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Illuminations - Issue #2

Kristin Rawls
Kristin Rawls
Critique and invective amid the collapse.

Queers Don't Sexualize Kids, Evangelicals Do
Part I.
2015 NYC Pride by Vaughn88, Wikimedia Commons Share-Alike 4.0 International License
2015 NYC Pride by Vaughn88, Wikimedia Commons Share-Alike 4.0 International License
Pride was heavy this year. Amid escalating legislative attacks against transgender Americans, flamethrower Chaya Raichik used her massive twitter presence as Libs of Tik Tok to highlight family-friendly drag queen story hours at libraries throughout the United States and target them for hate. Right on call, groups of Proud Boys mobilized to shout down the events she publicized, frighten the children in attendance and keep queer people hidden from public life.
The outcry centered around the false claim that drag queen story hours sexualize children and groom them for abuse. They do not. At library story hours for children, drag queens use bright colors and hyperfeminine performance to engage children in stories about acceptance and diversity. These events are age-appropriate even as Christofascists insist they are tantamount to child sexual abuse.
The claim by Christian fascists is outrageous and insulting partly because it’s so far removed from what really goes on at events like these, which exist to provide queer parents with outlets for community and teach children innocuous lessons about human diversity and pluralism. This is what fascist evangelicals now call “grooming.”
The truth is that queer people are not using these events to groom children at all, and the people who accuse them are engaging in a sinister game of projection. That is to say, no one sexualizes children as zealously or as systematically as Christian fascists do.
Though it currently appears in rightwing propaganda smearing queer people, grooming is a real technique in which child abusers seek out access to potential victims, gain their trust and desensitize them for future abuse. But queer people are not the culprits here, and it cheapens victim advocacy to claim that they are. Rightwing evangelicals and Christofascists, however, see it as their task to raise children for rigid, specific gender roles, which requires preparing them for early marriage from a very young age.
Fundamentalist Children and Marriage Prep
Fundamentalist Christians have long encouraged parents to raise young adolescents as mini-adults, focusing on preparation for marriage and family life. Popular dogma suggests that teenagers don’t even exist; there are only small children and fledgling adults.
Families begin praying about future marriages early, and children are raised understanding that marriage and family are the primary purpose of life. In her how-to manual on the Quiverfull lifestyle called “All the Way Home,” Mary Pride articulates a common refrain in evangelical circles – the idea that teens aren’t really children at all. She writes:
Here we have someone with the body of a man or a woman who is given absolutely no responsibility. This bothered me when I was a teen, and it bothers me today. No other culture enforces childhood as long as ours… [Today’s teen] is bombarded with unheard-of social pressure to use drugs and fornicate…
[A]ll today’s teens really need can be summed up in two words: meaningful work… They need a chance to practice adult virtues (after all, they are already tempted with adult vices).
To Pride, it’s very simple; teens appear to her like small adults, and so they should be treated as one would treat adults. In addition to ensuring that teens stay busy with work, Pride says, parents should do what they can to prepare teens for marriage. She explains:
Once a young man or woman is well-trained, and the young man is capable of supporting a family (which can be sooner than we expect if he has incentive and some help), it’s time to start matchmaking. Help the poor kids out by locating likely marriage prospects and providing supervised social situations where they can meet each other. Now is the time to start training your fledgling in motherhood and fatherhood.
This is not an uncommon refrain in evangelical circles. Young Christian homeschoolers often begin discussing marriage with their parents by middle school if not earlier. They are encouraged to pray diligently for their future spouses in idealized heterosexual marriage, and to compose lists of qualities they hope to find in a future mate.
And just as Pride suggests, parents do seek out potential mates for their children, heavily involving themselves in the “matchmaking process.” Because these children are taught to submit unconditionally to the will of their parents, this practice often becomes coercive and make it difficult for children to say “no.”
Evangelists Michael and Debi Pearl are best known for their book “To Train Up a Child,” which sold more than 800,000 copies to evangelicals by 2013. The book is most infamous for training parents in physical abuse techniques which were used in the murders of children Lydia Shatz and Hana Grace-Rose Williams. It is particularly popular within the Christian homeschooling movement.
And like any other evangelical child-rearing book, it too has a preoccupation with marriage preparation. The Pearls write that:
A mother should always keep in mind that she is molding her daughters into future wives and mothers. Challenge them with sewing, cooking, cleaning and learning about every aspect of household management… Fathers, by the time the boys can follow you around, they should be ‘helping’ you work… Gender role distinction is demeaned in modern education. Don’t let a coven of Sodomites and socialists…reprogram your natural understandings of male and female distinctiveness.
