Editor’s Note: This article is a report, not an endorsement. In an effort to report on things that affect the church, we chose to cover this story.
Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber is inviting women who grew up during the purity movement to send her their purity rings so that she can melt them into a “‘golden vagina’” [Note: video contains language some may find offensive].
Bolz-Weber is the founder of the House for all Sinners and Saints, a “progressive, queer-inclusive Lutheran congregation.” Affiliated with the progressive-leaning Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ECLA), she has written several books, including Shameless: A Sexual Reformation, which examines what Bolz-Weber sees as the harmful ideas about sexuality Christianity has promoted throughout history. The purity ring project is one way Bolz-Weber is promoting Shameless. The project is also a way of helping women heal from the damage the purity movement of the 1990s did to their sexuality. The movement did not impact Bolz-Weber personally, but she has met many women it did affect.
What Was the Purity Movement?
The purity movement was an evangelical trend that encouraged young Christians to pledge themselves to abstinence until they got married. People often symbolized these pledges by wearing rings that looked similar to wedding rings. True Love Waits was probably the most well-known group that encouraged people to make such commitments. While boys did participate in the purity movement, it primarily focused on girls.
The book I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Josh Harris was popular during the purity movement and was itself part of the coinciding courtship movement that urged Christians to reject dating. In his new documentary, I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Harris interviews Dr. Christine Gardner, author of Making Chastity Sexy. According to Dr. Gardner, the purity movement arose as a reaction against the 1980s’ lack of sexual boundaries and the ensuing consequences, such as teen pregnancies and abortions.
The goal of the purity and courtship movements was to call young Christians to greater intentionality and self-control in their romantic relationships. However, in the years that have followed, it’s become apparent that, in doing so, the movements caused a lot of harm.
What Were Some of the Consequences?
Linda Kay Klein is the author of Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free. A number of problems Klein sees in the purity movement include:
- It taught girls they were responsible for the sexual purity of the boys around them.
- It failed to address the LGBT experience.
- It made sexual status into something that determined people’s worth before God.
Nadia Bolz-Weber’s project is a response to these errors. Bolz-Weber describes meeting women who struggle with deep shame over their bodies because they were taught that it was their responsibility to be modest so the men around them wouldn’t sin. She’s also met women who (presumably because they suppressed their sexuality) struggled to enjoy sex after getting married.
Notably, while he still agrees with some of its ideas, Josh Harris has decided to stop publication of I Kissed Dating Goodbye. After evaluating how it has affected people, he now believes the book has caused more harm than good, and he acknowledges many of the same problems with the purity movement that Klein and Bolz-Weber identify.
Bolz-Weber says that her goal in melting the purity rings into a sculpture of a vagina is to “show that the symbols used to shame women can also be used for their liberation.” Instead of focusing on “purity,” she emphasizes “holiness.” She wants women to understand that God makes them holy when He gives them new life and that no one can take this holiness away from them. It is, however, somewhat unclear what Bolz-Weber means by “God.” In her talk at the 2018 MAKERS Conference, she implies that God could be “Buddha” or the “universe.”
While Bolz-Weber has come to many of the same conclusions as Klein and Harris, her project is certain to raise more eyebrows than Klein and Harris’s responses did. But whether people admire or despise it, the purity ring project does raise the question of how to most effectively respond to the purity movement’s fallout.