Obliviously Obvious

After Facebook went down last week, I’ve been exchanging numbers with a lot of you, and I’ve been amazed at how many of you are still reading this blog. I feel that I have a lot to explain. Like I said in my last post, a lot of these things were obvious to my friends, but not to me. I was oblivious to many of the signs of trouble with my relationships. Letting go and moving on has meant looking back with improved clarity, but in doing so, I’ve managed to repeat my own trauma patterns, too. More than one person has reached out to me and said I need to break the cycle.

I was shocked this morning to see my own pattern of slipping into deep waters at the beginning of every October for the past eight years. October 2013, my parents kicked my sibling and me out. October 2014, I came forward here about my parents’ abuse. It’s October 2021, and as if on cue, there’s a new post on this site talking about how I’ve just escaped another bad situation. I’m amazed that so many of you have been so kind and understanding when I reached out. I feel that I’m hanging on by a thread of trust, though. I spent so long justifying my last relationship, and now I’ve taken time away from it, and my whole perspective has changed. Again.

We repeat the same patterns in our lives, and breaking the cycle is never easy. At the height of our fight, a friend even tried to mediate by appealing to this fact with me. I understand that trauma is playing a role, and I am not an innocent hero up against a villain. At the same time, looking back, I realized that there was nothing left between us to fight for. Unfortunately, outgrowing someone means loss on both ends. The blowup was so classic, so textbook, that a lot of people saw it coming. The two of us were too busy spinning into each other, too busy picking up speed. I was too deeply codependent to hear the warnings that I was collapsing into trying to care for others at the expense of myself.

I cannot thank you all enough for hanging in there with me. It means my survival and livelihood. Thank you for your continued support, care, and kindness. I don’t know where I would be without it.

I need to step away from the blog for a while. I will try to post again next month, and keep my Patreon patrons updated. But I need to break this cycle for myself, and part of that is recognizing what my own baggage and trauma did to this relationship and the decisions I made surrounding it. For now, I’m reaching out to people again who I fell out of contact with over the past five years.

I’m also taking precautions not to fall for this kind of thing again. Part of that means I need to stop talking about all of this on my blog immediately when it happens. That’s an old habit I picked up from my dad, if we’re being really honest here. I grew up thinking my life was a spectacle, so I made it more so, and now I am living with the consequences. Thank you all for reading along, and for your patience as I work on other things.

Surviving and Prioritizing

It may not seem like it by how much I’ve made it a habit, but I hate asking for help. The society I live in frowns upon it severely. No matter how great the need, people in the US especially are dedicated to independence. It’s considered better to die with dignity than invite shame by asking for help.

The fundraiser last year gave us enough to move into a new apartment, and for the past several months, I’ve been supplementing my income from Patreon with fundraising to make ends meet. I’ve said it elsewhere, but to make it clear, I don’t want anyone to help me if they can’t afford it. So many people are struggling right now. There are so many people I’d love to give money to on a regular basis, but I don’t have the spare resources.

I hope someday that my Patreon will bring in enough for me to cover all of my own monthly expenses so I can begin saving and taking better care of myself and my community. For now, I am amazed that rent and utilities are covered, because I never thought I would be able to rely on my writing to get by, and I’m doing just that. 

In my efforts to address the issues that impact me directly, I have written about things I’m not an expert about. Over the past several years I’ve written essays about politics and inequality, but these have distracted from talking about what I know. What I know is only my own experience, and I’m not an expert in complex issues like economics or climate change.

My frustration with the state of things extends far beyond the world I grew up in. I believe that problems like familial abuse would decrease significantly if we had a better social safety net. However, I am learning that it’s not my job to fix the whole world and every aspect of society that contributed to the dysfunction I grew up with. It is my prerogative only to tell my story.

Many survivors do not make their stories public. Choosing to speak up about what I’d truly experienced was not an easy decision. Not everyone has the same opportunities, and not everyone wants to blog about their trauma for a living. I’m not sure most days if I want to write about my trauma for a living. It’s painful. More than that, it might even be counterproductive to my recovery to keep trying to write about the trauma.

