The Purity Movement In Review

One benefit to being a Christian in Current Year is easy access to what your enemies think of you. Here, a couple survivors of the Purity Movement weigh in. Female survivors, of course. Living in NYC.

How the ‘extreme abstinence’ of the purity movement created a sense of shame in evangelical women

https://theconversation.com/how-the-extreme-abstinence-of-the-purity-movement-created-a-sense-of-shame-in-evangelical-women-127589

10 December 2019

Millennial evangelicals are speaking out about the heightened emphasis on sexual purity that characterized their upbringing in that subculture.

Their link is to an NPR interview. Millennial, sure, but devout, hmm.

Joshua Harris, a former pastor who became one of the most public faces of the purity culture movement in the United States with his 1997 book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” recently renounced his views and very publicly left evangelicalism. When his book came out, it was widely read and led many evangelicals to believe that the best path through adolescence and to a fulfilling happy marriage was the embrace of purity culture.

So, what exactly is the purity movement all about?

It’s about Churchianity, specifically, the fear of Snowflake Daddies everywhere that no man is good enough for his empowered daughter. It’s taken forms from unsexy young Christian men being tricked into promising to wait potentially forever until Barbie is ready to settle, to father/daughter dating and dancing because no “boy” will ever be good enough.

Fortunately, this piece wasn’t a simple conflation of Josh Harris with Christianity.

Culture of abstinence

The label purity culture has a range of meanings. Many use it in its most literal form to refer to efforts, especially in conservative Protestant Christianity, to promote sexual abstinence prior to marriage.

But beginning in the 1990s some groups within conservative U.S. Protestantism began promoting an organized strategy to convince young people that the Bible requires a much more restrictive code, what one author has called “extreme abstinence.”

In 1993, for example, the Southern Baptist Convention launched its “True Love Waits” campaign, seeking to promote sexual abstinence among Christian youth with conferences, concerts and purity pledges. These are reminiscent of 19th-century evangelical temperance pledges, in which people signed a pledge to abstain from alcohol.

Advocates of extreme abstinence advise women to be appropriately submissive, not pursue leadership roles and not speak out too much in mixed company. That may mean avoiding mixed company except in tightly regulated circumstances, such as with parents present. All of these concerns become part of how “purity” is understood.

They were doing well until this latest paragraph. Seems like women are okay with being sexless (so far as polite society needs to know) in return for indulging other forms of penis envy.

In this view, purity is much more than just refraining from premarital sex and dressing modestly. As I write in my book, “Building God’s Kingdom,” they replace dating with “courtship” that is pursued under the direction of the young woman’s father. Courtship in this case means that all interaction between young men and women must be explicitly for the purpose of pursuing marriage and under the permission and oversight of the young woman’s father.

The expectation is that “pure” young women will remain under the authority of their fathers until they trade it for the authority of their husbands – in marriages arranged by their fathers.

Again, they’re crossing the streams of Biblical standards. The purity movement wasn’t about WOMEN being under fatherly authority, it’s about all their potential husbands being under her fatherly authority. Which is not Biblical patriarchy at all.

Both men and women are expected to remain sexually pure. This includes abstaining from sex, but it also extends to avoiding lustful thoughts. For the young women, being “pure” also means being responsible for the boys and men around them and comporting themselves in ways that do not “tempt” others to sin.

Only men were to avoid lustful thoughts. Women we presumed to not have any. Conversely, Christian women do have an explicit standard to be modest.

Purity balls and pledges

In purity culture, as I found in my research, a woman’s entire purpose is to appeal to a godly young man whom she can serve as a wife in whatever work God has called him to do. The woman’s sexual purity is what is of most value to the man.

These views are taught in many ways, but a common example comes from youth groups and summer camps where a pastor or camp director passes around a chewed piece of gum, telling the young women if they fail to protect their purity that is how they would appear to a Christian man looking for a godly wife.

I never heard that one but it sounds useful.

This exercise prompted condom manufacturer Trojan to launch a 2019 campaign called “You Are Not Chewed Gum.”

It WAS useful!

Other groups joined in marketing chastity throughout the 1990s with purity rings, books, concerts and father-daughter “purity balls.” A purity ball is a father-daughter formal dance in which the daughters make a commitment to purity culture and fathers vow to protect their daughters’ purity.

