I have this specific memory of being gathered in a hall with about five hundred
other girls. We all were in high school. It was christian summer camp in the late 2000's. Therefore, we were all wearing shorts that were way too short, and still trying to pull them down to be longer than arms length.
For we had already been warned:
“Girls: No shorts shorter than arms length. No spaghetti straps or tank tops thinner than three fingers width. No two piece bathing suits.”
And in said meeting counselors that were way too hyped up, danced around the stage and sang “We bringing modesty back, YEAH!”– to the tune of none other than Justin Timberlake’s “Sexyback”. And we got all jazzed because we WERE going to bring modesty back. We WERE going to be the righteous ones. We WEREN’T going to make our brothers stumble. Modesty was, in a way, “Sexy”.
Yet, I also specifically remember:
That was the summer camp that my bunk-mate lost her virginity.
That was the summer camp that I found out that one of my peers was having a physical relationship with a male pastor at our church.
That was the summer camp that I was told by a boy I was too “fat and ugly to ever be liked by anyone”.
And so we sat in that meeting hall. And the head counselors danced in their tutus to some silly modesty dance, all the while ignoring the fact that perhaps our shorts being two inches longer wouldn’t solve the greater underlying “sex issue” of culture that had invaded and taken over the church.
Sex and Purity Culture within the “Americanized Christian Church” is something that I have found myself studying and talking about quite a bit over the past few years.
I have come to the conclusion that the biggest disservice the “American Christian Church” has done to the Millennial generation is teach them that their worth is stored in their physical and sexual purity; specifically in regards to women.
Let me say upfront, I have no intention of going against the Bible and stating in anyway that striving to be pure of mind, body, and spirit is unimportant. But, I do think that often in the commercialized culture which we live there is a quantification and objectification of body from the pulpit that is inherently unbiblical.
This objectification is what leads to silence, fear, and “modesty talks” when there should be greater sexual revolutions within the church, and at the end of the day THIS is what I strive to end, fight and speak out against.
Before we get any further, I always find this a good point to clarify and define
For there is a BIG difference between the “Americanized Christian Church” and the church that God initially intended.
The sin that has broken our world is the same sin that has convoluted the church into this monstrous Americanized version, and without it, “Purity Culture” would not exist.
“Purity Culture” simply put is the culture of "True Love Waits", Chastity Balls, Abstinence Until Marriage, and Purity Rings. It is the idolization of virginity, modesty, and often times patriarchy. The “Americanized Christian Church" (or, the “ACC” for short) is not the New Testament Church outlined in Act Two. This is very important.
The church is the body of Jesus Christ.
The continuation of the gospels. The loving arms of justice and redemption in a fallen world.
The “Americanized Christian Church” is a commercial entity.
It’s congregants are not a flock, but instead patrons of a business.
They are numbers that can be quantified. The quantified numerical consumers of a product. The products offered by the “ACC” vary from “hip” rock ’n roll worship concerts to “Slim For Him Work Out Classes” and Men’s Fishing trips. These patrons determine what they want the business to provide and “Purity Culture” just so happens to be one of those byproducts. For, “Purity Culture” is the backlash in fear to an over-sexualization of popular culture in the late 1960s and again in the 80s. Yet, “Purity Culture” really is just popular culture in biblical clothing.
Here is what Purity and Popular Culture would say if they were personified:
Purity Culture says: “Don’t Have Sex ’til you’re married.”
Popular Culture says: “If you don’t have sex before you’re married you’re an alien.”
Difference: Where you place it on the timeline.
Similarity: Both are obsessed with sex.
Purity Culture says: "Get married as soon as you can so you won’t 'screw up'".
Popular Culture says: "Getting married too soon is 'screwing up'".
Difference: What is defined as the “screw up”.
Similarity: You’re screwed either way.
Purity Culture says: "Marriage is a Covenant," (The Bible says this too, PS).
Popular Culture says: "Marriage is a thing that adult people do."
Difference: One is binding, the other is just matter of civic duty.
Similarity: SHOULD require serious thought before (although Britney Spears, Kim
Kardashian, and the Duggars have proved otherwise).
To me, the joke in all of this is how similar “Purity Culture” and “Popular Culture”
are, because in all honesty, they are two sides of the same coin. They are obsessed with sex.
