Chastity Is New Organizing Principle of the Christian Right - Rolling Stone
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The Young and the Sexless

There’s a new sexual revolution going on: young men and women getting off on not getting it on. Meet the Christian soldiers who are fighting the fire down below

Robin Power (left) in this Brooklyn apartment he shares with Bryan Powell (right), smoking tobacco from their hookah, and Matt Dunbar (with girlfriend Anna Larson). The conquests they brag about are the women they don't sleep with. On his right wrist, Power wears a "masturband," symbolizing one's control over carnal urges.Robin Power (left) in this Brooklyn apartment he shares with Bryan Powell (right), smoking tobacco from their hookah, and Matt Dunbar (with girlfriend Anna Larson). The conquests they brag about are the women they don't sleep with. On his right wrist, Power wears a "masturband," symbolizing one's control over carnal urges.

Robin Power (left) in this Brooklyn apartment he shares with Bryan Powell (right), smoking tobacco from their hookah, and Matt Dunbar (with girlfriend Anna Larson). The conquests they brag about are the women they don't sleep with. On his right wrist, Power wears a "masturband," symbolizing one's control over carnal urges.

Gillian Laub

This story originally appeared June 30th, 2005, in Issue 977/978, of Rolling Stone

WHAT IF THE TRUE FACE OF THE CHRISTIAN right in America is not that of Dr. James Dobson or Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson; not that of an aging, comb-over preacher orange with pancake makeup, smiling orca rows of ungodly white teeth on The O’Reilly Factor or Hardball? Nor that of spittle-flecked Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kansas, roaring that God hates fags? What if the true face of the Christian right is, instead, that of a twenty-four-year-old religious-studies graduate student at New York University?

Matt Dunbar is a handsome young man, though his face is still ruddy with acne. He has rounded cheeks, a soul patch beneath his lips and soft eyes that hold yours like he trusts you. He’s not a prude. He will say the word “fuck,” but he will never, not even in the wedding bed he hopes God has prepared for his future, embody it as a verb. He will make Christian love. What most of us call sex he calls communion, and he believes it can happen only within marriage.

Chastity is a new organizing principle of the Christian right, built on the notion that virgins are among God’s last loyal defenders, knights and ladies of a forgotten kingdom. Sex outside of marriage is, in the words of D. James Kennedy, pastor of the influential Coral Ridge Ministries in Florida, “an uprising against God.” But if sex is the perfect enemy of the blessed lifestyle, it is also the Holy Grail for those who wait: “A symphony of the soul for married couples,” according to John Hagee, author of What Every Man Wants in a Woman.

“Abstinence,” says Dunbar, “is counter-cultural,” a kind of rebellion, he says, against materialism, consumerism and “the idea that anything can be bought and sold.” It is a spiritual war against the world, against “sensuality,” according to one virginity manual popular with men like Dunbar. This elevation of virginity — especially for men — as a way of understanding yourself and your place in the world is new. It’s also very old. First-century Christians took the idea so seriously that many left their wives for “house monasteries,” threatening the very structure of the family. The early church responded by institutionalizing virginity through a priestly caste set apart from the world, a condition that continues to this day within Roman Catholicism. Now, though, the Protestants of the Christian right are reclaiming that two-tiered system, only they’re projecting it onto individual lives, making every young man and woman part of an elite virgin corps.

“The world hasn’t yet seen what God can do with an army of young men free of sexual fevers,” write the authors of Every Young Man’s Battle, one volume in a hugely popular series of “purity” manuals. “You can remain pure so that you might qualify for such an army.”

It’s a never-ending war, and not one that can be fought alone. Which is why virgins like Dunbar tend to travel in packs, to church and to Bible studies but also to parties and even to bars. Dunbar and his friends help one another stay “pure,” which they consider “authentic.” He lives with three close friends in a warehouse apartment in Williamsburg, a Brooklyn hipster neighborhood of artists and slackers. Two of his roommates are virgins; the other, a Mormon named Edd Lewis, is a “recycled virgin.” He’s had sex but won’t again until he’s married.

