I grew up in a fundamentalist church, so I was pretty much obligated to attend youth groups and summer Bible camps. This verse of “Teen for God” by Dar Williams sums up my experiences pretty well:
The girls have looks and the girls have rules
They came here from their Bible schools
They can make you pay attention
To the way you dress and eat
Make you trip over your own two feet and they
Kneel down on their towels at night
Their nightgowns glow with a Holy light
And we pray for the sinners
And their drunken car wrecks
And vow that I’ll never get high
And have sex
I’m a teen for God
Like most church kids, I grew up thinking that sexual feelings were inherently sinful. Of course, that didn’t stop me. My first boyfriend was from church, and he was 16 (I was 12). He drove a big yellow Cadillac and somehow my parents weren’t freaked out that I was dating someone that much older than me. They didn’t have anything to worry about though. We “dated” for nine months and never did anything more than hold hands. But I remember vividly the dance our hands would do as they’d edge closer to each other as we sat next to one another during Sunday evening services. I was heart-flutteringly aware of our bodies so close together, of how much I wanted him to hold my hand, and how sweet it felt when he finally did.
My next boyfriend was from church too. We pretty much went right to making out in the downstairs Sunday School classrooms. I remember us finding a dark corner, sneaking behind those sliding partition doors, and laying on the floor and kissing. That’s all we ever did, but we did it every week.
For all of the hormones permeating the air in that little white church, I don’t remember hearing much about sex. At least not open and honest conversations about sex. Instead, the message that sex was bad was communicated through rules forbidding us from seeing movies in the theater, listening to secular music (burn those Amy Grant tapes!) or going to school dances — because those things were seen as gateways to promiscuity.
Churches are so seldom sources of constructive dialogue about sexuality. Yes, there are some lucky folks who grow up in churches that talk candidly about sexuality and prepare young people to enjoy healthy sex lives. But for the majority of us who grew up going to church, we usually need to go through a time of sorting out fact from fiction. (Will the angels really cry if I touch myself? Does my worth as a woman really boil down to the condition of my hymen?)
The new book, Oh God, Oh God, Oh God!: Young Adults Speak Out About Sexuality and Christian Spirituality, provides a window into that sorting out process. The essays cover wide ranging topics, including purity rings, homosexuality, body image, porn, sexual abuse, infertility, parenthood, fidelity, and embodiment. I appreciated that the Co-Editors, Heather Godsey and Lara Blackwood Pickrel, acknowledge in the Introduction that although they wanted to have a broader range of voices in this collection, the contributions were mainly written by white heterosexuals. (And that’s part of the problem with conversations about sex and the church, they are dominated by white heterosexual voices.)
I don’t share the perspectives of every author, and that’s not really the point. The point, as I see it, is to share stories and ask questions. Each essay in the book is followed by a Bibliography, some Additional Resources, and Questions for Discussion and Contemplation. Questions like:
- What is your definition of pornography?
- What would happen if the church truly affirmed the God-created beauty and worth of the human body?
- What kinds of things would you include in a new sexual ethic for the church, one that both embraces the gift of sexuality and promotes seeking the image of God in our partners?
Important questions, don’t you think?
I will be giving away 6 copies of Oh God, Oh God, Oh God!: Young Adults Speak Out About Sexuality and Christian Spirituality. To win a copy, do one or more of the following:
- Leave a comment on this blog post
- Become a Fan of LivingSexuality on Facebook and post a comment on this wall post
- Tweet about this contest. Link to this blog post and include the hashtag #OhGodBook
The contest is open for a week. At 5pm on Thursday, February 18th I will pick 2 winners from blog post comments, 2 winners from Facebook, and 2 winners from Tweets. Do all three and you’ll have three chances to win.
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Here’s a pic of me from 1985, sitting on the stoop of my cabin at Spencer Lake Bible Camp in Waupaca, Wisconsin.
My most vivid memory from camp was when they would do the altar call at the end of the nightly service, and everyone who didn’t have the gift of tongues was supposed to go forward and get prayed for. So I did. But I had a hard time not being distracted by the thought of all the cute boys in the Snack Shack licking their ice cream cones and looking so kissable with their sun-loved faces.
I never did speak in tongues.
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Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of the book for review. My endorsement appears on the back cover.