Impure: A Reading List on Purity Culture

For my final masters project, I wrote on the implications of evangelical purity culture. And let me tell you, what a wild ride. Normalized sexual violence, gender roles, politics, #ChurchToo, liturgy — there is a little bit of everything packed into this paper.

This paper has gained quite a bit of interest since mentioning it on my Instagram last month. My hope is to break down my research into digestible, accessible pieces for others to benefit from. (What use is all this if I hoard it all in my brain?)

Purity culture, or the evangelical sexual purity movement of the 1980s-2010s, establishes sexual “purity” as the ultimate standard for those waiting to be married. (Marriage is assumed.) In this subculture, to be sexually “impure” would be disastrous in all other areas of life and would doom any relationship with a future spouse. In both political and pastoral spaces, methods of control and fear seek to maintain patriarchal power over the hearts and bodies of young people, though primarily girls and women.

Stories and testimonies reveal the abusive nature of “purity” teachings and practices. Girls and women are often dehumanized and denied vibrant sexualities of their own. If feelings of discomfort or reports of sexual violence are made known, they can be frequently silenced and ignored. Sadly, there are real convictions buried in these teachings – blinded by ignorance and the fight for power. There seems to be no intention to inflict harm on to others. Rather many of those who participate are held to a conviction which values hierarchy between men and women, emphasizing a woman’s submission to men’s needs. “Purity” is interpreted as protection. More on this later.

Before I jump into the research itself, I wanted to share some materials on the impact of the evangelical sexual purity movement or abstinence-only education.

This reading list is fairly brief and does not include academic articles. Even so, these examples are moving and incredibly revealing. Please note, many portions of these texts discuss sexual trauma, which can be triggering or overwhelming for some.

Books or Essays

Blogs

I would also encourage you to read through the #ChurchToo on Twitter or sign the #SilenceIsNotSpiritual Statement.

If there are other articles, books, podcasts, etc. that have been helpful to you, I would love to read them and include them here. If your experience in purity culture has been positive, I would also love to understand more about your story.

Read more in this series:

Remembering Rachel Held Evans

Sadness, heartache, dread, disbelief — maybe you felt these things too as you heard the news of Rachel’s death yesterday.

I’m not sure what kind of words or feelings she was met with yesterday as she entered Heaven but I’m certain it was a celebration of God’s faithfulness in her life. Rachel was adventurous in her faith. She explored the scriptures, asked the risky questions and embraced her doubt.

She was a forerunner and a pioneer in many ways. Before it was popular, she made room at the table for different voices and faces. She helped others, like me, understand the beauty of hard, unanswered questions of faith and also the importance of the gospel. It’s hard to think of a world without Rachel.

Remembering Rachel, here is a brief list of my favorites:

Books:

Podcasts:

Blogposts:

Did RHE have a role in your faith?

A Reading List for Relationships

I asked and you answered. I’ve only read a handful of these books, so I’m not endorsing them or the authors, simply reporting the answers from friends, family, and followers.

I found that most of the authors suggested are white males, who as you may guess, do not hold a monopoly on healthy relationships or great sex. If you have suggestions, please let me know so I can add them to the list. In the meantime, I would strongly encourage you read outside the box!

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Which Christian dating/marriage books have either helped or misled you?

Here’s what helped.

Other helpful authors or speakers.

And these seemed to be misleading.

If you disagree with any of the characterizations above, I’d love to hear! Obviously, there’s a lot more to say on these subjects that these few authors can cover, but it’s a start. Knowing some of the authors listed, some books most likely disagree in certain ways.

I asked this question with “purity culture” in mind. I’m curious to hear if you experienced this growing up and if there were teachings or books that promoted this in your church or religious context. 

 

A Year of Bravery

This year has been one to remember.

