This reading group guide for Pure includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Linda Kay Klein. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
In this fascinating look inside white evangelical Christian culture, Linda Kay Klein explores the purity movement that defined her coming of age in the 1990s. Frustrated by her own shame about sex and intimacy, Klein began a twelve-year journey that took her across the country to speak with countless other young women raised in purity culture—women who, like her, were implicitly and explicitly taught that their bodies were dangerous and posed a threat to themselves and others. Pure is the result of her extensive research—part history, part journalism, part memoir—and stands as both a chronicle of pain and a testament to what the human spirit can endure. Through it all, Klein’s faith in God remained steady and led her to seek new churches and communities that might better exemplify her understanding of love, God, and fellowship.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. In chapter 1, Linda Kay Klein recalls how, at sixteen, she yearned to prove to herself, her God, and her church that “I was good despite my developing body” (page 39). Why does the separation of the spirit from the body come up again and again in Pure? Does this imposed separation feel particular to the church, or do you think secular culture also promotes a separation between the spirit and the body?
2. Klein was taught to cover herself so as not to threaten the men in the community with sexual temptation. In this regard, she suggests that women are made to bear the burden of responsibility for ensuring sexual propriety. Discuss this phenomenon from your own experience inside and/or outside a church community.
3. On page 14 Klein concludes that “the purity message is not about sex. Rather, it is about us: who we are, who we are expected to be, and who it is said we will become if we fail. . . . This is the language of shame.” Consider how the words (i.e., “pure”) used in purity culture contribute to the sense of shame that Klein and so many others have felt. What word or words stood out to you as you read?
4. Consider the structure of Pure: four sections documenting what purity culture is; challenges faced by girls and women in the church as a result of this culture; challenges girls and women face outside of the church as a result of this culture; and how many individuals and even church communities are finding ways to overcome the damage done by purity culture. Why do you think the author structured the book in this way? If you were to add a fifth section, what would it be, and why?
5. When Chloe confides in Klein that she experimented with oral sex (with girls) as an eight-year-old, she tells Klein she was shamed by her parents, and, at the same time, her parents were shamed by the larger church community. Do you believe that shame can be passed on from one generation to the next? Have you ever seen this happen?
6. “You can’t win” (99), one interviewee laments. Have you ever felt this way when it comes to women and sexuality?
8. Share a time in your life when you questioned an important aspect of your upbringing, whether it was a religious belief or a family tradition or lifestyle.
9. In Muriel’s narrative, she shares that she feels God “in her greatest moments of suffering” (page 148), though the experience is different than she had been taught it would be when she was young. Why do you think Muriel feels this way? What experiences have you had as an adult that looked or felt different than you had thought they would feel when you were young?
10. On pages 178–79, Klein presents the idea of “the gap.” How did Klein overcome the gap in her own life? Could the image of the gap serve as a metaphor for the entire book?
11. Discuss the irony in the conclusion Eli draws about the evangelical community: that the “ideology is more important . . . than people” (page 201). In your experience, do churches and/or other institutionalized cultural communities sometimes sacrifice people for ideology (or the individual for “the greater good”)? If this is the case, can such institutions really be considered communities? Why or why not?
12. In your experience, have you found, like the interviewee Jo, that “women are taught their bodies are evil; men are taught their minds are” (page 235)? If so, why do you think it is that church and society place so much more attention on women’s bodies than on men’s, and on men’s minds than on women’s?
13. Although Pure is a critique of the evangelical purity movement, the author highlights other, positive aspects of the evangelical subculture. On page 276, for example, she describes the “warm, playful teasing” that is typical in the evangelical community. Do you read Pure as a criticism of evangelical Christian culture, or as something else?
14. Discuss the ending of the book. Did it surprise you to learn that Klein’s faith is still strong, if different than before? How did she manage to take ownership of her faith, from your point of view? Have you ever had a similar experience, either of taking ownership of your faith or of something else that you first learned about from others?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Linda Kay Klein invites us into her personal life—even her bedroom—and in Pure, readers come to form an intimate relationship with the author. Spend more time with Klein’s candor and honesty. With your book club, watch Klein’s TEDx Talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bB99HIBT9b4). Afterward, compare how it felt listening to her voice and watching her speak to reading her words on the page.
2. Pure joins the conversation of the #MeToo movement, a conversation that has been long overdue and that is gaining momentum in nearly every industry in the U.S. and abroad. Klein highlights the ways in which evangelical Christianity’s purity movement contributes to larger cultural problems, such as silencing and excusing sexual and gender-based violence. Look into the #MeToo and #ChurchToo hashtags on Twitter with your book club. Review the ways in which the narratives feel similar to or different from the narrative that Klein shares in Pure. Why do you think this movement is happening at this particular cultural moment?
