Does Avoiding Pre-Marital Sex Devalue Marriage?

Two separate things have led to me writing this post.  A few weeks ago I had a Twitter chat with people after pondering whether an abstinence approach to sex may in fact dishonour marriage.  Then a couple of days ago I listened to THIS discussion between Dianna E Anderson and Sarah Long, facilitated by Justin Brierley on the Unbelievable show at Premier.

The debate was “Should Christians save sex for marriage?”

The debate was interesting, though I’m not sure it fully worked.  Dianna has written a book reflecting on US purity culture in Conservative Christianity.  Sarah is UK based and has worked with Romance Academy.  There’s some massive culture differences between the UK and the US, so to some degree it became much more about acknowledging the different contexts and less about a debate based in the same cultural context.  Though I think many would say the culture isn’t as different as was perhaps suggested on the show.

Sarah’s main view was that sex is a covenant and as such should be saved for marriage.  Her work has generally been in a youth context and therefore the focus has been with young people.  Dianna’s view was that the Bible isn’t clear at all about sex before marriage and as such she would place it within the adiaphora of Biblical stuff; basically it’s a conscience issue, not an absolute.

Mr GLW and I didn’t have sex until we got married; I’ve written a few thoughts about sex and Christianity in THIS blog post, in which I bemoan awful post marital sex that is rooted in the many unhealthy messages attached to abstinence values.

Some thoughts I have about the whole saving sex until marriage thing…

1. It may possibly work when people are in their teens and early twenties.  What about people in their forties, fifties or sixties who have never had sex?  Did God just decide they shouldn’t ever experience the awesome gift of sex?  Not everyone is going to have a partner.  The whole abstinence teaching is connected so strongly to the “everyone will get married and have babies” narrative.  What does sexuality look like for people who don’t ever get married?  Do they simply suppress it FOREVER?  What about masturbation?  Is that off limits too?

2. When abstinence teaching is intertwined so strongly with purity culture is there a baby left in the bath when you chuck out the bath water?  Or is the shaming of women, blaming of women, infantilising of men, lack of understanding of consent and terrible sex so fused with “don’t have sex before marriage” that we can’t keep the latter without holding onto the former?

3. Within the Unbelievable debate, there was no mention of how abstinence teaching disables people from recognising abuse.  For me this is paramount.  I am confident that my young adulthood sexual experiences would have been non-abusive if I’d chosen to embrace pre-marital sex.  Could that have been the case if I’d been educate in healthy ways about consent and had awareness of abuse?  Perhaps.  But could the messages from across Christian culture about abstinence have drowned out the voices providing that awareness?  Also quite possible.

I’ve been wondering about whether Christians put a higher value on sex than on marriage.  If people HAVE to get married to have sex, how many (usually young) Christians rush to the altar so they can GET IT ON?  Conversely, how many Christians suppress their sexuality and their natural desire for one another for years while they wait to be able to get married. leading to a whole load of marital problems?

One of the examples on the Premier debate was a couple who’ve been together for four years, are engaged but can’t afford the wedding.  Dianna suggested that having pre-marital sex in that context was a matter between the couple and God, they could pray about it and come to their own conclusions.  Sarah’s view was that the couple could choose to marry in an inexpensive way in order to “save sex” for marriage.

Is that the best approach?  Should people reject the whole Big Wedding thing in order to have sex?  Or does that suggest less value for the whole process?  Do the couple elope and get married in a registry office somewhere so that SEX?  Or is the marriage ceremony and the value placed on it and the community element significant enough that pre-marital sex isn’t the main consideration that should be attached to it?

What does abstinence mean anyway?  Should there be no kissing pre-marriage?  No tongues?  No nakedness?  No oral sex?  No groping?  Is everything non penetration based okay?  Is there a sense of legalism in the whole thing?  Is this whole thing simply tithing herbs (Luke 11:42)?  Are we neglecting the weightier matters of a deep and considered sexual ethic that takes into account the many ways abstinence is painful?

The Bible wasn’t written for our context.  People got married REALLY young.  Mary was probably 14.  Women had no rights.  Contraception didn’t exist.  Periods were seen as impure. Singleness wasn’t an option for women.  Women’s sole value was attached to their husband and sons.  Rape victims were to marry the man who raped them.  Then there’s Song of Solomon which is full on sexiness, seemingly between unmarried people.  Marriage was a financial contract between the girl’s (it usually was a girl) husband and her father.  How do we extrapolate a sexual ethic for our time, our culture from a book written in such an extremely different context?

I don’t know.

I do know that the current system isn’t working.  Abstinence teaching doesn’t produce chastity.  It leaves people ill equipped to recognise sexual abuse, sexually damaged, repressed and/or with a deeply unhealthy sexuality, it blames women and encourages men to avoid responsibility for their sexuality and wrongly assumes that every twenty-something Christian is going to meet a nice Christian (opposite sex) partner, marry them, have babies and live happily ever after.

I’m not sure what a positive sexual ethic looks like.  I guess I veer close to Dianna’s view.  What’s wrong with trusting couples to discern what is right for them?  What is the risk in encouraging people to seek God’s will for their lives over and above an abstinence rule that isn’t fit for purpose (and actually isn’t in the Bible)?  When the current messages are causing serious damage to individuals and couples can we risk insisting abstinence is the way forward?

