In this episode of So Totally Relidge, Elizabeth Esther and I are discussing the new law that lowered the age of accessibility for the Plan B pill to 14. It sparked some really interesting debate (as you will see, Elizabeth and I have VERY different opinions). The conversation left me thinking for days – I think it’s my favorite episode yet. We explored the accusation that Plan B is an abortion pill, we talked about whether or not we feel birth control should be offered to minors, and we discussed the concept of “unwanted” pregnancies. You know . . . just minor things. I would love to hear your thoughts on these issues! Do you think Plan B is an abortion pill? Do you think we need more access to birth control for teens? Do you think teen pregnancy is inherently bad, or can it be a blessing?
A couple months ago, Elizabeth Esther and I discussed the potentially harmful aspects of idolizing virginity and purity. While I think that abstinence is a great goal for kids (and one I will encourage for my own), I also believe that it is vitally important that we not use shame in an attempt to scare our children into complying with our own sexual ethics. While I think it’s great to explain the benefits of abstinence, I do believe that Christians have begun to rely too heavily on a shame-based rhetoric that motivates teens into compliance for fear of being “dirty” or undesirable. The reality is that many kids will become sexually active in their teen years. According to research, 80% of them. It’s imperative that, while highlighting the benefits of abstinence, we also educate on sexuality and birth control and abuse and consent. It’s also imperative that we teach our kids, and our girls specifically, that THEIR IDENTITY AND WORTH IS NOT TIED TO THEIR VIRGINITY. This is such a dangerous message and is so psychologically damaging. I cannot tell you how many women I have counseled who became sexually active in their teen years and consequently felt like they were damaged goods. And for women who were sexually abused, the broken sense of self is even more compounded by hearing, over and over, that “purity” is the marker of a girl’s worth. Today Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped, raped, and held captive for nearly a year, spoke about the way these messages discouraged her from running from her captors. She spoke from her own experience at a recent forum on human trafficking at Johns Hopkins University. She describes the feelings of shame she felt after her rape:
”I’ll never forget how I felt lying there on the ground. I felt like my soul had been crushed. I felt like I wasn’t even human anymore. How could anyone ever love me or care for me after this? I felt like life had no more meaning to it. And that was only the beginning.”
She further explained how she had no concept that sex could occur outside of marriage.
“I was raised in a religious household where I was taught that sex only happened between a married man and a woman. After that rape, I felt so dirty . . . can you imagine going back into a society where you are no longer of value? Where you are no longer as good as anybody else?”
Raised in a religious household, Elizabeth recounted a school teacher who urged students against premarital sex and compared women who had sex before their wedding nights to chewing gum:
“I thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value. Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”
Elizabeth went on to advise that we focus on teaching children their inherent value. “The best thing we can do is educate young people as young as we can reach them,”she said. Survivors of rape need “permission to fight back,” and that requires them “to know you are of value.” While most teens will not be faced with an abduction situation, Elizabeth’s experience is a startling example of the way this kind of religious rhetoric significantly alters a young woman’s confidence and self-worth. We cannot continue to send the message to our young girls that being sexually active is some kind of black stain on their personhood. We do not need to make teenagers feel worthless when they have sex—or, in the case of too many teenagers, when they are assaulted against their will. As Carolyn Custis James said, “a message of purity and abstinence, as important as this is for young women (young men too) comes too late for huge numbers of young American girls, including those in church pews. It is utterly devastating to the one-in-four girls who is sexually abused before she reaches her 18th birthday. We live in a world where by the age of 18 an estimated 70 percent of girls have had sex at least once and not always by choice, where globally countless women and girls are in the grips of sex traffickers, where an appalling 48 women are raped every hour in the Congo, where within our own borders sexual freedom has opened the door for young women to be as sexually promiscuous as men, and where some girls with the very best of intentions succumb to temptation. I grieve all of this, but do not for a second imagine that any of this means a woman has less to offer a husband or that in any sense it diminishes her worth.” No woman, ever, is a chewed up piece of gum. No woman is a cup of spit. No woman is a used car or a dirty rag or a used-up piece of duct tape or a plucked rose or a licked cupcake. No matter what she’s done. Didn’t Jesus come to tell us that? We can do better.
