Adventures in Christian Vulgaria

A couple of weeks ago, my dad and I were in a hotel elevator with a group of conference-goers when, within twenty seconds of the door closing, one of the latter gents said, “I thought the whole point of this conference was not to play with ourselves.” His comment was apropos of a discussion about who was responsible for pushing the elevator buttons for the rest of us, but not  apropos by much. My dad and I laughed at this witty commentary somewhat more sheepishly than the other eight or so passengers, some of whom reacted with ostentatious gusto. Neither of us considered thinly veiled references to masturbation appropriate to the circumstances, but there were only two of us.

I didn’t have nearly enough presence of mind at the time, but I realize in retrospect that the equitable and salutary response would have been to promptly ask: “Dude, what the fuck?” That earthy, worldly query would have struck precisely the right tone. By most likely provoking a frenzied protestation of hurt Christian fee-fees, it would have offered me a timely opportunity to note that it was not I who had just raised the specter of masturbation in front of strangers in a crowded elevator. To adopt the parlance of the present company, it would have been edifying, a word, if not the Word, to strengthen a Christian man in his Walk.

The religious angle to this episode is bizarre but fascinating. The goofiness, subtle overfamiliarity, and faux self-deprecation with which these men approached the world was circumstantial evidence for their being Christian fellas after God’s heart, but I glanced down long enough to see the smoking gun: a study guide for “Every Man’s Battle.”

It will probably come as a surprise to men who are unfamiliar with “sex addiction” and the bottomfeeders who profit from its “treatment” that they, too, are warriors in the crusade against illicit sexytime. Are we not also men, they might ask? Can’t we be more civilized than that, or must we go to soldiers, every one? Seriously, is it inevitable that love is a battlefield? Sure, you guys feel strongly about this, but good God, y’all, what is it good for?

That’s the kind of stance that puts the more extreme men’s small group types into frantic damage control mode. They’ll waste no time changing the music to a more edifying praise-and-worship format (read: emo in the extreme, but without the mental clarity and forthrightness of Death Cab for Cutie) and discomfiting any dissident who looks askance at the war-on-sex premise until he either shuts up or leaves. Paradoxically, the success of this steamrolling is assured by the more timid, noncommittal hangers-on, who find the assertiveness of other nominally subordinate members embarrassing because it causes fractiousness, even though that would rarely be the case if so many of the leaders weren’t zealous, prickly nuts.

I provide this commentary because I’ve intermittently been on the periphery of the evangelical Christian scene for over a decade, sometimes against my better judgment. My dad, who dropped out of the conservative Protestant church in which he was raised decades before the evangelical stance towards sexual self-determination became so smarmy and passive-aggressive, found the brief description I gave him of “Every Man’s Battle” incomprehensible and pitiable. Personally, I’ve become too jaded by the sexual weirdness to find it surprising, and these days I keep an eye on it mainly to know what to avoid, or else for the sheer entertainment value.

One of the best resources for those who enjoy laughing at self-important evangelicals, not with them, is Stephanie Drury’s blog, Stuff Christian Culture Likes. Many people who have found themselves uncomfortably entangled with pushy evangelicals, including myself, find SCCL’s  material cathartic. Drury also maintains Facebook and Twitter feeds chronicling day-to-day evangelical idiosyncrasies. A large amount of this material (a disturbingly large amount, if one considers the implications) concerns sexual hangups. A great example is the following reader e-mail, which Drury posted on Facebook under the heading “e-mail of the hour” (punctuation in the original):

It’s well understood around churches, male staff members, like all men, want to talk about women’s T & A, but thats not allowed. The discussion isn’t safe, and certainly the discussion of it concerning the women you aren’t married to is exceptionally not safe. Talking about your “hot wife” or bragging about your sex life to the boys on staff, is the christian equivalent of telling your high school buddies about making out with a chick, or bragging about how good her boobs are. I feel thats why its so prevalent in churches for staff guys to talk about their wives, its like the college guy bragging about how much action he gets, in the only way that’s acceptable. I don’t know if anyone has made that point yet, but thats always been my experience. I’ve literally heard pastors go “yeah, i hit that” and look for a high five, after their spouse leaves the room.

And I thought I had vulgar tastes.

Anecdotes like that indicate very serious leadership credibility problems, ones that I’d argue are more serious than any broad problems with the prudish worldviews advanced by these churches. These are people who have thrown discretion to the wind.

Amazingly enough, a coherent counterpoint to this louche duplicity was made by Levi Johnston, renowned baby daddy to the rising generation of Palins, in an interview with Larry King. Asked whether he had had sex with Bristol Palin at the governor’s residence, he said, “I’m a gentleman, Larry. I don’t kiss and tell.” For context, in this same interview Johnston snickered that he had used condoms “most of the time” and utterly confounded his interviewer with a story about “sheep huntin’,” leaving King at a loss as to how one could do anything with sheep but herd them. A half-articulate, discombobulated redneck, a young man whose sole distinction was his having accidentally impregnated the daughter of a prominent politician, managed to provide moral leadership of a sort that is completely missing from many of his country’s churches.

These anecdotes are ridiculous, but I think they’re telling. Maybe the most pertinent thing is that Johnston was the only one of these guys who didn’t appear to be pushing any social control mechanism. Say what you will about his being an idiot or a screw-up, but it’s hard to argue that he’s a repressed busybody who projects his neuroses onto his fellows.

For the record, I enjoy some occasional rude banter about T&A myself, but almost exclusively with the ladies, not with the fellas. I think I’ve done a pretty good job explaining why.

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