Over the years, as I’ve recovered and perhaps deconstructed my own experience in the purity culture, I’ve noticed a sad trend. It’s one I’ve written about many times, but it’s the reality that, so often, in many churches, our approach to sex and marriage looks almost identical to pornography.
A friend of mine, Luke Gilkerson, recently wrote a review of a new book, It’s Good to Be a Man. I won’t link the book, but his review is here. I got partway through his review before I wanted to buy the book just so I could throw it at a wall.
He summarizes the book as pointing out three “uniquely masculine virtues” outlined in the Bible: wisdom, workmanship, and strength. The authors believe that men are meant to be the gatekeepers of these virtues. In other words, wisdom is sourced through men, only men are inherently useful (say what?), and men who are not strong (referring to fortitude) are “gay and unnatural.”
Where do we begin?
Based on Luke’s review, I feel like this book is a perfect picture of one of the problems with many conservative evangelical churches who still adopt the purity culture mindset. And that problem is this:
They say men are supposed to dominate.
In fact, the authors of It’s Good to Be a Man go as far as to say that.
“At a simplistic level, women see men as success objects; men see women as sex objects. Men look for external and internal beauty; women look for active and potential utility. Our desires for the opposite sex reflect the baseline purpose of that sex, the foundational design, the way in which they fulfill their duties of dominion.” (pg 146, as quoted in Luke’s review, emphasis is Luke’s)
This is absolutely repulsive summary of human romantic interaction. It’s disgusting.
I did not choose my husband because he was “useful.” I don’t even know what that means. Is every Christian woman supposed to be some damsel in distress in need of someone to fix the dishwasher?
What is a “success object?” I did not marry my husband because he was “useful.” I lived independently for years before I met him. Of the two of us, guess who knows how to change a car’s tires, brakes, and rotors. Hint: it’s not him. Guess who knows how to till ground, and tend a garden. Also not him. You know what he’s good at? He’s good at being level-headed when I’m flying off the handle. He’s good at loving the Lord. He’s good at caring for others. All are qualities that make him like Jesus.
My husband isn’t some object I married because I needed whatever it is this author thinks I needed. I married him because I love him and I looked at him and said, “Yes, this is a man I can partner with, and support, and have as the father of my children. This is my best friend and I want to spend my life with him.”
But the line of thought reminds me of a man who used to creep around this blog way back at the beginning. He would respond to posts telling me that what I really needed was a man to control me. That all of my “strength” as a woman was really a cry to be dominated. He’s the reason we don’t do comments around here anymore.
The similarities are chilling. Here, these Christian authors, are making the argument that men are to be in dominion over women, and that at their core women want that. That men were created for that purpose and that if a man is not dominating a woman then he is not living as God intended.
They say women are sex objects, not people.
At the same time, they argue that men are supposed to view women as sex objects. According to them, women were created for that purpose. This is a purity culture hold out that has no basis is Scripture. In fact, they don’t even use a Scriptural argument to support it. They use some form of reasoning that says, “Since most men view women this way (note: because an awful lot of Christian men have viewed porn) then this must be the correct way to view women.”
That’s not how truth works.
I recently read part of a story on Instagram, by user @womnofvalor, and in it she shared a line of thought so many Christian women might find familiar.
“no pants or shorts, only skirts and dresses below the knee.
hundreds of modesty rules, more than i can even get into.
i was taught that as a woman, it was my job to make sure men didn’t lust after me.
but i was taught this as a little girl too, which subconsciously told me that even as a child, men would take advantage of me and that would be my fault.
that’s just the way things are.
men are sexual creatures and women are not. or so i was told.”
For reference, she says she was told this when she was 8. Eight. A second-grader.
Christiana (womnofvalor) reveals in comments in response that she was raised IFB (Independent Fundamental Baptist), as was I. I know all too well the rules surrounding modesty, all man-made, all designed to “keep my Christian brothers from stumbling.”
We weren’t allowed to wear jeans because they were “worldly.” Denim skirts were walking a thin line of rebellion. Sleeveless tops needed to have straps at least 3 finger-widths wide. Whose fingers was up for debate, but if you were a frail thin-boned girl, they definitely wouldn’t use yours. Lengths of skirts and cullotes (because shorts were a definite no) were verified by having you kneel on the floor. If the fabric didn’t touch the floor, they weren’t long enough.
All of it, unfortunately, seemed motivated by a set of lies:
A woman’s body is inherently dangerous.
A man cannot be expected to have self-control.
Ladies and gentleman, what is that a recipe for?
A dominant, aggressive, out-of-control male and a sexually objectified and submissive female. That’s it. Both viewing each other as objects. That’s not Bible; that’s porn.
Let me tell you what’s dangerous. Those lies.
Do not, under any circumstances, claim that is God’s plan for human relationship. That’s not from God.
Late last year, I read the story of Jessica Tillis Fisher. In her memoir, Unspeakable, she shares her experience of growing up in a conservative Christian home while being sexually abused by her father. At one point she shares that her father’s explanation to her– as a child— was that he was preparing her to be a good wife.
When we reduce the role of women down to being sexual objects who only exist to meet the sexual needs of men, we are dehumanizing them. We are pornographying them.
And worse yet, we give men the license to have zero self-control in this regard because we’ve told them this is what women are made for.
None of this is ok. None. Of. It.
Men are not “meant” to be aggressive, domineering “success objects.” Women are not “meant” to be submissive, mousey sex objects.
We are meant to be image bearers of Christ. Not image bearers of culture. We are meant to love each other as God has loved us.
This is why the Gospel has to be part of our conversation on sex. Without it, we just make up all kinds of rules and unfortunately a lot of our rules around sex involve shame, and excuses, and garbage. I don’t know how it happens but it’s like our rules about purity somehow stem from pornography. How is that even possible?
Every Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and called to love and care for and honor each other. Objectifying each other and reducing our use down to some base desire is never a command in Scripture. If anything, the arc of Scripture speaks against it.
God’s love for us isn’t because of what we can do for him. It’s not because we are attractive to him or useful to him. God loves us because that’s what he does. That’s who he is. He doesn’t objectify us, so we need to stop with the belief that he’s ok with us objectifying each other.
People are not animals, in the sense that we don’t have to give in to whatever drives and desires we feel. Instead, we are humans. We are persons. There is more to us, male and female, than our bodies and our “usefulness” to the opposite sex.
If we want to recapture the narrative on sex, marriage, romance, etc, our narrative has to be different than what culture is offering. It has to be the Gospel with all of its grace, freedom, and calls to self-control, and Spirit-controlled living. We have to stop with the lies that say “boys will be boys” and all girls are one sleeveless top away from a brothel.
Church, we need to do better.