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Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Purity Prosperity Gospel

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I was always a good Christian girl. I started reading the bible as soon as I learned how to read. I went to church every week. I memorized more verses than anyone in my Sunday School class. I knew the answers.

I didn't date at all until college. When my first boyfriend broke up with me, and I felt like my life was over, God saved me, and maybe that's the first time I understood what it meant to trust God and live fully committed to God. Which is exactly what I did for the next few years.

And then, as I was finishing undergrad, I saw the happy news on Facebook: a girl from my Sunday School class (whom I hadn't talked to in years) had gotten engaged! And another girl from my Sunday School class got engaged! And another! And then she got married! And then she got married too! Etc etc.

Why not me?

I did everything right when I was a little kid in Sunday School. I read my bible more than anyone else. Surely I was on the fast track to the awesome life God planned for me- which would of course include getting married right out of college and living happily ever after.

And even in college, I did my best to live fully committed to God, and I saw my friends dating, and some of them eventually engaged and married. What about me? Didn't I deserve that too? How are they better Christians than me?

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All of this is rooted in a story that teenage girls are told in church: Don't have sex, don't go around dating every guy that hits on you. No, you don't need those guys who don't value you, because God has created one perfect guy for you, destined you to be together from the beginning of time. (Because all women are straight, didn't you know?)

Yeah, just stay pure, be obedient, keep saying no, pray and listen to God, and God will give you that perfect guy and you'll be happy together forever.

That's the story purity culture sells. Don't have sex now, because God will give you a husband if you wait, and the sex with him will be way better.

And even though, when God changed my life, I learned to value God above all else, no matter if he "gives" me a dude or not, I guess this "purity prosperity gospel" was so ingrained in me that I really did think it was unfair that other girls from my church got married before me.

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What is "the prosperity gospel"? It's an ideology that says God will give you health and wealth if you have enough faith, give money to the church, whatever. And if bad things are happening in your life, well it must be your fault for not being obedient to God.

Evangelical Christianity is very much not a fan of the prosperity gospel. Because it views God as a "vending machine"- good deeds and prayers go in, blessings come out. Because it sees God as a tool to help us get what we want. Because it's selfish. I reject the prosperity gospel, and so does the evangelical Christian background I come from.

So why the #$@! is purity culture within evangelical/conservative Christianity preaching a prosperity gospel? "Do everything right, obey God, don't have sex, and God will reward you with a wonderful marriage. You'll have a perfect spouse, specifically created by God just for you! Honeymoon sex will be the best sex ever!"

And this story can take on many different forms. I've read so many testimonies by Christian women that went like this: "I thought my value was based on having a boyfriend. I was so sad, but God came and changed everything, and then I saw that God is all I need, and I was content to be single! And then a few years later, when I least expected it, God brought this wonderful guy into my life and now we're married and it's great!"

And I think it's so easy for single Christians to interpret this as, "In order to get God to give you a husband, you have to pretend you don't want it, long enough to trick God into giving you one."

And since the first half of that testimony is something I have personally experienced, I really hope that when (if?) I do get married, my story won't be interpreted that way. My story is that God is God. End of. Maybe I'll eventually be married, but that's unrelated to my discovery that God is God. I really meant that.

And I see this "purity prosperity gospel" in more subtle forms. Advice about "being content in your singleness" and that will be what brings that special someone into your life. Advice about "don't focus on FINDING the right person- focus on BEING the right person." The way I used to read Christian books about dating, hoping to discover the secret to what I needed to do to make God give me a husband.

And every piece of Christian advice on how to find a spouse, which doesn't include "go out and meet a lot of people and see if anything goes anywhere." Or, "go ahead and ask that guy/girl out and see what happens!" No no, we're not allowed to say PRACTICAL things like that. Because for some reason, we feel like we're not allowed to want to get married and to do things to try to make it happen. No, we have to WAIT for God, we have to pretend we don't want it, but then God just put us together.

Like, how many times have I heard a husband or wife tell the story of how they got together, and it's "I didn't even want to date, but God brought him/her into my life and brought us together!" I feel like there's this pressure for people who are dating to pretend that dating is NOT a thing they sought out, it's a thing that "just happened." God did it. We're not allowed to actually want it ourselves and take steps to make it happen ourselves.

No, instead we just tell the single people to be better Christians, to listen to God more, to trust God more, to ignore that desire for marriage. These are the things you need to do in order to MAKE God give you a husband/wife.

The purity prosperity gospel treats discipleship as a means to an end. A way to become a good enough Christian that you earn a husband. 

Can we acknowledge that people want to get married and that's totally normal and people have choices?

Are we allowed to say that people have control over their love lives- it's not just "wait and pray and God will do it all"?

And can we say that everyone is different and some people get married young and some people don't, and some people get divorced and some people get married a second time, and some people never want to get married? There is no "God's plan" that's the same for everyone.

Nope. As I've said before, in purity culture, everyone is straight and gets married exactly once. Better pray more so you can get to that happy married paradise sooner.

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