Recently I was asked to speak at a conference focused on adolescent sexuality. The conference was sponsored by a few secular non-profits, including Planned Parenthood and The Crisis Teen Pregnancy Center; and the mission of the event was clear: to help young people make positive sexual choices and avoid teen pregnancies.
This was not a usual venue, or topic, for me.
In fact, at first, I wasn’t even totally sure why I would be invited. But they asked if I would speak about abstinence as one of many healthy sexual choices a teen could make, and I agreed.
And then, there I was, right where I always am, in the middle.
I’m a middle child, and so obviously, I have issues—all the freudian idiosyncrasies that come along with middle-childness. It’s this need to be the peacemaker, the bridge-builder, this constant tendency to find myself in the middle of things. I’m usually the one who sees things from this side, but also from that side.
I’m the one who can’t pick a position, can’t make a choice, the one who always finds herself riding the fence with things.
I have, in the past, hated myself for this, tried to talk myself out of it, told myself this was unhealthy and “weak” and that one day I would grow out of it.
But, for now at least, this is where I am.
On the one hand, I was certain the “abstinence” talk would be by far the least popular conversation at a conference centered around sex. I mean, really? Nobody ever wrote a song with lyrics that go, “let’s talk about abstinence, baby.” This is exactly nobody’s favorite topic.
And yet, I was welcomed by the conference staff warmly when I arrived. I shared what I’d been taught in youth group growing up, what conversations we’d had about sex in my house, what worked for me when it came to abstinence, and what I never understood as a teen.
I shared some of the sexual decisions I made, and why they weren’t the right choices for me, and how I found the courage to make the right ones.
After my presentation, I had several people thank me sincerely for sharing.
On the other hand, outside, I could feel the protestors looming.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that there were protestors outside the whole time. They were upset the liberal conference was being hosted in their small town, disapproving of the non-profits who supported it and frustrated that adolescents were allowed to attend the event (because of the sexual content).
They were pretty calm, I guess, as far as protestors go. In fact, I don’t think most of the conference attendees minded them too much.
But for me, from my place in the middle, I couldn’t help but feel like, “Hey, while you’re out here being angry, I’m going to go inside and have a dialogue.” And in this sense, being in the middle wasn’t a weak place or a wishy-washy place. It was a terrifying place, a growing, confusing and sometimes awkward place. It took a ton of courage to stand in the middle.
I think, as Christians, we need to rethink the way we’ve always talked about sex.
I don’t think we can keep reusing old language to talk to new young people, or using old language to talk about new topics (sexting is a thing for teens now, for example). We can’t keep saying, “because the Bible says so” and expect adolescents are going to listen (the Bible doesn’t say anything about sexting, I checked).
Sure, God is the Word, and God is alive, but I think that means our words need to be alive with Him, always shifting and changing and growing as our culture changes and grows. We need to find new ways to explain the benefits of putting off sex, even if (and when) others don’t make the choices we think they should.
We need to expand the conversation, to be willing to go places we haven’t been willing to go before.
We need to be building bridges, not burning them.
If we don’t learn to talk about it in a new way—if we keep holding signs out in front of buildings—we won’t make any progress.
Saying all that feels hard for me, but I’m owning my place in the middle.
The middle isn’t a weak place like I’ve always thought it was. It’s not a non-position position. It’s a position in itself. It isn’t easy standing in the middle—any more than it is easy to stand on one side or the other. We need people who are willing to stand their ground, to fight for what they believe is good.
Including in the middle.
So, as for me, I’ll keep doing what I do—keep seeing both sides from where I’m standing, and keep standing here, in the middle. And I guess you can keep doing what you do, too, even if it’s holding signs out in front of buildings. Chances are you feel as passionate about your positions as I do mine, here in the middle. So I won’t try to talk you out of it.
In fact, next time I just might stop and ask you your story.