Mike Cope's blog

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

There was this bit of disconnect in my teen years. It seemed like every week there was something said at church warning us of the evils of "mixed bathing." (You can immediately spot the problem of mixed bathing; apparently, the greater concern was mixed swimming.) It was a rule strictly enforced at the Bible camp I went to and the university I attended. No mixed bathing. However, almost every Sunday in the summer, the moment church was over we headed for the lake. I loved singing the song with "throw out the lifeline," because it helped me fantasize about getting in the water with a ski and having someone throw out the ski rope. ("Throw out the ski rope, throw out the ski rope, someone is drifting away.") And there was mixed swimming. As I recall, a couple times we took the church's high school class with us. Then eventually, there were even dates to the lake! More mixed swimming. But maybe these old lessons got downloaded into my head. Maybe they are why I really don't care much for the beach and much prefer the mountains. Perhaps it isn't the heat, the sunscreen, the skin cancer, the salt water, or the sand that really annoy me. It's the mixed bathing. In the mountains of Colorado--which I much prefer-it's usually cool and everyone is wearing lots of clothes. Sometimes we'd go to Table Rock Lake on Saturday, spending the night. I have great memories of joining the Shell Knob Church of Christ on many Sunday mornings. Church didn't exactly start at 9:45. It was more 9:45ish. The teen class was pretty much everyone twelve to twenty, and my brother and I would about double the attendance. It was just assumed if we showed up that my dad would be the song leader. And as I got older, I could count on leading a prayer. What I especially recall is what good, welcoming, salt-of-the-earth people they were. I don't know how many of you have worshiped often with a group of just thirty or so. But for me, this is such a positive memory. One year at Harding, Diane and I drove every Sunday morning along with a buddy and his girlfriend (now his wife) to Alread, Arkansas. We'd drive from Searcy through Rose Bud and Bee Branch to Clinton and then snake our way up the gorgeous mountains of north central Arkansas just past Rupert. That was Alread. One of us would preach in the morning; the other would preach in the evening. Usually the one who wasn't preaching would lead singing. In the afternoon the four of us would go to someone's house for a great country lunch. Then we were free in the afternoon to rest, catch up on homework, or (for the one who hadn't preaching in the morning) to furiously write a sermon for the evening.


  • When I was a kid we would drive from Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek so my dad could preach there at a small church in the mountains of Colorado. This sounds like it would have been right up your alley, Mike! Mountains and small town preaching!! Today the place is booming due to the influx of casinos. It still makes me sad to think about that.

    By Blogger Candy, at 11/15/2005 04:50:00 AM  

  • A number of years ago my cousin, David Gililland, was preaching at a small town church I think it took us about 45 minutes to get there from Abilene. Many of our family went to hear him one Sunday, we definately increased the attendance, all the men who were in our group were given jobs to do, lead singing, communion prayer, opening prayer.... The members of that church were very sweet and appreciative of our attendance that day... after services were over we were all invited to join a couple for lunch in their home. There was atleast 7 of us there that day in our group. The hospitality that was offered that day left an imprint on my heart. The women of past generations could turn a meal for two into a meal for nine in about 30 minutes. I learned a big lesson that day, there is always room for more at the dinner table no matter what's cooking, just throw on some extra veggies, biscuits, and whatever else is in your fridge, and it will make a hungry crowd very happy. What a blessing.

    By Blogger Tammy M., at 11/15/2005 05:13:00 AM  

  • Mixed swimming means one thing to me - the wooden plank fence at the CYC in Abilene. Back in the late 1960's Abilene had a large outdoor pool known as the Christian Youth Center. In their infinite wisdom, the Center directors decided the mixed bathing issue could be fixed in a snap by erecting a 6' wooden fence right down the middle of the pool - unsightly as that seems.

    I recall vividly as families would arrive at the pool - boys to the right, girls to the left. Young boys up to 10 could go to the girls side, which is where I went with friends and moms. Rumor had it on the girls side that some of the older boys found a knot hole down about 8 feet deep on the 12 foot end and would dive down and eye the girls swimming by for a second or two.

    As one could imagine - the fence didn't last long, it rotted and was torn down. So the pool went to different swim times - noon to three for girls and four to seven for boys or something like that.