Although boys and girls are raised to prioritize marriage in their adolescence, girls in particular must look toward marriage for any hope of a life outside the immediate family. They are encouraged to look toward motherhood as their future, not higher education or a career.
Homeschooling allows parents to raise their children with rigid gender roles in place. Echoing the contemporary moral panic targeting transgender Americans, the Pearls appeal to parents’ traditionalism or, as they see it, “natural understandings of male and female distinctiveness.” This must be done consistently, and the supposed “weaknesses” of each sex must be heavily policed.
Young girls, according to the Pearls, can be preternaturally attention-seeking and emotional, and the advice given for reigning in these aspects of girls’ “natural distinctiveness” gets particularly cruel. They write with reckless callousness on signs of mental illness like self-injury, a symptom frequently linked to experiences of child sexual abuse. They suggest that such symptoms can be tamped down and hidden, and that this is a crucial aspect of a girl’s training for marriage:
[We] know an adult who hurts herself every time she gets emotionally disturbed. If, in your family, these extremes never occur, be grateful. It is, nonetheless, far more pleasant to live with a child or teenager who is not a ‘crybaby.’ Also, your daughter’s future husband will appreciate you having trained her.
That is to say, girls who self-injure are not experiencing intense psychological pain; they’re just “crybabies” who annoy their parents. Teaching girls to hide their pain is considered a crucial element of preparing them for married life and motherhood. After all, say the Pearls, a daughter’s “future husband will appreciate you having trained her,” ostensibly so he won’t have to do it himself.
The Pearls may be famous for writing the book on breaking a child’s will, but their influence is widespread. A child’s unquestioning submission to the will of the parents is considered the gold standard in evangelical childhood behavior. Homeschool parents love to regale others with stories about strangers complimenting their children’s “good” – read, submissive – behavior. Obedience is prized, never self-actualization. So it’s no surprise that the concept of consent never enters into the evangelical framework.
Evangelicalism and the Concept of Consent
A common refrain in conservative Christianity is, “Your body is not your own.” In her book, “Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement,” Kathryn Joyce quotes Christian nationalist homeschooling leader Michael Farris echoing this sentiment: “If we choose to become bondservants to our Lord (and we do have a choice), then our bodies are no longer our own.”
Calvinist writer Jon Bloom uses Bible verses here to explain the evangelical view that God, not the human, owns the body:
“The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Corinthians 6:13). When we become Christians, our bodies become members or appendages of Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 6:15–17). And the very Spirit of Christ dwells in our bodies as the Spirit used to dwell in Jerusalem’s temple (1 Corinthians 6:19). Implication: every sexually immoral behavior a Christian engages in drags the Lord Jesus Christ into that engagement.
A culture in which the body does not belong to its earthly inhabitant has no room for robust conceptualizations of consent or bodily autonomy. Parents are intimately involved in every step of the marriage process, from childhood prayers to chaperoned dating, or courtship, to actual marriage. Once a marriage takes place, children are told they must treat their spouse’s body as an extension of their own. There is no sense whatsoever that a person has ownership or agency when it comes to the things that happen to her body, sexual or otherwise.
It’s time to call this what it is: grooming for future abuse. A person who is never taught that it’s okay to say "no” enters into the world with extreme vulnerability. And of course, the consequences of these beliefs come down very hard on girls in a patriarchal system.
Girls are sometimes taught that in marriage they must be “joyfully available” for their husbands’ sexual satisfaction at all times, that saying “no” constitutes a failure to live out Biblical mandates for the family, and that marital rape doesn’t exist. As we will see next week, these beliefs help funnel children into very young marriages – including child marriages – and are fueling the child marriage epidemic in the United States.
Coming Up in Illuminations
Next week’s piece continues the argument begun here – that evangelical Christians are systematically grooming children. Part 1 considers the ways in which conservative evangelicals grooms children for abuse and early marriage. Part 2 focuses on the epidemic of child marriage among evangelicals in the United States and on evangelicals’ fierce opposition to legal bans on the practice. Part 3, coming in two weeks, focuses specifically on the epidemic of child sexual abuse within evangelical communities.
This series is not exhaustive. I could write an entire book on this subject. For every quote I used here, there are thousands of others I might have chosen. My goal is to begin a real conversation about grooming and abuse in evangelicalism – and to make it abundantly clear that the people currently throwing stones have rods in their own eyes.
Don’t miss out on the other issues by Kristin Rawls
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Kristin Rawls
Kristin Rawls @kristinrawls

Politics, religion, education, culture. Words in lots of places. @CRightcast podcast co-host with @eaton on @DiscoverFlux.

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