.            ★.        . blessfrey.me ..          ☆        .

Church Hurt: Is Your Speck Someone Else's Log?

I read my Bible and prayed and all, but I never felt comfortable at church in my teens. I grew up immersed in the church since I was a baby, so I passively accepted everything that happened there as a normal part of church, good or bad. Was my church's culture based on the Bible, though?

Reader Advisory - I'll keep it PG-13, but I'll cover how sex was discussed at my childhood church.


It's too private a subject for me, but it sure wasn't for anyone else in youth group!

To my church's credit, their children's curriculum seems better than some of my friends' in its willingness to cover all the Bible stories, including Tamar and Amnon, Elijah versus Jezebel's prophets, and other high intensity stories.

However, whenever I aged out of that curriculum, I stopped wanting to go back to church. My classmates in youth group were so disrespectful that most classes were spent fighting. They would run around the class, hide, and make a mess, and the teacher couldn't control them for long enough to start the lesson. I told my parents about it, but they didn't believe me, and I guess the preacher or anyone else in charge never found out how chaotic my class was, either. When we did have a small enough group to control, we discussed sexual purity. Surely we covered other things at some point, but I honestly don't remember.

I only got to attend one Bible conference with my church, and of course it ended up being sexual purity talk for a full weekend!

Even in high school, I had crushes but wasn't ready to date or do that with boys yet. I definitely struggled with other sins so much more, yet they never came up - temptations like gossip, disrespecting my parents, piracy, academic dishonesty, and other super common teen stuff.

From our lessons, you'd think sex is the only problem in the world. It was isolating being constantly told that a "normal" person always has sex on their mind. Every little thing a "normal" girl does is exclusively to attract boys.

So what? I'm not normal? Am I an alien? And to be "normal," I have to be creepily obsessed with sex at all times? I felt like I didn't belong in church at all.

Then randomly I found the term 'asexual' online around 2010 (age 15). It was a relief to know such a label existed, and that I wasn't alone. There really are people out there who are comfortably celibate. Some people who identify as asexuals even think it's pretty disturbing to be as obsessed with sex as my youth group lessons were! Maybe I am normal after all, at least within this context.

But that label also destroyed basically any point to being at Sunday School at all anymore. I related much more to asexuals than the youth group at church, and I was sure I never would want to be like them! So why did I have to listen to all that anti-sex talk? It was a waste of time.

So I quit.

I started volunteering in the church library instead during that time. Cleaning, reshelving, and reading to the little kids gave me a much greater sense of belonging and purpose. I got to spend a lot of time with the books, too, so I read tons of Christian classics and illustrated Bible stories. So much better!

Oversexualized environments were normal for me anyway

As a high schooler, I wasn't experienced enough yet to really tell the difference between annoying and alarming. I grew up in this church but I also grew up privately reading my Bible and praying. I have been immersed in both church culture and the Word my whole life. I never really separated the two in my head until around high school.

Classmates would come in every other week with "I'm not of any denomination because Jesus is a relationship, not a religion" or "being Christian is the true way to rebel in society" or "I have to walk the walk in order to be the only Jesus other people may ever see." I could tell they were parroting whatever the latest church meme hit Facebook rather than reflecting upon a direct teaching of the Apostle Paul or whatever. But even if I was starting to define my own beliefs, I still lacked the life experience to discern whether my Youth Group was appropriate or grounded in the Bible.

That is probably okay for people who have parents who look out for you, but I never had that umbrella. In fact, my parents were very pushy about me starting sex as early as possible, so I was pushed into a lot of intensely uncomfortable situations as a kid. (I stayed a virgin.) That was what was normal for me, though, so I didn't run to an authority whenever adults told me all the kinky things I would totally be into when I grow up. (Cringe...!!!) I didn't realize how bad that was. I just considered it an annoying part of dealing with adults.

Going back to Youth Group with all the knowledge I have now

I'm plenty experienced now, though! When I see this again, I'm ready. And the Youtube algorithm put it right in my face.

The Youtube rabbit hole drudged up a video about Christian influencers who succumbed to greed. The only Christian "influencer" I watched was Blimey Cow's Messy Mondays back in the day, so I was curious what the genre's like now. (To be clear, I've done zero fact-checking on Cruel World Happy Mind's presentation nor know anything about her or Girl Defined. I'm only discussing the narrative of the video, so give benefit of the doubt to both parties. It's just a random Youtube video.)

