Our Poverty of Purity

Photo by Abby Whisler.

Photo by Abby Whisler.

I have recently been reflecting on the spiritual formation I experienced in my high school youth group. I want to share how our views on purity may have set us up to fail in dealing with sexual brokenness. Simply put: The thoughts and attitudes of contemporary church culture toward purity are inadequate. There are two primary viewpoints: flippancy and hyper-purity, both of which cause harm in our community.

Many of us remember well the days of youth group purity talks, those awkward things where every guy has a sudden interest in studying the floor or the all-girl purity-and-pancakes sleepover. Even our man-night was supposed to be about purity (although we ended up talking more about red meat and sports). A lot of well-meaning Christian leaders poured into our lives with godly motivation. But then we arrive here at Covenant, trying to be open and foster community, and we don’t have categories for dealing with the sexual brokenness that is present on our campus. In that sense, our (limited) views of purity are hurting one another.

There is a real attitude of flippancy. If we talk about purity on a very surface level, it doesn’t sink in and reach the heart. We have thrown around purity without ever stopping to think about what it means. Our vague notion of purity was only related to premarital sex. As long as we didn’t have sex, “purity” described our lives. Yet we all knew who had slept together last Friday and we still sat in our Christian circles chanting purity. How is this flippancy an adequate treatment of purity?

It would seem a more sober attitude is necessary, but I have seen real harm from that attitude as well. Sex becomes the unforgivable sin. Praise the Lord if you can keep from it, but what happens when people fail? The youth groupers don’t have an answer besides ostracizing those who should feel the most love. If purity is only sex, then “they” lost it and purity is unrecoverable. Are believers who aren’t virgins Class-B Christians? If not, then why does it feel like that?

Let me qualify this point by saying it does matter what we do. God calls us to sexual purity (1 Thess 4:3) and we need to trust that His plan is our path to true freedom and purity. Yet, no one can claim perfection in this area. A deep sexual brokenness lives here on campus. (If you haven’t seen it, then you haven’t looked very hard.) Many of us have Christ-given repentance and godly sorrow for our past sins. So, when we start to be open about our struggles and past mistakes, why does it feel like a dichotomy forms between the “pure” and “impure”? To be sure, it is a subtle and tacit distinction, but it is a reality for those in the “impure” camp. Here they are, trying to be open about Christ’s work, and then suddenly feel alienated and they feel like all their motivations are being called into question. It is hard to be open if you feel “marked” by your past impurity. How can we bridge the gap between our sexual sins and this sober view of purity, taught to us by our former youth groups? Why do those of us who have fallen feel like “damaged goods” (as one person described it to me) when we encounter this “Christian-ese” version of purity?

l. If our piety disenfranchises our sisters and brothers in Christ, we do not grasp what forgiveness means. Our “Christian-ese” formulations of purity are creating a hierarchy of Christians in our community. Those who haven’t committed those specific sins place themselves (unintentionally) over those who have fallen to sexual sins. This hierarchy exists, so let’s deal with it, please.

Maybe we should re-think our view of purity. I don’t have the full answer by any means, but part of our formulation should be that Christ is more concerned with our current purity than our past failures. We should be, too. Our sin is not a barrier for Jesus’ relationship with us: it is the very reason for his work. In the same way, we can’t let each other’s sin create barriers between us. Participating (knowingly or unknowingly) in such a hierarchy is a misunderstanding of forgiveness.

Forgiveness means never using someone’s sin as ammunition to feed our own superiority complexes. As one who has been on both sides of this complex, I know how much both hurt. Sexual sin causes deep wounds, but if you add, on top of that, an inferiority complex, how can we begin to live in community? I think we need to show an attitude of full inclusion, based simply on the gospel. But having an attitude is not enough. Instead, actually say this to one another. We all vaguely grasp the gospel, but when your brother or sister looks you in the eye and says “I fully accept you because of Christ’s work,” that has power. This is the heart of the gospel. It simultaneously cuts downs our notion of superiority and removes our feelings of inferiority. We can thank the Lord for grace that has kept us from more sin, and be confident in the forgiveness for our sins. There is no room to feel superior because we are accepted by God, based only on mercy and grace. There is no room to feel inferior because we are promised to become New Creations and to have a “born-again purity.” The gospel says we are more loved and accepted than we can imagine. Maybe on this issue of sexual brokenness, the gospel speaks powerfully. Pray for healing of brokenness in our community.