Talking Back to Purity Culture: A Review

Published by IVP 2020

Talking Back to Purity Culture: Rediscovering Faithful Christian Sexuality

I am a simple case and point for social media marketing. I came across an advertisement for Talking Back to Purity Culture and was immediately intrigued- Not because I’ve struggled with purity culture myself. Thankfully, I was spared that trauma. No, my interests in this book are more from a pastoral perspective. Within our congregation, I know women (and men!) that lived through this nightmare and have the soul-scars to prove it. So, when I scrolled past a video of the author (Rachel Joy Welcher) plugging the book, I immediately stopped, clicked, and purchased the Kindle version. Good work, IVP.

Let me begin by saying, that as a pastor, I highly recommend this work. It’s so easy nowadays to ‘overreact.’ I’ve met so many people that have been hurt by the Church in various ways and the tendency is to swing the pendulum in the exact opposite direction. I believe Martin Luther referred to this phenomenon as acting like a drunk on a horse- veering one way, then the other. Indeed, there are ditches on both sides of the road. Those that have been burned, hurt, mistreated, abused, or mislead by the Church can very easily ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater.’ Many have walked away from Jesus altogether on the justification that they discovered the imperfect bride of Christ (i.e., the Church) to be…well… quite imperfect.

So, it was refreshing to read Welcher offer an honest critique of purity culture while simultaneously upholding a biblical sexual ethic. She writes, “I have built my theological house on the foundation of God’s Word. That is not what I’m questioning. Rather, I want to examine the influence of Christian subcultures, like purity culture, on our interpretation of God’s Word.” (Kindle location 2697). And, I must say, she does this well. Therefore, the reader need not fear that this is a book that somehow unties sexual ethics from the Scripture. Welcher affirms “sex that honors God is practiced and celebrated within the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman.” (2158).

Nevertheless, though she upholds an orthodox, biblical sexual ethic, she does does so with compassion and tenderness towards those that might be struggling to land on these issues. Purity culture undoubtedly has caused trauma and hurt and wounds that have yet to heal. Welcher rightly critiques that this movement, however well intentioned, drastically missed the mark. I believe she is 100% right-on when she identifies the major problem with purity culture to be a divorce from the Gospel. She writes, “If we talk about sexual purity apart from the Gospel, we will create chaste Pharisees instead of imperfect disciples. Obedience is a response to grace, not a ladder to heaven.” (2757). When I read this, I put down my Kindle and applauded.

Beyond this, Welcher helps to set “purity” into a Gospel context. “Virginity does not provide our purity. Jesus does.” (407). The problem with a purity culture is that it makes virginity an idol. It sells the notion that doing all the right things will result in sexual fulfillment, fertility, and a happy-ever-after ending. But, of course, this is patently false. Moreover, and perhaps most disturbingly, purity culture contributes to the guilt and shame carried by sexual abuse victims. When the message is “you shouldn’t have worn that,” or “you shouldn’t have been in that situation,” it places a certain degree of responsibility onto the victim- something that should never, EVER be done. Sexual abuse is never justifiable. EVER. But, we’ve seen the fall out of church after church ‘covering up’ abuse. Welcher argues that purity culture has attributed to this, and I believe that her argument is very much valid.

With that said, I encourage you to buy the book, read it, and share it. I’m glad to have a resource that is biblical, compassionate, and moves the conversation forward in helpful and discerning ways. You may not agree with everything she writes (for example, teaching young children to use terms like penis and vagina instead of playful euphemisms), but these are tertiary issues at best. I look forward to whatever else Welcher might publish in the future!

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