During my teens, the “Purity Culture” was all the rage. I read I Kissed Dating Good-bye by Joshua Harris and When God Writes Your Love Story by Eric and Leslie Ludy. Today, the landscape is very different. Joshua Harris is splitting from his wife and has distanced himself from Christianity. Apps like Tinder make hookup culture even more rampant. Making sense of romantic relationships remains a tangled mess that isn’t easy to decipher.
There are some positive things that “Purity Culture” brought to the table such as whole family involvement and surrender to Christ in the journey towards marriage. However, there are things that we really should unlearn.
Yes, the bible supports modesty. Yet, when you delve into the Bible concept of modesty it has nothing to do with how much skin should be covered. It is more about not showing off. That could be putting your riches on display or making a sexual impression. The underlying principle is not attracting undue attention to yourself. It is going to look different in every culture and microculture.
I remember reading about a guy who was pleading with girls not to tempt him in the way they dressed when he went to church. He argued that he went to school on a secular campus and every day as he walked through campus it was a bitter struggle to keep his thoughts pure. I wonder how he had so completely associated the female body with sex that the sight of it plunged him so deeply into sexual sin. Was there really much that his fellow sisters in Christ could do to save him from his thoughts?
Your clothes do tell a story about who you are and what you stand for so choose them carefully. Yet, there should a balance. There is no need to start losing sleep over hems and necklines especially those of others. The godly man should be able to look at a woman with respect regardless of what she is wearing. The godly woman should dress in a manner that exudes Christ-like confidence and commands respect.
In “Purity Culture” the idea of protecting the heart was imperative. It would be an absolute disaster to give a piece of your heart away to someone who wasn’t your future spouse because in doing so you jipped your future husband or wife. First of all, love doesn’t work that way. Love is something that can be given infinitely to a variety of different people. Second of all, relationships are messy.
Relationships dissolve in bitter heartbreak more because we build them on dysfunctional models such as poor communication and toxic behavior. It has nothing to do with giving away too much of the heart. That being said, we are humans and we make mistakes. We will inevitably play with hearts and hurt people.
Instead of withholding affection and warmth, we should work on getting better at communicating our expectations, being willing` to listen, being respectful, being more selfless and cultivating behaviors that uplift one another. Don’t draw out another person’s affections to feed your self-esteem. Have sex when you can back it with the commitment and security it requires to make it flourish (i.e. when you can put a ring on it). Be vulnerable and communicative. Have some respect.
Future Spouse Preoccupation
We were encouraged to write letters to our future spouses. We were cautioned not to do anything that would dishonor our future spouses. In his book When Dreams Come True, Eric repeatedly tells Leslie that he can’t do certain things for fear that it would dishonor his future wife. Joshua Harris tells the story of Anna who is confronted by all the girls from her bride groom’s past on her wedding day in a bizarre nightmare.
This preoccupation isn’t healthy. We should focus on the people in our lives today. In spite of that, there are things I don’t want to forget to tell him if he exists and occasionally write them in a letter to him for later. However, respect the people in your life today not because of a mythical future being, but because they are children of God. Leslie was Eric’s future wife thus he should have been respecting her because it was the right thing to do and because he shouldn’t have been awakening love before the time was right. If Anna had stopped to listen to the stories of the girls from her fiancé’s past she might have learned that they took pieces of his heart, but she would have hopefully learned all the ways that they made him a stronger and better person. How their impact on this life would make him a better husband for her.
I would like my husband to be a virgin when I marry him. Not because he somehow didn’t have the opportunity to partake in a sexual encounter, but because he was respectful and patient. I want him to be a virgin because he chose not to have sex until he was able to take full responsibility for whatever consequences might follow and back passion with commitment. If he is a widower I want him to have loved someone well. If he is a divorcee, I want him to have learned from his mistakes and have grown into a better person.
The “Purity Culture” promoted the idea that men should do the pursuing and women should demurely wait for them. This is culturally correct, but it isn’t particularly Biblical and or a good foundation for a superior marriage. Other secular gurus should as Steve Harvey and Matthew Hussey base their advice around the male desire to pursue and conquer.
As we examine Biblical stories, we see some of the most beautiful love stories such as those of Adam and Eve, Isaac and Rebekah and even Boaz and Ruth demonstrate that a godly man treasures what he has been given by God. Sure, these men fought for their women. They cherished them. They treasured them. Yet, their beautiful wives tumbled into their laps before they had the opportunity to pursue. In contrast, the story of David shows him pursuing women, but shortly their love story would fizzle out after he was off in pursuit of another woman.
Stand back and allow a man to pursue not because it will create a better relationship, but because he likes it. It possible that you may have to stimulate him to pursue if that’s your cup of tea. Just keep in mind that at the end of the day it will be a foundation of having a relationship with Jesus that will keep your relationship grounded.
While the concept of surrounding yourself with a wealth of wise counselors during the journey toward marriage is one thing from “Purity Culture” I admire, it is easy to take it too far. Paralyzed with fear, it is very easy to let others make a decision for us because we don’t trust ourselves. You are the one who will spend the rest of your lives with this person. In the end, you have to make the decision.
Rely on your parents, siblings and best friends to point out red flags and make observations. Demand logical arguments from them about their perceptions. Don’t take any short cuts. You do the work. You fast and pray. God will give you an answer just as readily as he will give them. You need to be at peace that this is where God is leading.
Is there anything else about “Purity Culture” that should be thrown out?