Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free

Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free

From a woman who has been there and back, the first inside look at the devastating effects evangelical Christianity’s purity culture has had on a generation of young women—in a potent combination of journalism, cultural commentary, and memoir.In the 1990s, a “purity industry” emerged out of the white evangelical Christian culture. Purity rings, purity pledges, and purity b...

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Title:Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free
Author:Linda Kay Klein
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Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free Reviews

  • Touchstone Books

    Wow. Shocking, deeply empathic, and meticulously researched, Pure exposes a terrifying phenomenon in this country—one that affects us all, evangelical or not.

  • Sarah

    Thanks to Touchstone and Netgalley for this ARC.

    I grew up on the fringes of purity culture. It wasn’t part of my religious upbringing, but I was pretty well acquainted with the movement as a teen in the 90’s. Mostly I mocked it, as I did most things associated with the Christian Right in those days. Only after reading Klein’s compassionate and empathetic book do I realize how wrong I was to write off purity culture as some innocuous chastity craze. It has left deep scars on thousands? Millions?

    Thanks to Touchstone and Netgalley for this ARC.

    I grew up on the fringes of purity culture. It wasn’t part of my religious upbringing, but I was pretty well acquainted with the movement as a teen in the 90’s. Mostly I mocked it, as I did most things associated with the Christian Right in those days. Only after reading Klein’s compassionate and empathetic book do I realize how wrong I was to write off purity culture as some innocuous chastity craze. It has left deep scars on thousands? Millions? Only God knows how many lives.

    As a practicing Christian, I am appalled by the lack of love shown in this movement, just as I have been appalled when reading about the experiences of former Christian culture “insiders” like Vicky Beeching and Jennifer Knapp. There is this attitude of “us” versus “them,” an exclusivity I cannot reconcile with the Gospel Jesus preached.

    And the shame that haunts so many adherents of this movement! It is unfathomable to me that this guilt and shame has its roots in a cultural phenomenon that is supposed to be about waiting for “True Love.” Maybe it’s maturity or maybe after reading story after story of how negatively True Love Waits etc have impacted the lives of so many of my generation, I do not find this chastity craze funny anymore. It angers me. It disappoints me. It disheartens me. But it doesn’t make me laugh.

  • Robert D. Cornwall

    As I finished reading Pure, the U.S. Senate was concluding a day long hearing pitting the memories/claims of a previously obscure woman and the nominee for a life-time appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. The two may be different at one level and yet related at another. In the Senate hearings, the question was, who will you believe? Too often down through the ages, we believe the man and not the woman. Could it be that we have different expectations for women than men. If a woman is found to b

    As I finished reading Pure, the U.S. Senate was concluding a day long hearing pitting the memories/claims of a previously obscure woman and the nominee for a life-time appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. The two may be different at one level and yet related at another. In the Senate hearings, the question was, who will you believe? Too often down through the ages, we believe the man and not the woman. Could it be that we have different expectations for women than men. If a woman is found to be sexually "impure," which might mean simply being at a party and drinking, then we shouldn't be surprised when something untoward occurs. In other words, if something happened, then it must be her fault. If she flirts or wears a particular kind of clothing, then she might be "asking for it." Time after time we've heard that line, both from politicians and from pulpits.

    "Pure" takes us inside a movement that is widespread within evangelicalism that elevates sexual purity to such a high level that it ends up damaging women's lives. The author of this book, Linda Kay Klein grew up within this context. The books is part autobiography, but just as important it is based on multiples of interviews both with friends and others who were directed her way. They tell their stories to the author, who then relays them to us. The book is at points graphic, but how can we deal with issues sexuality and not expect to encounter rather graphic stories.

    She tells of a movement that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s that taught in youth groups and from pulpits the importance of remaining sexually pure. The goal was virginity till marriage. The message given to young women was that if they failed to live up to this standard they would be unwanted by men. Their marriage prospects would be damaged, because -- and this was a common metaphor -- who wants chewed gum. Not only should a young woman not engage sexually, but she should not engage in any sexual thoughts. These are unbecoming to woman. There was another message given. Young women should beware of being "stumbling blocks" to men. She confesses that this warning, about being a stumbling block, was annoying to her as a junior high student who wanted desparately to please God. The message she heards was that she and her friends "were nothing more than things over which men and boys could trip." (p. 3).