Matthew 23:24 comes to mind…  “You blind guides!  You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”  Yes abstinence may get women to their wedding night with their hymen intact, however what about the camel of shame, vaginitis, pornography use, woman blaming and/or sexual repression?

The conversation amongst young people should be a different to that with adults.  One of the difficulties of the Premier debate was that Sarah’s context was young people.  We can’t liken the sexual choices of two people in their mid twenties (and upwards) to how we approach 14 year olds.  However, is the right approach with teenagers and young adults to focus on marriage as the means by which people access sex?  Does that put unnecessary focus on marriage as the end goal for people’s lives?  In a Christian culture which is deeply heteronormative and idolises the nuclear family, how do we articulate the liberating message that marriage is not the logical start of adult Christian life?

With our children, Mr GLW and I have focussed on:

  • Ensuring they own they bodies, lives and choices. This is the foundation of consent.
  • Nakedness and sexuality are not shameful, bodies are BRILLIANT.  Puberty is fabulous and exciting, if somewhat messy and traumatic.  Since they were very small we regular talked about how bodies change; hair, periods, wet dreams and the like.  This stuff shouldn’t be a surprise.  It is INEVITABLE.
  • That sex is awesome yet SO extremely special and precious that it’s a serious matter.  Babies can be made and diseases can be caught, so great thought must go into when, how and who we choose to do it with.
  • Singleness is GREAT!  We regularly chat about the amazing single people we know.  At first the kids assumed that all the single adults we knew were married, they just hadn’t met their spouses.  This stuff must be made explicit or kids won’t notice it.
  • Critically examining the messages around us; women are not objects, sexism is all pervasive and it is wrong, gender stereotyping is bad, racism is everywhere and it is bad, male privilege is real, a lot of masculinity is toxic and needs to be challenged etc etc.
  • There’s creepy naked stuff on the internet (pornography) and when they see it (because they will)  they need to tell us so we can help them make sense of it.

Our kids may have sex before marriage.  It’s not something I’m concerned about.  What I am concerned about is that every sexual experience they have is one they have entered into willing (and legally), in an informed way and with deep respect and love for themselves and the other person they engage in any sexual activity with, and also deep respect and honour for the seriousness of the act they engage in.

Yes, marriage may be a way of ensuring this stuff happens.  But that is not guaranteed.

Genuinely, I don’t want my kids to get married.  I want them to live lives of worth.  And if that includes marriage, great!  But if not, that is JUST as wonderful!

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No Sex Please. We’re Married

Everyone knows what the Christian view of sex is.  That it should be “saved” for marriage.  That it’s this precious gift God gave humans and that sex outside of marriage can be damaging.  Depending on who you talk to, the damage ranges from a vague possibility to ABSOLUTE DESTRUCTION which requires a whole lot of prayer to get rid of “soul ties” which some would say mess you up in all sorts of emotional and spiritual ways.

 

Yesterday I listened to teaching on sex delivered to 12-14 year olds at a 2015 national Christian youth event.  Separate sessions for boys and girls.

 

The boys were told the only relationships they should have with girls should be friendships, in part because they can’t “go out and get a job to support the girl” when they’re only 12.  The speaker explained to these 12-14-year-old boys: “If the girl is not your wife, then she’s your sister.”  He went on to explain there should be no touching, kissing etc. until the couple are engaged.  The boys were also told that masturbation is wrong; avoid it by going for a walk or by reading the Bible (because they were told, the Bible isn’t sexy at all).

 

The girls were told “God wants His best for you.  He wants you pure and undamaged and unhurt.”  They were also told, “If you want to be attractive, dig into God.”  The girls were told that girls’ wanting to have sex was a form of seeking love and validation (the boys were not told this was the case for them).  The girls were also told that masturbation was wrong, addictive and the devil would use the shame they subsequently feel from masturbating to harm them.

 

This was at an event that happened in 2015.

 

In the church, we’re very good at talking about not having sex.  What we’re not good at talking about is the awful post-marital sex a lot of Christians endure, especially if they’ve done the “right” thing and waited.

 

If a couple have waited to have sex until they get married (whether or not they’ve had sex previously) there can be an expectation that such a sacrificial and counter-cultural choice will be rewarded by mind blowing sex from the wedding night onwards.

 

Sadly, multiple orgasms do not ensue.  From 12 years upwards they’ve both been told not to masturbate and not to think about sex.  At all.  Until “she’s a wife not a sister.”  The boys have been taught they should “resist temptation”.  The girls have been taught their value is intertwined with their purity.  Both have been conditioned to think only males have a sex drive.

 

Post-abstinence marital sex can be utterly abysmal.  Rarely is this talked about.  When it is talked about, it’s euphemistic at best.

 

I’ve been married over 8 years, my husband and I didn’t have sex with each other until after we were married.  We’d both had sex previously, and I brought two small children to the relationship.  From 17 to 21 I was abused by my ex-husband.  Much of the abuse was sexual.  I had been raised in Christian culture which taught me not to have sex but didn’t tell me what consenting to sex actually meant.  All of my first sexual encounters were coerced, forced or manipulated.  And Christian culture had given me no framework for this, so I thought the trauma I was suffering was caused because I had betrayed Jesus, not because I was being raped.

