February 8, 2013

Commitment-Free Critics and the ‘Christian Virginity Cult’

Purity ring

By Bart Gingerich (@BJGingerich)

You may have noticed the recent volley of criticism against the evangelical sex culture. No, not the trends toward loose morals, but the Christian fascination with virginity and purity. The casualties of the “purity movement” are starting to speak out.
Former fundamentalist and current feminist Elizabeth Esther looked back on her adolescence and said, “[W]e implied that a woman’s inherent worth and dignity could be measured by whether or not a man has touched her.” Those who fail to meet the physical requirements are “damaged goods.”

Sarah Bessey continued the theme. She observes that she was “disqualified from true love” because of her previous sexual encounters. She and others “feel like the dirty little secret, the not-as-goods, the easily judged example.” For those so shamed, Bessey enthuses:

There is no shame in Christ’s love. Let him without sin cast the first stone. You are more than your virginity—or lack thereof—and more than your sexual past. Your marriage is not doomed because you said yes to the boys you loved as a young woman. Your husband won’t hold it against you, he’s not that weak and ego-driven, choose a man marked by grace.
Rachel Held Evans voiced her approval of both posts. The ever-bold Tony Jones wondered if Christians should “celebrate pre-marital sex,” concluding, “Today, sex is everywhere. It’s unavoidable. A new sexual ethic for Christians is desperately needed.” A more moderate Emily Maynard condemned “virgin” and “non-virgin” as philosophical categories for human beings.

They all have a point. Too often in an over-sexualized culture, Christians engage in what Elizabeth Esther calls “reverse objectification.” Purity policing leads to a strange objectivism—a surrender to the sexual message of the age. Christians risk ceding the argument that a woman is a purely sexual object when it comes to her visible physical nature. So in response, her body must be hidden or else made ugly to keep the spirit clean and pure. In the end, much unjust suffering comes down upon girls and the rest of society because of various abuses.

Much like Islamic settings, Christian fundamentalist cultures can shame women and eschew human beauty. Some religious folks resort to a “steaming pile of legalistic shame-mongering.” When a religious community sees the human body along utilitarian lines while sacred texts forbid sexual misconduct, they resort to deontological ethics—unwavering adherence to rules. In certain circles, there is an underlying assumption that God punishes the sin of fornication by ruining the future marriage, when that may not in fact be the case. But sin is much more deceptive and subtle.

Individualism Gone Wild
At the same time, all is not well with these virginity critiques. The underlying complaint seems to demand that we accept different decisions without critique or even regret. But sin—especially sexual sin—affects the entire community. Likewise, fornication (as with any other sin) interrupts communion between God and man and thus must be reconciled through Christ.

The sin of fornication is not minimized by “mutual consent.” Contrary to popular belief, the Old Testament is not chauvinistically patriarchal, and the Scriptures are clear on sexual mores. The most honest skeptics intimate sexual standards based in an old book should be thrown out altogether. Couples “really committed” to each other, we hear, should be able to do as they please outside the bounds of traditional matrimony.

What a strange understanding of commitment! This new standard eliminates the risk of love. The traditional understanding of the marriage covenant requires trust, especially in the sexual realm. A couple is taking a plunge into the world of family life because they love each other. Couples who abstain until marriage tell one another, “I love you so much that I will surrender my body to you. I have denied the pleasures of a moment for a life tied to only yours in this dangerous world, from this point on.”

For generations, this model of marriage has proven remarkably resilient. In this context, love can be truly maddening—people do crazy things like have children together, stick together through debilitating diseases, and mutually endure declining health. On the other hand, what reason do the “really committed” have not to jump from one sex partner to the next? One could conclude that such “commitment” is merely strong emotion—a passion of the moment—that has little to do with true resolve.

Thankfully, healing is possible for couples who do not abstain. The gospel of Jesus Christ can overcome any sin! Still, pastors who counsel couples tell me the process of restoring trust is long and painful. Virginity does not make someone “better,” but young Christians deny themselves the fullness of romantic love by fornication. They will only make things worse by lying to themselves about it.

For the longing singles among us, we have heard it said that love is patient. So go out there, date, and maybe get married. Just do not make allowance for the lustful flesh.

 

Editors note: The following blog post originally appeared on The Gospel Coalition website. Special thanks to Joe Carter.  