Typically by driving off all the nervous Bucky Beta suitors while Princess climbs over the back fence to sportfuck.

These activities in general, but purity balls in particular, were especially pervasive in Christian schools and the Christian home school movement and in the churches affiliated with them.

Shame and trauma
As the children raised in these evangelical communities have grown to adulthood, a dark picture has emerged of a movement that has promoted shame and sexual ignorance.

Unfortunately true, but let’s see if these folks fall into the same trap the Churchians did.

Evangelical women have shared their stories of being shamed. There has been a a television documentary, and a new book explores the impact of those teachings on the everyday lives of young women raised in the culture. Social media has been an important way of connecting with each other for support.

Author Linda Kay Klein, who grew up in this culture herself, interviewed women to document how these teachings led to guilt and shame as well as profound ignorance about sex and sexuality.

Not bad, allowing for age, so she was probably raised more right than she’d like to admit.

Segue

htt ps://nypost.com/2018/09/15/how-i-broke-free-of-the-evangelical-purity-movement/

Before Linda Kay Klein had a routine X-ray at the age of 23, she insisted the nurse gave her a pregnancy test so she would be “better safe than sorry.”

It was one of many such tests Klein had undergone over the previous few years because of her fear of having a baby out of wedlock.

Never mind that she was still a virgin.

That’s not purity movement. That’s public education in modern ‘Murica.

Now 39 and living in Manhattan, Klein has written “Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free” (Touchstone, out now). Part memoir, part cultural commentary, it chronicles her complex relationship with religion and sex.

“The good girl/bad girl thing is our default way of thinking,” Klein said. “I want to draw attention to the dangers of sexual shaming and purity teachings.”

The writer, who works as a consultant in the nonprofit sector, became a born-again Christian at the age of 13, following in the footsteps of her mother. Klein signed her so-called “purity pledge” at a regional youth gathering in her native Wisconsin two years later, in 1994.

Growing up, she’d been told by pastors and church teachers that she was a “stumbling block” of temptation for boys and men. This was largely presented as her problem, not theirs: It was made clear that she would be cast as a Jezebel — with her character corrupted — if she had sex before marriage.

Women always blame the men. Rightfully in the context of father/daughter dances, wrongly in the case of men being easily aroused by hot young chicks.

These issues continued into her 20s when, still a virgin, she attended Sarah Lawrence College and, later, New York University. By then, she had turned her back on Evangelism after beginning to doubt aspects of its theology — and after a youth pastor at her old church was convicted of the sexual enticement of a 12-year-old girl.

Ah, Churchianity. “Girls should stay virgin for the husband she won’t need after completing her PhD.” Could they have been more stupid about human sexuality?

End segue

Many young adults raised in this subculture have said that they still battle shame and trauma as a result of these teachings, making it difficult to develop healthy adult sexual relations.

The trauma of rape and sexual assault are made worse when women are taught to blame themselves as a result of the crimes against them.

Nobody does that. Although it wouldn’t hurt to teach women to fear and avoid such threats instead of empowerment.

But these teachings serve important social functions in the context in which they persist. As I’ve written in my book “Evangelical Christian Women,” rigid gender norms characterized by women’s submission and male authority are at the very heart of the evangelical subculture. Purity culture reinforces that structure.

They learned that after moving to NYC, not before. There’s a difference between “enjoying sex” and “female rebellion”.

Moreover, in evangelicalism, what makes a person a Christian is having had a conversion experience, sometimes called being “born again” or saved. The conversion experience involves experiencing an overwhelming sense of guilt and a strong desire to seek forgiveness for sins.

Repentance, not forgiveness. You don’t have to beat yourself up over past evil, you just have to turn around and work against it.

Many evangelicals then want to protect their own children from the temptations that lead to that very experience of guilt necessary for conversion.

Purity culture encourages fundamentally unattainable gender norms and purity requirements: that is, not only must unmarried people abstain from sex, but that merely thinking about sex risks eternal damnation. These rules create a powerful sense of shame and failure by design, even when there is no other “sin” that would seem worthy of hell.

I suspect that Baby Boomers, after their generation threw off all sexual restraint, when they became parents themselves, overcompensated as an alternative to admitting their own misconduct. Particularly the first-generation-feral mothers resenting their more-attractive daughters.

