Instead of “purity culture”

For decades now, Youth Group generally involves some 2o something dude, who may or may not be a little bit creepy, telling kids about staying “pure” until marriage, avoiding the world’s music and movies, what swimsuits girls should wear, and that boys should “bounce” their eyes so as not to ensnared by the inevitable lust.

We lived in terror of our children becoming worldly, so we amped up the pressure, laid down the law, covered everything up and valiantly warred against the flesh.

And we are now reaping the results. Not so good.

What we were actually doing, according to the scripture, was catering to the flesh, believing that righteousness would come by the law. And we are reaping the results of sowing. It is a pretty ugly crop, and exactly what God said it would be:

(Galatians 6:7-8)  Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.
For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.

Everyone has the deep desire, the idolatry to seek to purify themselves. We insist that we can fix our own problems if we just apply the right technique. The Bible calls this “the flesh”, and nowhere was that more evident than in the “purity culture” of the past decades.

All we have accomplished is increased guilt and shame, fueling greater and greater lusts seeking to overcome guilt and shame, which in turn increases guilt and shame even more. We have given our children no tools whatsoever in the battle against the prince of the power of the air, and we have reaped the whirlwind. Despair and death reign, for we made a covenant with death and turned our back on the Lord of life.

Look at your own experience. If you went to youth group, did you hear more about the evils of Harry Potter, exposed collar bones, swimsuits that exposed the tummy and the dangers of lust?

Or did you hear about the Lord of glory, dying for your sin? How he took upon himself our shame and guilt? How he is softly and tenderly calling you into his arms?

Did you learn all about your wrong choices? Or did you learn about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, who has broken the bands of death so that we might live forever before him?

So here are some things that I think are far better things for our youth to learn. Let’s start teaching these things instead of “purity culture.”

  • Boys and girls are created by God. They have dignity and worth as image-bearers of God.
  • Minds and souls and personalities and gifts are wonderful things and ought to be celebrated and honored.
  • But mankind is fallen. We have corrupted ourselves because we wanted to be gods and serve only ourselves. So now we are lonely, miserable, isolated, shamed, guilty, because we were not made to serve ourselves. We were made to reflect another.
  • But God loves his creation and doesn’t want anyone to perish. So he sent his only begotten Son into the world to redeem us from the bondage of lusts and shame and guilt and misery.
  • His goal in sending his Son was not that you might continue to live in shame, but that you might be free and clean and holy and dressed in his righteousness alone, worthy and acceptable in his sight.
  • And now God is calling us all to lay down our weapons. Lay down our demands to serve ourselves, and come home.
  • Whatever we have done, and whatever others have done to us, in Jesus’ sight, you are not filthy, unclean, dirty, unwanted, unloved.
  • You can stand before him exactly as you are. You don’t have to pretend anymore. You don’t have to hide. He already knows. He knows what you have done. He knows what was done to you. He knows your hurts. He knows the dark, secret places; he knows where the cancer is and he desires to take it on himself and nail it to his cross.
  • And he desires that you simply come to him. He wants you to take that guilt and shame that you have been carrying around, and leave it with him. He looks right at you and says, “Do you want to be healed?”
  • And he wants you to receive what only he can give you – a clean conscience. Purity. Worthiness. Dignity.
  • You are worth it. He fights for justice for you and will make every crooked path straight. You can leave that with him.
  • You are worth it, for he died and rose for you.
  • You are worth it, for you are not a ruined flower, you are not a dirty person, you are not whatever wicked men have said you were. You are in Christ. A dearly loved son or daughter. Accepted in the beloved.
  • You are not your own, but belong to your faithful savior Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all your sins and redeemed you from all the power of the devil, and so preserves you that without the will of your Father in heaven, not a hair can fall from your head. In fact, all things must work together for your salvation. Therefore by his Holy Spirit, he also assures you of eternal life and makes you heartily willing and ready from now on to live unto him.
  • Wow. I am loved. Valuable. With dignity. With honor – because I am not my own, but belong to my Savior.

Can you imagine how different our lives would be and the lives of our children would be if we (and they) understood and believed these things?


Filed under modesty, sanctification, Sin and Grace

4 responses to “Instead of “purity culture”

  1. Good post, Sam. The problem isn’t purity culture so much as it is the hypocrisy, especially for victims of child sexual abuse. So in the front of the church we got the geeky youth pastor touting purity and speaking of the evils of sexuality, but in the shadows you have all the sexual abuse of kids going on. People literally learned that healthy sexuality is evil and of the flesh, but men sexually praying on children is either normal, the fault of victims, or just something that we don’t talk about. Well, if the church as an institution lied to us about that, what else did they lie about?