  • Tim Vernon

    Yet another (ab)use of that all-purpose word “grace.” Are liberals under some mandate to (mis)use that word every time they bash conservatives?

  • http://4simpsons.wordpress.com/ eMatters

    “The ever-bold Tony Jones wondered if Christians should “celebrate pre-marital sex,” concluding, “Today, sex is everywhere. It’s unavoidable. A new sexual ethic for Christians is desperately needed.” ”

    Jones sounds like so many “Christian” parents I know who gave up before the battle started. Of course there can be forgiveness and healing for those who sin, and thank God for that! But that means there was something you needed forgiveness for and healing from — namely, sinning against God and the consequences of sinning against God.

    Jones and the rest are just making up their own religion. At least he is tacitly admitting by saying he needs a sexual ethic besides Jesus’. His column implied that the biblical commands were given to people who generally didn’t sin sexually, which is completely wrong.

    • Gabe

      Jones is a complete fraud. According to him, we need a new ethic/understanding/conversation/salvation for everything.

  • Kevin

    It really disturbs to hear that some evangelicals are demanding that as a fix for the heartless judgementalism which the Religious Right imposed on us all over the last generation, we need to just throw the biblical standard on sexual purity overboard completely. I have seen this same trend in relation to other issues as well, and it’s really a bad idea. It reminds me of the big move towards “seeker-sensitive” churches 20 years ago, when some people believed that clever gimmicks would get non-churched people into the Kingdom of God, when all they really needed was to be treated with love, respect and attention. Sort of looks like evangelical culture is morally collapsing. In some ways, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I fear that the baby is being thrown out with the bath water, and we’re making yet another step in the direction of becoming so much like the world that we’re indistinguishable from it. Sad and sort of alarming.

    • Adrian C

      You are absolutely correct about the Religious Right. Everyone knows that the progressive/liberal churches are growing by leaps and bounds. The more inclusive a church becomes, the more people are drawn in. The numbers don’t lie. Clearly, within ten years, probably less, the evangelical churches will cease to exist and the liberal churches will triple in membership, probably quadruple. The UCCs and Episcopalians are building new churches on every corner in my area, and some older churches are building annexes to accommodate the crowds. Warms my heart.

      • Kevin

        Hmmm. I have to say, though, that numbers don’t equal success. I used to go to a rather conservative megachurch that really dove head first into the seeker sensitive approach, and they got thousands in the door, but then on the other hand, I never felt like the majority of the people were coming in the door were really challenged to go deeper and get more serious in their faith. As much as I loathe the Religious Right, I really don’t want there to be a Religious Left, because I’m afraid that we’ll just make the same mistakes in reverse: just another form of dead legalism devoid of the leading of the Holy Spirit. Make sense?

      • Adrian C

        Well, since you already loathe the Religious Right, loathe the Religious Left and be an equal opportunity loather. The important thing is not to be a witness for Christ but to express contempt for people with different beliefs. This will enhance your self-esteem, which appears to be quite high already. With any luck, you will have heaven all to yourself, won’t have to share space with those icky evangelicals.

        Since I am part of the Religious Right, your loathing should upset me, but it doesn’t. As my dad always said, “Consider the source.”

        • Kevin

          Adrian:

          I was kind of wondering what you were talking about. I was thinking, “Wait, aren’t the non-orthodox churches shrinking and losing members by leaps and bounds?” Okay, now I got you. No, you’re right about the churches you mentioned, but there is a big difference between churches that scorn the authority of scripture and believe what they want to believe and churches that put a greater emphasis on things that correspond more closely to concerns of those who are more politically liberal (issues like poverty, racism, environmental degradation, inter-religious conflict, etc.). Again, read my original post, and you will see that what I’m saying is that jettisoning scriptural principles in reaction against the Religious Right is a solution equally as bad as the problem it claims to address. What you get in the end is something like the Episcopal Church: a collapsing organization run by virtual apostates. I’m afraid that that’s where evangelicalism is heading.

          And I need to be clear about something. When I talk about the Religious Right, I’m really talking more about a certain attitude, not so much a group. There are people who call themselves Religious Right who are wonderful, gracious people. Hopefully, you’re one of those, and I should apologize if I offended you by my reckless talk. I shouldn’t talk like that, I realize. But anyway, I’m talking about a frame of mind that tends to be common among at least the Religious Right with the highest visibility (in other words, those with radio and TV ministries, their own publishing houses, their own PR machines, etc.) which consists of political partisanship in search of political power, angry moralism, much fear-mongering, etc. I know that not all organizations/churches/individuals that go under the Religious Right label are like that, but there’s a critical mass who are.