I worry a great deal about the silent survivors, those living in anonymity and trying to get jobs, housing, and relational safety. I wonder where the Turpin children are now and how they are doing. I worry also about those who cannot escape because there is no anonymity in the outside world for them, like the Duggar kids. I am lucky to be just recognizable enough to get attention and just anonymous enough to have gotten out. The survivor’s guilt I live with is very real.

Birthday Post 7

Birthdays, for me, are not a time of celebration, but a time to feel the weight of life’s length. I remember when years felt long, and now I feel so old as they shorten. I don’t know how much strength I have in me to double this time I’ve spent so far, and keep counting. I fear losing count.

29 is a weird number for me, because it always makes me think of the time my mom turned 30, and everyone, including her, continued to insist she was still 29. Now that I am actually 29, I know that I don’t want to do the same – I want to be honest about how old I am.

Honesty is so much more than telling the truth about other people. It’s also telling the truth about yourself, and that is a difficult thing. I do not always want to be honest with myself about my own behavior and motives. I do not like carrying the burden of my baggage. I’m breaking under the weight of trying to hold back the results of what I have inherited and experienced. I berate myself for not trying hard enough, not being strong enough.

Secrets loom in the shadows of my memory, and the more I shine light into them, the darker and sharper they become. I mean to tell it all, but I am not the hero of my story. I am someone who tried to hold it all together while caring for everyone around me.

I appreciate the support and the opportunity to write. I am finally being paid to write my book, and with many tears and jarring re-visualizations of memories, I am spending as much time as I possibly can working on it. There is much to tell.

I don’t want to face my existence today. The plan is to share today with a small gathering of vaccinated people, so I will try to do something I struggle to do much: just relax.

Avoidant Writing

I write stream-of-consciousness rants on a blog. These pieces aren’t really essays, and they certainly aren’t academic or journalistic in nature. I try to do research, but I don’t know how credible my essays are, and therefore how convincing my conclusions are. If there is any consistency in my work, it’s that I try to talk about “big subjects,” but I do it haphazardly. I am not an expert on economics or climate science. I worry a great deal about things I don’t understand. In short, I haven’t been taking some very basic writing advice: write what you know.

I am desperate to communicate, failing at every turn to get out what I want to express. I am committed to working. I don’t self-entertain, I never did as a child because it was trained out of me. I write, I do housework, I keep everyone fed. It doesn’t seem like a lot of work to me because my housework load has been so heavy in the past. If I dedicated all my time to focusing on finishing my book, I think my mental health would decline even further. I’m not okay with my thoughts. I don’t like reflecting on them, yet I gravitate to writing in the early morning, I write with an insatiable desire to just type, type, type, whatever it is that comes into my head. The really painful thing is reviewing what I have written.

Perfectionists never measure up to our own standards. I am tasked with improving my craft as a writer with the best tactics I can learn. I want to, but my motivation is also a deep drive I can’t describe except to other people who can’t stop creating. While I have impossible standards for myself, I also have no way to gauge the difference between what’s perfect and what’s just okay. I expect greatness from my book, and therefore put a lot of weight into every piece that actually makes it into my draft. I would say that over the past seven years, I’ve put about 5% of what I’ve written into the book draft. I’m going to turn 30 before I finish it, which scares me, honestly, but it’s just a fuck ton to explain.

The beginning has been moved and rewritten so many times because I don’t know where to begin. Right now I’m working on a beginning where I recount everything I can remember about the births. It’s been weeks of work, adding bits at a time and recounting the stories aloud, constantly triggered by the vivid images I’m recollecting as I write. Even this post has taken many days of work, many attempts, and I finally pieced the beginning together from several entries before I could write. It seems clunky because it is.

A massive obstacle to writing directly about my experiences is my mental health. I have PTSD from what I’m trying to dig up every day. I don’t think I want to know how many people with PTSD have tried, and how many have failed or succeeded, at trying to write a memoir about the things that gave them PTSD. This makes every writing session gratingly painful, distracted, dissociative, and grief-stricken. I tend to put on music that pulls at my emotions as I write, because it helps to recognize that I can feel my emotions about these things. I couldn’t express my feelings at the time, but I can now as an adult.

