A Bible created especially for girls age 13-16 that includes profiles of fictional teenagers discussing oral sex, lesbianism and "dream" guys is drawing sharp criticism from some Christian parents who say such material should not appear alongside Scripture.
The "True Images" Bible, published by Zondervan, promises on its dustcover to "strengthen your relationship with God, family, friends and guys."
While the book includes the entire text of the New International Version of the Bible, it's the "over 1,000 relevant and compelling notes and articles" that have critics upset.
The "In Focus" profiles are peppered throughout the text of the Bible and deal with subjects like sex, pregnancy, alcoholism, dating, homosexuality, depression, pornography and flirting.
An introduction in the Bible explains its goal: to present to young girls "true images": "God's message about who you are in his eyes."
The "In Focus" article on sex appears amidst scriptural regulations on offerings in the book of Leviticus. It profiles the fictional girl "Ashley" and is entitled "Casual or Not?"
While the message of the profile is to save sex for marriage, critics aren't convinced the frank-talk approach is appropriate for young teens.
Discussing her friend "Emma," Ashley says, "The story is that she had oral sex with a guy friend of ours last week. Just for fun. They're not dating, although they've always flirted with each other a lot. Emma took one look at my face this morning, and she knew I knew."
Emma goes on to claim that oral sex "is not even sex," but Ashley disagrees, saying, "God's definition of sexual purity covers much more than intercourse."
Following Ashley's narrative is a warning that "the physical and emotional effects of oral sex are similar to intercourse," along with tips for dealing with friends who are engaging in the practice.
'Am I Gay?'
Another "In Focus" story highlights the experience of "Trish" in "Am I Gay?"
Says Trish: "All my friends are wondering if this guy or that guy likes them. I don't like any guys right now. Instead, I wonder if I have a crush on Sierra. She's one of my best friends."
Trish goes on to explain that her uncle tried to rape her when she was 12 and that ever since, "I haven't wanted any guy to touch me – not even my dad."
The follow-up warning to Trish's story directs the reader to read Romans 1:24-32, in which Paul condemns homosexual behavior.
Wedged into the pages of the book of Jeremiah is a profile by "Lorraine," in which she discusses finding Playboy and Penthouse magazines belonging to her father in the basement.
"I couldn't believe it when I found the box. Those horrible magazines!" Lorraine says.
"I couldn't even look at my dad after I found it. … My dad's a Christian! Yet he's got this porn stash. It's like he's got this secret life."
The feature then advises girls in Lorraine's situation to "talk with a trusted Christian adult about the issue. Pray together, and come up with a plan for what to do next."
Though there is a rising movement within Christianity to promote courtship over traditional dating, the "True Images" Bible, like a secular teen magazine, appears to assume its readers are dating – or wish they were.
The "In Focus" feature on dating has "Taylor" upset because her boyfriend may be "cheating" on her with another girl.
"Does he really think I don't have a clue?" she laments. "But I can't stand the thought of losing him."
One of several personality tests throughout the Bible deals specifically with dating, entitled "The Perfect Date." One of the creative date ideas is to go to a symphony concert under the stars, since it will provide "romantic tunes" and "cuddling opps."
On the same page is a colorful graphic stating: "You gotta kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince!"
Another quiz helps young teen readers discover what their "Prince Charming" will be like – everything from how he should look to what an imaginary night on the town would entail. After tallying the answers, readers can then "piece together a portrait of your dream man."
One group of Christian teens the Bible doesn't appear to recognize is homeschoolers. Many of the scenarios and personality quizzes use hypothetical situations that would only occur in a traditional school atmosphere, such as "You're sitting next to the prom queen in English class. What are your thoughts?"
Leonie Beltzer is a homeschooling parent from Sterling, Va., who sent an e-mail warning to other homeschool families about the "True Images" Bible.
"I was exceptionally shocked when I was previewing the 'True Images' Bible for our daughter," Beltzer writes. "It would be very easy to just think that because it contains God's Word we can just give it to our kids and let them read it without censorship (believe me, I nearly did but thank God I did not!). I send this out as a warning."
