These days, I often find myself wondering if I’m apathetic enough to still be considered a Christian. And I have to say that given the lack of response by most professing Christians in the midst of current events, it would not appear to be so.
However, while I remain deeply burdened and grieved by how Evangelical Christians are interacting with and responding to the Pharaohs and Caesars of our time, a lifetime of involvement with American Evangelical church prevents me from being too overly surprised by it. After all, if I were to count how many versions of Jesus I’ve encountered throughout an upbringing in the church to now, they would outnumber the grains of sand. One of the most disorienting and disheartening things about habitual church involvement is bearing witness to how readily people wield the Bible as the spiritual basis on which they maintain their preconceived biases towards different people groups, as well as justify their personal perpetuation of and participation in the ignorant cultural narratives that they most prefer and benefit from. Ironically, one of the first commands Jesus gives His disciples is to deny themselves and take up their crosses and follow Him (i.e. to set about dying – Matthew 16:24) – but you would never know that through observation of the behaviors of the modern American Evangelical church.
No, instead you would learn that Jesus is just a figure who can be manipulated in accordance to your personal needs – that Jesus is not someone you worship, but someone you weaponize. You would discover that the Jesus you encounter in the pages of the Scripture is not often the same Jesus you hear being preached from the pulpit. You may find yourself, like me, start to wonder that if the version of Jesus that has been peddled from the white Evangelical pulpits for years were to face the real One, it would even recognize Him. (Which, by the way, if the study of both Scripture and history is to give us any indication, the answer is an emphatic no.)
Yes, as someone who grew up in the Evangelical church, I am thoroughly acquainted with how quickly the poor exegesis of Scripture combined with improper hermeneutics leads to misinterpretation of the text. Inevitably, this misinterpretation of the text – whether intentional or not – leads to habitual misapplication, which yields to the creation of ruling theologies derived more from the entrenched tradition and preexisting legalism in the church than a holistic consideration for the contents of the Bible. In fact, the path to creating horrific theology is actually an incredibly easy one to follow. As any one who is even mildly familiar with the Bible already knows, you can make the Bible say anything you want it to if you fixate exclusively on the passages that serve the points you want it to, while conveniently turning a blind eye towards all the rest. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s exactly what Jesus meant when He said that if your right eye causes you to sin, you’re supposed to tear it out and throw it away – but based on how most Christians interact with Scripture, you would think it was the intended application of the text. (However, the true key to the maintenance and enforcing of bad theology is in the subtleties, as I will expound upon later.)
Yes, the stone that the builders rejected remains both a cornerstone and a stumbling stone. And even today, some two thousand odd years after the Pharisees (i.e. the known religious leaders of Jesus’ day) crucified Him, the American Evangelical church is complicit in doing the same. Unfortunately, to this day it is Christians who remain one of the largest obstructions in reaching Christ.
Admittedly, I’ve been treating bad theology a bit sardonically thus far, however, in implementation, it is deadly – and I say that with no hyperbolic intent. When the Jesus most people have been taught to revere is little more than a well-dressed pile of principalities and powers in disguise, mark my words: the Christianity that results has issued the prescription for its destruction in its own handwriting – and it will inevitably implode on its own hypocrisy over time.
We are all collectively bearing witness to the inevitable implosion of the Americanized adaptation of Christianity right now. Perhaps that seems an overreaction on my part but I assure you: it is not. Over the series of the next few blog posts, I intend to systematically address the idolatry of four different Baals currently masquerading as Jesus in the church and as such are thus being worshiped accordingly.
“But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough…
And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.”
2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 12-15, emphasis mine
In light of the allegation of attempted rape that Dr. Ford brought against Brett Kavanaugh prior to him being sworn in as the 114th Supreme Court Justice, it seems only fitting that the first false Jesus we address is the one who was molded into becoming the poster boy behind sustaining purity culture – especially given that purity culture, upon closer inspection, is little more than rebranded rape culture – with the added weight of having also been spiritualized. You may think that statement is a gross exaggeration, but I’d invite you to consider this: I don’t even have to invent a circumstance against which to make that argument, as we all nationally just witnessed what comes of purity culture when it has fully matured (which, for the record, is significantly grosser than any exaggeration I could ever make, even if I wanted to.)
