Archive for

Book Review: “Talking Back to Purity Culture” by Rachel Joy Welcher

Purity culture is a movement that grew up within American Christianity with an intense emphasis on a specific definition of sexual purity. Rachel Joy Welcher’s Talking Back to Purity Culture: Rediscovering Faithful Christian Sexuality approaches that culture from a perspective that agrees with some of the basic motivations while disagreeing with the baggage that comes along with it.

Welcher surveys the landscape of purity culture with a look at history behind the movement. She summarizes a number of major works, highlighting the general view of this movement. Essentially, it focuses on hardened gender roles and extreme emphasis on importance of “purity,” by which is meant not just virginity but a kind of resistance to and avoidance of sexuality in almost any instance. Thus, for example, moves to “kiss dating goodbye” in favor of courtship regulated, approved, and observed by parents.

The movement towards purity does not come without additional baggage, however. Welcher notes several of these points through chapters about “The Idolization of Virginity” and “Female Responsibilities.” In the latter, she observes that the weight of purity largely falls upon women who, according to proponents of this movement, must do things like “dress modestly” and “select… attract… [and] satisfy her spouse” (42ff). This means that women are often left in fear that something as simple as an exposed bra strap will be enough to tempt others into sin, a responsibility that women ought not have to bear. Boys and men are taught similar ideas, and this has its own weight. For example, men are taught that they are almost insatiably sexual, seeing the simplest thing (an out of place bra strap, for example) as arousing and causing intense desire. When men don’t feel that way, they can then feel inadequate. The Purity Culture movement paints with a broad brush that basically forces all men and women individually into these specific behaviors, desires, and obligations, thus alienating those who do not feel they fit neatly into the buckets presented. Welcher also notes the problems that arise with purity culture and those who have been sexually abused or don’t fit all the norms presented.

The final few chapters focus on Welcher’s corrections to purity culture. While still maintaining a fairly conservative view of sexuality, Welcher notes that purity culture simply doesn’t correspond adequately to reality. However, she also pushes back against some of the stronger objectors to it. Nadia Bolz-Weber, for example, comes into scope as Welcher states that Bolz-Weber’s more permissive sexual ethic that included opening herself to her boyfriend erotically post-divorce is a “gospel of self” and exhorts readers to “not be deceived” (134). “Holiness is not premarital sex without shame,” writes Welcher (135). These notes might strike some readers as a reinforcement of some of the sexual ethic behind purity culture, and I’m not sure that’s entirely mistaken.

The last section of the book, in a chapter about purity culture “moving forward,” features Welcher using similar language to many of the writings of purity culture: “Loneliness is real, but lust does not love you. Its only desire is to tear you apart, limb from limb” (184). Those who have been especially harmed by purity culture’s expectations and adherents may find the pushback against purity culture is not as strong here as they’d like. Fairness demands acknowledging that this is beyond Welcher’s intent, but one wonders about the use of words like “lust” in the sentence quoted above. There is a remarkable amount of wiggle-room in definitions of lust, and a lot of baggage that comes with it. While Welcher pushes back on purity culture, this reader wonders whether she may not have taken it far enough. Though critical of more progressive thinkers like Bolz-Weber, Welcher may have moved too quickly to dismiss their whole sale attack on purity culture due to the broad damage it has done.

The book has discussion questions and activities throughout, allowing it to be readily used for a group study.

Talking Back to Purity Culture is a fascinating read. It not only provided insight and directions into the movement, but directed ways forward. As I read the book, I found myself reflecting upon it and how purity culture came into my own life at times and how it shaped who I am as a person. The book will surely provide groundwork for much future discussion, and hopefully allow more to “talk back” to purity culture with more informed voices.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Finding Humor and Delight in Reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I was reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Conspiracy and Imprisonment 1940-1945 and came upon, again, a moment that gave startling insight into Bonhoeffer’s character. It also raised questions. The passage was from a letter he wrote to his dear friend, Eberhard Bethge on Jaunaury 25, 1941:

The Schiller film [a reference to Friedrich Schiller, directed by Herbert Maisch (1940)] that I recently saw, was terrible: pathetic, clichéd, phony, unreal, unhistorical, badly acted, kitsch! Go see it yourself. [DBWE16:128]

I laughed out loud reading this passage. After a string of invective against this film (about which I know nothing), Bonhoeffer tells his friend to “Go see it yourself.” It made me sit back and wonder–why is it that Bonhoeffer thinks the film is still worth seeing? He doesn’t explain further; merely writes “This is the way I imagined Schiller as a junior in high school” (ibid). But it’s clear something about it struck him as an aspect of the film that his friend would enjoy. It’s a private, shared moment that we as readers get insight into.

It also made me think of how much humor and delight–and speculation!–there is in reading the collected works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Moments like this are found in abundance. They’re insights into private, shared ideas, funny asides, and stirring insights that can be appreciated more the more one reads Bonhoeffer (and about him). Another example that has had long term impact on me is the realization that Bonhoeffer was dedicated to reading the Moravian Daily Texts and discussing them. This is an insight that I came upon reading Laura Fabrycky’s excellent Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus (my review here). 

But only by reading these lengthy volumes in detail will one stumble upon these wonderful morsels of wisdom, humor, and delight. Readers will also come upon so many more questions, like the one I mentioned above–why does Bonhoeffer want his friend to watch a movie he clearly hated? But it is this kind of thing that spurs scholarship, and indeed curiosity, forward. 

So let me encourage you–if you’re interested in Dietrich Bonhoeffer, go get the collected works. Pick a volume that strikes your interest, pore over its text and notes, and join me in a journey of delight, humor, questions, and insights.

