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Hello, beloveds. It has been a long couple of weeks and I feel like I have barely been talking to any of my #Exvangelical fam at all. How y'all doing? We're currently being buried in a snowstorm in the PNW which is weird for us. Fun! Seems like a good time for Christian books?
So previously I have been doing (mostly) weekly threads making my way through James Dobson's abusive trash on how to raise children. If you haven't read those, the most recent thing we did was Preparing for Adolescence, they're all here.

However, I'm taking a break from Dobson, partly because I needed a fucking break, and partly because I was honestly getting a bit concerned I was going to run out of things to say. It's somewhat incredible how repetitive all this stuff is. So I decided to move into something new.
I'm sure you're all very disappointed, but don't worry(?), I feel confident that Dobson is somehow never going to leave my life. Also I have literally a whole stack of other books by him, so I'm sure there's plenty more to look into in the future. But for NOW, variety!
I decided on Elisabeth Elliot. I am kind of... excited is the wrong word, but vaguely interested in this. I never actually read Elisabeth Elliot growing up, although I know a lot of Exvies did. I was vaguely aware of her as that woman whose husband was killed in the mission field
That said, I heard from several people that her perspective particularly on romance and relationships really fucked with them, so seems like a new topic. I am curious though, how many of y'all ever actually read anything by Elisabeth Elliot growing up?
So the book we are going through is called "Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ's Control." It was originally published in 1984 (the year of my birth) but this version was "repackaged" in 2013. You can tell because of the cool cover.
Don't you feel good about this book just looking at it? Look how nice and white those heterosexual people are! And the tandem bicycle! (Those have always seemed terrifying to me) I would like to note that that girl is showing a lot of shoulder but we can't have everything.
Some of you sharp eyed kiddos may also have noticed that it proudly announces on the front that there is a forward by Joshua Harris. That is true. So also... super great recommendation there. There's a forward by Harris, an introduction by Ruth Graham, and a preface by Elliot.
We will obviously be going through these things. For this, our first thread, we will be going through all of this opening jazz, and then the first two chapters. The chapters in this one are SUPER short, so it's going to take some time to figure out the balance.
I'm also just going to be totally honest and say I have no real idea what these threads will look like. I am UNCOMFORTABLY familiar with Dobson and writing through his stuff was relatively easy (if extremely emotionally taxing). This is really different, so we'll see!
Before I dive in, these threads do require quite a lot of time and emotional labor from me, and if you feel like they are useful to you and you wanna buy me a cup of coffee or lunch, please feel free.

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So first we start with Harris. Harris begins with a story about how he really likes to take a walk at a nearby pond and one day he was strolling and realized he had been looking at his feet the whole time. "When I looked up it seemed the world switched from B&W to color."
His point in this really boring story is that we have this tendency in relationships. This is a terrible point. He says that we frequently have a downward gaze, which apparently means that "we lock our eyes on the drab tones of what we want, need or deserve from a relationship."
Of course there are so MANY books ready to feed us these horrible lies of "self-empowerment" (his quotation marks) and ready to "offer endless advice for squeezing out every last drop of self-fulfillment from a relationship."
FORTUNATELY there are also books like this one.
Does that make you eager to read this book? No? I can't imagine why.
I know we are only on the first page here but I'm already going to need to take a minute. It is a weird thing looking back on Christianity from where I am now and wondering why they are SO BAD at things.
It is a clearly fucked up thing to say that the problem with your relationships is that you are able to be self empowered, or are able to express your wants or needs. We KNOW it is a fucked up thing, because being taught that is why it's taken us decades to learn these things.
Of COURSE a relationship only focused on what I want isn't healthy. But a relationship where I'm not at all focused on what I want or need is ALSO not healthy. In fact, part of what I want and need is for both me and my partner to be able to communicate our needs to each other!
Whatever, let's move on to the next page here. Josh assures us that this book is practical and moving but of course always lifts us back up to god, lifts our gaze "above our longings for human companionship to the Maker who created us for Himself."
