The End of Purity Culture
3 truths to replace false assumptions we learned from the youth group.
Sign a pledge. Get a purity ring. Save yourself for marriage.
It seemed like a pretty simple formula to follow if you grew up in the Church. There were rallies, talks and Bible studies, all cheering on students simply to wait. Wait for a spouse. The one God has planned for you. The one who is probably waiting just like you. Sign a pledge now, and then meet that awesome guy or girl of your dreams in just a few years.
What the marriage-motivated purity culture of youth group days gone by didn’t account for was the reality that Christian millennials find themselves living in today.
As the average age of marriage has steadily climbed, hovering now just under 30, the overall marriage rate has also continued to decline. According to Pew Research Center, in 2013 only 26 percent of millennials ages 18 to 32 were married.
For Christians in their 20s, this means a dating pool where people with an eye toward marriage feels a little like finding the Loch Ness Monster. For so long, many church leaders kept teens from sexual sin with the promise of a spouse—one who likely was also waiting, too—who wasn’t too far down the road. Pledging to remain pure until marriage is important—it’s a command. But, what happens when marriage doesn’t happen?
What does the purity culture have to say to the single woman blowing out the candles on her 30th birthday cake?
Christian are left to sort it out and pick up the pieces, often with a deep sense of disappointment that God seems not to have kept up His side of the agreement. If we’re not careful, this can drive a spiritual wedge between a heart-broken person and a God who appears missing in action.
If this sounds like you, consider these three truths to replace some of those old beliefs that the purity culture left us with:
Expectations Shouldn’t Turn into Entitlement
It’s a tough pill to swallow when something you always assumed as a given turns out to be a maybe, a maybe not or a not yet. That’s how a lot of single Christians feel about marriage, especially those who grew up being taught marriage is the ultimate aim of adulthood. What starts as an expectation for our future can grow into an attitude that God owes you something.
In lieu of signing pledges to wait for our spouse (which implies the promise of a spouse), we should instead commit our hearts to trusting that God is good, when things go as planned and when they don’t.
This is a harder, bolder statement to make with our lives, when we knowingly entrust ourselves and our future to the one we know is writing the story. Why? Because the prospect of marriage was never meant to be a contractual agreement that we sign with God, agreeing to hold up our end of the deal just as long as He holds up His. Instead, marriage is a good gift, among many others, and whether or not God gives it to us is no measure of His love or faithfulness.
Only God Can Satisfy Our Deepest Needs
The purity culture told us to wait, and it also placed a major emphasis on finding the person who will bring our waiting to an end. When we live according to this philosophy, we live like we’re on hold until we get married. Many singles live disillusioned or marry just to marry, which quickly leads to unrealistic expectations. And once marriage does happen, the once unsatisfied single may expect his or her spouse to meet all of his or her deepest needs.
Transferring expectations from God to any human being is dangerous. You will be disappointed with the results, no matter how things go. A spouse can encourage us and be a vessel to experiencing love in a more tangible way, but he or she is still mortal and, therefore, quite limited. We’ll almost always wind up hurt and offended by the one in whom we invested all our trust, because that one cannot possibly meet our deepest needs.
Jesus is the only One who has the ability to satisfy our inner longings. His desire is for us to come to Him for true fulfillment, and He promises us complete satisfaction if we do that. God’s Word tells us what we can expect if we fall into the trap of looking to anyone (a spouse) or anything (marriage) but Him to satisfy our deepest needs.
“He who trusts in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26).
“Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength” (Jeremiah 17:5).
God’s Word also tells us the promises made to those who trust in God:
“He who trusts in the Lord will be exalted” (Proverbs 29:25).
Our Completeness Doesn’t Hinge on Our Marital Status
Purity culture also led us to believe that we weren’t complete until we were married, but Christ says that no individual completes us, and that our identity is in Him.
Whether you’re scrolling through online profiles or scoping out all the potential prospects at a party, it is so much easier to focus on what other people have to offer, rather than taking a good hard look in the mirror.
What we didn’t always hear in those purity talks growing up was that the key to fulfillment is to focus on becoming the one God made us to be instead of finding the one we’re supposed to marry. As we begin to live a life of courage and boldness, knowing that we are whole individuals with or without a spouse, we begin to build a life worth sharing, whether that be with a spouse, or a strong community of family and friends.
God has designed each and every one of us with a distinct purpose for our lives, a purpose that is totally different than anyone else’s. The main question for the single Christian then, becomes “Am I living out the unique purpose for which God created me?”
The purity culture didn’t prepare us for the world we face today. It pointed us to a set of behaviors that ultimately led to a disconnect between singleness and faith. Fortunately, there is a better way. God makes promises He can keep, extends grace with abandon, and meets us wherever we are in the journey. Regardless of our current marital status, we’ll never be disappointed when we put all our hope in Him, entrusting our futures to the One that knows what tomorrow holds.