    Purity culture didn’t come about to protect or inform youth, it was designed to cleanse the souls of those who really are vile and perverse. So many of the church’s teachings, no not doctrine, but everything else is really just about enabling and sheltering abusers.

  2. 💜joy! Jesus is mine and I am His!!

  3. Lily

    My teenager was pushed to continue in blind obedience regardless of the physical and emotional and spiritual abuses we faced in our home. She lost her faith in God after many years of being told that if she was just better then he wouldn’t hurt her. Because of the PTSD issues, she doesn’t want to be a girl – to escape and be different than her past, she is choosing to live in alternative ways. I don’t blame her, it’s tempting to turn your back on everything from the past and make a new persona and existence that YOU define instead of your abuser. I don’t agree, but this is her choice and her life – you cannot force someone to follow Christ. (There is a genetic component that could be a legitimate part of this issue, though, for her circumstance.)

    God gives us grace, not so we can freely sin, but because we cannot measure up without it. We shouldn’t try, only strive to walk with God. God warns those who hurt children and hurt their faith will be harshly dealt with, also a man who doesn’t care for his family is worse than an unbeliever.

    The youth group leaders think my teen just needed to obey better so she wouldn’t be strangled or hit or screamed at or called names. Such views make it the responsibility of the victim and no responsibility for the abuser. It does not give the person the view of seeing God wanting to protect them, instead it keeps God distant and powerless-looking while the wolves take over. (The church also feels I should still be married, as my ex says he’s a Christian although no walk evidence but instead of abusive to the family in private while “misunderstood” in public.)

    Although this is an extreme bit of the situation, it still comes from the purity mindset of us being responsible for what others do – it’s my fault that he sinned.

    (Note, there is a point of being a stumbling block and hurting others! If you wear super low cut tops and mini skirts and flirt sexually, your actions are on you! That’s a stumbling block. We are not to be stumbling blocks for our brothers and sisters. Aka, don’t invite your recovering alcoholic friend to a gathering where there is alcohol freely served! Yet, it’s the alcoholic’s responsibility to stay sober – don’t go, or don’t drink, or leave early… Regardless of a child’s actions, a parent is responsible to choose to act respectfully and lovingly in directing that child.)

    • Anu Riley

      I am so sorry for your loved one and the testimony you shared. I especially appreciated this part you wrote; “It does not give the person the view of seeing God wanting to protect them, instead it keeps God distant and powerless-looking while the wolves take over. (The church also feels I should still be married, as my ex says he’s a Christian although no walk evidence but instead of abusive to the family in private while “misunderstood” in public.)”
      That was really well said and well put. The cry of the Psalmist to the Lord fits: Why are You seemingly so far away, so distant in my time of trouble? And so often it’s the oppressor who is seen as: he or she is lashing out because they are hurting on the inside. So this creates a false image of a victim who is victimizing others as a “cry for help.” We often underestimate the pull to pity the wrong party and therefore negate showing pity to the wronged party.
      By the way, I understand that while this can be truthful, it is also misunderstood and misapplied. Even if an abuser was previously abused, and so he or she is continuing the “cycle,” that does not negate the pain caused to a present day victim, or victims.
      I do take exception to your last paragraph I am in 100% agreement about “stumbling blocks,” but it should not be characterized based on what someone is or isn’t wearing or how they are or are not behaving. What is or isn’t’ considered “modest” clothing is incredibly subjective and personalized. Mini skirts and “super low cut tops” should not be characterized as being “stumbling block.” Nor should the action of ” flirt sexually” be treated as such, because there is no across the board agreement on what is or isn’t considered “flirt sexually.”
      I’ll use myself as an example. My clothing and/or my behaviors were never meant to be stumbling blocks, but opinions varied across the spectrum. What was and was not considered as “super low cut tops” didn’t always jive with me, or vice versa. But that isn’t relevant. The world does not revolve around me or anyone else. What matters is how we treat and respect and react to each other.
      And frankly, clothing and/or behavior choices tend to be gossiped about more than anything else, which suggests that there is no real concern for stumbling, only shaming. I am not saying that we aren’t responsible for what we wear, how we act, but rushing to judgement doesn’t factor in the condition of our hearts. Plus, conviction of sin as a “stumbling” block should be prayed for and put into the hands of the Lord, whose kindness will be faithful to do just that, when and if needed.
      I agree more so on your assessment on addicts, because it is their job to own their sobriety. I once heard a good insight on this: if you hang around a barber shop long enough, eventually you’ll get a haircut. Addicts don’t expect others to change, they make their own choices as to what is or isn’t best for them.
      However, if it was within my power to remove alcohol as a “stumbling block” in order to welcome the addict, I’d be open to that. I would NOT, however, remove a human being with a mini skirt and a low cut top as “stumbling block” to welcome the self-righteous.

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