The Purity Culture movement might just be the single most anti-gospel doctrine in the American Church today.
Yes, I said it.
I don’t think any other doctrine in the Church has been responsible for more hurt, more shame, more pain or more dysfunction. I don’t think any other doctrine has damaged relationships and the souls of women more than this one (except, perhaps, complementarianism). I don’t think any other doctrine is as far from the pages of scripture than this one. It is a lie.
Purity Culture says that one’s purity—particularly a woman’s purity—is important. Maintaining purity will ensure a good marriage and great sex. Purity is a gift to be given to one’s spouse. But people are always trying to take that purity—trying to convince you, the purity holder, to compromise. If you compromise, your purity is gone. Jesus can restore that purity if you pray really, really hard, but your future marriage might still be tainted. So it’s important to “save yourself” and guard your purity whenever possible. Every time you hold hands or kiss or touch someone, you’re giving little bits of your purity away.
Really extreme forms of Purity Culture extend the purity concept to emotional attachments as well. Having a crush compromises purity, too.
It’s all a lie.
Purity is not an innate physical or emotional state. It’s impossible. The Bible says we are born into sin. “There is no one righteous, not even one,” says Romans 3:10. “Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in God by the works of the law” (vs 20). So how, then, does one become pure?
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. ~ Romans 3:21-24
Purity is only obtained through Christ. And because it is only obtained through Christ, it is something that cannot be taken or given away. Purity is about what God has declared me to be through the veil of redemption. It is not something I store up in the bank account of my body to give to my spouse. It is Christ’s gift to me, not my gift to a man. My husband cannot take my purity from me and possess it. I cannot hand it over to him for him to hold and fawn over like a thing he somehow “deserves” from his wife. It is not diminished by his penis entering my vagina. It is not mine to give and not his to take.
Purity is my identity in Christ, not the state of my hymen.
Purity Culture says that if a woman enters marriage a non-virgin, she has nothing of value to give to her spouse. She has “given herself away.” I suppose these hands that cook and arms that hold and heart that loves and lips that pray and mind that thinks and breasts that nourish and legs that embrace in passion hold no candle to…what, exactly? The state of never having been touched or in love?
What makes that a gift above all others?
Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done. ~ Proverbs 31:30-31a
A pastor recently pointed out in a public response to the purity question that no young man has ever refused to marry a woman because she once told a lie. Or once gossiped. Or once stolen something. So why do we allow premarital sex to disqualify a potential spouse from consideration?
Why do we treat premarital sex as a greater sin than pride or deception or idolatry?
Why do we say purity is given away in sex but not in other ways?
Why do we teach this doctrine that is the very antithesis of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
It’s because we’re insecure and entitled and wary of releasing people from the controlling yoke of shame. If the Church can convince young women that their virginity is the ultimate wedding gift, then maybe they will stay home on Saturday night and not venture out into that great big dangerous world with great big dangerous men.
But few see how this doctrine destroys Christian identity, distorts the gospel, damages women and cripples relationships. Sexual restraint is healthy and important, an outgrowth of a life that is being transformed by Christ. It should be encouraged. But it is not the source of one’s purity.
Christ is the source of all purity. And that purity cannot be taken away by anyone.