All four are from Visalia, California, a small farming city far from the coast. Dunbar’s best friend in the group is Robin Power, whom he met in the ninth grade. Power’s whole family looked like the ideal of Christian authenticity Dunbar had begun desiring for himself since his parents divorced when he was seven. Dunbar grew up in an Episcopal church and entered evangelicalism only after the separation; Power’s family had always been zealous for God. Power’s dad recorded Christian rock albums and the whole family jammed together, not like the Partridges but like Christian Ramones. Power played around town in Visalia’s punk scene; Dunbar practiced the drums at home and dreamed of joining one of Power’s bands.

Then, when Dunbar was fifteen, he became “convicted of secular music,” which means he decided it was causing him to be sinful. He had a lot of friends who were destroying their collections, hammering their CDs or burning them or snapping each in two, but Dunbar concluded that it wasn’t the music itself that was wrong, it was his own shallow response. He couldn’t distinguish between the mood of the music and the meaning of the lyrics. Rage Against the Machine were all right, because they were angry and their music told you so. Sublime, with their punk-ska beat married to brooding lyrics about heroin and whores, were too advanced for him. He tossed his copy and committed himself to a painful period of Christian music. Later, he bought another copy.

When I first meet Power, he’s working a gutter-punk look, a thick, dark beard and layers of ratty hoodies and buttons advertising deeply obscure bands. Faith, to him, is an ascetic discipline, its purity polished by constant self-criticism. “I can get aroused looking at a stoplight,” he says, his giant eyes leaving mine and following a woman down Broadway. They snap back to me and he says, “Anything can be inappropriate. If I look at some woman and undress her with my eyes, that’s just as bad as going down on her.”

After church one day, Dunbar, Power and I sit on a bench and lean back in the sun and watch Sunday morning stroll by. “Cleavage everywhere,” notes Dunbar, not disapprovingly. Power holds up his right hand. Wrapped around his wrist, in a figure eight, is a black plastic bracelet. “This,” he says, “is a ‘masturband.'” One of their friends at college — Pepperdine University -came up with the idea. As long as you stay pure — resist jerking off — you can wear your masturband. Give in, and off it goes, a scarlet letter in reverse. No masturband? No one wants to shake your hand. “It started with just four of us,” says Dunbar. “Then there were, like, twenty guys wearing them. And girls too. The more people that wore them, the more people knew, the more reason you had to refrain.” Dunbar even told his mother. He lasted the longest. “Eight and a half months,” he says. I notice he’s not wearing one now. He’s not embarrassed. Sexuality, he believes, is not a private matter.

DUNBAR HAS STARTED DATing, a gorgeous blond actress named Anna Larson — also a virgin — and Power is engaged to a makeup artist at UCLA She’s a virgin, too. Dunbar and Larson believe in kissing, but he’ll always tell Power and his other housemates if he feels tempted to push it farther. Power and his fiancée sometimes get hot talking on the telephone, but afterward Power likewise confesses to Dunbar or another Christian brother. On Sundays they attend services at the Journey, a floating evangelical church. The congregation is around seventy-five percent single, most of them under thirty. Not having sex means talking about it constantly; the topic of sex and why to wait for it comes up in nearly every sermon, under titles such as “Desperate Sex Lives,” “Sex and the City” and “What a Girl Wants.”

One spring Sunday, the church meets in a theater on Upper Broadway. (It’s since moved to a larger venue. Only three years old, the congregation is growing so fast it doesn’t want to commit to real estate.) The lobby is packed and loud right up to the beginning of the service, with well-scrubbed men and women greeting one another with chaste sideways hugs. Body to body, chest to chest, says Power, is just too enticing.

Church takes place on a stage set for a play. Half of every service features the Journey band, a competent ensemble that sets hymns to grunge and emo arrangements. During my visit, I can’t take my eyes off the three female backup singers, especially a redhead on the right, swinging her hips in loose cargo pants that are nonetheless tight in the ass. She’s braless and grooving, way too sexy for church, shooting a single finger over her head — the “One Way” Jesus sign Billy Graham embraced more than thirty years ago.

