Curious Reads: Man on Top
The Language of Sexual Violence within Evangelical Theology
Hello friends, Liz here.
#1 Today’s “top of the fold” story is sex. Specifically, how the theology of complementarianism (men over women, as designed by God, supposedly) can so easily make space for the language and behavior of sexual violence.
The Gospel Coalition posted an excerpt from an upcoming book by a reformed and Tim Keller-endorsed (or at least Redeemer Pres. endorsed?) pastor who writes about how sex images the gospel. I am not going to link to the post because I think it’s harmful and triggering in many ways and frankly, I don’t want to drive more traffic to it.
However, I do want to point to an insightful review of said article by Matthew Paul Turner—it’s plain speaking and emphasizes the ways that the “man on top” theology dehumanizes women, making them lesser both sexually and spiritually.
Here’s a highlight, as broken down by Turner:
“[The writer of the article] says there is a very significant (and biblical) distinction between the roles that a man and a woman have during intercourse. The man is the giver. The woman is the receiver. The man enters. The woman welcomes. In fact, Butler says: The most frequent Hebrew phrase for sex is, literally, “he went into her.””
“Butler writes: She [the Church] gladly receives the warmth of his [Jesus's] presence and accepts the sacrificial OFFERING he bestows [not only] upon the altar [but also] within her Most Holy Place.
”Our most holy places? Like, our spiritual vaginas?
“…While writing this part, did Butler ever put himself as a representative of the Church in the picture that he paints of Jesus engaging in a sexual encounter with the Church?
“I mean, does Butler let Jesus come inside his sanctuary, his holy place? Did he fully think that mental image through? I mean, maybe. Maybe Butler's faith is heteroflexible. Yet his view of marriage is definitely not.
“So, chances are, he doesn't fully grasp his own imagery. He's far too preoccupied with the idea that a man showcases Jesus to his wife every time he "goes into her".”
…Other than this imagery MAKING ME GAG, it’s so dehumanizing to this man’s spouse. What about partnership? What about Christ, the servant of all? What about man and woman both made in the image of God? The short-sightedness astounds.
Now, to be clear, I’m not sharing this just to rag on TGC. I have actually been in churches that swallow this teaching type of teaching whole and I want to be clear about something: in some cases, the fruit of this teaching is sexual violence toward women—assault, marital rape, and domestic abuse.
I do not mean this hypothetically.
I personally know women whose husbands used this theology to control, manipulate and abuse them. I know women whose fathers have claimed theology as a refuge for rape.
This is real harm in real lives from a false heirarchical theology that lies to women about our worth. And, in case it’s unclear, a theology that harms is not a theology we can attribute to a servant God.
But I have another broader issue with this article, too, and this time, I want to point the finger at Multnomah, the publisher of this book.
Because this is a book excerpt, the fact that this writing exists in print means that a board of men and women had to approve the investment of capital in these words and in this author, and they agreed that a wide audience needed to read this message. And TGC itself deemed this man’s opinion important and representative of the gospel they claim.
Christian publishers and editors are not a monolith; but I want to show you that the Christian mainstream still endorses these views about men and women. If conservative Christian audiences found this view offensive or controversial, the publisher likely would not have taken on this book.
At the very least, what we can understand is that these views about sex and gender roles sell or are expected to sell when measured within the Christian marketplace.
This breaks my heart.