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.