The Kavanaugh Allegations: A Chance to See the General in the Particular
During the last few weeks, I have had several self-proclaimed “good” men reach out to me who are confused, even shocked, by the magnitude of the visceral anger exposed in women, (including me,) as the allegations against Kavanaugh unfolded. Of course, as many women already privately know, this anger is not a new or sudden phenomenon, rather it is a latent anger that has finally boiled over after being left on simmer for far too long. The difference then, between now and the time before allegations had arisen against Kavanaugh is not the absence of anger in women but rather how audible it is. To assume otherwise is to diminish the depth and breadth of the anger a large majority of women have been shouldering – anger, I assure you, that has grown to match the depth and breadth of the problem it is directed towards.
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who chose to come forward publicly and present her story at hearing on September 27, 2018, has been both lauded as a hero and crucified as a villain. Her testimony recounts a night at a party over thirty years ago when a drunken Kavanaugh attempted to rape her in a bedroom upstairs, while his friend Mark Judge, who was also drunk at the time, watched and laughed derisively. Kavanaugh, for his part, has consistently and vehemently denied all of the allegations Ford has brought against him, as well as denying the other accusations that were brought against him later by two other women.
I’ve had many men (and even women) speak to me about this circumstance, confused by the emotional response Ford’s testimony has elicited, repeatedly making the obvious point to me that nationally, we can’t simply depend on riding the tidal waves of our emotions make judgement calls, especially judgement calls that could, in effect “ruin a man’s life.” It’s just not a sustainable way to run a government or allow for the execution of justice! Everyone should be treated as innocent until proven guilty! Making judgement calls on this basis will inevitably lead only to anarchy and chaos! (Of course, this argument, when taken alone, places a disproportionate amount of faith in the justice system through its exceedingly generous and optimistic assumption that by subscribing to the system as it currently stands, justice will ultimately prevail — in spite of the mountains of court cases indicating otherwise. But I digress.)
To be clear, the purpose of this post is not to “attack” men, or even to convince those who read it to believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against Kavanaugh. I have no interest in using this space to monopolize my readers’ time with such scandalous intentions. In fact, in order for the purpose of this post to be realized, I actually must require that those reading it cast all their doubts on Ford.
Yes, for this post to have its intended effect, we must agree to assume that Ford is nothing more than a political pawn who has come out of the woodwork to slander and villainize Kavanaugh. The story she presented is one merely contrived by someone who is being paid by the liberal left to undermine Kavanaugh, capitalizing on the already heightened social consciousness surrounding this issue fostered in by the recent #MeToo movement. We must collectively assume that Ford is nothing more than an actress, complicit in participating in a gigantic Democratic conspiracy devised to obstruct Kavanaugh from receiving the appointment as a Justice to the Supreme Court, for the obvious purpose of thwarting him from casting the decisively historic fifth vote that would finally overturn Roe vs. Wade (as Kavanaugh indicated prior to being sworn in that he intends to do.)
I do realize of course that as conspiracy theories go, this is perhaps the world’s thinnest argument for one, however, I must request that together, we suspend our disbelief. It does seem that if the Democrats were paying any attention, they would have known better and chosen a different, more fail-safe tack to sufficiently defame Kavanaugh to the point of preventing his nomination as a Justice to the SCOTUS, rather than taking the obvious gamble with this accusation. After all, if it wasn’t successful in preventing Clarence Thomas from getting appointed as a Justice to the SCOTUS in 1991 when Anita Hill spoke out against his sexual harassment of her in a workplace they had previously shared, then to attempt an identical maneuver 27 years later is the literal definition of insanity. After all, history teaches us, what’s a little experiential assault or even rape, really, especially when it occurs at the hands of a white man? I can’t tell you what it is, but I can tell you what it isn’t. Namely, it’s not something that should elicit too strong a consequence or something that you should get your panties in a wad over. Certainly, anything beyond a slap on the wrist is an absurd overreaction. After all, as Brock Turner’s father, Dan Turner, so kindly pointed out for all of our benefit while defending his son in 2016, having your life ruined over “20-minutes of action” (read: rape) seems to be a terribly “steep price to pay,” especially when you take into consideration that it occurred against the backdrop of someone’s “20 plus years of life.”
