As the Summer Olympics drew to a close, the heartache over Simone Biles’ withdrawal from many of her gymnastics events also came to an end. After mental struggles incapacitated her, drawing criticism and sympathy from audiences, Biles finally triumphed on the balance beam, leaving us all with a classic Olympic feel-good story and a sense of closure.
But I’m still thinking about her, in a strange context.
I don’t know much about gymnastics, so I can’t comment on what happened to Biles, other than to say that she does she knew something about gymnastics and if she thought the competition would endanger her, she was most likely right. But what really struck me about the incident was his response to all the messages of support she received: He tweeted“[They] it made me realize that it’s more of my achievements and gymnastics that I never really believed in before.
It saddens me that even a successful and celebrated young woman might feel that her only true value is in her accomplishments. She saddens me, but she doesn’t surprise me. We live in a world that hammers that message at us in every way, both overt and subtle. Unsurprisingly, Rachael Denhollander, the former gymnast who fought to bring down the doctor who abused both her and Biles, titled her memoir How much is a girl worth? She knew all too well that the sport she loved was full of people who could and would make a young woman feel worthless.
And tragically, many of us live in a church that does exactly the same thing.
I was reminded vividly in recent days, when author and politician JD Vance, a professing Christian, was publicly criticize the childless. She started from announcing that the opinions of childless people are worth less because they apparently have no « direct, personal interest » in the country’s future. She then started making the rounds on talk shows, suggesting that parents should get extra votes on behalf of their children, so that the votes of childless people count less. Widely named for his views, Vance (of course) promptly doubled down on them, sending emails entitled « Enough with the CAT LADIES ».
I’ve seen some debate here and there about whether Vance really meant what he said, or was just pandering to his base. I don’t see that it matters one way or the other. What matters to him is that he figured he could have gotten away with saying it, so he said it. And he kept saying it.
Many people were shocked by Vance’s blatant cruelty, not to mention his apparent ignorance of how the US Constitution works. I was not shocked. I have been informed before, in both overt and subtle ways, that as a childless person, I am worth less than others. I’ve heard this quite a few times over the years behind the scenes, so I guess it was only a matter of time before he started leaking like toxic gas into the public arena.
And I’ve almost always heard it from Christians.
This is the flip side of the pro-family movement I’ve worked in for so many years, the shadow that so many people either don’t talk about or aren’t even aware of. If your primary goal as a Christian is to get people to have more children, especially if you go so far as to believe that this is the best way to spread the gospel, at some point the belief that childlessness is a waste of space it will creep. In.
I wish it weren’t true, and not just for my sake. I love children and have long thought that a movement that promotes and values them must be a good movement. I worked in that movement for so long because I believed in it. I happily took on tasks like reviewing children’s books for a family audience, because I thought it was a good way to help children and their parents.
What I slowly but surely discovered was that, for many influential people in this movement, it wasn’t enough to value children and work for their good. If you didn’t have children of your own, you had failed in your life’s mission; you were an inferior person. To use a Vance-ism, you didn’t have a real « involvement » in things. In one workplace, I was even told that it didn’t make sense for me, a childless person, to write about children’s books.
I didn’t recognize it at first, but steadily throughout my career, a faint drum beat was getting louder, a mantra similar to one Simone Biles must have heard when she stood on that competition track and knew she wouldn’t. could jump again:
You are not enough. You are not enough. You are not enough.
It’s not just in sports. It’s not just in entertainment, business, or any other arena where the competition is fierce and constant. This pernicious message is all around us, floating in the air we breathe. And it has crept into the heart of the gospel that we Christians preach.
Do not get me wrong; I am not saying that the gospel is meant to reassure us that we I am Enough. I am a sinner, saved only by grace. I am selfish, envious, greedy, proud, lazy, inconsiderate, deceitful, petty and hypocritical. I know all this about myself, better than anyone. This is exactly why I need a Savior.
You see, Christianity tells us that we don’t have to be enough. That’s the point. This is why I joined in the first place, because « Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, over whom I am the head » (1 Timothy 1:15). Christ gave his life for us and his righteousness is attributed to us. None of us have to be quite why He it’s enough.
So why do so many Christians act differently?
JD Vance is a politician, not a theologian. But when, as a professing Christian, he brings this dysfunctional and harmful message into the public square, he presents the world with a grossly distorted image of Christ. Whether his words are sincere or cynical, he’s conveying the same twisted thought that has haunted and hurt me all those years: the idea that, because of my childlessness, I’m not enough. Not good enough to make contributions in my field, however talented or committed I may be; not good enough to count my vote, regardless of my citizenship; not good enough to be appreciated and respected; just not enough, period.
I said earlier that the world is inundated with messages like these. So many are so eager to rise up finding reasons to bring others down. Christians, of all people, should be the ones to counter those messages in every possible way. Instead, the JD Vances of the world go up to the temple and pray, « God, I thank you I’m not like cat women. » And people like me feel like Simone Biles when she fell short of living up to expectations, wondering if her worth had faded with her abilities.
All I can say is that I hope the truth Biles learned from her difficult experience stays with her. Because I’ve fought long and hard to hold on to that truth, and even now there are days where it almost gets out of hand. I have to keep reminding myself that no politician, no pundit, no person on any platform with an agenda can decide my worth.
Just being made and loved and redeemed by God. Now if only his people could understand that.