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.
I see this as one more proof of misogyny being normalized and condoned in evangelical spaces. I fear nothing has changed or will change, despite all the truth-telling and the #churchtoo-ing and the resignations and firings of out-of-line leadership.
The fact is, the same messages are still being hammered within conservative Christianity, messages that demean and belittle women in the world as less-than image bearers of God.
I have no solution for this except to go to God and ask the Creator to crush this harmful heresy, not only for the sake of women, but also for the sake of God who stretches beyond this limited binary and toward each human on this planet.
Misogyny is just one more way that we get God wrong, and I welcome God’s hammer to set us right.
For an alternative egalitarian view of sex in Christian marriage, I recommend this article at Christians for Biblical Equality highlighting the book, The Great Sex Rescue by Sheila Gregoire, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, and Joanna Sawatsky.
A couple of quotes which stand in stark opposition to the TGC article above:
When we were sketching out the chapters for this book, Joanna quipped, “You know, we could say it all in just four words: women are people too.” Perhaps that’s the fundamental issue. Sex has been taught primarily through a male lens, mostly by male authors and by male speakers at marriage conferences. Women’s experiences have been largely overlooked or ignored, while women are seen as tools to help men get what they want. That’s not Christian. That’s not of Jesus. Women, though, are people too. ( p. 234)
God sees women. God does not say to women, “Your experience doesn’t matter compared to your husband’s tremendous need.” God does not tell women, “Let your husband ejaculate inside you, no matter how you feel, because otherwise you are in disobedience.” No, God says, “I designed sex to be a deep knowing of two people. And that, my child, means that both of you matter.’ (p. 194)
Okay, I want to hear from you: how do you read this critique? Have you seen harm in complementarian spaces? How should sex play out in marriages, heteronormative and otherwise? Do you see this view toward women changing in your context or not?
More Curious Reads
#2 Black writers expound on their relationships to nature. —Orion Magazine
“BEING RAISED IN THE WOODS wasn’t easy. An anomaly of Blackness, we were told at our school that we did not belong. Kids sneered at our handmade and hand-me-down clothes, scorned our untamable hair, cursed our skin made of clay not porcelain. But we saw our complexion reflected all around us in the tones of tree bark and fallen oak leaves. We didn’t have an abundance of toys, but we had jungle gyms of trees and front-row seats to ponds and tributaries.
“Sometimes it was piercing cold, and one time our wood-burning stove sparked a ravenous fire that expelled us into a wintery night before devouring every last splinter of our shelter. We lost everything we owned that night, but our home extended far beyond those walls, into the forest that did not burn. There were forces that separated us in the time we needed each other most, but nature ensured our connection across those impossible miles.
“Mom taught us about being independent, making things from scratch, speaking up, defending what we love, being proud of who we are, about not giving up. Dad taught us to revere all life, how to work hard, how to listen to nature, how to make up our own songs, how to be resourceful, that there are many paths to God.
“And Mama Nature taught us to be generous, loving, cooperative, multidimensional. That we are part of something so much bigger. We are no accident. We are never alone.”
#3 Social media used to be free, but now your favorites are going to try to sell you a subscription. —Vox
#4 A Christian climate activist urges the church to take action. Now. —Religion News Service
#5 Here’s what your everyone’s favorite socialist (or least favorite) is up to: Bernie is coming for big business. —the New Yorker
For Your Bingeing Pleasure…
Serial just released a new true-crime podcast series. *heart eyes* Give it a listen while you do the dishes. Listen here