Why Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Slut-Celebration Statue Won’t Really Remedy Slut-Shaming

Why Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Slut-Celebration Statue Won’t Really Remedy Slut-Shaming

Making a statue of a vagina out of purity rings might be attention-grabbing and even perhaps cathartic, but it is not healing.
Rebecca Lemke
By

Nadia Bolz-Weber is a truly infamous character in modern American Christianity. As a publicity stunt for her book, “Shameless,” she asked people to send purity rings so she could melt them into a vagina statue. She then presented the statue to Gloria Steinem, a feminist whose career has included positions in staunch opposition to orthodox Christianity. Her choice of the recipient for the statue, however, is altogether secondary in comparison with what flows from Bolz-Weber’s own lips.

Bolz-Weber is calling for “sexual reformation,” but what does that mean? Judging by her attempts at baptizing hedonism through her claim that “ethically sourced” pornography exists, any Christian should be rightly skeptical regarding the sort of reformation Bolz-Weber wants to lead. Out of the abundance of her heart, her mouth has spoken, and the fruit on her branches can hardly be called sweet.

While Bolz-Weber may have good intentions, her actions and words are not without consequence, nor above criticism. Making a statue of a vagina out of purity rings might be attention-grabbing and even perhaps cathartic, but it is not healing.

One might even liken it to putting a Band-Aid on a bullet hole, but the reality is much worse. In trying to draw attention to the issues with legalistic purity culture, Bolz-Weber is committing some of the same errors that have hurt so many. In the process, she is dragging wounded individuals down with her.

Let’s Get the Biblical Context

One of the most serious problems with legalistic purity culture is the propensity to rip scripture out of context. This tendency is one of the things that distinguishes legalistic purity culture from the broader sexual abstinence movement (a government-funded effort to lower teen pregnancy rates), although they have shared missteps. Legalistic purity culture is abusive because of the way it twists scripture and, as a result, distorts the nature of God.

For example, girls within my own community were told that because they were raped or molested by relatives as minors, they were impure and dirty and God did not love them anymore. Teachings such as these need to be addressed as the abusive drivel that they are.

However, liberal critics of “purity culture” generally throw the baby out with the bathwater, arguing that the baby bears chief responsibility for the muddy liquid. They call scriptural commands such as monogamy and abstinence before marriage “abuse,” while only tangentially touching upon actual issues.

This lack of solid definition of what purity culture is leads to confusion, and sometimes suppression, of the real issues in play. Purity is not the problem, the mishandling of purity is. But, for people like Bolz-Weber, Christianity’s expectation of chastity is the problem and, thus, portions of the Bible are as well. So, just like the legalistic purity culture, the counter purity movement dissects the Bible to fit its narrative.

This quote from the New Yorker is illuminating of where Bolz-Weber has gone down this road: “This idea that salvation comes through sexual repression. That sh-t comes out sideways.” In “Shameless,” she says she’s setting out to build a sexual ethic around human flourishing rather than rules encoded by men centuries ago. This begins by recognizing that with sex, as with everything else, “it’s not about being good—it’s about grace.”

Since she has worked as a pastor, it is concerning that Bolz-Weber gives no indication of familiarity with John 14:15 (NIV), in which Christ says, “If you love me, keep my commands.” One of those commands is to lead a sexually pure and God-pleasing life. While sex might not be about “being good,” and God does provide grace in our lives to forgive our sins, this horrifically omits that loving God means obeying him regarding sexuality. Unfortunately, that doesn’t fit the theologically liberal narrative, so it is out, to the detriment of the souls she’s leading astray.

Understanding scripture is about more than just using parts of it to fit a narrative, conservative or liberal. It is about treating it holistically, in context, without mishandling, misrepresenting, or reading agendas into it.

Each Side Comprises Reactionary Tribalism

History repeats itself, and the histories of legalistic purity culture and the sexual revolution are no different. The sexual revolution of the 1960s begat the evangelical and social push in the 1980s and 1990s for sexual purity. Now, with liberally minded individuals like Bolz-Weber, Dianna Anderson, and other purity culture critics, we are seeing yet another swing towards sexual promiscuity. Turn, turn, turn.

The problem is that reactionary swings toward the opposite side are not healing. They are knee-jerk responses coming from a place of pain that gives their victims whiplash. They don’t fix anything. More often than not, they compound the preexisting issues at play by causing individuals to turn to tribalist social identities (like virginity, sexual orientation, or race) rather than the identity they were given by their Creator.

Instead of encouraging meticulous and intentional deconstruction of the core issues, this approach simply targets the low-hanging fruit of legalistic purity culture and replaces it with equally toxic recovery and “sex positivity” movements.

While legalistic purity culture can and has been rightly criticized, we must be aware of the pitfalls of following anyone who speaks negatively about it just because they do so. This is true of any movement. One can know truth, and speak it, without being its best representative. As James 2:19 (NIV) points out, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.”

Making Sex Voyeuristic

Perhaps the most heartbreaking of all the cycles Nadia continued by making the vagina statue is that of putting sexuality, a private thing, on display. After the events of the recent season of “The Bachelor,” in which people lost their minds over a male contestant being a virgin, I don’t find it a stretch to believe that people may have an unhealthy obsession, dare I say, fetish, about virginity. Considering how much voyeuristic attention this got in pop culture, I’m sure one can only imagine what goes through people’s minds if a woman signals her virginity publicly, even in a church.

But I don’t have to because I, and many of my friends, lived it. I was sexualized at public venues by men for my purity ring. My friends and I were asked inappropriate questions because of our public signaling of sexual status.

Matthew 6:5 NIV urges us, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” I’ve wondered: Could our purity rings have been a way of being pharisaical? Of broadcasting our “good deeds” to the world?

But a more chilling and pressing question has come to mind in light of Nadia’s publicity stunt. Could our purity rings have marked us for sexual predators? Could they have suggested we were easy prey because, if we were hurt by an over-bearing and extra-biblical sexual message, we’d be easy to manipulate? That we were potentially easier prey for our low risks of STDs and pregnancy (developing breasts but no menstrual cycle)?

Nadia’s push for open sexuality isn’t entirely unlike what the purity movement did, and I fear the results may compound just as they do with many other aspects of such messaging. Sexuality was never meant to be on display in this way. Christians shouldn’t need special rings to broadcast that they are doing what the Bible commands of them. We don’t have that for other sins, like murder, covetousness, or disobedience to parents. So why do we with sexuality?

Where Do We Go From Here?

In so many ways, Nadia and other anti-purity movement leaders are hypocrites and blind guides. They cry for old men not to sexualize children, while encouraging those same children to broadcast their sexuality and endeavoring to make the world around us increasingly hypersexual. They call out crooked preachers for misusing the Bible, whilst they take a scalpel to it to suit their own ends. They call for people to not find their identity in their virginity or sexual trauma, while encouraging them to find it in other types of trauma or degree of sexual activity.

We cannot heal by doing the same things we’ve done before, albeit dressed up in different ways. That is the very definition of insanity. No amount of moving from one cult personality to another, regardless of where they are on the political spectrum, will heal the wounds of this world. The only way to find what we need is to accept that our true and ultimate identity is not in this world, but in Christ, and it is by his wounds that we are healed.

Rebecca Lemke is a writer on holistic and regenerative living, with a focus on both the temporal and the eternal. She is the author of “The Scarlet Virgins,” a book that examines the legalistic Purity Culture movement of the last 30 years from a gospel-centered Christian perspective. She is a contributor for Iron Ladies. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post and To Love, Honor and Vacuum. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband, Thomas, and their young son. Follow her on Twitter: @NewCrunchyMom.

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