This past Saturday, I had one of those trolls show up in my mentions. You know the kind: they seem well-intentioned at first, only to then ignore everything you have to say and instead bloviate about their own political agenda and message. I ended up blocking this young lady when she proclaimed that the experiences of women who grew up in purity culture were not the fault of the church or of poor doctrinal focus, but rather personal, individual failure on the part of the women themselves.
This kind of victim-blaming rhetoric is common throughout the conservative right wing of both American politics and theology. A complementarian husband abuses his wife? It’s a moral failing of his own accord, not a logical outgrowth of a theology of submission. A man and woman in marriage experiences a lack of sexual compatibility and the slow death of their sex life despite saving themselves for marriage? They misunderstood the messages of the purity movement and didn’t do it right.
There’s a ready explanation for every failure, for every hurt, for every pain.
But, there’s a sea change happening. Our stories are becoming too loud to ignore. The explanations are becoming hollow and more obviously untrue. Our lives, our experiences, cannot be explained away as isolated incidents, as failures of individual personality, as a misapplication of theology. The problems with purity culture and the purity movement are systemic and they cannot be changed by simply making sure individuals don’t “take the theology the wrong way” or by excluding individual narratives from the overall story. You don’t get to claim your movement as a success if you refuse to take the data from those your movement failed.
This is why I started the hashtag #PurityCultureTaughtMe. It’s turned out to be a heartbreaking, important read, with stories contributed by men and women around the world. It collectivizes our pain and our anger and our relief at having escaped. As much as the system tries to drown us out now, we speak up and continue to live, embodied rebellions to that theology that demands our silence and our compliance.
The very theology is what must be challenged, and it is only challenged by continuing to speak up, to share our stories, to live as we are, unashamed and unafraid. We are here. And we demand to have our voices heard.