Please Don’t Ever Say This Again …

. . . especially in church.

Deunff_Laurent_le-Chewing-gumI’ve started referring to this as The Chewing Gum Story.   Along the same lines, I remember listening to Christian radio in the car one summer, specifically to a talk show about abstinence.  As a variation of The Chewing Gum Story, what I heard was The Cherry Pie Story.  A mom was talking about how she taught her daughter the importance of abstinence by using a freshly baked cherry pie.  “Look how fresh and perfect it is,” the mom said to her daughter (and into the radio.)  “But if we take a piece out of it, it’s not fit to give that pie to someone else as a special gift.”  I remember thinking,”That was random.”  But looking back, that mom was basically trying to send the same message as The Chewing Gum Story.

According to Elizabeth Smart, she was taught by a teacher – she doesn’t say if the teacher was from school or church – that those who engage in sex before marriage – any kind of sex including the non-consenting kind – was like a piece of chewed gum.  And, of course, nobody wants a pre-chewed piece of gum.

This is why she didn’t run for help after being kidnapped as a teenager in Utah. She thought no one – including her parents – would want her anymore.

Elizabeth Smart’s words:

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”

I pray that no Sunday School teacher, no Scout leader, no school teacher, no coach, no nurse, no parent ever tells a person that he or she has a life without value.  No human being is like a chewed up piece of gum.

This is the opposite of the message of Jesus.  Do we believe Jesus can redeem even the violence committed against a kidnapped teenager?  Do we believe that Jesus can redeem the violence against those women in Cleveland or other victims of human trafficking or pedophilia or other physical abuse?

We cannot allow these lies to be shared ever again, especially in a church setting.  Jesus was not out to shame us.  Jesus came to save us from shame.

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19 responses to “Please Don’t Ever Say This Again …

  1. And you believe her? No chance she is claiming this in order to push some other agenda? Perhaps she ought to name the teacher and we can investigate whether the teacher actually said this. I’m pretty wary of any claim that begins, “My (nameless) pastor/preacher/youth minister/rabbi/Sunday school teacher told us XXX [totally outrageous statement].”

    • Whether this exact incident happened or not is relatively irrelevant. People should not be told they are a piece of chewed gum, a ruined pie, or anything that is not fit to be given. As someone who suffers from a terribly low self esteem, I can appreciate the importance of not giving people more reason to doubt their worth.

      • I think it is absolutely relevant whether it happened or not. For one thing, people who know Elizabeth Smart and know what school or church she went to, might very well form an opinion about who this teacher was and thus this person may be being unfairly defamed for saying something she might not have said. I am willing to bet if the chewing gum analogy was used, it was used in a more nuanced manner and as part of a larger teaching about human sexuality. You can’t just pull one part of a teaching out and say “you are calling people who have pre-martial sex used chewing gum.” You have to understand the whole context. I guarantee you could take any teacher, no matter how well intentioned, and if you selectively quote them, they are going to sound cruel or insensitive to someone. Further, we can’t key all teaching to people who have low self esteem or suffer from scrupulosity. We need to emphasize God’s grace, God’s mercy, and the power of redemption, but we also have to emphasize that moral actions have consequences.

    • Scott, I don’t think it really matters who told her this because I can guarantee that it wasn’t just one person who taught it. I personally have heard this analogy (and others like it) from multiple sources in multiple places over the years. These kinds of analogies are commonly used in True Love Waits and youth groups around the country — chewed gum, water with spit in it, a candy bar that has been licked, sticky tape, a rose passed around until the petals fall off, etc. The intention is good — to encourage young people (especially women) to view their virginity as something of value and to abstain from sex until they are married. But teaching methods like these are downright harmful because the underlying (and surely unintended) message to impressionable teenagers is that a woman’s worth lies in her viriginity — and when her virginity is gone, regardless of how it was taken, she therefore ceases to be valuable.

