Sex & The Single Christian
The Black Church's Tragic Failure To Protect Our Future
There's been a spate of teen pregnancies at local churches here.
Girls I’ve known for quite awhile now, but girls I’ve really had
little or no contact with, largely because they are daughters of
single parents who have run interference and blocked access even
to ministers and deacons—neither group having earned much of
I regard these teen pregnancies as a failure of youth ministry
and an indictment of the pastor. Why are these girls having sex
to begin with? What are their values? How do they regard God's
law, and what influence, if any, does the church have in their
lives? The biggest threat to the African American church, to the
African American community, is our abject failure to make Christ
real to our youth. Our youth, in large measure, have little
knowledge of and absolutely no fear of God. The very mindset
that allows the behavior that led to these pregnancies is,
therefore, a fair indictment of the pastor and the church
Many pastors are simply disconnected from youth ministry, leaving that work to clueless matrons or, worse, tossing in green rookie preachers to head it up simply because these men (or women) are young. Youth ministry, like music ministry, needs to be performed by someone who is anointed to do it. By someone who has a spiritual gift and a life clean of sin who can function in that gifting. Too often, in our church tradition, vital and important tasks are simply staffed out to whomever *looks* right for the job. The matron looks responsible and trustworthy. The young minister looks like he’s a good fit for the youth ministry.
By every scriptural example, however, God is instructing us to walk by faith and not by sight [2 Cor. 5:7]. To not make decisions based on our five senses or our limited and carnal perception, but by the will and Spirit of God. By most objective observation, youth ministry in the black church is mired in tradition and fatally flawed, the black church having abdicated its responsibility to protect our future. By not instilling our values, by not making Christ real in a visceral and intellectual way, we have failed to imbue our youth with those values, values that will surely provide at least a speed bump along their rebellious way. Pastors who simply ignore youth ministry—outside of whatever pageantry exists by sporadic youth demonstrations in worship service—are criminally responsible for the continuing erosion of the African American family.
By not ministering to the Mommies, by not making them a partner, by not helping to create an environment of trust, Pastors and Youth Leaders have allowed the church to be regarded as just another institution. Just another building full of people the child must be suspect of.
Black women complain mightily that black men take no interest in raising children. But when a black man does, they immediately suspect him of pedophilia or worse. There was one Mommy who asked me—asked me—to reach out to her daughter, who had become withdrawn but who seemed to open up to me, and I did, keeping Mommy informed every step of the way (those steps consisting of one supervised chat with her and one phone call to the entire family), and Mommy still ended up in the Pastor’s office accusing me of trying to take advantage of her child. Which led to my withdrawing from the child, which confused her and damaged her relationship with Mommy (kids really aren’t nearly as stupid as parents seem to think they are; she knew right away what had happened and called me in tears about it). By trying to protect her child, Mommy sent terribly mixed messages and created an atmosphere of mistrust between herself and the child, while planting doubt in the girl’s mind that any man—minister or no—could or should be trusted.
Stealing a girl’s childhood is just criminal. She’s dreaming of some wonderful love, some wonderful guy. Protect her, sure, but let her dream. Help her find safe and responsible ways of pursuing that dream. There’s got to be a way to protect her future without ruining it at the same time.
Boys & Girls: It's way past time to get real..
Banned By Over-Protective Mommies
About a year ago, Neil and I were discussing youth ministry, and
I said the church was failing miserably at youth ministry
because they’re putting the wrong groups with the wrong people.
Churches routinely split up teens by gender and have a woman
teach the girls and a man teach the boys, when the exact
opposite should be true. Boys need to hear the truth, the raw,
unvarnished truth, from women who once were the very girls these
boys are pursuing. Girls who got pregnant and whose lives took
tremendous turns. Whose children never got to know their own
fathers, and who’ve had to struggle for years just to keep food
on the table.
Boys need to understand the consequences of their actions, something they can sort of learn from a man, but it’s much more compelling for a woman to open her vault, her heart of secrets, and risk vulnerability by sharing her experience with boys who spend all day and all night thinking of little else but how to talk some teenage girl out of her panties. This is a vital encounter that rarely happens in our culture.
Girls, conversely, need information. Not birth control, not abortion, not the day after pill. They need to know that the very moment a boy climaxes inside her, he can rarely even remember her name. The first things on his mind usually are (1) is there anything to eat and (2) what’s on TV. Most boys are simply not prepared for the emotional consequences of a girl ending her virginity. They are simply and woefully uninformed about women in general, about what this means to her and how girls are wired emotionally. Most of the time he doesn’t care. He’s conditioned to think of life like a video game: to think of things only in terms of winning and losing. If she gives in, if he gets some, he wins. That’s it. That’s all he really cares about.
Nine out of ten girls would tell you their first time wasn't great. The boy was thoughtless and just ripped her apart. It was quick and painful and then he was on his way, and she's left wondering what on earth she just did. Nine out of ten girls will tell you they don't even speak to the guy who got it the first time, and they wish they hadn't given it up to him.
Stop Sugar-Coating, Stop Avoiding
Most teens say, “Please. I got this.” But that's just immaturity
because it does not respect the overwhelming power of God's
creation. Our instinct for survival is, likely, the greatest
driving force in our lives. The reproductive instinct is nearly
as strong. As strong as teens think they are, as disciplined, as
spiritual as you think your child is, all reason and all
intellect can and will go out the window if they put themselves
in a position where instinct takes over. In the heat of the
moment, all rational thought about what is at risk goes out the
window. Most teen pregnancies occur out of this heat of the
moment, where teens become overwhelmed by this powerful instinct
and are too caught up to either think rationally or to protect
themselves. She thinks he'll only go so far. She's depending on
him to only go but so far. He thinks he can control himself.
