Four Principles for All Purity Culture Discourse
Purity culture discourse isn’t as fizzy as it was back in 2015. You can still find evangelical writers who make this their main thing, but of that group, a good percentage have either deconstructed entirely, or else have consciously dissolved their membership in evangelical communities. There was also the unfortunate reality that during the Trump administration, quite a few people chose to make Trumpism a proxy for their views on women’s ordination or sexual ethics. I think this by itself dampened a lot of people’s interest in the purity culture discourse.
Yet I was reminded recently that things which seem archaic in the machine of Internet content often are very relevant to actual people, actual churches, and actual situations. This is an important point for Christian writers to remember. The evangelical blogosphere does not need more content about how to fight porn, but if you step into a typical evangelical church and get to know what’s going on, you’ll probably come away thinking that church needs resources on defeating temptation much more than they need resources on, say, gender ideology. The things that float to the top in an attention economy are often deeply disconnected from everyday life.
Given that, I think the relative lack of explosiveness currently in purity culture discourse might represent an opportunity to reset it. If people are more emotionally involved in debates over Christian nationalism, that could be a chance to wade into purity culture topics in a way that helps ordinary people (rather than just feed the content mill) and establishes a viable framework for how to talk about it (rather than just make the same talking points).
Below I offer four principles that anyone talking about purity culture should follow. These are not so much ideological items as points of order. Without these four principles, talking about purity culture, especially across generational or political divides, is nigh impossible. What’s more, social media’s tendency to collapse context means that people assume the person they’re talking to is a lot like them, simply because they occupy the same digital space. This is not true. These four principles are designed to lay cards on the table. If participants in purity culture conversation agree to operate according to the principles, I think disagreements will be laid bare, points of agreement will clarify, and progress will happen.