pursue intimacy.''

     Thus, if you are 18 or 20 years old, and years away from considering a marriage partner, Harris is saying you have no business getting romantically involved: ''What is your motivation in relationships? Pleasing yourself or serving others?''

     Of course, the culture, especially movies and TV scream the opposite. If you are single, you have a license to ''have fun,'' and try out people emotionally and sexually, without worrying about possible negative impact on them or on yourself. But how many jaded Seinfield imitators are out there, in their 30s and unable to find someone to marry? I can give a close estimate.

     Since 1970, the percentage of never-married men and women in their 30s has tripled. Are they having wall-to-wall fun like those on ''Friends?'' No. Married people are nearly twice as likely to say they are very happy compared with those who are single (38% vs. 21%).

     So perhaps single men need to consider chastity. I once asked Billy Graham how he has avoided sexual scandal that has brought down so many other evangelists. He said, ''I built a dike around myself, to wall out temptation. I will not be in any room alone with a woman with the door closed, except my wife. I will not travel in a car or have dinner alone with another woman.''

     Harris makes a similar comment as a single young man: ''For me and many other people I know, it means rejecting typical dating. I go out with groups of friends; I avoid one-on-one dating because it encourages physical intimacy and places me in an isolated setting with a girl. Can't I handle it? Don't I have any self-control. Yeah, maybe I could handle it, but that's not the point.

     ''God says, `Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart' (II Timothy 2:22). I won't stick around to see how much temptation I can take.''

     Chastity actually gives one a clearer way to measure the character of a potential mate. Harris suggests four yardsticks: How does the individual relate to God? (Don't waste time with unbelievers.) How does he or she treat others, especially those in authority, such as one's parents? How disciplined is the person in their personal life? Is he/she extravagant in spending on such material things as cars or clothing, overly indulgent in food or drink, in watching hours of TV?

     Finally, what are his/her attitudes? Is the person humble, willing to put the needs of others first? Is he or she industrious, contented, hopeful?

     But how is one to make these judgments about character without dating? Harris says that if you are emotionally, spiritually and financially ready for marriage, and you meet someone who might be the one, say: ''We're growing closer in friendship and I need to be upfront about my motives. With your parents' permission, I want to explore the possibility of marriage. I am ready to be tested by you, your family, and those responsible for you. My desire is to win your heart.''

     Not a very romantic message for Valentine's Day. But worth considering.

Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus.

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