PODCAST: Meet Josephine Butler, The Hero You Never Knew

by | Aug 4, 2022 | Podcasts, Series | 13 comments

Josephine Butler Hero

Have you ever heard the name Josephine Butler?

If you were alive in London in 1880 you likely would have. In her time, she was as well-known as Florence Nightingale, but history has largely forgotten her.

This month on the podcast, we’re bringing back women that have been lost to history, whose stories you need to know!

Joanna and I sat down and read Josephine Butler: Patron Saint of Prostitutes, and discussed it today! Then Shannon Johnston, a listener who moderates a number of Facebook groups, joined me to talk about a disturbing trend she’s seeing in women’s social media groups.

It’s the start of a whole new season on the Bare Marriage podcast, so listen in!

Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube!

Timeline of the Podcast

1:30 Josephine Butler’s Story
12:00 How her campaign started
29:50 The end of her life
35:50 Interview with reader Shannon about Christian FB groups
46:00 The problem with being an admin in a group
49:15 Weird translations/Being a famous Christian woman
56:45 “The medium is the message”
1:05:50 Why Sheila responds to trolls

Transcript of the Podcast:

And I’m so excited to announce to you that we’re starting this season on the podcast by adding transcripts! We’ve been asked to do this for the hearing impaired, and our money from Patreon is funding this! (You can become a Patron too for as little as $5 a month, and then you get access to unfiltered podcasts, our amazing Facebook group, and more! And it helps us a ton!).

Read the Transcript!

Rebecca: Hello.  And welcome to a whole new season of The Bare Marriage podcast where we like to strip away everything extra and get back to healthy, evidence-based biblical advice for marriage and sex lives.  My name is Rebecca Lindenbach, and I am here doing the introduction for this podcast episode because my mother has the coronavirus.  That’s right.  COVID finally caught up with us.  So unfortunately, even though we’re starting this new season, I am here.  But don’t worry.  The segments for this week’s podcast were recorded ahead of time.  So even though my mom is sick this week, you’ll have lots of Sheila in this episode.  Now I wanted to let you guys know that this month, in August, we’re doing a fantastic series of the stories of women the church forgot.  Okay?  These are going to be amazing deep dives into women in church history who have done astounding things.  There is a little bit of summer left.  You’ve got time for some more reading, so we’re going to be pointing up some amazing biographies of women who are inspiring, who changed the world, who did big things for God.  Stories that you probably haven’t heard before.  And this week we’re starting with Josephine Butler, and I am going to turn it over to my mom and Joanna as they share her story.

Sheila: I have my coauthor for The Great Sex Rescue, Joanna Sawatsky, joining me, and we are going to talk about not The Great Sex Rescue although we’re going to talk about a woman who tried to rescue sex and women just 150 years ago.

Joanna: Uh-huh.  It’s going to be great.

Sheila: Yeah.  So Josephine Butler.  I had never heard of her until I saw an article in Christianity Today about her, and it was amazing.  And it inspired me to buy the book, Josephine Butler: Patron Saint of Prostitutes.  And I was just blown away just by her story and the intersection of what she did and what we’re doing, and I just found so much of it really encouraging.  

Joanna: Yeah. It was actually a little bit unnerving at times as I was reading the book.  I don’t know.  Is this Josephine Butler’s biography?  Or is this Sheila’s biography?  Or is it possibly my own biography?  I don’t know.  

Sheila: Yeah.  Just amazing.  So just to summarize, we’re going to get into her story.  But just to set the stage, this is a woman, who was really active in the latter half of the 1800s in England.  She realized how unfair many of the laws were towards prostitutes specifically one law that allowed policeman to grab prostitutes off the street and do a vaginal exam using a very rudimentary speculum to see if they had STDs.  And you didn’t have to actually be a prostitute.  It was just if the policeman thought you might be a prostitute.  They could grab you off the street and do this to you.  It was an attempt to stop the spread of STDs, but they were only targeting the women and never the men.

Joanna: Yeah.  They also didn’t recognize that many of these conditions can be asymptomatic.  And so it didn’t work.  And actually, they knew at the time that they put this in, in England, that these same procedures had been used in other countries, and that it had actually driven up the rates of STDs.

Sheila: Well, yes.  Because, of course, they’re spreading it through the speculums.  

Joanna: If you think that there is no STDs, you’re more likely to engage in risky behavior, and then, therefore, there is more spread.

Sheila: Right.  Yes.  And then she got into also campaigning against child sex workers especially in Europe where she was looking at some of the state-owned brothels in France and in Geneva where the actual Calvinist church was running brothels which was interesting.  And then she ended up campaigning for women’s right to vote because she felt that these things could never happen unless women were actually given the vote.  We couldn’t actually get anything really done.  But also her big heart throughout all of this was she just wanted men to be expected to do right in the same way that women were.  And she was fighting against the every man’s battle message back in 1870.  The idea that men can’t control themselves and then women—we need brothels so men have an outlet.  

Joanna: Yes.

Sheila: And she said no.  We need to expect the same of men as we do of women.  So that is her story.  And it’s an amazing biography, and now let’s just get into the book.  So okay.  So I love the fact that—I love how she was raised.  She was raised by this family where she was really encouraged to think and to read, and she wasn’t treated as less than because she was a woman.  But not just that, her parents had a real sense of social justice.  Her dad was a minister, a pastor, and I wanted to read you this one thing which actually sounds so much like my childhood.  But she says, “Her father invited the children to the family’s mission and did not spare them the shocking details.  And the family’s mission at that time was to fight slavery.  So Josephine learned at a young age of whippings and brandings and the separation of slave children from their parents.  Her father told her of slave sales in which the merchandise was poked, prodded, and assessed like cuts of meat.  The strongest impact on Josephine was made, she said, by the dreadful treatment of female slaves, who were almost invariably forced to minister to the worst masters.” 

I mean I remember, as a kid, reading stories of slavery and especially the Holocaust and just being so—

Joanna: Mm-hmm.  Yes.  I read a lot of Holocaust.

Sheila: – so devastated and so like, “I will develop my entire life to making sure this never happens again.”

Joanna: I was actually reading another book recently, and it made the argument that post the Holocaust—really post any great tragedy that any theology that we have must take into consideration the atrocities that occurred in the Holocaust and, again, in other—any other human tragedy.  And if it would be anathema to speak a theological statement in the presence of those who were being killed then we should not speak a theological statement.  Such a great test.  Anyway, but yeah.  I think that those—studying those things from a young age really is transformative.  One of the things I really appreciated about Josephine is that she empathized with the right side every time, and that goes back to her childhood that she was taught who do we empathize with.  We empathize with the slave, not with the master.  The victim is the slave, not the master.  And I think that that really got beat into her in a powerful way.

Sheila: Yeah.  And I love—it talks too about how when she was 16 or 17 she had this great crisis of faith because she just didn’t understand how this could happen.  When I was 16, I had a crisis of faith.  And it was around pretty much the same thing about how could people who say they believe in God treat—and, for me, it was specifically treat women so badly and think that women are less than.  And I had a real crisis of faith until my aunt shared with me some books, which explained how Jesus and the New Testament really did see women and how we’ve distorted that.  And that was life changing for me.  I’m like yeah.  I had a crisis of faith at the same age over basically the same thing.

Joanna: That’s amazing.  

Sheila: So then she goes on—she’s in this wonderful marriage.  She marries this great guy, who doesn’t see her as less than, who sees her as a total partner.  In everything they do, they’re in a partnership.  And he never holds her back.  He just encourages her in what God called her to do.  So at one point, I think, her husband, George, was a school principal, so he ran a lot of education institutions.  But his wife was going out doing stuff, and he was all for it.  

