On Cornerstone…

I spent last Friday at the Christian music festival, Cornerstone, and I saw some interesting things. By interesting, I mostly mean vomit-inducing. Buzz Feed recently went to another Christian music festival, Creation, and wrote a post about their findings. I figured I’d do something similar, as someone familiar with (and highly critical of) Christian culture.

People are going to say that I’m just bitter and angry because of this post. But, you know, maybe I am a little bitter and a little angry. Maybe that’s okay, because this is the stuff that’s driving people away from the church, from Christianity, from God.

Maybe we all need to get a little bit more angry.

First of all, apparently virginity is something to brag about. As my friend Dani Kelley said, “nobody brags about sex the way that Christian virgins do.” Why do we make virginity out to be some sort of trophy that we can use to morally elevate ourselves over non-virgins? Also, what happens to this (pink–likely aimed at women) shirt when its owner gets married?

Also, the idea that not-having-sex = loving-your-future-husband is weird to me. Unless your sexual past leaves you with a child or a disease, should your sexual history even be a factor in your relationship? And even if you have a kid or a communicable disease, Christ was all about redeeming our past. I don’t remember him ever holding his holiness over the heads of others like a boy scout merit badge.

Also, I really hate the Christian tendency to terrify people out of doing _____. Specifically, in this situation, getting abortions. It’s odd to see the juxtaposition of this adorable drawing of Pikachu, and this sticker of a fetus playing the guitar (what?) with a binder filled with pictures of what I’m going to guess are bloody, chopped up fetuses. No matter what your position is on the morality of abortion, I think we can agree that women don’t get abortions because they don’t understand what abortions entail. They get abortions because they aren’t ready for a child, because they can’t afford a child, because their pregnancy is the result of rape, etc. And when you’re also selling a t-shirt that says “Virginity Rocks!,” I doubt your little binder of bloody fetuses is going to help any of those women change their minds.

Also, I’m not sure who they’re try to convince, putting this binder at a booth at a Christian music festival. Abe is sure that they’re just trying to get emotions revved up in the choir so they can sell more t-shirts. I’m inclined to believe that he’s right about that. When you’re profiting off of women’s abortions, I’m not convinced you really want to stop them.

I’m really sick of Christians demonizing Planned Parenthood. I’m sure Planned Parenthood has prevented more abortions (and it has definitely helped more women) by providing affordable birth control, prenatal health care, etc. than selling stupid, dehumanizing, condescending t-shirts at a Christian music festival ever will.

Speaking of Planned Parenthood, what is track number 8 on this band’s album trying to say? That Planned Parenthood is racist? Because we can talk about Planned Parenthood’s highly problematic and racist past. In fact, I think we need to. But we can’t ignore the good it is doing in the present in that discussion. Or is it saying that Planned Parenthood is destroying Anglos? I just don’t know.


Why do we keep pretending our favorite Bible characters were white? Abe, who is half white and half Chinese, is less white than this Samson.

I’ve heard far too many pro-life groups go to desperately great lengths to avoid talking about pregnant women in their discussions of abortion, but this group takes the cake. Let’s not talk about sex or rape or birth control. Let’s not talk about pregnant women and the economic and social pressures they face. Let’s be all cute and say that babies come from storks! Aww!

I was very angry about this campaign so I took one of their handouts, edited it, and wrote a long, passionate response about how dehumanizing and ineffective it is to ignore women when talking about abortion. I posted it outside of the exhibition building. I wonder how long it stayed there…

I have a whole post that needs to be written about the first button. I spent years hiding my anger because anger was one of those “bad” emotions that needed to be hid (unless you were a man–then you could have righteous anger. It doesn’t seem like women are even afforded this concession). When I finally went to counseling, I learned that expressing anger in productive ways can actually be healthy. But, I think productive, healthy anger is really what Christians are afraid of. They’re afraid of anger that forces them to rethink what they’re doing. They’re afraid of anger that cuts through their preconceived worldviews and threatens their fragile, protective bubbles. They’re afraid of the anger that leads to change and they use catchy phrases like this to neuter it.

The second button…I mean…I…I’m not even going to start on this.

Finally, there’s this. Unborn children? Precious cargo. Born children, or parts of adults that retain child-likeness? They need to be beaten into submission.

That’s all I have to say right now. Cornerstone reminded me of why I left church and why, despite all the good churches I’ve found since leaving, I’ve had so much trouble going back.

