Endangered species: abstinent New Yorkers

On this week's episode of Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom," we'll take you inside the world of an endangered species: young humans "living the abstinent lifestyle in New York." I kid. I kid.

But a New York Times feature on conservative religious types waiting on sex until marriage (a la Tim Tebow) has a safari-type feel — as if the newspaper is introducing readers to zoo animals. The largely clinical portrayal of "chaste Christians" lacks any real spiritual or religious depth.

The top of the story:

Trinity Laurel moved to Manhattan at 21 to pursue a modeling career. Raised in a Christian home, Laurel was a virgin when she reached the city, and says she has “remained pure” while living here since.

Not all of her friends can relate.

“They’re like, ‘How do you do that?’ ” Laurel, now 28, said. “People are almost fascinated.”

Welcome to New York, Tim Tebow. Now that the Jets have broken training camp and Tebow, a famous chaste Christian, becomes a full-time New Yorker, it has become a common, and mildly amusing, pastime to fret about the temptations he might face or the potential loneliness he might suffer.

It has become a common, and mildly amusing, pastime ... Seriously? Pastime among whom? Among average New Yorkers? Or in a specific elite American newsroom? But I digress.

Laurel figures prominently in the story, yet the Times never endeavors to go below the surface of her Christianity or her commitment to abstinence.

The newspaper never asks Laurel or the other abstinent interviewees why they refrain from premarital sex. It seems obvious that their decision relates to their religious beliefs. Yet the Times never lets them express their beliefs in their own words. Such personal insight certainly would have improved the one-dimensional story.

It's not that the story is adversarial toward the abstinent interviewees. It's friendly enough. It's that the paper does not go far enough to tell a real story, instead settling for a narrative in which the main characters come across as cardboard cutouts.

One of the more interesting people quoted in the story is a campus minister:

The Rev. Michael Keller, who grew up in Manhattan and who leads the Reformed University Fellowship City Campus ministry at Redeemer, said New York’s commodified approach to sex makes life more difficult for the abstinent. “If everyone else is using sex as something to consume, you will too,” he said.

Later, there's this from Keller:

Rev. Keller, of Redeemer Presbyterian, said he did not like the idea of organizing singles-based activities for abstinent members of the congregation. “It’s important,” he said. “But I also don’t want to elevate it to make it an ultimate thing.”

What does Keller mean when he says he doesn't "want to elevate it to make it an ultimate thing?" Are there non-abstinent, non-married members of the congregation? What does the church teach concerning premarital sex? Do young people find it difficult to adhere to those teachings?

There's so much left unsaid — and unasked — in this story. But at least readers get to see the lions and tigers and abstinent religious types, oh my.

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