Confessions of a 'Prude'

Why you don’t have to choose between culture-savvy and goody-goody.

I am all about my children learning new languages. They study French in school. And if they could add an Asian language to their repertoire, even better. So thanks to pop culture (more specifically, "K-pop"), my kids have gotten a head start. They already know at least two Korean colloquialisms: "Oppan" and "Gangnam."

No, they have not seen the "Gangnam Style" YouTube video. But they know the horse-trotting, lassoing and reign-snapping-style dance move, and they know the beat and the chorus (including the "oooh sexy lady" bit). They know all this because so many of their friends are among the 1.2 billion who have watched the video online.

The last thing I wanted is for them to think I was an inexperienced, sheltered, pious prude.

I know—it's relatively clean compared to most music videos. I know—the signature dance move is more silly than promiscuous.  I know—the whole thing is all just for kicks.

But it's not the "Gangnam Style" dance moves that really bother me. I'm just not keen on my 8-year-old son wondering if it really is OK for a man to stare at the posterior of a lady doing her yoga routine (assuming it's yoga). I don't want my 10-year old daughter to think that those short-shorts are hip. And I don't want them to see that guy doing pelvic thrusts in an elevator over PSY's head.

Maybe you're thinking, "C'mon, don't be such a prude." And you wouldn't be the first.

We culture-savvy Christians recoil at the labels assigned to us by society. My wife and I have been noticing of late that few labels are more feared than those of "sheltered," "out-of-touch," or "prudish."

As a minister and a theological student (I have been both, off and on, for the past 15 years), the guys I used to work with in lumberyards and on construction crews would apologize after cussing in my presence. They would sometimes ask, after retelling some wild sexual escapade, "Oh, I'm sorry—does that offend you?" Their narratives of the night were full of filth (and probably a lot of fiction), but the pressure was on to say, "Oh, of course I'm not offended. Not at all." The last thing I wanted was for them to think I was an inexperienced, sheltered, pious prude.

Innocence is precious and preserving it is not a vice.

The Church has been so antagonistic to cultural winds that Christians of younger generations are quick to dissociate from our more fundamentalist forbearers. We are embarrassed that one of our denominations once tried to boycott Disney flicks. We are ashamed of all the judgmentalism directed toward anyone who fancies a tattoo. In an act of spiritual bravado, many of us Gen-Xers took the precious cassettes of our favorite rock bands and destroyed them as a religious rite in the name of Jesus. Today, many of us regret that moment of intense anti-cultural piety.

We do not want to be viewed anymore as anti-culture, anti-fun, anti-entertainment. We do not want to be labeled as holier-than-thou goody-goodies who can't stomach seeing a little flesh at the cinema, who can't handle a little language or innuendo on TV.

In this pendulum swing from being prudes to being libertines, though, is it possible that innocence is becoming a vice? Are we now regarding purity as a liability when it comes to reaching our culture? Is our willingness to be exposed to sexualized media a virtue?

Did Jesus say in Matthew 5:8, "Out-of-touch are the pure in heart," or did He call them "blessed"?

"Be wise as serpents, and as culture-savvy as the average viewer"? Or is it, "Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves"? (Matthew 10:16).

Pop culture is fun. A lot of it is harmless. My tween daughter regularly listens to her favorite boy-band sensation in the UK on our iPod (One Direction—oh yeah), and even my 2-year old daughter knows some of the dance moves to Beyoncé's "All the Single Ladies" (the hand motions, not so much the hip-swaying). My boys and I have lightsaber duels, and we all love catching the latest kid-friendly flicks.

But one day my daughter was terribly disturbed when a knight placed a blade at the throat of another character in one of the Shrek sequels. We had to turn the movie off, and I was annoyed at how ridiculous she was being. "Sweetheart, c'mon—it's only a silly movie." Don't be such a fuddy-duddy.

Then it hit me. After years of absorbing pop cultural entertainment, seeing a sword at a person's throat didn’t really bother me. Maybe my daughter saw that scene more accurately than I did. Not unlike the citizens of the Capitol in Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy, maybe I have been desensitized to harsh realities that are so casually caricatured in popular media.

My point is not that we should only watch movies starring Kirk Cameron. I'm not suggesting that "Gangnam Style" is the latest trickery unleashed by the devil to misguide the masses. I have no interest in promoting the trends of legalism, moralism and cultural irrelevance that the Church just can't seem to shake.

My point, rather, is that innocence is precious and that preserving it is not a vice. It is OK for us to be offended by the offensive. We are not to be moralistic, but we are called to be moral. Scripture beckons us to purity (Matthew 5:8), to wholesome speech (Ephesians 4:29), to honoring the sanctity of the marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4), to discerning good and evil (Romans 12:2). Somehow, we need to learn how to be culture-savvy and yet innocent as doves.

