In Part 1 and Part 2 of my Campus Crusade series, I described my misadventures with the female members of my Bible Study. As you can imagine, when you have a room full of single Christian men and women, sex becomes the topic that dare not speak its name. Everyone is thinking about it, no one wants to admit it, and if you violate the code of silence, the aftershocks can last for months. Given the numerous ways in which I violated that code, I got off easy. But raising the issue helped give me a crash course on the sexual idiosyncrasies of young evangelicals.
To start with, you have to understand that all Singles Bible Studies are designed to fail. In most churches a successful Singles group is one where God calls each man to choose a bride among the women, and one by one the new couples marry off and the Singles Group dissolves.
Almost everyone who joins a Singles Group does so with the hope that they will meet their soul mate, and given that most of them know that college is their best chance at finding The One, the pressure can be intense. Since I was a little bit older than the rest of the group, I didn’t feel the same pressure. From my viewpoint the women in my Bible Study were already halfway out the door to their lives beyond college. I was going to be living in town for a long time, while they were moving on to bigger and better things.
A ministry like Campus Crusade complicates this formula further. From the time they are teenagers, it is made explicitly clear to evangelicals that lust was the greatest challenge facing them, so any hint of honesty about their motives for joining a Singles Bible Study had to be squashed. Bible Study was for fellowship and studying the Word, not for hooking up. It didn’t matter if their aspirations were for chaste romances leading to marriage; that’s still taking a meat market approach to your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
So the first thing that happens when new people show up at a Singles Study is that everyone checks them out and sizes them up for marriage material. The second thing that happens is that everyone curses themselves for doing that. In spite of the safeguards put in place (like no two people of the opposite sex could ever be in a room alone), hormones still kick in and people still find covert ways to gossip about crushes or take things further. But these secret activities couldn’t be acknowledged within the group for fear of someone stepping in and threatening them with an ultimatum of dropping the romance or leaving the Bible Study.
I’ll share an anecdote that helps illustrate the contrast between my blase attitude about sexual matters and their anxieties. One day the bunch of us were hanging out together in an apartment. I was sitting on a couch reading World magazine, a right-wing publication. At that time every evangelical magazine I read fascinated me. Each issue teemed with self-righteous indignation that always seemed to get the facts wrong. I couldn’t understand how anyone could sustain that level of contempt for their fellow man, but since this was the era before Fox News, encountering these opinions was both a novelty and a way to get an insight into the people around me without asking probing questions.
Suddenly I hear the Baywatch theme on TV. I didn’t think anything of it. I never liked the show, but since I wasn’t watching TV, I didn’t care what was on. Suddenly Dwight and the other men came rushing into the living room in a panic. “Where’s the remote? Where’s the remote?” they asked. Then the women joined the search. All of them were scrambling to find the remote. You’d think the house was on fire. I set the magazine down and just watched them, and for the first time in my life, I paid attention to Baywatch. I wanted to see why it was a five alarm emergency. There weren’t even any cleavage shots while this was going on.
Finally I shifted in my couch and felt something press against my back. I was sitting on the remote. I was tempted to just sit there and wait to see how long the search would go on before someone took a sledgehammer to the TV. But my conscious got the best of me, so I announced that I found the remote and handed it to Dwight. He changed the channel, and disaster was averted.
Now, you’re probably wondering why, after all of this craziness, I still stuck it out with them. To be honest, the biggest reason was that living near Penn State means cycling through friends. Every four or five years your network of friends moves away, forcing you to rebuild your social life from scratch. After cycling through “secular” friends my first few years in State College, Kaitlyn’s invitation made me wonder if the Christian social scene might be different.
So I started attending the Bible Study with zero friends in town. Jason and I quickly clicked, and it really helped that Jason was ruthlessly blunt about the dysfunction around us. Politically and religiously Jason was definitely “one of them,” but he was unpopular because of his propensity to call people on their bullshit (and his willingness to use the word “bullshit”.) Beyond that, I stuck with it out of a combination of enjoying their fellowship (at least some of it) and my own anthropological curiosity. And one of the puzzles that loomed large in my mind was how the Bible Study could retain its members while these people clearly disliked each other.