Wednesday, September 11, 2013

FYI for Christian Parents

Last week, a mommy blogger identified only as “Mrs. Hall” enjoyed her proverbial fifteen minutes when her open letter to teenage girls went viral on social media. Some people, mommies mostly, embraced her stand against flippant teenage sexuality. Others rebutted her fiercely. My favorite counter-arguments appeared here and here. (Thanks to Lauren Bonk for finding these gems.)

But the most telling information lives one click away from Mrs. Hall’s jeremiad, on her About page. Kimberly Hall, born in Zimbabwe to missionary parents, followed their footsteps into Christian ministry. She attended a Christian university, and also has ventured into Christian entrepreneurship. This blog continues her apparent efforts to cocoon herself in highly demonstrative conservative Christianity.

After Mrs. Hall’s unintended Internet celebrity, her information deserves unpacking, starting with her education at Wheaton College, possibly America’s most religiously conservative accredited university. Though widely recognized as a sterling academic institution, Wheaton’s brand of evangelical Protestantism attracts criticism. It has dismissed faculty for embracing both human evolution and Roman Catholicism, creating a shockingly narrow field of discourse.

Worse, its track record on sexual issues is dismal. A recent Sojourners article names Wheaton alumni for their lopsided sexual mores. Women are so shamed about sex that they cannot discuss their own bodies openly, while men preponderantly struggle with porn addiction. Though this problem probably began well before college, Wheaton’s sexual conservatism and ideological homogeneity create an environment that only compounds the situation.

Mrs. Hall, who signs her About page “Kim,” tells her teenage audience that they get “no second chances” after posting semi-sultry selfies in their jammies. She brags about censoring her sons’ online social lives so they never have to see their female peers wrapped only in a towel. She does this to protect her boys, “to keep their minds pure, and their thoughts praiseworthy.”

Does she believe one Instagram of a co-ed sticking her boobs out will irrevocably corrupt her otherwise pure boys? Does she consider her sons’ psyches so fragile that they cannot absorb one libidinous swipe from girls testing their nascent sexuality? And does she think, for one minute, that three industrious teenagers haven’t circumvented her online parental controls? I can’t believe she’s that na├»ve.

Teenage boys think about sex. They think about what it’s like, how to get it, and what they’ll forfeit for it. Suffused with hormones and thoughts they’ve never experienced before, they see sex in newspaper advertising circulars and shopping malls. When a peer tries to look sexy, moms like Mrs. Hall have a choice: they can deny sex exists. Or they can see a classic teachable moment.

Coming of age before the Web, my parents noticed different signs of sexual onset. But when they did, they sat me down with a medical encyclopedia and gave me “the talk.” More than a discussion of sexual mechanics, they also emphasized responsibility. They said I bore sole duty for my thoughts. Those thoughts would come, my parents explained, but I had power to choose whether I ruled my thoughts, or my thoughts ruled me.

Mrs. Hall, though, sees her sons buffeted by impulses they cannot control. This should give her pause for concern, since if they cannot learn to control their libidos now, under their parents’ roof, how will they react as adults when nobody guards the gate? Though she presumably means the opposite, she’s training her sons to consider themselves helpless against life’s influences. To paraphrase Mrs. Hall, they can’t quickly un-learn it.

Her About page identifies Mrs. Hall as “Director of Women’s ministries” at a major Protestant congregation. In her pastoral duties, does Mrs. Hall tell victims of workplace sexual harassment, domestic battery, or rape to cover themselves up? Does she tell adult women to accept blame for how society demeans and objectifies women? If not, how can she say that to teens, who lack experience and maturity in these matters?

Even her format reveals Mrs. Hall’s prejudices. While reprimanding girls for “the red carpet pose, the extra-arched back, and the sultry pout,” she supplements it with cheescake-ish pictures of her sons in swimming trunks. Her unspoken message is that boys’ bodies are value-neutral, while girls’ bodies are objects of lust. (She’s since scrubbed these photos from her blog, but not from the Wayback Machine.)

I’ve written recently about how denying teen girls their natural development creates the problem it seeks to prevent. Mrs. Hall shops this problem to teen girls everywhere. In her sheltered, sectarian way, Mrs. Hall surely means well. But if she can’t raise her sons to take responsibility for their own libidos, she may live to face problems more severe than girlish sexuality on Facebook. Nobody wants that.

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