Throw in a massive shipment of Marxist overlords who want America dead to spread additional squid ink on the topic.

That sense of shame and failure creates the need for exactly what the evangelical tradition provides: salvation.

No, shame and failure do not lead to salvation. Recognition of evil, both the concept and one’s personal contributions to it, lead to salvation… assuming one has a problem with the existence of evil.

That’s probably how the Churchians went wrong. Unwilling to condemn themselves for their own rebellious behavior, they over-controlled their children in fear that they would turn out the same rebellious way they did. For the same reason, they were vengefully suspicious of any young man showing interest in their daughter.

Overprotected daughters and sons presumed guilty until proven innocent. That’s what the purity movement was.

24 thoughts on “The Purity Movement In Review

  1. ‘Before Linda Kay Klein had a routine X-ray at the age of 23, she insisted the nurse gave her a pregnancy test so she would be “better safe than sorry.”

    It was one of many such tests Klein had undergone over the previous few years because of her fear of having a baby out of wedlock.

    Never mind that she was still a virgin.’

    Lol…wimminz.

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  2. ‘That’s not purity movement. That’s public education in modern ‘Murica.’

    Pretty much…sex ed in Murica is about preventing a pregnancy rather than stating it’s a natural result of the act. And no woman is naive enough to think if they are still a virgin they need a pregnancy test…it’s because she was testing to see if the deed did what it can do.

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  3. Thats what happens when you try to do the right thing, but have the wrong theology.

    The churches promoting the purity movement are all feminized, and do not advocate biblical masculinity. Their doctrine, which is rooted in emotion, is super shallow, which is why they couldn’t tell their children the “why” behind their movement, or how shame is good in certain circumstances.

    Now there is a counter backlash of hyper grace where all men are looked at as evil, lustful whore mongers while the daughters are all pure and innocent, no matter what their past is. This produces two types of women in the modern church: harlots, or girls that are so prude they become frigid, and are turnoffs to any potential suitor.

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  4. “The churches promoting the purity movement are all feminized, and do not advocate biblical masculinity. Their doctrine, which is rooted in emotion, is super shallow, which is why they couldn’t tell their children the “why” behind their movement, or how shame is good in certain circumstances.”

    I was a teenager in that era in a conservative evangelical Anabaptist church and private high school. I very much appreciated purity culture’s focus on absolute chastity prior to marriage. My peers in high school debated whether kissing before your wedding day was acceptable. I have no doubt that a number of us waited. Purity culture combined with biblical precepts is a very good thing. Divorce is almost non-existent among those peers.

    I get the sense that Gunner Q thinks purity culture was a mistake or to blame or some such, but I think it was fine. It was just applied by the wrong people in the wrong way. For example:

    “I suspect that Baby Boomers, after their generation threw off all sexual restraint, when they became parents themselves, overcompensated as an alternative to admitting their own misconduct.”

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  5. “I get the sense that Gunner Q thinks purity culture was a mistake or to blame or some such”

    Abstinence until marriage was always a Christian principle. Purity culture was abstinence as an end in itself. Using father/daughter dances as an example, the goal of purity culture was for women to get their “husband needs” from her father instead of a husband so she’d be free to attend college and have a career.

    Because the male sex drive does not allow that kind of substitution, men were simply shamed and bullied into sexlessness.

    The end goal of the purity movement was the destruction of marriage, not the preservation, as is clearly seen in hindsight. Also, the examples listed here are over-the-top yet valid experiences of those who did manage to get married despite being raised in that movement.

    There’s a huge difference between “wait until you get married at age 20” and “wait until you get married at age 40, if ever”. The natural instincts of young adults should be directed, not ended.

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  6. Abstinence until marriage was always a Christian principle. Purity culture was abstinence as an end in itself. Using father/daughter dances as an example, the goal of purity culture was for women to get their “husband needs” from her father instead of a husband so she’d be free to attend college and have a career.

    So are you saying purity culture was just feminism repackaged?

    So it sounds like it was kind of a reverse take of how feminists used promiscuity to get ‘husband needs’ outside of marriage while still having college and career…and the purity culture was still promoting feminism minus using fornication to get it (via turning her father into a de facto husband…or Electra complex to hammer how perverted that sounds).