Joanna: And he actually had some professional push back from other men in his field because of what she was doing, and he was like, “Meh.  Come at me, bro.”  

Sheila: Yes.

Joanna: I just really appreciate it.

Sheila: Yeah.  And then I love this quote too about her faith.  And she says, “The Greys,”—which is her father like her family of origin—“the Greys were relaxed and full of life because they believed in a version of Christianity which emphasized love.  Other Victorian Christians such as Calvinists,”—and I know there are Calvinists listening.  I’m not trying to beat Calvinists.  I’m just saying what the book said—“were oppressed by feelings of guilt and sin.  The Greys were convinced of their forgiveness and redemption by Christ which gave them confidence, hope, and an immense compassion for others.  Among Victorian families, they most resembled the so-called Clapham Sect of which William Wilberforce was a member.”  So they were very much in this Protestant space in England which was very anti-slavery, was very let’s do something for the poor.  That’s where they were living.  

Joanna: They were about the kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven.

Sheila: Exactly.  Yeah.  Yeah.  And so much of the book too does talk about their marriage and how—which I really loved because it really seemed like Josephine could not have done what she did without George’s support at that time.  And I think about you, me, and Rebecca.  We all have amazing husbands.  

Joanna: Yeah.  

Sheila: Who are totally on our side.  

Joanna: Mm-hmm.  Yep.  And who facilitate our jobs.  When we were writing The Great Sex Rescue, I had a two year old, and I was big and pregnant and running stats from like—I’d wake up in the morning—that last six weeks.  I was waking up in the morning and then working until I wasn’t pretty much because we had to finish the book.  And I had some restats to run.  And I would stop to help with the baby and to go on walks, and that was about it.  And my husband just took care of her to facilitate, and that’s the sort of thing that Keith and Connor and Josiah have all done to help us to do the jobs that we have which has been such a gift.  And it was lovely to read about a man in the Victorian era who, again, just allowed his wife to follow where she felt the Lord was leading her.

Sheila: Yep.  It was absolutely amazing.  And here is a—here are just a few thoughts that she had about gender.  She said in her letters, “It seems strange that I should have been engaged in taking up the cudgel against men when my father, brothers, husband, and sons have all been so good.”  So she wasn’t anti men.  She was just anti this Christian view of men that they need a sexual outlet because they’re somehow incapable of controlling themselves.  And she says, “Josephine Butler believed that Christ has liberated the women He met, and, therefore, the Christian faith should liberate all women too.”  And as I was reading her story, she seemed like almost naïve sometimes.  And I think I’ve been naïve too.  Like she really thought, “Look.  This is just so obvious.”  And then she’d preach it, and everybody would disagree with her.  And so that would just make her go full strong ahead even harder.

Joanna: Mm-hmm.  Well, I think what was sad to me reading it is that she had a lot of insights that we’re still arguing about 150 years later.

Sheila: It consistently shocked her and bothered her when it was Christians who were up against her.  Not when it was politicians or the world or whatever.  But when it was the church and especially—at first, it was over slavery.  She says she was shocked to discover that many of her friends did not agree that the issue of slavery should have been pushed to the point of Civil War.  So she very much wanted the slaves free.  And that there was no other choice when people are being so badly treated, and that haunted her that other people disagreed.  So really interesting.  Anyway, let’s get into where she actually started campaigning.  So it all began—not with a deliberate decision to campaign.  But through a bunch of different things that happened to her personally—and all tied up in all of this is the death of her daughter.  

Joanna: Mm-hmm.  Oh, so sad.  I almost had to stop reading.  

Sheila: I know.  It was really bad.

Joanna: So sad.  

Sheila: It was just an accident.  Her daughter had this terrible accident, and she really loved her daughter.  What?  Was she six or seven or something?

Joanna: She was five.

Sheila: Five.

Joanna: Yeah.  Blond curls.  I have a blond, curly-haired four year old.  And so it a hit a little close to home.

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  So she was totally grieving.  And then at the same time where she and her husband were working in Liverpool, she started to meet prostitutes that were really—that were there not because they had wanted to be there but because they were literally desperate.  They had no way of feeding themselves or their kids or anything.  And she started trying to help them and as a way to deal with her grief. And one woman, who later went on to serve with her—a prostitute—she said this, “Mary,”—who is the former prostitute’s name and she brought Mary into their house.  “Mary recognized that Christian faith and compassion was the motivation for her treatment in their home.  She told George that he did not need to tell her about Jesus as she had already met Him.  ‘Sir, you have brought me to your own beautiful home.  You have treated me as if I were your own daughter, as if I had never done anything wrong.  This is what I mean.  I have seen Jesus.’  ‘After a few months, Mary was so clean taken out of all memory of sin,’ said Josephine, ‘that one feels as if talking to a being of angelic purity.’”

Joanna: That’s lovely.  And I appreciated that her—for Josephine, that much of what she was doing was autobiographical.  And she was trying to work out—especially at first, her own grief and suffering by identifying with those who were suffering.

Sheila: Yeah.  Because that really was the motivation is to try, in her grief, to find others and help them as a way of resolving what she was going through.  And then as she started to understand this completely inhumane law because policemen were literally taking any woman they wanted off the street and sexually abusing them—

Joanna: Yeah.  And then, oh, if they didn’t submit to it, then it was to jail for you.  It was terrible.  Oh my goodness.  That’s a violation of—and she was making really good arguments.  Like, “This violates Magna Carta.  You don’t get to do this in English law.”

Sheila: Yeah.  

Joanna: It’s really not okay—it was just brutal. 

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  And so she started campaigning, and she started a huge, long political campaign that lasted several decades in order to get these laws overturned.  And at one point she said, “We cannot always depend on the self-sacrificing efforts of noble men to right our wrongs.  We women must do it.”  And when she started writing, people got really upset at her.  Her early pamphlets.  And that just made her more angry, and she said, “I have written indignantly.  I cannot help it.  You can be angry with me or despise all that I have said.  It does not matter in the least.  I have spoken the truth.  I am ashamed of my countrymen.”

Joanna: Well, and that story about people finding her work embarrassing or that what she was doing was untoward really hit me hard because I know we’ve both gotten that kind of pushback personally.  And that has been very difficult.  People annoyed with us for speaking out about marital rape.

Sheila: Yep.

Joanna: I’m sorry.  I don’t know what else to do.  

Sheila: Yeah.  Exactly.  But she said it’s better to do something than to take—and to take action than to burn with anger and do nothing.  

Joanna: Yeah.  Well, and I think it especially taboo to talk about these sorts of issues in the Victorian era.  Josephine was, in particular, very suspect of doctors in general given the poor training but also just the stigma around women’s bodies was still (inaudible) in that time.  

Sheila: Yep.  And there was this one—I just mark this because I thought it was sort—well, funny and sad at the same time.  So she’s going around England.  She’s doing these rallies.  She’s explaining how horrible this procedure is.  She’s describing in detail what it is to try to get people to understand the horror of it.  And it said, “Some of the impact Josephine Butler made on male audiences can be attributed to the thrill of witnessing a beautiful, impassioned woman speak about an illicit sexual topic.  John Addington Simmons, who encountered her in Oxford, even admitted that his reproductive equipment swelled while listening to her.”

Joanna: Oi.  

Sheila: Oi.

Joanna: Like guys, guys, that’s gross.  

Sheila: Yeah.  Exactly.  I feel that sometimes because we do get really gross emails often from men who say things.  It’s like oh my gosh.

