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The Scarlet Virgins: When Sex Replaces Salvation Paperback – May 29, 2017
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Rebecca Lemke grew up in a tiny homeschooling community in the Midwest; the kind where you couldn't talk about tattoos, spaghetti straps, Christmas trees, or the Easter bunny. Purity was a large focus of her childhood, perhaps even more of a focus than Jesus. She learned firsthand the perils of putting our focus on something other than Christ and now seeks to restore the Truth to the people she loves: Our worth is not in what we have done, but what He has done for us.
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I also think this could be helpful for those who have been sexually abused, because while a person might not have been bombarded by purity culture or other legalism, abuse tells many of the same lies. You are pure, you are forgiven, you are holy, you are indwelt by God; often, you are innocent of what you feel most guilty about. Once agreeing with God about it is enough if you’ve done anything wrong. Let God uncover and kill false guilt. It is so easy to self-impose legalism.
This book is unmasks the lies inherent in ‘purity culture.’ These various sets of Christ-minimizing, extra-Biblical teachings have been injected through legalistic groups, using the name of Christ to perpetrate devastating lies regarding sexuality and many other aspects of life. Purity culture became wide-spread during the much-needed purity movement that was spurred by the American sexual revolution. Fear set the stage for what, in many places, turned into a self-righteous, works-based ‘salvation,’ a ritualistic attack on identities, theirs and God’s.
This is a respectful and compassionate treatment of what many people have invested much time and energy in, seeking to help others, and often doing so. The legalistic view of purity seems to have been very intertwined with the crucial purity movement. By-and-large, the people involved in ‘purity’ culture, writers and teachers and parents, have wanted the best for their children, truth, and not the degrading harm then and now wracking people worldwide. I have not reread I Kissed Dating Goodbye since reading this book. I think it, and other similar books, have a number of good principles and good stories, but that certain assumptions, sometimes dogmatically stated, have easily been used to invite lies about identity in Christ, and sully awareness of his presence, in many young lives. As she indicates, Harris had no intention of his book being among those used to bind burdens on kids, some of whom abandoned God in response to those who misrepresented him, using whatever teaching material was handy to reinforce their own set of rules. It amazes me that so many Christian adults could be influenced through Christian groups to view women as problematic objects, and view themselves and others as a product of cumulative sins. Everyone who’s trusted Jesus as savior is redeemed, perfect in Christ and relying on his pure self living in them every act and attitude of obedience. Every such child of God is capable of embracing the progressive healing extended by the God who trusts teens in his challenge of growing, his joyful adventure of embracing the sexuality he created them with while embracing pure God in his holy body temple. We aren’t robots and God would raise people trust him while experiencing new, compelling feelings, searching his pleasure with their minds, and not feeling each unintended sinful response as a nail in the coffin of their salvation.
Parents and young adults have a real need when it comes to navigating adolescence without accumulating memories and identity turmoil and perhaps relationships or social/financial/educational limitations they later wish they could undo; but fearing these, and worse, fearing rejection by God and negation of identity in Christ, has, for many, produced deeper pain from which to heal, and this fear-based rule system has harmed those even ‘lightly’ touched by the insidious weight of these lies.
I feel like I understand my churched-as-kids peers much better, I feel like I understand myself better, and I understand legalism better. I have a different view of society as a whole, having seen lies and ramifications I didn’t know about. I can see a bit of how these lies have influenced most Christians who have had basically no direct contact with purity culture.
These kinds of lies have assaulted Christian families. Whether or not the parents have any conscious inkling that a teacher or influential person is teaching something in particular, or in a way, that is not completely in accordance with God and his truth, then the parents’ real authority from God, and his moment-by-moment leading in how to implement his word, is drowned out in the lie that screams to be enforced or find vent in attitudes. Parent-child love is crippled by the lie between them. Earnest young Christians are at as least as much risk as children who early on reject their parents’ lie-conflicted Jesus. Either way, young adults’ ability to discern right from wrong decreases as they continually switch off the conscience, in their attempt to survive constant false-guilt.
Teens can assume these lies, to some extent, even just reading good books, or the Bible, on their own. Assumptions also tend to spread through dress, body language, and church culture, without specific lies being introduced through teaching. It's easy to feel uncertain, and adopt rules, and equate them with godliness.
Talk with your teens about pleasing God, trusting him, and enjoying his peaceful guidance that never whips them into shape, driving them to perform. Talk with them about not fearing sin, but looking to Jesus, their life-long guide in sometimes changing personal convictions (Romans 14), the author and finisher of their faith, moment-by-moment. God is not wanting them to avoid ‘turning someone one’ by wearing thick sackcloth, and God is not giving them a list to use to judge their peers. God is their merciful judge, and he always sees Christ’s paid blood. Talk with them about how they are no longer sinners – they won’t reach sinlessness before heaven, but their identity now as saints is in Jesus, not in attempts at ungodly emotional dissociation or detachment, not in isolation or trying to starve or cut themselves from the sex drive God packaged them with.
Beautifully written, and something teens can easily read. Insightful and well-researched.
Purity Culture told young people that their virginity was all-important, and that if they lost their virginity outside of marriage, they were permanently defiled. But it went far beyond that. Since kissing could lead to sex, hugging could lead to kissing, hand-holding could lead to hugging, and so on, Purity Culture told young people (sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly) that suppressing sexual feelings and romantic desires was the pathway to purity.
It was also the pathway to sexual, physical, and spiritual dysfunction.
In this excellent book, Rebecca Lemke tells the story of the Purity Culture, including its effects in her own life and the lives of those she knew and loved. She lays open the flaws in its teachings and shows how Scripture was twisted in order to teach manmade "purity" regulations. She exposes the consequences of Purity Culture: sexual dysfunction; guilty consciences; shame; suicide attempts; self-harm; leaving the Christian faith altogether.
But Lemke also shows the way back from Purity Culture; at least the gateway to the path back. While each person's case is unique, Lemke has some excellent advice that rings true with my own personal journey out of Purity Culture.
I highly, highly recommend this book for anyone who has been influenced by teachers of Purity Culture, such as Bill Gothard, Joshua Harris, and Eric and Leslie Ludy. Together with Thomas Umstattd's Courtship in Crisis, it brings to light the errors of Purity Culture and legalism, and calls people to follow God instead of men.
I received a free copy of this book and was asked to review it. However, all material in this review is my own opinion, and I actually plan to purchase a hard copy as well. :)
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Purity is a good thing. We should all strive to be pure. Sex is a sacred thing.Read more