Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/4/2022
I’ve never really had anything to add to the purity culture conversation until now. For the uninitiated, this was a Christian subculture movement in the late 1990s, which influenced how parents raised their kids in the 2000s to roughly the early 2010s. This was in response to a lot of cultural artifacts of that time: celebrity sex tapes, normalization of hook-up culture, online pornography, the AIDS epidemic, and even the internet boom of the 1990s.
Purity Culture Defined
Now were there other factors during this period of time? Of course, but this helps set the stage for why the purity culture movement began and what was the root of parents’ fears. The introduction of the new always brings the reversion back to the old for some. This happens with everything.
In this case, it was the reversion back to old ideas about dating. Like arranged marriages by a church congregation or even the Christian concept of courtship. This time, it just had a new spin. That spin is what spun an entire generation into sexual shame.
Under immense pressure to balance the natural inclinations of adolescence with the fear-mongering led by thought leaders at the time, people were stuck in a state of never knowing if they handled their dating life right. Doubts on if they were even good enough to be with someone because they weren’t virgins or “pure” enough. It was a movement that had good intentions at first, but with awful execution ended in disastrous results.
When a movement is rooted in fear and not grace, it always ends poorly. The purity culture movement was rooted in the fears of its time, not in the grace of God. Given it was grounded in the former and not the latter, Christians recoiled from what they thought was God’s hate. Instead of emulating God’s love in their relationships and enjoying the grace that’s supposed to be found within them.
From side hugs and purity rings to parents having to meet each other to decide if this was a “good” relationship, it was the norm for a lot of kids at this time. Even the perversion of modesty to the point of being a tool to elicit the young to be ashamed of their own bodily desires was standard malpractice. Then again, these repulsive symptoms were more of a theological problem than anything. At least, that’s where I think it starts.
The Modern Myth Of The One
What bothered me the most about this whole thing was the prevalent concept of the one and how that framework warped everything going into this movement. Which then bled into our current relationship climate of the #MeToo era. How all modern dating is based on the lie of the one. A theological misconception that has ties to determinism, God’s sovereignty, and a blatant misunderstanding of what it means to become one in marriage.
How is this the root? Well, it starts with some believing that everything is determined by God. A sort of manifest destiny, but instead of land promised by God it’s people in this case. Those people are the one.
The person you were destined to marry no matter what. It’s this idea I believe laid dormant in the subconscious of Christians until the purity culture movement awakened this aged-out concept. A framework that gave rise to a lot of these conventions we mock now.
Then again, what does the Bible actually say about this? What is God’s design for relationships really? Put simply, the Bible doesn’t promote the one. Rather it does promote becoming the one for someone else. Let me explain.
Becoming The One vs. Finding The One
We could go in a lot of different directions, but for now I just want to zero in on the book of Ruth. Why? Well, it dispels this lie of the one quickly with a simple question. Who was the one for Ruth? Was it Mahlon or Boaz?
Her first husband Mahlon was married to her for 10 years, provided in the famine-infested land of Moab, and married Ruth when she was fairly young. Her second husband was Boaz, grafted her into the family of Jesus, and married Ruth when she was middle aged. The first husband gave away his health to provide, while the second gave away his wealth to provide.
The former was equivalent to a blue-collar worker if he worked in our time. The latter was a man of valor whose military service allowed him to benefit from the spoils of war. When you think about it, neither of them were the one but rather became the one she needed.
Mahlon became the one in that he sacrificed everything to care for Ruth. Boaz then became the one in that he shared everything to care for Ruth. Both men became the one over time.
A good, godly relationship isn’t about finding the one. It’s about becoming the one for the sake of someone else. That you love someone so much you change to become better for them and to them. Not to say you shouldn’t choose wisely who you end up with, but you’re not agreeing to a completed person. You’re agreeing to being there as they are made complete in Christ.
Like God commands, they fully committed themselves to Ruth. Loving sacrificially and being there. At the time, Mahlon was the best possible choice for Ruth and later on Boaz was the same. Of course it’s conjecture since we only know snippets of their life, but their character bleeds through the page. Where we progress, God perfects. Marriages thrive when God guides them. Grace is our guide, not fear. Becoming the one is a grace-guided process.
Although, this could be distorted into a work-mentality where you have to do all of these self-help hacks to appear to be better. That’s not what becoming the one means. Becoming the one isn’t about performance, but patience and persistence.
The humble heart in asking God to better you so that you can be the best possible spouse in your marriage. An acknowledgement that your starting point is bad and only God can restore your soul to its best. The idea of the one is an attractive cultural myth, while becoming the one is simply self-actualizing into who God designed us to be in him. One is chasing after the winds of the world, yet the other is weathering the storms of a holy covenant and promise.
Having been in the most serious relationship of my life currently that’s heading towards marriage now, I just see this flaw so much more clearly. Our culture taught our brains to go after plastic-bound porn stars and the powerful with influence, instead of ordinary people that look and act just like us.
What makes the person you end up with special isn’t status or a lack of stretch marks, but the extraordinary fact that God made them and you get to be with them. Modernity has killed the mundane. Public image defines us more so than being imagers of God. We need to change that toxic perspective that has hurt a lot of people.
Don’t look for the perfect person because you’ll never find anyone close to that sinful standard. Rather, become someone who is by God’s sanctification transforming you into the one for someone in your life. Don’t find the one, be the one. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.