Joanna: Yep. 

Sheila: I don’t think male authors understand the things that female campaigners are subjected to.

Joanna: Yeah.

Sheila: So here she is.  So she’s trying to get the Repeal Campaign done, and she’s trying to repeal these laws.  And she’s trying to make alliances with some politicians.  And often, she’s really let done because she’ll think that she has people’s support and then she doesn’t.  She’s often sick and under severe stress.  She goes through periods where she’s just in bed for months because she just can’t handle the stress, and she feels really alone.

Joanna: Yeah.  I really appreciated, as somebody who has had health problems, that she had periods where she wasn’t as productive as she wanted to be because she had to heal or where the stress was just too much and her body needed to rest.  And anyway, that was very comforting to me.

Sheila: Mm-hmm.  But what bothered her—and this is eventually where she sort of changed tactics because she was involved in these repeal laws for a decade.  She said, “Whenever Parliament had to deal with issues concerning sex and women’s rights, it’s members thought first of the impact on themselves and their sons.”  

Joanna: Yep.

Sheila: So they didn’t think about the impact on women.  They were thinking how is this going to affect themselves and their sons, and we see evidence of that today too especially in church politics.  

Joanna: Oh yeah.

Sheila: When it comes to issues like—of in the SBC trying to get people to take sexual abuse allegations seriously.  Often what happens by the higher ups is, “Well, how is this going to affect the pastors?”  

Joanna: Yep.

Sheila: “How is this going to affect the men in the church?”

Joanna: Yep.  They put men’s comfort and men’s desires over women’s safety, and that’s the essence of patriarchy.

Sheila: Yeah.  I loved, too, how much this woman prayed.  She didn’t actually go to church that much which is kind of interesting because she had books that publishers refused to publish because they were too Christian.  She was often accused of being too religious and too—there was too much God in everything she said.  And yet, she often didn’t go to church because she was so frustrated by the fact that fellow Christians didn’t see these things for problems.  But she had this rich prayer life.  And so whenever Parliament was debating, she would lead these big prayer meetings.  Or she would go into these big prayer and fasting sessions where she would prayer that God would be pleased to confound the deliberations and make the results like the confusion of tongues at the building of the tower of Babel.  And so it proved.  So her experience of Christianity was one of great disappointment in fellow Christians but also great comfort from Jesus.

Joanna: Mm-hmm. 

Sheila: But also just knowing that your mission is a hard one and having that not stop you.

Joanna: Well, she knew when she started doing the work advocating for prostitutes she knew that it was going to be very difficult.  She expanded her work later and also knew how difficult it was going to be.  She went in with her eyes open and still did the hard thing. 

Sheila: Yeah.  So in this book, one male politician, who was on their side—I forget his name.  So he was campaigning in the House of Commons for repeal.  He said this to other politicians, “In this matter, women have placed their feet upon the Rock of Ages, and nothing will force them from their position.  They knew full well what a cross they would have to bear, but they resolved to take up that cross despising the shame.  It was women who followed Christ to His death and remained with Him while others forsook Him, and there are such women amongst us now.”  Isn’t that beautiful?

Joanna: Yep.

Sheila: This woman was a powerhouse.  At her time, she was quoted in newspapers more than Florence Nightingale.  She knew Florence Nightingale.  They were contemporaries.  She was better known than Florence Nightingale, and she has largely been forgotten to history because she didn’t talk about the right kind of women.  She didn’t campaign for the right kind of women.  And so she’s been forgotten.  But at her time, she was really well known.  She was very hated.  She was very debated.  She went all around England giving these fiery speeches.  And what really bothered her and what she really started to campaign against—so after the repeal laws got sorted out was let’s figure out—let’s deal with brothels everywhere else because she said that the majority of both religious laws and secular laws—the object of it was to protect men from the physical consequences of their vices.

Joanna: Yep.

Sheila: And I just feel like isn’t that the way we have set up church so that men are protected when they sexually abuse women.  At least that’s cracking now, but the number of women who wore themselves out trying to change churches.  It’s only this year that the Southern Baptist Church finally listened.  

Joanna: And will they make the changes that they need to to really change the church culture?  That’s the question.  Yeah.  It was really sad reading the book.  It was a powerful book.  I really enjoyed it.  It was a healing thing for me to read it, but it was also profoundly sad because there were lots of places where they were talking about such and such committee of such government or this brand of the church.  And I thought I can substitute in here the board of Focus on the Family.

Sheila: Yeah.

Joanna: Or I can substitute in many mega church pastors.  And it reads the exact same, and it’s been 150 years.  Josephine Butler was a powerful campaigner for the rights and dignity of women in an era where women had very, very, very few rights.  Victorian England was terrible for women.

Sheila: Mm-hmm.

Joanna: And yet, I mean, how much further do we have to go?  Women still bear the brunt of men’s choices.  And the women who chose to be prostitutes—and Josephine did a very, very good job of pointing this out.  They did not choose to be prostitutes because they wanted to sleep with a bunch of guys.  They chose to be prostitutes because they had no other choice.  They had to put food on their table.  The economic system in which they were stuck meant that they could not have jobs.  They could not make sufficient money to support themselves.  And so they were stuck, and the only thing they could do was sell their bodies to have food.  And the men were often soldiers, not particularly well off, but certainly able to survive.  And the women were just trying to eke out a living.  And many of the brothels were incredibly economically exploitive, and, actually, it was a slave system.  And Josephine correctly saw that, identified it for what it was, and then fought against it by name.

Sheila: Yep.  Yep.  She absolutely did.  So after England, she threw her sights internationally.  She went to France.  She found brothels there.  One place where there were 400 girls ages 5 to 11 in the brothels, and she brought those stories home.  Some of the girls were English, and they had been taken there.

Joanna: Again, nothing is new under the sun.  You hear stories about this around the world today.

Sheila: And here.  Listen to this one about Geneva.  So she says, “The theocratic regime of Geneva was the most moralistic in Europe founded in the 16th century by John Calvin, who believed that he and his fellow Protestants were the elect uniquely chosen by God for salvation.  It was highly organized and deeply Puritanical since Calvinists believed that a sin such as prostitution or even seduction proved that the sinner was not one of the elect.  Such rejection left no room for repentance or rehabilitation.  ‘It was,’ Josephine remarked, ‘a regime of cold, heavy Old Testament repression.’  At the same time, the fathers of the church were pragmatic about the need for male sexual outlets and set up a highly organized system of brothels.”  Yep.  So the church—basically, the church set up brothels because they believed every man’s battle.

Joanna: Mm-hmm.  There is nothing new under the sun.

Sheila: I felt like I was reading stuff like Steve Arterburn says.  “Men just don’t naturally have that Christian view of sex.”  That’s a quote from Every Heart Restored written by Steve Arterburn and Fred Stoeker.  Or we have another reason for sexual sin among men.  We got there naturally simply by being male.  It feels like the same thing all over again.

Joanna: Mm-hmm.  Yep.  Because it is the same thing.  It’s as old as the hills.

Sheila: Yep.  

Joanna: And yet, Christ promises us that we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  And what’s so sad is that the men in the power in Geneva in the 1800s and the men in power in evangelicalism today do not believe in transformative power of the Holy Spirit for them.

Sheila: Yep.  Yep.

Joanna: They don’t actually believe the Gospel because if you believe the Gospel then you believe that there is no need for a domestic supply of prostitutes. 

Sheila: Mm-hmm.  Yep.  And you don’t need your wife to be your methadone for your sex addiction.

