Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Evangelical Christians' Obsession with "Sexual Purity" - It's All About Power

Some of the Christofascist opposition to the Fairfax County Schools' new LGBT supportive curriculum derives from the evangelical obsession with so-called "sexual purity."   But as the author of author of "Virgin Nation" this obsession and the "purity movements" play a part of the Christofascists hidden agenda of retaining power and furthering their dangerous worldview which is anti-democratic and diametrically opposed to a color blind application of the Gospel message.  Religion Dispatches looks at the issue and what is really driving the so-called sexual purity movement.  Here are excerpts:
Sexual purity movements, past and present, are not ultimately about promoting a biblical view of sexuality. They are about explaining large-scale culture crises (e.g. Anglo-Saxon decline, the Cold War, changing gender roles and sexual mores) and providing a formula for overcoming those crises.

Today’s movement is laden with a therapeutic rhetoric that presents these choices as the best choices for those who seek to conform their behaviors to God’s will. It promises that those who conform will enjoy spiritual, physical, and emotional satisfaction in their marriage relationships. Other scholars have parsed these claims in more sophisticated ways than I do and many other writers have demonstrated that these expectations are anything but a path to personal well being. What I’m saying is that sexual purity has never been about personal well-being for evangelical adolescents— or anyone.

Each historical example I analyze demonstrates that purity work and rhetoric has emerged at moments when socially conservative evangelicals seek to assert and maintain their political power. Sexual purity isn’t about what Abby and Brendan do on a Friday night, it’s about constructing a view of the United States as a nation in distress and claiming that evangelical Christianity can not only best explain the crisis, but save us from our demise.

My work as an historian is to describe what is, not prescribe what should be. The goal of Virgin Nation is to examine the cultural and political work done in the name of sexual purity. Whether you believe that work is the salvation of America or the root of all sexual tyranny, the book offers an important historical perspective.

I watched Randall Balmer’s interview with Josh McDowell in Balmer’s video series, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory. In that interview Balmer asks McDowell if it might be problematic to use fear to teach evangelical teenagers about human sexuality. McDowell responds that it’s extremely important to utilize fear because the alternative to heeding the message is so much worse. All this to say, when I use the term “fear-based rhetoric” this is not pejorative, but descriptive of the deliberate strategies used by the contemporary movement.

Right now I’m interested in the debate between the 19th century reformer Frances Willard and the journalist and anti-lynching activist, Ida B. Wells. Wells made it known that lynching in the late 19th/early 20th century was justified by the myth of the black, male rapist. Most lynchings occurred because black men were accused of raping white women. Wells’ investigation into hundreds of lynching cases determined that most of the time when authorities discovered black men and white women having sex, it was consensual.

In short, she exposed that white women not only sought to have sexual relations outside of marriage, they sometimes did so with African-American men.

Wells sought the support of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, but its leader, Frances Willard, would not give it because Wells’ argument was based on the truth—that women were having sex across the color line. Willard believed that white women’s sexual purity was the source of their religious and moral authority. Conceding Wells’ claim would have jeopardized Willard’s own authority and the Victorian gender roles that shaped so much of late 19th century culture and promoted Anglo-Saxon superiority.

The public debates between Wells and Willard raise important questions about how sexual purity policed both women’s sexuality and the color line. As I discuss in the first chapter of Virgin Nation, sexual purity was the means by which Anglos achieved and maintained racial purity. My hope is to find other places in US history where race plays a significant role in the promotion of sexual purity and see what else we can learn from them. 

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