      As human beings created in God’s image, women have inherent value regardless of what they have done (or have had done to her). Being raped (or even having sex consensually) does not make anyone worthless “chewed up gum” that nobody wants.

      • You can quibble about analogies, but how do you uphold the value of virginity without showing that there are going to be some negative consequences of losing your virginity? As far as the suggestion that someone who involuntarily loses their virginity, again I seriously doubt that anyone tried to convey to Mrs. Smart that the two are the same.

      • Scott, I think there are a lot of ways to educate young women about the negative consequences of premarital sex without threatening them with rejection, isolation, and shame. There are lots of truly negative consequences of pre-marital sex and worthwhile reasons to abstain–safety, health, self-worth, long-term goals, honoring God, and so on. Those are real reasons and they should not be overlooked. However, teaching someone that having pre-marital sex makes them disgusting and undesirable (ie: “chewed up gum” or contaminated water, etc) amounts to nothing less than shaming and guilt-mongering. While this may not be the consciously intended message, again, I maintain that a LOT of young women understand it otherwise. Virginity is NOT the single de facto determinant of a woman’s character.

        I certainly don’t think this is anything that people maliciously teach, of course — it is a message that is “caught” through analogies like these, in tandem with a variety of others in TLW and purity culture. The ultimate point is not that she may have a vendetta against someone (if she wanted to publicly attack someone, wouldn’t she have named them?). The point is that it is insulting that you would instantly assume that any claim of someone devaluing or disrespecting a woman must be a lie concocted by the woman to defame someone else. Do you realize this is exactly the reason why she didn’t cry out for help from her captors? She feared this exact same response, that people such as yourself would respond with “What??? You BELIEVE HER? I dunno…she probably has a vendetta against that poor man…” Again, I don’t think you mean your comments to be malicious — I just don’t think you consider the impact of the words that you say.

  2. What alternate agenda could she possibly be pushing? Children are little literalists. She was basically told that, as a person, she was not worthy without her virginity. When she was kidnapped and raped, she no longer had that, and felt that she was no longer worthy. I imagine there are very few parents or teachers who use the line, ‘sex before marriage is bad, but we make an exception for rape’ in their sex education talks. I was raped as a child, too. My parents always said, ‘if someone ever did that to my child, I’d kill them.’ I never reported it because I took them literally. I thought it would be my fault for someone ending up dead and them ending up in jail. What Elizabeth was told and by whom is of little consequence. She believed it to be true. No amount of investigation will change the outcome. And even if they did investigate/name the individual…really…could you remember the exact statement you made to someone 15 or more years ago? What would an investigation of that accomplish?

    • Perhaps an agenda against her religion’s teachings about sexuality? Perhaps an attempt to explain away some highly inconvenient facts suggesting that she was not really kidnapped against her will? (Interestingly, this “sex education made me stay” theory is a new one — something she has not mentioned either in her previous accounts to the media or in her trial testimony.) I think the idea of naming the individual who she claims told her this would establish her bona fides. Accusing unnamed sources allows her to characterize what she claim they said — and thereby attach abstinence education — with impunity. It thereby defames people who were her former teachers, since people in her local community might know, or think they know, who her sex education teachers were and thereby hold them responsible. Without of course giving them the opportunity to respond.

  3. ^^Talk about missing the point.

  4. Wow,Scott I think you really missed the whole point that was being shared. I think the “agenda” is very clear – God loves each and everyone of us, and no one is worthless and unimportant, or beyond redemption. God’s love is so much bigger than any pain, sorrow, untruth, or misconception. The point is not about blaming, but reclaiming human dignity and that God’s love is there for us all.

    • Yes, and I don’t disagree with you. However, there is a difference between emphasizing that inherent human dignity and the power of God (and our neighbors) forgiving us of our sins and ignoring that what we choose to do or not forms our character.

