What if the Church is Grooming Women for Objectification? Introducing Laura Robinson

by | Jul 25, 2023 | Theology of Marriage and Sex | 32 comments

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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.

Dr. Laura Robinson

Twitter Thread

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. 

She writes: 

Really? This must have been weird? 

Let’s review. 

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.

Dr. Laura Robinson

Twitter Thread

You’ve got to admit–she has a point!

Passion 4 Dancing

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?

Dr. Laura Robinson

Do Women Make Men Do Things? Part 1

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.

Dr. Laura Robinson

Do Women Make Men Do Things? Part 2

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.

So follow her Substack and her Twitter, and join the conversation!

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!

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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

    It does create an interesting situation. The people with least power at the bottom actually have the most power, in that women are somehow able to force men to do bad things. Either directly, as a “vile temptress”, or indirectly by not being submissive enough.

    In turn, that allows the men to be able to make every decision and mess up all they want, while it’s always the fault of somebody else.

  2. Virginia Allen

    Nancy Pearcey’s THE TOXIC WAR ON MASCULINITY How Christianity Reconciles the Sexes would help clear up many questions and assumptions concerning the topics you and your audience discuss. Good day!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I actually have deep reservations about that book, and we’ll be addressing it in an upcoming podcast and op ed. It simply is not accurate to say that it doesn’t matter whether one is complementarian or egalitarian. It matters profoundly, and the data shows it.

      • Lindsey

        Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this. I’m not all the way through the book yet but I think we can be encouraged to see that there is some positive data presented regarding evangelical marriages which is something to cheer for.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          The problem is that her conclusion was, it doesn’t matter if you’re complementarian or egalitarian–evangelical marriages do better. And while it’s true that evangelical marriages do better, it is definitely NOT true that those who act out complementarianism do better. In fact, the opposite is true. It’s just that the majority of those who claim to be comp don’t act it out. To declare that beliefs don’t matter is absolutely dangerous, when those beliefs, if practised, result in far worse outcomes.

          • Lindsey

            I’ve been chewing on these topics a lot lately, especially since I’ve started reading her book. I completely agree that sadly there are people who have taken scripture out of context (from the comp view) and awful tragedy has resulted from that so I understand why you say the “worse outcomes” part. Do you think that it’s possible for abiding believers to fall into the comp category and have a thriving marriage? This may not be an accurate description because I’m familiarizing myself with these two camps but I’m thinking Ephesians 5, a wife who submits to her husband out of the example that her husband is loving her as Christ loves the church. The husband is loving his wife to the point of death, sacrificing himself for her. Do couples typically fall into one category or the other or can there be overlap? Personally these terms are fairly new to me so I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about the terms themselves. Also, apologies for the rabbit trail ha!

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            The thing is that what you’re describing as complementarianism is also what egalitarians would say. It’s not that egalitarians don’t believe in submission or don’t believe in husbands loving wives sacrificially. We just simply don’t believe that husbands have authority over wives–and THIS is the defining feature of complementarianism.

            Again, I’ll be talking about this in more detail, but most who claim complementarianism do not act out an authority relationship with one-sided submission where the husband makes the final decisions. But that is what complementarianism is–husbands have final authority and responsibility. So when people say, “well, we don’t practice that part of complementarianism,” they’re not being accurate. It’s not that they don’t practice that part of complementarianism; it’s that they don’t practice it at all, because that is complementarianism. Shared decision making, mutual submission, living sacrificially where both serve one another–that’s not unique to complementarianism. So if you choose not to practice the things that are essential to complementarianism, but instead practice the things that egalitarians do, you’re actually rejecting complementarianism. And that’s a good thing, because these marriages do better!

    • Mara R

      Yeah, there may be a push back against toxic masculinity that feels like an attack and feels toxic to those who worship at that altar. But there is an actual toxic war that has been going on since Adam blamed Eve (and God). This toxic war has been against women by Satan and men who join into his misogyny. Thus, the prophecy from Genesis 3:15

      “And I will make enemies
      Of you and the woman,
      And of your offspring and her Descendant;
      He shall bruise you on the head,
      And you shall bruise Him on the heel.”

