Exposed in the Dark

I fell down the rabbit hole of hashtags by following #ExposeChristianSchools and read with horror about the rampant abuse, misguided Bible teaching, and control by means of isolation. I met one of these such families – I didn’t know them, only their isolation – but was too young to understand this sect of Christianity, as I had only recently encountered Jesus myself. Even in college, among public schooled Christians, the amount of misinformation out there astounded me as both a woman and a scientist.

Disclaimer: my experience as a young person in a Southern Baptist church was positive, uplifting, and has everything to do with why I am a Christian today. Although I disagree with the way the SBC handles things, nothing bad or dishonorable happened to me while in their flock.

My high school boyfriend invited me to a high school graduation party for his cousin Sarah. It was the summer of 2000.

I saw his mom’s side of the family was really Christian. While my boyfriend attended public school, his cousins were homeschooled, had no TV or internet, and lived out in the middle nowhere. I didn’t have the words for what they were, but I know now they were fundamentalists.

When we arrived at the party, Sarah was no where to be found among the many friends and relatives. She was spotted taking care of her youngest sibling, who was a toddler. Instead of someone taking charge of the child and encouraging her to greet her guests and enjoy the party in her honor, a few of the older women smiled and watched her. “This will be great practice for when she was one of her own.” I side eyed them. That’s a little weird, she was my age – a little young for kids. Or at least I was at 18, the ink still not quite dry on my own high school diploma.

I found some cake and sat by some other girls. Sarah’s friend was chatting with some other guests near by. “Ugh, we’re just waiting on him,” I heard her say. “He’ll ask when the time is right,” another reassured her.

And that’s when I opened my mouth. “Ask her what?”

“For her to marry him! They’ve been together a year already.”

My eyes bugged out. “Marriage? They just graduated high school!”

“Well, it’s all set. Her parents approved it, his parents approved it, and the pastor approved it. He just has to ask her.”

This was my first experience with culture shock and I had trouble keeping up. “Wait, the pastor approved it?” That seemed to be the weirdest sticking point for me.

“Well of course! Marriage is very serious, they couldn’t get married without the church’s permission.”

I was at a loss of words, so I drew off my own experience: “She’s not going to college?”

“No, she has someone to marry and will start a family, why would she do that?”

“I’m going to college,” I said, surprised at how weird my tone sounded. “I’m going to study biology at State University.”

“Oh. Don’t you want to get married and have kids?” It was her turn for culture shock. She made it sound like it was one or the other, like it never occurred to her you could be something else in addition to a wife and mom.

“Well, maybe someday, I think. I don’t know. I’m way too young to even think about it.” I took a big bite of cake, trying to mull over this strange conversation.

“I’m going to college at Bob Jones University,” the friend said. “At least until I meet someone.”

“And then what?”

“I’ll drop out and start a family.”

“Oh.” I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation. “What are you going to major in?”

“I have no idea. Haven’t given it much thought.”

“She’s waiting for a husband to show up,” giggled another girl. “She’s just going to college to get a husband.”

“I’m going to get an education, get myself settled, and then maybe I’ll consider a husband and kids.” There. I said it. I was a woman of the 90’s, man.

The whole lot of them gave me a blank stare. The silence was filled with more cake.

The conversation lagged after that, I was branded one of those worldly girls their mothers warned them about, I’m sure.

I debriefed my boyfriend on the strange conversation on the way home. He just nodded. “That’s how they are,” he said. None of it was weird to him. Granted, his parents didn’t own a TV either and his mom always looked like she popped out of the late 1800’s with her updo hairstyle and dresses. What was completely out of my realm was very normal to him.


In college, I went out with some of the girls from our church group for ice cream. They were all public schooled girls and most of them were at college on full academic scholarships. These ladies not only out-brained me, but they also came from loving Christ-centered families.

The conversation turned to boys and we started to discuss our future married lives. Half way through my hot fudge sundae, the conversation took a nosedive into sex. Unbeknownst to them, I was the only non-virgin at the table. I decided to sit this conversation out, less I give myself away.

“Well, when I get married, I hope he doesn’t want sex all the time, because I am not going to do that.” said one, who was the epitome of a good Christian. “Maybe a couple of times a month or something, but nothing more than that.” Another girl agreed.

As someone with a sex drive, I just blinked and stared. And then she dropped a bomb: “I mean, what’s even the point of us having sex, outside of the kids part? It’s not like we get anything out of it. It’s not like women can have an orgasm or anything.”

I set down my spoon. I couldn’t stay silent on this one, as a woman who fully enjoyed sex and was waist-deep in a science curriculum. Sexual purity is one thing, sexual ignorance is another.

“Actually, women can have orgasams,” I said matter-of-factly.

The group looked at me as if I just said the Resurrection didn’t happen. “No they can’t, that’s a myth!” she retorted back to me.

“Yes they can, and they do – there’s an entire organ for this – would you like me to explain the mechanics of it?” I was dead serious.

The group just stared at me. Some glared; in some I saw the spark of question in their eyes, as they considered the truth of my words. They knew I was scientifically minded and honest; I wonder if they researched anything on their own or if their own marriage beds are only for his pleasure. I hope they found the joy and awesomeness of their own sexuality.

Needless to say, the conversation stopped and pivoted to a less controversial topic. I was never asked to join the group for ice cream again.

It upset me that these smart women were lied to about their bodies and could possibly miss out on one of the best things about marriage. How could they have gotten so far into their education and not know how their bodies work?


Outside of the dessert theme when these situations happen in my life, I am proud to say I spoke my truth. My audience wasn’t receptive – the cognitive dissonance was too much to handle – and I accepted that.

Some Christians tend to stonewall people who are different from who they are or have differing views that contradict the truth they were told and swallowed whole without questioning. Instead of talking through it, they retreat into the shell, like a snail; if we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t happen or can’t be true.

But as for me, I keep a flashlight in my back pocket. I will shine it when it needs to be shined.

The Church on a Vent

“We should go to church on Sunday,” Ruth said to me while strolling through our old college town.

We had attended a small Southern Baptist church a short walk from campus. Even Pastor Gabe was still preaching.

When we arrived, our jaws dropped. It was a large modern church. When did that happen?! It was beautifully done. It wasn’t fancy, but it was inviting with sleek lines and neutral colors on its modern architecture.

“Holy cow!” I exclaimed.
Ruth smiled. “This warms my heart, the church is still doing well.”

One by one, they filed in: everyone was over the age of 65 and white. A few kids sprinted through the sanctuary. This Sunday was a small crowd, with about 25% of the seats taken.

An elderly lady introduced herself. She didn’t remember us, but managed to inquire about our marriage status and said something about the “young colored girl” that sometimes attends. Ah, to be in a yankee Baptist church again.

An old man walked in: Pastor Gabe! I couldn’t get over his gray hair and how much he had aged.

The service was just as I remembered: pastor’s wife at the piano and a young woman sang the old hymns. It warmed my heart. It had been a long, long time.

Looking around there were no families, no young people (except for the worship leader), no one our age, no one my husband’s age. Even more striking, there were no college students.

None.

I remember the days our crew would fill up 2 pews.

Ruth sighed heavily.

Maybe this church wasn’t as healthy as it looked from the parking lot. This was confirmed by the building fund, as they were short on the mortgage budget. Why would they built this huge building without the money? Typical American church. Build it, they will come. Debt is a normal part of ministry! A church isn’t a church without a building! We can’t do the Lord’s work without Sunday School classrooms and a 12 channel soundboard!

This is why I left. This is why I attend a church plant without a building who worries more about getting meals to people in poverty. We don’t track demographics. We don’t have a children’s program, the kids can be the hands and feet of Jesus too, alongside their parents and the brothers and sisters in Christ. Being part of the body means an almost sober homeless guy will shout Amen at the end of every song, babies will cry during the sermon, and you’ll sit next to people you don’t know. You’ll sweat in the summer and freeze in the winter. The American church with their underused air conditioned sanctuaries, dress codes, whitewashed Jesus, and fake smiles does not work for me.

I like my church how I like my coffee: strong, sweet, and made from quality ground beans – beans ground on site, not by an industrial grinder in a factory. None of this instant or Keurig business. I want the real deal or I’ll go without.

The sermon was the equivalent of serving stale cereal without milk. I didn’t even crack my Bible. Gabe cited passages and then glossed over them with uninspired words.

This church was on a ventilator. A ventilator – or a vent as we call it – is a machine that breathes for you. It keeps people alive until they are able to breathe on their own or the plug is pulled. The problem with a vent is it can be difficult to come off it. The body gets used to the machine doing all the work, and like a child who doesn’t want to pick up their toys, it can be a sluggish ordeal to return to normal breathing. The longer the vent is used, the harder it is.

This church was not breathing on its own, and not because the congregation was elderly. No local mission work, very limited community involvement (the customary detachment in a sterile and controlled environment), no bible studies, no other groups using the church other days of the week. Youth groups were gone. No meals served. No presence on campus. A flyer from a Baptist association was in the bulletin. Corporate had arrived, as another drug pushed into this church’s veins, hoping to cure what ailed them.

Ruth and I left sad, both agreeing we wouldn’t attend this church if we still lived in town.

I don’t see it changing without radical actions. This church is stuck in a hospital bed on life support, unable to do the work of Jesus in the world.

Pray for a revival, that this church will once again be a lighthouse for the community, the college, and we can all celebrate it at the Feast of the Lamb someday.