Links

Dietrich Bonhoeffer– read all my posts related to Bonhoeffer and his theology.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Ravi Zacharias and Problems with Apologetics

Ravi Zacharias was one of my early introductions to Christian apologetics. He was formative in how I approached some ideas, and his way of turning a phrase still sticks in my mind. Ravi Zacharias was also a fraud and a repeat sexual abuser. Christians need to deal with this. Apologists like me need to with this. We need to do it in a way that does not excuse but rather acknowledges this and works to ensure systems are in place to prevent it from happening in the future.

Early on, I was a bit off put by some of his examples. I cannot recall the exact book–it may have been Jesus Among Other Gods–but he used a story of a man propositioning a woman who sat next to him on a flight for a large sum of money. Eventually he admits he doesn’t have a lot of money, and the woman, horrified, asks what kind of woman he thinks she is. He cynically responds that she already established that by accepting his larger offer. It’s an off color story, but one that targeted women in a way that made me pretty uncomfortable. I wish I’d paid more attention then. I continued to buy and read his books until I started to move on to more intensive apologetics training and hone in on topics that moved beyond what he wrote about.

It came out some years ago that Ravi Zacharias inflated his credentials. There’s not really any way around this. He claimed to be a professor at Oxford. He claimed to be a visiting scholar at Cambridge University. These and several other claims which were false and admitted in writing to be false by him at various points demonstrated a clear and substantial case that he had inflated his credentials on purpose to lend himself credibility. This was enough for me at the time to immediately stop citing and recommending his works. I didn’t do enough. I should have done more to warn others about the problems then, because even this was a severe problem for someone at the front lines of apologetics–defending the truth while deceiving.

More recently, severe allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse were leveled against Ravi Zacharias. And, in the last few weeks, the independent firm hired by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries to investigate these claims confirmed that they are, in fact, credible. It was more than once, a pattern of planned and sustained abuse across multiple victims. It’s horrifying and unimaginable the damage that Zacharias did. It must be condemned in the strongest of terms, and it must lead to broad change across apologetics organizations and individuals.

There are some things Christians can and even must do to in order to prevent things like this happening again. Unfortunately, too few Christians and especially apologists are stepping up to do so. I remember being told time and again when I was taking graduate level courses on apologetics that “the Gospel is offensive enough.” The point was that, as Paul wrote, the Cross seems like foolishness to those who don’t believe. It’s enough for apologists to contend for the faith. To put up additional barriers, like backing unconditionally those celebrity Christians accused of wrongdoing, is to make the Gospel offensive. By our works we will be known, and too many Christians and even–perhaps at times especially–apologists have sullied the name of Christ with covering wrongdoing and siding with the oppressor, the abuser, and the wealthy over the oppressed, those harmed, and the needy.

The first thing Christian apologetics organizations must do is have outside accountability. I do not know all the details of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, but from those who have spoken out, it sounds as though there was very little accountability within the organization. Christians must do things openly and with all willingness to show accountability, paper trails, and willingness to change when needed.

A second thing that can be done is to stop lionizing individual apologists. Too many Christian apologists make their name into a selling point. I have long observed and tried to focus efforts into encouraging apologists to work to be experts in a few select areas and rely upon each other when other issues come up. This helps avoid the pressure to “know everything,” to inflate credentials, and perhaps most importantly, to make apologists into celebrities. When we decide that a single name–like Ravi Zacharias–is worth hitching our wagons to, it becomes much more difficult psychologically to acknowledge any possibility of that name being wrong. I’ve seen it with other apologists as well. Too often, we apologists are willing to defend the person and even the errors of that person because of their name, whether it’s Christological errors, inflating credentials, or even, horrifyingly, abuse. I use my name on my blog, and I have to confess it was in part because of my own aspirations to be one of those names. I hope that my efforts in the past few years to reconstruct my faith have shown that is not my goal going forward.

Third, we need to listen to those outside our circles. I am in a lot of apologetics groups, and I often see the same topic over and over again with the same people and web sites cited. When someone comes along with an outside voice, our tendency is to circle the wagons and shout them down rather than listen to and acknowledge their concerns. This applies to arguments related to the existence of God, but it also applies to broader theological topics, ethics, and, unfortunately, to covering up mistakes made. The latter easily turns into being willing to be apologists for abusers. We cannot let that happen. It must never happen.

Finally, we need to act swiftly and decisively in the face of credible accusations. It’s easy to appeal to court language like “innocent until proven guilty,” but that is not how the body of Christ ought to work. We need to work to protect victims as quickly as possible and speak up for those who are silenced. This is a fine line, and one that I myself am still figuring out, but we are far, far too often on the wrong side of this line. We, again, circle the wagons rather than listening to critique of someone we have lionized. We need to stop. I stated above that I stopped citing Ravi after I came upon evidence he had inflated his credentials. This evidence was put forward by an atheist, and simply because of that too many Christians dismissed it and my own concerns. A better approach would be to investigate and act upon that evidence. Going alongside this, with Zacharias specifically, we ought to immediately stop citing his works, using his examples, sharing any videos of him, or recommending him in any way whatsoever. To do so damages our witness going forward.

I hope this post will be taken to heart and start some discussion. We need to change. As Christians, and as apologists, we need to change.

SDG.

Links

What’s Wrong with Apologetics? – I ask questions and offer answers regarding what I believe is wrong with apologetics generally.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,639 other followers

Archives

Like me on Facebook: Always Have a Reason