    The CYC met an untimely closure as I was turning 12 - but those memories will never go away.

    By Blogger KentF, at 11/15/2005 05:46:00 AM  

  • During my Kindergarten year, we traveled every Sunday from the top of the Tehachapi mountains down to the floor of the desert and my dad would preach at either the Lancaster CA or Bakersfield CA newly planted churches. It was a long, hot, dry day for the kids.

    Those trips were my tutors in thanksgiving - thanksgiving to be back in the cool mountains, away from the sand and heat of the desert.

    Mike, via today's entry you may well have triggered the memory and reason I so dislike the desert. :) I agree! Give me mountains, not hot, dry sand, be it at the beach or the desert!!!

    As traditional as my dad was, I cannot remember him ever preaching, teaching, telling us not to swim with someone of the opposite sex. Maybe he was more interested in keeping us active in swimming and other sports than he was about with whom we were going to be swimming. As soon as I could walk [at 7 months], he taught me to swim.

    I have a vague memory of wondering what was the person's problem that once asked me why I would go swimming with boys. It just wasn't a voiced concern in my family so I had no answer for them except, why wouldn't I? LOL

    As far as small churches are concerned, that was ALL I knew as a kid since my dad was a church planter, about 100 of them in the southern half of California, from the mountains to the beaches. These days I'm pleased to be able to attend larger congregations - it's sort of a rehearsal for heaven, imho. ;)

    By Blogger Kathy, at 11/15/2005 05:48:00 AM  

  • kentf--
    what fun someone else remembers. I was a charter member at CYC, before the knot holes got big enough to peep through. Although we tried. My brother was lifeguard on the boys side.
    When time came for an outing with the 9th grade class on the last day of school, everyone else got to go swimming at the VFW pool down on 1st street (about where a car dealer is now) while a tiny group played miniature golf.

    My memories of a small church is in Hubbardsville, N.Y. when our family would sometimes go visit the relatives who still lived in the old hometown of my parents. My cousin told me recently that the church was established when the Stone-Campbell movement was holding tent meetings all through the region.

    Sadly the congregation is long since extinct.

    By Blogger Sarah_RN, at 11/15/2005 06:07:00 AM  

  • I remember rebelling against the elderly folks of my hometown congregation and what appeared to be an arbitrary rule calling for no mixed bathing (always making some smart comment about the term bathing). I was resentful that my youth group had to "sneak" off with our youth deacon to a nearby town to enjoy time at the lake.
    And yet now after countless stories from men of their struggles with lust, I see it differently. I am honestly not very comfortable to this day swimming with men other than my husband. I have decided that I will do what I can to dress in a way that will honor my body, my husband and my God. I will not impose this rule on others, but will have to pray long and hard about whether we allow our two small boys to one day swim with teenage girls.
    My hope is that other families are raising daughters who will honor my sons by protecting their eyes from things they are not meant to be seen before marriage. I know this must sound old fashioned and frankly, insane, but after working with countless couples who have been affected by sexual issues, I feel called to this level of "insanity". Thank you for the thought provoking post.
    lisa c

    By Blogger Lisa C, at 11/15/2005 06:16:00 AM  

  • I never liked mixed-bathing as a kid (I think that's just because I was self-conscious, not that I had a theological or moral beef about it).

    From going to a 350 member church as a kid, and then a 1500 member church as a teen after we moved, it seems odd that I would end up most of my college years at a 30 member church. However, I am enjoying my time working there with that church. There are still a lot of great small churches around. I think there are some great things about some of the small churches left out there. There is a strong sense of community and fellowship. We know who is supposed to be there, and we don't start until everyone does get there (often starting 15 minutes late). If someone is missing, we either knew where they were gonna be ahead of time, or we're on the phone checking to make sure they're okay (especially with some of our elderly members). It's not the most open-minded church, but they put more focus on love and fellowship (and especially food - always a plus for a student like me), and those issues never become a problem.

    By Blogger Daniel Gray, at 11/15/2005 06:17:00 AM  

  • The ban against mixed swimming must be a southern thing. We didn't worry about that up north (at least in southeast Michigan).

    RIght after I graduated from Harding I preached once a month for a little church in Atlanta, Michigan. On some Sundays I would teach the Bible class, lead singing, preside over Communion, and preach the sermon. There was usually someone else available to lead the closing prayer.