 

At 23 when I married my now husband, I’d been dealing PTSD, depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and more.  He’d been single in the church for 13 years and had tried to avoid thinking about sex the whole time.

 

Our honeymoon was amazing in most ways.  Except that sex was generally difficult.

 

Marriage has been awesome for us.  Sex not so much.  And even though I’d been sexually abused for the majority of my life at that point, my husband being raised in the church caused us at least as many issues as my stuff did.  We’re not alone.  So many Christians (even where there hasn’t been abuse) experience extreme damage from abstinence and purity teachings in church.

 

Christian women and men have been conditioned to see sexual acts as shameful.  How do they then engage in those same acts after saying “I do” without shame?  The wedding ceremony isn’t going to negate years and years of unhealthy and sexually negative messages.

 

My husband and I are doing good now.  But stories like ours must be told.  Because otherwise every couple struggling, every woman feeling ashamed for simply considering initiating sexual activity, every man feeling inadequate because his sex drive doesn’t meet some arbitrary level he’s been told is normal, feel this is just them.  And it’s not.  There’s loads of us out there.  Welcome to crap Christian sex!  We’re not getting much.  But hey, it can get better!

 

I would tell 12-14 year olds that…

 

  1. Compulsive masturbation is a problem. What isn’t a problem is learning how your body works, what feels good and what doesn’t.  Girls especially are not taught about their genitals and popular culture can leave girls and women ashamed of their woman bits.  God isn’t ashamed of your vagina or vulva, he made it and He wants you to love it!

 

  1. Boys, it is not your job to pursue, provide for or protect a girl. That is nonsense made up by people.  Only God does those things.  Don’t take on responsibility that was never meant to be yours.  God made women and men equal and gave them the awesome gifts of intimacy, equality and partnership found in marriage.

 

  1. Choosing to have sex is a big deal. God made it as a thing to do within a marriage relationship.  There’s the potential for making babies and catching diseases and all sorts when you start doing it.  Understanding the difference between choosing to have sex and being coerced or forced is really important.  Sex is a big deal and when someone hurts us sexually they can cause us great damage.  But there is help available and healing is possible!

 

  1. You are not defined by your virginity. God loves you whatever your sexual experience or lack of it and so should any person you have a relationship with.

 

And to all you Christians preparing to get marriage please be aware that if you haven’t engaged in sexual activity with your spouse before getting married, don’t expect sex to be mind blowing straight away (if it is, lucky you!).  Like anything valuable in a relationship, it takes time, effort, understanding, respect and self awareness.  Sex can be awesome, get help if you need it and marriage is so much more than how good the sex is anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Questioning “A Theology of Maleness”

After being told about Andrew Wilson’s talk “A Theology of Maleness” in January, it’s taken me a while to get around to watching the whole thing.  But I have now watched the it and will offer some (rather extensive) views on it.

If you don’t know who Andrew Wilson, he is an elder at Kings Church in Eastbourne and is a well known complementarian.  He has an MA and is doing a PhD in theology.

Before I start my thoughts on his talk, I should make clear that he says towards the end of his talk that it’s content he would not deliver to women, so if any men would like to watch the 45 minute talk, and offer their thoughts, please do!  Mr GLW’s response, listening in to the last 20 minutes of it was intermittent OH PLEASES so I don’t think that being female precludes my ability to critique what he says.

So here goes…

He starts by apologising for the “theological” nature of his talk, taking it out of the realms of opinion and into the realms of factual, or perhaps the academic, however rarely within the talk does he say anything that I would consider on an academic level.  I’m sure he didn’t intend for it to be a communication device, but the effect of saying it is “theological”, is that people immediately assume a level of robust research and fact within the forthcoming content.

He uses the John Piper quote, “The question you have to be able to answer is, “What are you going to do when your son says to you, “Dad what does it mean to be a boy rather than a girl?  Or to be a man rather than a woman?””

Personally if my son was to ask me this, I would reframe the question and say, “Well, Joshua, what does it mean to be you?  What does it mean to be Joshua?  Because God made you unique and different to everyone else in the whole world, and there are so many different ways to be a boy or a man that we need to be working out what it means to be who God made you to be and being a boy is only one part of that.”

However, Andrew’s approach is different.  He acknowledges that we need a strong theology of identity, before then choosing to not focus on the macro of identity but rather on the micro of gender.  He talks about the differences between absolute and generalised statements about men and women and says that “we need to be able to generalise about gender in order to articulate what the Bible says.”

He immediately makes generalised statements that women are more sensitive and men are more decisive, explaining that people get upset about statements like this.  “It’s not absolutely true, but is generally true that women are more sensitive and men are more decisive”.  He goes on to evidence that men are more decisive because within academia there are trends which show men get further in academia that women.  He does mention that privilege could come into this; that men might have more opportunities than women, but says he thinks it’s probably more about Christendom and that white men were involved in the rise of Christendom.  He also says that historically women were in the home and men had more muscles so worked as farmers.  Which led to men having more time to do academia.Andrew doesn’t detail how that meant men had more time.  Just that they did.  I would suggest that if men had the muscles to do the farming, women would have been much better suited to academia, what with having less muscles, but anyway…

This section really seems like a response to feminist critique as he begins to talk about  privilege, I definitely felt he was engaging with the issues I would raise in a conversation with him.  However, his conclusion about privilege is that it’s “not necessarily true” that white men are privileged but that it is about taking responsibility and good stewardship of what’s been given to them.