There are so many phrases that were just everyday things when I was still a Christian. The idea of god creating us for himself wasn't something I took comfort in perse, it was just there. Now I find it to be deeply disturbing and controlling in a lot of ways. Bah.
Apparently Josh first read this book when he was 16. He hopes that we will read it differently than he first did (I feel that I can safely promise I will, Josh). When his parents gave it to him, and he was not at all impressed with the subtitle, did not want to read it at all.
He thought it was going to tell him he couldn't kiss his girlfriend anymore, "something I thought very vital to my continued happiness at the time."
ANOTHER pause point. I haven't read IKDG since high school and I did not actually remember that Harris had a girlfriend and stuff.
I guess the title of the book THEORETICALLY implies he had been dating before he wasn't but not necessarily? And I had like a flash of rage reading that sentence and thinking about how many people I know who were shamed in so many ways and here he's talking so lightly about this.
Whatever. Apparently when he first read it, he was extremely determined to ignore it. But then he came back to it a few years later and he realized that it was exactly what he should have listened to then, and why hadn't he been able to hear it? Because he decided not to.
So then he's begging you to please not do the same, please be humble and listen to the book and if you DO come to something you disagree with, "ask God to give you his perspective" and "ask him to change your heart if you're wrong." That's so neat. Don't y'all miss that shit?
So much, so much. That delightful feeling of if it didn't make sense you just weren't trying hard enough for god's perspective? So fun and not cult-like in the slightest.
Whatever. He wants you to read it prayerfully and such. Use all the usual spells, please.
He does say that this book was what "radically changed his attitude toward romantic relationships." I guess what we can take from that is that we can blame her by extension for the existence of IKDG. He says he quotes her a lot in it, I'm sure some of y'all probably know this. :P
Again, have not read it since I was 16, which basically means I remember literally nothing but the cover.
Apparently he hand wrote her a letter when he was 21, asking her to read his manuscript. Told her it probably wasn't even worth reading because hers was so much better.
Which seems hella whiny and also made me laugh. 21 seems too old to be playing those bullshit games. He got a postcard back from her, said he had done a good job, "that he'd written a worthwhile book." Let's be real, y'all. How many of you think she actually read the book?
So now he is thrilled to have a chance to write this and he wants to thank her for writing down this amazing love story, etc. He ends with a C.S. Lewis quote - "The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell."
I'm not... sure that actually has much to do with this. Like it sounds pretty or whatever, I guess. Does it? I don't know. I don't really love it. Also, to my understanding Lewis didn't even believe in hell as such, so I think probably more metaphorical for him... whatever.
Ruth Graham has less to say. She tells us about how Elisabeth's current husband Lars is one of her favorite people and Elisabeth is one of her other favorite people and one day she came home to a note saying Lars had called. And she was just delighted so she called him back.
Elisabeth answered and had no idea why Lars had called and oh gosh, how curious. (If you are thinking this isn't that interesting of a story, you're definitely correct) Ruth asked if she was working on another book and Elisabeth told her about Passion and Purity.
Well, Ruth thought that was just great, that "it couldn't be more timely, more on target" and that she was so excited to read it. Lars called back later without having said anything to Elisabeth (aren't men just funny creatures hahaha) wondering if Ruth would read the manuscript.
I think mostly from this I am being reminded that the world without cell phones was a terrible time. That's what I am personally taking away from this story.
But really it was just about how thrilled Ruth was to get to read the manuscript, I guess.
When she read it she was so impressed that this book about bringing your love life under the Lord's control (not a phrase that gets better at any point) was so warm and personal and poignant and restrained... there are a lot of words used. She likes the quotes. It's a whole thing
While reading it she "thought of the confusion of today's young people" and how this love story was all about god's rules. "The best way to show up a crooked stick is to lay a straight one beside it." She assures us this book is a beautifully unforgettable crooked stick.
Cool. So there's all that. Now we are going to ACTUALLY GET to some writing by Elisabeth Elliot herself, so let's get into that. Let's get started with her preface.
Can I just say off the top, she's a MUCH better writer than Dobson? I'm not saying her theology is better.
