Clinging to Purity

Religions become divisive and dangerous when they focus on purity more than justice. The codes and standards of purity are more often than not simply the cultural norms of a particular time and place, whereas the call for justice for the community of all creation is timeless and applies to all.

Reason and experience have shown us that most of the purity practices of the past were based on cultural norms rather than on natural or divine law. There are reasons we do not believe that women who are menstruating or those who come into contact with them, men who are uncircumcised, people who have leprosy or any other illness, persons with different dietary practices, and persons who come into contact with certain animals are impure. We recognize today that it would be unjust to treat persons in any of these categories as any less pure than any other persons. We have grown in our understanding.

Reason and experience have also led us to understand that our views and beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity are also based on cultural norms. Many have come to realize that persons who are LGBTQIA+ simply are who they are, and their sexual orientation and gender identities do not cause harm and are therefore not sinful or impure, yet traditionalists within Christianity continue to treat persons with different sexual orientations and gender identities as being somehow impure or sinful and therefore not worthy of full participation within the life of the church.

For some reason Christian traditionalists are rigid in holding to scriptural passages that seem to condemn non-hetero sexual orientations, yet they easily let go of the purity codes found in many of the same books of the Bible they use to enforce cisgender hetero identity.

We would all do well to ask ourselves why it is that some norms are seen as bound to a particular time and place while others are given more permanent status by traditionalist Christians. Might it be that these decisions are based more on our proclivities and prejudices than upon an understanding that everything that is in the Bible is valid at all times and in all places? If traditionalists truly believed that all or even most of the Bible applies to all times and all places, then their churches and their members would look radically different than are today.

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About Mark Y. A. Davies

Mark Davies is the Wimberly Professor of Social and Ecological Ethics and Director of the World House Institute for Social and Ecological Responsibility at Oklahoma City University. He is the Executive Director of the Leadership, Education, and Development (LEaD) Hub North America of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church and an Oklahoma Humanities State Scholar. Mark has published in the areas of Boston personalism, process philosophy and ethics, and ecological ethics. Dr. Davies serves on the United Methodist University Senate, which is “an elected body of professionals in higher education created by the General Conference to determine which schools, colleges, universities, and theological schools meet the criteria for listing as institutions affiliated with The United Methodist Church.” He and his wife Kristin live in Edmond, OK in the United States, and they have two daughters. The views expressed by the author in this blog do not necessarily represent the views of Oklahoma City University or the United Methodist Church.
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