If there is anything I have very, very vivid memories of, it’s youth group at either church we attended.
I was a loser, no getting around it. I wasn’t good looking, and my parents weren’t helping that fact. I had big ears, gapped teeth, and a gangly frame. Being Italian, I also was rocking a pretty serious uni-brow and some hairy legs and arms, not to mention more manly sideburns than my dad. I wasn’t allowed to shave, so that compounded with my already goofy face and ultra conservative dress code, I was an easy target for the Abercrombie wearing “cool kids” at my public school…some the same kids who attended my youth group. I never really wanted to go; it was like school all over again. If I did want to go, it was only to escape the unrest at my house or babysitting my siblings. But, no matter my attitude about it that day, off to youth group I went.
At both churches, it was held in the basement, decked out almost like a hip teen underworld beneath the stuffy adult church above. Jars of Clay and other Christian music posters papered the walls, in addition to ones bearing bible verses in bright colors and crazy fonts. The sofas were big and plush, facing a stage where the praise band played.
I’d like to preface the rest of this story by saying that the youth leader was a nice younger man, who to this day I still feel to be very well-intentioned and kind hearted. He was a good friend of my family and was very compassionate to me. I feel the things we were taught (and he probably still teaches) are, in his mind and heart, the will of God and in the best interest of the kids in his charge.
It was a night not unlike every other night. All the kids had arrived early to mingle with each other, having snacks and listening to music before the lessons began. I opted to stand in a corner and eat my Cheetos by myself as to avoid any stares or snickers. Occasionally I’d try striking up a conversation with someone (usually an adult) but would typically decide isolating myself was a better choice. After sitting down, we opened with prayer and a praise song or two. We then began a talk on modesty and “waiting until marriage.”
In my house, the “sex talk” consisted of my dad telling me if he ever caught me having sex he’d kill me where I stood, so while I didn’t know the exact mechanics, I knew it was best avoided. The youth pastor went on to tell us about how every time we had sex with, kissed, or even had impure thoughts about someone of the opposite sex, we were committing adultery in the eyes of God and were giving away pieces of our heart we could never get back. He went on to say that if you were to commit such indiscretion, you would be setting your marriage up for failure in the future, as God had intended your virginity for your spouse and that if you waited your wedding night would be blessed by God and be pretty much magical and perfect.
I looked skeptically at the kids around me all nodding along angelically. I may not have had any friends, but in our small school I was pretty aware of who was doing what (or whom) and I knew there were many regular offenders sitting around me. His words must have “touched” some of them, as I noticed a few heads start to look to their laps. I figured I was free and clear, seeing as how no one spoke to me, much less sought me out for sin.
The pastor, continuing his lesson, then went on to tell us how it was our (the girls) job was sisters in Christ to keep our brothers from stumbling. Flirting or dressing impurely would cause the boys to sin and we would have to answer to that before God. My 14-year old head immediately called “bullshit”, but I continued to listen intently, as I wanted to avoid God’s wrath at all costs.
At the end of his lesson, we were told a woman would be coming to speak to us about impurity the next week. “Great,” I thought, “Because this round has been such a joy.” He also mentioned something about a silver ring, but I had mentally checked out around the warning about leading boys astray, so I missed it.
Fast-forward one week and I was back on the same couch (this time arranged in a circle) with a good-looking, middle aged woman seated in the middle. She introduced herself and told us she was there to give her “testimony”. It was all downhill from there: pretty much from the onset, she was getting emotional. She had sex with a few guys in high school and college, one instance resulting in a pregnancy that she had an abortion to terminate. Crying heavily, she told us how she went on to become a model and struggled with some addiction issues before finding God and a wonderful, compassionate husband who could love her despite her past sexual encounters. By the time she was done, many of the girls were sobbing right along with her and wanting to be prayed for. The entire thing was thoroughly disturbing and I wondered why it wasn’t having the same effect on me, I just wanted to get the hell out of there. Before we left, we were told we would be attending Silver Ring Thing in the coming weeks. Something about “purity” and “Christian bands” and “making a pledge.”
We took the church vans to Silver Ring Thing, a caravan of exuberant Jesus Freaks. The event was held in a large arena setting, complete with lights and pyrotechnics. The hip speakers did skits and the Christian bands had the teens on their feet, hands in the air, praising Jesus. The lessons from the previous weeks youth group meetings were re-iterated, this time hitting on the subject of abortion and adding that if we broke the purity pledge we would be making that night, we might as well “flush it down the toilet” because that’s what we had done with our promise to God. After taking the public pledge to essentially be asexual until Yahweh plopped a spouse in our laps, the unsaved were offered a chance to accept Jesus into their hearts, as was standard anytime 2 or more evangelicals are gathered in one place. I had done this a million times before, but did it once more just to be safe. On our way out, we signed away our sexuality at a folding table and were handed a dinky, sterling silver ring with a bible verse on it.
I was kind of ready to flush it already.
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After being baptized Roman Catholic and growing up with a Spiritualist mother, Betty Crux spent 10 years in the world of “evangelical/born-again” Christianity. Several years removed, Betty uses writing as tool, both therapeutic and informational, to sort through the experiences as well as call into question the potential long-term effects of such a belief system.
Currently without religious affiliation, Betty is working on compiling her experiences and observations into a book and blog. She also enjoys baking, painting, photography, tattoos and other “worldly” endeavors.
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce