Does the church prime women to accept objectification?
This summer, as I’m taking a month off from blogging, I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce you to some amazing women that I’ve found via Twitter, who have some super insightful things to say.
Chief among those is Dr. Laura Robinson, whom Rebecca and I have gotten to know behind the scenes as well, and who never fails to make me think–and laugh.
Back in February she wrote a Twitter thread about how one aspect of purity culture that she noticed was that, while women were expected to be pure, it simultaneously became normal for men and pastors to talk explicitly about their sexual preferences and sexual struggles in women’s presence.
She wrote in one thread:
I’d like to add another data point to this phenomenon about how it happens: the normalization of unnecessary, gratuitous discussion of sex, either done by men or that represents male concerns in front of a general audience that includes minor children.
Read the rest here.
A few days later, after being inundated with people saying, “you must have had a strange church experience, because I’ve never encountered that,” she wrote a follow-up thread where she shows just how pervasive this was.
Really? This must have been weird?
In 2004 CJ Mahaney released a book on marriage that favorably quoted Doug Wilson about the importance of women staying thin, maintaining their appearance, and being continuously sexually available for their husbands. The idea of women as necessary sex receptacles for husbands who needed to keep men satisfied had been in the water for ages, but this brought Wilson’s teaching to a much wider and more mainstream evangelical audience. Mahaney’s church Sovereign Grace would eventually become embroiled in an abuse scandal.
In 2007 Alex and Brett Harris, sons homeschooling Gregg Harris and younger brothers of Joshua “Kissed Dating Goodbye” Harris, gained a national platform by launching website Rebelution, publishing a book aimed at fellow teenagers, and starting a national speaking circuit.
Their first major project was “The Modesty Survey,” a chance for men to “anonymously tell her to put a sweater on.” This was an exhaustive survey that sought out to discover exactly what aspects of a girl’s actions, clothes, and behavior might cause men to “stumble.”
This survey provided extensive documentation of men’s fascination with girls showing swimsuits through their clothes, putting on chapstick, using cross body purses, and lying down. It also warned about the possibility that sisters might be arousing their brothers. This website had 5 million independent viewers.
In 2008 megachurch pastor Paul Wirth challenged his married congregants to 30 days of continuous sex. In 2009, megachurch pastor Ed Young challenged his church to a week of continuous sex, buoyed by the stunt of bringing a king-sized bed into church. In 2012 Young repeated this challenge, but this time he put the bed on the roof and he and his wife live streamed themselves in it for 24 hours. This was, they said “to bring the bed back to church and God into the bed.”
Between 2009 and 2014 Mark Driscoll preached through Songs of Solomon four times. These sermons were viewed online nearly 300,000 *a week* – more than any pastor in the world besides Joel Osteen.
In 2010 Jack Schaap, pastor of the 14th largest church in the country, simulated a hand job using a stick he held up to his crotch for an audience of teenagers at a youth conference. He had done this multiple times for his own parishioners.
This was the absolute heyday of “sex sells” evangelicalism. These were pastors and influencers with MASSIVE platforms. They were taking extreme, ultra-conservative depictions of gender relations and making them mainstream, they were proudly and somewhat obsessively objectifying the female body for a general audience, they were preaching a message of frequent sex and frank discussion of it, and the explicitness and forwardness of sexuality was consistently framed as part of being missional.
You’ve got to admit–she has a point!
Laura has written so incisively about trends in evangelicalism regarding sex.
She wrote the definitive I-read-Joshua-Butler’s-Beautiful-Union-book-so-you-don’t-have-to 6 part series, which is simply amazing. All of them are linked here, and it is worth getting a cup of tea, curling up in a chair, and reading them from beginning to end. If you want to understand the state of modern evangelicalism’s conversation around sex, this will help.
(And we used some of her discussion in our podcast on Male-Centric Sex!).
One of her latest series asks the question, “Do Women Make Men Do Things?”
One of the common complaints you’ll hear, for instance, is that men have stopped going to church because women have “feminized” the church.
Here are two of her points:
2) The primary evidence that the church is feminized is the same fact as the results of a church that has been feminized. How do we know the church has been feminized? Because women go there. What has changed about the church now that it’s been feminized? Women go there.
This is tautological. Either the church has always been feminized (and that’s bad), there is some other cause that feminized the church and caused women to go there more than men, or men don’t go/stopped going for unrelated reasons.
It seems that people who worry about the church being feminized think that the church’s femininity comes from some cultural influence that men respond to by not going to church-not that the church’s femininity came from men not being faithful church attenders. So, let’s find it…..
It’s taken for granted that the reason men don’t go to church is women’s fault, not men’s. Men do not need evidence their problems are caused by women, or womanhood…
10) You can call this system of blaming women, erasing women, and treating women and whatever is reminiscent of them like nuclear waste, by many names. The name I would not use for it, however, is “complementary.”
Once again, we have a system where women are isolated as a cause of men’s actions: women are the ones who cause men to avoid church. Does this make sense? No. Does the evidence support it? No. Why do we believe it? Because we think women cause men’s actions.
But what if they don’t?
And she answers that question–but what if they don’t–in Part 2.
Let me use an example that I often hear when people justify men enjoying spiritual power over men. Men may be the CEO, and women are the employees. Nonetheless, an employee is no less valuable than the CEO, in the eyes of the law or the eyes of God.
This is a galling and grim analogy to the role of men and women, but even still, employees enjoy key protections than men deny women in the church. In a work environment, an employee does not make the same level of decisions their boss does. They do not have the right to have authority that their boss does.
However, they are protected in that they are not held accountable in the way their boss is. If a boss makes a boneheaded decision, and the employees carry out their wishes, in most reasonable circumstances the employees are not asked to take responsibility for the failure in the way their boss was. They were, after all, following orders.
The myth of female control erases this. By insisting that women are the agents behind men’s actions, men get the authority and responsibility of the CEO, but their employees, the women, take the blame for their failures. Has a male pastor used his authority to destroy his church and victimize a woman under him?
Well, the fault is not entirely his. It is shared with his employee, who caused the action. Has a husband been mistreating his wife? Well, he is in the wrong, but his wife must have been doing something to bring about this tragic state of affairs.
In the working world, the buck is supposed to stop with the boss.
In the church, it stops with the employee. We insist that the subordinate, the person with the least power, actually holds the most power through a mystical ability to bring about actions that harm her from her male overseers. She holds none of the authority, but because she causes male actions, she deserves the accountability – not him.
Quite simply, Dr. Laura Robinson is brilliant. She is quite funny (I always laugh out loud at least once reading her essays). She’s a great follow on Twitter.
She also knows her stuff, with a Ph.D. in New Testament from Duke Theological Seminary.
Did you read Laura’s magnum opus on Beautiful Union? Have you read any of her essays? Let me know what you think! Or do you have other amazing writers that you follow? Drop their names in the comments!