Today's guest post comes from Suzanna Krivulskaya. Suzanna is a Ph.D. student in U.S. History at the University of Notre Dame. She studies U.S. religion, gender, sexuality, and scandal in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Suzanna can be found on Twitter via @suzzzanna.
Coming out to family is stressful for anyone, especially if the patriarch happens to be Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. Bright’s grandson, Chris Bright had to be especially creative in how he delivered the message. Convinced that flawed theology was at the heart of his parents’ rejection of homosexuality, Chris tried to change their minds by having them sit through “For The Bible Tells Me So,” a 2007 documentary about gay Christians. As Chris’s mom quietly sobbed on the couch anticipating the announcement of her son’s deviant sexuality, his dad loudly denounced the pro-gay theology that the documentary espoused. The coming out did not go as planned.
Give Me Sex Jesus” takes an enlightening look at the evangelical abstinence campaign that swept the nation in the mid-1990s. (By the early 2000s, it gained international momentum, reaching yours truly all the way in Belarus, where Chris Bright’s grandfather had sent Campus Crusade missionaries to spread the gospel among the ex-Soviet atheists.)
Evangelical teens made virginity pledges, donned “True Love Waits” promise rings, and held each other accountable for staying away from temptations like pornography, masturbation, and--God forbid--homosexuality.
This is a familiar story told in a fresh way: unlike other films in its genre, “Give Me Sex Jesus” takes seriously the theology behind evangelical purity. It does not laugh it off (although parts of the film are humorous) or dismiss it as inauthentic or entirely oppressive. Sure, “Give Me Sex Jesus” provides compassionate portraits of men and women who had overcome the shame of sex that the purity movement had instilled in them. But the film also tells the equally captivating stories of couples who had saved their first kiss for marriage and single Christians who are still patiently waiting for that first kiss, hoping desperately that Jesus won’t let them die or snatch them up in rapture before they’ve finally had sex.
Part of the allure of sex is, of course, in its prohibition. The culture such prohibition creates is one filled with contradictions, but also sincerity; loaded with jeopardy, but also with potential for reward.
Alongside the first-person stories of purity’s practitioners and gay, trans, and allied defectors, the documentary provides superb historical commentary by scholars like R. Marie Griffith, Amy DeRogatis, Janet Jakobsen, and Sara Moslener. But--as with the selection of its subjects--“Give Me Sex Jesus” does not give outsiders to the purity movement the last word. Megachurch pastors and abstinence proponents, most notably Richard Ross, the key architect of the “True Love Waits” movement, get (almost) equal screen time. What emerges from the juxtaposition is a complex and compelling picture of religion and sexuality in contemporary United States.
The excellent documentary is currently streaming for free on Vimeo. The feature’s website provides more information about the film. And director Matt Barber along with producer Brittany Machado were recently interviewed by Dan Savage on episode 493 of the “Savage Lovecast,” an excerpt of which can be found here.