A Look at the Troubling Purity Culture at the EFCA’s North Coast Church in Vista, California

North Coast Church is the largest EFCA church in California. Its in the San Diego area and out  of this church is hemorrhaging some disturbing stories of sexism, sexual predation, abuse, and cult like behavior. This blog which writes about the EFCA is going to begin to look at Larry Osborne’s North Coast Church in close detail. This first post is going to look at the purity culture that exists. For some your daughter’s worth is measured by a stick of used chewing gum.

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.

Margaret Meade 

But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”

Matthew 19:14 NLT

Worship at North Coast Church 

One of the issues that is most troubling in evangelicalism is what I would call the purity movement. The purity movement harms both women and men in different ways. But of the two I think its most toxic to females. The purity movement is something that I encountered in my time inside evangelicalism. When I was a student leader in Canopus Crusade for Christ in Wisconsin I recall one such event that took place. The wife of one of the Crusade staff took the girls and spoke with them about modesty and how they were to dress. They were told that they are responsible in part for keeping guys sexually pure. When I heard this at the time I thought it was neat. Today when I reflect on it I feel sick. That is not healthy and its toxic. To place that kind of burden on females and sexualize them is troubling. I wrote about the purity culture a couple of years ago in, “From Cru, Sovereign Grace to John MacArthur’s Ministry; Are Women Responsible for Keeping Men Pure?

This blog which writes about the Evangelical Free Church of America, learned of a disturbing situation in an EFCA Church in Vista, California. Vista is in the San Diego vicinity. Stories of pain and trauma that took place at Larry Osborne’s North Coast Church are pouring out on Instagram account called @northcoastchurchabuse. This blog is going to write about these issues and do a deep dive of North Coast Church. The focus on this post is to look at the purity culture in the high school and youth ministries at North Coast Church. Please read some of the stories below and let’s discuss in further detail in this post both in the comment section. The goal of this post is to allow for a discussion on the purity culture in North Coast Church. Below are some of the stories that are coming out from the church. 


I’ll never forget freshman year I decided to get re-baptized. It was at the beach and I didn’t think it would be a big deal to wear a bikini, since ya know it’s the beach. I remember getting there and other girls had bikini tops on and I didn’t think much of it. Now I’m a bigger chested girl so I guess when I wear bikinis it’s considered inappropriate and noticeable . The look the leaders gave me that day will forever be burned into my mind. Mama Kate gave me this look of disgust and signaled for me to cover up, which was unsettling considering there were plenty of other girls wearing bikinis as well. The leader who was going to baptize me looked uncomfortable to even be around me during the baptism and he tried to avoid touching me even when I had to go underwater. I was so embarrassed and tried to cover up as much as possible but the whole time I felt so out of place, I was already having body image issues. but this experience made them worse. 

Anonymous 

I had been in the same small group since middle school. We had an amazing small group leader that followed us to high school. Like a week before we went to camp we were told she wasn’t going to be our leader anymore. We were all separated and put into random small groups where we weren’t as close with some of the girls. Our leader had come to our pastor and in confidence admitted that she had pre-marital sex. She was banished from the church and from our small group because of one past transgression. 

Anonymous 

When I was in middle school, my friend molested me and I never told anyone about it until I was almost done with high school. I told my leader at the time about it and she seemed like she was being kind and understanding. That Wednesday at small group my leader asked me about it in front of the girls even though I told her I wanted to stay just between us. They all told me to think that maybe it was something that I did that led them on. Then they tried to tell me that I need to hope that God and my “Future Husband” will forgive me for what happened to me. 

Anonymous 

I went to NCC for three years. I experienced countless experiences of sexism/homophobia during that time. I started going when I was only 11 so I didn’t recognize at first how abusive and sick this place was. I remember when the last straw was when I was 13. We had just broken off into our sermon for the night but they had separated the boys and the  girls.  The girls were taught about how valuable our virginity was, and the importance of keeping it “pure” for your future husband. We were compared to pieces of gum, and told “that it would be wrong to offer your husband a chewed up piece of gum.” I was traumatized, I had been raped only a couple of months prior and hadn’t spoken about it to anyone. I felt an overwhelming amount of shame. I thought that this place was my safe space, but I was so wrong. 

