5 Toxic Christian Cultures

Purity culture is not the only toxic culture in the Church.

There are five other toxic Christian cultures that I believe are related to purity culture.

The five cultures are:

  • Modesty culture
  • Rape culture
  • Courtship culture
  • Marriage culture
  • Patriarchal culture

All of these teachings were embedded in purity culture and integrated into the fabric of evangelical Christianity and the Church.

But NONE of them are actually biblical or Christian.

Let’s dismantle each culture, analyze the harmful teachings that came from them, and replace them with the real biblical truth.

Modesty Culture

Modest is hottest–right?

Modesty culture taught us that our worth was on display. Our value was determined by shorts that were at least finger-tip length, straps that were three fingers wide, and clothing that was loose enough to hide our curves.

Modesty culture leads to a lot of body shame and a sense that our bodies are inherently wrong, sinful, and can cause others to “stumble”. It makes girls responsible for boys’ lust instead of empowering each gender to be responsible for their own thoughts and actions.

The truth is your inherent worth is determined by being made in the image of God–not in what you wear. You alone are responsible for your sin. Your value is not dictated either by your attractiveness to men (being “hot”) or keeping men from lust.

Modesty is more than how much skin you show. Instead, let’s emphasize a “modest” and humble heart that is nonjudgmental towards ourselves and others. Let’s consider clothing that is appealing to you, practical, comfortable, and makes you feel most like yourself, rather than what others will think of our clothes.

Your inherent worth is determined by being made in the image of God–not in what you wear. You alone are responsible for your sin. Your value is not dictated either by your attractiveness to men (being “hot”) or keeping men from lust. #modestishottest #toxicchristiancultures

Rape Culture

Rape culture is the natural result of a modesty culture that blames women for men’s actions. (CW: rape and sexual assault)

Rape culture is by no means only a part of the evangelical Church–it has poisoned our secular culture as well.

We hear rape culture any time a woman is blamed or held responsible for her sexual assault and an offender is given a free pass:

  • “Well, what was she wearing?”
  • “She was asking for it with clothes like that!”
  • “He’s a man; he couldn’t help himself!”
  • “He was such a promising young man. She was just tempting him to lust.”

I can’t say it loud enough: A VICTIM IS NEVER RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR SEXUAL ASSAULT. NO ONE IS TO BLAME BUT THEIR ATTACKER.

Christians continue to perpetuate rape culture through the Gatekeepers Myth, one of my five myths of purity culture in my article “5 Purity Culture Myths”.

The antidote to rape culture is compassion for victims and accountability and justice for offenders. We have to hold men responsible for their crimes and sins. And we have to come alongside survivors and offer support and hope for their healing.

The antidote to rape culture is compassion for victims and accountability and justice for offenders. We have to hold men responsible for their crimes and sins. And we have to come alongside survivors and offer support and hope for their healing. #toxicchristiancultures

Courtship Culture

Not all dating has to lead to marriage. But toxic courtship culture told us otherwise.

Nothing epitomizes courtship culture more than the book “I Kissed Dating Good-bye” by Joshua Harris. (I know Josh Harris has had a change of heart and I respect hishumility and openness to discussion. But we’ve got to still talk about the long-lasting impact of this culture!)

Courtship culture was rampant at the Christian colleges I attended, where “ring by spring” was the norm and you felt like nobody if you didn’t graduate with your MRS degree.

I think there are two risks of courtship culture–you could miss out on a good relationship because you didn’t give it enough of a chance or you could stay in a relationship too long because of the fantasy and false promise of your first love being your spouse.

The truth is dating can be healthy. You are not more spiritual if you choose not to date. Every Christian has to decide for themselves when and who to date. Dating can be a healthy way to understand yourself better and learn more about what you’re looking for in a relationship.

Dating can be healthy. You are not more spiritual if you choose not to date. Every Christian has to decide for themselves when and who to date. #toxicchristiancultures

Marriage Culture

Let’s talk about the idolization of marriage in the Church.

What’s wrong with marriage? Nothing. I am married and I love my husband and love being married.

But the “marriage culture” in the Church is toxic and insidious.

Being married is given “privileged” status in evangelical Christianity, while other relationship statuses such as single, divorced, or widowed, are often discriminated against.

Here’s what I mean by marriage culture:

  • Elevating married couples’ spiritual status and maturity over single people
  • Giving married couples preference and leadership opportunities not given to unmarried people
  • Catering to the needs of couples and families and secluding them together, while unmarried people are lumped in with the youth
  • Judging people who are divorced and widowed without hearing their story
  • Assuming that marriage will happen for every believer and is the pinnacle of adulthood

Marriage culture breeds pride for those who are married and shame for those who are not. 

Toxic marriage culture affected me by making me feel ashamed for being single. I felt something must be wrong with me that I was doing everything “right”, yet couldn’t find a husband. I also felt like I didn’t have the opportunity to serve in my church because I wasn’t married. Even in my late 20s, I was categorized with “college and young adults” because I was single.

But the truth is we are ALL valuable members of the Body of Christ. Marriage does not make you more spiritually mature, capable of leadership, or holier. Marriage is not the ultimate goal of a Christian’s life. Serving and honoring God is–and that can happen with or without marriage.

Marriage does not make you more spiritually mature, capable of leadership, or holier. Marriage is not the ultimate goal of a Christian’s life. Serving and honoring God is–and that can happen with or without marriage. #toxicchristiancultures

Patriarchal Culture

Underlying all of the other toxic Christian cultures–modesty culture, rape culture, courtship culture, marriage culture, and purity culture–is patriarchal culture.

Patriarchy is the belief that men are the leaders and the head of women. Women are in need of protection and provision. Men make the decisions; women are subordinate and submissive.

Why do we have modesty culture? Because it allows men to control women through their clothing.

How did rape culture evolve? Because it absolves men of responsibility for their crimes and puts the blame on women.

Why is courtship culture “biblical”? Because men (especially fathers) make all the dating decisions and women follow.

Why is marriage culture so prevalent in the Church? Because women are only valuable and gain status if they are married to a man.

What is the purpose of purity culture? To control women’s sexuality through myths and false promises about premarital sex.

I hope you know I have a lot of respect for men. I love my husband–he is my equal partner and we practice mutual submission. I have a great dad who has been a positive influence in my life.

But I do not support patriarchal culture that subordinates women to men and puts men in charge of marriages, families, churches, and institutions.

Men and women are equal in value and role. Men and women are co-image bearers and heirs of the Kingdom. Men and women are equally called, “equally saved, equally Spirit-filled, and equally sent” (M. S. Van Leeuwen). 

If we want to fully deconstruct these toxic Christian cultures, we have to start with their common thread of patriarchy.

Men and women are equal in value and role. Men and women are co-image bearers and heirs of the Kingdom. Men and women are equally called, “equally saved, equally Spirit-filled, and equally sent” (Van Leeuwen). #toxicchristiancultures

Toxic Christian Cultures

What do you think of these five other toxic Christian cultures? How did modesty culture, rape culture, courtship culture, marriage culture, and patriarchal culture affect you?

Leave a comment below or join the discussion on my Instagram and Twitter! Use the hashtag #toxicchristiancultures to join in the discussion.


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