A PLEA FOR PURITY: SEX, GOD AND MARRIAGE

by Johann Christoph Arnold Plough Publishing, 2002 182 pages, $10 Available from online booksellers or call (845) 658-8351

First published in 1996, Johann Christoph Arnold's A Plea for Purity now includes a recently released joint statement from the Archdiocese of New York and Arnold's Bruderhof community, an Anabaptist offshoot. Both the statement and the book are a vibrant and hope-filled call for Christians to form “a genuine sexual counterculture” in the midst of our decadent society.

The book also comes with a warm recommendation from Mother Teresa. This is appropriate, because it is brimming with the spirit of the recently beatified nun, combining simplicity with profound wisdom. That is to say, it reflects the spirit of the Gospel.

The result is that reading this book is not simply a matter of gaining new information and insights. It is more like going on a little retreat. Arnold's approach to marriage and sexuality is reverent and contemplative.

On the topic of sex within marriage, he writes: “When a man and woman unite, they should have the attitude Moses had when he came upon the burning bush: ‘Here is holy ground; take off your shoes!’ (Exodus 3:5). Their attitude must always be one of reverence for their Creator and for the mystery of marriage. … When a couple experiences the sexual sphere in this way, they will feel that their union cannot be meant only for procreation. At the same time they must remember that through their uniting a new life may come into being. If they are truly reverent, they will feel such an awe for the holiness of this fact that their union will become like a prayer to God.”

Though Arnold is not Catholic, his thinking bears a distinctly Catholic sensibility. His views on contraception, divorce, remarriage and abortion are far closer to Catholic doctrine than that of almost any Protestant denomination. His chapter on the single life offers an excellent apologia for priestly celibacy and consecrated chastity. And, although Arnold never quotes Pope John Paul II explicitly, the Holy Father's groundbreaking talks on the theology of the body seem to have influenced his thinking.

Arnold is not afraid to speak courageously, even when he knows some will scoff.

He approaches hard topics such as masturbation, contraception, homosexuality, abortion and divorce with a refreshing mix of both gentleness and orthodox Christian teaching. And he understands that insisting on reverence for sex and marriage will never be easy.

“Wherever God's will is consistently lived out,” he writes, “it will be misunderstood and seen as provocation (1 Peter 4:4). Two thousand years have not made our present world any more tolerant of Jesus’ message than the world of his time. Those who are unwilling to accept his way will always be resentful and even vindictive toward those who witness to it, and the clash is inevitable (John 15:18-20).”

Not all readers will agree with everything the Bruderhofs, including Johann Arnold, have to say. On the topic of raising kids, Arnold suggests he is opposed to corporal punishment of any kind. He downplays the role of religious education for children, suggesting that the loving witness of the adults around them is enough. Still, A Plea for Purity: Sex, God and Marriage offers worthwhile reading. Couples at any stage of their married life will benefit, as well as people preparing for marriage or who plan to marry someday.

Barry Michaels writes from

Blairsville, Pennsylvania.