          What I see developing on the Religious Left is…political partisanship in search of political power, angry moralism, much fear-mongering, etc. I see that and I roll my eyes and think, arrgh, here we go again.

          I don’t want to stick my head in the sand, but I also want to have a positive influence in our democratic society. I want to speak out against evil, but I don’t want to become just as angry and frightened and hateful as the people I criticize, nor do I want to become merely critical.

          Both the Religious Right and the Religious Left are political creatures that only create needless controversy and offense. There’s really little or no good role models or good alternatives in the churches in this country right now, and this pointless bickering we’re doing is testimony to it. Wish we could all rise above this, but that will take a miracle.

          Of course, I do believe in miracles, but they can’t be done on demand, exactly.

      • Adrian C

        You say evangelicals are “angry and frightened and hateful.” I don’t know any of those. Those words certainly don’t apply to me or the folks at my church. But if you say we’re all these things, that’s cool. They certainly fit the stereotype generated by the secular media, and you clearly swallow it hook, line, and sinker. I guess it makes it easer to “loathe” (your word) the Religious Right if you stick with the straw man than actual human beings, plus beating up on evangelicals is Politically Correct, maybe it will score a few points with your unchurched friends if you distance yourself from the angry and frightened and hateful.

        I’m no psychologist, but I do think the constant accusation of being “hateful” is a case of projection. The secular left has learned to pin the “hate” label on any sort of opposition. Opposing gay “marriage” is “hate.” Opposing ordination of women is “hate.” Opposing illegal immigration is “hate.” Supporting the Scouts is “hate.” None of this is true, but the public doesn’t really like the truth, they like a dramatic confrontation between themselves and those hate-filled Christians. Fifty years ago, not ten people in America would even blink if you said “marriage is between one man and one woman.” say it today and you’re accused of hate. Evangelicals have this curious belief that moral standards don’t change quite as quickly as clothing fashions, which is why we defend the standards. There’s no hate in that, but that’s how we’re painted.

        Stick with your false view of the Religious Right if it makes you feel special.

      • Ray Bannister

        I don’t know any of those “angry and frightened and hateful” evangelicals either, but apparently there are hordes of them in the liberals’ fantasy world. I think a lot of the contempt is an intellectual thing, they buy into the secular view that conservatives (religious or not) are dumb, reactionary, anti-science, etc etc. In playing out their big melodrama where they take on the Religious Right, they realize it doesn’t sound all that courageous to take on people who are dumb and backward, so they make do with “hateful,” since it’s OK to hate haters. (Actually, according to the Bible, it isn’t, but they have an advantage in not knowing the Bible and not basing their actions on it.) A politician or professor can get on his soapbox and rant against racism, sexism, homophobia, yada, yada, and the rant is interpreted as “passionate” and “courageous.” Let a conservative take a stand against anything, and it’s “hate.” The left claims they are terrified of the influence of conservatives, yet they consistently paint us as “frightened,” and Lord knows they’re constantly angry about something, yet we are the “angry” ones. I know lots of happy Christians, but very few happy liberals. Their paranoid conspiracy theory makes true happiness difficult. My 95-year-old granny can no longer drive, can’t make it across the room without her walker, and takes a dozen medications per day, yet she seems ten times more cheerful than the average Harvard or Yale grad in the halls of Congress, and she attributes her outlook to the belief that God is in charge, so ultimately Christians need to be optimists.

  • Kevin

    Oh, and by the way, regarding the use of the terms “liberal” and “conservative”: I really wish we would all stop using those terms when speaking of spiritual issues. It causes needless, unintended offense to those of us who are politically liberal, yet passionately desire to be faithful to the teachings of scripture. Perhaps we can use terms like “orthodox” and “non-orthodox” (or something a little less clunky sounding) to describe our stands on biblical orthodoxy.

    • Eric Lytle

      How about “Christians” and “Grovelers”? “Christians” would be those who, while recognizing many failings on the part of Christianity, are not ashamed of their faith. “Grovelers” would be those whose taglines are “I consider myself a Christian, but . . .” or “I try to follow Jesus” or “Although I’m a Christian, I don’t . . .”

