As a teenage girl I was pretty sure that having sex before marriage was the worst sin I could possibly commit. I probably thought this because sexual sin was what youth group, church rallies, and Christian books for teens talked about a lot.

In recent years there has been a great deal of talk about the negative effects of purity culture by young people who grew up in it, especially on young women, and I am very grateful for these conversations. (Joshua Harris has even apologized for much of what he put forth in “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”) Purity culture has had some devastating effects. And before anyone who watched me grow up gets too concerned, let me just say that I did wait until marriage, I’m very grateful I did and was able to (for many females the choice to wait or not is taken from them), BUT this also does not make me a better, or more godly, person than anyone else. And it’s gotten me thinking, why has Evangelical Christianity chosen sexual sin as it’s favorite to shame?

Instead of causing evangelical girls to feel shame, boys to feel guilty all the time, and a church eager to chatter about the sexual sins of others, how different would the church look if they’d pick, say, greed as the worst sin instead of sex? I agree there should still be healthy conversations around what a Christian ethic of sex is, but let’s pretend for a moment that Jesus talked a lot more about rich people and a love of money than he did about sex. (He did.)

What if people were made to feel ashamed of how much extra was in their wallets or bank accounts, and about the excess they had while others in their communities are poor? Or for owning a second house when there are homeless people? What if women were shamed over how many clothes they have that they don’t wear, as much as girls I know in youth group were for wearing spaghetti straps, a bikini, or showing cleavage? What if showing up to church in a new sports car was as shameful as showing up to youth group pregnant? What if people who had high positions at predatory corporations lost their leadership positions in the church just as those who have had premarital sex have? What if those who profited from the poor were told in no uncertain terms just how unwelcome they are at church, in the same way those on the LGBTQ+ community have been made to feel pariahs in some churches?

(Pause: This is a thought experiment and let me be clear that I don’t think creating a culture of shame – over anything – is the way toward Christian community or abundant life.)

Usury used to be a sin so abhorred it was the 7th layer of hell in Dante’s Inferno, considered to be violence against people and property. What if people in the church protested payday loan shops the way they do Planned Parenthood? (And, too, those who prevent legislation for an actual living wage for the people who use these shops, as well as the investors who gentrify areas pushing up rents and pushing people out, leaving people stuck in a damaging cycle of poverty that is incredibly difficult to break out of.) In Luke 12 we’re warned to be on guard against all kinds of greed. What if our accountability to each other included being accountable to what we are acquiring and the means by which we are acquiring it – including an honest and thorough discussion about whether our acquisitions are at the expense of, or negatively affect, others?

It is easier to police and judge sexual sin, I suppose. Seemingly more cut and dry for many of us. The rules we can make for ourselves and others in this realm are more black and white than for something like greed. This might ask more of us. This might lead to big changes in our church structures, our economic stances, our idea of what we and our neighbors actually deserve. What if the purity of our bodies included teachings about our hands being open instead of closed to persons in need?

“Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.” I read the news and I read these verses from James – I draw the parallels and I shudder.

There are so many warnings in scripture about hoarding, loving money, taking from the weak and poor. It would do us well to ask these hard questions. Perhaps we look at what we know about the early church and ask if our churches look more like our secular institutions than what we know of these early believers?

Truly it is a grace when we ask those of us with plenty (both ourselves and others) what is at risk when we excel in an empire that rewards the powerful and crushes the lowly.


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Alexandra Kuykendall · June 7, 2018 at 3:08 pm

I think this almost every day. Thank you.

Adam · June 8, 2018 at 1:40 pm

What are the effects that you’ve researched or seen for a purity culture? What verses actually agree with your point? Do you see the state of our culture now that seems to not have any kind of purity? I think it’s funny that you proved a point that you growing up in it helped you to stay pure until marriage. I did too. When a holy standard is preached yes Satan uses that as opportunity to shame. But God is looking for conviction so we’ll see our sin. 2 Cor. 7:9-10. 1 Cor. 6:18 warns of sexual sin. Where does the Bible down play it like you seem to?
Then you compare payday loans to planned murder? Your own verse you used counters your point. “You have condemned and murdered the innocent one…”. Disappointing to see a fall from seeking Gods inward holiness from God’s son and outward holiness proving we are saved to the world.
2 Tim 4:3 sounds true when I read this article.

    Beth Watkins · June 8, 2018 at 2:29 pm

    I included a link in the text if you’d like to read more about the negative consequences of purity culture. I also believe the church can teach sexual purity without there being an entire subculture around it, or that being the main moral teaching we provide for teens. Also research shows the most common reason women get abortions is because of poverty. There are studies (I won’t link them, you can find them if you’re curious) that when poverty rates go down abortion rates go down, as well as studies that when abortion is outlawed this does nothing to change the rates of abortion, just makes them much more dangerous. The two are linked quite significantly, and I look forward to a coming kingdom where I believe there will be neither poverty nor abortion.

Fernando S. · June 8, 2018 at 3:17 pm

It’s a very interesting point of view, I like it because it makes us think and see other angle and that’s what a good article supposed to do. Congrats on that. On the other side, while I understand what you’re trying to do; I think you bring up topics that were not necessary to touch in order to make your point. Comparing ‘payday loans’ to ‘planned parenthood’ is way out of proportion in my view. I’m a harsh critic of Christians and Politicians that use abortion as their main reason to choose their vote, I think is wrong to do it that way (voting) and I think it doesn’t cause any change in our culture, I think we need more education and open talks on the issue and needs to be approached in a personal way rather than institutionalized it. But still I think comparing it to the abuse caused by financial institutions is not at the same level. The way you said it, it seems like you’re more concerned about one topic than the other and I think the consequences of abortion are way more damaging than what a payday loan can do. The topic you bring is very interesting and demands lots of discussion/time…I hope you continue to dig deeper so we can have healthy discussions about it. Blessings.

    Beth Watkins · June 8, 2018 at 4:04 pm

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Fernando. Perhaps you’re right and I was too flippant in my comparison, and I absolutely agree we need more nuanced dialogue around that issue especially. You’re also right that this discussion needs more time – they all do! Thanks for understanding I can’t fit all scopes of my views, thoughts, and opinions as well as alternatives all in one post, as well as my rankings of importance for all of them! My intention was to just help us consider other sides of things and to have a more holistic view of trying to live into holiness. I really appreciate your thoughts here – thanks for taking the time to comment. All the best to you, brother.

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