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<< Return to SBL Forum Archive OH-MY-GOD —It's So the Teen Bible!

"Uh-oh. Talk about consequences . . . Taking honor away from God is never cool." (True Images: The Bible for Teen Girls, 183)

In my day, young people would be given a Bible that belonged to a grandparent containing solemn pictures of Moses, Samuel, David, Jesus, Paul et al, with letters cast in the most of formidable looking of fonts, and signed in ink that could only have been manufactured before 1950. But —oh! —those were the days before the Bible was Britney Speared: today's teenagers will one day be able to give their heirs bibles complete with images of best friends and skateboards along with quizzes, truth-or-dares, and true confessions to answer honestly. For in 2003 Zondervan released True Images: The Teen Bible for Girls and Revolution: The Bible for Teen Guys, written in the style that only a 45-year-old posing as a teenager can.

Gender stereotypes abound. True Images is colored with whites, pale pinks, soft peaches, and sky blues, while one edition contains a picture of you and your best friends. It markets itself as "The only NIV Bible specifically for teen girls ages 13-16" and claims it will "Strengthen your relationships with God, family, friends, and guys." Revolution has fast moving images with more masculine blacks and oranges, accompanied by a trademark chevron action flash. One version of Revolution has two teens sat down, one with a skateboard, the other with rollerblades. It markets itself as "The only NIV Bible specifically for teen guys ages 13-16" and claims to be "For every guy who wants to live a revolutionary life." Where True Images has "Over 1000 relevant and compelling notes and articles," the growing lad presumably demands more action and less thinking as Revolution, "Includes over 650 unique, hard-hitting notes and articles." If ever a bible could get away with perching a baseball-cap sideways on its head while riding a BMX, then Revolution would surely have to be it (oh, come on, the Street Bible/Word on the Street is so three years ago).

The "cool companion websites" have various things for the kids to check out.[1] God for girls writes, as it were, in lilac, next to a picture of a clean cut teen girl, whereas God for boys uses a futuristic sci-fi blue font. Also on the cool companion websites is the "covenant," a document for girls and boys to sign. Or, better, that should be documents, plural. Both are presented differently and continue the heavily stereotyped format. For the boys there is "The Revolution Man's Creed and Covenant," a document packed with tough language. The story of the Bible, it tells us (or at least those of us who might be young and male), "is a cosmic battle between good and evil'. Moreover, this battle is played out on the individual level for 'the heart of every man is the battlefield, and God has called him to Revolution" (2 Tim 1:1). The "Revolution Man" is cast in the role of the ultimate all-American male hero from yesteryear, the pre-Sergio Leone western hero so easily transposed to the clean-cut all-American sci-fi or fantasy hero. Thus Revolution Man is "an adventurer, created in the image of Christ who lived the ultimate adventure"; he lives "in freedom to choose what is right"; he is a "warrior in the struggle for souls, pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, and honor"; he is a "defender of the weak . . . bold in witness and courageous in deed . . . always protecting, cherishing, defending."

For girls, the equivalent of Revolution Man is the "True Images Girl," a strange fusion of a stereotypical 1950s housewife-to-be and a girl who might be worryingly close to reading More, the lurid teen magazine for girls. A True Images Girl "knows what she wants." She protects her mind from "destructive images" in the media, commits herself to filling her mind with things pure and true (Phil 4:8) and values her sexual purity along with inner beauty (Prov 31:30). Popularity and accomplishments are not what God looks for in a girl but rather love, self-control, and purity (again —sexual purity is a big concern for True Images). A True Images Girl looks for leaders and so models her life after "the woman of God," including "those in her own church" (Heb 13:7) and "those in the Bible" (build your "Ruth Factor"! Calling "all you Esther wannabes"! Aim for the "Deborah Dynamo"! —True Images, 1201d). And her first love is Jesus.

Yet despite pushing teen girls away from their assumed sleazy world (why all the emphasis on sexual purity?) to act all Doris Day, True Images borrows heavily from the tradition of teen girl magazines like Sugar, Mizz, Minx, Bliss, More, CosmoGIRL and so on. Such magazines have attracted a lot of attention in gender and feminist studies and consequently make for interesting comparison with True Images. Such magazines are packed with items on clothing, make-up, confessions, what-kind-of-X-or-Y-are-you quizzes, padded bras, and sex tips. There is always the problematic balance to strike between eulogizing and attracting good-looking androgynous boys, on the one hand, and, on the other, avoiding smelly-sock wearing, sexually useless, and generally pointless boys ("who cares what boys think?" —option in an online Sugar poll [2]). Dads and older men are often cast in the role of seedy, embarrassing or just plain cringe-worthy: "Everybody thinks their parent is the most embarrassing, but Anna has the video to prove it!" (runner-up in CosmoGIRL's first ever Most Embarrassing Parent in America contest).[3]

