Lessons Learned at the Fortress of Faith: Part 3

Lessons Learned at the Fortress of Faith: Part 3

This is Part 3 of a 10-part blog series.
Intro­duc­tion | Part 1 | Part 2

Lesson #3: It’s sometimes right to do “wrong.”

As I’ve stat­ed before, Bob Jones Uni­ver­si­ty habit­u­al­ly cre­at­ed spir­i­tu­al moun­tains out of cir­cum­stan­tial mole­hills. We were to strive for per­fec­tion in every aspect of life, and any­thing less than that was an offense to God and the admin­is­tra­tion.

There’s a say­ing from the founder of the school…well, I mean, there’s hon­est­ly a bajil­lion say­ings from the founder of the school. They’re so revered that they are lit­er­al­ly engraved in plaques in every class­room across cam­pus, and you can even buy a book filled with his quips of wis­dom. But one say­ing in par­tic­u­lar was quot­ed quite a bit when I was there: “It is nev­er right to do wrong in order to get a chance to do right.” On the sur­face, and espe­cial­ly when I very first arrived on cam­pus, I agreed with this 100%.

Again, I’m faced with the dif­fi­cul­ty of explain­ing a sub­cul­ture when some of my audi­ence has nev­er expe­ri­enced it, and some of it may think there’s noth­ing wrong with it. It’s dif­fi­cult to know where to begin or how to explain things that I intu­itive­ly learned through var­i­ous cir­cum­stances, oth­er than to talk about the var­i­ous cir­cum­stances that taught me that some­times, it’s good and right to do “wrong.”

I don't have the 2008 handbook, but it looks like a similar statement is included in the 2013 handbook.

I don’t have the 2008 hand­book, but it looks like a sim­i­lar state­ment is includ­ed in the 2013 hand­book.

When I arrived on cam­pus, I was giv­en a stu­dent hand­book and told that I’d be required to turn in a state­ment say­ing that I’d read it.

It was pret­ty thick, about 80 pages, full of the var­i­ous rules and require­ments that came with being a stu­dent at Bob Jones Uni­ver­si­ty. Hon­est­ly, this had been one of the things I was most look­ing for­ward to: read­ing what I was sure would be absolute­ly ridicu­lous rules. At this point, their stu­dent hand­book wasn’t avail­able online, so in many ways, I didn’t quite know what I was get­ting into.

To my sur­prise, the state­ment I was to sign was a sheet in the back of the book that essen­tial­ly said, “By choos­ing to enroll as a stu­dent at BJU, I agree to sub­mit to the admin­is­tra­tion and fol­low all of these rules.” You know. All. 80. Pages. Of them. Includ­ing rules that stat­ed we couldn’t share the hand­book with any­one out­side the uni­ver­si­ty and rules that appar­ent­ly gov­erned how we were “allowed” to act off cam­pus in our own homes and required us to spy on our fel­low class­mates and report back to the admin­is­tra­tion with our find­ings lest we be pun­ished as severe­ly as they.

Curi­ous, I asked my prayer cap­tain what would hap­pen if I didn’t sign it.

You’ll be sent home.”

I was absolute­ly floored. Hav­ing actu­al­ly tak­en the time to read it, I knew that I couldn’t in good con­science agree with every­thing in the book. And that phras­ing, “by choos­ing to enroll as a stu­dent” — how duplic­i­tous! It’s not like I’d been allowed to view the hand­book before I enrolled as a stu­dent. When you with­hold crit­i­cal infor­ma­tion, you make informed con­sent impos­si­ble.

Yet I was stuck on cam­pus now, 500 miles from home. What choice did I have?

As I signed the state­ment to be turned in, I wrote in the mar­gin that I was doing so under duress, that I was com­mit­ted to fol­low­ing Scrip­ture rather than and over the stu­dent hand­book. I expect­ed to be pun­ished some­how, but sur­pris­ing­ly nev­er was. I don’t know why, or if they even real­ly checked what I’d writ­ten. But I nev­er quite for­got the under­hand­ed­ness involved in not allow­ing enrolling stu­dents to know the rules until they were already on cam­pus with no real choice to leave.

In the first cou­ple of weeks of school, I noticed some­thing strange about one of my pro­fes­sors. He stared at me an awful lot, and took to mak­ing small talk with me before and after class. When it came time for a seat­ing chart to be final­ized, I found myself seat­ed direct­ly in front of his desk, which seemed to make me the go-to class helper when­ev­er he need­ed tech­ni­cal assis­tance or any oth­er kind of help.

It wasn’t until it was time for my first soci­ety meet­ing, when I walked out of my dorm to see him stand­ing there, wait­ing for me, that I real­ized some­thing was…real­ly not quite right.

It was the first Fri­day after Rush, there­fore the first Fri­day I as a new stu­dent would have a soci­ety meet­ing. My soci­ety, Alpha Gam­ma Tau, was meet­ing across cam­pus. And my pro­fes­sor decid­ed that he should walk me to my meet­ing. Because that is total­ly appro­pri­ate.