It also seems that, given the fact that our current sitting president, Donald Trump, was still elected two years ago in spite of the fact that scores of women came forward, accusing him of various degrees of sexual assault, as well as the fact that he is literally on tape bragging about “grabbin’ women by the pussy,” the Democrats would have had a tad more foresight when they launched this smear campaign against Kavanaugh. I know that if I wanted to destroy someone’s career and reputation, this is not the approach I would take to do so. After all, if I wanted to effectively enrage and mobilize we, the people, in a certain direction, this cause has simply not been historically proven as a way of adequately doing so.
But perhaps that’s neither here nor there, as the point of this post is not even to champion in defense of the Democrats. To be honest, I’m not interested in spending time on this forum in exclusively defending of the actions of either party. Both ultimately strike me as disgustingly hypocritical, and I call both to account for the immeasurable damage that has been inflicted at the hands of each. For this reason, I am registered as an Independent and retain the right to remain increasingly constructively critical of both parties. Admittedly, I have been more vocally critical of Republicans of late on my other social media platforms, but that has more to do with the fact that our current President is a Republican, and the unwavering Evangelical support it has bought him as a result, rather than personal Democratic alignment.
No, the purpose of this post is to illustrate why women were and are so incensed by the events of the last few weeks. The purpose of this post is to illustrate why, even if this were all a conspiracy theory and Ford was ultimately proven to be lying, women would still be angry about what has occurred, and why that has less to do with the legitimacy of Ford’s allegations and partisan politics and more to do with the response her allegations were met with. The purpose of this post is to draw on the recent events as an opportunity to expose a much larger cultural phenomenon that too many Americans still live in denial of, allowing these last few weeks to inform us on what truths Americans actually hold to be self-evident, and then explore what those truths mean in implementation for women, because unlike capitalism trust: they have a trickle down effect. And finally, the purpose of this post is to specifically expose the American Evangelical church, not as an enemy to rape culture, as most people faithfully believe, but rather one of its mothers.
As previously stated above, Kavanaugh vehemently denied all of the allegations brought against him – including Ford’s. Thus, anyone who still supported his nomination after Ford came forward and remained in favor of seeing him sworn in after the hearing could have, theoretically, merely pointed to his continued denial of the allegations as justification for their continued support and left it at that.
However that is not what happened.
No, instead of standing behind Kavanaugh on the basis of his continued denial, his unalienable “right” to make that choice – the right to attempt rape – was instead openly justified and protected. After all, testosterone runs high for boys in high school, one Republican voting woman reasoned.
“Tell me,” she continued, “what boy hasn’t done this in high school? Please. I would like to know.”
(Because apparently, the rate at which a crime is committed now serves as the concrete basis on which you can legitimately make an argument proving why “really, it’s not that bad.”)
Perhaps this statement initially strikes you as an outlier in the midst of other, more logically grounded discourse – the quote I’ve chosen to capitalize on out of convenience, because it most readily lends itself to building the caricature that will make my point for me. For what it’s worth, I can say with no dishonesty that I probably wish that were the case far more desperately than you do. However, I can’t afford to pretend as though this sort of statement is unique to the woman who said it. Feigning that kind of ignorance is simply far too costly. Unfortunately, this sort of irrational thinking is not unique, rather, it is as prevalent in our culture as it is toxic.
I know, because I heard it in church first.