Maybe that's why Jesus paired the call to innocence with a call to wisdom.

When it comes to appropriating culture, the lines can be fuzzy. Paul acknowledged that some Christians in Rome and Corinth could handle certain cultural elements that other Christians needed to avoid. Some of my friends watch "Gangnam Style" with their kids and they are cool with it. For us to judge one another would be wrong.

Not all the lines are blurry, though. And it is OK to choose innocence, even if our decision to turn our eyes from the screen or to close our ears to obscenities potentially upsets the other viewers and auditors. I guess we could ask them, "Oh, I'm sorry—does that offend you?"

Of course, that question would probably be unhelpful. But our culture does not just need our participation—it also needs our loving protest. When Jesus called His disciples to innocence in Matthew 10, the occasion was His sending them out into culture. Innocence is not a virtue we practice by extracting ourselves from society. It is a virtue practiced while embedded within it—for our culture's own good.

14 Comments

Elaine

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Elaine commented…

Right on! Well written.

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gp4design

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gp4design commented…

I'm a non-theist (came across this article via a tweet) and I eschew much of pop culture on the grounds of aesthetics rather than morality—a lot of it's just crap!

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Phil Darke

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Phil Darke commented…

Thanks for writing the truth brother! Funny you used the term, "prude," because I found myself saying, "if that makes me a prude, so be it," multiple times during a recent sermon on Ephesians 5:3. I was preaching on sexual immorality, discussing how we've become desensitized to it in our society and consequently are failing to protect ourselves, our marriages, and our children from its dangers. The sermon continues on to cover the only way to truly overcome our human inclination toward sexual immorality - you can check it out at http://bit.ly/XQTuJy ("Is God's Enough Sufficient" - 1/13/13) if you're interested.

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Tim Wheeler

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Tim Wheeler commented…

I think being offended is given too easy an out here.

Although this may not be the central thought, I stumbled (pun intended) on the "its ok to be offended by the offensive" statement. When Paul talked about Christians who are offended he was referring to weaker brothers.

Being offended is not anything we should aspire to. We should be sacrificial of our rights/feelings and strengths, and not be quick to offend. That was the lesson. He referred to being offended as a trait of weakness.

An observation:

It's hard to love someone who you are offended by, and its harder to be offended by someone you love, than by someone for whom you have no regard.

When we are offended by someone's behavior or their language, do we take offense out of love, or out of some other motive.

If we are defending the innocence of someone in our care, or our own innocence, the focus changes, but is being offended the proper response to the situation?

Can we rectify being offended with true love for a person?

What are we communicating to the offender, or should it not matter to us what we communicate to them?

At the root, this is why its embarrassing for me to look back things like boycotting Disney because they gave health care to those whose lifestyle the boycotters did not approve. The boycott had no hope of communicating love, and if it doesn't do that in some way, should we even consider giving it our support?

What if, when we first experience the emotion of offense, we decide to love, instead. What would change?

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Kyle James Unger

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Kyle James Unger replied to Tim Wheeler's comment

Since this isn't Facebook and I can't "like" your comment, I'll just say it, haha. I really enjoyed your take on the article. I was feeling iffy about the article, because it had some great points, but didn't sit right with me. I think we can take some things away from the article and your comment. Thank you very much for this.

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Andrew Byers

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Andrew Byers replied to Kyle James Unger's comment

Thanks Tim (and Kyle)... I love the opportunity afforded by Internet exchanges, but the problem, of course, is that the space for online articles is always too short for nuance.

Tim, your points on Christians taking offense are solid. What I think is unsettling about being offended is that it often comes with a self-righteous, defensive disposition that is unloving and un-Gospel. I would say that this would be a terrible way for offended Christians to act.

But I do think we should be "provoked" by some of the darker and immoral elements of culture, like Paul was when he saw Athen's idols. Sometimes, though, as you wrote, being offended is a sign of a weaker conscience, not a sign of prophetic protest. In terms of pop-culture, I definitely think some of us can view certain things that others should not, and that is something we need to learn to deal with charitably as Christians.

Good thoughts! I'm grateful for the interaction.

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perfectnumber628

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perfectnumber628 commented…

Good article! Another thing to consider is what did Jesus mean by "pure in heart" in Matthew 5 and "innocent as doves" in Matthew 10? As a woman who grew up in the evangelical church, "purity" to me definitely has this connotation of "don't do anything sexual, and don't be too emotionally attached to a guy, and actually it would be best if you didn't have much knowledge of any of the parts you have 'down there'"- but is that what the bible means when it says to "be pure"?

I'm guessing it doesn't. :) Hmm, maybe I should do some more studying on this.

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

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