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  • I’m one letter short of danger right now. I left the Assemblies of God church at 18, about 20 years ago. My teenage cousin’s going through issues similar to mine. While the church’s response to my bisexuality and loving another girl were the things that drove me out, I also hated how they literally demonized science, suspected any and all music that younger people liked, acted like real women don’t actually want sex, and treated any “negative” emotion as a sign of ungodliness. (Nevermind that the pastors seemed angry all the time; nevermind that if there was a God, wouldn’t He have hardwired us with those emotions?) It’s upsetting to me that conservative Protestant churches and parachurch activities don’t seem to have changed very much.

    I still have a bit of a gag reflex when it comes to Christianity, and I *hate* that. I *know* that the noisy version of Christianity I learned isn’t the only one. But they’re so insistent that they’re the realest! These pictures show why my gag reflex never entirely went away.

    Oh, and how was the music? 😉

  • Hi Sarah, not sure how I found your blog, but you definitely are a thought-provoking writer. I am still committed to the church, though it is always in transition and always hurting people, because it is made up of people who are still so enmeshed in our sin. I hope that your anger can be directed well and you can provide a needed critique to those who need a slap sort of wake-up call. Although I don’t agree with everything you write, thank you for your critiques of Christianity. We must be pushed to address various issues.

    I’m opposed to abortion, however, I don’t think much of what the conservative Christians do on that front is kind, loving, or good. Not sure if you’ve heard of Feminists for Life–non-religious group that does really respectful, thoughtful work. Worth checking out (much more than savethestorks, which I just wasted a few minutes I’ll never get back, which was weird and problematic). Thanks, Sarah.

    • smrnda

      First, I’m not a Christian. I hear all the time that the church ends up hurting people because (the explanation usually given) it’s full of people who are still in sin. The problem I see with that is that when I look at my group of secular, humanist friends and acquaintances, I don’t see us hurting each other or other people the same way or to the same degree. Part of the difference is people do incredibly mean things because it’s meant for people’s ‘spiritual good’ and can be defended for that reason.

      I remember feeling really violated by my experiences with Christians. They pretended to be nice but they were clearly trying to get me to divulge really personal things really quickly; I tend to be a pretty private person but the level to which they want you to tell all your personal business – and the degree that they want you to be open to ‘feedback’ and ‘admonition’ and ‘exhortation’ (whatever the buzzword) makes me think it’s all about power and control.

  • I occasionally browse the “Christianity” tag on WordPress and fall into a deep funk and have to question why I still care about the church at all. Thankfully your post saved me from that fate today.

  • Thank God for Wild Goose!

    • I really need to make it to the next one.

    • This was my first Christian music festival. My second may have to be Wild Goose 😛

      • I hope to go to Wild Goose next year. I’m already saving money up for it. Unless, of course, they want me to speak there. Hint hint, wink wink, if anyone from Wild Goose is reading.

  • I understand this frustration. The virginity idolatry and cutesy-pie pro life stuff is totally creepy. The “thirteen and older only” warning is just a disgusting taunt. I remember in my early teens, Rock for Life would publish blacklists of musicians that contribute to organizations that may support pro-choice causes. Of course, many of the musicians that were to be boycotted were involved in more humanitarian relief than their safe, pro-life, Rock-for-Life-approved counterparts. I wonder how many crappy Christian bands put their names on the “approved” list just for the easy, free exposure. I know I (and my parents) bought into it back then.

    The bumper sticker paradox is also confusing and creepy. I did find an interesting articleon JPUSA’s strange history of “spanking the inner child”. Way creepy.

    But, all that aside, what were the good things about Cornerstone? I know there are some really great folks and bands involved with that scene too. 🙂

    • Honestly, I don’t know much about the christian music scene (I went with my fiance who is more into that music than I am) and only knew one of the bands there. Abe says the quality of music wasn’t as good as it normally is because they ran out of money this year, but we heard some pretty good stuff!

  • Anonymous

    Ugh. Just ugh. That whole event strikes me as shallow, boastful, and sensationalizing.

  • Hmmm. I was twice-divorced (with two kids) and my wife was not a virgin when we met. Nor were we either “christian” in our approach to each other, nor chaste. But we’ve been together for more than 24 years now. I’ll take what we have over whatever “ideal” is being promoted.

  • I agree with you on a lot of this. The whole bumper-sticker concept only goes so far, and the older I get the less I’m impressed by any such “witty” sayings.