Boys will be Boys: An Exposé on Modesty and Purity Culture
As previously noted, bad theology in implementation is deadly – and I had the unique advantage of growing up in a petri dish serving as a case study in just that. Today, this experiment is affectionately referred to as “purity culture.”
Naturally, the question that follows that statement is one of clarification: “So what exactly is purity culture?”
For my part, I wish that I could answer that question with a concise definition and provide an effective synopsis of purity culture with just a handful of statements, but unfortunately, as this is a question I’ve spent my entire adult life so far trying to answer, I’m still in the process of learning how to answer to this question myself. Thus, in my experience through my own wrestling with this question, I have found that purity culture is far too broad and nuanced to boil down to just a few statements – because, as previously mentioned, the key to enforcing and maintaining bad theology is in the subtleties: making it that much harder to recognize and therefore, unearth.
However, from the throes of the #MeToo movement, the hashtag #ChurchToo was born, which, in effect, both narrowed and broadened the conversation that was already culturally taking place, as it spoke specifically to how purity culture was implicated with rape culture, as one was not unlike the other. For me, interacting with the #ChurchToo hashtag ushered in more catharsis and healing than I can effectively express, as it served as profound affirmation of things I had long expected, but had yet to give voice to.
Thus, for the sake of having a working definition of purity culture with which to proceed forward, I’m going to borrow the words from a tweet that emerged while #ChurchToo still was trending (although unfortunately I was unable to find the tweet again to give its writer attribution):
#ChurchToo in summary: Men are in charge of everything, except their own sexual desires.
Purity culture in the church undergirds rape culture because when it trains up children “in the way they should go,” it trains up boys to accept that rape is justifiable when they are sufficiently “tempted” by the woman in question. Conveniently, the church also simultaneously fails to teach girls about consent, while also training them from a very young age to internalize shame, teaching them both explicitly and implicitly that their bodies are an inherent “temptation” to men and thus should be treated and managed as such.
I Kissed Dating Good-Bye, “Modest is Hottest,” and other Evangelical Church Sham(e)s
So, what does it mean to grow up female in an environment that lauds men as the leaders, while simultaneously purporting that they “just can’t help themselves” and any actions they may or may not take when they are sufficiently inspired to lust after women?
It means that when I was first introduced to my body, I was introduced to it as little more than a sexual object. It means that I am still trying to learn, in my mid-twenties, what it is to have and maintain a healthy and Biblically-based body image after years of internalizing shame over my body’s “inherently tempting” properties (i.e. feeling shame for the simple act of having the audacity to exist bodily in womanly form.) It means that I’ve only recently stopped interacting with my body from a place of a resentment, after having invested hours into poring over Scripture with this goal in mind. It means that I’m still in the midst of trying to identify and dismantle the lies I’ve previously unknowingly ingested and believed about myself and existing as a woman. It’s a time-consuming project, because so many lies fed to me about my body were wrapped in the guise of being “inerrant truth.”
If it sounds crazy to teach girls to interact with their bodies this way, that’s because it is. But when that’s all you’ve ever known, it doesn’t seem strange. Just about anything can pass as acceptable if its normalized widely enough.
I feel that before I proceed further it’s important to take a moment and make an important distinction in how my upbringing varies from that some others who also grew up in the church. My parents, while imperfect, still emphasized and modeled through their lives, more than their words, the importance of placing Jesus at the forefront of their decisions: ahead of any denominational disputes stemming from theological disparities as well as above personal partisan loyalties – a gift I’m profoundly grateful for, and perhaps one of the only reasons that I even remain a professing Christian today.
However, I am capable of recognizing the fact that though my parents love me deeply and were predominately well-intentioned throughout my childhood, they are still human, and as such are fallible to the limitations their humanity imposes. Thus, in spite of operating out of some of the best of intentions, my parents, like so many others, were swept up in rhetoric of the purity culture that dominated the corporate church in America at the time, without carrying the implications of what was being spoken over both boys and girls to their logical conclusion and recognizing the collateral damage this way of thinking would indubitably have as boys and girls matured.