    I was never in the purity culture so I didn’t understand the dynamics…I assumed it was along the lines of promoting chaste behavior but that doesn’t sound like it now.

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  7. “Using father/daughter dances…”

    You’ve mentioned these numerous times. Despite growing up in that era, I had not heard of these until recently. These were not a feature of purity culture among the Anabaptists. Dancing of all kinds was verboten (e.g. I had no alcohol or dancing at my wedding). Indeed, Anabaptists viewed dancing as inherently sexual in nature. To wit, this…

    “…for women to get their “husband needs” from her father…”

    …is pretty sick and twisted.

    “The end goal of the purity movement was the destruction of marriage, not the preservation, as is clearly seen in hindsight. Also, the examples listed here are over-the-top yet valid experiences of those who did manage to get married despite being raised in that movement.”

    We read the Joshua Harris book. We said our pledges. We refused to date and we courted. We took these things seriously and we benefited from it. We took marriage seriously and many of us were married before we turned 20. My wife and I were among the last to get married at the ripe age of 21.

    After Joshua Harris announced his divorce, I examined his writings and discovered that most of his critics (including himself) were critical of purity culture because they failed to follow through. Like the boomers who overcompensated, they were unable to admit their failures in repent. Instead they blamed the culture of purity.

    So I take a different stance than you. Purity culture was never going to work outside of a proper Christian framework. And indeed, it failed utterly in the way you described in those areas that did not have this. At the same time, the same inputs produced a lot of good within a proper Christian framework. So I don’t have a problem with purity culture, I have a problem with rejection of proper Christian sexual ethics. It was the latter, not the former, that caused purity culture’s failure.

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  8. “I was never in the purity culture so I didn’t understand the dynamics…I assumed it was along the lines of promoting chaste behavior but that doesn’t sound like it now.”

    Your assumption describes how it was for me and my peers. We took it quite seriously. The experiences that Gunner Q reports are very different.

    During my four years in high school there were 700 different girls. One of the seniors got pregnant when I was a junior and it was a huge scandal. Another friend of mine admitted to our group that she was taking birth control (allegedly for unusually painful cramps and high bleeding). The horror of that admission almost tore an irreparable rift between her and the rest of us. I’m not sure that tear has ever fully healed: even to this day ~2 decades later she’s distant from the rest of us.

    I maintain that the people most “damaged” from purity culture are the ones who didn’t practice chaste behavior. Imagine anyone arguing that their marriage failed because they saved their first kiss for their wedding day and didn’t realize they were not ‘sexually compatible’. It’s refusal to repent that caused purity culture in the first place and refusal to repent that caused it to fail.

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  9. I maintain that the people most “damaged” from purity culture are the ones who didn’t practice chaste behavior.

    I’d assume so as well…however if the purity culture was just a way to repackage feminism (and not making it about being a Christian discipline or virtue)…then practicing chaste behavior wouldn’t come from that anyway.

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  10. “if the purity culture was just a way to repackage feminism, then practicing chaste behavior wouldn’t come from that anyway.”

    Any deviation from ‘marry young and have children’ is feminist. Gunner Q’s point is that chaste behavior—abstaining from all sexual behavior—is fully compatible with career-first feminism:

    “Purity culture was abstinence as an end in itself.”

    If you promote abstinence without Christian moral ethics (e.g. public school abstinence-only sex education), you are guaranteed to produce—rather than repackage—feminism. We should not be surprised when studies show that abstinence-only sex education doesn’t work and any more than we should be surprise that purity culture doesn’t work without Christian moral ethics.

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  11. “I was never in the purity culture so I didn’t understand the dynamics…I assumed it was along the lines of promoting chaste behavior but that doesn’t sound like it now.”

    I was exposed to it in high school and college, not too badly but enough that the message was always “don’t have sex” and “porn is bad” and never “you’re the right age for my daughter, want to meet her?” or “I’d like to have you for a son-in-law”. Never any encouragement to act on sexual interest in a positive way.

    Back when I was a kid in the late ’80s, there was one lay couple that got married who were held up as the marital ideal. They were both around forty and had formally courted for over three years… with support staff monitoring their behavior for dangerous signs of sexual interest.

    Christian spouses having sex-triggered anxiety attacks doesn’t sound strange to me and I was spared the worst of it.

