I decided that I wanted to attend a conservative Christian college that was just starting up on the other side of the country. It was billed as a place where, unlike some other, more infamous Christian schools, the students would be taught to think for themselves, and to defend their beliefs against those who would attack them. It was advertised as a place thinking Christians could go to hone their skills, cement their worldviews and then take them out into the world to influence it for God.
Naturally, being who I was at the time, this appealed to me, and for about the first year of its existence, the school made some attempts to live up to its billing. I had a couple of wonderful professors there who introduced me even more to the concept of thinking “outside the box,” and the notion of questioning what one believes in order to either strengthen it, or realize that it isn’t worth believing.
Since that time, I’ve been sad to see the college slip into the typical mode of teaching students what to think, rather than how to think. I treasure my time there because it feels like I and those who attended with me the first year got something that no other student of that school will ever get.
There was, however, a darker side to my college experience . . .
When my family got its first Internet connection, my father, knowing about my struggles with pornography, sat down with me, looked me in the eye, and said, “If you go anywhere you shouldn’t, I’ll know.” This fear-based approach worked on the surface – I never viewed a single pornographic picture on my parents’ computer.
However, the problem with fear as an influence on others is that it is a very powerful behavior-modification tool . . . and very little else. During the remainder of my time at home, I merely got my titillation from some other source than the computer. Later I would realize that this fear had become a theme in my life . . . and the next place it cropped up was once I left home for college. Now that I didn’t have my dad’s watchful eye on me, I felt (naively) free to do whatever I wanted with my computer. I was careful at first, afraid that those watching the network would catch me looking at websites I shouldn’t be looking at.
As time went on, I got less and less careful. Not that it would have mattered. About halfway through my second year, the college found out, somewhat by accident, that a number of the guys on campus had been viewing pornographic websites on their college laptops over the school network. Each of us was called in to speak to the Dean of Students.
My meeting with him began when he said, “You do realize that this is an expellable offense?” There was the fear again.
None of us, however, were expelled. At the time, my mom was suffering through her first bout with cancer, so the decision was made that unlike the rest of the students, I wouldn’t have to call my parents and inform them. That was reserved for a later date. I would, however, have to meet with the Dean regularly and be accountable to him.
The first time we scheduled a meeting, he didn’t show.
The second time, I waited outside his office for an hour past our scheduled time, while he sat in a closed-door meeting with a member of the faculty.
I didn’t bother trying to schedule a third meeting . . . I figured I’d probably get called in and dressed down for it, but that I’d explain and then everything would progress as it was “supposed” to.
What happened was worse.
What happened was nothing.
Suddenly, I came face to face with something I hadn’t experienced before – at least not consciously – a full-bore, undeniable example of someone who claimed to care about me, and who very demonstrably didn’t.
As the year wore on, gradually the fear wore off. I finished my academics and returned to the pornography, knowing that I was untouchable, not because they didn’t have the power to do anything to me, but because they simply didn’t care enough to bother.
After I graduated and began graduate school, I finally started to realize just how miserable my life truly was. I hated myself, and I thought of myself in most of the lowliest terms possible. During my time at college, I’d investigated several churches. Some had proven too shallow, others too weird. Some had just simply not appealed to me.
I had finally settled into a home church that seemed like what I was looking for, only to discover that I had no idea what I was looking for.
When I came back for graduate school, much the same thing happened. I discovered that the home church wasn’t what I thought it was, and tried out a couple others.
Finally, I found one that looked like exactly what I needed. They had a deep respect for Scripture, a robust outreach program for college students and youths just starting their careers, a good small-group program, and most importantly of all (to me), you could request to be placed in an accountability relationship with an older, more mature Christian, and the church would set it all up for you.
This was, I thought, precisely what I needed.
Once again, however, the fear-driven accountability relationship only treated the symptoms. I wasn’t seeking out pornography anymore . . . but neither was I particularly growing or getting to know Christ better. I just didn’t want to have to explain to my accountability partner, an elder in the church, each time we met that I’d been looking at dirty pictures again.
That seemed to suit both of us fine, until my distaste for the superficiality of it all led me to gradually attend church services less and less.
If you want to come to the attention of your church, the quickest way to do so is not to commit some heinous act or get in a fight with a church leader. The quickest way is to simply stop showing up.
It was my first experience with how threatened church leaders feel when you discover you don’t need them to stand between you and God anymore. I stopped going regularly because I was being handed a slate of obligations (show up on Sunday morning and evening, meet with your accountability partner once a week, and stay active where you can) that didn’t accomplish anything with regard to my relationship with God. Where I really got my spiritual nourishment during this time was from the small, weekly bible study I shared with between four and seven other guys, each Wednesday night.
It was about this time that my life began to fall apart . . .
(to be continued . . . )
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