And the existence of this obsessive behavior towards modesty and purity was as normal in the church as Baptist potlucks and clapping offbeat during worship songs. An entire industry was built to profit off this fetish-like mania, creating t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “Modest is Hottest” (but naturally only loose-fitting ones) as well as creating purity rings touting the phrase “True Love Waits” for those who wanted to wear a physical symbol indicating that they, too, had taken the “pledge” (which was given nearly the same weight as participating in the ‘salvation prayer.’)
Honestly, I purely just wanted to serve Jesus. So since I was taught that participation in purity culture was the way to do so, you’d better believe that I learned how to cite the party lines with the best of them. Interestingly, the fact that Jesus never spoke to women in a way that shamed them, nor interacted with them in a way that dehumanized them never really seemed to come up.
Growing up in the midst of purity culture means that when a man in his early fifties advised his daughter-in-law to “watch out for the busty one” (me) in relation to her husband, the problem wasn’t with the fact that a man over the age of fifty was commenting on and sexualizing the body of a girl who was barely thirteen, nor was the problem with the fact that he insinuated that I was a homewrecker who was harboring designs on a married man more than double my age and intent on breaking up a marriage before I was even out of puberty. No, instead the problem was with the thermal I had chosen to wear as a top that day (which I had ironically purchased at a Christian conference.) Had I not been repeatedly warned that it was too form fitting and left “very little to the imagination”? I should have known better. It was my own fault that I was being perceived this way.
It means that when I was first taught the story of Sampson in Sunday School, I learned that Delilah was the wily temptress that led to the downfall of this great Biblical hero, rather than the fact that Sampson was accountable for his own behavior. Imagine my surprise and chagrin when I read the story of Sampson myself in context for the first time as an adult to discover that not only is Sampson almost anything but a Biblical hero, but his marriage to Delilah was simply the final act of disobedience in a lifestyle of habitual disobedience. But sure, let’s continue to celebrate him in his astounding mediocrity and villainize Delilah.
It means that background checks weren’t done on all the leaders in the church as an intentional and preemptive way of doing the utmost to protect the vulnerable children and youth that would be entrusted into their care. The lack of doing allowed a known and registered pedophile to be appointed as a youth leader in the church I was attending right as I came of youth group age. (Fortunately, even before this was discovered by the church, my mom could sense in her gut that something was off, and so based on her gut instinct she sent us to a different youth group, effectively ensuring that my sister and I were never left alone with him. However, I shudder to think of the girls that were. Not to mention that after the church discovered this, nothing was implemented by the church leadership to prevent it from happening again.)
It means that when my shirt was unceremoniously yanked down by a friend after it had briefly rode up during my enthusiastic participation in a camp game, I felt obligated to swallow my discomfort and anger at her behavior, which felt like a betrayal of my bodily autonomy and a breach of my personal space. After all, she was just trying to help me not become a temptation. The anger I felt was probably an overreaction stemming from some ugliness in my flesh that I had yet to address. So, I undermined my own anger and discomfort with the situation and instead, felt obligated and compelled to thank her for “helping” me prevent a guy from “stumbling” over me.
It means that I grew up thinking that I had both the authority and the right to pass judgement on how other women (Christian and otherwise) chose to clothe their bodies; that I felt entitled to make concrete assumptions about a woman based solely on how she dressed. Growing up, I was scathingly judgmental towards other women as well disgustingly self-righteous – after all, I was a model female student of purity culture. To have your body distorted into little more than a sexual object intended for male consumption is to learn to see all other female bodies through that lens.
It means that when I read an article in a magazine depicting an imagined conversation between God and a teenage girl that included a complaint of getting a headache while worshiping and having to sit down before the set was complete, I wasn’t surprised when “God” answered her by saying, “My daughter, it was I who sat you down.” When she raised her arms in worship, her shirt had rode up and exposed part of her back to the boys standing in the row behind her, causing them to have trouble focusing, so obviously, “God” prioritized their discomfort and struggle and intervened by divinely providing the girl with a headache, effectively forcing her to sit down.
