It held out the promise that if I remained pure, then God would reward good behavior with a husband — surely before I turned 30 so that we could have lots of children.Somehow God and I got our wires crossed, because the husband hasn’t arrived.Twenty years later, I no longer subscribe to purity culture, largely because it never had anything to say to Christians past the age of 23.Yet lately, I also find myself mourning the loss of the coherent sexual ethic that purity culture tried to offer.A majority of adults who came of age in evangelical churches in the 1990s and 2000s were exposed to “purity culture,” a term for teachings that stressed sexual abstinence before marriage.We had our own rituals, such as “purity balls,” and our own merchandise, such as “purity rings.” I had a “Wait for Me Journal”that I kept as a college freshman; created by a prominent Christian pop singer, the journal was designed to hold letters to my future husband.This is why a sexual ethic centered on consent, which is what those of us who’ve lost purity culture are left with, feels flimsy.To be sure, consent is a nonnegotiable baseline, one that Christian communities overlook.
One would think that Pastor Bolz-Weber’s shame-free ethic would be a tall glass of water for a grace-parched soul. For amid the horrible teachings about women’s bodies and God’s anger over an exposed bra strap, the proponents of purity — or the best of them at least — were trying to offer us the gift of sex within marriage.
But neither is the progressive Christian approach that simply baptizes casual sex in the name of self-expression and divorces sex from covenant faithfulness and self-sacrificial love.
Occasionally I think about my purity pledge and the letters to my mystical future husband, and find those practices naïve and manipulative.
When I was 14, a circuit speaker came to my church’s youth group to talk about sexual purity.
I don’t remember many details from the talk but vividly recall signing a True Love Waits pledge, a small notecard promising that I would remain a virgin until marriage.