Anonymous 

One time I was going to a church service in an outfit that I thought was modes, considering that my Mom let me walk out of the house in it. When I got there Heather looked me up and down gave me a dirty look and whispered  something to her husband right after. I felt so judged and had a feeling she was saying something about me. Sure enough, I was right. A girl came up to me later this evening and told me I should be more considerate of what I wear to church, and that Heather had complained about my outfit to her. 

 Anonymous 

My first year of Indio I wore a crop top with high waisted shorts because it was over a 100 degrees. Not even half an inch of my stomach was shown but an older male leader still came up to me  and asked me to change because I was being inconsiderate and a temptation to all the boys at the camp who were porn addicts and that I was the reason why they could go to hell for feeding their addiction and that I was distracting them from building their relationship with God. I went back to my room and cried because I felt so guilty and disgusting when looking back on it I should have told him to kiss my ass. 

Anonymous 

I went to North Coast from 1st all the way to 12th grade. I experienced the whole leggings conversation. All the crazy sermons which made me question myself a lot and even experienced unwanted attention. This one guy who I went to church with started texting me inappropriate messages and pictures. When I went to talk to my leader she said that it was my fault and I should not be such a temptation to other boys. I finally left my senior year of high school with years of trauma. 

Anonymous 

When I was in the 9th grade at the 9/10 Ministry I was put in a room of girls for a lesson. The women at the front the stage had a paper heart and said, “This heart is your virginity.” Then she ripped it in half and said, “This is what happens when you have sex.” She taped it back together and ripped it again. She did this a few more times and at the end she said, “Once you have sex you rip your heart and when you tape it together its not the same. No man will want this heart.” Meanwhile the guys were outside playing dodgeball. 

Anonymous 

 Just wanted to say that I remember the Jacob Cutler stuff happening, or at least some of it. I’m not sure of the extent of it. A close friend of mine did try to handle it internally and was met with hostility. They called her Mom and gave her false information and described the situation like she was some kind of temptress. They scolded her on not being a stumbling block and threatened not to let her come back. Seeing the responses of church members on these posts is incredibly disheartening. and would stop me from ever going to North Coast and especially allowing my children near there. This false narrative of women being responsible for sexually abusive men’s actions is down right vile and the church rushing to defend these people without expressing any kind of remorse or intention to investigate the issues internally is a testament of to the true nature of this institution. 

Anonymous 

In middle school at tnl  I remember there was a panel on dating and sex where several male leaders answered questions anonymously written by middle school girls onstage. I very clearly remember someone saying that virginity was like a piece of gum, and if your gum was already chewed on your wedding night your husband wouldn’t want it. 

Anonymous

I went to a summer camp in eight grade at North Coast and it was one of the best experiences of my life! But after we’d been there for a few days my small group of girls was approached by a boy’s small group leader for being “too flirty.” They said this was making it hard for the boys to not struggle with temptation. The behaviors they pointed out to us, “stumbling blocks”were really small things like the tone of our voice or whether our heads were tilted when we spoke or not. That was the first time in my life I felt hypersexualized, and it left me over analyzing all of my interactions with men and feeling incredibly uncomfortable /embarrassed around boys regardless of the situation but especially that specific boy’s small group.  It just seems glaringly obvious that if the boys were talking about facing temptation from such tiny things. There has to have been an appropriate way to approach it without hypersexualizing 12 and 13 year old girls. 

Anonymous Attendee 

The pastors told girls they shouldn’t wear leggings because they’re a distraction. Leggings are comfier than jeans, go well with cute tops. And are practical even the pastors wife wears them. Don’t shame girls for wearing leggings. They’re worn for comfort not to “tempt” or district anyone. 

Annonymous 

When I went to Camp Loma I had a counselor tell me I couldn’t wear a pair of tights because I was bigger compared to the other girls even though all of the other camp members and her included were wearing tights, it was a difficult because I struggle with body image enough and we talked about  me struggling with it the night before. 