    But I’m a bit confused about this line: “When you’re profiting off of women’s abortions, I’m not convinced you really want to stop them.” This is one of the classic arguments that people against Planned Parenthood use to argue that Planned Parenthood shouldn’t be trusted, etc. I’d argue that Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions and gets paid for them, profits immeasurably more from abortions than the people selling the anti-abortion T-shirts do, all the rest of it aside.

    • Good point. Personally, I’m not comfortable capitalism in the medical industry for this reason. But I think there’s a difference between a health center providing services and getting paid for those services and an activist group who use a serious situation to make a few bucks off t-shirts. I’m sure there are pro-choice groups that do the same, and I’d probably be skeptical about that too.

    • also, this post was written hurriedly and was sort of stream-of-consciousness, so sorry if I was unclear. I wasn’t really trying to say that anyone who profits off of abortion doesn’t want to stop it. I think what I really meant was that they didn’t seem interested in finding real solutions to abortion, kind of like Susan G. Komen seems more interested in making pink kitchen supplies than curing cancer since that’s where all their money goes. My point was more “if I wanted to donate money that would help stop abortion, I wouldn’t give it to these people” and not really “these people want abortions to keep happening so they make more money!” Sorry for the lack of clarity!

  • Anger is one letter short of angel.
    Dwell on that!

    *Drops the garddammed mic*

  • Thanks for this. I was about to publish a sarky blog with tips on ‘Fitting In With Evangelical Christian Sub-Culture’ but then chickened out. Maybe I will publish it after all…:)

  • djadkins

    I understand your frustration and agree with most of the anger in this post. However, I’m wondering if you ventured into any of the speaker sessions that usually happen in the morning or browsed some of the “alternative lifestyle” tents/spaces in Cornerstone (I’m thinking particularly of the goth tent or the anarchist leaning groups/individuals)? I’ve only been once, but I know that for all the crap in the vendor tents and sites, there have been spaces in the past where Cornerstone has offered a space and voice to more “edgy” and “progressive” areas of Christianity.

    That said, there is definitely the bad marketing side as a result of needing to make money. From what my friends who have attended multiple years have told me, Cornerstone had devloved into a sad, sad form of what it once was.

  • Sam

    I think you are a little too angry over virginity…but otherwise I thought the post had some good ideas.

    What’s wrong with people being proud of being virgins? You said, “So what, now we’re supposedly bragging about virginity?” As if it were something to be ashamed of. People can be proud to be gay or lesbian, proud to be asexual, proud to be pro-choice, proud to be anything it seems except a virgin (in this case). All of those things are good to be proud of, but it’s also good to be proud of being a virgin. If that’s what and who you are, no one should feel shamed for that.

    • The problem is, in Christian culture’s context, being a virgin before marriage is the ONLY acceptable path. It’s the only thing worth pride. The idea that virginity rocks is juxtaposed against an unspoken belief that non-virginity is something to be ashamed of.

      • smrnda

        Isn’t, for a Christian, bragging about virginity making a bigger deal out of one’s own righteousness than in God’s grace?

        • KellyMarie

          Though i would have NEVER worn that rediculous shirt, i do remember how tuff high school friends/non friends were on me for being a virgin and desiring to keep it that way until marriage. I didnt brag about it but big shock, high schoolers talk about sex A LOT. When people would ask, id tell. There did come a time when i had a choice to be embarrased for my belief that def put me in the minority and became the puncline of many jokes at my expence or be proud and unmoved. Not bc of my own “righteousness” but bc i had faith Gods plan was better then societys. My girlfriends still felt comfortable to share their sex stories with me so obviously they didnt feel judged, they just knew what i believed. Being a victim of rape, a widower, or divorced is a totaly different story. I dont know many christians who wouldnt have compassion on a rape victim but i know many who may be unintentionaly insensitive. i hope i have never done that.

  • Sam

    That makes sense, I have to agree.

  • If you’re looking for genuine Christianity, a Christian festival might be one of the worst places to go. These are organized by marketers who become gate keepers and many don’t have good taste or pure intentions. They’re just looking for what will sell, and what sells is fear based, inflammatory kitsch. It bothers me greatly that they become the public face of my faith, and they sure don’t speak for me.
    In with all the junk, there was probably something beautiful thoughtful and authentic, because Jesus is that way.
    Once I let the” junk” steal my faith because I allowed that to blend in with Jesus. Thankfully, He came and rescued me, and I came back to Him, and yes, even the church. But I walk cautiously.
    Is there wisdom in not being led by anger? Yes, but anger can be a wonderful tool. Is it good to remain a virgin until marriage? Of course, but it shouldn’t used as a weapon in a cultural war.
    Good observations Sarah. Keep humbly looking for the true and nobel.