I have been writing about what I don’t know because the vagueness of injustice and inequality has been easier to discuss than my own trauma. This is a way of keeping my defenses up. It’s also a way of minimizing my own experience. I still have a warped sense of self-importance in the world, thinking my writing can influence a reversal in the trajectory of human history as it happens. I am learning that I am one small human, and perhaps I can’t save the world, or anyone at all. I can only offer some words about what I have observed, and maybe it will offer something worthwhile to those who read it. I can only do that if I talk about what I know.

The Power of Support

A post is circulating on social media about a famous composer’s funding. I wanted to share it here and talk about the implications for myself and other writers and artists. Here is a screenshot of the tumblr post, with the text of the post below it.

Text of post:

TIL Tchaikovsky had a patron who gave him enough money to quit his job and become a full-time composer, on the condition that they never meet in person.


this is the sexiest thing I’ve ever read in my life ever


Tchaikovsky’s fortunes changed in 1877 when he gained the emotional and financial support of wealthy patron Nadezhda Von Meck. The generous annual stipend of 6000 roubles she gave him about 20x what he would have made as a civil servant – enabled him to quit his job with the Conservatory and become Russia’s first full-time, professional composer.

While the composer and his patron exchanged more than 1,200 deeply personal letters in the course of 13 years (that’s nearly two a week), they met only once accidentally and awkwardly-and they never spoke a word to each other. Von Meck stipulated that she never wanted to meet as a condition of her patronage, and the socially awkward Tchaikovsky was more than happy to comply.

Punk Rorschach:

this woman really went “you’re a neurotic twink with no social skills but your music slaps so here’s a shit ton of money never look at me goodbye”

The most common response I saw to this post was “wow, I wish I could get someone to pay me to create,” and I felt extremely lucky to realize that I have 90 people collaborating to provide me with the opportunity to spend my time creating. Creating a Patreon six years ago was one of the best decisions I ever made, and it has slowly grown. Now it pays the rent and some bills, meaning I have to improvise to cover my needs far less than I used to.

Since my last post, many of you have sent encouraging notes with gifts, and I am so grateful for all of your thoughtful kindness.

I’m so glad that I have this opportunity, and that supporting an artist is so accessible now. I am not supported singlehandedly by one person with a great deal of funds to spare, but by a whole crowd of people who contribute whatever they can. If that’s a dollar a month, I still want to work to earn that dollar with content. So for those who are supporting me on Patreon, I’m sharing paintings, snippets from the book draft, and updates. I’ve been dividing up my writing time between platforms, and trying to focus on the book as much as I possibly can.

I find it incredible that Tchaikovsky had a sponsor, too, and that I’m in the position to have help and support from a whole collection of people. After years of trying to make it work with housing, it’s astounding to be in an apartment and to know where the rent is coming from.

Thank you all for your support. It means I am free to create, and I am creating earnestly.

Work Update

I feel incredibly grateful for the position I’m in right now. I am working from home, with my own hours, able to work when I can instead of trying to force myself to work through pain. It’s enough to cover my half of rent, my cell phone, and internet. That’s fantastic and I’m so thankful to have almost 90 Patreon supporters pledging together enough to make that possible.

Because I’m covering those expenses right away, by this time every month, I have about $5 to my name. I need to bring in more funds to cover everything else for the rest of the month. This includes my energy bill, grocery deliveries (we have EBT for food), transportation for medical appointments, and all other needs. This is without anything extra for convenience or leisure.

My book is slowly taking shape, and after struggling to make it a priority for years, I have the opportunity to focus on writing at last. It will only be possible for me to keep at it if my Patreon keeps growing to an amount I can rely on fully, instead of having to improvise on my remaining expenses.

If you can join my Patreon or make a one-time donation, it would help significantly toward helping me create more with less worry about how I’m going to cover each expense. Thank you all so much for reading, and as always, please only give if you can!

How to support my writing:

For monthly or annual support, the best option is to make a pledge on Patreon.

