1. When a mass murderer tells police that he was “eliminating temptation,” I don’t think the right response is to assume he is telling the truth even by his own perspective. Maybe he really thinks that’s what he was doing. But maybe he killed eight people because he despaired at life and was angry, and decided later that “eliminating temptation” was a rationale that made sense and kept him from committing suicide.
2. In any event, it is definitely the wrong response to assume that his parents, friends, or pastors taught him—explicitly or implicitly—to do this. If you’re tempted to think this way, imagine that the group that mentored him are not someone you dislike such as “purity culture evangelicals,” but somebody different.
3. I think stories like this are frustrating because they offer genuine insight mixed with a journalistic framing that is deeply untrustworthy. Brad Onishi, Jeff Chu, and Samuel Perry—the three voices brought in to criticize evangelical purity culture—are all examples of LGBT-affirming post-evangelicalism. Because of this framing, the subtext of the article is that there are really only two choices for evangelical Christians: double down on hating women and empowering shooters like Robert Long, or abandon core evangelical doctrines. This is exactly the posture that defines nearly all anti-purity culture writing I see, which is why I get so frustrated by it, even when it makes genuinely helpful points…
4…such as Perry’s observation that a lot of evangelical men evaluate their spiritual lives only by the rubric of “purity.” That’s so true.
5. No reasonable person denies that evangelical purity culture can make destructive mistakes. I lived in it, most of my friends did too. These are real stories.
6. But at what point does your experience in youth group stop being formative? I mean this sincerely. Why do many critiques of purity culture hinge on an ongoing psychological trauma caused by the 3-4 years you spent as a teenager getting just about everything in your life messed up? Maybe one of the lessons of youth group purity culture is that it’s a bad idea to have a 22 year old youth pastor give 13 year old students a book about sex and dating written by a 17 year old.
7. It’s good to keep in mind that, for all of purity culture’s failures, the anti-purity culture spaces in American society don’t seem to be much wiser at this either.