The Legalistic Purity Culture and Abuse
Rebecca Lemke

Christian purity culture, abuse, and shame.

I’d been meaning to open some dialogue with you, Rebecca Lemke, and this is as good a cue as any. I too live in Oklahoma (Texhoma, in the panhandle) and I too am surrounded by various versions of Christian faith in a rather churchy little town full of evangelical Republicans and no shortage of Catholic Hispanics. I was raised myself in a Baptist pastor’s home, until my dad left the ministry in my teens (in ancient history) and became the most morally sound and decent agnostic I ever knew.

I still retain much of the basic ethos and world view of my early upbringing, but I do not consider myself “Christian” in any biblical or doctrinal sense, merely in the sense that in my surroundings and in my way of looking at everyday life and interpersonal dealings, I find myself in common cause with a lot of Christian folks who are just my neighbors, and try to love them as myself, sort of thing.

But for a lifetime, I have observed two things about this “Christian life”: one, is that any claim to be adhering to the Bible as though its every last syllable were the inspired and mandatory Word of God, is patently absurd and mechanically unattainable; and two, that nobody in this Christian life under whatever brand name, is making any more than a token effort to try, other than by paying weekly lip service to the idea.

It doesn’t disillusion me or make me want to discredit the Christian faith outright to know these things; I really don’t have space or time or need to be exercising that sort of punitive judgment at people I respect for how they live. But any claim that anyone in modern life is “following the Scriptures” only sounds to me like they are following the parts which suit them, and ignoring or rationalizing the remainder. Since I haven’t known of any sect which sequesters its womenfolk during their periods, for instance, it stands to reason that accommodating oneself to what works and what doesn’t in the Bible, is just as much a part of the Christian life as anything else.

I don’t really have a problem with that. I find Paul, for instance, to have been a self-admiring and deeply naive daydreamer who gave a lot of free advice about a man he never met, and maybe had never intended that he be called “Saint” centuries later or that preachers would claim that his hand was guided by God while he wrote what looks to me like sectarian self-help propaganda that was intended for very few people even to read at all.

It is the non-sequitur nature of simultaneously proclaiming that every word in the Bible is “scripture” (whatever that even means) at all, while openly and undisguisedly editing out the parts that don’t fit a chosen modern lifestyle, that I think causes Christians to invite far more discredit upon themselves than may ultimately be any fair way of assessing the value of trying to live in a Godly or Christlike manner.

Myself, I think of Jesus as a colleague. I expect he, like me, said bad words when he pounded his finger with a hammer or got a terminal splinter that took two days to get out. If they’d had pants back then, I daresay he would have pulled them on one leg at a time like anyone else. I never really cared what how he died is supposed to represent in any mystical sense, and always thought this whole business of obsessing over resurrection was a big distraction, from the example of his life. Him having died for my sins seems a superstitious absurdity, obscuring what can be learned from his having lived, as a man, and a genuine, real live man in every sense of the word.

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