Beltzer goes on to describe the oral sex and lesbian features, saying, "I felt very compelled to at least give you all a head's up."
Stacy McDonald is editor of Homeschooling Today, author of "Raising Maidens of Virtue" and the mother of seven girls.
"I find this 'Bible' comparable to filthy graffiti smeared across the Word of God. Instead of edifying young girls and encouraging them to godliness it actually violates their purity by its very text," she told WND.
"Having seven daughters myself, I am deeply grieved that parents would encourage their young daughters to read such graphic narratives. I would not give this 'Bible' to my 20-year-old virgin daughter to read – much less a 13-year-old. Why should she have images of oral sex, lesbianism and rape in her mind?"
A spokesman for Zondervan defended the content of the teen Bible, saying the company would be irresponsible not to include the controversial subject matter.
"In putting 'True Images' together, our guiding principle was to be as edgy as the Bible is and no more," Cameron Conant, Zondervan's public relations manager for Bibles, told WorldNetDaily. "We've forgotten that the Bible is filled with sex and violence, and God's redemptive role in the lives of sinful people. The Bible itself is a pretty provocative book."
Zondervan worked with the Livingstone Corporation, a Bible content developer that has worked on many study Bibles, to put together the publication. Conant explained that Livingstone did extensive research on 13 to 16-year-old girls to identify the main issues of concern to them.
"Again and again and again, the issues that repeatedly came up were a lot of issues related to sex," he said. "Today's teens are just bombarded with … highly suggestive, highly sexual media messages every day."
Stated Conant: "These issues are out there, and we need to make sure teens have a biblical view of sexuality. We felt it would be irresponsible not to address some of these specific issues, even oral sex and homosexuality, even for 13-year-old girls. … Virtually every 13 to 16-year-old out there is dealing with these issues."
Conant said Zondervan didn't want to bury its "head in the sand" and act as if teens aren't aware of the sexual issues addressed in the "True Images" Bible.
"We want to point them to God-centered solutions and responses to the things they're seeing on TV and the things they're hearing from their friends," he said.
Conant said the "True Images" website receives "tons of e-mails" from children who read the Bible "and are benefiting from it."
Said one e-mail Conant supplied to WND: "I really like this Bible. It made me realize that God does understand what a girl has to go through with everybody – parents, siblings, friends, acquaintances, boyfriends and temptations."
Another teen girl stated: "I truly believe that God has blessed me with this Bible to get a better understanding about dating and flirting and about me and my body, and I thank you for making the Bible that way, in that kind of style."
McDonald said she doesn't believe Zondervan's contention that "virtually every" teen girls is aware of and concerned about the matters discussed in the "True Images" Bible.
"If they do know [about these issues]," she said, "it's the parents' responsibility to share these things with their children in a protected way. It shouldn't come from a teen Bible."
The author said she's concerned that a grandmother might purchase the "True Images" Bible and give it to her granddaughter, not realizing its content.
"What's wrong with giving them just the Bible," McDonald asked, "and then encouraging relationships where girls can ask questions of parents? If an issue comes up, it needs to be the parent presenting it in a godly way, not in some little story."
Continued McDonald: "Not every 13-year-old girl needs to be discussing oral sex, so why would we put it in a narrative that is almost titillating?"
Even if the sidebar texts point the reader to Scripture that gives the biblical perspective on an issue, McDonald said, "in attempting to instill purity in a child, what they're doing is actually robbing them. They're assaulting their purity because they're exposing them to way more than they need to be exposed to at that young age."
Conant countered McDonald's view, saying, "As much as we as parents want to shield our kids from the world, it's very difficult to do that. Even if we're doing all we can, these issues are going to come up, and what better way for them to come up than in the context of a Bible."
McDonald believes parents can better protect their children by schooling them at home.
"If the 'real world' of public school exposes them to oral sex, pregnant 14-year-old friends, homosexuality, rape, fornication, etc., the answer isn't to 'talk about it' in some hip teen book," she said. "The answer is to protect them, which may mean homeschooling them."
The Bible has a companion version for teen boys called "Revolution.