It means I didn’t question the advice of Joshua Harris in I Kissed Dating Good-Bye (a book that even he no longer fully supports) when he legitimately advised young men that before they pursue a relationship with a girl they find attractive, they should take a good look at her mother, as it’s a good indicator of what the girl they’re interested in will look like in about thirty years. I didn’t even question this advice when Harris then recommended that after doing so, they should ask themselves whether or not they find the mother at all attractive, or at the very least palatable to their taste, because the answer to that question should be taken into consideration as a legitimate factor when making the decision of whether or not, ultimately, they should pursue this girl.
It means that when I attended a Bible Institute for a year, I wasn’t taken aback or offended by the fact that one of the only available options listed as required independent reading for women was entitled Lady-in-Waiting. Nor was I perturbed by the fact that the only time that women were deigned worthy of publicly speaking and teaching was when the student body had been sorted into gendered groups and they were speaking exclusively to the female student body – even though men were clearly considered qualified to teach and lecture groups consisting of both men and women, as all my academic classes were taught by men. In truth, I didn’t even take notice – although the implications of this way of thinking were costly.
It means that the first time that I was assaulted and forcibly kissed while out at a bar with friends, I privately carried it in shame for months, because I anticipated that if I told someone in the church, their outrage would not be towards the man that kissed me against my will, but instead would be directed at me: “Why were you even at a bar in the first place? What were you wearing? Did you lead him on somehow?” I could not bear to be told that the blame belonged to me for having placed myself in that circumstance, rather than the man that took advantage of me when I was already mired in so much self-blame and doubt. It was better to endure it in silence than have my worst fears confirmed to me by a voice I trusted more than my own.
It means that I was able to justify and endure a horribly manipulative and emotionally abusive relationship for ten grueling months because by the time I met my ex-boyfriend, I was operating out of such a place of learned helplessness I had practically lost my voice altogether. I had become so accustomed to performing the mental gymnastics demanded of me by purity culture that it was nothing to pick up a few more dissociative tricks. When you’ve spent your entire life being indoctrinated into undermining and doubting your feelings, thoughts, and perception of your circumstances, it is incredibly easy to submit yourself to an abusive relationship. The foundation has already been laid. Finding someone willing to reinforce it for you comes as naturally as breathing underwater.
It also means that my ex-boyfriend, who was also a product of purity culture, felt more at home placing demands on how I present and maintain my body than even I ever have – although I’m the person who actually lives and exists within the body being dictated to.
It means that when I told a white, Evangelically-raised and Christian-college educated guy that growing up in the church as a female was an entirely different experience than it was for males, he responded with shock: not because other women hadn’t told him as much before, but because the women who had he didn’t deem as credible sources in the relaying of their own experience. Apparently, I was one of the few female exceptions he felt was qualified to speak on her own experience. Lucky me!
It means that when I had this conversation this past summer with another white, Evangelically-raised male, he couldn’t understand where my frustration was stemming from, because, after all, isn’t one of my primary motives behind how I dress invoking the reaction of males?
It means that when I post about my frustration on how women are subliminally and explicitly taught historically and systemically through the church that they are less than, and I cite sources to that effect, I am told that I should just “read different books,” or that I’m “overthinking it” or that, really, I should just “stick to speaking from what the Bible says exclusively” and “ignore” what other men have written about it – as if I have that luxury available to me, given the fact that I’m still sifting through the mire that these long-dead theologians created for me to clean up. (Purity culture is only the most recent emergence in the church that has a long tradition of treating women as subordinates.)
So, suffice it to say that the fact that 48% of white Evangelicals said that they believed that Kavanaugh should be confirmed even if the allegations of sexual assault brought against him were true comes as no great surprise when you’ve grown up immersed in purity culture.
They heard it in church first.