That’s Not How Umbrellas Work
How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. – Psalm 119:9-10 (NIV)
Purity culture is, perhaps, the most widespread expression of Christianity in this country. Simply put, it argues that any sexual behavior outside of (straight, cis, patriarchal) marriage is a sin. And there are a lot of metaphors purity culture deploys to make its case: toothpaste that can’t be put back into the tube, flowers that have been crumpled up, triple-decker umbrellas with a large umbrella at the top and a teeny little umbrella near the handle. Can’t picture it? Just google “Christ umbrella diagram.”
First off, that is not how umbrellas work. If you want a triple-decker umbrella, fine. But put the smallest umbrella at the top and the largest one at the bottom. That’s common sense. It is also common sense that purity culture is a failure. We are to judge a tree by its fruits. And the fruits of purity culture are increased teen pregnancy, self-hatred among LGBTQ youth, and a hatred of the body that God blessed us with and called good.
One of the most countercultural things the United Church of Christ offers is the “Our Whole Lives” (OWL) curriculum and its accompaniment, “Sexuality and Our Faith.” Most commonly, OWL is used with our youth to offer a counter-narrative to purity culture and to inculcate a responsible, mature, loving ethic around sexual behavior. But there are Our Whole Lives resources for all ages as well. The UCC has excellent, professional, theologically rich resources for you (yes, you!) to have conversations at church about sexuality.
I know, I know. Speaking of sex and sexuality makes many of us reach for a triple-decker umbrella to pop open and hide behind. But if progressive Christians don’t talk about sex, the only messages out there will be those of purity culture.
God, give us joy and boldness in fostering honest, loving, faithful conversations about sex.
John Edgerton is Lead Pastor at First United Church of Oak Park, Illinois.