The Amazon wish list has been shut down due to shipping problems. If you’d like to help us attain necessities through Amazon, please send a gift card to cynthiajeub@gmail.com

I can also accept one-time gifts through Zelle, PayPal, Venmo, and Cashapp.

Zelle email: cynthiajeub@gmail.com

PayPal email: cynthia.jeub@gmail.com

Venmo: @cynthia-jeub

Cashapp: $CJeub

The Moral Bankruptcy of Evangelical Ethics, Part 4: Where Predators Hide

CW: discussion of predatory behavior including pedophilia, violence, and rape

The work of understanding the motives and intentions of predators is not as simple as merely “playing devil’s advocate” or “debating both sides.” It takes both the ability to recognize that a person’s behavior is reprehensible and the refusal to look away long enough to take action. Preventative, retributive, and protective intervention can make all the difference for victims of abuse. It is important to think about where predators hide so they can be found out and brought to justice before they hurt others.

Predators do not hide exclusively in evangelical Christian institutions, but they make for an excellent place to hide. The evangelical ethics system is a sham. I use the word “sham” because it is literally a mask, a cover, for the reality, which is that Christianity makes no real ethical claims at all, but pretends to do so. The foundations of good ethics, like empathy, consent, minimizing suffering, and fairly allocating resources, are in the gray areas of evangelical ethics. Rather, this “ethical system” manages to sidestep the responsibility for wrongdoing altogether.

The punishment for sin is hell, but Jesus died to cleanse sin, so whether you’re in the clear or not depends on what you believe. There are hundreds of denominations and thousands of churches with slightly different interpretations on this. Some people believe that all your actions are predetermined by god anyway, so any sin you commit is in his will from the beginning of time. Others believe that a sin can make you fall out of the grace of god. There’s a lot of disagreement about the small detail of whether justice will be faced in this life or the next one.

The bible isn’t clear about what to do when someone does something truly wrong. Every possible tactic is used to ensure obedience, but beyond obedience, evangelical ethics offer no comment. Sin is essentially disobedience to god, and so the definition equates all sins. A passing intrusive thought can be interpreted as a sin or a temptation from evil spirits, depending on what interpretation you take. Because there is such an emphasis on obedience, however, a child refusing to obey a parent is committing a sin, while a parent demanding obedience with the use of physical violence is not sinning. A woman refusing to obey her husband is worse than her husband demanding sexual gratification. This warps every level of decision-making, judging against rules instead of against conscience. It also leaves a wide, welcoming message to predators: easy prey with no accountability thrives here.

Trying to be a good Christian all the time makes you an arrogant asshole that everyone outside your little world sees right through. I was one of these Christians when I started attending college. It wouldn’t be long before I started learning that the world was bigger and more complex than I had been brought up to believe it was. I was terrified of committing sin in any way, constantly trying to control my thoughts and actions. I wasn’t trying to make sure I wasn’t hurting anyone, because that was not something I was taught to value. I was just dodging the wrath of god. I was trained to obey immediately and cheerfully whenever told to do something, and even now I struggle with making decisions about how to spend my time.

Christians who’ve given up altogether on being good at all are far worse. The weight of their sin gives them such guilt that they keep right on abusing innocent and vulnerable people out of despair at their depravity. In this way, the ethical system fails epically. Even if the rules were good (they’re not), following them is enforced for the vulnerable only. You can be cut off from community needs for being a “sinner” in the usual sense – that is, if you’re gay or trans – but shunning a leader is difficult to do. The powerful have no accountability. Instead, they are offered followings wherever they go. Evangelical Christians love charisma more than character.  

So it is that scandals have been breaking consistently for years, and Christian institutions have no ethical standard by which to hold their leaders accountable. Instead, they express bewilderment and confusion, and throw up their hands. Evangelical Christians have a bigger problem with gay and trans people than they do with pedophiles. Pedophiles are just family members who’ve been unfairly accused of crossing a fuzzy line anyway. Gay people, well. That’s a clear line to them. They’re not even considered family after coming out.