Joanna: Exactly.

Sheila: Yes.  So while she’s campaigning for change in the laws, she also had some Christians telling her that she should campaign more for purity laws.  Actual purity.  And she wasn’t into that.

Joanna: Mm-hmm.  Yes.  I loved this part.  I loved that.  I loved that she saw correctly where the line was that you could not legislate that somebody follow—and she saw that the dangers of that sort of legislation—how it could be misapplied how it would lead to further bondage.  I thought that was amazing.  And I applaud her for seeing that as it was and for accurately identifying it and then campaigning against it very ardently.  I think she (cross talk).

Sheila: She really felt that the purpose of laws was for justice and for safety for people.  But the purpose of morality like how we choose how we act, that’s an issue of morality.  And that’s not a subject for laws which is really the way it should be.  So she went around campaigning for men to act like Christian men.  And that’s what she was asking me to do is live up to your Christian calling and do what is right just as we’re calling on women to do, and there should not be a difference.  And so she goes right into this campaign against the idea that men need to sow their wild oats.  And she was looking specifically at India.  And this is kind of interesting because she—at the same that she is doing this, there is a group of American women doing it.  And she actually called on Katharine Bushnell, who we’re going to talk about next week, with Kristen DeMay on the podcast, who is an American.  And she called on Katharine Bushnell to go to India and look at what was happening in the brothels that were being set up by the British military in India.  

Joanna: Oh, it was so sad.

Sheila: Mm-hmm.  

Joanna: I will say one of the things that Josephine Butler was not—she was really good at being on the right side of history.  She did A plus, really good job.  There were some things that she did not do a great job on, and one of them was the British Empire.  She was very pro empire.  So I do want to make sure we give that caveat that she did not colonialism as the ill that it was.

Sheila: Mm-hmm.  But she was really upset that in India—she said—this is just—if the Brits are trying to say that, “Hey, we have morality on our side.  We are the moral Christian ones.  How can you go into India and then basically kidnap these Indian girls and women and use them as sex slaves?”

Joanna: Yep.  It was awful.

Sheila: Yep.  And so together with Katharine Bushnell and with others, they were also fighting to get the British army to stop doing that.  

Joanna: Mm-hmm.  Yeah.  And I do want to just add as we’re talking about this and the prevalence of women being sexual slaves.  I do think it’s very important as we’re talking about Josephine Butler’s work and our work the number of women in open-ended responses to our survey questions who have told us that in their marriage they have felt like prostitutes.

Sheila: Yep.

Joanna: If taken to its logical conclusion, evangelical teachings on marriage and sex turn women into sex slaves.

Sheila: Mm-hmm.

Joanna: And I think that the church needs to recognize that.  

Sheila: Yeah.  So here’s what she said as she’s in India.  She says, “Race prejudice is a poison, which will have to be cast out if the world is ever to be Christianized and if Great Britain is to maintain the high and responsible place among the nations which has been given to her.”  So very much against racial prejudice as well.  If we turn now to look at the end of her life—and she’s spent a long time campaigning for women’s right to vote, for better wages because the only way to get rid of prostitution was to give women other options, fairness in divorce laws.  All of these things she started campaigning for.  And if you look at it, she had a lot of success.  In 1927, the brothels were made illegal in Geneva, so they were gotten rid of.  The state-owned brothels.  It says women, of course, got the right to vote eventually.  The introduction of free and compulsory education, better job prospects, increased wages, and improved working conditions in the 20th century were more important in freeing women from lives of vice.  And the vision of Josephine Butler, whose first pamphlet called for better working conditions and opportunities for women, was vindicated.

Joanna: Mm-hmm.

Sheila: So the terrible laws were repealed.  We saw people pay attention to underage brothels in France.  Geneva got rid of the brothels.  The British military got rid of their brothels.  She really had a tremendous impact.  And I love what she said about profits.  She said, “In Prophets and Prophetesses,”—which was a pamphlet that she published in 1898—she explained, “That prophecy does not mean the foretelling of future events but to show the mind of God on a matter.  And prophets were badly needed at this time of imperialism and the influence of wealth, and they could be women since the apostles, Peter and Paul, had believed that women as well as men were destined by God to be prophets.”

Joanna: Yeah.  I mean look at Nathan in the Scriptures.  He tells truth even when it’s inconvenient.

Sheila: Yep.  And that’s what Josephine Butler did, and she just—I’m still amazed.  When you read all that she accomplished, I mean she just got up in the face of all these huge men in power, and she called them right out.  And she had horrible things written about her.  Horrible cartoons of her drawn in the British papers.  And she kept at it because she knew Jesus’s heart for women.  And I just thought that was so beautiful.  Her most famous phrase—and I want everyone, if you forget everything from this podcast, I want you to remember this.  Okay?  This is such a beautiful phrase.  “God plus one woman equals a majority.”  And when she was campaigning and she was often told, “You’ll never get this done.  How can you go into Paris alone and look at the brothels,” and she said, “God plus one woman equals a majority.”  So what did you find the most inspirational about her story?

Joanna: I found her discernment to be really encouraging.  That when applied, an ethic that values others, that sees the vulnerable as people, and sees everyone as an image bearer of God—if you apply that, you’re going to be okay.  I found that really comforting.

Sheila: Mm-hmm.  Yeah.  I found it very comforting that—this is going to sound terrible.  But just how reviled she was.  

Joanna: Yep.

Sheila: She got it way worse than we did—than we are.  

Joanna: Yeah.  You can say the word vagina in polite company now.  And you could not then.

Sheila: Yeah.  She was just so brave.  And these brave women have largely been lost to history.  

Joanna: Mm-hmm.  I found it maddening that I had never been told her story.  That I read many, many, many, many, many missionary biographies—I read about Fanny Crosby, the great hymn writer.  I read biographies of Gladys Aylward.  I read Elisabeth Elliot.  I read about—I mean all of them, right?  Never heard of her.  And I think that is a great (inaudible) and an indictment of the church.

Sheila: Yep.  Because her theology is so right on.  It’s so right on for today.  And everything she said—the stuff about prayer.  I tried to take my notes because I highlighted so many passages as I was reading this and trying to get them small just to share on this podcast was hard.  But I found this almost devotional experience reading it because it really was so full of Jesus.  And it was beautiful.  So I highly encourage—the summer is not over yet for most of us.  If you need some beach reading or you just want to read something other than fiction but that still reads like a story, a really exciting story—where there’s tension.  And there’s a protagonist and an antagonist, and there’s good and bad fighting evil.  Then pick up The Patron Saint of Prostitutes, Josephine Butler, and a Victorian scandal.  I will put the link in the podcast notes.  It’s a great book.  And let’s not relegate her to history.  Let’s bring her back because this is a woman who should be remembered.

Joanna: Mm-hmm.  Absolutely.

Rebecca: Now if you’re intrigued by what they had to say, the link to Josephine Butler’s biography is in the description notes and is on the blog post that goes with this podcast episode.  So make sure that you check that out if you want to hear more about this amazing woman.  I also want to put a quick shout out for our amazing Be a Biblical Woman merchandise.  If you want to get a mug or a notebook or a wall canvas about what it really means to be a biblical woman, just check out the links in our podcast notes.  Check them out in the blog post, again, that goes along with this episode, and I hope that you find something that you love.  Now I’m going to turn this back over to Mom again, and she is going to have another guest on to talk about the conservation around women in Christianity in online spaces.

Sheila: All right.  Well, I have sort of a different interview today, everybody.  I have a woman named Shannon Johnson, who is joining us.  Hi, Shannon.

