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As many of you know, I’ve been doing research on Christian dating books and their treatment of rape and sexual assault. One such book that I’ve been reading is the infamous I Kissed Dating Goodbye, by Joshua Harris.

In one section that I found interesting, Harris is explaining that “purity does not happen by accident. After telling the story of David and Bathsheba, and reminding us that protecting our purity is a constant process, Josh Harris goes on to explain the “seductive spirit of idolatry” as symbolized in the “wayward adultress” of Proverbs 7.

Harris never directly ties this “seductive spirit of idolatry” to Bathsheba, but in the context of this chapter–David, the object, being led astray by some outside force–it seems that Harris is saying the spirit of idolatry comes from Bathsheba. That she is the wayward adultress.

I’ve heard this argument before.

Once I took part in a Mother’s Day banquet at my church that involved the youth group putting on a small skit in which we acted as the mothers of famous women from the Bible.

I got to be Bathsheba’s mother. Joy.

Of course, my lines were something along the lines of “Leave some for the imagination, Bathsheba! Cover up! Don’t advertise what’s not for sale.”

When my mother saw these lines? She was furious.

Why?

Because King David might have been a rapist.

No matter how you look at it, this story is not about consensual sex between equals.

My mother ended up going on a rant about how King David was a pervert. And I ended up ad-libbing all of my lines the day of the skit and basically repeating my mom’s rant. Much to the horror of the church ladies who put the whole thing together, I’m sure.

Reading Harris’ book, and remembering that skit made me think about this. Why is Bathsheba demonized throughout much of Christianity as the embodiment of the “seductive spirit of idolatry?” This woman, who was simply washing up after her period ended, like all Jewish women did? This woman who was simply following God’s purity laws, while, unbeknownst to her, a powerful King watched from above? This woman who had…what choice when the men of a King famous for killing tens of thousands came knocking at her door?

As this fantastic article by Crystal Lewis points out, even conservative commentaries on the Bible recognize Bathsheba’s lack of agency, of options (emphasis mine):

The conservative editors wander close to the real issue when they write that Bathsheba’s refusal “could mean punishment or death”… They touch lightly on power abuse, on coercion, and on the terrible status occupied by women in scripture… But then, the editors back away from the real issues and turn this very complicated matter into something black-and-white. In their effort to determine which “sins” were committed, they target the victim. The editors found a way to assign culpability to a woman who barely spoke at all in the story.

Christians don’t like to talk about the fact that King David might have been a rapist.

That would mean admitting that being “a man after God’s own heart” doesn’t make you a good person. That would mean admitting that maybe the men that God “calls” to leadership aren’t always good people either.

That would mean admitting that maybe the women in the Bible didn’t have it so good. That would mean that, maybe “Biblical womanhood” that focuses on submission for women and ultimate power for men isn’t actually what is best for the world. 

Maybe, admitting that King David might have been a rapist would mean admitting that if God’s desire for justice rolling down like waters is to be fulfilled, we need feminists and womanists fighting for this justice. 

Yet, much of the church isn’t ready to admit any of this. So they keep the same tired old story in place. And we keep the same old stories in place for the other women of the Bible. For Esther and Ruth and Mary and the woman at the well.

So, as Jason Dye points out, power structures stay in place.

Justice is stopped up by the dams that these structures built and goes stale.

Stories that could expose gross corruption become tame morality tales that we tell our children at bed time. The Bible becomes a book of fairy tales and Christianity becomes nothing but the purchase of a one-way ticket to heaven.

We don’t talk about power. We don’t talk about oppression. And we sure as hell don’t talk about liberation (except for our ambiguous discussions of freedom from sin).

And what’s the point of that? What does that do for women? For rape victims? For the hurting and for the oppressed?

Nothing, really. And that’s the point.


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Do Gender Roles Cause Unrealistic Expectations for Relationships?

I wrote a guest post for Kevin Olenick about how the gender roles I learned in a Joshua Harris book put an unnecessary amount of stress and pain on a previous relationship.

When my last boyfriend and I started getting more serious about our relationship and were wondering “Where do we go from here?” we decided to seek some counsel from books. So I went to the Christian bookstore on my Christian college’s campus and picked up Boy Meets Girl by Joshua Harris.

Now, my ex and I had both grown up in fundamentalist-learning churches, so we’d heard the basics about gender roles before. But never had we heard about gender roles with an emphasis as strong as what we found in that book. So, thinking that we had been doing everything wrong for our entire relationship, we attempted to follow the rules that this book put forth.

He would be the strong, masculine leader.

I would be the vulnerable, feminine, helper.

Instead of being ourselves, instead of continuing the journey we’d already started toward learning who the other person was, we both tried to see the other (and ourselves) as Man or Woman, as defined by Joshua Harris.

Read the whole post here!


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Some Humans Are More Equal Than Others: Joshua Harris on Male Authority and Female Submission

I’m doing a short series on some examples of the way that complementarians claim to promote equality for women….but don’t. You can read the introduction here. 

The first complementarian leader I’d like to discuss in this series is Joshua Harris. Like many ex-fundamentalists and evangelicals, I read one of his books in college (Boy Meets Girl) and still have some issues because of it.

And now, for research purposes, I am reading another Joshua Harris book (I Kissed Dating Goodbye) and thinking, “Well, no wonder this screwed me up so much!”

With phrases like, “At this point in her life, Mom has been a Christian for only a year. She’s still a bit headstrong and independent….”

Or, “The Bible clearly defines the importance of a man’s spiritual leadership in marriage, and I believe that leadership should begin in this season of the relationship [courtship].”

Or, with the passage where he talks about the righteous man being snared by the wicked woman (in the context of the story of David and Bathsheba)…

…It’s almost laughable when he asks readers not to accuse him of having a “chauvinist attitude.” Yet, he does dare to ask such a thing from his readers, because he wants his audience to believe that the gender roles he holds are not oppressive, but liberating.

“Being submissive is, is, is, it’s not, um, it’s not degrading,” Harris claims in a sermon  from 2010 (transcribed by Are Women Human?as Grace points out, the “um” is particularly convincing).  “It’s not something that you see and you just oh, there’s this weak and kind of, subjugated person. No, it’s something that’s actually beautiful. It’s winsome, and it’s aim is to draw attention to Jesus Christ.”

Yes, Harris plays the game of benevolent sexism. Submission is actually good for women! It doesn’t mean that women aren’t equal to men!

However, another quote from I Kissed Dating Goodbye puts those claims of benevolency and equality to rest (and without a goodnight kiss!):

How does a potential mate respond to people in authority? Does this person respect the authority of a boss or pastor even if he or she disagrees with that authority figure? A guy who can’t follow legitimate orders will have difficulty holding a job…A girl who can’t respect a teacher’s or coach’s authority will have difficulty honoring her husband.

Note the difference between why men should submit and why women (he always calls them ‘girls,’ despite the fact that he’s clear that he’s talking to adults that are ready for marriage here) should submit.

Men must learn submission so they can submit to a future employer. Women must learn submission so they can submit to their husbands. 

The husband/wife relationship, according to complementarians, is not one of coworkers or fellow team members. It is a relationship of employer and employee.

The problem?

Ron_Livingston_With_Gary_Cole_in_Office_SpaceWorkers and their bosses are not equals. 

I work at Burger King and know a thing or two about the employee/employer relationship.

The employer has flexibility that the employee does not have. If my employers want to join me flipping burgers in the kitchen, they may. But I am not allowed to help them with many of their responsibilities (I am also not allowed to be a pastor in Joshua Harris‘ church).

The employer’s jobs are typically more valued by society and their pay reflects this. Is anyone doing to try to claim that “I dip fries in grease all day” and “I manage a restaurant” are equally valued jobs? (And, though many complementarian evangelicals would claim to value motherhood and housework, ask them their opinions about “wages for housework” or about welfare mothers)

Employers have the final say in how their store is run. Yes, employees can make suggestions to employers, but employers aren’t required to even consider these suggestions (and, in my experience, they don’t consider them). However, when an employer tells an employee how to do something, it is not a suggestion.

