John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris on Breaking Up With Purity Culture

Here’s a prediction: Thousands of years from now when archaeologists excavate American churches, they’ll identify the 1990s era by “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets, DC Talk CDs, and purity rings.

Today, 20 years later, that last artifact is even more controversial than when DC Talk evolved from rap music to a kind-of grunge. Purity rings are part of something now derogatorily called “purity culture.”

Here’s some background. What most people mean by “purity culture” is the emphasis from pulpits, youth groups, conferences, and Christian authors, since the ’90s especially, on maintaining sexual integrity. It started as an evangelical reaction within a culture in which sexual freedom had become the highest good. Remember, television in the ‘80s was dominated by family dramas: Full House, Family Ties, the Cosby Show. The ‘90s was the decade of Friends and Seinfeld. That’s quite a shift. Add in more risqué teen movies, music that would make even Madonna blush, and the emergence of internet pornography, and suddenly teenagers were being catechized in casual sex on a whole new level.

In reaction, many Christian efforts to counter this indoctrination and teach the biblical view of sex were well-intentioned but weren’t always consistent or even helpful.

I often identify three “wrong-but-well-intentioned” approaches: First, the fear approach. Some, especially at the height of the AIDS crisis, responded to the sexual revolution with a scare tactic: “If you have sex before you’re married, you’ll get pregnant, maybe get an STD, and die.”

The problem with the fear approach is that it’s utilitarian, as if something is wrong only because of its negative consequences. The problem with that, of course, is that our culture is bent on removing the consequences of risky sexual behavior, and at least when it comes to removing the physical consequences (like unborn lives and STDs), it’s been largely successful.

The 1990s “purity culture” developed a more positive attitude about sex. I call this the “Rally Approach” stage. Christian musicians wrote songs with lyrics like, “Wait for me, darling.” Youth pastors urged students to take “virginity pledges,” and often tens of thousands of Christian teenagers would do so at large, stadium-events.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris