Empty The Pews: Emma's Story
What type of church did you attend at the time of your leaving?
A variation of Baptist and Evangelical Free
Did you find a new church to attend?
For the most part I've been a lukewarm Christian. While this term is usually used as an insult or as a manipulative tactic, I feel it has kept me safe from a lot of undue harm. My personality has always been one foot out the door to whatever I'm involved in, potentially a character flaw, but again it has served me.
However, there was a time where I was all in, my freshman year at my conservative evangelical university. Growing up, church was more of a social anchor than anything, but when I got to my school I met a lot of passionate people and I felt like I was truly experiencing what meant to be a Christian for the first time. I often look back on that year of my life and don't recognize myself. My normally introverted, relaxed, and thoughtful self was morphed into an obnoxious, extroverted people pleaser.
My college had daily chapel with an 80% attendance requirement. In the spring it was a theme week everyone talked about with excited giggles, eager to listen in on a hot topic. It was "Sex Week". The school brought in a couple, whose ministry was to preach about purity culture. They were well known because of their quirky purity propaganda and comedic bluntness. They did that thing where they separated the men and women. The wife, let's call her Jen, kept the young women in the chapel to talk about modesty and not succumbing to pressure, while her husband took the guys off to probably instruct them how to not masturbate or watch porn.
It was the last day of the week and the series was coming to a close. Jen concluded by saying she would leave us by reading a letter she received, written to her by a man outlining his marital problems. I'm not quite sure what he was describing, but essentially he and his wife were having issues in the bedroom because his mind was too consumed with lust for the women at his place of work. He was thanking Jen for her work in encouraging women to dress more modestly because the women he was surrounded by were not doing so. Then, in a dramatic reveal, the final sentence said he worked at our college!
The audience of a few-hundred young Christian women was overwhelmed with guilt and shame. I remember feeling it so palpably. We truly believed this man's marriage problems were our fault. Jen then began to talk about how we thought we were modest, but we needed to try harder. I remember her specifically highlighting wearing leggings and not cover your butt, and not wearing any shirts that would reveal cleavage. The saddest thing is my entire group of about ten girl friends really took it to heart. We spent the rest of the year taking trips to Goodwill to buy oversized men's flannels and t-shirts that would drape over our butts should we decide to wear leggings or tight jeans.
To wrap this up, I was finally given perspective when recounting this story to a friend as she simply replied, "Wow, that guy sounds like a massive creep". I had never even thought about it that way, but YEAH that is creepy as f*ck! As I've told this story, many have speculated the letter was fake, but that doesn't really make a difference to me. As my college experience went on I began to become the more centered, introvert I truly was and started to become incredibly frustrated by Christian culture. I look back to this as a bookmark to the beginning of my deconstruction and use it as a reference point for two things:
1. Purity culture is wack. It perpetuates this narrative that women are, at best, a man's wife, but more often these temptresses who should be ashamed of their bodies and cover them up. Evangelicalism is run by a patriarchy that is so pervasive it gave Jen a job telling girls to cater to men by any means necessary.
2. Guilt and fear are its number one fuel sources. It seems sermons have become this competition to see who can find something new to guilt people about and frame it in a creative way. I mean for heaven's sake, this woman felt the need to shame a room of 19 year-old, conservative women dressing for comfort. The parade of why you are the worst is never ending. Just when you feel good, BOOM-- "BET YOU DID THINK ABOUT HOW YOU'RE WRONG BY DOING THIS??!"
What is sad to me, is I know some of my friends reference that talk as poignantly as I do, but they still feel convicted. Shame is an incredibly powerful and disguises easily within Evangelicalism. Hey, maybe this is what "wolf disguised in sheep's clothing" means.