Christine Blasey Ford has alleged that Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s current nominee for the Supreme Court, sexually assaulted her while they were in high school. A growing number of conservative leaders—Franklin Graham and Dennis Prager among them—have grown angry that anyone is paying attention to Ford’s allegations. For ex-evangelicals like myself, this moment feels like yet another betrayal—an acknowledgement that nothing we were taught growing up actually meant anything.
I grew up in what many ex-evangelicals like myself have dubbed “purity culture.” As an evangelical child and teen, I was taught that sex should be reserved for marriage, and that if I were to lose my virginity, I would become dirty, tarnished, worthless. Even one sexual experience before marriage could ruin any future marriage, I was told—and even innocent kissing would lead to something else.
I’m starting to wonder whether the adults who told me these things actually believed any of it.
In an article in the National Review, Dennis Prager writes:
In any society rooted in Judeo-Christian values, it is understood that people should be morally assessed based on how they behave over the course of their lifetime — early behavior being the least important period in making such an assessment.
Prager is not an evangelical, but his article is getting wide pull in evangelical circles, and this idea—that what I did as a teen wasn’t that important—was never communicated to me, as a teen. In fact, I was told the opposite—that what I did now would set the tone for my entire life—and would effect and impact my entire life. I was not given any sort of a pass for wayward teenage behavior. To the contrary.
Brett Kavanaugh, apparently, gets a pass. Whether he raped or sexually assaulted girls at wild house parties in high school is unimportant—apparently—because he, inexplicably, gets a pass.
No one told us about getting a pass. I’m sure that many of my teenage evangelical peers would have been glad to know how to find one. You mean we could make mistakes, without worrying about censure or judgement? I’m not talking about rape or sexual assault here—I’m simply talking about having sex. I’m talking about being teenagers, going to parties, listening to music, having room to breath.
We weren’t allowed those things. We didn’t know there were passes. No one told us that. Maybe passes are only for guys. Rich guys. Successful guys. Powerful guys. Maybe Prager is being imprecise here.
If he is, he’s not the only one.
Because my jaw really hit the floor when I read Franklin Graham’s response to Ford’s allegations.
When asked about the allegations, Graham, the son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, said: “It’s just a shame that a person like Judge Kavanaugh who has a stellar record—that somebody can bring something up that he did as a teenager close to 40 years ago. That’s not relevant. We’ve got to look at a person’s life and what they’ve done as an adult and are they qualified for this position so this is just an attempt to smear him.”
Graham was then asked about what kind of message his comments would send to victims of sexual assault who are afraid to speak out. “Well, there wasn’t a crime committed,” Graham said. “These are two teenagers and it’s obvious that she said no and he respected it and walked away … He just flat out says that’s not true. Regardless if it was true, these are two teenagers and she said no and he respected that so I don’t know what the issue is.”
Graham writes as though Kavanaugh did nothing wrong. No crime was committed, he says—Ford said no and Kavanaugh respected her no. Now first of all, Graham is factually wrong—Kavanaugh didn’t respect Ford’s no. The only reason he didn’t rape her is that they fell off the bed and she took advantage of the momentary confusion to escape. But there is a deeper betrayal in Graham’s words.
In what evangelical reality is having sex as a teenager—unmarried and at a party, no less—suddenly okay and acceptable and, well, ho hum? For that matter, in what evangelical reality does consent matter? I was never taught about consent. I was only taught that sex outside of marriage is the worst, blackest of sins, the sort that destroys your life, while sex within marriage is good and makes babies.
It’s almost like Franklin Graham never believed any of it. And if he never believed any of it, who did? I certainly did—but I was a child. I trusted the adults around me. I believed them.
I have grown up to watch them betray everything they taught me over, and over, and over again. Somehow, it doesn’t get less painful. Somehow, I only grow more angry every time.
I would probably care less if purity culture hadn’t had such a significant and negative impact on my life—and the lives of my peers. We believed what we were told. We thought that having sex would make us dirty, unloveable. We were terrified of getting this wrong, because we were taught that we would never move beyond it—that it would follow us forever.
Oh certainly, we were taught that all sins can be forgiven. We believed Jesus died for our sins. But we were also taught that being forgiven does not erase the consequences of our sin. Those we would live with for the rest of our lives.
Having sex before marriage would ruin any future marriage—this is literally what we were taught, that we would not be able to fully love anyone, because something about chemicals, something about having given away pieces of our hearts and never getting them back—and would eat away out our souls.
Unless your name is Brett Kavanaugh.
I’m angry—very angry. Evangelical leaders told me that if I had sex before marriage, my life would be impacted longterm. I might never be truly, fully loved. Those same evangelical leaders are out in force today saying that it doesn’t matter that Brett Kavanaugh groped, held down, and attempted to rape a girl when he was a teenager. He was just trying to score—and besides, he was just a teenager.
Well you know what? I was just a teenager too.
So yes. I’m angry. And hurt. And betrayed.
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