Is "Pure" the Right Word?

Christian young people are encouraged to keep themselves sexually pure. At a first pass, that seems like sound advice. But I’m not comfortable with the use of the word “pure”.

Suppose I’m taking a walk across a grassy hillside on a bright Spring morning, and I come by a lad and lassie making out on the grass. They’re having sex! Apart from the fact they haven’t taken enough care with privacy, I might be inclined to smile and discreetly walk on. Trouble is, their wedding isn’t until a week on Thursday. So I shake my head sadly, and say, “Impure”.

Three weeks later, I’m taking the same walk, and lo and behold, here they are again! Same place, same couple, same activity. This time with shiny new rings on their fingers. So this time I smile, and say “Pure”.

True, something fundamental has changed – they are now firmly installed in their covenant relationship with each other and with God. Let’s hope their sexual understanding and maturity will grow exponentially. But the use of the word “pure” doesn’t seem to work does it? The activity has not magically changed from nasty, grubby, tainted to holy and pure. It’s now appropriate, whereas before it wasn’t. But “impure” to “pure”?

The discussion is a subtle one, because there are places where these words do seem to fit better. A gang rape for example. Or a young woman being pressured, shamed, cajoled into sexual activity she doesn’t really want. These situations provoke our anger, so that “impure” becomes too weak a word.

Christian young people, and indeed the church as a whole, are sadly in need of renewed understanding and vision concerning all things sexual. Words and phrases like sexual integrity, relational integrity, respect, glad acceptance of my own body and sexuality, and many more need to gain currency and appreciation. But let’s be careful with “pure” and “impure”.