Campus Crusaders Part 7: Love In The Air

HellblazerIt took me a few months for people to figure out my role in the Campus Crusade Bible Study.  Aside from Jason (who still defended my character and my faith to the other Campus Crusaders), I had been pegged as a Seeker.

In Christian lingo, a Seeker is someone who is genuinely trying to figure out who God is or if God even exists, and they’re open to hearing the Gospel. Many evangelicals like the idea of Seekers more than they like Seekers themselves. Don’t get me wrong: there are a lot of evangelical Christians who truly care about and respect Seekers wherever they’re at, but there’s also a very lopsided dynamic in the Believer-Seeker relationship. It’s assumed that anything a Seeker has to say indicates the status of their journey towards accepting Christ. As a result, no one really takes a Seeker’s opinions seriously. You get a nod and a figurative pat on the head for your contributions, but Believers are convinced that you have no spiritual insights to offer. The irony is that Believers listen very closely to what you have to say. This creates the illusion that they respect you. But Believers listen to you because after you’re gone they’re going to dissect your comments and determine their next move.

I actually enjoyed my role as a Seeker. It gave me room to play contrarian and offer unpopular opinions and thorny theological questions. Intellectually it was invigorating, because I found myself reading and studying books about the Bible to bone up on my theology. It also motivated me to read more scripture.

I found that I really didn’t care whether they thought I was saved. I gave up trying to defend my faith because I realized that their understanding of God was a lot more dysfunctional than mine was. So I’d show up at Bible Study wearing a John Constantine t-shirt, knowing that it would mess with their heads. When they’d point to my shirt and ask why I was wearing a shirt with a blonde guy standing in front of demons and skeletons, I’d proudly and politely explain the Hellblazer comic book to them.

But as the semester neared its end, I began to hear more and more about Laura and Fred, the couple who normally ran the Bible Study. Even though the members of the Bible Study still didn’t seem to like or trust each other, I was wary of Laura and Fred’s imminent return. I learned that a lot of the decisions made by the Bible Study were actually made by Laura and Fred from afar. On one hand it was nice to see how quickly they squashed the animosity over my knee incident with Marcy. In fact, at this stage any lingering suspicions regarding my supposed sexual motives had virtually disappeared. But on the other hand I got the strong sense that Laura and Fred wouldn’t tolerate Hellblazer t-shirts at their Bible Study.

But spring also brought love. Not for me, of course. (I was about to get walloped by cupid’s arrow in a few short weeks by a woman traveling well outside of evangelical circles.) But the Bible Study members were developing crushes on one another, and like the song Love Stinks, everybody was pining for someone who didn’t give a rip about them.  Oddly enough, Kaitlyn – the mousey, nervous woman who first invited me to the Bible Study -was at the center of most of the drama. Two guys- Jason and Dwight-  had approached her in secret. She rebuffed Jason immediately and strung Dwight along for weeks. Kaitlyn wasn’t anywhere near the most attractive, confident, or friendly woman in the Bible Study, so it was strange to see her become the center of attention. But she was desired because she fit the model of a Strong Christian Woman. And in spite of my insistence otherwise, she was still convinced that I longed for her.

I will give Kaitlyn credit: even though Bible Study had become one big, tangled mess of unrequited love and growing animosity between Jason and Dwight, she handled herself well. Anyone who was out of the loop would have no idea what she was dealing with.

Things came to a head when Kaitlyn finally agreed to go out on a date with Dwight.  Now in normal social circles, the two of them would just go out on a date.  But for the Campus Crusaders this was a major problem. Dwight, Jason, and Kaitlyn were the leaders of the Bible Study. Someone had to rise to the occasion to make unbiased decisions for the group, so a sweet but boisterous woman named Monica became our default leader in the absence of objectivity among the other three.

So one night Monica announces that she consulted with Laura and Fred to find out whether she should give Dwight and Kaitlyn permission to date. Keep in mind that this took place before I Kissed Dating Goodbye and the courting craze. So while the evangelical neurosis about sexual relationships wasn’t as rigid and legalistic as it is now. Laura and Fred gave Monica permission to green-light Dwight and Kaitlyn’s  budding relationship.