At one point as he was try­ing to make per­son­al con­ver­sa­tion, he men­tioned that he liked my neck­lace. I glanced down at the chok­er I was wear­ing, a brass medal­lion hang­ing from it, and smiled, remark­ing, “Thanks! I bought it because it remind­ed me of the head­piece of the staff of Ra.” His expres­sion was so com­i­cal that I didn’t both­er to clar­i­fy that I was ref­er­enc­ing my love for Indi­ana Jones, not any wor­ship of a false god.

I hoped that this inter­ac­tion would ensure that his atten­tion towards me would cool off, but if any­thing, it became so reg­u­lar and focused that I start­ed to wor­ry for my safe­ty. I stopped par­tic­i­pat­ing in class, stopped acknowl­edg­ing him as best as I pos­si­bly could, did every­thing I knew how to do to min­i­mize my con­tact with him. I told no one on cam­pus about any of it, intu­itive­ly real­iz­ing that I’d be told that I was mak­ing things up and just try­ing to ruin a god­ly man’s rep­u­ta­tion. It was nec­es­sary for me to be a “poor stew­ard” of my grade in an attempt to be a good stew­ard of my safe­ty.

Michael and me, at the symphonic wind band concert after the Christmas lighting ceremony in early December, 2008.

Michael and me, at the sym­phon­ic wind band con­cert after the Christ­mas light­ing cer­e­mo­ny in ear­ly Decem­ber, 2008.

Per­haps in no greater way did I learn that some­times doing some­thing “wrong” was some­times good than in my rela­tion­ship with Michael, my BJU col­lege boyfriend and cur­rent spouse.

I’ve stat­ed before that my men­tal health was pret­ty abysmal when I was at BJU. I had slipped back into anorex­ia, I severe­ly depressed, and quick­ly became sui­ci­dal.

So when I first start­ed hang­ing out with Michael, it was most­ly to make sure that I didn’t hurt myself. We soon fell in love, much to my sur­prise. (More on that at a lat­er date — it’s a les­son com­plete­ly unto itself.)

One after­noon, I walked into my dorm room to find a friend excit­ed­ly telling one of my room­mates, “I’ve nev­er seen her so hap­py and at peace.” I asked who she was talk­ing about, and she grinned and said, “You! Ever since you start­ed dat­ing Michael.” I was star­tled that our rela­tion­ship appar­ent­ly was mak­ing such a dif­fer­ence in my life, but she was right. I was hap­pi­er, health­i­er, eat­ing more often, feel­ing more sta­ble. He was good for me. He made me feel safe, under­stood, loved and pro­tect­ed. And that was a big deal.

A big enough deal that we had sex over Christ­mas break. The Great Trans­gres­sion.

One of the things about puri­ty cul­ture is how it seeks to sup­press women’s sex­u­al­i­ty. We’re not sup­posed to look sexy, and we’re cer­tain­ly not sup­posed to feel sex­u­al things. In gen­er­al, that hadn’t been a huge prob­lem for me. I liked the idea of sex, but didn’t trust any­one enough to actu­al­ly want to have sex with them. After so many vio­la­tions of my body, I thought that I’d nev­er be able to trust any­one that way.

I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel the heart­break that puri­ty cul­ture told me I’d feel after hav­ing sex with Michael. In truth, I was actu­al­ly sui­ci­dal again. Despon­dent. In com­plete and utter despair. But — please hear me on this — it wasn’t because of the sex. It was because of 21 years of puri­ty cul­ture telling me that if I had sex, I was a bro­ken rose. A cup with spit in it. A used car. Inhu­man. Worth­less. To be despised. As I’ve said before, sto­ries are so impor­tant. And when you tell some­one a sto­ry for decades that if they trans­gress, they are evil…how else are they to feel but evil? What else have you done but cre­ate a self-ful­fill­ing prophe­cy?

I remem­ber being so very con­fused. Before the real­iza­tion hit that I was now going to be con­sid­ered utter­ly defiled, I was…happy. I felt whole. I felt hope. Sex was so very dif­fer­ent from rape. Shar­ing such an inti­ma­cy with some­one I loved and trust­ed with my whole being, some­one who would nev­er hurt or use me…it was heal­ing. It was won­der­ful. It was home.

It took me years into my mar­riage to real­ize that what I’d been told about sex and puri­ty was all wrong. Michael didn’t see me any dif­fer­ent­ly after sex. He didn’t love me any less, he didn’t respect me any less, he didn’t leave me. (How hor­ri­bly puri­ty cul­ture taught me to view men!) We were adults, shar­ing a moment togeth­er that we’d enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly con­sent­ed to share. And it was good.

Despite every­thing that fol­lowed — from the coun­sel­ing we were giv­en from our church to being expelled from BJU — despite what we’d been taught to believe about the nature of sex with­out a wed­ding ring and how it would break us and make us dirty and unclean and defiled before God and despised by our fel­low Chris­tians…despite it being con­sid­ered so very wrong, it was right for us and it was good.

It was good.

Be sure to check out the No Shame Move­ment, a plat­form to share sto­ries about unlearn­ing puri­ty cul­ture, and stay tuned for Les­son 4 from Lessons Learned at the Fortress of Faith!

Posted in Fat Girl,
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