Why I'm Thankful for my Strict Fundamentalist Parents and Youth Group

Gaming my youth pastor’s system, so to speak, was one of the perks of being the pastor’s kid. One of the highlights (lowlights, rather) of my duplicitousness was going to my dad behind my youth pastor’s back and asking him if boys and girls could sit next to each other on the church bus. You see, recognizing the single-minded focus of teenage hormones, my youth pastor had decreed that members of the opposite sex couldn’t sit beside each other on the bus. My dad, who would not have been happy if he had known what I was doing, was probably preoccupied with study when I asked him, and didn’t really think about what motives would’ve propelled a teenage boy to ask such a question. Regardless, I got what I wanted, and it ended as my youth pastor expected.

Growing up in the world of strict fundamentalism meant that, among other things, my friends and I became fluent in the art of subterfuge. We became adroit at balancing on the thin fence that separated our authority figures’ positive expectations from their negative expectations. Too far on one side, and we'd be expected to deliver devotionals, lead in prayer during youth group, and sing solos during the Christmas cantata. Drift a little bit the other way, however, and the proverbial screws would be tightened, making it harder to get away with doing whatever we wanted to do.

And whatever we wanted to do almost always violated one of the many rules that our parents, youth pastors, and Christian school teachers had established as protective moral fences. As silly as this may sound to some, “going bowling” was code for “going to the movie theatre” in my fundamentalist world. You see, going to the movie theatre was anathema. And we couldn’t listen to Michael W. Smith, much less Nirvana or even Ace of Base. Any music that remotely reminded our authority figures of rock and roll was banned. My sisters couldn’t wear pants, and I was required to tuck my shirt in when I wasn’t playing sports.

The rules were many. But as alluded to above, most of us found an equilibrium that allowed us to do pretty much what we wanted without attracting too much attention from the adults. Most of the time, the largest obstacle to our fun was a friend who became convicted during a revival service, school chapel, or at a youth retreat. Whenever that happened, we would have to keep our contraband and illicit activities hidden from that friend for a few short weeks.