Start asking about why some lines are so clear and others are so fuzzy, and you won’t get concrete answers. The answers have long winding trails that mix actual lines from the bible and political propaganda. The church hasn’t kept a consistent stance on human rights issues like abortion, though I wouldn’t have known that from my limited sources of information, being born in the 90s to evangelical parents.

In the first three parts of this series, I explored how evangelical ethics emphasize obedience primarily, with the main demands being sexual purity and proselytization. However, “sexual purity” doesn’t have anything to say about safety surrounding sexual activities or teaching consent and understanding. It only refers to isolating the monogamous cishet institution of marriage as the only place where sex is acceptable. The first obvious problem here is that there is no argument against marital rape. The marriage contract is viewed as a ticket to a lifetime of consent, which is not how consent works – it can be withdrawn at any time.

At its root, obedience cannot coexist with consent. You cannot prioritize both. If you wanted to do something, you don’t need to be commanded. If you have a choice to say no, obedience is not being demanded. Purity culture creates obedient people, willing to ignore their own needs for what they are being told to do. Dangerously, it creates people who are vulnerable, naïve, immature, and ignorant about sex. Victims of sexual abuse in this culture often cannot even clearly identify what is happening, because the ethical system either blames them for participating in a sexual activity (regardless of consent), or, in the case of marital rape, demands they put up with it. I’ve been specifying evangelical ethics up until this point, but this definitely applies to Catholicism, too. That institution has been thoroughly proven to cover for the exact same abuses of power.

The most vulnerable among us are suffering the worst kinds of abuse at the hands of the powerful. Churches and all other institutions that follow evangelical Christian “ethics” are welcoming places for predators. I have explained at length how completely the so-called ethics it champions fail to address real issues. Instead, its many rules and demands to obey them are a mere sham. It hides a world where predators thrive.

Abuse matters, not because it offends a deity, but because it is the cause of great human suffering. In spending a 4-part series discussing the ethics I was taught, I hope I’ve illuminated the basic structure and problems with this set of values. I am writing about how evangelical ethics are morally bankrupt because I believe it is damaging to regard them as morally valid. Religion has long held a seat at the table of discussion over law and justice because it claims to weigh in on ethics. It’s important to stop giving religion the benefit of assumed ethical superiority. It only empowers those who would hide in its heavily shaded gray areas.

The Moral Bankruptcy of Evangelical Ethics, part 3: Proselytization

Note: I’ve been avoiding social media for the past few days because of what it seems like everyone’s talking about. I don’t think I will mention it by name. My own feelings are complicated. I see victims who are terribly isolated in their spotlight. I had enough opportunity to escape the cult I was in, and even though I had tremendous support, I fell hard many times. There are thousands who are still trapped, and it raises the question: is it possible that someone from one of these fundamentalist families could escape and survive to live a full life? In my experience, and according to the stories of many other people with similar backgrounds to mine, the answer is a resounding no, or at the very maximum a slim chance. So I am grieving the total audacity of people who are blaming the victims in this situation, and I haven’t the energy to say more, and I will now continue with my regularly planned series on evangelical ethics, because if anything, it’s relevant without getting into the specifics of how it applies.

With that, back to the discussion: why evangelical Christianity is morally bankrupt and a terrible foundation for ethics. In this part, I want to discuss proselytization. This word means to recruit or convert someone to join a belief system, party, institution, or cause. Throughout its history, Christianity has employed violence of every kind to spread its reach. This is a feature, not a flaw. It is inherently dehumanizing to declare that another way of existing is wrong, and your view of reality is the correct one, and everyone else should adhere to it.

If I were to go through my own introduction to these so-called ethics, I think the first and foremost principle I learned was that proselytizing is the ultimate good thing someone can do. I had been born into a Christian family, so I got to “accept Jesus into my heart” early, or so I was adamantly told by everyone in my world. The goal was for me to be fully prepared to go out into the world and preach the “good news” to anyone and everyone. It didn’t matter whether they wanted to listen, I embraced the idea that any behavior or conversation could impact someone’s relationship with god, and my life was demonstrative of Christian goodness. Which meant I was an insufferable asshole, honestly.