    By Blogger Jeff Slater, at 11/15/2005 06:18:00 AM  

  • I too, heard the "No Mixed Bathing" Message - but as a non Christian. I was like, "Duh, I'm a punk and I know that!"

    I never really found "Mixed Bathing" (read co-ed swimming) to be the real temptation problem. I was my most sinful when me and a girl were completely alone in the woods and not surrounded by 100 other kids and adults.

    As a youth minister, I was easy on the mixed bathing and really hard on "couple hiking."

    Mike, I agree with you so often but I think that you really missed the point on this one. The real problem with mixed bathing is that it leads to premarital sex. And premarital sex, as we all know, leads to dancing. That, I think, is the real issue.

    Great post!

    By Blogger Joel Quile, at 11/15/2005 06:23:00 AM  

  • What a great post. For almost four years in college I traveled a hundred miles one way to a little church in Northwest Tennessee, and those beautiful loved me and my wife and made me think I could preach. They had funny ideas like not eating on the church property, but for some reason their love transended their little quirks. Oh, I miss thoses days. I was also brough up hearing many a sermon on "mixed bathing." I think that the biggest problem was that it was always couched in terms of the event and not the principle. There is a principle of modesty and in our efforts to distance ourselves from the goofy way we came across with terms like "mixed bathing" there still is plenty of room for heart felt teaching on purity. As opened minded as I have become it still is difficult for me to picture Jesus feeling good about some of the things people wear to the beach.

    By Blogger RC, at 11/15/2005 06:30:00 AM  

  • I have the difference between mixed swimming and mixed bathing. If soap is involved, it's mixed bathing. That's wrong.
    My memory of a small church is the church my dad and his dad and his dad grew up in...the Bearwallow Ridge Church of Christ. My first memory was four classes, one in each corner with my Aunt Maud teaching my class. It was one of those places where the Bible Study was the book with the fill in the blanks and the discussion was, "What does that verse mean?" Long silence. Then some brave soul would say, "I guess it means what it says." Songs being pitched with a harmonica. The songleader with a can of Skoal attached to his belt. I remember Dad preaching to a packed house. The native son was home. I have preached there, too. I also led singing, led one of the prayers, and helped pass communion...all in the same service. It's a dying church now. But oh, what great memories!

    By Blogger drjimwhite, at 11/15/2005 06:39:00 AM  

  • I have fun memories at Table Rock Lake too! I have also been to Shell Knob.
    When my husband was at HUGSR, sometimes we would go to Tunica, Mississippi. That was 14 years ago and we will still bring up memories of that small congregation.

    By Blogger Lori Ann, at 11/15/2005 06:41:00 AM  

  • It's funny how the "strict rules" of our past come back to haunt us when we have kids! I used to HATE wearing a uniform to school (I was raised Catholic) but I would love it if more schools would adopt that program. In H.S. (I even went to an all-girls school, so we apparently had issues with mixed-learning!)I remember feeling peaceful that I didn't have to wake up worrying about what to wear!!!

    By Blogger Beaner, at 11/15/2005 06:47:00 AM  

  • Hey Kent,

    Do you remember Randall Cobb throwing the guys up high enough to see over the fence?

    By Blogger Buster, at 11/15/2005 06:47:00 AM  

  • My dad did some preaching at very small churches (along with his "day job"). I missed out on having a "youth group" to be involved with, although there were some great people in those churches. Growing up in the South, and then moving to Southern California as an adult, I remember my surprise (and subsequent enjoyment) at the church-wide beach parties we found there. I've decided that the strength of the preaching against "mixed bathing" is directly proportional to the distance you are from the ocean!

    By Blogger Rhonda, at 11/15/2005 06:54:00 AM  

  • What a post. In fact, that is what we still have around our Bible Camp, dozens of posts surrounding our pool which still bars "mixed bathing." Living in Florida makes this rule even more ridiculous seeing as our youth groups engage in mixed bathing at our beaches, springs, and lakes.

    Growing up a "Southern Baptist" I well remember a sermon preached by our pastor where he stated that "girls wearing bandaids and bottle tops were Demon possessed."
    I think I'll go for a swim now.
    rqzbpmay (a fear of bandaids and bottle tops)

    By Blogger cwinwc, at 11/15/2005 07:19:00 AM  

  • My non-mixed bathing memories come from Camp WaMaVa in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I never understood the big deal, either. In regular, non-camp life, it seemed the church never had a problem with guys and gals swimming together; there were no picket lines or protests at the community pool where this took place.

    In fact, that pool at Camp WaMaVa was so overridden with algae that as long as boys and girls were in the water, they never would have been able to see each other anyway. Can't lust if you can't see, right?

    Man, that water was GREEN.


    By Blogger jds, at 11/15/2005 07:27:00 AM  

  • Oh Mike, you forgot to mention, the wearing of shorts leads to mixed bathing, which leads to dancing which leads to premarital sex.

    Some of my fondest childhood memories are in Waco, Texas at a small congregation. I remember the men smoking cigarettes in between class and church! Also, before church all the women would congregate in the nursery and talk. One particular lady was Sister Keller. She told some amazing stories from the late 1800's. Did I mention she was old?
    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    By Blogger Hoots Musings, at 11/15/2005 07:31:00 AM  

  • Actually, mixed bathing leads to dancing, which is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire, and dancing leads to beer, which is the ultimate evil, especially the domestic stuff from the mountains of Colorado.

    By Blogger Thunder Fan, at 11/15/2005 07:46:00 AM  

  • After my previous post, I remembered a funny story from So. Cal. days. We were interviewing prospective ministers and had one come out from Ohio (or was it Indiana?). Anyway, in his Sun. a.m. sermon, he mentioned that his friends back home had given him a hard time about interviewing in California. He said they'd told him, "There'll probably be girls in bikinis hanging all over the church sign."

    So, being the friendly church we were, and not wanting to disappoint him, that afternoon one of the good brothers took his two college-aged daughters back over to the church and photographed them, in bikinis, hanging on the church sign. The photo was given to the fellow Sunday night to take back home.

    By Blogger Rhonda, at 11/15/2005 07:47:00 AM  

  • I have to agree with Jeff Slater's comment about it being a "southern thing". Although I heard the term "mixed bathing" a few times at my church in northern VA - it was not something that was harped on. I'm one of 3 girls - and we all swam year-round competitively. And we were lifeguards in the summer! 'Sinners Jesus will receive!' I obviously had to quit swimming when I went to Harding; as they only had a team for the boys. I can remember swimming laps during "Girls Swim" time at the Ganus center and freaking out when some guy from Calculus class entered the pool area before it was quite time for the "Boys". I also remember Harding having their social club swim meets - and the girls COULD go to watch the guys meet - but not the other way around. You know - because 'girls don't lust.' Then everyone would go to Heber and jump off the cliffs together. Made total sense. I believe in beaches and pools - but I also believe in modesty. And the mountains of CO are awesome!

    By Blogger Lisa_In_AL, at 11/15/2005 07:49:00 AM  

  • Buster - YES - I do recall Randall (Tex) Cobb flinging the younger boys up high enough to get a peek over the fence. It looked really odd from the girls side to see a head briefly peek over with a huge grin on the face - and it always brought out giggles from the girl lifeguards. Some guy (the name escapes me)was athletic enough to get a huge spring on the rather dead diving board and chunk a volleyball over the fence at the girls. I'm sure that brought about some unbelievable punishment. Thanks for the memory vehicle Mike.

    By Blogger KentF, at 11/15/2005 08:24:00 AM  

  • I was always accused of walking the edge as a teenager in the late ‘70’s growing up in the Church of Christ. I swam in the Ohio River with male and female friends alike; I went (with dates) to high school dances and slow danced to the Best of Bread and Steely Dan.

    My experience was that if you make something out to be a big deal and spend an inordinate amount of time preaching about the dangers – when the dangers don’t happen - it ruins your credibility.

    So communicate honestly about the possible pitfalls and let people make choices based on their knowledge and faith.

    I too know of Bearwallow Ridge. And Hamlin, and Leechtown (don’t ask!) and Clarington. All tiny little Appalachian congregations that let me torture them Sunday after Sunday while honing my oratory skills. I got better and better at public speaking and they got an inexperienced, young buck that had no idea how trouble-filled and complicated life can be. But I muddled through.

