Purity Culture, Patriarchy, and Me


Today I was reading Passionate Marriage, by David Schnarch. The chapter was discussing intimacy, and the problems that emotional fusion can pose for intimacy; namely, that low differentiation (differentiation is described by Schnarch as “your ability to maintain your sense of self when you are emotionally and/or physically close to others–especially as they become increasingly important to you” (56)) can lead to other-validated intimacy. As a natural people-pleaser, when I came across this particular quote, it hit the nail on the head: “Long-term intimacy within marriage hinges on validating yourself rather than ‘trusting’ your partner to make you feel safe” (113). In other words, I shouldn’t use my vulnerability as a tool to gain validation from someone else. In a broader sense, I take this to mean I shouldn’t rely on human approval to validate me, and when I use the term “other-validate”, it is with that in mind.

A few years ago, when the Sovereign Grace Ministries survivor stories broke, Rachel Held Evans tweeted (perhaps blogged) something about needing more women in church leadership, because patriarchy is the predominant contributor to a culture of abuse (I’m going off memory here, so that is my best summary). I shared this on Facebook, hoping that others would join me in being outraged by the abuse, and at least consider what she was saying. Instead, the comments turned into a thread of mansplaining and arguing that complementarianism is biblical, and egalitarianism is not. Needless to say, at least a couple men got blocked, and my new egalitarian senses only grew stronger. What I didn’t know, though, is that this was just the tip of the iceberg with how men in church leadership take to victims and their stories.

I have also been reading She Who Is, by Elizabeth A. Johnson, and thinking about purity culture and the news surrounding Jules Woodson and her abusers. Purity culture doesn’t allow for self-validation. It controls the narrative through a patriarchal lenses, telling women that they need to be other-validated, through virginity, through marriage, through child-bearing, through leading only under a man’s authority. This is furthered by the language that has been used to the describe God, even symbolically, as a man. “When God is envisioned in the image of one sex rather than both sexes, and in the image of the ruling class of this sex, then this group of men is seen to possess the image of God in a primary way” (36). That means, in order to attain salvation, women must go through men in some fashion. Therefore, “Speech about God in the exclusive and literal terms of the patriarch is a tool of subtle conditioning that operates to debilitate women’s sense of dignity, power, and self-esteem”(38). This makes it all too easy to maintain a culture that dismisses abuse of authority, especially when the power lies with men, and the women continue to perpetuate the lie to themselves that they need someone else to validate them.

I have been thinking about ordination ever since my confirmation as an Anglican, almost five years ago (in a ACNA church), which was the same year I graduated seminary. I was befuddled by men who said it was okay for women to preach and administer communion, but not okay for them to attain to higher leadership positions, like bishop. I was also befuddled by men who thought it was okay for a women to preach, but not okay for them to administer communion. I thought maybe I could rock a deacon position, but immediately dismissed myself. I was befuddled with myself for sitting through so many sermons given by men, knowing I could have done just as well, but dismissing myself because they are men. In the past five years, I went from peacefully granting the patriarchy an interpretation of scripture (via complementarian views), while holding my own egalitarian views, to becoming angry at what a patriarchal culture has done to the church (anyone not a white, cisgender heterosexual man) and dismissing any complementarian reading as invalid. I became of the firm opinion that the catholic church needs more women as pastors.

After I let go of my librarian dream, and then a year later, after I quit my job, I took a step back to look at my passions and my inclinations. I began to think about the days when I took great joy in serving the church, and wanted to do more even then. I thought about my education. I thought about all the grossly under-qualified men in leadership positions. And I thought, why couldn’t I step in to serve again? So, I am exploring what it would mean for me to be ordained, and how, when, and where.

I came to realize my gospel-opposing mindset last year. I have trouble resting in the saving work of Christ, because I place my self-worth in the things I do for others. My fixation on tasks cloud the reality that, because of the gospel, I don’t need to run myself to the ground in order to prove myself. I am enough because Christ is enough. I am enough, as a human, and as a woman. If I can help crush the patriarchy (and thus kyriarchy) with spreading this gospel message, then I will, so help me God.