The ”good news” is what I was told the literal translation of the word “gospel” was. I just looked it up, and that is the root etymology, but I can’t be sure what is and isn’t true of what I’ve been told. In short, the good news is that Jesus died so you can go to heaven. That’s it. Also, you killed him. By existing as a human. Humans are also bad. So bad, like disgusting filth and trash to god. But we’re made in the image of god, who is perfect. Anyway, Jesus came back from the dead, which somehow means none of us really have to die permanently. It gets weird when you question how it all works. Some people are content with believing that they will spend an eternity singing praises to god, but this never satisfied me, and my parents encouraged us to believe whatever we wanted about heaven. Some denominations heavily emphasize the specifics of heaven, even mapping it out, but I was not in one of those.

Proselytization has many times been used as a justification for colonization, or just another word for it. To be clear, proselytization has no real value because Christians themselves are not better off for their moral superiority, so it’s not much of a justification. The belief persists that other people would be better off if they lived in a specific way, that is, if they adhered to evangelical Christian values. Christian proselytization is perhaps the most well-funded and widespread experiment on humanity. This experiment is ongoing, though the results are never published, because they all indicate that testing must be halted at once.

All “mission work” falls under the category of this pretense that proselytization is good. While some efforts include benefits for those targeted, like digging wells for people without access to clean water, the ultimate goal is still proselytization. It should be obvious that giving people access to a life-saving resource should come without stipulations. Instead, the goal is the message and the water is a byproduct, a means to an end. It is merely the positive reinforcement to counter the negative reinforcement of violence. A lot of the time, though, what evangelical Christians think of as a positive is not positive at all. It robs indigenous groups of their ways of life, and masquerades as “aid.”

Proselytization by procreation is another approach. My parents, along with many other evangelical Christian parents, believed that having children and teaching them Christian ways was one of the most effective forms of “growing the kingdom of god.” This violates the consent of the children, but again, there is no basis in the ethical system for giving any regard to whether children consent to anything. If given the chance, they wouldn’t consent to being trained to obey with physical violence, but this is considered necessary.

There is no objective reason to believe proselytization is worth valuing. It is only validated from the inside of the evangelical Christian belief system, it’s even in the name, “evangelical.” Evangelism, another word for proselytization, is seen as important because Jesus commanded it. In essence, both proselytization and sexual purity go back to the main virtue of evangelical ethics: obedience. These things sum up evangelical Christian ethics, or what masquerades as an ethical system. In my next post, we’ll explore what is behind this mask.

The Moral Bankruptcy of Evangelical Ethics, part 2: Obedience

Content warnings: violence in religious symbolism and against children

Obedience is a core principle in the ethical code defined by evangelical Christianity. It is at the crux of the cross story itself: according to the Christ myth, god gave his son to be sacrificed, and it was crucial that Jesus obeyed the will of his father, willingly succumbing to a torturous death. It’s a ridiculous story on all accounts, even Christians take pride in this fact, because they say only a clever god would come up with something so radical. It’s actually a violent story, unfit for children, depicting violent torture and the victim of it as good for enduring it. My intent with this essay is to show evidence that obedience basically encapsulates most of the commands demanded by the evangelical interpretation of the bible. Obedience also encapsulates sexual purity and proselytization, though I’m examining those subjects with closer emphasis in this series.

Every command comes with the expectation of obedience. I don’t have to go through each rule to prove this point. The ten commandments are all telling people what to do. The parables and teachings of Jesus are full of promises or warnings about the consequences of behaviors. Beyond the bible as a source, obedience is a broadly expected behavior in every hierarchy the evangelical church respects, upholds, and even worships. God is at the top of the hierarchy, and men are above women, and adults are above children. Pastors are at the top of the hierarchy in churches, with the staff forming into a hierarchy below them.

Because children are at the bottom of the church hierarchy, it is not only acceptable to abuse them, but it is encouraged. Hitting (referred to as “spanking”) is recommended to manage behavior and establish impulse control in children. They tell a horror story to young children about an innocent, kind man who loved and welcomed children being tortured to death slowly. This is used as a motivator for the child’s conscience for the rest of their life. This alone is physical and emotional and spiritual abuse, yet it’s the bare minimum of the abuse these people do. It is done in the name of ensuring obedience, and to that end, it is effective.