    Sunday dinners were the best! Roast Beef or chicken (sometimes fresh from the coop the day before – that’s coop and not Co-op.) Mashed or roasted potatoes with gravy and in my area of the country there were always homemade noodles cooked till tender in broth. Yeast rolls – right out of the oven! Thank goodness it’s lunch time here!

    By Blogger J A Pierpont, at 11/15/2005 08:52:00 AM  

  • I have always thought mixed swimming was a great way to help facilitate the proper attitudes and actions in our teens towards the opposite sex. With proper supervision, it is a live classroom where some good life lessons can be taught, modeled and enforced. I am not for shielding our kids till they leave home and then dumping them into the adult world with no experience or skills to help them survive and maintain their purity and holiness.

    Mixed swimming is a place where modest bathing attire can be taught. It is a place where we can help our kids deal with their raging hormones in a structured, supervised environment rather than in the backseat of a car somewhere or in someone's bedroom when no one else is home. It is a place to help teach our kids about the proper attitudes and actions towards the opposite sex.

    I'm "fer" it.

    By Blogger Brad, at 11/15/2005 09:00:00 AM  

  • Growing up in the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, the whole mixed bathing was never a topic of discussion (perhaps I was just too interested in something else at the time); however, I will always pick Colorado over the beach. If not for the people and ACU, I would be picking just about anywhere over Abilene at the moment.

    By Blogger Donald Philip Simpson, at 11/15/2005 09:19:00 AM  

  • Mixed bathing was thrown in there with necking and petting. I remember EVERY Wednesday night class being about one of those topics. Well, and the dancing!!!!!

    By Blogger That Girl, at 11/15/2005 10:08:00 AM  

  • My dad was a school principal, but he also preached every Sunday in Baird, Putnam, Pioneer and other little towns around Abilene. I remember those Sunday dinners (we didn't know it was lunch back then) and how I wish I could taste some of that fried chicken again. Chickens today don't taste anything like they did back then.

    By Blogger Kate, at 11/15/2005 11:13:00 AM  

  • Why do they call it mixed bathing and bathing suits. No one is bathing in these suits or in these pools, lakes, rivers and oceans! Anybody know where that came from?
    I have a friend who's daughter was having a swimming party for her 9th birthday and one of the moms wouldn't let her daughter come to the party because my friend's husband (and dad to the birthday girl) was going to be there. That's the most extreme "mixed bathing" story I know.
    Some bathing suits are far more modest than some of the shirts and jeans I'm seeing now.

    By Blogger Snapshot, at 11/15/2005 11:35:00 AM  

  • I heard a lot about petting but never knew what it was. I thought that was what you did to your pets. And then there was HEAVY petting. Is that when you push down on your dog really hard? I never got that.

    The weirdest mixed swimming story I know was the preacher my parents knew who would not let his sons and daughters swim together. I mean, really. I could not imagine looking across the pool at my brother in his swim trunks and being overcome with lust. That is just SICK.

    By Blogger Deana Nall, at 11/15/2005 11:46:00 AM  

  • Jeff Slater probably remembers this, because he and I were at Harding at the same time, but The Bison did a story once on the "cliff jumpers" at Heber. The pictures they took were of people in shorts and t-shirts (I think there might have been one of a girl in a one-piece suit) and the sponsor made them COLOR IN PANTS AND SHIRTS so they would be "modest."

    My friends and I have never laughed so hard in our lives.

    By Blogger Lisa, at 11/15/2005 12:15:00 PM  

  • What I remember most about the "mixed bathing" issue was that the very MEN who preached about it seemed to sorta get a charge(if you know what I mean)by just saying the words. THAT'S the sinful part of it to me! Thankfully, I had/have a dad who explained "da situation" to his girls, & helped us feel good about ourselves instead of feeling guilty.

    By Blogger annie, at 11/15/2005 01:05:00 PM  

  • Whoa...this subject has certainly generated some interesting comments and observations. Fascinating!

    By Blogger MarkS, at 11/15/2005 01:33:00 PM  

  • My aunt has a beautiful cabin in the Poconos. The couple of times we've been there and gone to church, our crew of 7 or 8 doubled the congregation. I thought it was very cool when I was a kid, because they met in a fire station.