    Over time the Purity movement became big business, with purity rings, books, clothing, and more. Among the buyers of these products was the government, as apparently $2 billion dollars of federal money has been expended to support abstinence-only programming. She notes that this money has been distributed to "community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, local and/or state health departments, and schools." Only California did not accept federal funding for abstinence-only education programming. Churches, of course, made use of this material as well. The movement has had a listing influence on the lives of women, for as Klein writes "the purity movement teaches that every sexual activity---from masturbation to kissing if it elicits tha special feeling--- can make one less pure" (p. 12). In other words, if a woman becomes aroused, that is inappropriate. As for guys, well it's a different story, I guess.

    The book is composed of four movements, three of which have four chapters. The final movement has three. The first movment focuses on the four purity culture stumbling blocks: First, if the purity culture doesn't work for you, then you must be the problem, not the movement. Second is that girls and women must conform to particular gender roles to be acceptable to men. Third, unmarried girls and women are to "maintain a sexless body, mind, and, and heart to be pure." This becomes difficult once a woman marries, because now she is expected to turn on her sexuality to please her husband. Fourth, there is the "systematic mishandling of sexual abuse cases and survivors (the topic of the current Supreme Court nomination process). These chapters are challenging and unsettling, but those of us who have some experience within the evangelical sub-culture recognize elements of this story to be true to our own experience.

    Movements two and three focus on the stories that emerge out of these four stumbling blocks, both inside and outside the church. Klein brings to us stories of women who faced shame and some ultimately leaving the church. She also shows how some broke free of the messaging both inside and outside the church. The fourth section brings some closure, showing how people have moved beyond these stumbling blocks. As she notes, in each section she begins with her own story.

    Although I came of age within an evangelical subculture that predates the Purity Movement as it emerged in the 1980s, I can see many of the precursors emerging in my own experience. I remember the messaging we got. We were told to be sexually pure, but we struggled with that. Keep your minds clean and clear. While we were told masturbation was wrong, apparently it was widespread among my male friends. As for my female friends, that wasn't a topic to which I was privy. I do know that the girls were constantly told to be careful so as not to be a stumbling block. Apparently we were of weak minds and spirits, and thus the girls in our group needed to be careful with how they dressed. I remember going to camp and the girls had to wear t-shirts over their swim suits, even if they were one-piece suits. Our experiences might have presaged what came later, but it does appear that the messaging became more unbearable and destructive as it became not only a religious thing, but a business. There were no purity rings that I remember.

    I believe that Linda Kay Klein has done us an important favor by telling this story. Not only because it uncovers an evangelical subculture, but uncovers a culture that holds women to a different standard from men, and seems to encourage disbelief when women share stories of embarrassment, abuse, assault, and rape. After all, they must have done something to warrant it.

    By shining a light on this subculture, she shines a light on our culture as a whole. Women are not stumbling blocks. They need not feel shame about their bodies or their sexuality. It's time for us to have the difficult conversations that might enlighten us all. I say this as one who has struggled myself with these questions. She writes stories about women as a way of liberation from shame. She calls the church to account, not to destroy faith, but to restore it. Thanks be to God.

  • Ali Shaw

    I was raised in an evangelical community that HHS’s subscribed to purity culture. I lost count of the times while reading this book I felt relief and horror that other people had the same feelings and experiences I did. The book is well written, well researched and well paced. Highly recommend. I couldn’t put it down.

  • Mehrsa

    I didn't grow up evangelical, but I completely understand this purity culture and I'm glad people like Klein are writing about it. The purity myth is another great book on the same theme.

    I did not love the format of the book--I wanted to hear more in Klein's voice, more history of the movement, and more data or commentary. Instead, Klein just interviews a lot of ex-evangelicals and then reproduces the interviews almost verbatim. Some are very interesting and some just felt too long.

    I really li

    I didn't grow up evangelical, but I completely understand this purity culture and I'm glad people like Klein are writing about it. The purity myth is another great book on the same theme.

    I did not love the format of the book--I wanted to hear more in Klein's voice, more history of the movement, and more data or commentary. Instead, Klein just interviews a lot of ex-evangelicals and then reproduces the interviews almost verbatim. Some are very interesting and some just felt too long.

    I really liked the way she identifies a sort of post traumatic stress syndrome or a neural wiring that links sex with shame in these cultures and how that can effect girls for their entire lives. I would have loved more data or expert commentary on that than what is provided.

  • Janelle

    A timely, relevant, harrowing, and eye opening memoir about the purity movement.

