Friday, December 21, 2012

The creep factor

Whenever I watch documentaries about the purity movement that focus on purity balls and the father-daughter relationship, I like to read the comments and reactions from others, particularly outsiders. The most common words I see are "creepy" and "incestuous." While I am not surprised by those reactions, I am surprised by my lack of reacting that way. I have to admit, it has never seemed creepy or incestuous to me. I think it has to do with the gradual way I was introduced to it and the way it is presented to us inside Christian culture. First I knew of saving sex for marriage, then I heard of courtship, then the involvement of a father figure. The logic all seemed relatively harmless until you see people taking it to that next level where girls are pledging their virginities to their fathers, at increasingly younger and younger ages, and attending grand balls to celebrate the occasion. That's when the outside world takes notice and is shocked to see the sexualization of little girls being paraded and celebrated by an entire community, and fathers having an unusual interest in their daughters' sex lives.

A commenter on Reddit had this to say on a thread talking about the "Daddy I Do" documentary:
Whenever I hear the phrase "pledged her virginity to her father" it creeps me out, as though you're supposed to wait for Daddy to f*ck you. Though considering the likely psychology in place there, she probably is, in a way (her husband is just her new "daddy.")
Perhaps the reason I don't jump to the incest accusations is because I know there is no intent in the movement for a father-daughter sexual relationship. But I do chuckle a bit at the line "her husband is just her new 'daddy'" because that's pretty close to the truth. In the more conservative communities, it's very clear that the headship over a woman is transferred from her father to her husband, the men in her life sharing similar roles in relation to her: namely, provider and protector.

Maybe I don't want to see it as creepy because I can see my old self falling into this belief system and lifestyle, or because I have friends who are still in it. Maybe I'm too focused on the relief I feel that I'm not living that life. Maybe I'm lying to myself and the creepiness is part of what keeps me fascinated by the subject. I acknowledge that the purity movement should seem a bit creepy to a normal person, but I don't feel that when I watch it and read about it. Maybe it's too real and not foreign enough to surprise me in that way.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Discovering courtship, part 2

Reading I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Josh Harris was an eye-opening experience. Having never heard of courtship in a modern-day setting or of not kissing before a wedding day, I was shocked and impressed that people were actually doing these things. He told a story about a girl who's father spent time with the guy who wanted to court her before giving his permission for the courtship. I knew that would never happen in my family because the concept of giving and asking for permission was very foreign for my dad. But the idea of my dad being involved and caring for me by thinking about my best interests was appealing to me. Another story from the book told of a newlywed couple who appeared overly in love. So much so, they held hands even when one was in the front seat of the car while the other was in the back. Turned out their secret was that they didn't kiss until their wedding day. This made an impression on me. Was it true that couples who wait are more passionate and in love?

Harris made a case for why dating is bad, and the logic convinced me. The problem was, no one around me held the same beliefs. I didn't know how to put any of this into practice. I had two previous boyfriends by that point, which were typical teenage relationships. We hung out. We talked on the phone. We kissed. We cuddled. If I were to date anyone else in a 200-mile radius, they would expect the same type of relationship. So where would I even find a person who wanted to "court," let alone save kissing for a wedding? I had to figure that God would miraculously bring the right person to me someday, which is ultimately what most girls in the purity movement believe.

While most of the book talks about how awesome Harris' own courtship and marriage was, and how you should focus on pure thoughts and intentions in preparation to receive the one God will give to you, he includes a small part on the difficulty of waiting. He says to enjoy single life because you have the rest of your life to be married. While I still agree with that last statement, I don't think the rest of his talk backs that up. Most purity movement writings make people desperate to get married and feel like their single life is nothing but preparation for married life. He tells of a woman who cried at the wedding of a friend--not for her friend, but over her own lacking a husband. I remember thinking, "I don't want to be that woman." I neither wanted to be the last person married nor the pathetic sad person not enjoying life. I could not control when I got married, but I could control how I viewed my status. The only way I knew how to do that was to kill the desire for companionship and the things that come with it. For better or for worse, it was effective.  In some Christian circles, I might have been a poster child for purity and contentment; in my world, I was weird.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Recommended reading

There's a great blog post over at No Longer Qivering that discusses the modesty doctrine. Specifically, how it equates to rape culture and why it punishes women for having anything other than an androgynous body type. Modesty often goes hand in hand with the purity doctrines, and it's important to recognize the origins as well as the logical outcomes of such rules.

Discovering courtship, part 1

I had no idea what courtship was until I read Josh Harris' book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I wish I could remember how I came across that book. I do remember attending a small "class" at one of those youth conferences, where two women spoke about sexual purity and recommended Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot. Perhaps that is also where I heard about Kissed.

