When the latest mass-murdering white man mentioned “sex addiction”, he revealed the flavor of fascism he sups. This act is indelibly stamped with white evangelical culture. Evangelical churches all over America teach a toxic trinity of white supremacy, misogyny, and purity culture that repeatedly come to a head in killers’ heads.
The moment I read that the man who confessed to the murders was the son of a youth pastor who told police he had a “sex addiction,” however, it struck me that we must not ignore the specifically evangelical Protestant contours of this story.
One of the most significant conclusions Grubbs’ research points to, however, is that conservative Christian men are prone to believe that they have pornography or sex “addictions,” even when they do not.
If Long is telling the truth about his desire to “eliminate” the “temptations”-that is, women-that he claims exacerbated his “sex addiction,” it’s likely that he learned to think of himself this way, and to objectify women, in church. In evangelical institutional environments such as churches and Christian schools, discussions of sex are usually steeped in purity culture, that is a complex of beliefs and practices associated with an unhealthy fear of sexuality and intense pressure to remain “pure”-that is, sexually inexperienced-before marriage. I am among the many ex-evangelicals who were essentially coerced into signing “purity pledges” in the 1990s, which is just one of the many manipulative practices associated with purity culture.
Far from being an essential feature of historic Christianity, the popular purity teachings of today are a result of white anxiety around being able to produce enough well-behaved Christian babies to remain in charge of Western society. This relatively recent soup we’re all swimming in is the basis of the modern purity movement—or what many people refer to as purity culture.
Purity culture is a direct path to sexual shame. Different people respond differently to purity culture, and often our privilege insulates us from consequences that people with less privilege have no choice but to internalize. So not everyone will be carrying ten tons of baggage with them into adulthood. But almost everyone who grew up in purity culture exhibits signs or attitudes of sexual shame. And sexual shame is one of the main things that leads churches into silence when someone is abused in their midst.
We can look at the role culture plays in abuse while also holding abusers ultimately and finally accountable for their actions. Abuse is always the fault of the abuser, and the culture of a church will either reward or punish abusive behavior—attract it or repel it. Purity culture is fundamentally complicit in abuse.
White Evangelical Racism tells a concise history of the evangelical movement and—here is the hard part—the racist and racial elements that imbue its beliefs, practices, and social and political activism. It is racism that binds and blinds many white American evangelicals to the vilification of Muslims, Latinos, and African Americans. It is racism that impels many evangelicals to oppose immigration and turn a blind eye to children in cages at the border. It is racism that fuels evangelical Islamophobia. It was evangelical acceptance of biblically sanctioned racism that motivated believers to separate and sell families during slavery and to march with the Klan. Racist evangelicals shielded cross burners, protected church burners, and participated in lynchings. Racism is a feature, not a bug, of American evangelicalism.
“To a great extent, the evangelical church in America supported the status quo. It supported slavery; it supported segregation; it preached against any attempt of the black man to stand on his own two feet.” These words, uttered in 1970 by Tom Skinner—the son of a Black preacher and a former gang member turned evangelist—still ring true today.
Evangelicals’ support for current-day policies that seem draconian and unchristian is linked inescapably to a foundational history that we will uncover in this book. American history chronicles evangelical support for and participation in racist structures in America. Skinner got it right.
Selected tweets from relevant experts: