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.
The doctrine destroys our understanding of our identity in Christ – nice caution against substituting for the gospel that which is not the gospel. I am pure in Christ because the pure Christ lives in me. Nothing I’ve done prevents that and nothing I can ever do will change that.
This is very nicely written AND spot on! The Christian church (all denominations!) has an unhealthy preoccupation with sexual sins of the flesh, and lust. Gluttony? Not so much, let the free markets rule! Avarice? God WANTS to bless you with money and material goods! Calumny? It’s not lying, it’s ENTERTAINMENT! Sex is not the only way we can get into trouble, on Saturday or any other night! Thanks April-and Happy Holy-days, including a Merry Christmas!
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Don’t our thoughts corrupt purity as well? By that definition no one is or has ever been pure.
Thank you for posting this! I have been researching women, sexuality, and identity formation for a year now at seminary. It’s been a very healing time for me, as well as eye opening to the hurt that a culture feels and not just me. One thing I want to continue to wrestle with and maybe youve thought through the this and can help me is how do we and what do we change the language to? How do we get away form prize and gifting language and move towards a better method? I like to lean on the word sexual wholeness because of encompasses all forms of relationships not just singles.
I am much more interested in what is going on between your ears compared to between your legs.
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Speaking as a guy, I don’t give a flip who you have had sex with in the past or how many times—if that is what defines this so-called “purity.” If you have never been involved with another person and show up as a pure virgin on our wedding night—I can cope—but it is not going to be the wonderful experience you think it will be—for you—or for me. Been there. Done that. In other words, you ain’t bringing me any sort of greatly treasured gift—just one more problem that sounds and feels like fingernails on a blackboard.
Rahab was a harlot and isn’t she in the blood line of the lord according to the flesh. How does that fit into the purity doctrine?
Pingback: What Does the Bible Say about Purity?
Gluttony? Not so much, let the free markets rule! Avarice? God WANTS to bless you with money and material goods! Where such information?
There is a resurgence of this in Black Church now because Meagan Good an actress and her husband, a Seventh Day Adventist minister and Hollywood Producer have written a book called TheWait. And they are holding conferences and seminar. The Book is about how they abstained from sex before their marriage. Now I like abstinence but for those of us who for many reasons did not abstain before our marriage I don’t believe our marriage is doomed. Also while i think it’s great for the couple to counsel or give talks I think it’s dangerous to use their marriage as a standard. Time and time again we’ve seen couples use their marriage as a ministry and then when it falls apart they have to explain to a lot of disappointed Christians. Their defense is that we’re human. Then the only examples we uplift should be Christ and the Bible.
I think it’s important to point out to people who haven’t studied history or anthropology that purity is a holdover from the days when people didn’t have the technology we have today and women/children were considered property. If you are concerned about passing your property to your offspring, and not someone else’s genetic offspring, then keeping women on lockdown was the only way to ensure that fathers knew their children were their own. No one could prove who the father was in any case, really. Since you can’t keep someone else’s daughter on lockdown before you marry them, you must also insist that she is a virgin at marriage to ensure your offspring. It’s a cultural thing, not about God. But if you want your women to comply, it does help if they believe it’s a direct order from God.
As both a serious, dedicated student and teacher of God’s word, I have to say that I have serious problems with sections of your recent article on “Purity: Can’t be taken, can’t be given away.” I have to say I disagree with you that this doctrine is far from the pages of Scripture. I read your related article and view on “sexual restraint is healthy and important” and agree with many of your points in that article, but to say that to teach our youth to abstain sexually, through a class specifically directed at preserving ones purity is “hog wash” is blatantly irresponsible! Our youth NEED to be educated on God’s view about sex. God created sex. It was His idea and He has a design and plan for how it works. When it is used outside of those boundaries there will be harmful implications for all parties involved (both guys and gals). First Corinthians 6:18 says, “Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body.” I agree with your point that sexual sin is not different than any other sin in God’s eye, but clearly, as Scripture says, this sin affects a person far greater than other sins, therefore the warnings should be heeded all the more. This is a fact that our culture has been seriously deceived about (and not just in regards to the physical ramifications of STD’s and unwanted pregnancy). Our youth clearly need guidance from those versed in God’s word whom are willing to lead and guide them.
You are correct in saying that none of us is pure (Ecclesiastes 7:20, Psalm 51:5, Romans 3:23) and that purity only comes from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:24-25, 1 John 1:9). However, the point you are missing, or at a minimum are misconstruing, is that our purity is fully encompassed in our justification or positional sanctification (relieving man of his guilt and imputing God’s righteousness to man’s account) before God. You fail to recognize that there is a sanctification process (relieving man of the power of sin) that needs to be taken into account. The Greek word translated “sanctified” means literally “purified, made holy, consecrated [unto God].” As Christians, we are to live a purified life because we have been made holy by the exchange of our sin for the righteousness of Christ on the cross and have been made completely new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17–21). Our old natures, with all their impurities, sexual and otherwise, have died, and now the life we live, we live by faith in the One who died for us (Galatians 2:20). To continue in sexual impurity (fornication) is to deny that, and doing so is, in fact, a legitimate reason to question whether we have ever truly been born again. Sanctification, the process by which we become more and more Christ-like, is an essential evidence of the reality of our salvation (1 John 1:6-9). Look at what God says about sexual purity as it pertains to the sanctification process. “You should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God. . . . For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life” (1 Thessalonians 4:3–5, 7). This passage outlines God’s reasons for calling for sexual purity in the lives of His children.
Now I understand your point in saying that a woman cannot “give” her purity away and much shame within the church has been imputed to those who are no longer virgins (mainly directed at girls). However, how a woman views herself will define how she values herself. Purity itself is governed by value. When a girl (or boy) understands and embraces that she (he) is a fearfully and wonderfully made masterpiece, created and loved by God she (he) will come to understand that she (he) is worth the wait. This to me should be the starting point of all purity curriculums. Understanding this will govern a young people’s behavior in the area of abstinence. To not teach our youth the whole of Scripture on the subject of purity, limiting it solely to sexual abstinence, would be a great injustice to the Word of God. The point of any good purity curriculum is that purity is a lifestyle, and part of the process of becoming more like Jesus. And though we will not obtain that in our sinful nature, we can continue to be sanctified as God creates in us a pure heart with right motives (1 Peter 2:2; John 17:17; Psalm 51:10). I hope to assume that is what you were truly trying to convey in your article.
Abstinence training is essential, and it is equally essential that the training include accurate information. A girl’s purity is not more valuable than a boy’s. A commitment to remain abstinent until marriage is a good and noble thing (Ephesians 5:3), but it should be done within the context of a relationship with God and a desire to lean on His understanding. Understanding the benefits of abstinence and the ways to avoid temptation are critical to a believer but especially the young and most vulnerable of society.