Imagine Christ sitting on the steps of the temple courts, and as he begins his teaching, the pharisee's drag a woman caught in adultery to his feet. The purpose of this was not to heal or help the woman, nor was it to hear what Jesus had to say, it was to shame the woman, and challenge Christ to see if he would do what they thought was the proper course of action. Instead, Christ turned their attention to their own sins, and reminded them that sex is not a “worse” sin, but equal to pride, vanity, and gossip. Jesus’ first words to the woman was not a rebuke, but a promise that he would not condemn her before telling her to live a new life. Such events still happen in modern times when it comes to sex. Unfortunately, Christians can become the pharisees. In this episode of ANN InDepth Jennifer Stymiest discusses the blessings and barriers of purity culture with Adventist.org writer, Ruth Hodge, and Associate Director of Women's Ministries for the Adventist Church in North America, Erica Jones.
Purity culture is a concept taught in Christian schools and churches which promotes abstinence and educates teens on the dangers of promiscuity. Both those raised in and out of christian environments are familiar with purity culture. Though the bible is clear that sex before marriage as a sin (1 Corinthians 5:1, 2 Corinthians 12:21, Galatians 5:19, Acts 15:20, etc.), many are starting to notice that purity culture has made sex the unforgivable sin. In her time in women’s ministry, Jones has noticed that the restorative power of God has been removed completely from purity culture. “the God that I love, that I serve, can restore, can repair,” says Jones “and we somehow made [sex] like the unforgivable sin and really what we did was create a culture of shame.” Like the Pharisees in John 8:1-11, we as Christians believe that we have the moral high ground, believing that change can only come through shame, and believing wholeheartedly that we are following God’s word when in reality we are challenging everything for which Christ came.
Ruth, Erica, and Jennifer all address that though the intent of purity culture is good, the one sided nature and heavy shame cloud its effectiveness. Sex has become a taboo topic in Christian circles, to where it is only discussed in the context of shame, fear, or caution. Sex is an act created by God for humans to enjoy, biology itself proves that it is meant for more then procreation, but for pleasure. Unfortunately the complexity of sex is not discussed in Christian spheres, and it is in this uncomfortable silence that teens turn to a society that is not shy about sex and sexuality, but hold unbiblical principles that have damaging repercussions. Jones states, “this is the world they live in and if they're not asking us they're going somewhere else to get the answers. Wouldn't you rather them get them from us?”Jones confirms that unwillingness to discuss the “why’s” behind abstinence, and jumping to judgement when it is not upheld, isolate young people from being vulnerable, and learning the nuances of why sex outside of marriage should be understood beyond the answer of “because the bible said so''.
We as a church have unwittingly allowed the culture's belief that our sole measure of “goodness” is dependent on our sexuality. We must untangle ourselves from shame, fear, and hyper-fixation on one gender, and realign ourselves to actual biblical truth. We have allowed the world's standards to pervade our enforcement of purity culture. The belief that it is the women, who are the temptress, it is the women who must not be impure, it is the women who must not invite, and deny, all sexual advances, and the women who hold the majority of blame if fallen. The need for upholding sexual purity is a responsibility for both men and women, since both are children of God. Many women have been hurt by this one sided responsibility, with the immense pressure shaming them from maintaining a relationship with Christ, especially when his children have told her since puberty that her value as a wife, woman, and Christian is in her sexual purity.
In order for us to grow as a church, we must cast off the worldly misconceptions surrounding sex, and return to the Word. We must ask the Holy Spirit for self awareness when we are tempted to act like the Pharisees, quick to shame, only bringing the woman to blame, and eager to follow the law, rather than the Savior that came to fulfill it. When asked about how to remedy the flaws in purity culture Jones says “We're only going to get the transparency and vulnerability from our young people that we're willing to give. We have to be willing to share our own stories and a lot of people in church aren't really prepared to do that.” We must also be transparent about sexual intimacy within marriage, discussing its awkwardness, oddities, and humor within the safety of Christian environments. Here is the biggest step in overcoming stigmas behind sex, according to Jones: creating safe spaces.
I hope that you're willing to journey with them and to be able to create safe spaces that our young people can ask the real questions the hard stuff and not feel that they're going to be shamed or judged but that they're going to be listened to and that they're going their confidentiality is going to be kept. we can't have this off limits mentality.
This transformation of purity culture must always be grounded in grace, removing the misconception that God’s grace cannot extend to “fallen women” when in reality we are all fallen. We must not place our sole worth on our sexual purity, as Hodge states “Because of our worth in God's eyes we are therefore enabled to live a life of purity or a life that turns towards the relationship that he has with us”