Both Purity Culture and Hook-Up Culture Have Failed Me

By Abigail Murrish, Director of Communications, New City Presbyterian Church

*This article was originally published by Christianity Today and was republished with permission from the author using the website’s guidelines.

For evangelicals, the conversation about sexual purity in a libertine age is a perennial one. The purity culture of the ’90s, in particular, casts a long shadow and cycles through the public square on a regular basis. One of the architects of the movement, Joshua Harris, recently announced his departure from faith. As part of an ongoing “deconstruction process,” as he calls it, his rejection of Christian purity culture (a few years ago) was one of many steps that led—not causally but sequentially—to his rejection of faith itself.

The news left me feeling hollow. As I’ve watched Harris’ story unfold through the years, I’ve seen aspects of my own life mirrored in his. Yet while my story starts in a similar place, it travels in the opposite direction toward a reconstruction of faith. I, too, rejected purity culture but in its stead, I discovered a deeper commitment to the beautiful orthodoxy of Christian faith, a deeper appreciation of the doctrine of the Incarnation, and a deeper love of the church.

The story starts in my teen years. Along with a lot of other young men and women in evangelicalism, I was carried along by the tide of the purity movement and saw it as an expression of personal piety and devotion to faith. My actions, however, were almost entirely driven by future outcomes. In other words, I expected a marital relationship down the road, and I was afraid of ruining my chance at a perfect one. I took a vow to abstain from sex until marriage and wore a ring on the fourth finger of my left hand. When I started hanging out with a guy in high school, I refrained from holding hands with him, because I believed it was a short road from intertwining fingers to winding up in bed together.

At 19, I began my freshman year at Purdue University and came face to face with a diametrically opposed model: hook-up culture. I was a practicing evangelical Christian holding to a traditional sexual ethic while living on a campus committed to free sex. “Hooking up” and “friends with benefits” were common practices. On Sunday morning, while I walked to the dormitory lobby on my way to church, my dormmates would walk their boyfriends to the front door.

Continued on Christianity Today.

Abigail Murrish is a writer and podcaster who studies the intersection of food, community, faith, and culture. Her work has been featured at Comment, Christianity Today, Christ and Pop Culture, The Gospel Coalition, and Boundless. Originally from Indiana, she now makes her home in a small city within Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband and daughter. Subscribe to her newsletter Given Appetites to follow along with her research and writing on intuitive eating and diet culture.