The “Christian” Purity Movement is a focus on virginity prior to marriage. It is a focus on “purity” and a focus on not doing sexual behaviors and not having sexual thoughts prior to marriage. It promises if you do this that you will have a blissful marriage with an ecstatic sex life – at least this is what kids who grow up in this movement believe. The opposite is believed as well … if you screw up in any way … your marriage and sex life, if you have one, will be doomed. In truth however, it does nothing to build the skills, attitudes or values needed to understand your core call as God’s beloved or the core call on your life to love as Christ. These are the core ingredients of marriage where you are asked every day to love a radically valuable and radically imperfect other … and to let them love you. It does nothing to help you develop into an emotionally and relationally strong loving partner who can weather the trials and tribulations that come with a long 21st century urban marriage. It also does nothing to help you develop the skills to know how to pick a person who has the emotional and relational wherewithal to weather a marriage with you! This is complex stuff! This is the stuff we should be teaching!
But no, instead the evangelical Christian purity message wastes time telling kids what not to do and gives them instead nothing of value. Telling them that if you do nothing and have nothing, you can write a column for CNN like a puffed up peacock claiming how your not yet lived marriage is so successful and how your years of nothing have amounted to something … of which has yet to be lived or tried … but will be … trust me!
This kind of arrogance … continues to give Christianity a bad name … and most offensively to me … the namesake of the faith … who tended to rage over arrogance like this!
RELATED TO THIS IS …
… this kind of messaging from Richard Ross, Founder of True Love Waits … the organization responsible for purity pledges, purity rings, and forwarding the Purity Movement. This is what propelled the significant increase in religious sexual shame beginning in the early 1990’s along with the Religious Right (See Frank Shaeffer’s book Sex, God and Mom) and what has come to be the most emotionally, sexually and relationally damaging era of the Christian church since the dawn of the 20th century.
Because of this movement millions of earnest young Christians now think of themselves as damaged goods because of their God-given gift of sexual desire …
The Purity Movement, the fundamental evangelical movement, and the message of the Religious Right has reinforced divisiveness, judgment of self and others, condemnation of self and others, self-righteousness, ignorance, shame and pain that has cut to the core of people, lives, marriages and homes … in short nothing that builds up one’s sense of belovedness in God or one’s ability to love another well or receive another’s love well. In fact, it damages one’s ability to do any of these things …things that are core to any solid loving relationship or sense of self. A love that is at its core, what Jesus died on the cross for people to experience.
Instead of protecting youth, the purity movement actually guarantees people will enter marriages naïve, ignorant, filled with assumptions about gender, their bodies, their partner’s body, their sexuality, informed about sex and gender by media in ways that objectify women and diminish men, fearful and confused about pleasure, ashamed about what they have done and not done, filled with secrets about what they have done, not done, thought and not thought, without knowledge, vocabulary or practice to discuss sex or sexuality, and judgmental about self and others. In short, with emotional, relational, sexual and spiritual baggage to last the first decade of their marriage. Want to watch an amazing documentary about this? Watch Give Me Sex Jesus!
WHY HAS THE CHURCH PERPETUATED THIS NONSENSE?
Why have we continued to be so foolish? Why have we in theological circles been so reluctant to look at the consequences of our unwillingness to teach about sex and relationships? I just don’t get it … I really don’t! The evidence of the lived experience of people’s lives is so clear.
But maybe it isn’t … maybe it is only clear to the therapists, lawyers and pastors that hear the real stories of real lives in the privacy of their offices, behind closed doors. Maybe to everyone else … it isn’t clear at all. People around them look so happy. We are tempted to believe CNN articles like Steven Crowder’s perfect marriage … he hasn’t yet lived and judge it against the messy lives we are living. But look at the stats … marriages are failing left and right. Life is messy. Marriage is tough stuff and it takes a lot of emotional, relational, spiritual and sexual maturity to pull it off in a happy and connected way over the long haul. Don’t ask someone like Steven Crowder who hasn’t done it yet … ask someone who has!! It takes a load of skills … skills we should be teaching, modeling and living each day of a child’s life … skills Christ demonstrated each day of his ministry to each person regardless of race, gender, age, status. LOVE. GRACE. FAITH. HOPE. PATIENCE. KINDNESS. SELF-CONTROL. YOU. GET. THE. PICTURE.