I read Passion and Purity first. The subtitle is Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ's Control. And let me tell you, Jim and Elisabeth were nothing if not controlled. And so serious. It made me a bit uncomfortable and scared that I could never live up to their severe level of discipline. Not that I could admit that to myself at the time. No, I admired them then, and I took to heart her advice not to awaken love before the time is right. When I told my mother about the book and how they had waited so long to marry, avoiding nearly all intimacy beforehand, only to suffer an early end with Jim's death, her reaction implied "what a sad and terrible waste." Now I see what she meant. I have to ask: was it really worth it to hold so much of yourselves from each other with the limited amount of time you had together? Why is that good? Is protecting your heart and your purity worth starving yourself of love and affection?

Also covered in that book was Jim's belief that you should never kiss a woman until you tell her you love her, and you should never say "I love you" unless you're proposing marriage. And Elisabeth made an argument that arranged marriages are not bad because statistically they last longer. Where do I even begin? As for kissing, I don't believe this is toying with a woman's heart. It's a sign of attraction between two people and an enjoyable activity. It can help you gauge whether someone is right for you and whether you have chemistry together. And as for "I love you," why must we hide our true feelings until we're prepared for marriage? Be honest with yourself and the person you love. I suppose some Christian groups don't believe love is a feeling--it's an action--and therefore you don't truly love someone unless you're able to act on it. What can I say except that I simply disagree. Lastly, why is the measure of a good marriage the length of it? Is a miserable long marriage better than a short and passionate one? And if a long marriage is a Christian's goal, then why does Christian culture encourage young marriages, which are less likely to succeed? Oh yeah...the temptation of sex.  Is it just me or are the ideals of purity and long marriage a system set up to fail?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Being receptive to the purity movement

The concept of not having sex before marriage was not foreign to me growing up. I thought that's what most people did and I assumed that's what I would do when I grew up. Yes, I was a bit sheltered. All I saw were traditional family models. Of course, once I reached junior high, the kids at school were starting to experiment sexually, but not my friends. Only the "bad" kids were having sex, or so I thought. And I still thought kissing was perfectly normal. It wasn't until later that I would begin questioning whether that, too, was wrong.

In junior high, I became active in my church and other youth gatherings. I subscribed to Brio magazine and visited Christian bookstores. It was around this time that I became concerned with whether I was "saved" or not. It wasn't something that was talked about in my ELCA Lutheran church, but my Christian friends from other churches talked about rapture movies they had watched, and it frightened me. The summer after 8th grade I went to a big youth gathering. Sometime during one of the praise and worship songs the first day, I felt very moved and from then I never wondered whether I was saved or not. I just felt assured that I was. I was inspired and excited, and ready to soak up every word a Christian teacher had to say. One of the speakers was a purity promoter: Pam Stenzel. She was funny and engaging. I thought she was the best speaker there. Little did I know she toured, giving the same speeches to teenagers across the country. She made abstinence sound like the smartest decision in the world, and she implied, if not outright stated, that having sex with others gave away pieces of yourself and made you dirty. She talked about a demonstration that she used to do, where she placed a piece of tape to someone's arm, peeled it off and stuck it to each person's arm down the row, showing that it got dirty and wasn't good anymore. She said that's what sex was like. At the time, all of that made perfect sense to me. Only now do I look back and feel saddened by the damaging messages it was sending about personal worth.

In high school, I sought to go further. I was passionate about my faith, and I had the naive belief that all Christians were the same--that they all believed the same basic things and that they were spirit-led in their teachings. I didn't know the deep divides between denominations and doctrines. I didn't know God allowed confusion and misinterpretation. I thought that everything in a Christian bookstore was a safe haven, a trustworthy source of information. So the purity movement and Christian culture had an easy way in. I was primed to follow. That's when I came across I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

Friday, December 14, 2012


I thought I'd start out by telling a bit about myself. Lynn Grey is my identity on this blog, but it is not my real name. I do not know yet if anonymity will be important or necessary to me, so I thought I'd play it safe to start. 

The purity movement is something I came into contact with in junior high. Latched onto it whole-heartedly. My upbringing was Christian but not overly conservative. At least not the type of fundamentalist conservative--but rural Midwestern values conservative. So my participation in evangelical Christian culture and adopting its values was mostly my own initiative. I loved it and took it very seriously. I went to a bible college and lived by the rules. It wasn't until a few years after that, in my mid-twenties, that I began truly questioning what I believed. There were things about the concept of purity in particular that bothered me. I will explain these things in depth in later posts, but ultimately, I came to the realization that I did not believe the ideals of the purity movement were God's plan for us, nor were they healthy. I still consider myself a Christian, albeit a more liberal one, but I do still harbor some bitterness and resentment towards the movement and evangelical Christian culture in general, because of the path it was putting me on and the person it was turning me into. Although my experiences are not dramatic or extreme, I feel like I "escaped" a life of loveless legalism. I think the reason I'm so fascinated by stories of people within the movement or extremely conservative religion is because I can see my alternate life: the life I could have led if I followed some of the teachings I was exposed to.

I'm still on my journey of finding truth and God. I will probably talk about some of those things here, too, because even though it doesn't always have to do with the purity movement, my experiences were so intertwined, and sex and religion and culture frequently impact each other.