    If you’re anything like me, you find it fascinating to learn about a person’s life that is so different from your own. I was not raised in any sort of strict upbringing so the idea that a movement such as this can leave such deeply seeded scars filled me with emotional empathy. Klein was raised in a strict Christian evangelical church that shamed women and girls for enticing men. Not only is sex forbidden before marr

    A timely, relevant, harrowing, and eye opening memoir about the purity movement.

    If you’re anything like me, you find it fascinating to learn about a person’s life that is so different from your own. I was not raised in any sort of strict upbringing so the idea that a movement such as this can leave such deeply seeded scars filled me with emotional empathy. Klein was raised in a strict Christian evangelical church that shamed women and girls for enticing men. Not only is sex forbidden before marriage but girls are blamed if a violation occurs and it is on them to enforce it. For example, Klein panicked and punished herself for what she thought was an unforgivable sin: kissing her high school boyfriend. It’s an unfair and an incredible responsibility to bestow on anyone, let alone a teenage girl.

    What I enjoyed most about this memoir is that not only did I learn about Klein’s life, I also learned about the people she interviewed. I love nothing more than to read several different perspectives on a single subject. Although the common theme of these accounts is devastating and traumatic, it is a diverse spectrum of stories. And even though I couldn’t personally relate to Klein’s story, I found it powerful, interesting, and important.

  • Julia Graf

    The subject matter is interesting but the writing is so stiff and basically just a transcript of her interviews. I was expecting more insight and conclusions from this book.

  • Christina

    This book is sad on two levels.

    1. The traumas experienced by so many women and the fact that distortion of Christian doctrine led to their abuse and/or struggles, in many cases driving them away from the church.

    2. The fundamental misunderstanding of Christianity demonstrated by the author.

    Reading this, my heart hurt for the women who were physically and emotionally manipulated and abused, even as I winced through the unnecessarily graphic details of sexual exploits that indicated their "freed

    This book is sad on two levels.

    1. The traumas experienced by so many women and the fact that distortion of Christian doctrine led to their abuse and/or struggles, in many cases driving them away from the church.

    2. The fundamental misunderstanding of Christianity demonstrated by the author.

    Reading this, my heart hurt for the women who were physically and emotionally manipulated and abused, even as I winced through the unnecessarily graphic details of sexual exploits that indicated their "freedom" from the twisted vision of sexuality promoted in their evangelical upbringings. The author repeatedly presents a false dichotomy between an oppressive, legalistic, and unbiblical view of women with a self-gratifying, love-is-love view of women that is even more unbiblical. It's a lose/lose situation. True Christianity is lost in the tug-of-war between the author's unfair depictions of "conservative Christianity" and "progressive Christianity."

    However, I do think it's important that we discuss sexuality in healthy, God-honoring ways. Treating it as dirty, unnatural, shameful, etc. is harmful and wrong. It's important to understand how the overemphasis on purity has hurt people (especially women) and distorted the Gospel. While I never experienced half of what is described in these pages, I grew up in a church that devalued women in practice, leading to my own difficulty understanding femininity and accepting the role God placed me in as a woman. I appreciate the author's honesty and openness is discussing a deeply personal topic; there are many quotes I noted for "relate-ability" or for further thought. There is definitely a conversation to be had here, but it needs to be set within God's framework instead of our own.

  • Canadian Reader

    Klein’s book about the “purity movement” and sexual shaming of girls within the powerful evangelical community in the U.S. may focus on a worthy enough subject, but the writing is so pedestrian and hyperbolic that I felt no desire to persist beyond the very lengthy 34-page introduction. I’ve read my share of undergraduate papers and this book put me in mind of them in spades: clumsy prose, unnecessary repetition, and the sloppy use of quotations from witnesses and supposed “experts” (Brené Brown

    Klein’s book about the “purity movement” and sexual shaming of girls within the powerful evangelical community in the U.S. may focus on a worthy enough subject, but the writing is so pedestrian and hyperbolic that I felt no desire to persist beyond the very lengthy 34-page introduction. I’ve read my share of undergraduate papers and this book put me in mind of them in spades: clumsy prose, unnecessary repetition, and the sloppy use of quotations from witnesses and supposed “experts” (Brené Brown, for example) that illustrate no particular point very well. From the little I read, was convinced that investing any more time in warmed-over social science thesis material would be foolish.

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