He states the usual complementarian line, that men and women are “equal in dignity but not in function” and uses playing the bass as an example of this.  He says the left and right hand are used in the bass for different things.  The left hand plays the notes while the right hand plucks the strings.  He suggests that the left and right hands are equal in dignity, but their function is different; just like women and men.

As an analogy it is deeply flawed.  People play the bass that way round because that is the way they have been taught to play the bass, not because the left and right hand have been innately designed to pluck strings/play notes specifically.  And the existence of the left handed bass suggests some people still play it the other way round.

He says that men should be talking about FGM, domestic abuse and rape, that these issues are injustices and should be challenged.  That they’re not the same as what he see as inequality of function, i.e. the roles men and women should have are different to violence against women.

Except that every expert in understanding and ending violence against women will tell you that gender inequality is the foundation of violence against women.  That the privilege he has just denied as a real thing is the reason men abuse 25% of women in the UK.  That the position of men as the power-holders and gatekeepers leads to women’s oppression.  These things cannot be separated into “real injustice” and “a God intended injustice  plan”.

He goes onto say something that I actually fully agree with (I know, it’s a shock.  Have a pause before continuing if you need to…).  He says that within the church, the rhetoric about “real men” and (to a lesser extent) “real women” is about what people “ought to” be doing, not who they are.  So, by being a man or a woman, you are “real”.  The existence of your body being male or female makes you male/female, not the need to perform a certain type of masculinity/femininity.

The rest of his talk is about equipping men to know more about what being a man looks like.  Which doesn’t sound that contradictory when he says it, but actually is.

He mentions the feminisation of the church, without giving any examples or citations of how the church has ben feminised and states that some Christian conversations/resources/ideas about manhood have been an “overreaction” to this non-evidenced feminisation of the church.

He says that we should be looking to Jesus for how to be a man, and also for how to be a human being.  Which is weird, because his whole talk is about theological differences between men and women, but he’s saying Jesus is the model for being human.  Which really He can’t be, if there’s particular ways that men are meant to be.  Because either Jesus conformed to the theological way of being a man (therefore not being a model for women) or He was a model for being human (therefore not conforming to the theological way of being a man, which would suggest it might not be all that theological if Jesus didn’t do it).

He explains that since the sexual revolution men are being “infantilised” by society and that even though women have progressed in lots of ways, that they are “not happier”.  He doesn’t provide any evidence that states women aren’t happier, or really explain how society is infantilising men, he just states it as a fact.

He then pitches “very feminist”  and chauvinist as a polarised positions, the two extremes and says people mainly sit in the middle.  This is deeply problematic.  Last time I checked a chauvinist was “a person displaying excessive or prejudiced support for their own cause, group, or sex” whereas a feminist is a person working for “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.”  I’m not sure how those two things can be polarised.  A chauvinist is excessively prejudiced, a feminist is working towards equality.  Hmm…

However, polarising those two terms works to the benefit of Andrew’s points.  That being in middle, being a moderate means not being a chauvinist, but also not being a feminist.  Now, I know I’m biased as a feminist, but I would say feminism is the middle ground between hatred of women and hatred of men.  The portrayal of feminists as “man hating” is not from evidence of the feminist movements, but a mischaracterisation by people against the cause.  Chauvinism and misogyny however is evidenced in language and actions.  Men rape women and kill women, men tweet about raping and killing women.  There’s no similar action from feminists towards men.  Women are not as a collective or on a large scale killing or raping men.  It simply does not happen.

Andrew then moves into his 7 points about what a Theology of Maleness looks like.  He explains that as it originates in Genesis and is “bound up with marriage” but is applicable to single people too.  However, he doesn’t at any point during the talk expand upon the implications for single people or how it is practically worked out in the lives of single people. Here are his 7 points, and my thoughts on them:

1. Men = Tohu. Women = Vohu (Genesis 1:2)

The earth as formless (tohu) and void (vohu).  Andrew explains that Tohu refers to men; men bring form to the earth and that vohu refers to women; women fill the earth.  It’s interesting that this verse is mentioned long before men and women are created and that it’s just an idea that he (and perhaps others) have come up with.  It suggests that women’s role in the world really involves birthing children, which creates great problems for single women and women who can’t have children.

It places men as subjecting the earth, being agents in the world; the ones who shape what the world looks like, while women act within the constrains of what men decide.  This leaves me wondering, why did God give so many women gifts of leadership.  Surely, they are anomalies within a world of men who were created to shape?

2. Men = Subdue and Dominion. Women = Multiply and be fruitful (Genesis 1:28)

It’s interesting because this verse is said to woman and man together.  There is no mention within the text that these commands are gender specific.  It is only after The Fall that gender differences are mentioned at all.

