3 “gospels” that are pressuring young women

February 20, 2019

There’s a picture I keep in my dresser drawer that elicits tears every time I look at it. Cardboard columns and twisted crepe paper make up the background. The camera is focused on four middle school girls wearing wrist corsages and hot-rolled hair.

I’m the one wearing a blue flowered dress and white slingbacks. I look like I’m playing dress up, because, of course, I was. The year was 1993. It was my first junior high dance.

I had been raised in and out of the church (mostly in), but did not yet understand the gospel or know Jesus personally. That means I was navigating puberty without the Holy Spirit. It was the worst kind of combination. My parents had divorced three years earlier, and I simply couldn't stop my heart from hemorrhaging. Add in middle school drama (the worst!) and some first-born achievement hangups, and the result was a girl who checked all the boxes: Good student, good athlete, good daughter, good friend—and yet, I had no idea who I was.

But God (and others he strategically put in my life). God sought and saved me. He saw the fatherless, fearful girl and adopted me as his own. Then, he gave me the church, full of other orphans willing to tuck me under their wings. And he did it, at first, through two of my friends (more on them in a moment).

A different kind of ending

While you’re still picturing that awkward 13-year-old me, I’d like you to consider another girl. Her name is Alexandra Valoras. She ended her own life at the age of 17 last fall. Though her story is certainly jarring, my goal isn’t shock and awe. Instead, I need us to look reality in the eye when it comes to young women and refuse to blink for a moment. When she made her bed and walked to a highway overpass to end her own life, she became a poster child for a real-deal crisis happening right now among the young women you know.

I dearly love young women and consider it a calling on my life to disciple them intentionally. Through dozens of conversations in coffee shops, I’ve noticed a trend. We’re not talking about boys any more. Somewhere along the line, the anty got upped. Young women talk to me frequently about their declining mental health. They describe debilitating anxiety. More than one has confided that she often struggles to function. One college-aged woman shared that she is in counseling for the effects of PTSD. (Her words, not mine). I see a pervasive paralysis among them.

Young people are not the “future of the church.” They are the church. Right now. And these trends should put us on high alert:

The reasons why a 17-year-old honor student from a happy home would choose to end her own life are complicated. I wouldn’t dare try to trace that thread back to the spool in a single blog post, but the stakes are too high not to ask: What can we know and do?

The enemy hates young women

In Genesis 3, we see the serpent slither up to young Eve, hellbent on deception. His attack on young women hasn’t stopped since.

I can tell you from personal experience and from years of discipleship, that if the enemy can deceive a woman in her teen years, he wins a great victory. It is during those years that her thoughts on marriage and home and family and ministry are formed. Even if she simply spends a few years wandering from the Truth, there are often disastrous consequences that last a lifetime.

Teen angst may be normalized, but we are wise to ask ourselves, should it be? Was it really God’s plan that the hormones that are an inevitable part of growing up result in depression, anxiety, and hostility? Should we continue to downplay young women’s (and men’s) collective struggles as “just a phase”? Or, instead, can we take up arms against the enemy who is coming at the Body of Christ by picking on our youngest members?

Let’s look at the messages that are trickling down and identify where there are toxins. Specifically, I see three alternate gospels that are strangling young women.

1. The gospel of performance

After Alexandra jumped, her family found her journals filled with pages and pages of despair. One entry stands out to me, “I am stretched too thin.”

The struggle is alarmingly real. Several years ago, I was teaching at an event for young women. During the response time, a middle schooler came down and collapsed on the altar. I scooted over and asked how I could pray for her. Through tears she sobbed, “I didn’t finish my math homework.” Sure, there was a part of me that wanted to respond wryly, “Let’s talk when you have the pressure of four kids and mortgage,” but the Spirit stopped me. The anxiety and sadness she was feeling was real. To her, an unfinished assignment equated to a wasted life.

In many ways, life for the average middle school and high school girl has started to resemble a pressure cooker. As I mentioned in my book, My Name is Erin, here’s why:

Because of the pressure to get into a good college, most girls take Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Experts say each AP class will likely result in 45 minutes of homework each school night. Many students take multiple AP classes and can expect to spend almost two and a half hours doing homework after an eight-hour school day.

School, sports, and friends eat up 80 hours of an average young woman’s 168-hour week. Add in time for sleep, and 133 hours are gone (though many are not sleeping well). Factor in time with family, involvement in church, and an average of seven hours a day looking at screens, and the numbers quickly start adding up.

Many young women are slowly suffocating under the weight of the idea that they have to perform in order to be loved and accepted. This false gospel has a tentacle in the church. When we teach that the Christian life is about doing certain things (reading your Bible, going to church, serving others), the enemy twists that into a message about salvation earned through performance.

2. The gospel of perfectionism

Another entry in Alexandra’s journal echoes a cry I’ve heard from many. She wrote, “I have to be perfect. Anything less is failure.”

I’ve heard high achievers have the highest rates of eating disorders. They are the most likely to battle with the two-headed beast of depression and anxiety. In Alexandra’s case, the pressure to do “all things” robbed her of the motivation to do anything at all.

This thinking cannot stand up to the true gospel which states, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). We are not and can never be perfect on our own. That is why we need Jesus so much. Are we proclaiming this to young women often enough? Or are we, the women of the church, polishing up an image of Christian perfectionism that is binding them in chains?

On Sunday mornings, when we get to the “shake a hand with someone” section of the service, I want to cry out, “I’m not perfect. You’re not perfect. Let’s run to Jesus together.” I don’t, but in quieter settings, when I am talking with women one-on-one, I hope I am declaring the gospel of grace, not of perfectionism. They simply cannot bear the weight of my impossible expectations.

3. The gospel of reverse providence

Providence is a term that has gone out of vogue, but mercifully, it’s an attribute of God that never will. Providence is simply divine guidance. It’s God’s ability to work out our futures for our good (Rom. 8:28). Our young women, however, are being discipled through Instagram, and they’re hearing a much different message. It’s a message that screams:

You decide the outcome.

You choose your path.

You take care of you.

You must make it happen.

What sounds empowering is actually debilitating, because instead of resting in God’s divine care, young women feel the pressure to make everything work out on their own. Since they are not the God of the universe, this puts them in an impossible position. Self-sufficiency is a killer. In contrast, dependence on Christ’s sufficiency leads to life.  

It starts with hello

As I think back to that angsty, lost version of me, I know my story could have ended much differently. I too, worshipped at the altars of performance, perfection, and self-sufficiency. I felt the noose of these half-truths slowly tighten around my own neck.

But God used two people, Barry Smith and Dannah Gresh to escort me toward freedom. Barry was the youth pastor at a church my family visited. He crossed the room to introduce himself. He invited my sister and I to pizza and then youth group. Then, he faithfully taught the Bible to us. Dannah is now a well-known and loved author to young women, but 20 years ago, she held high the banner of Truth for just one girl—me. She took me to lunch. She opened her Bible. I’m forever changed by their examples.

Church, young women are on the ledge. They are poised to jump. We are their safety net. Young women need the Truth desperately—let’s give it to them faithfully and relentlessly.

Erin Davis

Erin is a speaker, author and blogger who addresses women of all ages nationwide and is passionately committed to sharing God’s Truth with others. She is the mother of three boys and the author of 13 books which can be found on her website. Erin lives on a small farm in rural Missouri and … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24