Since then, the Christian right has steadily reinvented itself by co-opting the language of the sexual revolution. Pastor Nelson Searcy, a roly-poly thirty-three-year-old Jimmy Buffett fan who moved from California, “called” by God as a pastor to New York, preaches not in a suit or a collar but in a hipster’s bowling shirt, and he references his Bible as often as he shows trailer clips from contemporary movies like The Stepford Wives and The Notebook. But the message remains the same: a laundry list of fundamentalist prohibitions rephrased in PowerPoint alliteration. The three proper passions -God’s presence, God’s people and God’s plan — combined with purity equals power. Power is the objective, the strength to stay “pure” in a world full of sexed-up heathens.

A few days earlier, Dunbar says, he’d gone to a bar with “secular friends.” They all got a little buzzed — the Bible is big on wine, he points out — and began talking about sex. “Dunbar,” volunteered one of the secular guys, “is a virgin.” The guy was laughing. “By choice,” the guy added.

Which was a huge mistake, notes Dunbar. All female eyes left the man who wanted their attention and rotated Dunbar’s way. Four girls surrounded him, demanding to know everything. Was he embarrassed? (“I’d only be embarrassed if I was trying to get some.”) Is oral OK? Anal? Hand jobs? (He doesn’t like to be “legalistic,” caught up in rules, and he has friends who had enjoyed anal sex and still call themselves virgins, but — no.) Has he always been a virgin? (“Uh, yeah. That’s what Virgin’ means.”) Why? (Jesus, romance, it all blends together.)

One of Dunbar’s roommates once found himself in a similar situation, Dunbar tells me. He’d had a harder time deflecting the attention, until one woman had moved in for the kill. “Sex is something I just do,” she’d said, and then took a chip off a plate of nachos. “Like eating.” If she’d had a chance of bagging Dunbar’s virgin comrade, she’d lost it there. “The whole sex/ nacho thing?” Dunbar tells me. “It just doesn’t make sense to a virgin.”

Dunbar (center) and Power (right) at a recent party in their Williamsburg apartment, where their glam-goth band entertained guests with Eighties hits. Their brand of evangelical Christianity does not forbid dancing and drinking. Only premarital sex.

Dunbar (center) and Power (right) at a recent party in their Williamsburg apartment, where their glam-goth band entertained guests with Eighties hits. Their brand of evangelical Christianity does not forbid dancing and drinking. Only premarital sex. Photo by Gillian Laub

Gillian Laub

Food, in fact, is the opposite of sex among most Christian virgins. Food, after all, belongs to the material world. Sex, on the other hand, is supernatural. They read the biblical Song of Solomon — lovers rhapsodizing over each other, he obsessed with her breasts like “two fawns” and her “rounded thighs like jewels”; she with his legs like “alabaster columns” and his lips like lilies, “dripping sweet-smelling myrrh” — not as erotica but as a metaphor for the love between man and God. Sex that is just two bodies in motion strikes them as empty, even if love is involved. Every encounter must be a kind of threesome: man, wife and the Lord. Without that, it’s just fucking.

SUCKERS FOR ROMANCE,” LESLEE Unruh, the founder of Abstinence Clearinghouse, describes men like Dunbar and Power. She means that as praise, because she considers virgins revolutionaries. “We want authenticity,” she says. “We want what’s real.” Unruh launched Abstinence Clearinghouse in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in 1997. She had been a self-declared “chastity” educator since the early Eighties, but it wasn’t until the Clinton years that the Christian right fully discovered sex as a weapon in the culture wars, and Unruh began working with conservative politicians.

Abstinence Clearinghouse acts as a nexus for activists and as their voice in Washington, claiming as “our friends” a who’s who of the GOP’s hard-right edge, Karl Rove, Sen. Rick Santorum, Sen. Sam Brownback and a slew of officials with unrecognizable names and a great deal of money to work with, abstinence crusaders in the departments of Health and Human Services and of Education. Abstinence Clearinghouse brings these people together with activists at conferences, “purity balls” and abstinence teas. It sponsors “Faces of Abstinence” around the country, good-looking young men and women who work the Christian lecture circuit spreading the no-Sex gospel.