      It’s very sad that the church has also joined the Adversary in waging such a toxic war against women. That’s not the Way, Truth, or Life that Jesus taught. The male church leadership loved the worldly and fleshly things of what hierarchy and patriarchy had to offer. So, they made IT the gospel truth and made IT more important than the actual words of Jesus.

      The church needs to renounce the sin of patriarchy and its pesky, little brother, complementarianism.


      • Jim

        I think it would be important to define what you mean by ‘toxic masculinity’.

        For me, when I hear that term used it seems to mean ‘anything that men do that I don’t like’ and I find it hard to take a person seriously when these buzzwords are used.

        I think that more inclusive language like ‘toxic behavior’ and defining what that is would be better since using gendered language gives the impression that one gender is evil and the other is virtuous. For example, you don’t see the term ‘toxic femininity’ being used. Sheila has talked about trying to get away from gendered language and it makes sense.

        People can be toxic, it is not a feature built into only one gender.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Jim, toxic masculinity is the correct term, because the toxic stuff is being done in the name of manhood. Doug Wilson, in defending manhood, is depicting manhood as something toxic.

          The reason people say “toxic masculinity” is not to call masculinity toxic; it’s to point out that masculinity actually ISN’T toxic (or else we wouldn’t need the modifier). Only the one form is.

          I agree that there is toxic behaviour. But when a certain ideology of what manhood is is inherently toxic, then toxic masculinity is the correct term. If it were not being done in the name of masculinity then it wouldn’t be the correct term–but it is.

        • Mara R

          What Sheila said.

          She uses Doug Wilson as an example.

          Laura Robinson refers to Mark Driscoll in her writings that are quoted above. These two “Christian” “Pastors” and many more like them have helped to promote a very toxic masculinity that has overtaken far too many portions of evangelicalism. These teachings are being called out now, finally, and loudly. And someone has left a comment about us needing to read a book calling this appropriate calling out a “toxic war on masculinity”.
          I was around when Driscoll was preaching against p@ssified men and was using all sorts of other offensive terms to wage his war against his perception of ‘feminization’ of the church which was also a war against women, period.

          Wilson also wages a willful war against the feminine. And he’s been doing it for a long time.


          Sorry if I had a reaction again someone telling us to read about the toxic war on masculinity. But I get so tired of hearing this when there had been such a war again women and the feminine for so very long. I’m just so over it.

          • Mara R

            In the above comment last paragraph, I mean against, not again, in two places.

            Here is another Doug Wilson link to help you understand what some of us have been seeing for decades in this toxic war against the feminine by these false shepherds who hate women with a satanic hate.


            It links to a post where Doug Wilson just about Channels Eric Cartman in his vitriol against the feminine.

  3. CMT

    Dr Robinson is a great follow! I’m not on Twitter but her Substack is thought provoking and yes, often funny. But frequently heavy. Her recent series on the problems with the OUR movie is very challenging.

    • Virginia Allen

      What’s the OUR movie?

      • CMT

        I think it’s called sound of freedom. It’s a fictionalized story about the rescue of child trafficking victims by a real life organization called OUR. People on the ground in anti-trafficking work have voiced a lot of concern about it. I have not seen it, but it apparently relies on oversimplified and unhelpful stereotypes about trafficking and how to address it.

      • Bernadette

        The founder of Operation Underground Railroad (OUR), Tim Ballard, rescued trafficked children in Colombia. The Sound of Freedom is said to depict his story.

  4. Amy

    Sounds like a bunch of people forgot about that passage where Jesus talks about lust and places all the blame on the creep that’s lusting after another valuable human being. He doesn’t say it’s the woman’s responsibility to somehow keep men from thinking disgusting thoughts. Too bad actually losing body parts is hyperbole.