    BTW, Mike, you probably know my aunt...Patty Atkisson at Pepperdine.


    By Blogger Lynn, at 11/15/2005 01:40:00 PM  

  • I have to share this story just because it always gave me such a sense of satisfaction: Mixed bathing/swimming was never an issue in my northern Virginia church growing up, except when we would head up to Camp WaMaVa and the Petri dish of a pool there that Jonathan already mentioned. Swimming was always a big part of my life and I worked as a lifeguard all through high school and into college. In one of my life guarding training classes, the Red Cross brought a camera crew down from D.C. to film our rescue exercises for their newest edition of the lifeguard training videos.

    My first semester at Harding, through some glitch in the registration system, I was initially registered for a boys’ swimming/lifeguard certification class. Imagine my delight—uh, I mean shock and horror, when I walked into the pool that first day and discovered that scheduling mistake! Needless to say, it was quickly rectified, but it always made me laugh a little, though, that while I couldn’t be in the pool with the boys to renew my certification, I could be instructing them in the video as I pulled a “drowning” person from the pool or was strapped into a neck break as a diving accident “victim.”

    By Blogger Tiffany, at 11/15/2005 02:23:00 PM  

  • I never had any big beef with mixed bathing until I lived in a beach town (Pensacola, FL) for five years. That was went I discovered that the majority of persons who roamed the beaches in those dreaded thongs were folks who shouldn't have been allowed to be naked even in the privacy of their own homes.

    I shan't share further. That's all I've got to say about that.

    By Blogger Matt Elliott, at 11/15/2005 06:07:00 PM  

  • Ah, mixed bathing … what a smell down memory lane! The chlorine in the pool to kill off those squirmin’ little cooties. The fragrance of those rubber flowery-petalled swimming caps that squeezed your eyes shut, and sucked your hair out of the follicles when you tried to remove it. As a kid in Colorado, we did lots of strokes in heated swimming pools, with the steam rising and the radiators hissing. I always had to wear THE UGLIEST one-piece swimming suit, because a two-piece showed off too much skin and was THAT CLOSE to sin. Funny, but in the summer up in the mountains at Bible camp, I was a bit confused that both boys and girls got their baptismal dunking on the same side of the lake, in the very same spot (where was Moses and why didn’t the waters part?). Was that water consecrated, or what??? The goose bumps were all over the place, the water was so cold!

    And yes, mixed bathing up in the Rockies could lead to beer drinking. So to make sure no one stumbled, my brother and I did the proper C of C thang by cutting loose any Coors 6-packs we saw moored to some rocks in the ice-cold stream and watched the sin just float away.

    Later, when we moved to the desert in Kandahar, there wasn’t much to do after camel riding, so my parents had a re-think on the mixed-bathing issue. We swam and dived in mixed company (no Afghans, though) and adapted quite well (the pool was in the USAID compound, not out in the bazaar). It’s amazing how the heat at 120-degrees in the shade can change your religion. And we sure didn’t need to free up any more cold-stream 6-packs of Coors!

    Did I just write swimming suit? Now I live in a country where the popular term used is ‘swimming costume’. You can really let your imagination run wild with that one …

    Oh, and one thing about attending tiny churches AND mixed bathing. If you weren’t careful, everybody would know you by your goose bumps, and that is just too dire for words!!

    By Blogger Deb, at 11/15/2005 06:19:00 PM  

  • Hey, dad said that when you guys were at Shell Knob CofC some older kid would lean back, open the door, whistle, and his dog would come over there and he would be petting him out the door during Sunday School. That is really funny. Did Fat Albert ever do that? Mucho amor (I don't know if that is how you say it, Mr. Spanish).

    By Blogger Crista, at 11/15/2005 06:59:00 PM  

  • Some of us still worship in small churches of about 30. We would welcome any vistors :)

    By Blogger Steve Duer, at 11/16/2005 04:32:00 AM  

  • I know I'm a little late on this conversation, but reading the post made me smile. I was born on a farm in Alread, Arkansas and my grandparents started that little Church of Christ in Alread. We still own the land and my brothers still live in that area. Mike, you're more than welcome to enjoy the "mountains" in Alread anytime.

    By Blogger Jessica, at 12/01/2005 09:51:00 AM  

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