2017 has been an eye-opening year for me in a number of different ways, both personally and in terms of broader social issues. In some cases, these two forms of revelation have coalesced as I’ve became aware of the way larger social problems have intersected with my personal experience. As a man who has spent over half his life participating in the leadership of highly patriarchal Christian churches, one of the things that shook my conscience most jarringly was the issue surrounding the explosion of the #ChurchToo hashtag just a few months ago.
I had started unpacking the misogyny and patriarchy of my experience in the Christian church earlier in the year. In March, I listened to Hannah Paasch and Emily Joy (the founders of the #churchtoo hashtag) discussing their experience with purity culture on the Exvangelical podcast. In July, I read Rescuing Jesus by Deborah Jian Lee–forcing me to come to terms with how deeply the inequitable treatment of women runs in Evangelical churches. Shortly after that, I joined an online community of ex-Evangelical Christians and heard story after story about the soul-crushing effects of patriarchy in the church.
When Emily Joy first reached out to me about the possibility of her speaking on purity culture at my new church, I was hesitant. I had only been at the church a little over a year, and I wasn’t sure if I was the right person to initiate an event like this. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was time for me to start doing something to fix the problems besides tweeting about them. So, I’m going to do it: I’m going to start a conversation of purity culture in my community.
I am working with a group of people at my church right now to iron out the details of the event and how we can use it as a springboard for further conversation around these issues in our community. In the meantime, though, we’ve got to get the funds together to do this thing. So, that’s where you come in.
I have started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for this event.
Please, if you can,DONATE TO THE EVENT.
If you can’t do that, please share it with anyone you think may be interested in doing so.
I need to have all of the funds together for the event by February 10, 2018.
If you need to see more of my pitch, below is the “story” copied from my GoFundMe page. If you’ve decided to donate or share this campaign, I want you to know how appreciative I am of your generosity. Your money will not go to waste. I really do believe that doing this kind of work can help us make the church safer for women…and better for everyone.
GoFundMe: Purity Culture Talk with Emily Joy
The #MeToo movement, coming to a head in late 2017, has brought issues of sexual harassment and assault to a new level of public awareness. Women (and sometimes men) from all corners of society have come forward to tell their stories about being exploited by powerful men. However, if there is a place in society where women can feel safe, loved, and respected, it should be the church. Unfortunately, that has not always been the case.
In November 2017, a follow-up campaign arose on Twitter with hundreds of women (and some men) sharing their stories of being exploited by powerful men in the church—via the hashtag #ChurchToo.
One woman wrote: “I was raped when I was 9 by a member of my church. The pastor, and my parents, told me I needed to forgive him, as that is what Jesus would do. They made me hug my rapist and tell him I forgave him.”
Another woman revealed: “I was 12 but it was viewed as cheating. I had to pray with my abusers wife for forgiveness. She was so disappointed that I broke her trust.”
Still another woman explained: “Seven years ago, during a church service, I was on the receiving end of a public confession from a close male friend who admitted to having fantasies about molesting and raping me. He was immediately praised for his bravery and holiness. I was still in the room.”
Just like in every other area of society, we in the church must be willing to ask ourselves the question, “Are these just ‘a few bad apples,’ or is there something inherently wrong with the culture we have created that fosters an environment in which sexual harassment and assault can easily occur?”
After two thousand years of existence, the Christian church is a diverse institution. We are not a homogeneous group. We recognize that not every woman in every sect and denomination of the faith has experienced sexual abuse or harassment, and certainly not to the same extent.
Our goal is not to demonize every aspect of Christianity, irrespective of its culpability, but rather to listen and respond to those within our faith who have been harmed. If we in our church were not the cause of the harm, could we have at least done something that could have prevented it or made it less likely to occur?
As followers of Jesus, we should be willing to take a good, hard look at ourselves to understand whether or not our theology, doctrine, and interpretation of scripture are creating a safe space for the most vulnerable among us.
“Growing up in purity culture,” one woman wrote via the #ChurchToo hashtag, “I was taught that men were ‘visual creatures’ that couldn’t help feeling aroused at the sight of slightly revealed ankles or knees, and that all men were imagining me naked 24/7. The entire system shamed women for even existing.”
For those who are unaware, “purity culture” is a phrase describing an array of teachings which rose to popularity in the early 1990s, emphasizing ideas such as boys and girls refraining from all forms of sexual activity until marriage, girls dressing modestly to avoid being a sexual temptation for boys, and women focusing primarily on preparing themselves to be good wives and mothers for their future husbands and children.
What is it about the church’s popular teachings on compulsory abstinence, modesty, gender roles, and sexual purity that have caused so much harm to women? Can we as followers of Jesus listen with open hearts and minds to the victims of these ideas? Are we willing to do what it takes to create a safer space for women, as well as a space in which men can grow to be more responsible and respectful? As the Church of Jesus Christ, we have a moral obligation to ask these tough questions.
Emily Joy, one of the founders of #ChurchToo, has been writing and speaking for years on the harmful effects of purity culture in the church. In addition to creating and performing spoken word poetry encompassing themes of spiritual trauma, she has spoken at churches, college campuses, festivals, bars, and book stores on a variety of topics at the intersection of faith and sexuality.
In order to raise awareness of these issues in our community, we are trying to raise $1,400 by February 10, 2018 to bring Emily in for an event in Portage County, Ohio.
Emily will be speaking and answering questions about the legacy of purity culture in the church and how churches in the area can lead the charge in creating a healthier sexual ethic going forward. In the months following, we plan on extending the conversation with a weekly study and support group focused on faith and sexuality.
Your contribution is not only for this event; it’s also an investment in the health of our religious communities going forward. Ideally, we want this event to be a conversation starter in Portage County. We are hoping to get people talking about how the church can do better.
Let’s set aside our pride. Let’s not be defensive about this. Let’s stop thinking about how we can defend our existing reputation and instead start thinking about how we might build a new one. How might we go about righting our ministry efforts to be truly be Christ for the world today? This is one step in that direction.
Women in our congregations are telling us their stories. It’s time we started listening.
One last time, here’s the link if you want to donate to or share the campaign: https://www.gofundme.com/purity-culture-and-the-church