It naturally follows from this profoundly heterosexual perspective that lesbianism does not get a look in, despite being something that at least some girls will experience. No, the ever present idea is of the sexually ready heterosexual teen and the various corporations are only too happy to bankroll this image, page after page after page. What comes through quite clearly, as Germaine Greer points out, is that girls can barely have a life aside from lads and looking good (often for boys). There is no real stress on books, travelling, sport, arts, hobbies or education, despite the obvious fact that plenty of girls read books, want to travel, play sport, take up hobbies and arts, and —at least in the UK —consistently get higher grades than boys at school.[4]

Such magazines illustrate the tension and blurred boundaries between (some) teen interests and pressures from below and the demands of the market from above. Into this mix comes True Images with its own demands from conservative western Christianity. It encourages young girls to learn and read (the Bible, that is —see the "christianity 101" website document), avoid the perils of alcohol, not to browse for "five fingered discounts," and, well and truly in line with evangelical Christian sexual abstinence programmes, be sexually pure in order to keep sex for marriage (this is stressed time and time and time again —see e.g. 83, 123, 129, 231, 374, 772, 897, 1156, 1421, 1511; cf. 877, "Your virginity is a precious gift God gave you to hand to your husband someday"; and, without a hint of sarcasm, "While some people may put you down for wanting to stay a virgin until marriage, the right guy . . . will love that about you," 873).

In fact the issue of teen sex has become something of a battle ground in the US. The online teen girl website, Sugar and Spice, feels it cannot discuss the issue and comments on the demise of its "All about Sex" link: "Unfortuately [sic], this site has closed down because President Bush and his administration are not being very nice to people who want to talk openly about sexuality and the creators of this site feel intimidated by this new intolerant climate. :-(" [5] It is in this context that True Images can fill a gap because, for all its emphasis on sexual purity, True Images cannot free itself from the dependency on boys and sex in the sordid constructed world of Sugar and the like: remember True Images promises to strengthen relationships with guys, not just God. Of course, True Images has no love of humiliating midnight fumbles in the back of a 1983 Datsun: those kinds of things are not even worth a Talk-to-the-Hand. But teenage sex is a category that has to be navigated carefully and so the furthest True Images can go is a tight-lipped kiss and "cuddling opps for you mad-about-you-types" (889b).

And so among the sections advocating Creationism and Intelligent Design and the combating of atheistic history teachers and potentially evil pop-music, there are the following: quizzes on "Prince Charming" (P.C. to the initiated) to find the "man of your dreams"; questions from the other side (i.e., "guys" —"I look for . . . a Christian . . . Oh yeah, I wouldn't mind if she's a hottie," 176d); multiple choice questions on your confidence factor; problems caused by "guys" like potential love-rat "Josh" (922) cheating; your image (are you a "Trendy Girl" —1456d - ?); questions on your "Dream Date" and "B.F." (hello!? that means boyfriend, stupid —1200a); the problems of teen pregnancy, abortion, and STDs; and whether you are as beautiful as Esther, i.e. "a cross between the elegant Princess Diana" and, presumably non-coincidentally, "the poised and lovely Laura Bush" (1200d). After all, as the wholesome "Kate" puts it, "Who doesn't want someone to cuddle with on the couch? Someone to go to dances with?" (310).

As this already implies, Kate avoids going further. Once when a boy asked her to "go with him" she naively said, "Where?" Kate freely admits she is "o for o" (I'll be honest here, I have no idea what this means). Some True Images girls are luckier with the "guys." "Carly" has been dating "Jared" (633), a real dreamboat if ever there was one. But Jared is only "getting there" as a Christian and so True Images warns of the problems of dating non-believers (2 Corinthians 6:14-18) and that a "guy" should come to God through his own convictions (see also e.g. 1015, 1528). If he's not a Christian, "see ya!" as True Images tactfully puts it (1015).

Oral sex naturally gets discussed near the beginning of Leviticus (123). "Ashley" found out that "Emma" —the school flirt —"had oral sex" with a "guy." Emma said that it isn't sex (are there deliberate echoes of Clinton? Cf. 1353, on peers pressuring about "weed" ("You don't have to inhale") but Ashley didn't buy that because "God's definition of sexual purity covers much more than intercourse." Ashley also knows that her body belongs to God first and the man she marries second. The editorial explanation informs the reader that fancy definitions of "sex" are everywhere and strongly implies, with reference to "God's Word" (1 Thess 4:3-8; 1 Cor 6:15-20; 2 Cor 6:14), that oral sex is not for pre-marital relationships. After all, "the physical and emotional effects of oral sex are similar to intercourse."