2018 has felt almost like a desert with long dry patches of loneliness and heartache, stress and uncertainty. There have been moments of peace, like the day Aaron came home or time spent with family. These past 12 months have pushed me to redefine what success looks like and to reconsider what my faith in God looks like in the ordinary day to day. I’ve learned more about what I cannot do, rather than what I am able to do. (I have the hunch that this is all life ever teaches us and perhaps success is found where we least expect it.)

I’d like to think that I have been brave throughout most of my life so far, but this year held a few more opportunities to test that and this was also reflected in the books I read. (This is not to say the challenges in my life are anywhere near comparable to the stories of Dorothy Day or Howard Thurman, but they have been excellent examples of strength and courage.)

Here is a complete list of the 60 some books I read this year. (Isn’t Goodreads cool?) Sixty is quite a few, averaging a little more than a book a week, but I sure didn’t keep that pace. I reread several books. I fell deeper in love with the Chronicles of Narnia and Liturgy of the Ordinary and my perspective and understanding of Divided by Faith’s message and methodology shifted. Below are some books that really caught my attention.

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Photo: Joyce McCown

 

In no particular order, these books shaped my 2018.

Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman

This is a small, but powerful book that helped continue to shape my understanding of racial reconciliation. I recommend this to anyone and everyone.

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

Corrie Ten Boom’s brave journey through the Holocaust emphasized human dignity, prayer, and forgiveness. I read it in one sitting.

The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day

I wrote a paper on Dorothy Day’s spirituality this past semester knowing little to nothing about her. She is one of my new heroines; she was incredible! This book is her autobiography. She wrote for a living, so just in case you fall in love with her, there are so many more chances to read about her life and faith.

The Story of Christianity, Volumes 1 and 2 by Justo Gonzalez

I believe studying church history made the difference for my faith. These books are easy to read volumes that are very engaging and well written. The chapters are pretty short, which I found helpful.

The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen by Lisa Gungor

I love just about anything put out by the Gungors. Lisa’s story is so beautifully written. I cried and laughed. In some ways it felt like she had been writing to me. I also read this in one evening. I couldn’t put it down.

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

This book made more sense after getting married and walking through some other pain.  I sobbed all the way through. In contrast to The Problem of Pain, this book doesn’t try to make reasonable arguments about suffering. (Pain isn’t reasonable.) This story reveals how Lewis understood and handled his own grief after losing his wife.

Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women, and Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism by Deborah Jian Lee

These stories are more common than white evangelicals might like to acknowledge. Lee’s book validated my own experience as a woman in the church. (!!!) The stories she presents are real and worth your time.

Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

This book is important. There is also a documentary based on this book, as well as another book written in response titled Half the Church.

The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah

If you have not yet critiqued your Christian faith, or perhaps you have lost hope for evangelical Christianity, I would recommend this book. Rah is convicting, but also hopeful.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

This is a fictional story that captured my attention from the start. I haven’t read other books by this author, but I would dare believe this is her best book. This book made me squirm and at some points I wanted to throw my book across the room. This story is incredibly moving and all too real. The ending is unexpected, but worth it. Easily one of my favorites.

There are many other books I could have listed, but selected just a few that impacted me in specific ways. Each story was full of courage, despite the cost of sharing their experience or the pain of loss in their lives. Their examples dared me to be brave. Challenge yourself to read something out of the box in 2019 or find a reading challenge that keeps your eyes open for authors of color and stories of a different culture or ideology. Let me know what you find!

What did you read this year? 

Shalom No. 2

This summer we took a hard look at our life and decided to make some adjustments so we’d have the space to rest and reconnect after Aaron’s long absence. (Read a little more about those adjustments here.) One of our priorities was rest, which involved a change in our spirituality.

Aaron and I have long discussed our own understandings of theology and what that might look like in our home and our community. (One of the most interesting conversations we had happened a few days into married life when we discovered we had opposite views on child dedication vs. baptism. It was not the most inspiring conversation, I’ll tell you that much. At one point I even swore I would never become Anglican.) After a year in seminary and additional conversations in regards to communion, baptism, music, liturgy, doctrine, social justice, ordination — we’ve finally reached some common ground.