3. Pure offers an ethnographic study of several female experiences in the purity movement. Ethnography, or the “study and systematic recording of human cultures” (Merriam-Webster), can be a fun and hands-on way to conduct research about a subculture. Consider all the subcultures you are a part of, whether they are religious groups, community organizations, or enthusiast groups, and conduct your own informal research into one subculture. Talk to friends and family, take pictures, and offer your own creative reflection on what makes the subculture unique. Share with your book club the results of your efforts. You might be surprised to learn something new about your book club members and perhaps even yourself.
A Conversation with Linda Kay Klein
Pure refers to an extraordinary number of books on shame, religion, and sexuality. If you were to offer one book club suggestion for further reading, which book would it be and why?
Pure is about the ways the purity movement shames white evangelical girls, but we are by no means the only ones suffering because of it. Recently I’ve been learning more about the role that white patriarchal hegemony plays in the purity movement and how this undergirding impacts other communities. Right now I’m reading Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective by the Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas. I highly recommend it for book clubs interested in broadening their understanding of how these teachings impact various communties, starting with the black church.
What prompted you to begin thinking deeply about the evangelical subculture? Can you pinpoint a specific moment when you felt called to reconsider your relationship to the evangelical church?
If I had to choose just one moment, it would be the moment I write about in the book, when I was sitting on the rocky beach on the edge of the Indian Ocean in Australia and reading those newspaper articles about my youth pastor having attempted to sexually entice a twelve-year-old child under his professional care.
But there’s more to that story than I share in the book. The part about my having been in Australia—an ocean away from my religious community—is important. I was too far away to be told how I was “supposed” to feel about what my youth pastor had done when I learned about it; too far away to listen to the sermon I learned about later in which my congregation was instructed never to talk about what happened because that would be gossip, and gossip was a sin; too far away to be pulled aside and informed I shouldn’t be angry, but should forgive my youth pastor, and learn to let go of the whole horrible situation.
And so, I did talk about what happened.
And I was angry.
And I didn’t let go.
Instead, I wrestled with what happened and how the evangelical church had handled it. And in the midst of that wrestling, I first felt called to reconsider my relationship to the church.
Do you agree with the interviewee Piper that a real danger of the purity movement is the “hatred of self that comes from that lack of place in the community” (page 66)? How have you dealt with your own “lack of place” after leaving the evangelical community in which you were raised?
To be honest, I experienced a lack of place inside the evangelical community more than I ever experienced one outside of it. I first began to feel I didn’t belong in the church when I was in my mid-teens. After all, it’s hard to feel like you belong when you are constantly being pulled aside and told about all of the ways in which you don’t.
After I left, I leaned into a community of creatives. I found my place as a creator—a music-maker, a puppeteer, a performance artist, a visual artist, a writer. I processed the loss of place I had felt in my religious community by writing music, plays, performance pieces, and so on in a creative community.
Who is your target audience for Pure? What message do you hope this audience will receive after reading your book?
This book is written for everyone who has experienced sexual shame.
I hope readers will have new questions to ask themselves, and new conversations that they want to have with others. I hope they will feel less alone. I hope they will feel less hopeless, and just a little more ready to break free.
Describe the research that went into writing this book. What was the process like? Did you uncover any facts that were particularly surprising?
I’ve spent the past twelve years reading, writing, interviewing, investigating, going to courthouses and public libraries across the country,...
Pure 001 INDuração: 01min
Pure 002 IntroductionDuração: 01h03min
Pure 003 Chapter1Duração: 37min
Pure 004 Chapter2Duração: 35min
Pure 005 Chapter3Duração: 19min
Pure 006 Chapter4Duração: 28min
Pure 007 Chapter5Duração: 25min
Pure 008 Chapter6Duração: 35min
Pure 009 Chapter7Duração: 33min
Pure 010 Chapter8Duração: 20min
Pure 011 Chapter9Duração: 38min
Pure 012 Chapter10Duração: 30min
Pure 013 Chapter11Duração: 32min
Pure 014 Chapter12Duração: 31min
Pure 015 Chapter13Duração: 28min
Pure 016 Chapter14Duração: 18min
Pure 017 Chapter15Duração: 21min
Pure 018 Chapter16Duração: 33min
Pure 019 OUTDuração: 01min