The Clearing-house has been working with the federal Centers for Disease Control, in part to establish a “gold standard” for abstinence-only sex-education programs in public schools. Meanwhile, this year the Bush administration is backing the movement with $167 million in public funds. By statute, these programs are secular, but Unruh considers herself broadminded enough to work within those guidelines. If religion is to be kept out of the schools, she says, “shame and conscience” are important tools in its place. But romance, more than anything else, guides her understanding of sexuality. This is what she finds romantic: a father who gives his teenage daughter a “purity” ring, which will be returned on her wedding day and handed to his daughter’s new husband, her virginity passed from man to man like a baton.

Therein lies the paradox of the virginity movement. It is at once an attempt to transcend cultural influences through the timelessness of Scripture and a painfully specific response to the sexual revolution. The “women’s lib” movement, Dunbar believes, preached a message of self-satisfaction: “Do what you want.” It is, in his view and that of many in the virginity movement, a product of the same cultural mindset that produced America’s booming porn industry. Both are based on instant gratification: women obsessed with winning the privileges of men rather than learning to enjoy the pleasures of Christian submission, men demanding the fast-food sexuality of explicit imagery.

But it’s not just feminism that’s to blame. It’s also what the Christian right sees as an effeminized church. “Christianity, as it currently exists, has done some terrible things to men.” writes John Eldredge, the author of a best-selling manhood guide called Wild at Heart. He thinks that church life in America has pacified Christian men and made them weak. Women who are frustrated with their girlie-man husbands and boyfriends seize power, and the men retreat to the safe haven of porn instead of whipping the ladies back into line. What women really want, he says, “is to be fought for.” And men, he claims, are “hard-wired” by God for battle; Jesus wants them to be warriors in the vein of Braveheart and Gladiator.

Wild at Heart and Eldredge’s other best sellers, The Journey of Desire and The Sacred Romance (as well as “field manual” workbooks that can be purchased separately), address sexual “purity” as part of the fabric of Christian manliness. The most important of these books is Every Man’s Battle, which, in the past five years, has become a powerful brand name unto itself, with dozens of Every Man spinoff titles: Every Young Man’s Battle, Every ‘Woman’s Battle, Preparing Tour Son for Every Man’s Battle and on and on. There’s also an Every Young Man’s Battle movie filmed on actual battlefields from history and featuring an interview with former NFL player William White and a discussion between Christian-right leader Dr. James Dobson and serial killer Ted Bundy.

The Every Man premise is that men are sexual beasts, so sinful by nature that, without God in their lives, they don’t stand a chance of resisting temptation in the form of premarital sex, masturbation and straying eyes. I first heard about the Every Man books from a volunteer at the Journey, a twenty-five-year-old man who said he’d slept with forty women before he re-virgined with the help of the series.

“Your goal is sexual purity,” write Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker. “You are sexually pure when no sexual gratification comes from anyone or anything but your wife.” To achieve this, they argue, men must go to a kind of war. Citing Dobson, they note the “fact” that men experience a buildup of sperm demanding “release” approximately every seventy-two hours. For single men, wet dreams, if purged of sexual imagery, can act as “God’s natural release valve.” (Arterburn and Stoeker believe you can actually train yourself to remove the lust from such dreams.) “Your life is under a withering barrage of machine-gun sexuality that rakes the landscape mercilessly,” they report. They encourage making lists of “areas of weakness.” They seem particularly concerned with shorts: “nubile sweat-soaked girls in tight nylon shorts”; “female joggers in tight nylon shorts”; “young mothers in shorts, leaning over to pull children out of car seats.” To avoid these temptations, men must train themselves to “bounce” their eyes off female curves. They recommend memorizing the locations of sexy billboards so that you can look away and switching your TV to ESPN or Fox News if a tempting commercial comes on the screen. And there’s always Scripture. The authors hold up the books of Joshua and Ezekiel as armor against non-Christian women. “Mixture,” they write, “can destroy a people.”

The books’ implicit disdain for non-Christian women — in Every Young Man’s Battle, one name for a sexually active unmarried woman is “Betty Jo ‘B.J.’ Blowers” -is matched by their reverence for the virtue of Christian womanhood. There are books that address the temptations faced by Christian women, but the Every Man series more often presents the decadence of the world as a result of men’s failure to be guardians and servants of female purity.