This is the kind of relationship Joshua Harris (and other complementarians) wants for men and women. Harris even encourages men to look specifically for women who are good at submitting to others, and suggests that they can expect to receive a similar kind of submission.

Of course, men have to submit too…to somebody, but not to women. This doesn’t disprove my point that Joshua Harris does NOT believe men and women are equal. It proves that any talk about equality coming from people who believe like Harris does is a sham.

In fact, men, who understand the average employer/employee relationship, should know better than to call submission “winsome” or “beautiful.” These men go home to subordinates, while women go home (if they are even allowed to hold jobs) to another employer.

The employee/employer relationship isn’t always abusive (though it often is). But it is not equal. 

All humans are equal.

But some humans are employees and some humans are employers.

Some humans are more equal than others. 

Complementarian evangelical leaders like to pretend that their view of women is something other than exactly what it sounds like. They like to pretend that feminists (with our silly, womanly emotions) are just overreacting, misunderstanding, or twisting their words.

“Real” complementarians practice godly, Christ-like leadership. They don’t dominate or abuse their wives. Feminists just don’t understand what’s really good for them–they don’t understand that complementarianism isn’t about a hierarchy. It’s just about separate roles.

“Equal, but different,” as Mark Driscoll says.

Apparently, this “difference” is enough to keep women out of leadership roles in the church and the family, and often enough to keep them out of the public sphere altogether. Equal but different. Separate but equal.

Of course, it’s a woman’s “choice” to submit to her husband’s leadership. A choice that will be judged by an almighty God with a history of striking people dead and sending them to hell.

But sure, a choice.

Women “choose” (under the threat of Almighty judgment) to submit to their husbands, who lead them lovingly and gently. It’s all good.

They’re still equal.

But, you see, no matter how nicely complementarians say what they believe, a phrase from a George Orwell book always comes to mind:

“All animals are equal, but some animals are

more equal than others.”

Having “liberated” us from the way popular culture and media objectifies, degrades, and oppresses women, complementarian leaders can now objectify and oppress us in other ways with nicer words (and with support from God).

Centuries ago, Christian men such as Martin Luther preached the same beliefs of submission and headship, without the pretense of believing in equality.

The beliefs have not changed. They’re just wearing a mask.

Changing the way we talk about those beliefs does not change their implications.

I want to expose “equal, but different” for the lie that it is.

So I’m going to be doing a short series on the words of a few complementarian leaders, showing how, despite their claims of “equality,” their views degrade, oppress, control and limit women.

I want to talk about Joshua Harris, John Piper, and Mark Driscoll this week. To make this subject less painful,  the leaders will be represented by a puppy, a parakeet, and (of course) a fluffy bunny (respectively).

I may decide to continue with the series beyond that (but long time readers of this blog know how I get with series). If anyone has suggestions of other sermons/books/blog posts by complementarian leaders that reveal the inherent inequality present in complementrianism, or if anyone is interested in writing a guest post on the subject, feel free to tell me in the comments (make sure to include a corresponding adorable animal). 

Because, I believe that, once you strip away the bullshit, the motto of complementarianism could be:

All humans are equal, but some humans are more equal than others. 


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“Progressive” Christianity and Premarital Sex

Almost exactly one year ago, I read an article on Relevant Magazine that made me realize that I had absolutely no personal convictions to remain abstinent.

I had grown up in the dead-center of the purity movement. I’d worn the silver rings, made the pledges, condescended to the teenage mothers, read the Joshua Harris books, and all the other lovely rituals that seem to be involved in that movement. However, after an abusive partner coerced me into sex and eventually raped me, I had to let go of the basic tenets of the purity culture. The purity culture functions on the idea that virginity is the greatest gift a woman can give her husband. She is a used toothbrush without it, or a crashed car. It holds the idea that every time you have sex, you give away a part of yourself that you can never get back, and therefore you will necessarily enter into future relationships broken–your only value coming from the benevolent grace that God has on your insufficient self.

