Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free

Inside the purity culture, girls and women are not only responsible for their own sexual thoughts and actions but also those of the boys and men around them says Linda Kay Klein, author of Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free (Touchstone 2018 $26).

Linda Kay Klein Author Photo by Jami Saunders Photography            “Because women are seen as the keepers of sexual purity which is a necessary part of their living out their faith, when men or boys have lustful thoughts about them, then it’s about what they were wearing, were they flirting,” says Klein, who grew up in the evangelical movement in the 1990s before breaking free. “It creates a tremendous amount of anxiety because your purity is assessed by others around you. It makes you worry about when you’re going to fall off the cliff and no longer be considered pure and no longer part of the community.”

But if being non-sexual before marriage is of utmost importance, afterwards the onus is on the woman to be extremely sexual, able to meet all their husband’s needs lest he cheat—which of course would be her  fault.

“Zero to 100 is extremely difficult,” says Klein, noting it’s better to ease into sexual experience. “I interviewed women who didn’t know what sex was and suddenly they’re expected to be a sexual satisfier.”

As far as sexual abuse, well, if girls and women were just pure, that sort of thing wouldn’t happen.

Klein was in her 20s when she left the evangelical church. The impetus was in part when she learned her pastor had been convicted of child enticement with intent to have sexual contact with a 12-year-old girl who was under his pastoral care. She was a senior in high school and as awful as it was to learn that, it was even more devastating when she discovered the pastor had been let go from two other evangelical institutions after he confessed to committing the same acts.  But her evangelical upbringing still bound her.

“I thought I would be free,” says Klein who during her teenage years was so obsessed with staying pure that she took pregnancy tests even though she was a virgin and resisted asking for help when dealing with what would later be diagnoses with Crohn’s Disease because she wanted to prove she was a woman of the spirit and not of the flesh. “But I wasn’t able to escape them, they were me.”

At least at first.

Writing her book, which took 12 years, was cathartic for Klein who interviewed many evangelical women and likening the fear and angst they experienced as similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Noting there’s a dominant gender teaching in the evangelical church—as well as many other churches, Klein says that patriarchy hurts both men and women except those at the top of the hierarchy.  There is also something else off putting about the purity culture and that is the profit motive in the development of products.

“The people on the ground are believers,” she says.

Others make money off of purity rings which can range in price from around $10 to $600 or more, abstinence education, Christian purity parties, father-daughter purity balls and clothing including t-shirts reading “Modest is Hottest.”

“Over the course of time I did a lot of healing through my research for the book,” says Klein, who. “There have been phases in this journey. I’ve been angry, but keeping my focus on healing, knowing I’m not alone—I think there’s something powerful that happens.”

Ifyougo:

What: Author Conversation: Linda Kay Klein & Deborah Jian Lee

When: November 7 at 7 p.m.

Where: Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL

Cost: Free

FYI: 773.769.9299; womenandchildrenfirst.com

 

 

 

Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

As a Christian evangelical and an American historian, John Fea, chair of the History Department at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, sought to understand why 80 percent of evangelicals voted for Donald Trump and have deeply aligned themselves to one political party.

“I wanted to explore what that means and how we’ve arrived at this time in our history,” says Fea, author of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (Eerdmans 2018; $24.99).Fea2 (1)

Besides race, much of it has to do with age. The average American trump voter was 57 years old in 2016 and Fea believes that the average white evangelical voter might have even been older, forming their views during the time of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority.

“Trump is delivering to a certain type of evangelicals—the Christian right and their vision of reclaiming/restoring Christian values,” he says, noting that this is portrayed as a return to an almost mythical golden age—a nostalgia for what never really existed. “If that’s your playbook, then Trump is the trade-off. And the power of that playbook is so strong they would turn their back on all the other things that are happening now.”

Trading on fears changing demographics and encouraging anti-intellectualism, anti-immigration, anti-gay and anti-abortion, Donald Trump is seen as the person to do something about all this,” says Fea, who previously taught at Valparaiso University in the early 2000s.

Noting that many far right politicians, who are very well educated themselves as well as wealthy or at least very financially secure, disdain colleges and higher education and the “liberal elite,” Fea believes that by encouraging people to be less educated, it helps perpetuate the sense of being overtaken and displaced.

“Four-years of college teach you to think,” he says. “If you understand history and political science, you can see what’s happening. But when you have evangelicals with a faulty view of history, they’re going to be fearful and anxious. They think of themselves as the guardians of American culture but that culture seems to them to be changing so there’s the sense that they need to fight against what’s happening. When people feel this way, they turn to someone they see as strong who will protect them. Too many are trading their Christian ministry for a few federal judges. I conceive of it as being like horse manure ice cream—you think you have ice cream but it tastes and smells like horse manure because that’s really what it is.”

Fea, who teaches young evangelical students, sees changes in the upcoming generations.

“They’re pro-life but their views on immigration, the death penalty, the environment and so forth are broader,” he says.

As the old guard feels surrounded, their world too rapidly changing, there’s a last gasp, says Fea.

“I live near Gettysburg and have walked the battlegrounds many times,” he says. “In history, when there’s change and now as older evangelicals see this generation shift, there’s this last rush.”

Fea compares the adherence to Trump to Pickett’s Charge  at the Battle of Gettysburg when 15,000 Confederate troops fought against 6500 Union soldiers on what was the third and last day of the battle. Their loss led to the  end of the Civil War.

“It was the final push of the Confederacy and they almost made it,” he says. “In some ways, this is the last rush of the Christian right.”

 

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