Shannon: Hi.

Sheila: And Shannon is a long time reader, and she sent me a super interesting email awhile ago about what she was seeing online.  And I thought, “This is a conversation that is worth having.”  And so Shannon is not here as a super expert.  She’s not here as anyone who is going to solve anything.  We just thought that we would talk about what she’s been seeing and why this may be happening just so that we can start thinking about how to make our online spaces safer.  But also is there something happening that is hurting women in the church as a whole?  So Shannon, all right.  Can you set the stage for why you send me an email?

Shannon: Sure.  So I am a member of a lot of online Christian communities that span a spectrum between complementarianism and egalitarianism.  And the main just generic Christian groups that I’m in are also the largest Christian groups that I’m in spanning about 31 to 53,000 members apiece.  And what I’ve noticed is that the general tone of the largest groups is more complementarian and more hierarchical than any of the other groups that I’m in, and there are a lot of new Christians in there mixing with lifelong Christians.  So they’re still trying to get a taste of what Christianity means to them.  So a lot of the advice that’s being given or stances on certain things are very clearly cut out as hierarchical between men and women in marriage and in the church.  And I was really surprised to see just how hard set they were on these definitions.  That there was no arguing about it at all.  There was no we can believe different things and still be a Christian.  It’s very much the Bible is clear, and you’re not disagreeing with me.  You’re disagreeing with Scripture.  Here is half of a sentence to prove it.

Sheila: Right.  And can you give me an example?  Okay.  So people are talking about marriage or something.  And then what’s something that you typically see?

Shannon: So there are mainly two separate types of help posts that I have seen.  One is just that a husband is not stepping up as an equal parent to the kids or as a member of the household.  And often the tone will be in those posts from the original poster, “He is a great dad, but he doesn’t wash the dishes, clean, cook, give the kids baths, change diapers, parent them, help with homework.”  And I’ve noticed that their definition of a great dad is just that he’s playing with the kids for 20 minutes before bed.

Sheila: Right.  And he brings home a paycheck.  He brings home a paycheck.

Shannon: He brings home the—right.  He works very hard, so he gets—it’s very much a callback to a previous time.

Sheila: Yes.  Which actually didn’t really exist that much either.  Everyone says that.  But when you look at it, even in the 1950s, the housewife idea was really only upper middle class and upper class women.  Most lower class women still worked, and so it is kind of a classist way of looking at things.  But anyway, yes.  Go ahead.

Shannon: Right.  The other type of post that I’m seeing most often is cries for help in an abusive situation where it’s clearly abuse but, according to 90% of the women in this 53,000-member group, the only two reasons for divorce is abuse or infidelity.  

Sheila: Right.  They did give it to you for abuse.  That’s good.  Okay.

Shannon: Yeah.  Oh, but only physical abuse, right?

Sheila: Okay.  Right.  Mm-hmm.

Shannon: Right.  Because they’re like, “Oh, if it’s emotional or mental, then you should go to a pastor.”  

Sheila: Right.

Shannon: And the same issue that we’re seeing with a certain other church on the West Coast is perpetual—and other churches.  And you can see it just in these individual posts that they are still kind of in the mentality of feeling like they have to—this is the way that they have to do it.  They’re not able to step out and say like, “I’m not—this is a legal issue, not a spiritual issue.”

Sheila: Right.

Shannon: But the advice given is usually, “Oh, well, if he’s abusive, then you can leave.”  Or, “Well, what kind of abuse is it?”  I’ve seen that very often is, “Oh, if he’s only damaging you psychologically, then you need to stay and pray for him.”  Other people who are in there will say, “No.  God does not want you to be fearing for your life or for your children’s lives.  Here is what God would probably want you to do in this situation as far as safety.  You need to get yourself out.”  And then they will be called out for being unbiblical.

Sheila: Right.  Mm-hmm.

Shannon: And, of course, there is—I would love to be able to say, “Hey, let’s talk about Matthew 19 and how it calls back to Exodus 21 and how the—what Jesus is talking about is really specifically to men finding loopholes in an old Old Testament law.  And this doesn’t have anything to do with equal rights in a society.

Sheila: Right.  Yeah.

Shannon: It only is speaking to imbalance of power which is exactly what we’re doing right now.  I mean we’re trying to call out the imbalance of power between men and women.  That seems to be perpetuated in the church.

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  And yet, what we are seeing online—and I’ve seen this too—is that whenever you get large groups that are called Christian they do tend to double down on hierarchy.  And so many people go there desperate for advice, and they’re being given really bad advice.  

Shannon: Yeah.  Yes.  They’re giving dangerous advice.  

Sheila: Mm-hmm.

Shannon: But the thing that I have—at least this week—gotten to a conclusion because it’s taken me this long to ruminate on it is why is it so hard to have these conversations online?  Why is it so hard to have the conversations about mutuality online?  And in a comment section where you really want to have a good faith conversation with someone who has a different viewpoint than you and you get to tear apart Scripture and look at context and look at background and look at the culture and the language.  And what is it actually saying?  At least for me, I’m desperate to share the Good News of Scripture saying it’s not like this.  And for me, that’s something that’s joyous but also grief filled because I grew up in this type of setting too where it’s—and I still see people that are not willing to have that conversation.  Not even willing to have the conversation.  And there is no good faith there.  It’s no matter what type of effort I make to draw them into a conversation it’s usually ended with, “Scripture is clear.  You’re not disagreeing with me.  You’re disagreeing with God.”

Sheila: Yeah.  And they just quote Bible verses without the context.

Shannon: Right.

Sheila: And often incorrect translations of Bible verses too.  Or very suspect translations.

Shannon: Right.  Yeah.  And then when you want to address that, you sound like an academic, which is also not a good thing in those groups.  You’re now becoming historical critical.  And that’s not the majority of the approach of Scripture or with these groups.

Sheila: And I think what I want people to understand is that there are so many women who may not be in super conservative spaces in real life and they may not even—in their own church, they may not even talk about marriage that much.  But they get into these online groups.  And then they start hearing all of this teaching that’s all around hierarchy because the majority of the conversation about Christianity online—unless you’re specifically looking for mutuality—the majority of the conversation online will be around helpmeet, submission, pray for him.  And that’s really all it ever is.

Shannon: That’s a really good point.  And the majority of, I think, just discussions around a woman’s faith and what it means to be a Christian for a woman is in relationship to someone else.  Their children or their husband.

Sheila: Yep.

Shannon: And it’s never about their own spiritual growth.  I mean you had one of those posts in the To Love, Honor, and Vacuum which was Bible studies for women.  And the comment section was, “This is the best Bible study, but it’s not for women.  It’s not specific to women.”  And I think that opened up a great conversation about what is that supposed to look like.  What does a Bible study meant for women—what is that focusing on?  Because the majority of them are going to be focusing on how you act or are serving God in relationship to your role.

Sheila: Mm-hmm.  As opposed to just how you can look more like Jesus.

Shannon: Yes.  Yep.

Sheila: Yep.  I know that you’re an admin of some groups.  And you’re a lurker in others or you try to talk in others.  What do you see as some of the big problems when you’re an admin?

Shannon: The biggest problem that I have seen that I think really is new for me because this is—this journey that I’ve been on is only in its toddlerhood.  But I am trying to balance fairness with each side of the spectrum.  And so the group that I am in we have been very clear is interdenominational meaning we are not going to really have a set of doctrine beyond the divinity of Christ, the reality of His resurrection, and that all you need to do to be saved is to accept the gift.  That’s it.  

Sheila: Right.