Obedience is expected at every level of the hierarchy, too. Women are expected to obey men, and the congregation is expected to obey the pastor. This doesn’t always work, as anyone who’s been through a church split knows, but obedience is championed as the goal.

I wrote a post back in 2018 about the importance of intelligent disobedience, an idea Ira Chaleff talks about in his book of the same name. There, I talked about some of the training my mom did with us kids, and how we had to parrot phrases and were forced to line up by our age at a moment’s notice. Sometimes kids were spanked incessantly for not obeying fast enough. The rest of us were expected to remain in line, without reaction to our younger siblings learning as we did how to obey.

Obedience fails as an ethical standard because you can be commanded to do something wrong. Being trained to instantly obey undermines your capacity to resist or think twice about what you’re doing. It takes away your own responsibility for your actions, because you’re “just doing your job” or “following orders.”

It is also dangerous to equate obedience with goodness and disobedience with badness, but this is what the concept of sin does. It puts all evil behavior on the same level as every other possible way to sin. There is extensive hypocrisy on this, since not all laws are interpreted as having the same weight under evangelical teachings. For instance, the old testament makes it clear that mixed fabrics are a sin to wear, but a cotton-polyester blended t-shirt is fine with most evangelicals.

The only kind of wrong behavior the evangelical church knows how to address is disobedience. There is no clarity on what to do about abuse of power. That is why they can’t call out the abuse from their leaders. Obedience is a more important value to them. Obedience is the basis of evangelical ethics, but it’s a terrible basis for an ethical system, for the multitude of reasons I’ve gone through in this post. In my next post, I’ll be discussing proselytization and what is wrong with it.

The Moral Bankruptcy of Evangelical Ethics, Part 1: Sexual Purity

Content warnings: mentions of physical and sexual abuse

I was raised under strict a strict code of ethics defined by evangelicalism. I had to learn it from early childhood. It was not only something I spent many hundreds of hours memorizing details about, but the rules were reinforced with controlled violence. The violence was carefully managed in such a way that it seemed like organization and order, something with the express purpose of controlling my behavior. Most of my siblings wouldn’t even call it violence, using the words we were taught to use: “spanking,” “discipline,” and “training.”

I was a student of evangelical ethics for more than two decades. I am an expert on few things, but the ethical standards to which I was held from infancy are something I know a great deal about. If you were not raised by dedicated evangelicals, you cannot know what it is like to be held to their impossible standards from early childhood. Even now, I think of my upbringing as one that was moderate in some ways. My parents didn’t force my sisters and me to wear dresses. We weren’t Calvinists, believing that some people are predestined to damnation. They didn’t beat us randomly or relentlessly, the way some other parents were known to beat their kids. The punishments were usually measured out in small increments with clear correlations to what exactly we’d done “wrong” to “earn” this treatment. Compared to our friends and neighbors, it seemed like we were right in the middle of mainstream homeschool Christian culture. Not too extreme, not too fundamentalist – the number of kids was just, well, what god intended.

I am writing an entire book about my indoctrination, but I want to stop and talk about the ethical system itself, because I feel that nobody is willing to directly address it, so I must state this as plainly as I possibly can.

The evangelical ethical code is bankrupt. It has no footing in the ethics discussion because it has utterly discredited itself on the matter. It has been without any credit for centuries, but at long last, evangelicals seem to be losing control of the narrative. Evangelical churches and organizations have proven themselves to be completely incapable of identifying, confronting, and addressing abuse. They fail to even acknowledge, much less address, what is wrong. This is because their ethical systems have no capacity to do so at all.

The ethical code of the evangelical Christian differs from person to person. However, there are some basics that can be summarized without oversimplification or misrepresentation. While evangelicals may pride themselves in having a complex ethical code, it boils down to a few key things: sexual purity, obedience, and proselytization.