He talks about penis and vagina (which obviously I was pleased about, given my goal of making vagina a more acceptable word across society).  He explains that women’s reproductive organs are internal.  Men’s reproductive organs are external.  This mean’s that men are “externally focussed agencies there to protect”.  That seems like a rather large leap in theory to me, but then I may not be theological enough…

He states that men’s “involvement in child birth and child rearing is relatively short.”  As Christians we believe that women and men are equally called to be parents, the biological reality is not the one which dictates how we behave as parents, otherwise men would generally just, “shoot and leave”.  Instead, we hope for integrated family structures, seeking after “the important things of justice and love”.

He mentions the book “Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps” saying he has “no idea idea whether it’s true or not”. It is not true. The book is based on ridiculously bad neuroscience.  Andrew’s mention of this book allows him to example the differences between men and women, without having to stand by the conclusions of the book as true.

He talks about how until relatively recently men went to war because women were the one’s bearing children.  He fails to mention that those creating the wars were also men. He says that God could have created us to be fertilised like plants or as asexual, but instead, “God did something and in doing so made a statement about how women and men are meant to function.”  All mammals function and reproduce in the same way; so rather than God choosing a specifically unique way for human’s to reproduce (to infer all the special things Andrew wants it to show) it’s actually the way all mammals reproduce (including whales).  Unless we’re saying male whales are uniquely purposed as “externally focussed agencies there to protect” it’s not really going to work.

After this he references a shooting in Colorado in which three men died after having laying over women to protect them from a gunman in a cinema.  He said the men were in no way connected to the women they chose to protect.  In fact (according to Wikipedia) the three men who died were protecting their girlfriends.  Andrew’s point is that men are wired to protect women. That it’s somehow an innate characteristic of men.  He failed to mention in his talk that the person who shot dead 12 people and injured another 70 was also a man.

This section of Andrew’s talk left me crying.

We live in a world where male violence is at epidemic proportions.  Rape, murder, torture, emotional abuse, street harassment, female genital mutilation, female infanticide, sexual abuse; all perpetrated by men in every community and society of the world.  We don’t live in a world where there’s an epidemic of men protecting women, but rather, hurting women.  We don’t live in a society where a woman sees a man in a dark alley and thinks “Oh he’s going to protect me”.  That’s not what our world looks like.

I have argued before with people that I don’t want to be offered a seat or have a door held open for me by a man if they’re only doing it because I’m female.  If they always offer their seat to women and men or they always open the door for women and men, then that’s fine.  But the assumption with those things is that I am weaker, but let’s face it, I am not more in need of a seat than a man.

The belief in women as weaker is what lays at the roots of male violence.  I delivered an assembly to a group of 240 13-14 year old students.  One boy said, “The thing is I think girls are emotionally weaker than boys, that’s why they get upset more.”  Afterwards a teacher explained that this same boy had been abusive to all his girlfriends.

Although Andrew says women aren’t defective or impotent, but instead inherently “precious”, the reality is that if women are weaker, especially when it comes to “dominion” then they should be less trusted than men in relation to those things.

His example of the men who died in the Colorado shooting was used to say that “men immediately knew” women should be protected, but across the world men don’t immediately know that, how do we know those men’s responses didn’t come from how they’ve been raised?  Andrew excluded the information that the women were the men’s girlfriends and at least four of the people murdered in the Colorado shooting were women, not all of the women had men “immediately” knowing how precious they were and jumping in front of a bullet.

3. Man = Guard. Woman = Helper (Genesis 2:15 and 18)

Verse 15: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (ESV)

Verse 18: “Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.””

Andrew introduces both of these verses and explains that although nowhere in verse 15 does it actually say “guard” he is going to use it interchangeably with “keep it”but doesn’t explain his rationale for doing so.  It’s interesting that at this point in the story there were no threats to human beings, so there wasn’t actually any need to “guard” the garden from anything.  Other versions use the word “take care of…” which definitely doesn’t sound like a “guard” type role.  He does say the word is related to that of the priest role in the Old Testament, however the guards in the tribes of Israel were not the Levites.  In fact the Levites didn’t go to war, their role was to enable the community to worship God.

He mentions how women are called to be men’s helpers, and does reference that helper is used as a word in the Bible to describe God bringing help to His people.  Andrew doesn’t mention that it is a word used to describe God on 15 occasions, he also doesn’t explain how God helping His people differs from what he says as men’s role of “guarding”.  To me they sound quite similar…

Andrew talks of how men will always get up to check for a burglar if there’s a noise in the middle of the night.  That men’s role as guard is “why men protect their families.”  That men would always ensure they were first to deal with suspicious noises in the middle of the night.  He didn’t offer any research to back this point up.  Just his assumption that men always protect their families.

Except men don’t always protect their families.  In fact women and children are much much more likely to be at risk in the middles of the night from men they know than from burglars.  Children sexually assaulted by their father or step-father while their mother sleeps unaware.  Women awakening to find their husband raping them or perhaps not allowed to go to sleep because their husband’s abusive tactic is to force them to stay awake all night.  If we’re going to use collective male behaviour to decide that something is innately built into men, it seems violence and abuse is something we should be talking about.

He also doesn’t explain how single women are supposed to protect themselves.  Without a man are single women sitting ducks for burglars?

Also he seems to think protection is solely a physical thing.  I may not be physically strong enough to protect my husband physically (though some women are).  However, if someone was being verbally hurtful towards him, I would be the first to stand up and say something.  If someone was going to try and take advantage of his kindness or support, I would be the first to challenge that.  Perhaps, as women and men we are supposed to protect each other, based on our gifts, rather than some assumption of difference from a word that doesn’t actually appear in the verse being talked about?