The amazing twist to all of this is that no one minded Monica’s presumptive decision to contact Laura and Fred except for Jason – the guy who was about to be left out in the cold! Everyone else thought that Monica’s proactive intervention was a sign of maturity and responsibility, and Dwight in particular was thrilled to receive an official blessing from Laura and Fred. But Jason and I stood alone in our protests that nobody had the right to decide who dated whom.  And unbeknownst to us, Dwight and Kaitlyn had sown the seeds of destruction for the Campus Crusaders.

Life Finds A Way (And So Do Teens)

Conservative evangelicals have tried hard to fight back against modernity. In a perverse way they should be admired for their tenacity. We’ve seen purity balls, screeds against dating (and the real lives that have been damaged by this kind of ideology), the quiverfull movement, and the list goes on and on. All of it is rooted in complementarianism, which is a modern name for good old-fashioned sexism and patriarchy. 

I read a short article  today that gave me hope. It’s written by Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, so you can imagine that they’re not as happy about it as I am. All of these attempts to suppress teenaged sexuality try to remove choices from Christian teens: no casual dating (or dating at all); no private time with any member of the opposite gender, and no friendships with the opposite gender. All of this is intended to create an asexual environment where teens conform to strict gender roles and pine for marriage.

It’s a suffocating environment, but to my pleasant surprise, there are signs that teens may have figured out a way to game the system a little bit. It’s called “talking.” The writer of the article illustrates this better than I could:

“You misunderstand,” he said, “we aren’t dating – we’re just talking.”

“Talking?” I replied, a little confused, “you mean like we’re talking right now.”

“No,” he explained, “we’re at the stage of the relationship just before dating. It’s called talking.”

Dumbfounded and feeling a little old and disconnected, I decided to investigate this new pre-dating phenomenon. “Talking,” I discovered, is a widely accepted stage in current guy/girl relationships wherein a young man and a young woman get to know each other without better defining the relationship. This isn’t even a real stage of the relationship; it’s a pre-stage. They’re not just friends; they’re not really dating or pursuing marriage; they’re “talking.”

I know that a lot of people will read this and seethe with outrage. And their outrage is justified. But I love how these teens have taken a rigid system and added a radical new element to it: talking. Hanging out with each other without taking pains to define the purpose of the relationship. Enjoying the uncertainty that comes with all relationships. Experiencing disappointment.

Jeff Goldblum’s quote from Jurassic Park above says it all: life finds a way. Even in oppressive systems, teenagers find small ways to interact with each other that resemble normal, human communication. Since noncommittal dating and hanging out are forbidden, they found a new outlet: talking. Maybe it won’t lead anywhere and they’re stay on the course their parents have mapped out for them. But maybe – just maybe – Christian teens are fighting back in way that is subversive in its normalcy.


Femdom Marriage

(Warning: the article this post refers to gets pretty graphic in its description of a BDSM marriage. I promise that I will leave the lurid details out.)

Dan Savage (known best for his It Gets Better Project, a series of  anti-bullying videos intended to help LGBT youth) has been writing an ongoing series about sexually unconventional marriages. One of his more recent columns describes a femdom (= female dominant) marriage. The wife completely controls her husband’s behavior from sex to household chores, and the husband doesn’t complain about getting bossed around because he loves the thrill of her controlling his behavior.

It’s a revealing illustration of one of the arguments I’ve long had against courting, which became a huge fad in the 90’s and has pretty much latched onto many conservative churches as the Godly way to go about finding a soulmate. The gist of my argument was that the nature of courting (and chaperoned dating) prevented couples from really getting to know each other.

The counter-argument I’ve always heard was that good Christian couples would never hide anything from each other before they walked down the aisle. If there was anything they couldn’t talk about in front of Mom and Dad or their trusted Christian friends, then they shouldn’t get married in the first place.

Even though the couple in Savage’s article didn’t start out with BDSM, they provide a real-life example of my argument. Sometimes couples have  issues they need to discuss if they’re going to be compatible, and there’s no way in hell they can discuss them in front of their parents or their youth group buddies. Because sometimes people do know what they’re looking for sexually, and it’s not just a question of how many kids you want to have.

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for pointing this article out.