We’re back! After a brief hiatus due to someone forgetting to turn on the microphone technical difficulties during our last shoot, Elizabeth and I are once again sitting down to recap the hot topics from the religious blogosphere. Last week, a number of faith bloggers had a conversation about overcoming spiritual abuse in the church. Much of the dialogue focused on sexual abuse. It’s a timely topic, as a high-profile church network was recently sued for allegedly covering up abuse within the church. It’s also a personal topic for both of us . . . Elizabeth is Catholics and her church has had it’s fair share of scandal in relation to sexual abuse, and my own church unfortunately had a recent incident where a sunday school teacher was discovered to be a child molester. Here are some of the links that inspired this week’s conversation: The Scar of Sexual Abuse by Mary DeMuthProper Treatment for Sexual Abuse: 7 Questions to ConsiderWhen we criticize the church by Micah MurrayYour journey and consequences of spiritual abuse by Joy Bennett
“The next time someone tells you that reporting suspected abuse within the Christian community will “hurt the cause of Christ”, tell them that we are attempting to rob God of worship when we leave criminal behavior to fester and grow in the darkness of silence. “
In light of the Supreme Courts events happening this week to determine the rights of marital equality, I wanted to share this excerpt from my friend Jimmy Spencer Jr’s book Love Without Agenda. I think this chapter is so applicable to Christians, especially those who are debating marital equality with other believers and finding animosity and rejection for their beliefs. Jimmy generously let me share it here. I hope you will take the time to read and consider:You may be getting the distinct impression that I don’t believe in an objective and absolute truth in life. I just want to share a few lines about truth and it’s nature. I share it now because I believe that people reading this with critical minds…probably need to hear these thoughts now, or they will just stop reading and dismiss me. Truth is absolute and objective. Truth is out there. As a Christian I believe Jesus represents truth. I build my life around what He did and said. I am convinced that I am right. Just like I am sure you are convinced that you are right. But is being right—and having the right truth—is that enough? It is not a question of whether I can find the truth of life. In many ways that seems to be a preliminary question for me. The question I have found more concerning and more telling is this: “Now that you have found the truth, how will you use it?” I have found that there are generally two answers people live out in response. Option 1: I use truth to advance an agenda of coercing the people around me to think, act and believe like me. I use truth to distinguish between allies and enemies. I use truth to brow beat people and prove that I am right. Truth gives me the right to speak into people’s lives, regardless of their willingness to participate. Truth gives me the right to advance my agenda of conforming the world around me to my image of what is right and good. Truth is my weapon against others. Truth is the growth engine for my agenda. Option 2: I use truth to advance a deep and profound purpose for my personal life. Truth is a weapon, intended to be used on myself to help me understand what it means to be human. If this truth is attractive to others, I’ll freely and gladly share it with them. Truth gives me the freedom to love others because that is who I am. Truth sets me free. I conform myself to Truth in the hopes of growing closer to God and others. Truth illuminates other’s values and calls me to respect their opinions and beliefs. Again, for me, a person who chooses to live out option #2—being right and good is a matter of how you choose to use truth in life. Truth, while absolute, is a weapon to be used on ourselves—not to advance our brand of religion. When we use truth to set forth agendas, bad things happen. This use of truth has historically warped Christian’s ability to see other humans thru the compassionate eyes of their Creator. It sets the stage for a low theological and practical view of people. Because our truths trump other people’s value. Others’ value becomes tied to their accepting of our truth. This blinds us to the inherent value God gives them. It gives theological license for Christians to see other humans through critical and condemning eyes. These assumptions encourage Christians to overstep their place as humans. Little patterns struggle with this… It flows from our not being whole anymore. We co-opt the idea that, since Jesus was truth and we believe in Jesus, then our agenda must be good and true. We twist truth to fit our agenda, giving us free reign to do some nasty things in the name of Jesus. Christians step out of their pattern by doing this. Christians sin by doing this. This religious slight of hand allows us to open the door to some of the most damaging, egregious, and sinful behavior in humanity. It gives Christians license to hate and kill others because we have Truth on our side. It conveniently makes us, as Christians, the sole discerners of what is and what is not sin. We make ourselves judge, jury, and executioner. We attempt to supplant God. This is how we get the Salem Witch Trials. This is how John Hus dies. In the end, the use of truth like this has one overarching message. People are not most important to God. Being right is most important to God. Crushing sinfulness is most important to God. People, because they carry sin, have become the enemy of God. This opens Pandora’s Box. This re-enacts the Garden of Eden events: Where people go astray of their intended purpose and Christians willfully grasp for power and details God doesn’t extend. Christians feel entitled to become the discernment police. All in the name of Truth. We have to move beyond our petty bickering over theological minutia if we hope to pattern our lives after Jesus. Jesus took no part in this type of Truth War. This practice of policing people’s thought and beliefs may be the most damaging and unloving thing that we do in our lives. It’s unloving to both Christians and non-Christians. Smashing other Christians because they only believe 85/100 things that you believe is simply not in the pattern you were designed to imitate. I have news for you… People are watching. People take notice. When we as Christians verbally firebomb one another, people who don’t understand what it means to ‘be Christian’ assume that our actions are a reasonable way of defining it. We smear the way of Jesus in the name of protecting our pet truths. We crush one another in the name of advancing our flavor of Jesus. This is a giant flaming sign that we haven’t learned that God loves us. We still think that God loves only us. It’s much of this bickering, agenda, and arrogance that causes people to fear and loathe Christians. We simply don’t act like Jesus—while yet defending truths about Jesus. We can aspire to a higher Truth. We must aspire to a higher Truth. ________________________________________________________________________________________ Jimmy is the found of Love Without Agenda, a non-profit dedicated to mobilizing and maximizing community service at the local and global level. You can buy his book here . . . all proceeds go to his charity dedicated to helping people in neighborhoods who serve their neighbors.