When WORLD published some articles by Lauren Winner ("In Pursuit of Bridget & Carrie,"; "Home Cooking,"; "Single Minded," a number of readers with good memories asked, "Why are you publishing something by an author you earlier castigated as the 'Christian Cosmo Girl' for advocating premarital sex?" Other readers turned the question around: "Why is this author willing to write for you after you were so mean to her?"
These readers were referring to a controversy that broke out after Ms. Winner posted an article on Beliefnet.com in Jan. 2000, titled "Sex and the Single Evangelical."
It began with totally frank and honest talk about how she, as a young woman in her 20s, had premarital sex with her boyfriend. She told how a friend rebuked her by calling her an "evangelical whore." She argued that sex among unmarried Christians is rampant, but that the church is not facing up to this fact. Just calling for chastity does not work. She recommended greater honesty and studying what the Bible really says on the issue, as opposed to what we assume it says.
The article made me mad for lots of reasons. The author was blithely, unashamedly reveling in her sin, it seemed to me, and was mocking traditional morality. Instead of dealing with sin through repentance, confession, and accepting the forgiveness of Christ, the article seemed to be dealing with sin by denying that there is anything wrong with it.
So I decided to write my column for WORLD on Ms. Winner and her article. Its title was an allusion to the 1962 book Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown, who further popularized its themes when she became editor of Cosmopolitan. So I titled my response "The Christian Cosmo Girl" in the Feb. 19, 2000 issue.
In it, to put it mildly, I expressed my disapproval, as did others. The wrath of evangelicaldom descended on Ms. Winner. The controversy hurt her reputation and hurt her.
Now she has written Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity, which makes a strong case for biblical sexual morality.
"I regret writing the article," Ms. Winner says now, "and I hope it didn't lead anyone astray. I think my flippant tone obscured any good the article might have done." And yet, she still thinks her critics missed the point of the article. She was not intending to advocate premarital sex, she says, just calling for the church to face up to the problem. "I was probably crying out for some help with this area of sin in my own life."
In the article, she did say the church needs to make a better case to its young people who are ignoring its teachings about sex. In her new book, she makes that case. Her article admitted, "What I am or am not doing in bed affects my relationship with God as much as what I do in church does." Her article concluded that Christians need to be accountable to each other for their sex lives. Again, her new book shows how that can be done. In retrospect, her audacious example of her own sex life seemed to be saying, The church needs to get through to someone like me.
Today she regrets the "glibness, flipness, insouciance" of the article. "I also have come to see how we really are embodied people, how sex cuts very close to who we are, and how malformed all of us are by this culture of premarital sex," she told me. "I think, when it comes down to it, when I wrote that article I just didn't think sex was that important. Which means I was guilty of-among other things, like the sin of fornication-Gnosticism."
And I regret the harshness of my column against her. Writing a column can be like throwing down thunderbolts from above, and journalists can be oblivious to the effects of their words. We both felt we needed to clear the air. We did the Matthew 18 thing.
"Yes, I kind of hated you for a year or two," she told me. But now "you and I have reconciled." She asks, Why are people surprised? Bringing about forgiveness and reconciliation is what God does. "Our God is the God of surprises."