  • Sarah, I’m sorry but often I feel you do write from bitterness and anger, and your evil empire is the evangelical subculture. Did you ever talk to anyone there? Get to know them? Hear their stories? I find that progressive Christians are willing to give grace to just about everyone except an evangelical.

    If the goal is to find things to hate, then yes, the evangelical church and its offspring (like the Christian music festival) is full of prime targets. But if the goal is to understand, to seek allies and to find agreement, I think you’d be surprised how different this blog post might have been.

    As a twenty-something who grew up in the heart of Texas conservative evangelicalism, I can assure you I’ve seen plenty to roll my eyes at. And I have rolled my eyes. But if we boil away the surface differences and seek to understand out of a heart of love, humility, grace and forgiveness, there’s quite a bit of unity to be found…even with those we openly disagree with.

    Keep up the good work, and don’t ever stop writing.

    • “Did you ever talk to anyone there? Get to know them? Hear their stories?”

      I grew up in the church, so, yes, yes I have.

    • I don’t think the GOAL is to find things to hate. One of the problems for me with the sub-culture (and much of the culture itself) is that absurdity just jumps out from behind every tree, no matter what you are looking for.

  • Fascinating post. I went to Cornerstone every year through about 2000. I was so sad to hear of its demise. When I was going every summer I was a youth pastor in a pretty conservative church. The environment there felt so liberating compared to where I came from and I remember I never wanted to go back to work! But now I have moved much further down the progressive road and it never occurred to me that perhaps even Cornerstone might feel way too stifled. I certainly shared most of your reactions to the trinkets you found there and I too have always hated the sub-culture.

    I find myself torn though. Though I hate the sub-culture (Christian radio station, bookstores, clothing, etc.), some of the writers and musicians that have had the deepest effect on my life were purchased in those very places. As a writer myself, I don’t care where my book ends up, as long as it can reach people and challenge them to think in new ways. Any thoughts on this?

    • I know exactly what you mean! I used to spend hours in my Christian college’s Tree of Life bookstore, and the Christian “blogophere” really changed my life for the better. Also, Five Iron Frenzy and Relient K saved my life.

  • So… just having read this… I have to say that your thoughts in the beginning about virginity and christian t-shirts etc… about all of that really struck a chord with me. About 4 years I left my former conservative Christian background on a sort of spiritual sabbatical. I was tired of fighting against the current on everything that I had ever believed that Jesus stood for. Along the way I began to see even more issues with what I had previously staked my entire existence on. One of those issues was sexuality and Christianity. I had done a damn good job of censoring and quenching any sexual feeling I had. It was only after I had been away from that and took a good hard look at things that I realized it’s not as black and white as all of this… and yes, I did look at my virginity as something that made me better than other people…

    Recently, I completed the Catholic Pre-Cana marriage counseling thingy that they require of all couples marrying in the Catholic Church. It brought up a lot of very suppressed and difficult to stomach issues in my relationship with my fiance. Many of those things, I have found to be pure poison and a constant psychological battle. They always talked about how everything you did with someone else sexually before you were married was a sin against your future spouse. I took that to heart and, as I said above, quenched any desire to be a sexual being. My fiance did not… and lived a typical american boy’s life. While he regrets what he did, he regrets it because the people that he was in relationships with were shallow and didn’t really understand what it meant to actually love another human being (you know the self-sacrifice yadayada part of ) Then when I met my fiance I discovered that we are designed to be sexual beings and that what I had been taught only caused me severe psychological damage and the inability to react appropriately to appropriate feelings and actions (not going to go into detail lol).

    I still have friends in that culture. And I don’t understand them. I find that most of them have either “messed up” because they could no longer control the “temptations” or they, like me, have a really hard time expressing and allowing themselves to actually feel very natural and God-given desires.

    All that rant to say… thank you for posting about the marketing tools of that sector of “Christianity”. Knowing that someone else sees it… makes me feel less alone in the issue.

    P.S. I really enjoy reading your blog. Thank you for your honesty and transparency. Sharing makes us stronger.

  • There are many problems facing the church don’t be too hard on them.