With that said, the True Images girl can now have fun! Virgins "Kyiondra" and "Jeremy" just love a picnic on the beach, a romantic walk and watching the sunset (374); and let's not forget that "godly guys are looking for godly girls" (1199). In a quiz embedded in the middle of the Psalms (889b), there is "The Perfect Date (whether it's your 1st date or 50th!)," with plenty of options: do you wear a little black dress ("it's classic for a reason, sista!")? Do you order this or that non-alcoholic drink? Do you go on a nature trail? Do you depart on the "classic cheek-to-cheek kiss"? "The hair, the hair! —What to do?" What flowers would you prefer? What do your "P's" really think of him? There are also tips for creative dates: "pig out" on ice cream, a symphony under the stars with romantic "tunes," sign up for a ballroom or swing dance class. The True Images Girl can find out if she is a dream date or diva on another quiz toward the end of Hosea (1200a): shouldn't he have a car by now? Do you nag too much? Does he pay on a date? Do you want lots of expensive gifts for your birthday? All you divas out there: you gotta remember the Golden Rule, sista!

But then, just like the secular teen magazines, some guys are kinda . . . like . . . whatever, or even worse than that. A self-contained section after the perfect date quiz says, "You've gotta kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince" (889b). Yet ultimately even good "guys" come a poor second to God, even if God does not quite shake them off. After all, the "Creator of the Universe" wants "to be closer to you than a parent, best friend, or even a boyfriend" ("christianity 101," my italics).

And if you're still confused, why not try the "Stuck on him or God?" quiz (1200b)?

This brief glimpse alone should show that, like sexual purity, the theme of "guys" is relentless, clearly showing its dependency on, and conservative Christianized negotiation with, the structural categories of "guys" so utterly dominant in teen girl magazines. "Guys" maybe fine so long as God comes first and nothing too naughty happens until marriage but, like the secular teen magazines, True Images simply cannot free itself from the idea that girls have a significant life aside from boys.

Also like her sexually promiscuous, gum-chewing-with-attitude cousin, the True Images Girl thinks dads and older men can be sooo embarrassing! An "In Focus" section, toward the end of Jeremiah, looks at "Dad's Little Secret" (1060). "Lorraine" has always been close with her Dad and they talk about everything . . . well, almost everything: for Dad's hidden stash of soft pornographic magazines were discovered by a disgusted Lorraine. To make things worse, Dad is a Christian. How could he be looking this kind of stuff? Does "Mom" know? Poor old Lorraine can't even look at Dad any more . . . If only Lorraine knew what to do . . . But any Lorraines out there need not fear, for True Images gives advice on what to do with seedy old men like Dad and how to cope with the general impact of pornography ("It's everywhere"), which can lead to feelings of alienation, personality changes, and addiction (cf. Index, "Pornography . . . see also Addiction"). What any Lorraine should do is to talk to a trusted Christian adult on this (and presumably hope they too don't have the secret addiction), pray with the trusted adult, and, with the help of the Holy Spirit (see John 8:32 and Galatians 5), plan what to do next. The plan includes confronting, with another adult, the pornography addict in a non-judgemental way while being prepared for "denial or rationalization." Oh, to be a fly on the wall at Dad's next church gathering . . .

Yet at the same time the conservative Christian tradition means that True Images manages to out-do any of its secular teen rivals when it comes to homosexuality. Where Bliss and co. suppress by ignoring, True Images goes on the offensive. Toward the end of 1 Kings (429), the "In Focus" segment is on the subject, "Am I Gay?" "Trish" just doesn't know if she is a lesbian or not; she doesn't like "guys" and thinks she may have a crush on one of her best friends, "Sierra." Naturally from the ideological perspective of True Images, there is the strong implication that lesbianism is a social condition and can therefore be remedied with a bit of good churchin': for her drunken uncle once tried to sexually abuse her and her mother seemed angry at what Trish had supposedly done. Moreover, being "born that way" is merely a "feeling" that can contribute to more homosexual feelings (cf. 1121, "contrary to popular belief, God doesn't 'make' anyone gay. Homosexuality is a human choice"). But the wannabe lesbian need not worry as "your identity is much bigger than your feelings of sexuality" and "you are valuable because God made you and he loves you, just as you are." Ultimately, God is "very clear about homosexuality" and readers are encouraged to look up Rom 1:24-32 and Lev 18:22, both of which read that homosexuals deserve to die, something not explicitly quoted in this "In Focus" section. So True Images condemns lesbians as people deserving death while still managing to coat such horrific sentiment in the sweetest, fluffiest saccharin.

Top that CosmoGIRL.

James G. Crossley, University of Sheffield

[1] http://trueimagesbible.com [accessed October 31, 2006]; http://www3.zondervan.com/features/bibles/0310928192 [accessed October 31, 2006].

[2] http://www.sugarmagazine.co.uk/lads.php [accessed October 31, 2006].

[3] CosmoGIRL, http://www.cosmogirl.com/entertainment/video/0,,91prx762,00.html [accessed October 31, 2006].

[4] G. Greer, The Whole Woman (London: Transworld, 1999), 399-411.

[5] Sugar and Spice, http://sns.puellula.com/Links.html.

Citation: James G. Crossley, " OH-MY-GOD —It's So the Teen Bible!," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Jan 2007]. Online:http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=615

 
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