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An example of how stained glass windows in a church can tell the Story of Christ. 

That being said, we’ve found immense value in the Anglican tradition. Aaron’s been Anglican for a number of years, so the transition was made that much easier. A liturgical tradition (or denomination) is very different than either of us grew up with, but throughout college and further study we grew to love the new elements of worship. There are several types of liturgical traditions and a few different styles of Anglican worship. Our church is associated with Anglican Church in North America. Charismatic or more reserved, conservative or liberal, contemporary or traditional — there’s room for anyone.

One of the most significant themes that drew me to this decision was the emphasis on our small space in a much larger Story. The rhythm of the church calendar, the centrality of the eucharist, the hymns (and contemporary music!), the weekly teachings, and the missional outreach of the tradition invited us into take part in an ancient narrative.

“Participating in the liturgy of the worldwide Christian community, whether on a Sunday morning or at another time, is more than attending a service or a prayer meeting. It is about entering a story. It is about orienting our lives around what God has been doing throughout history. And it is about being sent forth into the world to help write the next chapter of that story.” — Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

I was hesitant to embrace liturgy at first because it appeared to be repetitive and stale. But it made sense as I thought of the daily rhythms we engage in: making meals, greeting each other after a long day, or the way we get dressed in the morning. These things happen every day, but they are life-giving times that vary in expression all the time. They provide needed structure and help us remember the faithfulness of our Provider, to love those around us, and to care for ourselves. These are not stale or powerless activities, but the very life we live and breathe, activities that hold immense meaning. The repetitive nature is very helpful since humans so easily forget the Story they’re apart of.

Speaking the Apostle’s or Nicene Creed, passing the peace, confessing corporate and personal sin, and receiving the eucharist each week is new to me, but it’s beautiful. We’ve most often attended a contemporary Anglican service, but the traditional service that includes a choir, bells, and incense is incredible to be a part of. Each portion of either service invites participation with all senses.

“The incarnation and resurrection of Jesus show us that God takes our physical selves very seriously. We are spiritual beings, but we are also soul and body…In liturgical worship, you have many opportunities to use your body. You’ll get to use your mouth, lungs, and voice…All the senses are involved in worship because God designed us to experience the world in all of these ways.” — Thomas McKenzie, The Anglican Way

We recognize our time and space to worship is important outside the church walls too. Worship takes many forms. Sabbath is one example of this. We’ve consistently kept Sunday as a Sabbath for the past few months, meaning there’s no school work or side jobs on the agenda. The morning is spent at church and our afternoon and evening is open to take a walk, sit in a coffee shop, read a book, watch a movie, sleep, etc. We spend time with each other, often times with friends. We prioritize this time because we have experienced the burnout that comes without rest.

“What is the Sabbath? Spirit in the form of time. With out bodies we belong to space; our spirit, our souls, soar to eternity, aspire to the holy. The Sabbath is an ascent to the summit. It gives us the opportunity to sanctify time, to raise the good to the level of the holy, to behold the holy by abstaining from profanity.” — Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath

Heschel taught from a Jewish perspective, but his thoughts on the Sabbath are still relevant to us as Christians. In his book, The Sabbath, he eloquently explains the meaning and purpose of the seventh day. (He articulates it much better than I could do here, so I encourage you to pick up a copy.) Just as our church services seek to connect us to a larger Story through a type of Christian liturgy, the Sabbath is the piece of this story embodied in our physical, emotional, spiritual activity and calendar rhythms.

For this season, Anglicanism suits us well! We have been really encouraged. It’s brought a certain clarity we didn’t quite have before. Our schedules are just as full, but we know our efforts on the first six days are more likely to be sustainable when we choose to consistently engage in the Sabbath (and associated liturgy) with each part of who we are.

Do you keep a day for Sabbath or rest?

Books mentioned in this post (and couple bonus reads!):