Before I begin the fourth part of installment of my Campus Crusade adventures, I encourage you to peruse my earlier posts for context. In Part 1 I shared how my unfamiliarity with evangelical culture impacted my attempts to befriend the women in the group. In Part 2, I described the disastrous repercussions from touching a group member’s knee. And in Part 3 I described how Singles Bible Studies in general are dysfunctional by design.
At the end of Part 3 I said that anthropological curiosity was a big motivator in my decision to stick with Campus Crusade. I admit that sounds pompous, so I’ll try to give it some context.
I’ve never identified with a group of any kind. It’s not just that I’ve never been a joiner; I’ve never even identified with societal outcasts. If you ask me which clique I belonged to in High School, I’ll scratch my head and say I have no idea. On some level I was friendly with a few members of each clique, but I was too chummy with the popular people to be accepted by the lowest castes, and vice versa.
To use The Breakfast Club as an analogy, I had Ally Sheedy’s personality, Anthony Michael Hall’s vocabulary, Emilio Estevez’s fixation on sports, Judd Nelson’s sense of humor, and I got crushes on the Molly Ringwalds of the school. To answer Anthony Michael Hall’s question at the end of the movie, I’d be the kid all of the members said hi to in the hallways, but I wouldn’t be friends with any of them. I used to think of myself as a satellite roaming around all of the cliques without entering the orbit of any of them.
I knew football better than the jocks did. I could rattle off the names of third string players on NFL teams they never paid attention to and correct their misconceptions about the 46 defense. But I talked about football the same way the geeks parsed Star Wars mythos, and since I didn’t like any other sports and sucked at them, the jocks weren’t eager to bring me in.
By the time I turned 15, my favorite movies were Ordinary People, The Killing Fields, Raging Bull, Terms of Endearment, and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. You try and find a teenager who had even seen heard of those movies, let alone seen them. I liked Star Trek and Godzilla movies, but not enough to hang out with the geeks, and I couldn’t stand Star Wars or other science fiction shows.
My favorite novel was Great Expectations, but I wasn’t crazy about most other classics, so I couldn’t hang out with the bookworms. I loved classic rock, but I didn’t know a single soul who was into it like I was. My favorite album was Pink Floyd’s The Wall, but no one in my school had even heard of Pink Floyd outside of a few people who knew “Money” or “Time.” Imagine how strange it would be to love an album about emotional isolation, knowing that no one else knew the songs. Talk about reinforcing the album’s themes!
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that the Campus Crusade Bible Study was my very first experience joining a group of any kind.
And these people did not like each other. I cannot emphasize that point enough. Our Bible Studies almost always erupted into a debate of some sort, and it wasn’t always the usual controversies. I remember one night when Jolene (not her real name) stated that all Presbyterians were going to hell because their church was led by a committee of elders rather than a single pastor. Rachel was furious. It turned out that her dad was a Presbyterian elder. Jolene said that if she didn’t see what was wrong with that, then Rachel was going to hell, too. Mind you, Rachel herself didn’t identify as a Presbyterian. She bought into the same “mainliners are unsaved” beliefs the others shared. But merely defending her dad raised doubts about Rachel’s salvation.
But that night was just Rachel’s turn at being the outcast. With the exception of Kaitlyn and Dwight, pretty much every member found themselves on the receiving end of the group’s lectures at some point. Given my politics and my interests, I spent a lot of time on the hot seat, but I quickly learned to guard myself. I think part of the problem was that the Bible Study was leaderless for those first few months. With the couple in charge of it on sabbatical, old resentments came to the forefront more easily.
And the animosity between them wasn’t just my impression. The worst thing you could say to them was to identify any pair of them as friends. As a group they’d give thanks for friendship and fellowship, but outside the confines of the Bible Study they’d take deep offense if you referred to “your friend Kaitlyn’ or “since Dwight is your friend.” A lot of them shared apartments and hung out together, but they didn’t get along. Don’t get me wrong: they wouldn’t gossip about each other. All I knew was that this person or that person had a long-running disagreement. They’d confess their contempt for one another to me without giving me the backstory. Like High School, my personality made me easy to confess to since they knew I wouldn’t go running to the other person.
So week after week I showed up full of my anthropological curiosity. I had never joined a group before, and I didn’t expect it to be such a volatile environment. Without prior experience, I figured that maybe this was just how groups functioned. The friendship between Jason and I was growing, and that gave me something to look forward to.
More than anything, the group kept together because they idolized the idea of Christian fellowship. Meeting together was something Christians had to do, and it was supposed to a be delightful experience. When it didn’t work out they tended to blame themselves. And given that many of them roomed together, it was hard for members to defect to other ministries. It also helped that a lot of the members were carrying a flame for someone else in the group, although for a long time no two people shared their longings. Since the meat market mentality was frowned upon, crushes could last unrequited for a long time.