I’ve been on a Jeff Sharlet kick of late, and this morning I will be interviewing him about his new book, “The Family.” I considered this as worthy a time as any to pull my favorite article from the Sharlet archives. It’s about young, hip and devout Christians unwilling to budge on pre-marital abstinence, “The Young & the Sexless”:
What if the true face of the Christian right in America is not that of Dr. James Dobson or Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson; not that of an aging, comb-over preacher orange with pancake makeup, smiling orca rows of ungodly white teeth on The O’Reilly Factor or Hardball? Nor that of spittle-flecked Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kansas, roaring that God hates fags? What if the true face of the Christian right is, instead, that of a twenty-four-year-old religious-studies graduate student at New York University?
Matt Dunbar is a handsome young man, though his face is still ruddy with acne. He has rounded cheeks, a soul patch beneath his lips and soft eyes that hold yours like he trusts you. He’s not a prude. He will say the word “fuck,” but he will never, not even in the wedding bed he hopes God has prepared for his future, embody it as a verb. He will make Christian love. What most of us call sex he calls communion, and he believes it can happen only within marriage.
Chastity is a new organizing principle of the Christian right, built on the notion that virgins are among God’s last loyal defenders, knights and ladies of a forgotten kingdom. Sex outside of marriage is, in the words of D. James Kennedy, pastor of the influential Coral Ridge Ministries in Florida, “an uprising against God.” But if sex is the perfect enemy of the blessed lifestyle, it is also the Holy Grail for those who wait: “A symphony of the soul for married couples,” according to John Hagee, author of What Every Man Wants in a Woman.
“Abstinence,” says Dunbar, “is countercultural,” a kind of rebellion, he says, against materialism, consumerism and “the idea that anything can be bought and sold.”