Anonymous 


How North Coast Church Views Young Females

Those accounts I have listed above are but a sampling of many that took place. If there are others this blog is asking people to enter them into the comment section below. What is most troubling about these posts is how North Coast sexualizes young girls. In the process especially in a critical period of life North Coast Church transformed them to mere sex objects. They are dehumanized and their intrinsic value is stripped from them. Look at the comments and ask yourself how many females were traumatized in their life because of their experience at North Coast Church? This blog would be interested to know did North Coast Church’s purity teachings drive some females into a lifestyle of anorexia or bulimia? Were others driven into anxiety disorders and depression? That is what a patriarchy culture does. And in the entire process men are excused and allowed to do what they want under the mantra that boys will be boys. I would hope in the 21st century that we are better than that.  

Here’s a question to ask. When you place virginity on such a high pedestal what does that do for those who have the tragic experience of being raped, molested or abused? It amplifies the pain and adds to the problems. Evangelicals are deeply obsessed with sexual purity in unhealthy ways. I, for the life of me, can not understand why so many evangelical churches become so hung up on this issue. And why the constant analogies to gum? When I went through that Instagram account that had these stories that picture kept coming up from different females. How tragic to be compared to a piece of used gum. For myself I was troubled by reading these stories coming out of this EFCA church, and keep in mind when it comes to North Coast Church this is one aspect to look at. But there is another point to consider in this culture. How is this purity culture which demeans and dehumanizes females any different than what you would find in Sunni Islam in places like Pakistan or Saudi Arabia? Compare what is said in those writings up above to what you can find in Islamic culture  here and here. If I were a parent for the sake of your daughter’s mental health and emotional well being I would remove my child from the youth programs at North Coast Church. Your daughter after all is worth much more than a piece of used chewing gum. 

 

15 thoughts on “A Look at the Troubling Purity Culture at the EFCA’s North Coast Church in Vista, California

  1. I have such mixed feelings about this topic. I lived through purity culture in the 90s and my church back then made a lot of the same mistakes as this one. It’s hard for me to pick out, decades later, which misconceptions were the product of being a teenage boy and which came from the church. There was definitely a lot of pedestalization going on.

    What they didn’t realize then, and what people are starting to realize now, is how many people are sexually hurting, and that the purity message needs to be tempered with a great deal of grace. Back then it was assumed that everyone (at least everyone who grew up in the church) was already “pure” and needed to be prevented from committing sexual sins, but I now know of terrible things that had been done to some of my peers, with terrible results years later.

    A better idea is to focus purity-oriented instruction on the healing message of the gospel. The basic message of the gospel is about being forgiven and becoming transformed over time into the image of Christ. Young people today have their first exposure to pornography at age 9, and with everyone having a smart phone, it’s safe to assume that most members of the church youth group are not going to benefit from a “once you’ve sinned you’re ruined forever” message.

    That said, I’m sympathetic to the people trying to somehow communicate standards of modesty to young women. Pop culture is training young women to believe that it’s normal to dress like prostitutes, and this is not OK. Teens should dress modestly not in order to avoid tempting teens — nothing can avoid that — but because their value is not, as society says, based on how sexy their appearance is. Dressing immodestly is dehumanizing and objectifying.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve been thinking about this more and I thought it might be good to describe a better way for each situation to be handled. These things are clearly not obvious to everyone or else the situation wouldn’t have happened in the first place. I did run out of gas towards the end and eliminated some duplicate responses.

      The wife of one of the Crusade staff took the girls and spoke with them about modesty and how they were to dress. They were told that they are responsible in part for keeping guys sexually pure.

      There is a small element of “don’t cause your brother to stumble” in this, but the real reason to dress modestly involves the reasons for dressing immodestly. Why dress immodestly? It’s not comfort — there are plenty of comfortable clothes that are not immodest. Often it is to get attention, which can help someone feel good. But we shouldn’t need attention in order to feel good about ourselves. There’s a heart issue here that can be resolved. Sometimes it’s to fit in / not stick out; why are we afraid to not fit in? Maybe this reveals a confidence issue that we can address by basing our self-image on what God thinks of us, rather than what other people think of us. There’s also an objectification aspect: dressing immodestly sends others the message “I’m interesting because of my appearance,” and it attracts people who only care about appearance.