      In other words, “Christians” don’t feel that the gospel requires them to apologize to the world. “Grovelers” try to conform as much as possible to the world and find Scripture verses that assure them they are right to do so. They claim they have no mandate to convert people to Christianity, and they can’t, because people really are not attracted to a faith that consists of apologizing. “Grovelers” never say an unkind word about any religion, except for Christianity.

      The ones who are quick to express their contempt for the Religious Right would definitely fall into the “Groveler” category, since it is more important to them to proclaim what they do NOT stand for than what they do stand for.

      • Kevin

        So what you’re saying is that people will know we are “Christians” by our pride? Do you seriously think that the Gospel doesn’t require us ever to apologize for anything? Ever? You really think that we can never do any wrong because we are Christians?

        What about “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and respect”?

        Where does Scripture mandate that we be rude and aggressive and impervious to valid criticism? Where does Scripture encourage us to run around getting in peoples’ faces, shouting, “I am a Christian, like it or lump it!” When did this become all about us?

        Show me where.

        Why do you think that “the faith” needs so much defense? And why do “Christians” as you define them never have a kind thing to say about any adherent of any other religion?

        Do we worship God, or “the faith”?

        “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

        We “Christians” ourselves are nothing much to boast about, frankly, and the Religious Right is living proof of it. They have been an embarrassment over the last generation, and their bad behavior has made it exceptionally difficult to share the gospel with the unbelieving, and yes…it has necessitated much apologizing on our part. Those of us who do not exalt rudeness and aggressiveness and disrespect towards non-Christians have to work through people’s default assumptions that all are nasty, trash-talking political types who claim to speak in God’s name but instead give the fair name of Jesus a black eye with their hatred and contempt they show to those who don’t believe as they do.

        If you DON’T apologize for this bad behavior, then you communicate to non-Christians that you don’t care about standards of decent behavior, or even that you approve of the bad behavior. Sorry to say it, but it’s true.

        The Religious Right are the modern-day Pharisees, pure and simple. They will “travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, [they] make him twice as much a son of hell as [them]selves.”

        And it’s going to take years to undo the incalculable damage they’ve done to the cause of the Gospel.

        Ouch, I know. This is admittedly a really harsh thing to say. But when you look at why the younger generation of evangelicals is throwing biblical standards overboard, you will find that many of them are reacting against what they perceive as the shameful bigotry and fanaticism of the Religious Right/baby boomer crowd, and they consequently resolve to move as far away from the toxic, hyper-conservative attitudes they observe as possible (with sometimes equally bad consequences, as I’ve said above).

        By the way, if you think that “Christians” are not just as conformed to this world as the “Grovelers,” well…open your eyes, friend. They’re just conformed to the world in a different way than the “Grovelers.” The only difference between “Grovelers” and “Christians” seems to be the difference between the sinners and the Pharisees. Neither behave as Jesus did. If “Christians” actually behaved like real Christians in this country, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, would we?

        Give me a Mother Theresa over a Jim Dobson any day. Show me a martyr witnessing his faith in the arena by giving his body over to be torn by the beasts of the pagans any day over a Tony Perkins self-righteously thumping his chest and preaching scorn and contempt towards the unwashed pagans.

        You got one thing dead on: Christians who really get the gospel and live it have nothing to be ashamed of. They just aren’t necessarily the same as the people you categorize as “Christians.”

      • Eric Lytle

        Since Tony Perkins is “self-righteously thumping his chest and preaching scorn and contempt toward the unwashed pagans,” I’m sure you can cite some examples. Personally, I’ve never known him to thump, preach scorn, or refer to anyone as “unwashed pagans,” but no doubt you wouldn’t make an accusation like that unless you could back it up with facts. I’m guessing that your definition of “thumping his chest” would be “is confident of his faith.” The mealy-mouthed types who blush when they call themselves Christians are naturally contemptuous of anyone with a vigorous faith, rather like losers hating winners. Read Acts and observe Paul’s confidence. He was not a Groveler. If he had been, Christianity would’ve died out ages ago. Grovelers like you aren’t noted for making converts, which is probably why you say you don’t believe in making converts – despite the rather clear mandate Jesus gave the apostles.

