Josh Harris

The church vs. the Sexual Revolution: What is 'purity culture' and why is it in the news?

The church vs. the Sexual Revolution: What is 'purity culture' and why is it in the news?


What is “purity culture,” and why is it in the news?


A particular U.S. Protestant campaign born in the 1990s sought to urge teens and young adults to follow the age-old Christian (also Jewish, Muslim, etc.) teaching against sexual relations before marriage. Outsiders and opponents called this the “purity culture” movement, and it’s currently in the news and the subject of intense online debate.

That “purity” label is confusing because critics of the phenomenon are not just secularists or those who scoff at old-fashioned morality. Conservatives who likewise advocate the sexual “purity’ taught in Christian tradition raise some of the most pointed objections to this movement’s specific theology, techniques, and claims.

The cause originated in 1993 with sex education materials under the “True Love Waits’ banner issued by the publishing arm of America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. Within just one year of existence a Washington, D.C. rally drew 25,000 youths and displayed 210,000 sexual abstinence pledge cards on the National Mall.

The movement appealed to many moms and dads who were wounded by the sexual libertinism that began in the 1960s and wanted more wholesome relationships for their own children, fretting over increases in sexually transmitted disease, unwed pregnancy and divorce. The pledges of abstinence until marriage were reinforced by wearing rings popularized from 1995 onward by The Silver Ring Thing organization, reconfigured last year as Unaltered Ministries. Instead of high school proms, some churches held “purity balls” where dads escorted daughters.

The movement is back in the news due to its primary celebrity guru, Joshua Harris, who at a tender age 21 wrote “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”

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A blog's life: GetReligion turns 13, still clinging to hope that more journalists will get it

A blog's life: GetReligion turns 13, still clinging to hope that more journalists will get it

You know the old saying that one year in the life of a dog is equal to seven years for its owner?

Well, if people talk about the relative value of "dogs years," is there some kind of corresponding scale for comparing years in ordinary human life with those in digital, online and social-media life? I mean, how old are Apple iPhones? They seem like they have been here forever. Every year on Twitter equals how much time in the real world?

I bring this up because GetReligion turns 13 today. What does it mean when a weblog lasts long enough to become a teen-ager? 

If your evolving team of GetReligionistas has been at this media-criticism thing for 13 years on regular analog calendars, how long is that in "blog years?" By the way, we have published, oh, 10 million words or so of new material here in that amount of time.

Why do we keep doing what we do? (Click here for our "What we do, why we do it" trilogy.)

To be blunt, we still believe that it's impossible to understand real events and trends in the lives of real people living in the real world without taking religion really seriously. We still believe that the more controversial the religion-news story, the more journalists should strive to accurately cover the crucial voices of believers and thinkers on both sides. The word "respect" is crucial in that equation. Ditto for "balance." We believe that doctrine and history matter. We believe that, when in doubt, you should report unto others as you would want others to report unto you. We remain committed to the old-school (as historians would put it) American model of the press.

Trust me, we can go on. And we plan to. After all, the editor of The New York Times recently saidt: "We don't get religion. We don't get the role of religion in people's lives." Who knows what will happen in the next 12 months? 

But as we mark Feb. 2 once again, let me point readers toward a recent essay that ran at the The Common Vision website with this double-decker headline:

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