Evangelicals are, by definition, supposed to be bearers of ‘Good News’.
When I was little (prior to New Guinea, so I’d have been maybe 5 or 6), there were some neighbor boys in E. St. Louis who would come and terrorize me and my brother. Dad had built us a ‘fort’ on on the back of our property in the woods, and these boys would often just show up. They were older than either me or Bill at the time: I believe Tiger was 16 and Jeff was 11. We complained to dad about their presence and said they were ‘mean’ to us, but he reminded us they came from a ‘broken home’ and that we should try to include them. Well… that shut the two of us up from ever feeling free to complain about them. They stashed porn in the fort, and my brother and I would burn it or hide it because we were afraid. And once, while I was alone with them, they exposed themselves to me. (My brother was in school and I wasn’t, so I must have been pretty small). I came into the house crying, and dad asked what was wrong. I told him they were being ‘mean’ again, and he said, “well… remember… they aren’t from a Christian home… so try to be nice and ‘turn the other cheek’.” We stopped playing in the fort altogether. And nothing more was ever said about it.
When I was 19 I took a job across the state and worked for an inner city mission, holding summer camps for youth. There was a man who volunteered who was 32. As young girls are wont to do, I found him attractive, and I’m sure I acted like a 19 year old in my behavior to him. One evening, late in the summer, he asked me to go for a walk with him. We hiked up a trail in the woods–and there he became quite ‘handsie’ with me. I was uncomfortable. No guy had ever acted that way with me before. Danny complained “haven’t you ever had a boyfriend before?” I said nothing as I was too ashamed to admit that I was inexperienced in these matters. I can’t imagine how it could have been fun for him, as I know it had to have been like kissing a brick wall. But I endured and said nothing.
That weekend, dad and mom came to visit. While alone with dad, I pointed Danny out and said “He’s not been very nice to me.” Dad shrugged and said “well… you know how to handle yourself.” So I was silent, feeling judged for not having been more resistant… for letting things go as far as they had… etc.
I spent the next month pretty much terrorized by Danny who would show up at my cabin late at night and want to fool around. Suddenly I felt like there was no ground to say ‘no’. There was no support. I’d already let things go shamelessly too far with him, and I was to blame because I’d not stopped it the first night. After about a month of this, I quit the job, packed up and returned home, only to have my dad and mom talk to me about making commitments and not quiting. “People at the mission were counting on you, Donna. Those kids were counting on you.”
And I’ve never talked to my folks about that either.
I went back to my small conservative Christian college my for my junior year after this experience with Danny feeling pretty miserable. While I was too ashamed to tell my parents about it, I was even more afraid of how the college administration might react: I knew plenty of gals who got kicked out of school because of similar things. I felt like I’d done something really wrong, but couldn’t tell a soul–couldn’t confess my ‘sins’. (The bizarre thing was–I’d really not done much of anything–just didn’t resist his advances–yet I carried around an amazing amount of guilt.)
I bear a weight of ‘guilt’ these days, not for having had the experiences I’ve had, but rather for not being more honest with my parents. And yet I also do not think it is worth the bother at this point in our lives or in my relationship with them. I don’t feel known at all by my family–these things which were so big, and so formative to me will remain unspoken. And at the same time, I don’t see any ‘good’ coming from sharing it with them–it would only foster an-already-too-late sense of guilt in them. And they don’t need that, and neither do I.
The events with Danny were very formative to my relationship with Mark (who I was eventually engaged to). Once things progressed as they did with Danny, there seemed no reason for them to not do so with Mark (I know that makes no logical sense, but somehow it worked that way). Enduring Danny left me stupidly willing to endure a lot of other things from men. At any rate, even though I knew things were terribly wrong in my relationship to Mark, I couldn’t talk to anyone about it, and I found myself in that crazy cycle of guilt again.
When Mark and I broke up, I walked away having come to the conclusion that if everything is sin, nothing is sin.
It was this experience, coupled with the unintended silencing of the holiness tradition, that made me really begin questioning the whole ‘Wesleyan’ agenda. I felt a real and certain need for this to be known, and couldn’t risk talking about it with anyone. Five years passed before I ever told anyone. That was the head-space I was in when I entered Seminary: I had learned the ‘Good News’ functioned to silenced the bad, but never quite ‘eradicate’ it.