Joshua Harris, popular Christian author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, recently denounced his faith and confirmed the end of his 21-year marriage. News outlets and Christian forums have since highlighted Christian purity culture, and started a conversation about the teachings of sex in the Christian faith.
While it’s important to have these discussions, it may be possible that Harris, in tossing aside the core tenants of his faith in Christianity, is doing the same thing he did when he took a stand against dating. His public display of kissing Christianity goodbye is based on the same issues he now admits occur in Christian purity culture. As a result, he turns away from the entire foundation of Christian belief rather than acknowledging specific ways it can be better shared.
Because imperfect people practice Christianity, it is never demonstrated in the best possible way. But this doesn’t mean it should be tossed aside completely.
This also applies to the culture surrounding Christian purity. The fundamental beliefs of living an innocent sexual life before finding one’s spouse are good and healthy, whether you are religious or not. The idea of committing one’s self to a future mate is a beautiful thing, and one that is beneficial for society, families and the individual.
Christian purity culture can’t forget to include with it the core belief of Christianity—that there is an opportunity for forgiveness and redemption.
However, as this idea has been promoted, it has often been misconstrued and misinterpreted. When spread without the core message of love and forgiveness, purity culture can reveal the nasty side of human judgment – something antithetical to Jesus’s message of grace.
This may be just what Joshua Harris realized—that his own motivations were misguided and led to the culture of shame that surrounds sexual sin in Christian communities. We can’t know for sure. But I would urge readers to look at the fundamental beliefs of both Christianity and purity before ignoring them completely.
People are imperfect, which leads to ideas being conveyed in unhealthy ways.
An example of this within purity culture is a common visual metaphor used in youth groups and conferences. Leaders often speak to young women about the importance of purity while passing a single rose around a room. Each person is encouraged to touch and feel the rose. After it has been ruined from the handling, the leaders will ask, “who would want this rose?” The obvious comparison to the torn flower is that of a woman who has had multiple sexual partners. This is an approach used by youth leaders to encourage men and women to remain virgins until they marry. While well intentioned, this tactic can lead people to feel shame, and become disillusioned with Christianity altogether.
The truth is that Jesus didn’t use this metaphor. Instead, in John 8, He tells the adulteress woman to “go now and leave your life of sin.” He doesn’t let her off the hook. He holds her accountable to her wrongdoings, but He also makes sure everyone condemning her looks at their own shortcomings. He asks whoever is blameless to throw the first stone at her, and one by one, they leave.
Christian purity culture can’t forget to include with it the core belief of Christianity—that there is an opportunity for forgiveness and redemption. In a way, we have all been the woman in the story, and we’ve all been those willing to throw the stones. This leads us back to the fundamentals of Christian belief that I fear are overlooked with public declarations of denunciation—that each of us needs the Savior to remind us of our imperfections, and forgive us.