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No: 'Purity Culture' Is Not Harmful, Nor Does It Tap Into 'Rape Culture'

In the same week that the Revised Common Lectionary's reading from Colossians includes a call to purity, a tendentious column in theĀ Washington PostĀ posits that a faith-based movement called "purity culture" is an "ideology" that causes "great harm." Whatever insights columnist Liz Lenz might have offered are lost in bizarrely angry, over-the-top fulminations.

First, the relevant line from Colossians: "Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry)." Paul's letter continues by saying that eliminating these and a host of other bad habits and practices allows us to "clothe [our]selves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator."

This is meant not so much as a fire-and-brimstone, God-will-hurt-you message, but as a hopeful promise of the good and loving things God will do for us if we open ourselves more to him than to our short-term, earthly desires.

By contrast, columnist Lenz says that purity, or at least sexual purity, is dangerous to the psyche. Granted, she is writing about an entire and specific construct of "purity culture" pushed in a book 20 years ago, one with rather extreme strictures not just on pre- and extra-marital sex, but (as she describes it, or at least describes how some adherents practice it) even on kissing or "dating" before marriage. Rather than concentrating her fire on some of those excesses, though, Lenz painted the entire enterprise with a brush so broad and a palette so dark as to be absurd.

She says she herself was a virgin until marriage and that she enjoys a wonderful relationship with a terrific husband. So what's the problem? She isn't specific at all, yet unleashes white-hot rhetoric that seems so angry as to be almost unhinged: "I was taught that men are my cover and my shield, when for the most part they have been the ones causing damage through molestation, rape and abuse." If she has a loving husband and was a virgin until marriage, how has she been molested, raped, or abused -- and how is it that "the most part" of what men do is to molest, rape, or abuse?