I will explain these further to clarify my definitions, but right here is where a lot of Christians will insist that it certainly can’t be boiled down to such basics. What about the golden rule, the ten commandments, the greatest commandment, and the definition of true religion? What about all the parables of Jesus, and for that matter, the importance of the story of Jesus? All of these refer to distinct biblical passages that seem to lay out clear ethical standards. I will address them all and make the case that they all fall under these three subjects as I address them.

Sex is the first thing. It is the foundation of evangelical ethics that the institution of marriage – where only cishet couples in recognized unions are allowed to have sex and families – represents the relationship between Jesus and those who follow him. The “church” is referred to as the “bride of Christ” multiple times in the bible, and this is used to back up the modern conservative definition of marriage.

Cisheteronormative standards are placed upon the children of evangelicals from a time before we are born: when our assigned gender is revealed. This structures the expectations for our lives, and whether we will be allowed to join in specific activities that define our roles. My mother prayed over each of her children’s cribs for our future husbands or wives, respectively according to the designated opposite of our own assigned genders. Even as a taboo nonexistence in the minds of evangelicalism’s sheltered children, sex is so central to the dogma that it is invisibly loud. I listened to music as a toddler about saving myself for marriage. I knew that my husband would be approved by my father before I knew anything about sex itself. This is because sexual purity is forced upon all children of evangelicalism in some form, though some of us were more completely sheltered than others.

Toys are gendered. Tasks are gendered. Expectations are gendered. The roles defined by the gendered toys, tasks, and expectations presented to children in the evangelical world are explicitly clear and defined at great length. People defined as men are the leaders. People defined as women are the followers and supporters. There are no other options, just leading and following. Evangelical institutions are organized around authoritarian hierarchy, and the strongest distinction in that hierarchy is between “men” and “women.”

Evangelical sexual purity is not expected just of those who adhere to the religion, but to everyone in society and the world. This is vitally important to understand: evangelical Christians have no problem with holding everyone to their standards of sexual purity. We’ll discuss proselytizing last, but the evangelical mindset encapsulates both the indoctrination of children and the colonization of the world outside the family and church institutions. They have no problem whatsoever with forcing their religion on other people, especially their own children, who have no say in the matter.

There is a word that Christians use to define moral wrongdoing, and that is “sin.” It is not a very clearly defined word. There are great theological debates about what it is. “Original sin” means that we humans are born with a “sin nature,” that is, we are not only predisposed to sin, but we have all sinned merely by existing. I define this word to be used sparingly because I think it is entirely unhelpful to structuring reasoned ethics. Sin can be anything from cheating on your wife, to being gay, to murdering someone. It can also be the mere thought of stealing a piece of candy as a child. The rationale behind it is that if everyone sins, everyone needs to make amends with god for their sin.

It’s important to also note here that sin, as an incredibly vague concept, is open to interpretation across denominations and sects. According to the evangelical, we are all sinners in need of the redemption of the grace of god. Beyond this, opinions scatter. Some believe all sin falls into the same category, while others treat different actions as more or less sinful. Because it is so unspecific, evangelicals struggle when faced with questions about how to handle harmful behavior. They cannot identify what actions are harmful, and which are harmless. Sin is not a measurement of harm. It is an attempt to guess what may or may not be acceptable to a deity.

Anything that falls outside of marriage is sin, according to the evangelical. Adultery is sin, of course. Divorce is still considered a sin by some within evangelicalism. To be gay, and especially to have gay sex, is no doubt a horrible sin. Extramarital and premarital sex are very frowned upon. This is the most basic way I can describe the evangelical ethic of sexual purity. It permeates every aspect of evangelical living, especially in how children are taught to think about the world and themselves.

There is no evangelical defense for a consent-based sexual ethic. None. Because of this, evangelicals get really, really uncomfortable around the implications of ignoring consent: confusion about rape, abuse, and assault. Especially when the victims are children, because the other thing that evangelicals can’t decide on is the individual human rights of children.

For these reasons, sex is the last thing an evangelical has any right to claim ethical superiority about. This is getting long, so I’m leaving it here and will continue to discuss the other aspects of evangelical ethics in a follow-up post.