  5. A

    I never understand what people mean by “church is feminized”.
    The vast majority of churches have male leaders, pastors, most songs are written by men (I think).
    So what does it mean?????

    • Lisa Johns

      Absolutely nothing except that the guys talking about it dislike women who aren’t invisible!!

  6. Denise Lowe

    It pisses me off that women get blamed for men leaving church. For men’s lust problems. I remember a thing happened with a worship team member where she got told she dressed too provocatively and will tempt men and I was dumb enough to defend my ex’s perverted reaction to the girl, therefore bringing blame. I was so dumb back then and if I knew her address, I would apologies for my moronic response. Just because she looked good up front, somehow she was to blame for men’s responses? My ex and the purity culture I had experienced since I was a child in my Mennonite type church had me so messed up.

  7. Aaron

    The purity culture mindset has damaged so many people. I’m having to deconstruct this stuff. It’s hurt me and I didn’t realize it for years until I came across the podcast and YouTube videos. Even though I’m single, what’s being talked about with the purity culture is beneficial to me. I’m a member of a denomination (the General Council of the Assemblies of God; all Trinitarian Pentecostal denominations in the United States that I’m aware of ordain women) that ordains women. It’s time we stop telling women they can’t be ministry and work alongside them. We need to get rid of the power dynamics. By the way, the church I grew up and left (I left over the church not putting any emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit), the last time I checked, the lead associate pastor was a female, and her husband is also in ministry.

  8. Nathan

    > > Jim, toxic masculinity is the correct term, because the toxic stuff is being done in the name of manhood.

    > >The reason people say “toxic masculinity” is not to call masculinity toxic;

    I’ve seen both. most people use the term to mean behavior that’s dangerous or harmful to others, and the response that it’s okay because it’s just “natural” for men to do that.

    But, there are some few people who define ALL masculinity as toxic. To be fair, though, most people who do that aren’t Christian, and I’ve never seen that on this site.

  9. EOF

    I’m starting to realize the impact of complementarian and egalitarian leanings in marriage. My husband has always leaned toward the former while I’ve in recent years leaned toward the latter. I’ve written comments on the blog over the years about how things have gotten better in our marriage, but recent events have shown me otherwise.

    Not too long ago my husband was yelling at me about how awful I am for not initiating sex, but never once asked what sex is like for me or what he could do to help me enjoy it. It’s just my fault for not initiating sex that I don’t find enjoyable. Then he started yelling about how men have needs that women do not have and that women will never understand. Apparently I need to get that through my head and just start initiating joyfully. (That’s right, it isn’t enough that I initiate, I have to mean it too!) It really felt like he was yelling the book Love and Respect at me.

    I was wrong about all the progress I thought we’d made. I’m back at square one.

    • Nessie

      I don’t have much of use to share- I just wanted to say how sorry I am to hear this about your situation. I can’t imagine how frustrating and hurtful it is to have hope as you have had then have it flipped over. I’m going to pray for you as soon as I send this comment. I’m so sorry.

      • EOF

        Thank you so much, Nessie. That really means a lot. 💖

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, EOF, I’m so sorry. So very sorry.

      And I want to say–it’s okay to have boundaries over this. It’s okay to say, “I would love a passionate sex life with you, and I will do everything in me to create that. But I will not allow myself to be used. When you’re ready to make sure that sex is good for me, too, and that I feel safe, I’m here for you.” You do not have to consent to being used.

      I’m sorry that he’s taking you so much for granted and isn’t willing to think about what he’s doing to you. I’m so sorry.

      • EOF

        Thank you so much, Sheila. I need to practice saying something like that so I will be prepared.

    • Nita

      @EOF I’m sorry too you are in this situation. As i read your comment, my thought was “the problem in this situation is that he is yelling”. I haven’t sorted out the rest, but I”m so sorry.

  10. Kristina

    I was just at an event last weekend and found myself suddenly in a conversation where a woman was angry with me for challenging her statement that 8yo girls should never be allowed to turn cartwheels at the beach. Because boys must be protected. It’s awful out there.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It really is!


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