Dear Youth Pastor,
You epitomized the evangelical youth pastor of the '90s and '00s: you were hyper, childish, and such a dork. And we loved you. And I'm sure you honestly thought you were doing right by us, you believed that you were helping us. We believed it, too.
But you hurt us. You hurt me.
I suspect that as a youth pastor one of your biggest worries was that we wouldn't listen or remember your teachings. But your words took root deep in my heart; they wrapped their thorny arms around my self-worth; they dug their sharp nails into my identity. Sometimes, even now, their ghostly voices whisper in my ear.
Wounded. Haunted. This, this is your legacy.
It wasn't the ministry legacy you'd wanted, I know that; it wasn't your goal all along. But it's yours, just the same.
You thought you were teaching us about purity. But you taught me that my virginity was what gave me worth as a woman.
You thought you were teaching us what it meant to be godly Christian women. But you taught me that I was only a girl, a member of the second-best sex.
You thought you were teaching us about sharing our faith. But you taught me the fear and guilt of feeling personally responsible for the eternal damnation of every person I came in contact with.
You thought you were informing us, warning us against those who might deliberately try to "shipwreck" our faith. But you taught me straw man arguments against feminists, liberals, post-tribbers, Calvinists, Democrats, evolutionary biologists, people in favor of gun control regulations, and anyone else you happened to personally disagree with.
You thought you were teaching us how to live holy lives, how to separate the secular from the sacred. But you taught me the Christian disciple of book burning and the bondage of legalism.
You thought you were teaching me how to support Christian men. But you taught me that I was personally responsible for the actions and even thoughts of all men--even random strangers.
You thought you were protecting the boys. But you never thought to protect the girls.
You thought you were teaching us to be on fire for God. But you were teaching me how to equate strong conviction with strong emotion.
You thought you were teaching us how to dress and act modestly. But you taught me how to feel guilt and shame over my developing body.
You thought you were teaching us common sense about interacting with men. But what you taught me was that if a man attacked me, I could be blamed.
You thought you were teaching us about ethical sexuality, about the one-man plus one-woman way God had intended things to be. But you taught me fear and shame.
Wounded and haunted.
We were young, we were impressionable, we were in your charge. You should've taught us, like Anne Lamott says she teaches her children's Sunday school class, that we were loved and that we were safe. That's all you needed to teach us. You should've reminded us again and again and again, week after week, that we were loved and that we were safe.
But you used guilt and fear to motivate us. You introduced us to shame. You told us lies about our self-worth. Your hurtful words locked onto to our hearts and minds.
You didn't protect us.
Wounded and haunted.
You wanted to be our pal and our secondary parent, but all we ever needed was to be was loved and safe.
Your Former On-Fire Youth Group Attendee
This originally appeared on Kelsey's blog KelseyMunger.com.