Marriage with sex in mind. Sex. Sex. Sex.
But we forget that a life lived Biblically strives for holiness set apart from marriage. Holiness as an individual in a covenantal relationship with the LORD.
In Ephesians 5, Paul talks about how as a Christian if you are walking with the LORD you should want to strive towards a life of purity (Ephesians 5:5-10). Oftentimes I feel like we think of it the other way around, that our level of purity defines our devotion to Christ.
I know I personally have felt and lived that way.
My life is deeply defined by its oppression from the “American Christian Church.”
And I know I am not alone.
I grew up in a middle class, White, American family. We went to church every
Sunday, in sickness and in health. I proclaimed myself a “Christian” when I was four (I always roll my eyes at this part, because like, I just wanted to get the Jesus sticker and the gold fish crackers. Can we just name a spade a spade?).
I began my journey with an eating disorder when I was not much older. I love putting those two next to each other because I think the dichotomy is horrifying. Is it not incredibly poetic that for as long as I can remember I’ve known: about Jesus, Goldfish Crackers while singing about Jesus, and hating myself for eating the Goldfish Crackers after singing about Jesus?
I figured out how sex worked probably when I was about five, mostly because I’m curious and brilliant, and to me the thought that that’s how babies were made was fascinating. I mean really really fascinating.
But you’re not supposed to talk about that. REMEMBER: Sex is not something you talking about. Especially when you’re five years old and a girl. Good girls watch princess movies and play barbies. So I did. And behind closed doors me and my best friend talked about sex a lot.
As time passed I realized that my truly innocent curiosity with sex was not so innocent for other people. That many of my friends had been molested. ABUSED. “Consented” to sexual behaviors with boys at parties and in the dark back rows of movie theaters.
Sex was a monster under their bed.
And a demerit on their porcelain skin.
I assumed that because boys weren’t putting their hands up my skirt in class and tongues down my throat at the movie theater that I was complete trash, so I continued to consume God on a “Holier than Thou” level, and purge everything around me.
And it was thus that I learned by about age thirteen, as a girl you were damned if you did and damned if you didn’t.
You weren’t allowed to be curious.
You weren’t allowed to make mistakes.
You weren’t allowed to speak when you’d been taken advantage of.
You weren’t allowed to be sad that you weren’t getting any.
All you were allowed to do was wait.
Because the right guy would come along.
The perfect Christian man would come along.
And so I started waiting…
And freaking waiting…
Every year I would pray:
“Lord, is this the year that I will have a boyfriend? I’d really like to have a boyfriend. Please bless me… with a boyfriend. Show me the fullness of your love by giving me a boyfriend.”
If I’m being honest, I prayed that prayer for about ten years. And God never answered that prayer. But he did answer others. He answered many others. And I began to listen to people who had been taken advantage of. And I became an advocate. And a sister. And a warrior. And even though I was still waiting and praying that ridiculous prayer, the LORD began to open my eyes.
And sometime last year I woke up.
When I opened my eyes, I saw a life that was new.
See, this new life was one where I was no longer bingeing on some fake “Americanized Jesus” and purging on a false sense of self. I was no longer sold on this idea that my identity was wrapped up in a life that a man could give me.
The only man that could give me life was THE MAN– Jesus Christ.
Because he DIDN’T wait to love me.
End of Story.
He didn’t wait.
He bled and died for me on that cross and wasted no time letting the kingdom of heaven reign on this earth. THAT was True Love. The covenant that is planned for my life is my relationship with my LORD and Savior and I need to focus on furthering his kingdom here and now, not how I’m going to keep my pants on.
My life is not about marriage.
It’s not about having babies.
It’s not about sex for peets sake!
Now hear me out. I am not saying that this is not a struggle. Not having sex before marriage is a struggle for many.
But when we make it THE struggle, THE end-all-be-all, we make sex THE idol just as it is in popular culture.
I sometimes wonder, what would happen if Millennials focused less on the rules and regulations of sexuality and more on the individual. More on the struggle of the
person and how their personal walk of faith has been impacted and shaped by sin.
If we let the ravages of popular culture inform the way we treat our striving towards purity...