I gave up that idea and replaced it with a new “ethics of abstinence.” In these new ethics, which are often promoted in evangelical Christian circles that claim to be progressive (but usually aren’t), premarital sex was just the same as any other sin. It didn’t ruin me for life. I wasn’t broken or scarred.

But premarital sex was still universally wrong, and there were reasons. Several of these new reasons were listed in that Relevant Magazine article I read in November, 2011. According to the author, Ally Spotts (who I really appreciated during my earlier years of blogging. I don’t know that we’d agree on much now), we should wait for sex because waiting builds friendship, because “physical boundaries speak to the value you place on your sexuality,” because relationships should be about wholeness–not just happiness, and because we need to practice managing our lust.

She listed these as the real reasons God asks us to wait for sex. She talked about how other reasons–namely those held by the purity movement–didn’t satisfy her, and recognized that they weren’t satisfying the 80% of young Christians who had had premarital sex, either. So she attempted to come up with some new reasons, as many other Relevant writers and pastors and Christian bloggers (including myself) have tried to do.

But I realized something reading that article on that day.

Like Ally, the reasons the purity movement had given me didn’t satisfy me. But neither did Ally’s reasons.

Image via David Hayward

So I started asking questions in the comments section (advice: never ask questions in the comments section of Relevant. In fact, avoid that place like a cat avoids the vacuum cleaner. Your sanity will thank me). In asking the questions, I learned that no one seemed to have the answers. Instead of answers, I either got harsh judgement or other people who admitted to being just as confused as I was.

But in every comment that told me I was “abusing grace,” that I “must not be very familiar with the Bible,” telling me to “get married earlier, genius!,” to just find a fraternity house where they can set me up with a goat if all I want to do is get laid (FOR REAL), or comments that just listed every verse in the Bible that mentions sexual immorality (while failing to define sexual immorality), all I heard was “I don’t know the answers, and your questions expose that. I don’t know, and that makes me afraid of you.”

While I applaud evangelical Christians who move away from the blatantly destructive teaching that a woman’s (or a man’s) worth lies in her virginity, these new teachings that emerge in its place don’t stand up to the questions. They fall apart at the simple, honest questions of a confused recovering Fundy.

So why do Christians keep scrambling for these new reasons? Why do Christians accuse anyone who dares question these of perverting the grace of God or wanting to sleep with goats? Do these Christians who claim the label “progressive” not realize that they are just repeating the same patterns that they condemn in their more conservative brothers and sisters? Patterns of judgment, close-mindedness, denial of reality, and fear of the unknown?

Let’s get this straight, Christians. Choosing to wait until marriage is a personal choice that you can make for any number of reasons. It’s a good choice. But it’s not necessarily THE good choice. The values we place on sex can’t be universalized. Neither can interpretations of the Bible. Even the definition of marriage and of sex is fluid throughout history and culture.

We would do far better to throw away these paper-thin universal arguments against premarital sex. There are better things to focus on, like affirming one another’s humanity. Like not treating the people we are attracted to as sex objects. Like respecting the physical boundaries of other people without question. Like fighting the rape culture that’s so prevalent in the church.

We can’t universalize sexual standards. But we can treat each other well, so let’s start with that.


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Feminism and abstinence

bell hooks states in her book Feminist Theory, From Margin to Center:

One aspect of sexual norms that many people find oppressive is the assumption that one “should” be engaged in sexual activity. This “should” is one expression of sexual coercion…When…emphasis is placed on ending sexual oppression…it is possible to envision a society in which it is as much of an expression of sexual freedom to choose not to participate in sexual activity as it is to choose to participate.

Having grown up in what I’ll call the “purity culture”–where we made pledges not to have sex, wore silver rings declaring our virginity, and read Joshua Harris more than we read the Bible itself–this quote intrigued me. While I in no way support this mainstream, mostly evangelical “purity culture,” and while I definitely didn’t wait until marriage (and I’m cool with that), hooks’ quote made me wonder…

Is sexual liberation only for those who are having sex?