Every Man operates a hot line, 800-NEW-LIFE, for men who’ve “threatened” their relationships through their use of pornography. When I called to confess that reading about tight nylon shorts in Every Young Man’s Battle had aroused me, a professional masturbation counselor named Jason told me that pornography is “probably the number-one cause of divorce.” Then he suggested I sign up for a five-day, $1,800 Every Man’s Battle workshop (held monthly in hotels around the country) in which I would take classes on shame, “false intimacy” and “temptation cycles” and work with other men in small groups toward “recovery.”

They also offer a two-day “outpatient program” for women, Every Heart Restored, to help wives deal with their husbands’ depravity. The message there is that women are inherently more pure than men and thus simpler, and yet their sexuality is complicated and subtle. Husband and wife must play carefully scripted roles. “True manhood,” promises one Christian manhood guide, gets “polished by the hand of God.” True womanhood, meanwhile, requires the servanthood of a man devoted to his wife’s pleasure, a dedication virgins believe will be diluted by men’s premarital adventures. “Robin read a statistic,” Dunbar tells me on the phone one day, “that men who have sex before marriage are something like 600 percent more likely to experience a drop-off of sexual passion once they are married.” If you accept that number, the incentive for premarital chastity is stunning: a post-wedding life of sex that’s 600 percent more awesome.

ONE NIGHT, DUNBAR AND Power show me a video of a party they hosted at their Williamsburg apartment. They and their two roommates were the entertainment, playing Eighties covers for a packed house. Since the last time I’ve seen him, Power has shaved his beard and taken to wearing eyeliner for no particular reason. In the video, he wore snakeskin tights and played a red guitar; Dunbar was a retro vision in white pants, white muscle shirt and a red, white and blue headband. They sang “Like a Virgin” and “I Want Candy.” Power wailed “Roxanne,” Dunbar closed his eyes and moaned “Tainted Love.”

“You’re so hot!” screamed a girl in the crowd.

After the video, we head out to a bar to meet a group of Christians celebrating a birthday. It’s a low-ceilinged basement with dim light and a belly dancer. We sip our beers, hovering over a table of dancers and musicians, mostly women, about half of them, to the best of Dunbar’s knowledge, virgins. I tell him I’d like to talk to one of them about her chastity.

He nods toward a brunette at the end of the table. “That’s Hilary. She’d be good. She’s a Rockette.”

“How should I broach the subject?”

Dunbar looks confused. “Just tell her you want to talk about her virginity.”

So I walk up to a beautiful woman in a bar and say, “I hear you’re a virgin.” And she looks up at me with eyes like blue velvet and smiles like I’ve just paid her the best compliment of the evening.

It turns out Hilary Rushford is an inch too short to make the official Rockette squad, but she performs backup with them. And she is, indeed, a virgin, twenty-five years old. Next to her sits her date, Chad Riley. It’s their second time out together. He’s twenty-seven, lean and muscled, a commercial photographer and also a “warrior,” an “on-fire” Christian who describes himself as a “total virgin.”

Rushford says that a friend of hers had sex and said it was awful.

Hilary Rushford, 25, a dancer who was an inch too short for the Rockettes, does not consider herself a prude. In high school, she dated guys who constantly pressed her for more. When she committed to celibacy, it was more for herself than for Jesus. She considers her virginity to be a truth about herself that no man can touch.

Hilary Rushford, 25, a dancer who was an inch too short for the Rockettes, does not consider herself a prude. In high school, she dated guys who constantly pressed her for more. When she committed to celibacy, it was more for herself than for Jesus. She considers her virginity to be a truth about herself that no man can touch. Photo by Gillian Laub

Gillian Laub

“I hate fornication!” agrees Riley, who is still recovering from a relationship that lasted nine months without a kiss. But he doesn’t want me to mistake him for frigid. “I love kissing,” he says. “But I know my body and who I am.” Riley, it turns out, is actually a “born-again virgin.” In his early twenties, he strayed.

Rushford giggles. “Ephesians 5:3,” she says — the signal verse for Christians who prize chastity.” ‘But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality.

“A hint?” I ask. “How can you tell?”

“Once I get aroused, I know;” Riley says.

“Do you ever wonder what you’re missing?” I ask.

“How can you worry about what you’re missing if you’ve never tried it ?” he says.

