The new Republican candidate for Senate in Delaware is known best for her positions on sex: She is a devout Catholic, chaste, anti-masturbation, pro-abstinence-only sex ed, anti-condoms and anti-porn. But Christine O'Donnell didn't grow up in a strict religious household.
For her, the turning point came in college. While at Fairleigh Dickinson University, she told the Delaware News Journal in April 2004, she did things she now regrets. As the News Journal put it, those things were "drinking too much and having sex with guys with whom there wasn't a strong emotional connection."
She was a junior, she said in another profile published in 2006, when a friend "asked me if I knew how an abortion was performed ... She showed me the medical journals, and it was frightening."
"There's only truth and not truth," she said. "You're either very good or evil. I went back to my dorm and asked myself what I was."
O'Donnell decided then to drop her acting ambitions (she was a theater major). She became an evangelical Christian, a departure from her relatively lax Catholic upbringing. She joined the College Republicans and campaigned for the Bush-Quayle ticket.
That was the beginning of O'Donnell as crusader. Her biggest crusade has become preaching abstinence until marriage to young women.
"Not only because I think I'm right," she said in 2004. "I know what it's like to live a life without principle."
But although she believes in no sex before marriage, she has also said time and again that what she strives for is not abstinence, not virginity, but chastity.
"I don't encourage anyone to seek 'abstinence.' I cringe at terms like 'secondary virginity' or 'recycled virgin.' One of my goals is to get the body of Christ to stop proclaiming these words. I would rejoice if I never heard 'abstinence' from a pulpit again," O'Donnell wrote in Cultural Dissident in 1998. "As Christians, virginity is not even our goal. Purity and holiness are our calling in Christ."
Making virginity the goal, she wrote, "seems to classify certain people as second-rate Christians."
She received her calling, she told the Washington Times in 1997, at a women's conference at Harvard in 1995. There, she was speaking at a panel on abortion with a rep from Planned Parenthood. As she spoke of abstinence, she was booed. Then she realized, she said, that the women in the audience weren't angry, they were hurt. "I just want to let you know that I know that hurt. I didn't always think this way and I've been where you guys are," she recalled saying.
"That was where it started," she said. "I just cried out to God to use me to touch that generation."
That was the seed for an organization O'Donnell would found in order to preach chastity. She named it Savior's Alliance for Lifting the Truth, or SALT. She spoke at high schools and colleges, and went to concerts to hand out literature claiming condoms are ineffective.
It was not the only time she communicated with God. In May of 2006, according to the News Journal, O'Donnell was approached by anti-abortion activists who asked her to run for Senate.
"Originally I said no," she said. "I never wanted to run for office. I was an outspoken advocate, and if you run you have to water it down. But as someone who prays about every decision I make, I felt like God was leading me in the other direction."
"During the primary, I heard the audible voice of God," she said. "He said, 'Credibility.' It wasn't a thought in my head. I thought it meant I was going to win. But after the primary, I got credibility."
She ran, lost the primary to Jan Ting and ran as a write-in candidate. She lost again.
While she was president of SALT, O'Donnell read Pope John Paul II's "On the Dignity and Vocation of Women," and converted back to Catholicism. The treatise envisioned gender roles as equal, but different.
"Sex is a covenant between a man and a woman and God," she said in 2006. "Your job is to satisfy the other, the giving of oneself to another. Porn turns that around."
From the same News Journal piece:
She practices what she preaches, she says. She's had boyfriends, but they don't last long when they realize her seriousness concerning chastity before marriage.
Republished with permission from TalkingPointsMemo.com. Authored by Rachel Slajda. TPM provides breaking news, investigating reporting and smart analysis of politics.
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