        Given your obvious contempt for evangelicals, you might’ve missed a news item: a nut case with a gun intended to enter Perkins’ building and kill a lot of people, but he was caught before that happened. You don’t hear a lot of examples – none, come to think of it – about someone trying to kill Grovelers. Why would they, since Grovelers never criticize the secular hedonistic culture, they reserve all their hate for the Religious Right? You claim to admire martyrs, well, Perkins came pretty darn close to being one. No martyrs on your side, as no one could possibly distinguish a Groveler from an atheist.

        One of your earlier rants refers to the “harsh judgmentalism” of the Religious Right. Considering your posts, that would fall into the “pot calls kettle black” category.

        Anyway, we’re eagerly awaiting your horror stories of Perkins and all those horrid chest-thumping Christians. Be sure to include several examples where he refers to people as “pagans.”

  • Kevin

    Tim: you make a lot of sweeping judgements about what my “side” is? Did you not read my original post? Sure, I’m politically liberal, yeah, but I’m also a firm believer in biblical orthodoxy (that includes Scripture’s teaching on sexual morality), which puts me at variance with many on my side of the fence. I also believe in what Scripture teaches about love and respect.

    I don’t apologize for being a Christian, just for the bad behavior of Christians who don’t understand or follow their own teachings. And I try to apologize for my own bad behavior when it happens.

    I don’t have a problem with someone who has a “vigorous faith,” as you put it, I just define “vigorous faith” differently than you do.

    Remember this?: “Love is patient, love is kind…not jealous…DOES NOT BRAG…not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly, does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

    Or how about this? “The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” But the bystanders said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’””

    I know from being a missionary overseas that you also have to respect your hearers enough to speak to them in a cultural language they will respond positively to (” For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.”). When you are in Beirut, Jerusalem, Haifa, Damascus, etc., it’s not a good idea to stand on street corners and preach at people. If you don’t get arrested, you’ll at the least cause a public disturbance, and that helps no one.

    Still, you’re right: it is tricky making judgements about other people. Even if you are correct in making what sound like harsh judgements, the very fact of saying so does make the one who says it seem hypocritical, doesn’t it? I’m honestly not sure how to untie that knot.

    • Kevin

      Oops, I meant Eric, not Tim. Sorry: senior moment there.

  • AC

    What a blessed & faithful analysis, thanks for sharing my brother! AC

  • Bart Gingerich

    There seems to be a bit of friendly fire going on here. Generally, in my work, I try to distinguish between political and religious spectra. Thus, there is conservative and liberal or orthodox and revisionist. Someone can affirm the teachings of Scripture, the Creeds, and the faith passed down to the saints while also supporting differing political causes, as long as said causes don’t directly contradict the teachings of that faith (marriage and abortion issues come to mind as non-options for divergence). In some instances, it’s not a question of faith, but of prudence. I cannot deem some folks heretics, but I certainly can find their recommendations and claims idiotic. Their soul is not necessarily at risk (though any lie is dangerous), but they might be hurting the commonwealth.

    I highly recommend being civil to those who confess the same Christ, though they may pull a few different levers on election day (again, within limits).

  • Stefan Stackhouse

    What needs to be emphasized is not virginity, but rather the standard of fidelity within marriage and chastity outside of it. Unlike virginity, this standard is not a binary “have it” vs. “don’t have it”, but rather is a lifetime, moment-by-moment struggle. A lapse or stumble along the way does not mean that one has therefore disqualified oneself for life from ever again living by the standard. We are to confess, repent, seek forgiveness, learn from our mistakes, and try again.

    We are all sinners, and thus none of us has any right to think that we are “better” than someone else just because our sins are different. The person who preserves their virginity until marriage is not better than the person that doesn’t, they have just in all likelihood found other ways to sin. In any case, the day after the marriage night their virginity is no longer at issue, and they have the rest of their life to live – and plenty of possibility for sinning and needing to confess and repent.

    Sexuality isn’t an issue just for unmarried Christians, it is an issue for all Christians. It doesn’t stop being an issue when we get married, because there are still plenty of temptations out there. I am guessing that it would actually help young unmarried Christians a great deal if older married Christians would open up and share with them their own struggles with sexual temptations, past and present. The young Christians would undoubtedly hear stories of those that did manage to wait until marriage, but mostly by God’s grace rather than their just being a Goody Two-Shoes. They would also undoubtedly hear stories of those that failed to resist temptation, regretted it, but found through God’s grace and forgiveness the strength and healing in their lives that was necessary to move on. They would most certainly hear stories that reveal that sexual temptation doesn’t end with the wedding, we all occasionally struggle with it in one way or another, even if just with the images that we see in the media. I would imagine that such open, honest sharing would do wonderful good for so many young people, and for the Church as a whole.

