I Will Listen
This piece was originally published 12/6/12 but I updated it to reflect recent conversations on Christian Purity Culture. I stand by this.
Last week I had three precious girls in my home.
They lounged on my couch and chairs, eating snacks and drinking warm cider, talking about their days at school and work and home.
And then we started talking about modesty rules and sexuality and shame. They asked if they could come to my house and talk about those things. I said yes. They showed up.
We told our stories.
And every single one of us, in our own ways, had negatively experienced our bodies, relationships, and sexuality. We all had painful experiences because of the ideas well-intended parents or or pastors or youth leaders taught us. We are all broken because of the subtle, harmful ways we learned to relate to God, ourselves, and others. We all grew up in fairly normal American Evangelical churches, with good families, at average Christian summer camps.
We are all struggling against shame. We are all seeking healing.
There was a lot of talk about The Modesty Rules on the internet recently. And then The Purity Rules. And I love all of it, this opening up and fighting shame and telling stories. But this isn’t something that happens on the internet, in comment sections that we forget in a few days.
These harmful ideas are hurting real people. Real women. Sitting on my real couch. Unraveling real lies.
This isn’t a problem just found in “legalism” or particularly heavy-handed churches. It’s not an “out there” or “just find another church” situation. This is everywhere. Based on the way it’s defended and excused by “church leaders,” it appears to be a central tenant of our faith culture.
And I can’t change that. I can’t control anyone. I’m not in charge.
So go ahead.
You can keep trying enforce The Modesty Rules or The Purity Rules. You can continue the body shaming for girls and giving us impossible standards and responsibilities. You can talk about how lust is only a problem for boys and shame every bit of sexual attraction they naturally experience. You can talk about “godly” living in a way that destroys the Image of God in real humans. You can leave out people who experience gender or sexual attraction in a way that doesn’t exactly line up with yours. You can refuse to see a correlation between your shaming ideas and so many of your children leaving the church. You can accuse me of not following scripture or of overreacting or being bitter. You can keep saying that bodies are a temptation, like alcohol. You can keep shouting that there isn’t a problem, with your hands covering your ears.
I can’t stop you.
But I will listen to your sons and daughters.
I will open up my home and my couch and my fridge and and my email inbox and my story to them.
I will try to make a safe space in my life for their voices.
I will protect their individual, precious stories because they are precious individuals.
I will let my heart hurt with theirs. I will celebrate redemption with them.
I will commit to listening, to the best of my ability, not because I can save anyone, but because I want to lean in and watch Jesus save us all.
I will be a safe person for your children hurt by your church, by your rules, by your shame. I will watch them learn to sing of grace and freedom in their own way. I will promote communities that allow healing to be messy. I will announce that we are not alone and that Hope has come. I will watch for sacred births in dirty straw and signs in the heavens.
I will see the imago dei in each of your children.
I will keep speaking up against The Modesty Rules and sexism and silencing and shame. I will keep speaking up for listening and letting the love of God overwhelm us and asking questions and taking healthy responsibility for our actions and walking out healing.
So you can keep shouting shame, go ahead.
And I will love your daughters and sons.