So many Christian’s who are living the pain of the lies of the purity movement have remained silent or have left the church. In fact they are leaving in droves. We are losing our young people right and left – they are seeking more authenticity (can you blame them) as seen in this post by Rachel Held Evens.
Some are joining together to heal – like in the online community Thank God for Sex.org. Here you can see videos and read stories. Similar to the ItGetsBetter.org Project, people tell their stories of what it was like to be impacted by the purity movement and how much work they have done in their lives to try and heal and come to a place where they now can see their bodies and sexuality as an awesome thing! The group does community events, podcasts, has a blog with guest bloggers and a resource page for others whose sexual health was impacted by this acetic movement.
And some are leaving the faith all together as seen in these posts by Libbey Anne (this breaks my heart … it must break God’s too).
SO YOU ASK … IF DESPERATELY TRYING TO SHUT-DOWN AND SHUT-OFF DOESN’T GUARANTEE MARITAL HAPPINESS WHAT DOES?
Relational happiness flows out of a peace and contentment within. The more we understand that nothing, NOTHING, separates us from the love of God, the more we can rest in his love and let go of our fear that we are somehow not good enough, not worthy of God’s love, not worthy of our partner’s love. The purity movement had millions of young earnest Christians believing that their sexual thoughts and experiences could separate them from God’s love. This was the heart of the lie and the heart of the violence to sexual and relational health. This is the first place of healing. NOTHING separates you from the love of God. Rom 8:38-39.
So if the Purity Movement, (while touting its ability to prepare you for a blissful marriage) in reality gives you nothing more than a suitcase filled with years of damaging baggage (that you will ultimately blame yourself for) … What should we be focusing our time, energy and teaching on to equip our kids for a loving, safe, sustainable partnership in their adult years?
- Love and treat them with respect at each age – knowing each age has its wisdom to offer us.
- Teach them about their body, mind, soul and all of God’s creation in detail – the names and purposes – the miracle of it all and how it fits and works together. Teach them about their role in caring for themselves and caring for others and creation. Let this be taught overtly and through modeling so they see all of creation as a miraculous gift to be cared for and cherished.
- Provide age appropriate integrated relationship and sex education at each age from infancy through young adult in open ongoing safe conversations with open and safe adults at home, with extended family, at school, at church and with their primary care physician.
- Understand that relational, emotional and sexual health is learned through trial and error. Help your child understand the limits of gender maturity in adolescence and the value of holding back some of what is most precious to them (emotionally, physically & spiritually) until a time of greater maturity and comittment. Yet also be prepared to provide grace as they learn and succeed and learn and are hurt. Provide the grace and guidance to help them learn from their mistakes and keep figuring out what it means to love well and to be loved well as they grow and develop deep friendships and deep romantic relationships through adolescence and young adult life.
Be for them (and help them find other adults in their life who can be) who Jesus was to the woman at the well as they figure out what it is to be deeply loved and as they seek to deeply love others. This will equip them to be loving partners and choose loving partners. The rest is learned along the way.
I think God is much more concerned with us knowing how Beloved we are, how we are called to the task of love AND learning how to live this out each and every day in the places of deepest challenge, than he/she is whether we are a virgin when we say “I Do”. It’s time to stop having the wrong conversation and start having the right one.
Oh … and here’s a shocker … If you do these things research shows that kids delay sexual involvement, are much wiser about their choices and describe being closer to their parents overall! So guess what, you can worry less about whether they have sex before marriage … because they probably will! The average age of marriage is now 26-32. When kids are given the resources they need, there is a much greater likelihood they will choose loving relationships – whether they do or don’t marry the person.