Shannon: That’s where we stop.  We’ve had to be very clear about that.  So when topics do come up and someone says, “That’s unbiblical,” we have to—and we know for a fact that a certain denomination might actually disagree, we have to step in and say, “Hey, just so you know.  This is an interdenominational group, and there will be disagreements.  We only agree on the core tenants of Christianity.”  So in response to that, they decided to leave the group and create a traditional group.

Sheila: Right.  Right.  And I do find that is happening a lot.  Now I’m sure the traditional groups are saying that those who believe in mutuality are also locking them out.  But what I find really difficult online is when you are trying to discuss these issues, that’s kind of—that is the way that they just end the debate.  “Well, you’re unbiblical.  Here’s a Bible verse.”  And if you try—yeah.  Exactly what you’re saying.  If you try to give context, if you try to give historical context, if you try to give the Greek—yeah.  They assume that you don’t really believe the Bible.

Shannon: Yes.  Or that I have—I think in a lot of these churches—and this is kind of get into what I think is the root.  Is that a lot of these churches are emotional based.  You cannot have spirituality with intellectualism.  It’s only a feeling.  It’s that cultivated worship, right?  Where you feel the Spirit move.  But is it the Spirit?  Or is it that atmospheric manipulation?

Sheila: Right.  Fog machines.  Fog machines are great.

Shannon: Right.  Right.

Sheila: The Spirit moves through fog machines.

Shannon: It’s those four cords that—with the (inaudible), right?  Over the prayer.

Sheila: Yes.  Mm-hmm.

Shannon: That kind of stuff.  And so I do think that you can have and should have a spiritual experience also through using your mind not just your heart because there is even—looking at the Greek and the Hebrew, there is a connection between sometimes they use the one word between the two.  So having those types of experiences intellectually or cerebrally for a lot of these people is heresy.  

Sheila: Right.

Shannon: Because you are looking at trying—I think they look at it as you’re trying to find the stakes whereas we’re trying to find the meaning and intent of the Scripture and not just the feeling it gives us.

Sheila: Right.  Yeah.  I think that is really true.  I was in a discussion online yesterday where somebody was saying, “The Bible was all that we needed for counseling because it says in Isaiah 9:6 that He will be called wonderful counselor.”  And I said, “Yeah.  But that’s Jesus.  That’s not the Bible.  Isaiah 9:6 is referring to Jesus.  Jesus is the Word of God.”  The ultimate Word of God.  And then she said—then she quoted John 1 to me about, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  And I said, “Yeah.  That’s about Jesus again.”  It’s Jesus, and the Bible points us to Jesus.  But we interrupt Scripture through Jesus.  We don’t idolize Scripture.  

Shannon: So when you said interrupt Scripture through Jesus, then what does that look like practically?

Sheila: Yeah.  I mean to me what it means is we need to really understand who Jesus is.  And if a verse doesn’t line up—if our interpretation of a verse doesn’t line up with who Jesus is, then that’s a sign that we may be interpreting something wrong.

Shannon: I absolutely agree.  But I think that’s such a good example though of Jesus is our Interpreter for Scripture.  But they leave it there.  They go, “And that’s—there you go.  All you need is Jesus.”  And there is just no practical application for how we need to be using the example and model of Jesus as our filter for the rest of Scripture.

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  So then you get into the situation where—and I think you’re right.  Churches often really stress the emotional rather than intellectual.  But at the same time, these churches are often very hierarchy based, so women don’t really have a role or a voice in the church.  And they don’t really have a place that they can turn to for help because women aren’t going to go to elders if they’re having help in their marriage.  So maybe they would go to their women’s Bible study but not always.  And so I think that’s why women tend to flock online far more than men do.

Shannon: I think there is a little bit of an anonymity that’s the protection there.  So many of them will say, “I went to my church”—again, you’re very familiar with this scenario.  “I went to my church.  I was struggling with—my husband is an addict of some kind.  I went to my elders, and they told me to still submit to him.  And it’s damaging our marriage.  What do I do?”  And, “I went to my elders and didn’t really get anywhere.”  Or, “I went to my pastor, and now I’m asking you.”  And yeah.  There is no female on any sort of pastoral leadership.  They don’t allow women to be pastorally trained.  So when a female congregant is needing some sort of help that is private, they have very limited options.  And all their options are male.  Or untrained female.

Sheila: Right.  Right.  Kate Bowler, I believe it was, wrote an amazing book called The Preacher’s Wife about women in evangelicalism and how there’s a few roots for women to get really famous in evangelicalism.  And one of them was by being a preacher’s wife.  So you think about Lauren Chandler or—yeah.  Some of these women who became famous just because they’re married to a guy, who is famous.  And the other one is building some sort of a platform, an influencer platform, online.  And the thought is that when women—when there is no room for women in churches, then they’re going to build these whole platforms on women’s ministry.  And women start these huge blogs, and they get millions of followers.  And they get book deals.  But they don’t have any education.  

Shannon: Yeah.

Sheila: And I know that that has been—that criticism has been thrown at a lot of women like we shouldn’t listen to them because they don’t have MDivs.  I’m not talking about an MDiv.  I don’t actually think you need an MDiv.  I would like to see some education in psychology and sociology and—

Shannon: Yes.

Sheila: – and actual evidence-based things.  But we don’t have that.  And so we have women who have a lot of authority online and who are admins in a lot of really large groups who have the ability to actually really influence women in difficult marriage situations.  And they’re not doing it in a safe way.

Shannon: Yep.  Quite a few of these threads have devolved into that type of splintering where she decides to leave her marriage against the advice of the majority of everyone in that thread.  And then she realizes she has no place in that group of 53,000 members because often some admins will delete dissenting opinions.

Sheila: Right.  

Shannon: And so the only thing that a reader will see is one side.  And that’s also incredibly toxic and dangerous as well especially for someone who may not feel comfortable speaking up in the group and is just a lurker trying to discern what to do in their own situation and only reading one point of view, which could potentially put them in danger, has some really heavy consequences.

Sheila: Yeah.  And I think that one of the reasons that we often go towards the more hierarchy things is people like pat answers.  We like pat answers.  We like security.  If the answer is just submit more, then, hey, we have an answer.  If the answer is just pray more, then, hey, we have an answer.  If the answer is really messy, which it usually is, and it usually involves community like, “You need some support around you.  You need to get some licensed counseling.  You need people to step in and support you financially while you figure this out,” the online world can’t give you that.  And so I think sometimes these pat answers tend to dominate and especially when the arguments around how we handle abuse, et cetera—they’re not—they’re very nuanced.  They’re not pat answers.  You can’t just point out a Bible verse.  You have to go into, “Okay.  Well, what did Jesus mean?  And if we look at this parable and compare it to this parable and we get the sense of who God is because Jesus said, ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the father,’ and so it’s through Jesus that we understand God.”  And people can’t say that in two sentences.

Shannon: Right.  And that’s the thing is—especially in a Facebook setting.  When you have to do a see more on a comment and you just go, “Ugh, okay.  I’m not reading that,” but that’s the meat.  That’s what—because you can’t just leave it with two sentences.  You have to go into different like, “You’re going to be writing a novel,” because that’s—that is giving the character of God justice.  There is no way to explain Jesus or God with a comment this big.  And that’s kind of where you find Facebook is at a disadvantage of—just because of the platform and the nature of how people are interacting with each other.  They’re not going to want to read two pages worth of stuff even though those two pages is really the proper way that we should be discussing Jesus and God.