But she is just clearly a significantly better writer. Which actually makes her weirdly harder to write about for me. Dobson's work all sort of takes place in 3 point sermon formats (which @Ivefledged pointed out to me at some point) and that's super helpful for writing about.
Her writing flows and is - at least in the brief amount I've read so far - less repetitive (low bar), so it's actually a bit more of a challenge to for me get a handle on. But we will jump in together and see how we feel! Exciting! New adventures! Let's take a quick pause first.
Take a deep breath, move around, stretch. Remember you're here and you're okay. Remember if this is too much for you right now that's okay, take care of yourself however you need to. You are loved and valuable.


Let's go. <3
She starts off with "In my day we would have called them love affairs or romances. Now they are called relationships. The word love has fallen on bad times."
1) There is literally nothing I hate more than people bemoaning IN MY DAY and clutching their pearls.
She continues by telling us that "to many people it means nothing more nor less than going to bed with somebody, never mind what sex the other may belong to."
Well. She's fun, isn't she? I can already tell we're going to get along great.
Everyone remember to breathe, please.
Look, not to be nitpicky here, but who is it exactly that thinks love is fucking and nothing else? I'm sure there's someone somewhere, but I've never met that person. It's the sort of nonsense that Christians say while they are bemoaning the world and pearl-clutching.
I do think that love is complex and far more multi-faceted than I was ever once taught it was growing up Christian... and it can certainly INCLUDE going to bed with someone. But it obviously doesn't have to and I can't imagine a scenario where it would be that and nothing else.
I am sort-of... interested, I guess, that she mentions the idea of being gay so outright. I mean, it's gross and to all of my LGBTQ+ fam, fuck her. We are loved and perfect. But you know, this is the preface. Does that mean there's more coming? I didn't anticipate it is all.
Actually it's where she goes from here that I find more interesting. She goes off about how "bumper stickers substitute a picture of a red heart for the word love and apply it to just about anything, anybody or anyplace." Okay. Is the heart particularly upsetting?
Is it that the word love isn't there? She must have lost her MIND when emojis became a thing. Because that seems as upsetting to her as what the heart is referencing. And Idk! It's niche! It's a niche thing to be pacing about! Is anyone else familiar with this?
THEN she says "In some Christian gatherings people are asked to turn around and look the person next to them full in the face, even if he is a perfect stranger and say, with a broad smile and without the least trace of a blush, 'God loves you and so do I,' and prove it by...
a hearty bear hug. This apparently makes some people feel good."
Okay, I admit this made me laugh extremely hard and also, Elisabeth? I'm kind of on your side in this ONE INSTANCE. Quick flashback to the Before Times and Baby B!
So I HATED the "turn and greet your neighbor" part of church. Always. I don't remember ever not hating it. I know a lot of people who say they hated it because they were introverted and they felt like it thrust them into uncomfortable pressured situations and that makes sense.
But that's not me. In case you haven't gathered, no one has ever called me introverted in my life. No, I hated it because I thought it was so fucking fake. I had this argument hundreds of times when I was growing up and well into my adulthood. I got better at it but never won.
I love people and I love talking to people but I despise forced and unnatural interactions. I'm pretty good at creating natural interaction, but not in 90 seconds. What is even the point of TRYING? There was no way to get to know anything in that period of time.
In my view it actually took away from it's point. You could have these incredibly shallow conversations (they literally couldn't be more) and that would make people feel like they had checked a box and could actually stop them from having more meaningful ones.
When I was a kid in church I would stubbornly sit and refuse to do it. I always sat in the front row too, so it was super obvious. Adults in particular would come up and shake my hand and I would respond but I would never seek anyone out for it. My parents thought it was silly.
As an adult in a church I considered my own, I was friends with one of the pastors and I argued for SO LONG trying to get them not to do this. Never successful. They did a thing they called "C3" where you were supposed to greet 3 people in 3 minutes. UGH. Fuck that noise.
So Elisabeth, I am fully on your side in this. I was never required to hug anyone (my parents would never have gone to a church that required hugging) but the principle. I agree it is fake and has nothing to do with love... I just think that's true of a lot of evangelicalism.