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  12. Never any encouragement to act on sexual interest in a positive way.

    Sounds like a double edged sword then…framing sexual interest as all bad or negative would actively torpedo marriage as well (along with it seems from the results it didn’t torpedo kids staying pure).

    Was there anything about framing sexual interest from the moral point of view or was it all based on good/bad feelings? I mean that would point out that sex is moral in the correct context (marriage with your lawful complementary spouse) and the times when it is outside of that…there are names for that immorality.

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  13. “never “you’re the right age for my daughter, want to meet her?” or “I’d like to have you for a son-in-law”.”

    I should have picked up on a difference when you mentioned this earlier.

    Purity culture in our group was largely driven by the us (the teenagers), not the parents or churches. We read the book, discussed amongst ourselves what the proper behavior should be, and then all (boys and girls) agreed on it, more or less.

    In retrospect, the level of trust our parents had on us was astounding, as was our level of discipline. Among my closest friends (more than a dozen of us), we had camping trips with and without parents, we had co-ed sleepovers (with nominal parental supervision), we went out on one-on-one friend-zone dates and car rides. Nobody was kissing or holding hands, let alone having sex.

    If it wasn’t for our shared deep religious fervor regarding sexual purity combined with extreme abstinence, I wonder how it would have turned out. Six of us (my wife and I included) eventually paired up and married, the youngest of us straight out of high school graduation. None of us have divorced.

    “framing sexual interest as all bad or negative would actively torpedo marriage as well”

    The bond of friendship I have with my wife is a treasure I hold dear. It formed in that culture of extreme chastity: rejecting kissing and holding hands, let alone discussing sex. When sex is taboo, you are required to focus on building the relationship. My wife and I didn’t even discuss sex at all until after we were engaged. I don’t regret doing it the way I did, and it didn’t torpedo the marriage. Quite the contrary.

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  14. This is a lot of writing here but so many things pass through my mind while reading so it’s best for me to write before I forget. The problem with the purity movement is not purity itself but is people making their own doctrine out of the word of God. The Bible say be ye holy for I am holy. The Bible also tell us “Wherefore present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto the Lord where is your reasonable service…” A woman should remain in purity until the time God appoint for a partner and the same goes for the man. Our bodies are the temple of the Living God and the Bible tell us about sex before marriage (fornication) is a sin.
    The problem is the pride one will make for themselves staying pure. The truth none of us can even keep ourselves it is Christ’s help. When we try to create a fame by building a movement the God draw back and watch us fail. He already from the beginning tells us to be fruitful and multiply. Many of us run ahead of time and create problems while some delay God’s leading and lose out and other are defiant to stand for long term purity ever forever. God will give grace for to stand for long term purity but we must follow His leading He has to road map for our lives. Our motive must be Christ’s will and the purpose we are privilege to be here on earth for. We must watch our motives.
    I didn’t get into the history dynamics for a reason, God reads the heart some can be abstaining while burning with passion and some are doing just o.k.

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  15. Purity culture was never going to work outside of a proper Christian framework.

    Exactly. One has to not merely “believe in,” but internalize and fully live the Scriptures for them to have any practical effect. That so many people in this instance failed to live it when it came to God’s design for marriage and sex (in that order) is a testament to the viability of their faith (or lack thereof), not to the validity of the Purity concept.

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  16. I think “Courtship Culture” (CC) exists as a subset of “Purity Culture” (PC), and should be distinguished.

    Strictly speaking, PC was just an abstinence/chastity movement. A counterreaction against the Sexual Revolution. The permutations of PC, however, are many and varied – usually the reason that any two people cannot share an opinion on PC is that they each conflates the distinct permutation they experienced with PC as a whole.

    CC in particular is where some truly weird things happened. It rightly recognized that men (immediate family, usually) are naturally and necessarily the sexual gatekeepers for women ( http://thechifiles.com/2019/10/23/feminists-lobbying-for-the-restoration-of-patriarchy/ ). Unfortunately, the men who glommed on to this were by-and-large chicken sh**s with inferiority complexes who used the opportunity to kick sand in the faces of young suitors who came to call on their daughters. This allowed them to, at one and the same time, feel like they were the most alpha man in a young woman’s life, and haze the sort of lads who outcompeted them in their youth while they jumped through daddy’s imposed hoops.

