I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m very grateful that my parents weren’t really into religion when I was coming of age. Yes, I did go to church when I was growing up, and my parents were/are lifelong Christians, but church wasn’t the center of our lives. Well… except maybe the musical part of it. My mom was a church organist, and my dad was always in the choir. But while I never had a long chat with either of them about this, I get the sense that neither of them were into the musical part of church solely because of their devotion to religion. My dad loved to sing. My mom loves music, too, and she was/is a talented musician. Being able to play the organ was a nice side job for her– another source of her own money, besides running her own business.
Consequently, I grew up in a mainstream Presbyterian church. I won’t say there were never any tears at church, because there were. But that was mainly due to being bullied by my peers, not because I was exposed to some creepy youth pastor or being asked inappropriate questions about my sexuality. On the whole, my parents didn’t force me to attend “youth groups” or engage in activities with youth pastors. Once I was old enough to work, they quit forcing me to go to church at all. I never had to deal with a young, charismatic “man of God” who did things like hand out stickers like the one below:
The Washington Post shared an article about 35 year old Cory Wall, a now former student pastor at Fairview Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist megachurch in Greer, South Carolina. According to the Washington Post, Mr. Wall has “been placed on administrative leave and will not be involved in student leadership while it conducts an investigation.” The church has also put out statements on its website and on Facebook indicating that Wall “acknowledges that he made a poor decision and a mistake by making a sticker available that was offensive to some…”
Um… “offensive to some”? Really? This is a man who was working with impressionable adolescent girls and felt it was appropriate to hand out stickers mimicking the “I <3 hot moms” social media trend. I think it was offensive to the vast majority. I’d also love to know who made these stickers. What kind of company would manufacture such a product? Obviously, that was a unethical company that values making money over decency. Although– I suppose there could be legal adults who <3 youth pastors, too. Still, what are the odds that the person ordering these stickers is going to be handing them out to soccer moms? I’d say the chance of that happening is pretty close to zero.
I remember what it was like to be 14. That was not an easy year for me. Between hormonal fluctuations, growth spurts, and metamorphosing from child to teenager, I remember a lot of tears during that time. Fourteen year olds need mature, understanding, compassionate, and stable adults leading them. At my most generous, I could describe Mr. Wall as being extremely tone deaf. At the worst, maybe he might be someone akin to Josh Duggar. I hasten to add that I don’t actually know if he is that bad– but it does seem to me that handing out stickers like these to girls makes him appear predatory.
I know some people might conclude that Wall is definitely a “dangerous pervert”. I can’t come to that conclusion simply based on what little I’ve read. I would need to know Wall before I could make a judgment that serious. He might just be very immature and socially delayed. However, given that he was studying for a leadership position in a very large church, and was presumably choosing to work with children, he definitely shows a lack of good judgment and character. He’s clearly not ready to work with the youth.
The article I read in the Washington Post was informative, but the Twitter thread about this was even more telling. Many people were posting about their own experiences in churches with creepy youth pastors. Some were pointing out that church is where children should be the safest. And yet, there’s a lot of evidence pointing to how unsafe churches can be, especially the ones where pastors and other church staff intrude into subjects like sexuality. There are many churches in which church leaders feel perfectly fine about asking young children about their sexual habits and will defend their right to do so. I know there are many churches in which sex, even just masturbation, is considered dirty and sinful, and yet these churches are the ones that often end up in the news because children are victimized by church leaders.
I used to live in South Carolina, and I grew up in Virginia. I have also lived in Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas. I know church is a big deal to a lot of people in the southern states. It’s a huge part of the culture. It seems like some people down there think the more pious and churchgoing a person is, the better their moral character is bound to be. These folks invariably vote Republican, too, which is definitely not among the more “Christlike” of American political parties. They talk about morality and family values, being “decent” and clean cut, and working hard for a living. But then behind closed doors, there’s a lot of dark, creepy, illegal, and abusive behavior toward which many people turn a blind eye because these are supposedly men of God. It’s especially egregious when this is done to defenseless children, many of whom are easily manipulated, threatened, charmed, and victimized– particularly by “cool” adults who, for their own perverse purposes, make them feel admired, appreciated, or loved.
I have no doubt in my mind that if someone hadn’t tweeted about how gross these stickers are, being handed out by a “youth pastor”, it probably wouldn’t have been addressed. Because, as I pointed out above, apparently no one was actually supervising Mr. Wall, the “student pastor”. If he’s a student, he ought to be monitored, right? And then weeded out, if he can’t pass muster… or does really stupid shit like this. Imagine what would happen if a pediatrician gave out “I <3 hot kiddie docs” stickers. Or a teacher gave out “I <3 hot teachers” schwag. Or hey, what about a babysitter passing out “I <3 my hot babysitter” merchandise? It would be deemed completely beyond the pale. And this youth pastor is supposed to be a man of God? Sounds to me like he’s looking to be “worshiped” and “idolized” by young girls who have been conditioned to pray and obey, and have probably been “slut shamed”, to boot. It’s a recipe for abuse.
Some people are saying that Mr. Wall should go to jail for handing out these inappropriate stickers. I am not yet ready to go that far. I mean, if he’s done something besides handing out gross stickers that indicates that he’s really not safe in society, then yes, send him to jail. It could be that he needs counseling, and to be steered away from work with young people, at least at this point in his life. On the other hand, if a person is already 35 years old and they don’t know how yucky this is, I don’t know if there’s much hope to hold out for their reform. Someone probably should, at least, check out what he’s viewing on the Internet. I hope Mr. Wall will consider a new career path.