The T-shirt is fake. The harmful theology is ‘real.’

The T-shirt is fake. The harmful theology is ‘real.’ May 14, 2019

So, OK, yes, there is a church called “Christian Life International.” It’s a big PowerPoint & Praise-band Pentecostal Holiness congregation near Roanoke, Virginia.

But I haven’t seen any evidence that this church has a team in any local softball league. And even if they do, that team probably uses the actual church’s actual logo on any team uniform shirts rather than the supposed redesigned logo that went viral recently on social media:

That’s funny, but is it “real”? Probably not, given that the image above has no source other than the Imgur user who originally posted it. You don’t have to be Ben Bradley to be skeptical of a story whose only source is someone named “iamabonermachine.”

That imgur username is deliberately lewd, but I disagree with the “TruthorFiction?” link above in characterizing Mr. Bonermachine’s fake T-shirt design as “lewd.” Yes, it inspired and invited plenty of llllewd and lllllascivious jokes in comments wherever it was posted (including the aural/oral joke just now of all those multiple L’s), but the naming of an actual body part is not inherently lewd or dirty in itself. “On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect.”

Dismissing any reference to such body parts as “lewd” can be harmful — empowering those determined to construct a world based on the pretense that they do not matter and must never be mentioned.

I give Mr. Bonermachine credit for creating a credible-seeming photoshop and selling it with a plausible backstory: “The elders at my brother-in-law’s church got to design the church league softball shirts. The[y] thought ‘CLI’ (Christian Life International) alone wouldn’t signify a church, so they added the cross. Magnificent.”

His post is a good example of a “Poe” — an unwinking parody so close to the thing it parodies as to render it indistinguishable from something real. For a sense of why his Poe was so convincing, consider this Google image search results page for “unintentionally dirty church signs.”  Many of these are real. Some are probably fake. It’s almost impossible to know which are which, and just going by which are most outrageous or over-the-top won’t help you sort out one from the other.

The accidentally anatomical softball-shirt joke works because this seems like just the sort of thing a bunch of naively patriarchal elders at a big evangelical church might do. It rings true and zings true because folks like that have already demonstrated a befuddled ignorance about sex and about women’s bodies. These are people, after all, who loudly refuse to accept the legitimacy of sex apart from a supposed divine purpose of procreation. We shouldn’t expect such people to understand their own supposedly inadvertent sexual reference.

This befuddled ignorance is far from benign. Iamabonermachine probably meant just to mock one harmful implication of this — Hahaha, guys  like this must be terrible in bed. And that’s certainly true and deeply unfortunate. But it’s not the worst or the most important consequence of this.

It also has larger, deeper, theological consequences. There may not be a church softball team logo that reveals evangelical ignorance of the clitoris, but there absolutely exists a vast body of evangelical theologizing about sex that fails to appreciate or to account for its existence.*

The consequences of such theologizing are not abstract or imaginary. Clit-denying white evangelical men are determined to impose their own ugh-I’m-done sexual theology on the rest of society. Evangelical Christian men from Hobby Lobby and Wheaton College have taken that theology all the way to the Supreme Court, redefining their religion as a whole and “religious liberty” in general as a dogmatic rejection of all non-procreative sexual activity.

Or consider the reality-denying sexual theology of self-proclaimed “pro-family Christian conservative” Ohio Republican John Becker: “A sponsor of an Ohio abortion bill says you can reimplant ectopic pregnancies. You can’t.”

The latest available version of House Bill 182 has an exception that would allow insurance to cover a treatment that does not exist: “A procedure for an ectopic pregnancy, that is intended to reimplant the fertilized ovum into the pregnant woman’s uterus.”

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside or in the wrong part of the uterus. With the exception of some very rare cases of abdominal pregnancies, ectopic pregnancies do not result in the birth of a child and can cause potentially fatal ruptures and hemorrhages.

The treatment laid out in the bill is “science fiction,” according to Dr. Daniel Grossman, an OB/GYN and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at the University of California San Francisco who debunked this passage in a viral Twitter thread.

Becker is a real-life example of the same kind of malign ignorance mocked by iamabonermachine’s photoshop.

For a more precisely related example, consider this: The Trump administration has said it will refuse to defend the constitutionality of a law barring female genital mutilation.

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* I’m focused here mainly on evangelical sexual theology — the anatomically indefensible theologized claim that sex was designed/intended by God as exclusively for procreation. But we should also mention how this anatomical ignorance has shaped evangelical sexual ethics. Sexual ethics, for Christians, should begin where all Christian ethics begins, with the Golden Rule: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” Reciprocity, gentlemen. It’s a biblical imperative.


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