      …gave me this look of disgust and signaled for me to cover up, which was unsettling considering there were plenty of other girls wearing bikinis as well. The leader who was going to baptize me looked uncomfortable to even be around me during the baptism and he tried to avoid touching me even when I had to go underwater. I was so embarrassed…

      There are several things that can be done to avoid this kind of situation. Provide t-shirts for everyone getting baptized. Have the person doing the baptizing be the same gender as the person being baptized (if your church doesn’t allow women to baptize, that’s another issue to address). Don’t give people looks of disgust. Don’t wear a bikini if you have body image issues.

      I sympathize with the young woman and with the leader in this situation. It can be super uncomfortable to put your hands on the bare skin of a barely-clothed voluptuous young woman who you do not want to have a sexual reaction to.

      Our leader had come to our pastor and in confidence admitted that she had pre-marital sex. She was banished from the church and from our small group because of one past transgression.

      When someone discloses a particular sin, reconciliation and repentance should be the goal, not punishment. I could see removing them from leadership if they don’t repent, or if there is a reason to think that the group needs to be protected from them (like if they’re grooming group members for later abuse.) How are the teen girls in the group supposed to know how to repent in their own lives without having it modeled for them? In this case it sounds like the leader was trying to repent to the pastor.

      Screening volunteers for youth leadership is very difficult. Among other things, if someone is a sex offender, and is young, they might not have been caught yet. People who are interested in victimizing youth gravitate to where they can interact with youth. I could see this result happening if the church had a zero tolerance policy for sexual sin in youth leaders. Zero tolerance policies are usually a bad idea, of course. My own church doesn’t allow people to volunteer with the youth if they are living with someone outside of marriage, and I agree with this policy.

      Then they tried to tell me that I need to hope that God and my “Future Husband” will forgive me for what happened to me.

      This one seems obvious. When something is told in confidence, keep it in confidence, unless there is a safety or legal issue (e.g. the law might mandate reporting of child or elder abuse). When someone is a victim, don’t blame them. Multiple lapses in judgment on the leader’s part here.

      The girls were taught about how valuable our virginity was, and the importance of keeping it “pure” for your future husband.

      I was brought up with this belief too (in gender neutral terms). The anecdote makes it clear how harmful this can be. What is actually important to God is “go forth and sin no more”: right behavior between now and whatever point occurs in the future. People should preserve their virginity until they are married because not doing so harms them, their partner, and their future spouse, so in that sense it is valuable. But like the Bible says, what is most important is not causing additional harm. Placing the emphasis on virginity actually causes harm because someone who is not a virgin might say, well, if I can’t be perfect I may as well binge.

      One time I was going to a church service in an outfit that I thought was modest…

      This one is definitely going to be an ongoing issue because how are unchurched people supposed to know what is modest? And obviously people disagree about what constitutes modest. If something needs to be said to someone, it needs to be said in love and with grace, preferably by an older same-gender person. Don’t complain or gossip, or give people dirty looks.

      Not even half an inch of my stomach was shown but an older male leader still came up to me and asked me to change… I should have told him to kiss my ass.

      Similarly to the above. If it’s a camp where there are teens, plan ahead and have an older female available for this conversation, if it’s needed, and use love and grace, not guilt. The anger reaction isn’t right either. We need to similarly treat the leader’s mistake with love and grace.

      I experienced the whole leggings conversation. All the crazy sermons which made me question myself a lot and even experienced unwanted attention. This one guy who I went to church with started texting me inappropriate messages and pictures. When I went to talk to my leader she said that it was my fault and I should not be such a temptation to other boys.

      Leggings certainly are Satan’s gift to men. It’s another legacy of the sexual revolution convincing women to do sexual things for the benefit of men, decreasing women’s power and autonomy in the name of feminism. Obviously, don’t text people inappropriate messages and pictures, and when someone comes to you for counsel as a victim, don’t blame them.

      “Once you have sex you rip your heart and when you tape it together its not the same. No man will want this heart.”