The video started out pretty disappointing, apparently about a family perpetuating a conservative cult of some kind rather than the Southern Baptist culture I grew up with. CWHM even suggested there could be some link to Nazism's aversion to race mixing in their philosophy of sexual purity. As the video went on, though, it became concerningly nostalgic!

In the clips, the Girl Defined sisters only shared a contextless Bible verse here or there about sexual purity or submitting to parents' authority then would lecture to their teen audience about avoiding sex, dressing modestly, and the glamour of marriage. They even ran a church conference similar to the one I attended, all about sexual purity. It was like a window into my old youth group.

And it weirded me out! Sexual immorality, impurity, and sensuality are listed as works of the flesh in Galatians 5, sure, but there's 12 other sins to preach against and things like them. For adults to obsess over that topic when talking to teen girls is strange to say the least. I can't believe our parents objected to the topic, either to its exclusivity or the potentially creepy intentions behind it. If I was a parent, I think I would at least need a vibe check on that Sunday School teacher.

Worse, unlike Girl Defined, sex was presented in my Sunday School as universally wrong and shameful. This was drilled into my head so firmly that the mere concept of a married couple buying a condom (because of chemo or whatever) seemed equally as shameful as going into a brothel. CWHM claims this kind of education can produce effects similar to PTSD, and though I'd hate to belittle such a serious condition, I definitely had severe scars that lasted into my late 20s.

CWHM later mentions Bill Gothard and shows clips of the Girl Defined sisters recalling growing up with his conferences. She also points out the accusations of sexual misconduct against him. ChatGPT 3.5 agrees with CWHM's presentation of him as a major figure of fundamental Christianity pushing ideas like sexual purity for young girls, submission to parents, and homeschool. Wrecked's video on him further presents him as sharing very little of the Word during his sermons. (Once again, I really don't know anything about Bill Gothard or these Youtubers, so let's give the real people the benefit of the doubt. But as a narrative, this was extremely eye-opening!)

Bill Gothard's tenets are interesting! They are all things people at churches talk about frequently. I know a million homeschooled church kids and have heard a million arguments against public school from church friends. I have definitely heard sermons on having a huge family to counteract Muslim birthrates, too (lol). And wow have I heard all about sexual purity. They may have been hot topics at my church growing up, but as an adult, I can tell you those aren't the things most frequently mentioned in the Bible. Sexual morality is mentioned so infrequently that some even claim homosexuality is compatible with Jesus' teachings! (It's not.)

When I read the Bible, I see an emphasis on union with God, charity, forgiveness, not judging others or revering legalism, thanksgiving, and so on. It's so obvious now. Church culture is not just taking parts of the Bible and making them more marketable like reimagining Paul's "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ" as a WWJD bracelet -- it's disconnected! The sharp divorce between topics emphasized by people in the church and topics emphasized by the Bible is so obvious to me now. I can only speak to my experience and I won't deny all the true saints I've met in churches, but it's a fact that most so-called Christians do not read the Bible and think immersion in church culture is the same thing.

I'm going to strawman the kind of ideology that my teen Sunday School and Bill Gothard represent and guess these kind of curriculums don't begin during a reading of Scripture. I bet they start with "sex is bad," jump to a couple of confirmational verses in their topical Bible, add some personal stories, and call it a day. Even if they happen upon a topic that is obviously biblical like abstaining from sex before marriage, their methodology is still wrong! Eisegesis is when you ignore the context of a verse and inject your own ideas into Scripture, which is a shallow and risky method of Bible training, but that's what you're doing when you lead with your own idea and incorporate the Bible as mere theming.

That has to be what is going on when so little Bible is read and such specific but relatively less emphasized topics are obsessed over.

I'm also going to strawman the reason for their fixation on the topic. Pestering Chat-GPT3.5 on this and that about fundamental Christianity, he gave Bill Gothard and Jerry Falwell, Sr., (the founder of Liberty University, a school several of my friends attended) as having had sexual misconduct. Chat-GPT3.5's knowledge is flawed, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, especially since the Me Too movement has demonstrated that not all accusations are honest.

