|Illustration by Katarzyna Bogdańska|
A few days ago, I stumbled across the book “Pure” by Linda Kay Klein. I couldn’t put it down.
Surely, this book would provide both critical insight and compelling testimony into the insidious innerworkings of peak Evangelical purity culture.
Unfortunately, the 35-page Introduction was the best part of the book.
Purity culture idealizes the Proverbs 31 woman.
Other damnable offenses were being “boy crazy,” engaging with or questioning purity culture or identifying as anything other than cis and straight.
I dedicated and rededicated my life to Christ.
I didn’t party, drink or do drugs and for the most part I got straight A’s.
In many respects, I was a “good girl.”
And, I really tried.
While I never engaged in sexual activity outside of marriage, I was told both explicitly and passively that I was beyond redemption.
After all, sexual harrassment and abuse only happened if the girl was a stumbling block. Maybe you were leading them on? Maybe they thought you wanted it? Maybe you were just mistaken?
My adolescent body was so tempting that it could lead men away from God.
Mortified, I walked back to my room and sobbed.
A few days later, a family member would joke about my clothes. Look what B is wearing…when I get older, my kids will never be allowed to wear that.
My body was bad and dangerous. My body was not even worth being a role model for future nephews and nieces.
I was devastated.
Sexually abused and harassed from a young age, I knew that sexual purity would never include me. Purity Culture didn’t distinguish between consensual od non-consensual sex. Sex was sex. Touch was touch. Virgins were pure. I knew that I would “never make the cut.” That I would forever be deemed unworthy, unloveable and unwanted.
Nobody, not even God, could cleanse me.
The revelation that my body damned me forever as unredeemable was horrifying and deeply painful and abusive.
What use did I have for a God that would damn me because of my body? What use did I have for the Church?
In high school, four classmates that were known to date around were featured on the front of a student led, admittedly “illegal” school newspaper. The headline? “FO-FO-FO’S” for Four-Foot Hoes.
Historically and contemporarily, Brown and Black bodies are overwhelming sexualized, demonized and degrated.
Purity culture capitalizes on this.
My butt, breasts, hips damned me. But, my skin verified me as someone whom couldn’t be credible.
I wrestled with the ideology that I would never be pure. And, it wasn’t lost on me the symbolism of purity culture: white virgin girls.
As a black girl, I would never belong.
Afterall, how could God possibly love me if I was a ‘stumbling block?’
How could God possibly want me if I wasn’t a Proverbs 31 woman?
How could God want me?
I was a black girl. A sexualized girl.
It was all my fault, right?
After all, I was just an Eve that was too tempting.
I didn’t have the language to describe how that incident would go on to shape much of my psyche.
I didn’t have the language because these kinds of things were normal.
You know, the spiritual ‘slut shaming.’ The ‘Christian’ gossip mongering. Like, the super innoent prayer requests like: I just want to lift up my friend in prayer because she is currently having sex, and I just want to pray that she would feel convicted that…
I also believe that women are more than marriage beings designed for sex. That women are more than sexual experience.
What happens when it doesn’t?
How do we reconcile that?
I have girlfriends that have fully faced the sort of insidious, passive, Christian abuse for being sexual beings.
I have experienced that.
How do we reconcile that?
I would like to suggest we start by naming the pain, trauma and spiritual and sexual abuse that were committed in our own Churches, homes and communities.
We must listen to stories of survivors and offer spaces to tell our stories. After all, what we resist, persists.
In the wake of #metoo, Evangelical and many persons abused by the church started a new hashtag: #churchtoo
In the wake of #churchtoo, more and more women spoke out. Men spoke out. Persons identifying within the LGBTQIA community spoke out.
These are the stories that are too often demonized.
These stories are also ubiquitous.
There are many of us hurting. There are many of us in pain.
We must make space to deconstruct.
We must find space to hold space with one another.
Things I know to be true about my experience with purity culture:
1. Purity culture enabled ( and continues to enable) sexual predators
2. Purity culture de-emphasizes truth and centers shame
3. Purity culture often contributes and perpetuates rape culture
4. Purity culture’s core curriculum functions on an ideology which advocates that young females are responsible for others thoughts and how men will treat them.
5. Purity culture reduces women to the state of their marketability vis-à-vis marriage. Ironically, nobody talks about how purity culture reduces “Godly” men to the drive of their penises.
Oof. There is a lot to unpack. Power and privilege. Abuse.
There is a lot to name and deconstruct.
Know if you resonate with this post that you are not alone.
I see you.
Honestly, deconstruction has been a rough, emotional, vulnerable journey. It requires a commitment to stick with the raw, messy, often emotionally exhausting process. It is uncomfortable and often alienating.
But, it is SO worth it.
Beloved One, if you are reading this and this resonates with you, know that your body is valuable, holy and valid. Your experiences matter and your voice is powerful. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You were created in love and your body is a design of love. Beloved one, love your body. Delight in your body. Honor your body. For Your body was declared a good thing.
**Sidenote** There are many people that I respect whom adhere to conservative ideologies and purity culture doctrine. This is not a post to shame them. Instead, I wish to speak my truth and claim newfound liberation.