The Christian Bachelorette
The kerfuffle between Hannah Brown and Luke Parker on 2019 season of the Bachelorette, created a lot of commentary. But it had almost nothing to do with what most people think it did.
Fast summary: Luke Parker, a professing Christian, had a conversation of whether or not Hannah, a professing Christian, was going to or had been sexually intimate with other men on the show. Hannah felt judged, controlled and angry. Ultimately she told Luke she had already been sexually intimate, it was none of his business and he needed to leave. He made awkward attempts to explain, connect and correct, but she wanted no part of it. Luke was bashed by the other contestants during the “tell all” episode.
The night Luke asked Hannah if they were on the same page about sex outside of marriage, he made reference to Hebrew 13:4, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure…” He was asking if Hannah, as a professing believer, was committed to not being sexually active outside of marriage. Since he was choosing that for himself, he clearly expected her answer would be “Yes.”
It was not.
Neither of them are virgins at this point in their lives. Hannah explained that she had two sexual partners in her life, both of whom (at the time) she believed would be her husband. She felt that she could decide for herself under what circumstances to be sexually intimate and it was not something Luke had any right to question or judge because he was not her husband.
She clearly expected that Luke would understand her level of intimacy with anyone else on the show was off limits.
He did not.
I would like to point out they weren’t having the same argument. Hannah was defending her PERSONAL standard and Luke was defending the CHRISTIAN standard.
Most Millennials believe restrictions on sexual behavior is patriarchal, controlling and sexist. And in many ways it IS, if you are not a Christian. Requiring non-Christians to adopt Christian standards is the same as vegans requiring everyone else to give up leather goods and barbecue.
Sorry, I don’t subscribe to your religion, you can’t make me follow those rules.
Feel free to argue that it might be healthier, I might live longer, animals should be treated the same as humans – I will not stop you from making your case. But ultimately, I reserve the right to decide whether or not to live under that ideology.
The same is supposed to be true for Christianity. A follower of Jesus should be allowed to make the case that the biblical guidelines are healthier, provide a purpose-driven life and that humans have intrinsic worth which never changes regardless of stage of life, size or ability. And after that, we have to respect your right to decide if you want to live under our theology.
That’s where The Bachelorette got muddy.
It was obvious to me, that Luke believed when Hannah said she was a “woman of faith,” it meant Hannah subscribed to biblical beliefs about Christ. Luke’s brand of Christianity requires complete submission to all the teachings of Jesus Christ, even the difficult and culturally-conflicted ones. Hannah’s faith on the other hand, is more flexible. She can be her own judge of how to live as a Christian.
The entire kerfuffle was about definitions. I can explain it this way. Let’s say Hannah and Luke both claimed they live “cruelty-free.” And prior to the show, they each spoke about their commitment to animals, had social media posts about not purchasing, eating or using animal products of any kind. And everyone knew that was what they meant when they said they were “cruelty-free.”
But after hearing a few random comments about eating barbecue, Luke starts thinking he needs to double check with Hannah about her commitment to living cruelty-free. He doesn’t want to put words in her mouth, so he states his own decision: “I believe not consuming animals or using products made from animals is an honorable thing. I haven’t always been a vegan, and I know you weren’t either. But when I became a vegan, I knew I wanted a partner who would completely commit to living cruelty-free. I have deep feelings for you, and I want this to work between us, but if you are going to be eating barbecue with one or multiple of these guys, I would want to go home.”
Now imagine Hannah’s response is, “Some of the things you just said, I don’t agree with at all. And now I’m mad. You feel like you have the right to question me and judge me!? You don’t at this point. I am committed to living cruelty-free, but that doesn’t mean you can tell me eating barbecue with any -- or all of these guys -- means I am not a vegan! You have no right to ask me if I ate meat with anyone else. I’m a grown woman and I can make my own decisions. You’re judging me and saying if I have a hamburger with someone that I’m not committed to living cruelty-free – which I am!”
Wouldn’t everyone be scratching their heads saying, “Wait, then what does it mean to be a vegan? What is a commitment to living cruelty free?”
If someone rejects the tenets of an ideology, are they still a follower of it? If Hannah said, you can still be a vegan as long as you only eat meat is when it’s cooked over an open flame – wouldn't other vegans would be saying, “Pump the breaks, sweetheart. That’s NOT what it means to be a vegan!”
And that’s really what the disagreement was all about. As soon as Hannah redefined a biblical doctrine to mean what she wants it to mean, then she is no longer “following” Christ. It's a different religion. Forming your own religion is fine, Christians just prefer you don’t call it “Christianity.”
Many people think the Christian standard for sex is “archaic” and sexist. And sadly, too many Christians have no idea why the biblical standard is sex-within-marriage exclusive. It’s not that virginity is a "prize" and therefore virgins are more valuable than non-virgins. It’s not about patriarchal control, or camouflaged misogyny.
I have some experience in this arena. I became a Christian at 31. When I first learned the biblical standard was abstinence-before-faithfulness-after, I assumed the doctrine was written to ensure paternity for father-to-son birthright. In my view at the time, the practice was hardly necessary now, because there are other means for establishing paternity. No one in my early days as a Christian ever explained the doctrine or gave me a reason to adopt the biblical standard in my own life.
But that was a long time ago. As it happens there are two brilliant reasons why the bible sanctions sex exclusively within marriage. One is practical and one is divine.
First the practical. Sexual self-control before marriage develops the ability to resist temptation after marriage. If you intend to make a legal lifetime commitment to be sexually faithful to one person, then you really should acquire the necessary skills to keep such vow before you make it! And the fact is, even after you find the love of your life, you will still have sexual thoughts, feelings and fantasies about other people. Learning how to NOT to give in to them, is a skill. A skill you have to develop, because it is completely unnatural!
Second, the divine. Marital fidelity was meant to be an earthly representation of the love of Jesus Christ. Jesus fulfilled a legal requirement on behalf of humanity (what Christians refer to as atonement, or "paying our sin debt"). He chose to do it in spite of emotional and physical abandonment; in spite of being misunderstood, reviled and humiliated. Sexual exclusivity among married Christians was meant to be the consummate illustration of that act of divine love.
Imagine if the one thing the world knew about followers of Jesus was that we refuse to use others for sexual pleasure before marriage, even though we have both passion and desire. What if they knew the reason we make that personal sacrifice is because we believe it’s always wrong to use people made in the image of God. And what if the reason we practice sexual self-control before marriage is because we want to be faithful AFTER marriage! Rather than being seen as archaic, repressed and enslaved – Christian selflessness would be heroic, enlightened and liberated.
I feel bad for how Luke Parker was vilified. But the blame falls squarely on those who choose their own definition of what it means to be a “person of faith,” and on the rest of us who cannot articulate the practicality and brilliance of the biblical standard.