She clearly thinks it's taking away from an important truth (which I also once thought), I just think it's pointing to some innate falseness in the message they're selling. But you know, I just think it's important to celebrate that we're agreeing, personally. Won't happen a lot.
She then says that when people are trying to describe how they feel about the opposite sex (no same gender thoughts here), they look for another word. She claims people say things like "neat" and "special." I don't... I'm struggling with what she's getting at here a bit.
I THINK she is saying that because the word love has been so diluted and doesn't mean anything anymore, people are looking for other words to describe their relationships, and that is a real problem because love is connected to god and stuff and other words suck.
I may be paraphrasing a bit.
The thing is that if that IS what she's saying there's some irony there, I think. Y'all know how I feel about language, particularly about the church and language. Go check out the #EvangelicalIntoEnglish tag if you missed it.
The point is that I think that some of the worst offenders as far as diluting or fucking up the meaning of a word like love have been the church, not "the world" as she seems to be implying. Words change, grow and shift. New ones aren't bad. A concept like love is hard to gather.
It's hard to put words to at all. It's hard to know even what it is to some extent. And I know she would tell me that's not true and the Bible tells me what it is through Jesus, but that is way less practical than the fundies always insist it is. Just saying.
As a note, when I said she's a better writer than Dobson, I don't necessarily mean she's always clearer. Sometimes she's definitely not. But I can hear her VOICE in her writing. She IS personal, sometimes she's even warm (not always). She's super opinionated.
I should probably pause to admit at this point to a fascination I have with problematic and complicated females. Ayn Rand is a good example. I don't LIKE Ayn Rand, I don't let her off the hook for shit she did. But she consistently INTERESTS me in a way men never do.
(As a note on that, if anyone is ever curious for more about Ayn Rand, the book "Ayn Rand and the World She Made" is an EXCEPTIONAL biography of her that really is just phenomenal and I reference it all of the time.)
I actually feel like it is important to mention this tendency of mine, because I recognize there is a possibility that people could be frustrated that I may not be as obviously hard on Elliot as I often am on Dobson. I've been thinking about it for a couple weeks now.
For those of you who don't know me except through the internet, and especially these threads, you should probably know that my hatred of Dobson is more of a weird exception in my life than the norm. Empathy is one of my higher level traits for MOST people, even shitty ones.
So while I expect to do my very best to tear apart her theology and problematic ideas as best I can, I do want to put out there that there is a possibility that I may not seem as harsh with her as I do with Dobson. I am already more INTERESTED in her than I've ever been in him.
So if that is not what you are hoping for, I totally get that. Consider this a content warning. If you're still on board, I'm so excited to get to do this reading with y'all. <3
Now! On with the show and all that.
So she talks about getting a letter from a teacher who has been developing a long distance "friendship" with a man, doesn't really know what to expect at this point, is looking for advice. Elisabeth says she wrote back but doesn't say what she told her, which is weird to me.
Basically she says she gets a ton of these letters. Letters from men and women looking for advice on love. She includes snippets, people looking for mentorship, looking for advice, looking for comfort, wondering how she managed in her relationship with Jim, etc, etc.
I am sort-of fascinated by this. Dobson always got a ton of letters too. Is this a generation thing. I know I'm doing a lot of polls this thread but 1) probably get used to that because I love it and 2) I really want to know. I'll include the poll below.
Did any of you ever write to a famous Christian author or celebrity person of any kind? Or like approach them for advice? If yes and you feel comfortable, could you share what you asked, if they responded, what the experience was like for you?
Anyway. She says she answered all the letters that come. Do we think that lends credence to the idea that she did actually read Harris's manuscript? I'm still on the fence there, folks. But she says in here that she feels like she understands where people are coming from.
She feels she has been where they are at, she wants to help. Nevermind that I don't think it's really a very helpful perspective to insist you know where someone is coming from, and that I think that other people are experts in their own experience. This is always an issue.
But there's a fascinating sort of concern here. She says she's worried her responses are coming across too harshly, too cut and dried, that basically it is sounding too easy. That she knows people think she has no sympathy or is just naturally "the strong type."