Not knowing, he explains, is the best part, the biggest selling point of virginity for both Riley and Rushford. They will each be their spouse’s first lover, which means that she will not have to worry if her husband wishes her breasts were bigger, because he wouldn’t know, and he will not have to worry whether size matters, because she wouldn’t know.

Back in high school, Rushford dated guys who called themselves Christians who constantly pressed her for more. She kept her virginity, but only just, and when she left for college, she vowed to never let herself get used again. For her, virginity is the one truth about herself that no man can touch. But then, that’s long been the case for Christian women. Riley regards his chastity, lost and regained, as just as precious. His feelings about it are, by traditional standards, almost feminine. That’s what celibacy offers Christian men: the vulnerability of being a woman.

THE CLOSEST ANNA BROADWAY ever got to the “one flesh” of sexual communion were the busy hands of a secular man who took her on her first date in New York. She’d just moved here from Arizona, where she’d finished a master’s degree in religious studies at Arizona State University, when she met a man she describes as a short James Gandolfini. Not exactly her style. Broadway is twenty-six, tall and slender, with eyes the color of aspen leaves and lush lips that enjoy what she calls “salty language.” She’s busty, and she likes to wear tight tank tops and baby-doll tees. This particular date was a chubby, balding advertising executive she refers to only as “Ad Weasel.” Their evening went from dinner to his car to parking on the street outside her apartment, where Broadway, a virgin, felt for the first time a man’s hands “down there.” It felt good. Then he made his offer: His tongue, he said, would be more nimble.

“That’s when I realized,” she tells me, “I don’t have a battle plan.” So she made one up on the spot. Chastity, she decided, could not include orgasm. She removed Ad Weasel’s hands and informed him of her decision. Months later, he said to her, “Call me when you want to fuck,” and left her, still — by her definition — pure.

Broadway (a writing pseudonym she created so she wouldn’t shock her missionary parents) poured her frustration into her blog, “Sexless in the City,” and revisions of a dense essay on John Cusack movies she’d written in graduate school, “The Cult of the Orgasm as Romantic Mysticism.” “In a world that functionally operates on atheistic terms throughout most of its supposedly separate and autonomous spheres,” she writes. “What kind of ecstasy is left us, even, but that which occurs in sexual release?” In the movies, she writes, secular romance leads only to orgasm, but the real answer to her question is, of course, Jesus.

Broadway was part of what she describes as the “first wave” of Christian home-schoolers, protected by her parents from the false teachings of evolution and all the attendant pornography of so-called alternative lifestyle education, but her sex life began at age eight, when she began fantasizing about Almanzo, from The Little House on the Prairie. At twelve, she began lulling herself to sleep every night with elaborate sexual scenarios in serial form. Always, she swears, in the context of marriage.

Now she is part of an intellectual avant-garde of the purity brigades, an elite made up mostly of women. Besides Broadway, for instance, there’s Lauren F. Winner, a Jewish convert to Christianity and a religious-studies graduate student at Columbia and author of Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity, and Dawn Eden, also a convert from Judaism who writes a blog called “The Dawn Patrol” and is working on a book about “becoming newly chaste.”

Broadway views the Every Man books and Dobson’s precise approach to sexual regulation (Dobson offers a ten-stage scale in which pretty much everything after stage one — holding hands — is off-limits) as bad theology. She doesn’t want a sexuality that’s controlled and contained, and after much consideration, she’s decided that a sexless wet dream isn’t very hot. Broadway longs for a chastity that isn’t so much a denial of desire as its embrace. One of her favorite verbs is “savor,” and she talks about sex like it’s a food she is waiting for. In “Sexless in the City,” she writes about sending a vagina made of chocolate to “Ad Weasel” in lieu of her taking him up on his offer of cunnilingus.

The world, she says, is pulsing with sex. Some of it ugly; some of it, like the Song of Solomon, very beautiful; and most of it stupid and sad. Most people, she says, can’t help but look at the world through what she calls the “flesh-colored lens.” But Christians, she says, see a different reality. Like The Matrix, she claims. The Wachowski brothers’ trilogy of women in black latex and men with big guns have become cult films to Christian conservatives, drawn by the Christ story at the movies’ core, the search for “the One” — i.e., the Messiah. The fact that the series portrays the everyday world as not only in a state of decay but ruled by evil forces makes for an easy parallel to the theology of Christendom.