      A better way to phrase this lesson would be “sexual promiscuity harms you, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, and the kind of people who are attracted to that are not the kind of people you want in your life.” I actually like the ripping up the heart metaphor because of how dramatic it is. The bad part of having a ripped-up heart isn’t that it makes you less attractive, though that may be true, but that’s it’s better to have fewer issues in the first place. It gets back to the earlier point of how we shouldn’t base our worth on what other people think of us, especially on what other people think of us sexually.

      The pastors told girls they shouldn’t wear leggings because they’re a distraction.

      Leggings are fine if something’s worn over them. What’s a distraction is being able to tell what your private parts look like. Shorts or skirts can go over leggings and look just fine.

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      • What is modest Peter? Its like what is pornography? Talk to people from different cultures and theological backgrounds and you can get different definitions.

        In Southern California bikinis are just how like is. Its a part of the culture. Its not an issue and should not be. Southern California is very hot, dry (no humidity) and wearing bikinis on or near the beach is just life there. I grew up in California and been to Southern California a lot in my lifetime. Its not that big a deal. Evangelicals in this case are the one sexualizing it.

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      • What is modest Peter?

        All too often, “Whatever I Do That YOU Don’t.”

        Its like what is pornography?

        All too often, “Whatever turns YOU on that doesn’t turn ME on.”

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      • What is modest Peter? Its like what is pornography? Talk to people from different cultures and theological backgrounds and you can get different definitions.

        Absolutely true, and that’s why we have to show grace in these situations. Maybe the person coming to church in a short black party dress is a brand new Christian wearing the most modest thing she owns.

        A lot of problems surround confronting people about behavior when you don’t already have a good relationship. Build a good relationship and then, if it’s still necessary to confront, maybe you’ll be able to do so in a positive way.

        In Southern California bikinis are just how like is. Its a part of the culture. Its not an issue and should not be.

        Bikinis are one thing. Holding up a voluptuous bikini-clad young woman without having a sexual response is another. Giving everyone who’s getting baptized an “I just got baptized!” t-shirt is a perfectly reasonable solution. Same-gender baptisms is a perfectly reasonable solution.

        Lots of things are normal and acceptable in our society that are still wrong. Society wrongly tells young women that their value is in how sexy they are and what kind of man they can attract. There do exist modest bikinis. They tend to not be popular among young women. There’s tons of money in swimwear for middle aged moms. The things that they can do to camouflage the effects of pregnancy or obesity are quite amazing. Young women seem less interested in camouflage for some reason.

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  2. My own experience with Purity Culture is (as expected) weird.

    I was not raised in Christianese Purity Culture — far from it — but ended up internalizing all its tropes. Still wondering how that happened — only thing I can think of was when I was little (around The Sixties) my parents were time-stopped in 1953. Plus a steady diet of Forties and Fifties movies with Forties and Fifties public morality. The mythic version of The Fifties filtered through TV sitcoms of the period — which were on heavy syndication on indie TV stations through The Sixties, and Los Angeles had more TV stations (ABS, NBC, CBS, and four additional local indies) than anywhere else in the country.

    Either way, I can attest that Purity Culture has its serious downside and toxic side effects. Though as a male I didn’t get the worst of the effects (as described above), I did get more emotionally crippled from it. And in Christianese Purity Culture, God (as in Jack Chick’s Great White Throne scene) becomes its Enforcer.

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    • The common factor I can see between Christianese Purity Culture and my upbringing is Mythologized 1950s Suburbia Culture. Mythologized in the sense of the idealized TV family sitcoms of the time like Ozzie & Harriet and Donna Reed.

      Hypothesis:
      Christianese Purity Culture (and Culture War) sees this mythic 1950s as a Godly Golden Age and tries to get back to that idealized cultural womb to the point of cloning/imitating it in their subculture like some kind of Cargo Cult. And being Christian, they elevate all this (like most everything) to literally Cosmic Importance — God or Satan, whose side are you on?