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  17. I dont think many churches (mainline evangelical) taught biblical purity and chastity when discussing purity culture. The accounts of those brought up in the movement indicate that whatever the youth were taught was fear-based acts. I dont think they ever understood the “why” of the movement.

    You can tell a person “dont do X” all day. What they will know is to not do x. You have to teach them the logic behind not doing x.

    When you look at the types of churches that were big on the purity movement, it comes as no surprise that they weren’t teaching the “why.” They were in it for the fad and the attention. or book sales.

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  18. Askeladd: see the discussion Sigma Frame and I had a little over a year ago on the courtship movement. I believe he has my article on it published on his site (I handed over my redpill stuff to him)

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  19. From her bio at the Huffington Post:

    Linda Kay Klein is a writer, speaker and spiritual strongwoman based in New York City.

    I think that’s the first time I’ve seen someone described as a “spiritual strongwoman”. I hope it’s the last.

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  20. The dances, with their faux-wedding dresses, seemed very creepy to me. My church was a bit more sex-positive–“Stay pure for your spouse, because married sex is soooooo awesome AND pleases God!”

    Honestly, I can’t argue with that, even if the presentation was sometimes a bit cheesy….

    The one thing I fault my churches for is not encouraging proactivity in finding a man to marry. Mind, my choices are my own responsibility, but they seemed to have this attitude that marriage is great but live your own life until God drops a husband in your lap, because otherwise you’re trying to force something that isn’t in God’s timing.

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  21. Indeed, Anabaptists viewed dancing as inherently sexual in nature.
    I believe my father’s Mennonite church believed that part of keeping the marriage bed holy was an understood prohibition of having sex standing up. … Because that could lead to dancing!

    Unfortunately, the men who glommed on to this were by-and-large chicken sh**s with inferiority complexes who used the opportunity to kick sand in the faces of young suitors who came to call on their daughters.
    LOL I only met one, and he was pretty effeminate, yet was trying to act like a gatekeeping patriarch. And his daughter wasn’t attractive. So the combination of his daughter being plain ugly and his seemingly trying to barter some cattle or goats for her upon our first meeting was pretty comical. I was muscular, smart, owned my own business, had a full head of hair, and was the total package, so this man wanted to land me for his low value daughter. This friendly girl invited me over to her house for a free meal, so I accepted, not knowing that after the meal her father was going to sequester me to have a man to man talk with me and ask me why I wanted to court and marry his daughter. Not wanting to tell the man that I was just there for a free meal, and that his daughter was butt-ugly, I told him that I wasn’t really ready for marriage yet. Which he then claimed meant that I must have the gift of celibacy and should go into the ministry. LOL Just because I don’t want your little troll-doll daughter doesn’t mean I don’t have a raging fire of hormones. She had a much younger sister, 16 or 17, that was taller and looked hot, and seemed like she would enjoy stealing her older sister’s “friend”. When her father was trying to negotiate a marriage with me upon our first meeting, I almost felt like telling him I’m not very interested in this one you’re selling me, but her younger sister looks doable, if you throw her in too, then maybe we can talk. They were holier than thou Gothard Advanced Book cultists too.
    But, I don’t doubt some of these fathers make the same mistake as women and run off decent husbands when their daughters are young and then end up dropping their standards and desperately trying to marry off their post-wall daughters frantically later before their last eggs dry up.

    “spiritual strongwoman”
    LOL It sounds like somebody is trying to make a liar out of God who calls them the “weaker vessel”.

    We need to first teach people the grave fear of God the Father and His promise of eternal hellfire for those “redeemed” who crucify Christ and then again forsake Christ His Son to become fornicators and adulterers, joining again to another Spirit, If people are to successfully face down their current burning fires of sexual desire. What fool will die for them a second death, after they have scorned the only begotten Son of God? They will be that fool that dies the second death!

    Derek brings the counterpoint. Tis getting to be his thing.

    Good comment Maurice.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. LOL It sounds like somebody is trying to make a liar out of God who calls them the “weaker vessel”.

    That’s really what feminism is all about…that or just taking God out of the picture so they can believe their own lies.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Pingback: The Sin of Prioritizing Purity above Marriage | Σ Frame

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