Sheila: I’m a Canadian sociologist in the sense that I have—most of my degrees are in sociology, and I’m Canadian.  And one of my favorite Canadian sociologists was Marshall McLuhan, who had this famous saying in the 1960s that, “The medium is the message.”  And what he meant by that is that the medium actually becomes the message.  The message is transformed and changed based on what medium it is on.  So in social media, pat answers and your extremes on end or the other—like the polarized thoughts, those become the norm because that’s what gets the interaction.  And then we’re not able to have healthy conversations.  And I do see things really polarizing online.  And so I guess the reason that I wanted to talk about this is I just think that there needs to be a wider conversation about how Facebook may not be the safest place if you’re just in a Christian group.

Shannon: Yes.

Sheila: When it’s just Christian and there isn’t any actual requirement that people look at mutuality or anything, it’s going to tend to devolve into Doug Wilson stuff.  

Shannon: Yeah.  And that is a really good point.  Again, in the last two and a half years, I’ve gone through a little bit of a spiritual journey.  I think that a lot of people have.  That I have a community of women around me who are all egalitarian but not all Christian.  And that has been one of the most incredible and healthiest interactions I’ve ever had.  I mean until this point most of the friendships that I’ve had have been just Christian and just at my church.  I mean out of my childhood church in California we also moved to another mega church in Louisville that had 22,000 members when I was there.  So really, there was no need for a community outside of the bubble.  So everyone was in agreement about everything.  And that was—when I got out of that and realized that there were people who fall on different sides of all the spectrums, the biggest influencer for me with that was my husband’s family.  Were lifelong Christians, missionaries, Lutheran, and egalitarian.  It took me about a—close to a decade to kind of shed my skin of my upbringing.  And now we’re having conversations about, “Okay.  So let’s take a step back and figure out how—why it took me so long, how I got here, and now we’re going to have these conversations.”  And every time they come in town, we end up having conversations surrounding biblical texts with when it comes to complementarianism.  But more so, how that is the bigger—the bigger picture of this is that it’s not just about complementarianism versus egalitarian.  

Sheila: Mm-hmm.

Shannon: There was another topic in one of these—in these groups that was about circumcision in the Old Testament.  And something very not applicable today.  I mean very, very, you would think, innocent.  Low stakes.  And it was a wife who was concerned that her husband was doubting God because he had questions about the health standards for circumcision in the Old Testament.  And he said, “Isn’t that really high risk?  And wouldn’t babies die often from infection?”  So she said, “Please help me understand.  What should I do about him?”  And everyone said, “Well, he is doubting God, not arguing with you.”  So it was a very innocent question.  I think a really good one to have.  And yet, the takeaway from that was that he was backsliding.  

Sheila: Right.  So you’re not allowed to question.

Shannon: Right.  So but that was something completely innocuous like circumcision in the Old Testament.  When you take something that is much bigger like who am I as a Christian and a woman, no wonder—especially on social media, the conversation deflates, and you can’t go anywhere.  It’s because there is—this is happening on a much smaller scale too. 

Sheila: Right.

Shannon: About every aspect of faith.  So what we’re seeing right now though is with—when it comes to egalitarianism versus complementarianism, I think a lot of that is just personal identity.  But if someone is willing to address an issue—if someone is coming from a complementarian background and they finally are willing to address the issue or at least entertain the idea, that means that the entire foundation of the rest of their faith is also going to follow.

Sheila: Mm-hmm.

Shannon: And I think that’s one of the reasons why so many women are afraid to even have a conversation about it because it’s going to affect the rest of their faith.

Sheila: Yeah.  And I think this is where you were saying that in your interdenominational group you said, “Look.  As long as we believe Jesus is Lord, He rose, you are saved through belief, then we’re all good.”  The problem is that what we’ve been taught is that it’s not just about Jesus—belief in Jesus.  It’s what we’ve been taught is that our interpretation of Scripture is equal to Scripture.  So when people say, “Well, I—Scripture says that women must submit to men.”  And people say, “Well, that is an interpretation, but there’s another interpretation,” they can’t even handle that because they have equated their interpretation with Scripture with Scripture because that’s often the way it’s portrayed by their pastor.  So Christians are people who believe all of these things.  If you don’t believe all of these things, then you’re not a Christian.  And so it’s like a big Jenga game.  You take one piece out, and then everything falls.  And we need to get to the place where we don’t have faith as a big Jenga game.  It’s not about removing something so that everything falls.  It’s about building on the foundation of Jesus is Lord.  He saves us.  He’s God.  He rose from the dead.  We’re saved through grace.  And now let’s build on that foundation instead of this shaky tower that could come down at any moment.

Shannon: I think that’s an incredible way to describe how we should be addressing a lot of the—I want to say existential issues.  But it’s really second tier from faith, but things that influence our faith.  And to not be taking it down but to be excavating it like an archeologist being very careful and combing through it with a fine tooth comb.  Gently with respect and reverence.  And then rebuilding what we find into something that is our faith.  And looking at it from that perspective, I think is—it gives such a good visual of why and how we can do this without losing the faith.

Sheila: Yeah.  Exactly.  So anyway, so I just wanted to have this conversation so that we could warn people.  The online world is not always that safe.  You got to watch who you follow.  We’ve just finished doing our mother daughter book.  Our edits went into the publisher a couple weeks ago.  And one of the things we found is that a lot of the influencers for teen girls—they’ve got millions of followers online.  Christian influencers.  And they mean well.  They really do.  But a lot of the stuff that they share isn’t that healthy because they’ve never really been taught about a lot of this stuff.  So they’re just parroting back what they’ve learned from their church.  And it isn’t always healthy.  And so I think we need to be really careful with our social media especially if you’re having issue in your marriage.  There’s another Facebook group I was in.  I had to stop following it.  It’s not bad.  It’s not that it’s super complementarian.  It’s just they keep posting questions where they want people’s advice because someone writes in for advice.  And so they’ll post the answer—or they’ll post the question.  And I’m reading this thinking, “This is an abusive situation.”  But the comment is always, “Remember we’re a site that supports marriage.  And no mean posts and everything.”  It’s like, “No.  This woman—that’s not safe.  She’s got to get out.”  And the problem with crowd sourcing advice is most people don’t know what they’re talking about, and not everyone’s opinion is equal.  

Shannon: Yes.  That’s another good point.  Yes.

Sheila: We just need to be careful, and I would just say if you’re in a lot of Facebook groups and they’re making you uncomfortable maybe it’s time to get out.  And it’s okay to get out.

Shannon: Mm-hmm.  I agree.  And I’ve contemplated getting out many times.  But I have decided to stay and engage when I want to and engage when I feel like I have emotional bandwidth because even if the person that I’m talking to doesn’t receive it potentially someone reading it will.

Sheila: Yep.  Oh, I wanted to say that too.  People often wonder why I respond to idiot trolls on Facebook so much.  And what I like to say is I’m not responding to them.  I’m leaving all my comments so that all the people watching know what the argument is against the troll.  I’m not expecting to change the troll’s mind.  I’m not expecting to change that person’s mind, but I want you all to see what the argument is.  And that is an important reason to do it.  

Shannon: Yep.

Sheila: So thank you, Shannon, for being brave and sticking it out.  

Shannon: Thank you.  Thank you for having me on and getting a chance to get it all out.  

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  And maybe together, all of us, we can make a lot of these groups that are toxic smaller and make—and form some healthier places.

Shannon: Yeah.  And maybe even change the toxicity and lower the toxicity of the groups.  I mean that would be—that’s the dream is to have a really good balance of individuals and advice and, hopefully at some point, a change.