Andrew states, “The role of guarding and protecting is always something God has said, “Men I want you to do.” I could be wrong, but I don’t think this is actually a verse found anywhere in the Bible:  “And then God said, “Men! Guarding and protecting is always your job!”

God likens Himself to a mother bear protecting her cubs.  Jesus likens Himself to a chicken gathering chicks under her wings.  Unless I’m mistaken, those are female images of God protecting and guarding.  In fact, mothers are well known for protecting their children.  There are many anecdotal stories of women having “Hysterical Strength”, lifting a car off their father or fighting a polar bear to save their children.  1 Corinthians 13:7 tells us that love “always protects”.  Protecting isn’t limited to men, it’s a characteristic of love.

4. Men = Beloved.  Women = Beloved (Genesis 2:23)

“The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman”, for she was taken out of man.’”

Andrew says that Adam “Initiates the relationship” and Eve responds.  He explains, “That’s why a man asks the father’s permission” to marry a woman.  And states, “That’s the way civilisation has worked ever since.”

Where to start with this..?  The reason a man asks the father’s permission is because historically the woman/girl belonged to her father, and the marriage contract enabled the husband to buy the woman so she goes from being her father’s possession to becoming owned by her husband.  That’s not okay.

When Mr GLW and I decided to get married, God told us we should marry each other.  So we had a conversation about it and decided to get married.  Perhaps Andrew thinks this is unBiblical, but that’s how God worked out our marriage and it is no less valid because Mr GLW didn’t initiate the relationship.  In fact, I think the model of having a grown up conversation about marriage, rather than a romantic proposal, might be more useful for lots of people…

He goes on to say that it’s obvious what this means “in a marriage context, but with implications for single people as well.”  He does elaborate further, leading me to wonder how exactly this works for single people.  Men should initiate all things?  Women should stay silent?  I’m not really sure how this works out in the lives of single people even if Andrew is.

5. Man = Christ. Woman = Church

Andrew says that “Christ leads the church” and that the “church responds and submits to him” and that should be the “same with husbands and wives…this is very obvious.”

Setting aside the content issue.  He has used a communication device here (perhaps unintentionally) which says that what he’s just said is “obvious”.  Basically everybody should get this, everybody should agree with it.  The fact that there are many scholars, theologians and others who don’t accept this is what the Bible says, or that it’s actually quite offensive to say that one gender is more like Christ than the other is neither here nor there when you say something is “very obvious”.

He goes on to liken the spectrum of masculinity to having various points on it.  It looks like this:

<—Servant leadership—Apathetic—Controlling—Domineering/abusive—>

He says that Christian men should be at the servant leadership end of the spectrum .  That is what Christ is like.  Though it would seem women shouldn’t even exist on this spectrum, we’re somewhere else, on the “submission spectrum” no doubt.  He explains that his life hasn’t required him to stand in front of a bullet for his wife, but usually involves him having to get up earlier.  He doesn’t really explain why getting up earlier makes him a servant leader, but anyway.

We are all called to “prefer each other’s needs”, as Christians.  Personally, I don’t want Mr GLW getting up early for me every day, I want us to exist in mutuality, where if he’s tired he can have a lie in, if I’m tired I can.  We submit ourselves to God and each other, in full partnership.  It’s not our gender that dictates how much we offer, or how we offer it, but our love for God and for each other and the gifts God has given us.

6. Man = Representative. Woman = Beneficiary (Genesis 3:9)

“But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?””

Andrew explains that even though Eve was the first to eat the fruit, it was Adam who God addressed the question to.  He doesn’t mention that in verse 13 God asks Eve, “What is this you have done?”  But anyway…

He likens this to a civil servant and a Government Minister.  When the civil servant makes a mistake, it is the Minister who is held accountable for it, because they are the representative of the department.  After using this analogy he then says that “boss isn’t the right language to use” when talking about headship, which is problematic when that’s the exact analogy he has used to explain the whole “man is the representative” thing.

It’s interesting that there is actually a verse about being a representative in the Bible, “Therefore, we are the Messiah’s representatives, as though God were pleading through us…” (2 Corinthians 5:20 ISV)  So we see that actually, all of us, men and women are Jesus’ representatives and when I get to heaven my husband won’t have to make account for my behaviour, I will.

He says that he sees headship as who the woman is identified by.  For example when he sees other men in the room he recognises them by their head, not their shoulders or body.  In the same way, he explains, the husband/father is the representative of the woman.  He goes on, “That’s what still happens in many cultures, even now.  The father speaks for the family…he carries the can…he gives the family their name.”

Andrew may not be aware, but male violence against women is also directly correlated to the level of autonomy and control women have over their own lives.  The less autonomy women have (like in the cultures he’s mentioned) the more instances of violence against women.  Because where women and girls are seen as possessions and as less than equal to the men, they are treated and discarded like possessions.

7. Man = ground.  Woman = Womb. (Genesis 2:16-19)

Andrew mentions the curse on Adam and Eve; childbearing pain for women and the ground being cursed for men.  He explains that this is what he sees as men’s and women’s “spheres of responsibility”.