She says specifically that she has overheard people saying these things, in bookstores or on college campuses after having given a talk. "I thought that if I put these things into a book they would not seem so cut and dried as they must in a one page letter. Perhaps...
I must tell enough of my own story to serve as evidence that I've been there. Could I tell it without stickiness? Without seeming to be at too many removes from people whose vocabulary is different, but whose cries wake clear echoes of my own? I hope I can. But in order...
to do that I must run the risk of indecent exposure. I must put in my own cries and some of Jim's, my own weaknesses, my falterings-not by any means all (if you knew how much I've left out!) but some samples."
That's a long section, but I find it kind of genuinely heartbreaking.
I think for a lot of reasons. I think because all of us raised as women folk are taught that the only way that we can ever be taken seriously is if we parade the most painful parts of ourselves, our trauma, our insecurities, whatever it may be. Then maybe they'll listen.
Because I have now read HUNDREDS OF PAGES of Dr. Dobson and he has shared so little of himself really. I've read between the lines as best I can, y'all know I've tried. But it's so clear that he has never felt the need to bare his soul to try to prove he cares. Or to care at all.
I think because if it was a Christian man sending back a letter to every single person who wrote him questions about love, people would not be saying that he was too harsh or lacking in sympathy. And he wouldn't be agonizing over it if they did, because he's not taught to.
I think because it is clear that she is intelligent and interested and these are the ones that get me the most, really. Because you KNOW there's an alternate universe somewhere where they're good people. You KNOW that they had the capacity, that everything went the wrong way.
I think it's because, and maybe I'm naive, but in that paragraph I resonate with what she's saying. She thinks she has The Thing that will help people and she thinks that SHE IS FAILING to convey it properly because she's too strong or opinionated. Who hasn't been there.
So she'll tell us about her first love story. A love story that I can only assume has never been allowed to really belong to her at all, because it has always had to belong to god. And now she has to repackage it differently in the hopes it'll be enough. Fuck Evangelicalism.
It's going to include journals and letters and all of the things. She says it is "a book about virginity. It is possible to love passionately and to stay out of bed. I know. We did it."
I mean. I would never argue with that. Of course it is. It doesn't mean you HAVE TO.
She assures her readers that if you're not a virgin it's okay. God is a god of fresh starts and new births, blah, blah. "I want to write to them to say that there is no purity in any of us apart from the blood of Jesus." As the kid who was branded by 15, this is nonsense.
Like sure, everyone TALKED about the idea of "secondary virginity" or whatever but everyone KNEW IT WAS NOT AS GOOD. Like that was the whole thing. And yes, people talked about all sin being equal but in the same breath they would talk about how sex was the most destructive.
She says "the love life of a Christian is a crucial battleground" and how it's there that you really get to find out whether god is god in your life. Ugh, idk why EVERYTHING in Christianity is a war metaphor but I hate it and it's gross. Your kids, your romance, everything.
She's been lucky enough to have three chances to practice. Her first husband Jim, her second Addison died of cancer, and her current husband Lars. "Lars has lasted nearly 6 years, which is longer than either Jim or Add, so he says he is the 'frontrunner.' May he outrun me!"
Again, I find that both cute and poignant and I also cannot imagine losing two partners in your life and marrying a third time. That is a level of... idk what. Optimism? Openness? That I cannot be sure that I would have.
Either way, we only get to hear about Jim in this book.
She gives a timeline, which I am not going to go through. I assume we will go through most of this in the actual book. The only super notable thing I will say at this point is that it REALLY was not very long. A couple years. Also a daughter was born the year before he died.
I was going to do the first two chapters also, but I think that I will actually stop here. This has taken more time than I expected it to, I'm still getting used to what the pace of writing on this will be. It may actually take me longer to work through her very small chapters.
I'm excited though. Please comment, QT, DM me if you want to process, etc. I'm always thrilled by any and all engagement that I get. I'm hoping to do another thread next week, although I will be with @Ivefledged so I may be a bit too distracted. Soon though! I love you all. <3
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