Sheila: Yep.  I hope that’s possible.  Got to believe it is.  All right.  Thanks, Shannon.

Shannon: Thanks, Sheila.

Rebecca: I hope that you enjoyed that segment.  Really let’s just be wise in where we get our info from online especially.  So remember there is a link to the book on Josephine Butler in the podcast notes.  And seriously, you do not want to miss this one.  It’s amazing.  And also, God plus one woman equals a majority.  Join us next week when we have Kristen DeMay on to talk about Katharine Bushnell.  She’s another woman you definitely don’t want to miss.  I hope you have a wonderful weekend, and we will see you again next time.  Take care.


Main Segment: Josephine Butler

Josephine Butler book

Josephine Butler was an absolutely amazing woman who campaigned in the latter half of the 19th century against terrible laws targeting prostitutes. She argued that instead we should be holding men to the same standards as we do women, and that women should not have to bear the responsibility for men’s sins.

She campaigned against sex trafficking in Europe, including arguing against the state owned brothels in Geneva; the brothels run by the British military in India; the brothels in France featuring mere children.

And she campaigned for women’s right to vote and for better work opportunities, fairness in divorce, and other things so that women wouldn’t be destitute. She wanted to solve the problems that led to prostitution in the first place–and she actually largely succeeded in changing these laws, though she didn’t live to see all of it.

She was an absolute powerhouse–but history has largely forgotten her because she campaigned for the wrong sort of woman. But you will love her story (I promise!), and all the amazing quotes she has, including my favourite:

God plus one woman equals a majority. 

– Josephine Butler


Through November 6, we’ve got limited edition pink and purple designs on all our biblical manhood/biblical womanhood merch, in honor of domestic violence awareness month and breast cancer awareness month.

When you buy our purple and pink limited edition merch products, we’ll give 20% of the profits to our local women’s shelter (I’m not naming it to avoid them getting unwanted attention), and to breast cancer research through the Canadian Cancer Society. 

Let’s talk about how social media advice can go so awry!

Shannon, a listener, contacted me a few months ago talking about how she’s noticing that in so many Christian spaces, women are desperate for advice about how to handle what are obviously abusive relationships, or abusive dynamics, in their marriage.

Yet when they share this on social media, so many women then tell them to submit more, and that divorce is a sin.

How did we get to this place? How can we make Christian social media safer? And how can we encourage people to be more discerning about what groups they join? I think you’ll enjoy this conversation, though we don’t have a lot of answers.

Things Mentioned in This Podcast:


Josephine Butler Hero Podcast

Do you have any women’s biographies you just love? Why do you think Christian women’s spaces online can go downhill so fast? Let’s talk in the comments!

The Women Heroes Series

  • Josephine Butler--The Hero You Didn’t Know You Needed
  • Katharine Bushnell and the push for women’s dignity (coming soon)
  • Carved in Ebony–Jasmine Holmes and the women of colour we shouldn’t forget (coming soon), plus Chief Kachindamoto of Malawi (coming soon)
  • How God writes amazing stories in our lives when we step out (coming soon)

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Nathan

    A fascinating story, and sad to see her story fade out due to who she was fighting for. Even though Jesus Himself did for the least of us, and encouraged us to do the same.

  2. CMT

    What a great theme for the podcast,
    I’m really looking forward to this series now!!

  3. Codec

    Hold up. It was a law that people could be taken of the streets on the suspection they cpuld have an STD? That is one of the most unjust totalitarian things I have ever heard. For that matter is was only women as well. This Josephine lady sounds like a hero not just to women but for truly just laws.

      • Codec

        This lady is not just a hero for women but a champion of truly just laws. Put her up with people like Frederick Douglas, Bastiat, Rosa Parks, etc.

    • Hannah

      There’s a class angle too. Working class women were targetted (because it was assumed women who looked middle class couldn’t be prostitutes). Essentially looking working class was enough reason to assume a woman was a prostitute. Strongly recommend ‘the Five’ by Hallie Rubenhold (book, not TV) for insight into Victorian attitudes to women.

  4. Codec

    A couple of points

    Heiarchy in and of itself I do not believe is bad. Teaching and the relation between child and parent for example. I do think that these rigid heiarchies with stuff like Wilson is self defeating.

    The internet. My moniker comes from Metal Gear. Metal Gear has a way of speaking about the internet. How the spread of memes can create bubbles were honest investigation becomes impossible. Where everyone is drowning in “truth”.

    People tend to be tribal. To learn about that is helpful.

    God does not just want hearts but minds. To learn is a blessing.

  5. A2bbethany

    I’ve learned that it’s not a real faith until it’s gone through a test of being tested. Challenge your own beliefs through doing a fair and open look at the opposing beliefs. If you want to see an example of some good old fashioned, polite disagreement, try Steven crowder on YouTube. He has a channel dedicated to his “change my mind” segment, and it’s all fact based debates. He goes to college campuses and has debates with students who disagree with him.
    Watching that has taught me not to hate or disdain a person who disagrees with me. But to actually want to discuss it in a civil manner.
    Comes in handy for my family! We’re now a very mixed bag of beliefs.

    On a side note: the sister I’d cut off is starting to make decisions that are putting her in a potentially abusive relationship with her BF. She’s working for his family and is now selling her only car, to drive a company car.(or his?) All of us are agreed in our concerns that this could turn really bad for her! It’s interesting seeing a family member make poor choices.

  6. Jo R

    It’s very interesting that in more than eighteen centuries, sexual sin is STILL only the woman’s fault.

    The woman caught in adultery was the only one brought to Jesus (wasn’t a man involved by definition?), and women were the only ones examined for STDs in the nineteenth century (because penises don’t catch or transmit STDs?).

    And what’s changed in the last century and a half? Absolutely nothing. Because when a youth group boy gets his youth group girlfriend pregnant, she’s all too often the only one who gets punished. Because it’s women who have to control not only themselves sexually, but the men they’re dating as well. Because if men lust, it’s women’s fault, just like Jesus Himself said. 🙄🙄🙄

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s what Joanna and I said reading the book– we couldn’t believe the parallels. She’s fighting all the same things we’re still fighting, and even using many of the same arguments!

  7. Laura

    Excellent podcast! I enjoyed the interview with Shannon and her experiences with Christian social media groups. It is so hard to get other women from church to understand how harmful complementarianism is. The whole thing about these women feeling like I’m attacking the Bible because I disagree that submission in marriage applies to wives and not husbands just drains me. I’ve pointed out Ephesians 5:21 which talks about submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ and what about the husband loving his wife as Christ loved the Church. Those verses do not talk about leadership, just how the husband is supposed to treat his wife. I’ve gotten to a place where there’s just no point in saying anything because these women are stuck in their ways and think that by being obedient to their husbands that they are being good, holy Christian women.
    To even suggest that a couple should make decisions together, some of these women think I’m in the wrong and sinning against God. And to tell them about the harm I experienced in my first marriage. My ex-husband believed he was the one who should make the final decision because he had a penis. When I talked about that, I was met with an answer like this, “Well, a godly man would consider your feelings and needs first.” So, my ex was not godly, even though he claimed he was a Christian, but I still had to follow his lead, according to these women.
    For this season, I just don’t want to have anything to do with women’s Bible studies or even marriage ministries. I may be single, but I get invited to attend marriage ministry gatherings.

  8. Gemma Ward

    Where could I find sources on the Calvinist brothels? I need some more info on this! Crazy!!! Not all that surprising, but crazy!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I know it was in the book I read about Josephine Butler! If you Google Switzerland and brothels and Geneva and 19th century maybe something would come up?


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