Anna Broadway, a New York writer who chronicles her life on the blog "Sexless in the City," is one of a number of intensely intelligent women making the case for celibacy. Though she says she has an unusually high sex drive, she also sees the dangers of sexuality. Evil and lust, she says, are a kind of poison, a "slow death" that we deserve.

Photo by Gillian Laub

Gillian Laub

Years ago, in college, Broadway participated in a Campus Crusade for Christ “infiltration” of the University of California at Berkeley, an attempt to plant covert evangelists in “subcultures” at the university so that they could gather information that could later be used to convert Bay Area heathens. It was, she says, a raid on enemy territory.

“The students were the enemy?” I asked.

She thinks for a while. No, she said. Lust was. Evil is like an ocean, icy cold. Non-Christians are on the verge of drowning, but they don’t realize their peril. Their minds are dulled by hypothermia. When a Christian pulls them out of the water, they struggle. The warmth makes their frozen nerve ends scream. “It hurts,” says Broadway.

BEFORE POWER BECAME FULLY Christian — back when he cared as much about his guitar as he did about God — he dated a non-Christian girl. His voice gets husky as he remembers: “There were times, when we were naked, and my tongue was inside her, and she’s whispering for me to go further.” Dunbar is staring at him. He knows this story, but he doesn’t mind hearing it again. It’s not prurient for them, it’s bonding. “There were times,” continues Power, “when I had to ask myself, What do I believe?'”

“But you weren’t alone with her,” Dunbar says.


Dunbar turns to me. “He had responsibility to us.” His brothers.

But Power kept letting them down. After high school, he stayed at home for a year while Dunbar and the rest of his friends went on to college. He joined a Christian punk band, Straight Forward. He started slipping. At Pepperdine he continued to slide. He began dating a woman only recently born again, still immature in her faith. She was thrilled by Power’s attention: He was a man known to be on fire for God. The girl -a “baby Christian,” in the lingo — wanted to get closer to that warmth. She did so the only way she knew how.

“A blow job,” says Power.

It had been one thing to go down on his girlfriend when he wasn’t sure what he believed. It was another to let a girlfriend go down on him after he’d committed himself to God. But then, he says, that’s how it works all too often when a man looks like he’s devoted to Jesus. “It becomes more about giving than receiving” — an implicit recognition of the sexism he knows permeates the best intentions. Even among Christians, the girls, he says, “will go down on you, but you don’t have to go down on them.”

The experience, he says, broke his heart. What it did for the girl, he can’t even imagine.

In August, Power and his fiancée will be married back home in Visalia, where Dunbar will be his best man. Power feels like he has waited a long time. He didn’t want to marry for sex, so he restrained himself from proposing until it did not even enter his mind. Soon he will experience his reward. A “sexual payoff,” according to the authors of Every Man’s Battle, that will “explode off any known scale.”

Like the fundamentalists of old, today’s Christian conservatives define themselves as apart from the world, and yet the modern movement aims to enjoy its fruits. To the biblical austerity of chastity, they add the promise of mind-blowing sex, using the very terms of the sexual revolution they rally against. And that’s just the beginning. Sexual regulation is a means, not an end. To believers, the movement offers a vision grander even than the loveliness of a virgin: a fairy tale in which every man will be a spiritual warrior, a knight in the service of the king of kings, promised the hand and the heart and, yes, the sexual services of a “lady.” That is the erotic dream of Christian conservatism: a restoration of chivalry, a cleansing of impurity, a nation without sin, an empire of the personal as political. “Power,” as Pastor Nelson of the Journey promises, is the guaranteed result of “passions properly pursued.”

Not having sex means talking about it constantly. At their church, where most of the congregation is young and single, sex comes up in nearly every sermon.

The movement recommends memorizing the locations of sexy billboards so you can avoid them and switching to Fox News when sexy commercials air.

Riley’s feelings about his chastity are, by traditional standards, feminine. That’s what celibacy offers Christian men: the vulnerability of being a woman.

To the biblical austerity of chastity, today’s Christians add the promise of mind-blowing sex, co-opting the terms of the sexual revolution they rally against.

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