The typical feminist stance on abstinence that I’ve encountered has been a passive acceptance of it. Something along the lines of, “Okay, if that’s what you choose. It’s your life.” I’ve even encountered feminists who were hostile toward the idea of abstinence, talking about abstinent people as if they are somehow sexually dysfunctional.

I think we can do better than that. I think feminism can actually be empowering for individuals who choose not to have sex. And, I believe that when feminism empowers abstinent people, it empowers everyone. I believe that when feminism simply tolerates abstinent people, it undermines our own movement.

Here are a few ways that I believe feminism can empower those who choose to stay abstinent, and, in turn, empower the rest of us:

1. Feminism says that sex does not make you a man (or a woman): 

According to traditional gender roles, having sex is what makes men out of boys. This idea of going on a sexual conquest and returning victorious is almost a rite of passage for men in our culture (sometimes this idea is also imposed on women).

This idea devalues the personhood of both men and women. A feminist practice of abstinence would provide people  with one way to reject this idea of sex being the most important factor in establishing one’s own sense of value.  A feminist practice of abstinence would delve from normal practices of abstinence in that it would also reject the idea that marriage is the moment at which a man becomes a man.

A feminist practice of abstinence would be based in the idea that sex–whether you’ve had it or not–does not define one’s worth. By giving men the freedom to define their worth by means other than sexual conquest, it would also weaken the idea that “sexually conquering” a woman is a positive aspect of masculinity. Hopefully that would lead to a world where sex is no longer viewed as conquest. 

2. Feminism says that you don’t owe anyone your body:

As bell hooks stated in Feminist Theory, From Margin to Center, “coercion remains a central motivation for participation in sexual activity” for many teenagers. Girls, she states, “do it for the boy.” Boys (as we’ve already dicussed) “do it to prove to other boys that they are heterosexual and that they can exert masculine power over girls.”

Abstinence can be one way to fight society’s attempts to coerce us into sex before we’re ready. Being able to state “I am not having sex right now (or ever) and that is OKAY” can feel empowering.

A feminist practice of abstinence would differ from mainstream practices of abstinence in that it would assert bodily autonomy rather than promoting the idea that one’s body belongs to one’s future spouse and, therefore, must be kept in pristine condition. It would reject any claim that women dressing immodestly gives men a right to look at them. It would reject the idea that, after marriage, one’s spouse becomes the owner of one’s body.

A feminist practice of abstinence would reinforce the idea that, whether you have sex or not, your body is yours. No one has a right to it, no matter what you’re wearing, who you’re married to, or how far  you’ve already gone. The right to say “No” is always yours. 

3. Feminism affirms a person’s right to make informed choices

Some people are abstinent because it’s what’s expected of them. They had abstinence-only education in high school, their parents and church required a pledge of abstinence from them, and/or they were taught that God would punish them if they did not remain abstinent. This is not the kind of abstinence that a feminist practice of abstinence would support.

However, some people know the facts about sex and choose to remain abstinent anyway. Maybe they do this because of personal religious beliefs. Maybe they do it to avoid pregnancy or STIs. Maybe they are waiting for the right person or are not interested in sex at this point in their lives. It doesn’t matter what the reason is. Feminism affirms informed choice. Therefore, feminism should be actively working to inform, but never working to make a choice for someone.

A feminist practice of abstinence would support sex-education so that people’s choices are truly informed. It would condemn any efforts to coerce someone into abstinence. It would work to provide people with the protection or birth control needed to enjoy sex so that people who still choose to remain abstinence can truly call their choice informed. 

If you want to be abstinent, be abstinent! It’s not a choice that is incompatible with feminism. In fact, it can be an empowering choice for some people. Just remember, just as others don’t get to decide what you do with your body, you don’t get to decide what others do with theirs. And, please, for the love of God, stop with this stuff.