I do, however, know the people I was under as a teen. Some adults definitely had creepy interactions with teenaged me, telling me about their underaged pregnancy fetishes, getting angry if I wouldn't dress in skimpy clothes, and condoning whenever my boyfriend groped my chest and punishing me if I didn't want to be touched like that. That's probably TMI, but I don't want it to sound either worse than it was or like it was nothing through vaguities. My school counselor told me my parents still love me even if they do that to me, my teachers told me not to rock the boat, and no one else listened, but I just don't think Sunday School teachers and parents should ever sexualize kids!

Isn't this a lot like that part in the Sermon on the Mount?

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you 
	pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured 
	to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice 
	the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me 
	take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You 
	hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to 
	take the speck out of your brother's eye.

	“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they 
	trample them underfoot and turn to attack you." (Matthew 7:1-6)

Stressing sexual purity to a bunch of Youth Group girls who never, as far as I know, acted on sexual temptation, while acting inappropriately yourself? That's judging specks while you have a log of your own.

Not being a hypocrite is a strong theme in Christ's teachings, and this is exactly why. In the case of public accusations made against church figures (Catholic priest misconduct is a mainstream media favorite), it hurts the image of the church, and in the case of girls like me, it wastes time that could be spent Bible training or serving and drives us away from the church.

Sometimes I watch "anti-haulers" on Youtube, girls who produce "anti-consumeristic" content by reviewing shopping catalogues and pointing out all the products you shouldn't buy. Some even go into Target and film all the cute products they will not be buying and why. They inevitably shop way more often and have way more products in their house than me, despite my pretty neutral stance on consumerism. If you were a wild conspiracy theorist, you could say these girls are being insidious, claiming to be anti-consumerism, but actually feeding you the same catalogue that a pro-consumerism channel would have.

Personally, I think they are just funny girls who are obsessed with shopping. I seriously doubt any have ulterior motives like that.

But what if a Sunday School teacher is obsessed with sexual purity? While all the while talking about nothing but sex and how you should not have it. I think it's fair to be a little suspicious of someone like that and question the curriculum at least!

I know this is the most awkward diary ever, but know where your beliefs come from!

As a takeaway, make sure you read and read and re-read your Bible and never tacitly accept the words of a preacher or Sunday School teacher or parent. Even if they seem like good Christians, getting the Cliff Notes from sermons and church friends is no replacement for a personal knowledge of Scripture. You just can't trust the church. Even if they mean well, they get it wrong sometimes. And besides, it's such a flimsy way to live. Christian stuff or not, always do your research by going to the source.

Some people don't even mean well, though. I don't really know how to deal with those sorts of people. I really don't. It just seems like so many from the older generations from my childhood think it's okay to candidly talk about weird fetishes and porn and sexual thoughts to children, and it seems like the other older people see nothing wrong with that activity, even if they don't treat kids that way themselves.

Then on the other hand, I don't know anyone my age who would ever treat kids that way. Everyone either hates kids and would never be anywhere near them to begin with (lol) or has a healthy respect for nurturing and teaching kids in the community. I just have never been a part of any conversation wheere someone my age was getting any kind of sexual gratification from a child. I don't even know how I would react, honestly, because I've just never seen that happen since I moved out of my parents' house. Even my new friends' parents don't act that way around teenagers.

Hopefully it's just a generational thing, or maybe now that I'm an adult, I choose healthier communities. It's not like I'm 100% free from the creepy adults from my childhood, though.

These people still work with kids at Sunday School at my old church. Should I tell their new pastor? It's the kind of thing that ruin people's lives, but it's also the kind of thing that can really scar kids. I hope they still don't act that way, but do people really ever change? What do I do? Especially if they really did change without my knowledge, it's not like they shouldn't deserve forgiveness. But professional forgiveness would be up to the preacher or children's minister or whoever, especially when vulnerable people like children are involved. I just don't know...It's so awkward and awful. And honestly, over a decade later, kind of random.

If I were to have kids, would I have to completely deny them any chance of knowing their grandparents or old family friends? Would I have to monitor every second of interaction to ensure nothing inappropriate happens? It seems really harsh and cruel and damaging in its own way to demonstrate a severe lack of trust in family or to even deny contact to extended family members, but I really don't trust them not to inappropriately touch my children. I don't want any kid to relive my confusion.

It's just hard. I don't know how better to resolve it than to just acknowledge how messy and unfortunate it is.

Anyway, forgive me for being TMI, but thanks for reading.