    • Eric Lytle

      You’re so right. Nothing could be worse than a Christian “being a Goody Two-Shoes.” We need to do more blending in with the secular culture, and when they mock morality, laugh along with them. We can make a lot of converts by downplaying the ethical angle. In fact, if you’re not committing adultery, say you are anyway, it will make you fit in better. Your married friends will love you for condoning their cheating. The main goal in our society is, never make anyone feel uncomfortable. Tony Jones is authority enough for me. Promiscuous people will stampede into the churches once they hear we’ve lowered the bar.

      • Stefan Stackhouse

        Too bad you didn’t actually read my post. Upholding a standard of fidelity within marriage and chastity outside of it hardly constitutes a lowering of standards. If anything, it is raising them. And if we want the Christian message to be attractive, then making clear that it is a message of God’s grace and forgiveness to all of us who are sinners – i.e., everyone, even including us – would seem to me to be pretty attractive. A message that we are different and “better” than everyone else, and that they need to be too if they want to have any chance at heaven, doesn’t sound very attractive to me, or very biblical either for that matter.

    • Kevin

      Well said, Stefan: keep faithful to the biblical standard, yet with humility, and without superimposing on the biblical standard additional man-made standards that are crafted for the sake of human control over other peoples’ behavior independent of the working of the Holy Spirit.

      • Sandy N

        You think chastity is a “man-made standard”? Funny, the Bible sorta gives the impression it is God’s standard. Your comments sound very confused – have standards but don’t enforce them, don’t control people but let the Holy Spirit do it for you – no logic there at all. You sound like a typical liberal, since you have this phobia about sounding “repressive.” Given some of your very nasty posts about the Religious Right, I’m surprised you don’t do what all liberals do, just say that God doesn’t care anything about Christians’ sexual habits, so let ‘er rip, kids.

        • Kevin

          Sandy: did you actually READ my post? I made a distinction between the biblical standard and the man-made add-ons. Doesn’t this imply that I accept the biblical standard?

          Okay, maybe I wasn’t clear. Let me try again. I believe in and approve of what God clearly and repeatedly teaches about chastity. I’ve seen the wreckage that immorality causes, and I neither want to participate in handling that dynamite, nor do I wish to hand such a lit bundle of dynamite to other people around me. At the same time.

          On the other hand, I also am opposed to the legalism that treats the fallen as lepers, as objects worthy of only wrath and punishment. It’s one thing when someone sins and arrogantly flouts the rebuke that comes from loving concern. It’s another when those who fall and are sorry are never given a chance to be restored because of the narrow-mindedness and contempt of their community, as if once fallen, always fallen.

          Yes, sin should be dealt with, but in a spirit of humility (i.e., keeping in mind one’s own weaknesses and keeping in mind that we are not the judges of people’s souls) and love, NOT in a spirit of self-righteousness and sneering contempt. Remember the story of Jesus and woman caught in adultery? Remember how the Pharisees clamor for Him to carry out the Law, to condemn her and stone her, and He refuses? But then, once He’s called them out on their hypocrisy and they slink away, what does He say? Go and sin no more.

          That’s the model we are supposed to follow.
          And by the way, have you never read “2 Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. 4 You have been severed from Christ, you who [b]are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5 For we [c]through the Spirit, [d]by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.”? Or how about “16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh [g]sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you [h]please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.”? Or “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? 2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of [b]the Law, or by [c]hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun [d]by the Spirit, are you now [e]being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you [f]suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works [g]miracles among you, do it by the works of [h]the Law, or by [i]hearing with faith?” “if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness [af]would indeed have been [ag]based on law. 22 But the Scripture has shut up [ah]everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
          So yes, Sandy, ultimately we must seek the power of the Holy Spirit to be good. The fear of man doesn’t work very well in making people righteous.
          You can go ahead and sneer if you like, and dismiss me as just another empty-headed liberal with no standards. But then, you would just be seriously mistaken in doing so.