“Sex, drugs and rock and roll,” or rap music and video games, or social media and single-parent households, the North American church has always known exactly who and what to blame when discussing the problem with young people.
But there are those who would argue that the problem with young people is the church.
Therapists would do well to ask Christians to tell them about their childhood experience with this religious institution. I would argue that body image issues and problems around sex and sexuality started here.
When I became a Christian believer, there was an inordinate amount of attention given to the “works of the flesh” – and by this, I mean sex.
Christianity was defined by the physical body and its members. Sex was reserved solely for married couples who were paraded around the church as the only relationship goal. But we don’t talk about Ananias and Sapphira, no, no, no, no (Acts 5:1-11).
Thanks to Joshua Harris, my youth group had “kissed dating goodbye” and Jesus was “our boyfriend” until we were married. I don’t know who he was for the boys though. But I digress.
You were Christian based on what you did and, more importantly, did not do with your body. An aesthetic morality, girls and women were expected to cover up in the name of modesty.
Though Paul was only exposed to clothing made of wool, linen, animal skins and maybe silk, a woman’s fashion sense had been determined in his letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 2:9-10). But he was a tentmaker not a dressmaker.
Still, it mattered where your body was, which was not to be found in the seat of the scornful (Psalm 1:1) and where it was expected to be faithfully, which was in church during the week and twice on Sunday.
We, that is the women and children, were the hands and feet of Jesus, praying for the sick and tending to those who were in need. The men were always the head.
Supervising and talking heads, we followed their lead less we be led astray. These men in leadership needed only to point to Eve, who had upended everything.
We couldn’t get mad at them. So, we, too, blamed women and secretly hated ourselves for being women.
We lived biblical womanhood. Rachel Held Evans lived it for a year and made this noteworthy observation in A Year of Biblical Womanhood:
“If you are looking for verses with which to support slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to abolish slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to oppress women, you will find them.
“If you are looking for verses with which to liberate or honor women, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to wage war, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to promote peace, you will find them.
“If you are looking for an outdated, irrelevant ancient text, you will find it. If you are looking for truth, believe me, you will find it. This is why there are times when the most instructive question to bring to the text is not “what does it say?” but “what am I looking for?”
It’s amazing how verses of scripture are used to define and confine bodies — tied to narratives that justify their limitation.
We, preteen girls, were expected to live as the Virgin Mary, having never been touched by a man while being taught that we were all potential Jezebels and, thus, shouldn’t get close to a man.
The female body was treated as a threat to hardworking, innocent men and yet also a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). Jesus had died to save our souls but could not deliver us from the church that body-shamed girls once they hit puberty. It was all so confusing.
Now, as an adult, none of this makes theological sense to me. Wanting to live at peace with others, I must first find peace within myself, beginning with my body.
My faith leads me to seek understanding about the estrangement within me. So, I must address the partitioning of my identity and that leads me back to the church, which prompts even more questioning.
What was I looking for when I joined the church? I wasn’t looking for sex or to be married.
At 12 years old, I was looking for a safe space for my body, but it wasn’t and it isn’t. And it’s not likely that I’ll hear a sermon about it. So, I’ll continue to go to therapy.
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