  5. My “favorite” of those examples is a rose. The teacher is to take the rose a perfect rosebud, pass it around the classroom, and have each student take a petal. Of course, by the time it gets to the end, there is nothing left but a stem. The takeaway is that just like you can’t put the petals back on the rose, you can never regain the perfect beauty of your sexuality once you “give it away.”

    I actually walked out of a planning session for a rite-of-passage event for junior high kids once this was put on the table as a central focus (for the girl’s group. The boys were going to smash a TV with the same lesson.). I’m all for sending the message that sexuality is a gift to be treated with care, and I’m all for abstinence messages. But these totally send the wrong ones. They take God’s grace and redemption out of the equation.

  6. Scott has to be a guy, and a maybe young guy? This is not a “totally outrageous statement.” Most women for most generations were given that message, not necessarily using that image, but similar ones. When I was growing up, the messages about pre-marital sex (yes, even nonconsensual) were consistently about how a woman was permanently devalued and made unfit for anyone else. No one would ever want to marry her. Her value as a woman and potential wife was destroyed. Women didn’t report rape, not only because it was always questioned, but so that no one would know they were “ruined.” Women who had been raped kept it secret so they could still hope to marry someone someday. It was a pervasive message. But there were no similar message to/about guys. THEY were not permanently ruined as potential mates/husbands for having premarital sex. They were just being guys, who could later choose to settle down. Most guys probably didn’t get exposed the horrible stuff girls/young women were told about themselves; they didn’t know what we were being told. There are still cultures in the world where women are considered ruined if they are raped, and there are still too many people in this country who don’t seem to believe women who have been raped, or who believe a woman’s worth depends on her virginity. So quit talking about other agendas. That crap was and is real. She didn’t need to name any specific teacher because the message was everywhere, all around us, all the time.

  7. Let me guess, Ruth is probably a middle-aged woman, maybe a little older, product of the 70s to mid-80s or thereabouts? The message ought to be shared with both men and women, not that anybody is permanently ruined but that they are damaged by the choice to engage in pre-marital sex, which impairs the ability of one to make a full gift of one’s sexuality in marriage.

  8. The column and most of these comments was not about what “ought to be shared with both men and women.” It’s been about what has actually, regularly, persistently, been shared with women. And the story was about rape, not about “premarital sex.” Rape is not sex, no matter how many men through the ages have tried to characterize it that way. The response to someone who was given those many ugly messages and internalized them shouldn’t be an attack on her credibility or her possible “agenda.” It should be compassion and a commitment to be sure churches do not to keep doing this to women. Her reaction definitely shouldn’t be attacked or questioned on the basis that the message she received wasn’t the one that she “ought to” have gotten or that the men also “ought to” have gotten. She got the ugly message, not another one. We all got it and women are still getting it. She reacted it to as many other women have reacted it to it and despaired of help or hope. Promise you will never do that to any woman and will always teach the lesson affirmatively, not in a demeaning and dehumanizing way. And, by the way, even if you feel very strongly about the value of virginity and the damage of premarital sex (which not everyone does), please note that churches don’t use such ugly dehumanizing imagery to teach young people the consequences of the many, many other sins in the world. Sins like unloving judgmentalism, like greed and materialism, like oppressing workers, like failures of compassion. You never hear anyone say that a person is ruined for life if they amass too much wealth, or that they have become like chewed gum if they are unfair or even malicious to someone. The ugliness in this imagery is that it’s all about, and only about sex and things that seem to be like sex but aren’t (rape), and to be specific, about sex and rape in connection with women. When I hear churches start to talk as starkly about greed and lack of compassion as they do about loss of virginity, I might be more interested in what they have to say about sex.

  9. I hear those messages about others sins all the time at my church, far more than I hear about sex. I don’t hear anyone say your life is ruined just because one stumbles into some sexual sin, but I do think that sexual sins deserve special attention because they are a class of sins that people who may in other ways be good and decent are often tempted to fall into, and because our sexual behavior affects our psyche so much and because they affect the people closest to us so much.

  10. Yay Ruth!!
    Sins have “classes”??

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