Last month, my friend Jaime texted me. “I just listened to this interview on NPR about a woman who wrote a book on evangelical purity culture, and I thought of you.” I immediately looked up the interview with Linda Kay Klein, the author of “Pure” and after listening to it, I ordered it on Amazon. It came in a day, and before I knew it I read the first chapter and was twelve again, feeling like it was God’s sovereign will that I marry my first crush.
I consider myself to have grown up on the fringes of purity culture. But “Pure” called out experiences that I’ve had or I’ve known friends to have that hit so close to home. I read the first few chapters and had to put the book down. It was just too real, too big of a reminder of mindsets I’ve come so far from.
I picked it up again a week later. The content was still hard, but also so vital. I felt like I needed to read the stories of these women, that they needed to count and matter for something. Their pain MUST pave others healing journeys.
The chapters that resonated the most with me were; “Going Home”, “Dementors” and “Sanctuary”. The rest were great examples that I identified with strongly, but I guess those three center either in where I feel I am right now (A mix of the creative owning of self explored in “Going Home” with the growth and expansion described in claiming faith through “Sanctuary”.) or where I feel my call lies (“Dementors”.)
"Going Home" explores Linda''s writing process as she confronted her family’s fears while she worked on a topic that is potentially so volatile. It pictures her still looking for confirmation of belonging, even as her faith and calling looked so different from what her parents ever imagined.
Personally, writing and sharing is really scary. I get it. I have written parts of my book (and even parts of my blog and instagram posts) and wonder which one will bring the raised eyebrow, or the shutdown of local ministry opportunities. I went through the “will my family stick with me through major change and disagreement” phase a long time ago, but I had never openly questioned or critiqued long cherished patterns of life in Christian communities. Perhaps this is another commentary on evangelical culture, that I assume if I am fully myself and live into my calling, my community will desert me. I assume that parts of myself and my calling will be seen as “too much” or “too intense”. So I feel for Linda, knowing that she must write potentially controversial stories, even though the kickback could be severe.
“Dementors” describes the religious PTSD many women (and men) who have been traumatized through harmful teaching experience when they walk into a church. For some women Linda interviewed, just talking to a clergy person or standing in a pulpit brought on actual panic attacks. I write for so many reasons, but these people are such a HUGE reason that I write. I hope and pray that these people find the healing they need in whatever way they need it. But as long as this keeps happening, I have work to do. My goal is to see Christian faith acting as an actual sanctuary. A place of healing, safety, and reprieve for ALL.
“Sanctuary” gives me hope that this can be achieved. Linda features a few churches which have focused on teaching Christianity in autonomy. Somehow she managed to write a book on one of the most painful and traumatic parts of life for evangelical Christian women, and end on a beautiful, hopeful note.
Also of note, and covered in detail in this book, the physical, emotional, and mental trauma caused by various (non biblical) purity teachings in evangelical faith.
Who should read this:
Those of you who are searching for your path out of the life force sucking traumatic experiences that encompass purity culture.
If you have influence in faith circles, I think knowing the dark side of purity messaging is really important. Purity culture is alluring because there are set ways to “win” when we play the game right. It sells the idea of “safety” from having to sort out an murky feelings about sexuality, desire, or consent. We need to know what mindsets we are passing on to the kids and teens in our spheres of influence. This book will stick with you. The stories will haunt you, and they should. They will be reminders every time you want to give a pat answer, or trite example of “sexual purity”. Let the eighty plus women interviewed for this book always help you remember the gravity of this topic. Don’t let your teaching be the reason someone can’t step in a church without having a panic attack.