Over the past few weeks I have done a double-take on Purity Culture. For anyone who is unaware, “Purity Culture” burgeoned in the ‘80s and ‘90s evangelical youth groups around America. The “True Love Waits” message permeated the Christian subculture via conferences, retreat weekends, media and merch. Essentially, Purity Culture taught that we must wait to have sex until we were married: our purity depended on it.
This discussion pervaded most of my formative years in the church.
I recoil whenever I hear stories of a Christian’s deconstruction or deconversion. So I assure you, I’m not deconstructing anything here. God has prescribed boundaries for our sexuality and we must follow them. How the Biblical sexual ethic jives with our particular wave of culture is another discussion altogether.
But I will suggest that the purity culture narrative failed our generation in one major way: it largely left out the gospel.
It spent 99 percent of the time telling us to stay pure and save sex for marriage. And almost as an afterthought…oh yeah let’s squeeze in…the one remaining percent of our energy…to mention that even though you’re damaged goods…if you already had sex…
God will forgive you.
The entire reason Jesus came to planet earth is because we can’t live a pure life no matter how much we really, really want to. And even then, our righteousness is filthy rags. So…even a virgin in a white dress standing at an altar is not *actually* pure. They just haven’t sinned in that way.
They could have taught us that sex outside of marriage can bring adverse consequences—in some of the most extreme forms–but it has no final say over our spiritual purity. These are two separate issues.
I wish they had taught us that our status at the wedding altar had nothing to do with how God views us. I wish that they would not have equated virginity with purity. That was very damaging to me.
I’ve spent years working through issues of shame, regret, and disappointment in myself because I was “not pure” at my wedding. For 16 years, I have hated looking at my wedding pictures because of this.
To be honest, I didn’t even want to have a wedding, because it felt like a sham. There’s no giving me away, I already gave it away. There was no need for a white dress. I wanted to elope but my family wouldn’t let me. I cried going down the aisle, not because I was overwhelmed with love and joy, but because my dad had just told me he was proud of me, and I could not understand why. The grand narrative told me that I wasn’t pure, and all eyes were on me as I walked down that aisle not pure. Awkward for me!
When teaching us about God’s design for sex:
- I wish they had used a different word than “pure.”
- It would have been helpful to learn about God’s view of us regardless of whether we had sex when we were single!
- It would have been a great time to reinforce that God’s grace toward our disobedience was very VERY costly.
When we appraise that grace in light of what it cost, it greatly intensifies our yearning to obey and walk in truth alongside Him. That is the Gospel; and that message packs the power to fill our hearts with so much gratitude about what God has done for us.
God is so much kinder than society, thank you Jesus for making this true!
We will not achieve full-fledged purity this side of eternity; but we can continually make progress in our Sanctification. Wouldn’t it be great to see “sanctification culture” have a moment?!