That he'll stop in time or that he'll pull out in time.
This is disastrously immature thinking. This is birth control for lunkheads. This is logic that only seems sensible to you when you're caught up and your drawers are on fire, and you're making excuses for your lack of discipline, lack of respect for God and for yourself. The moment, the very second, you start making deals with your self-respect you've already lost it. This business is a losing gamble, and this is the primary reason boys and girls become mommies and daddies, losing themselves and their own dreams for the future in the process.
A boy pressuring you for sex— that's not love. A boy stressing you about your school work or your church activities— that's not love. Love is not selfish. Love does not demand its own way [1 Corinthians 13:4-7]. And if it's not love, then, truly, you are both risking your futures over foolishness. Over hormones. You are possibly bringing a life into this world and sentencing that child to a life of struggle— economic and emotional— because two people not mature enough to deliver pizzas decided to play games with the fabric of creation. It is the ultimate selfish act, to try God's patience by belittling His plan for us and tapping into the mystery of creation. or, worse, by blaspheming God by ignoring these concerns and concepts, or denying their validity.
These are words I would never be allowed to speak in church. To an audience I could never have, an audience of teen girls. Yes, girls can hear this from women, if women are brave enough to share this with them, but the girls really need to hear this from a guy who looks like Usher. From a young, handsome, desirable tough guy, the kind of guy they’d all end up in the back seat with given half a chance. He needs to tell them the blunt truth, a truth so blunt most churches simply would never allow it to happen, as we’re handcuffed by this idiotic G-Rated Sesame Street quality of curriculum.
This kind of youth ministry is rare, if it goes on at all. It certainly does not go on here in Ourtown, and Neil (who spent years as the Youth Pastor of our former church) could certainly never get away with running a curriculum like that.
So we created one of our own. Boys & Girls: What You Need To Know, What Your Parents Won’t Tell You is precisely the kind of guerilla Bible study we’d conduct if any church were brave enough to let us do it. It is the kind of blunt, honest, life-saving information every kid needs but few kids get.
Sex is, frequently, the very last and most infrequent thing discussed in church. The teaching of sex, sexuality and issues of human intimacy are often left to secular venues (the school, the social services office, the clinic), which is an abdication of the church's responsibility to properly equip God's people. A secular education of these matters yields a secular view of these matters.
As a result, secular teaching seems more reasonable than the largely non-existent spiritual teaching, and our struggle becomes complicated by the world's acceptance of common sexual practice. We ourselves come to view God's opinion on such matters as antiquated or irrelevant. The fact is, the exact opposite is true. Secular teaching on sexuality and intimacy is wholly irrelevant to God's view. And God's view, what the scriptures actually say as opposed to what the church suggests they say or wants them to say, is more relevant than our vague assumptions and spiritual hearsay.
What We Leave Behind: What's on his mind: (1) Is there anything to eat (2) What's on TV.
Failing To Protect Our Future
Pastors: there's simply too much at stake. You need to stop
worrying about losing tithes-paying members and start honoring
your responsibility to God and to the sheep He has entrusted to
your hands. Too many pastors wring those hands over issues like
this because they are, frankly, afraid of eroding their tithing
base. Afraid of Mommies getting mad and storming out, which hits
the church in the pocketbook.
Being fiscally responsible for your ministry is, indeed, a big responsibility. But the minute you start trading souls for dollars, you’re nothing more than a sellout. A hypocrite in a robe. God’s Word, God’s Will for our lives, must be the rock your church is founded upon. Cowering from hysterical Mommies—from people desperate for deliverance from pain that continues to haunt them—makes you a coward of irreducible proportions and a disgrace to the ministry. Pastors: in the name of the God who sent you, please pastor these folks. Don't try and be a diplomat. Don't be their pal. They've got enough pals. They need a pastor. The stronger you are as a leader, the more effective you’ll be in your ministry.
The truth is, parents, preachers, grown-ups: you cannot help teens with their problem until you get over yours. Over-protective mommies are the number one cause of teen pregnancy because these mommies are so over-protective of their little cream puff children that they block important information every kid needs to have in order to make good choices for themselves. Mommies who are quickly offended and who go on the warpath, mommies who try and isolate their daughters, do not realize that by creating an unsustainable and artificial single-gender environment for her, she is not equipping her to relate to or deal with boys or men. Mommy's over-protective zeal has set the stage for the predator to move in because her little cream puff child has never learned how to relate to men or how to deal with them. It is these very same mommies, overprotective, histrionic, ready to fight, that the Pastor and the deacons and the mission department are terrified of. It's why this approach we advocate here would likely never pass muster at most churches. We're terrified of The Mommies. Mommies who are sheltering their kids right into the very trap she is desperate for them to avoid.
The very best protection the church or the family can equip a boy or a girl with is information. The more information a kid has, the more informed a choice that child can make. Information only about scripture leads to the Church Museum thinking, as the church is so invested in 1965, advice that only deals with the scriptures tends to go into the museum with the rest of what you do on Sunday. Information about contraception just scares mommies to death. Mommies really are not emotionally equipped to trust their own work, trust that they have passed their values onto their children and that, in and of itself, information about contraception does not construe a virtual license to have sex. It's not that mommies don't trust their kids, its that they don't trust themselves. They are mirroring their own mistakes, their own bad choices. They want better choices for their children, but they don't trust their own work. We are all a product of Mommy's work. She has endowed us with her values. Mommy needs to trust her own work, and give her kids the information they need to make the best choices for their lives.
The half-baked Davy And Goliath 1965-style youth ministry is simply a sell-out of our African American youth, which is ultimately a sell-out of our future, as each successive generation of Black America finds increasingly fewer of us in Sunday morning pews. This is a despicable failure of leadership.
And God is watching.
Christopher J. Priest
7 November 2005
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