      Like all Utopian Myths, this Godly Golden Age (which is NOT the real 1950s) conflicts with Reality and RL human behavior. At which case, they can either abandon their Old Story/Mythos, deny Reality in favor of their Mythos and/or Force Reality To Fit, or try to meet somewhere in the middle adapting the Mythos to Reality while keeping its good parts. (Though the last of the three is a non-starter in an Age of Extremes like today.)

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      • Sounds like you are making sex into a science, so called, project. Way too technical.

        The reason for the 1950’s television blur was not for adults purpose, but for children’s purpose. Age appropriate. Children watched I LOVE LUCY. Give children sex education at a young age, and look at what we have today. Children under ten having sex. Is that a good thing, or a bad thing? Planting a seed in a young mind in the big head isn’t always a good thing. Children should be playing on swing sets and playing with Tonka toys, not learning about how good an orgasm feels. Child abuse begins in such manner by future generations. Kids abused will grow up as abusers. Look at statistics. The 50’s was a lot better than the 2000’s. Better to be ignorant than have too much knowledge. How has the internet improved life? Who goes snow skiing anymore? We got online games for that!

        Ed Chapman

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      • Like I said, “Idealized Mythical Fifties” nostalgia, modified by the Christianese tunnel vision with Pelvic Issues Morality. Fitted into a Decline Narrative.

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    • I fortunately missed out on Harris’ book and the culture described in that article. My teenage peers at our BGC church dated, when they could, and pined when they couldn’t. The lines we were instructed not to cross involved sexual arousal: if you were to a point where all the blood had moved from the big head to the little head then that was too far. As Xander so eloquently put it, since we were teenage boys, linoleum was able to get us to that point.

      Looking back, what I needed most in those days was character development. Had I been less self-centered and obsessive, I might have actually been put in a position to apply some of the purity training I received. Later, when I dated my future wife, I was very aware of the idea that I needed to get to know her and be careful not to shackle myself to someone who would not be a good fit. And I failed, and we had a rough patch when we realized we didn’t actually like to do much together other than have sex.

      This makes me think that the purity instruction I received as a teen would have been better if it had included some of the marriage instruction I received as an adult. Books like Love And Respect hadn’t been written yet, but the basic principles of relationships are not newly discovered things that previous generations were clueless about. Some of the physiological things that we now know about orgasm addiction hadn’t been discovered yet, but we know them now and there is a place for that information in purity training. Knowing as a teen how to have healthy, God-honoring relationships with people would have benefited me greatly.

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    • This makes me think that the purity instruction I received as a teen would have been better if it had included some of the marriage instruction I received as an adult.

      Better if you had received actual realistic GUIDANCE instead of “Thou Shalt Not”s and schizo-monastic not-really-celibacy.

      With me, I ended up with one helluva case of Virgin/Whore Dichotomy. Full Black/White Boolean. While that would have fit in with Christianese Purity culture, it has its SERIOUS downside.

      Did you get the Purity Culture shtick of bribing boys to save themselves for marriage with promises of barn-burning HAWT Married S*E*X starting on their wedding night? Now said boys will get their sex education one way or another (I’m thinking of online porn or locker-room/youth group bragging) and end up with some Very Unrealistic Expectations. Like expecting his Christian Purity bride to flip one-eighty from Virgin Unto Death to My Personal S*E*X Toy (fulfilling all his built-up fantasies and paraphiliae from all that time he had to go without) the instant she says “I Do”.

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      • Unrealistic expectations and pedestalization of sex were definitely a part of my teenage experience. And this was a failure of the purity culture that I experienced. It amounted to idolatry. The fact is, sex is not and should not be the most important part of life. It seems like it is because it’s the easiest way to get a dopamine high without using illegal drugs, and so many people are self-centered and don’t look beyond that. Including teenage me.

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      • Unrealistic expectations and pedestalization of sex were definitely a part of my teenage experience. And this was a failure of the purity culture that I experienced.

        And you find such “unrealistic expectations and pedestilization of sex” both in and out of the church, just in different forms. (Like how in Christianese “getting Married” carries all the same cure-all expectations and baggage as “getting laid”, just with an additional ring and ceremony.)

        Long ago I concluded that Christians are just as messed-up sexually as everyone else, just in the opposite direction (“Thou Shalt Not” instead of “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”).

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