He omits the part of the verse which says, “Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.”  This is an interesting section to omit, given his previous mention that men should be talking about FGM, rape and domestic violence more.  Every society in the world is blighted by male violence.  And yet the Biblical basis for male violence and domination isn’t referenced at all in his talk.

What is referenced however as evidence of men’s sphere being different to women’s is the Man Drawer, specifically Michael McIntyre’s portrayal of the Man Drawer.  Yes, this is a theological talk that references the Man Drawer as irrefutable evidence of men’s sphere of responsibility being different to women’s.

Towards the end of the talk he explains he would not be present teaching about gender in the same way to women as it wouldn’t be helpful, especially not for single women as “marriage changes a woman’s life an impacts a woman more than a man.”  He didn’t explain how/why it impacts women more.  I’m not sure it does actually.  Surely if he believes that men are supposed to be the servant leader, getting up early and being the representative in the relationship, it should probably be more difficult for men than women, but as it is, I’m really not sure how women are affected in a greater way than men…

Personally, when I do talks or write blogs, I hope everything is as useful to men as it is to women.  It’s interesting Andrew’s view is that his message to men can’t be delivered with the same content to women.  Maybe that’s because, like me, women see the implications of his message on them, or can see that it doesn’t make sense.

Andrew finished by talking about the Gospel and reminding all the men present that in relation to Jesus they are the “female”; the Helper, the Beloved, the Beneficiary.  It’s confusing how this works out for women though.  Are women the Helper to their husband and then Jesus?  Or Jesus and then their husband?

He said that “in the Gospel we [men] play the part of the wife, we respond with submission and obedience…we are recipients, not agents of…”  Which gets to the crux of the matter.  He seems to see men as agents, women as recipients, which doesn’t look so different to the rest of society.  This TED Talk by Caroline Heldman explains powerfully and clearly the ways the media ensure men are the subjects and women are the objects.  Men act, women respond.  This is not good for men or women.

God implanted free will within all of us.  As male and female beings we are called to make choices and we will have to account for those choices.  No distinction is made between men and women in Jesus saving us and to do so, especially within Andrew’s restrictive terms is not enabling us to be more Christlike, or more deeply rooted in God, but rather to find our identity in our genitals and tenuous links to The Man Drawer.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Gender Disparity on the Platform

Patriarchy is all pervasive.  It seeps across all areas of life.  There isn’t one solution, one issue or one aspect to approach patriarchy from.  Perhaps one of the issues with blogging is that it invites us to only consider a couple of issues, it is not designed to approach the fullness of something like patriarchy.

 

When we look at the reasons for gender disparity on the platform, things like childcare or complementarian theology are often as far as we get with defining the issues.  Yet these are superficial issues and in no way explore the vast complexity of why we have less women on the platform.  Yes, there is a need to question whether equal representation is the right way to go, but if we do that without exploring why there is disparity between men and women, we glaze over the actual issues.

 

After collating the statistics for platforms in 2013 I was regularly being asked whether quotas were the way to go.  As a result I wrote this document in consultation with as many women in leadership as I could.  It is 34 pages long and articulates the reasons women are less likely or able to gain speaking opportunities.

 

So I thought I’d list the issues raised in the document here, so instead of picking one or two, we can hopefully stop listing one or two of these and thinking that is enough.  Instead we need to look at the whole picture and engage holistically with it.

Society Community Ontogenetic Individual/Internal
Intersectionality of oppression Formal reinforcement of societal beliefs Children not given critical thinking skills Imposter syndrome
Neurosexism Informal reinforcement of societal beliefs Christian products perpetuate stereotypes Lack of gender awareness
Patriarchy Women’s appearance scrutinied Sexualisation and commercialisation of childhood Women who put selves forwards seen as “pushy”
Institutional sexism “Queen Bee” syndrome Role models fit gender stereotypes Motherhood:

Stepping of the “career ladder” and unable to get back on

Lack of provision for mothers at events

Guilt

Hegemonic Masculinity “Home wives” and “work wives” Children’s clothing Singleness
Male privilege Women expected to fulfil “female roles” Toy and technology industries Lack of self-confidence
Lack of transparency/consistency Lack of support from friends or family Gender socialisation Lack of resources:

No “wife”

Financial/time

Lack of accountability/consequences “You can’t be what you can’t see” Different expectations of girls/boys Silencing tactics:

Policing tone

The “grace card”

Gender stereotypes Lack of gender awareness in ministry training Adolescent development Shame
Gender justice seen as a “women’s issue” Focus on justice as “out there” Traditional gender roles seen as a measure of Christian commitment The patriarchal bargain
Selfish capitalism Single sex events can perpetuate stereotypes Events for children and young people rarely focus on gender Assumptions made based on gender
Tokenism Local church”

Not championing women

Not providing leadership opportunities

Not enacting egalitarian theology

Sex and relationship education Individual complicity:

Not willing to give up power

Fear of the consequences

Lack of knowledge

Blind to the issues

Lack of courage

Women’s contributions written out of history Lack of regional opportunities Parenting Pressure on female leaders to represent their entire gender
Media Representation of women:

-Invisible

-Pressure to conform to beauty industry standards

-Sexualised

Lack of informal ministry training No gender awareness training for youth and children’s workers
Violence against women Lack of support with formal ministry training Parenting advice perpetuates gender stereotypes
Women have less decision making power Fear of inappropriate relationships Lack of discipleship
Women are poorer
Unhealthy expectations of:

Women without children

Single women

Men

Wives

Mothers

Women only invited to speak on “women’s issues”
Workplace not designed for women
No teaching on what a right use of power looks like
Gender exclusive language
Don’t know any female speakers
Negative attitudes towards feminism
Only using existing pool of speakers
Lack of intentionality in inviting women female speakers
Gatekeeping
Main leadership model is charismatic
Theology:

Modesty

Emphasis on “maleness” of God

Unity prioritised

Gender justice a “secondary issue”

Creation ordinance for gender

Only asking speaker’s wives
Non-ministry experience undervalued
Accusations of “feminisation”
Invisibility of women
Muthos

In response to some of the things Ian Paul and others have written about the issues of having children, I have a few things to say.

 

For the last few years, Mr GLW and I have run a consultancy together.  He manages the finances and I do mostly everything else.  This means he has been the primary carer of the children and the house for that time.  He is brilliant at it.  We clearly felt God’s call to live out our life and faith in this way, with both our skill sets contributing to us generally managing family, work and life quite well.  The main issue for us has not been some biological reality of my womb making me yearn for more time with my children, but rather the social judgments made (especially by Christians) about our roles.  On numerous occasions Mr GLW has been asked “So when are you getting a proper job?”  And people are incredulous that I can achieve so much while having a family.

 

I don’t think the way we work is right for everyone.  But suggesting women are biologically predetermined to be the primary carers of children and the home is reducing the opportunity for both women and men to live out God’s call and fully use their gifts.  So in finish I would say:

  1. Men’s contribution to childcare and the home is a deeply feminist issue.
  2. The Church should be encouraging all men to be more involved with their children and homes.  As a feminist and a christian I regularly object to the sort of hegemonic masculinity perpetuated by the majority of Christian men’s work in the UK.
  3. I am not interested in the statistics because I value the people speaking on platforms more highly than others.  I believe there is a need for us Christians collectively to stop waiting for the next big event to hear from God.  Jesus died and rose again so we no longer needed an earthly priest or mediator between us and the Creator of the universe and Christian events are often used by individuals as a replacement for spending time in reflection with God.  However, the statistics we can gain from events gives us a snapshot into Christian culture and the way certain types of power are allocated.  That snapshot is invaluable in motivating change, articulating the issues and beginning the conversations and actions required to change things.
  4. Nobody ALLOWS their wife or husband to be a GP, have a job or be a primary carer of children.  We support, encourage and enable our wife or husband to do such things

Tell Your Story (reshaping the conversation)

There have been various conversations and discussions taking place over the last week and a half since Project 3:28 released the statistics about women and men on the national Christian platform.  Although I wrote the report about the statistics I have been largely quiet within the conversations, mainly because my mum passed away a few days ago and so the emotional and practical challenges that has raised means I haven’t had the time or space to contribute much.

One of my observations from the sidelines of the dialogue is that there seems to be a lot of men commenting on the statistics.  Ian Paul has been very vocal and has quoted various men within the pieces he has written.  I am married to a man, have a son, a father and many male friends and family members, so be assured I see men’s views as both relevant and important.  Yet, it is interesting that women’s voices have been less prominent within the discussion.  Hannah Mudge and Vicky Walker have written excellent pieces.  Yet to a large degree it has been Ian Paul’s views and those he has chosen to feature within his blogs shaping the conversation about these issues.  Isn’t that a curious thing?  Men being the main shapers of a conversation on women’s lack of representation?

I want to write a piece giving my thoughts on the statistics as soon as I can, but for now, I invite women to begin shaping this conversation.  I briefly tweeted an experience I had in a job interview of being asked “How will you manage this role alongside having two young children?”  I know any men who were interviewed for the role would not have been asked such a question.  My tweet led to a few other women sharing their experiences of being asked about who was caring for their children or feeding their husbands while they were speaking at an event.

I’ll never forget an event I attended within the last couple of years where a well known Christian speaker, a man over 65, jokingly asked the (only) female event contributor (a woman in her late 20s) if he was a good kisser, to great laughter amongst the audience.

This got me thinking, the conversation needs to be shaped by women’s stories, not men’s theories.  It is our lived experience as women which evidences the need for change.

Do you have a story, conversation or experience that evidences the issues women face, either in leadership, on the platform, in church or in wider society?  I’m hoping to collate the stories and share them in a blog.  You can request for your story to be anonymous if you would prefer.  If you would be willing to share, please email me at befreeuk@gmail.com or tweet me (@God_loves_women) or leave your thoughts in the comments section below and I’ll put something together.

Single Sex Christian Events

The other week I was chatting with my wonderful friend Helen and her housemate.  Still pyjama-clad and vaguely sleepy, the conversation moved onto single-sex Christian events and not in a good way.  I felt it called for a bit of a Google of the names Christian women’s and men’s events are given.  Here is a brief overview:

Women’s events

Be
Activate your life
Love actually
Restore and reform
Women of faith: from survival to revival
Being a Christian woman
Pink Impact
True Woman
Love Life
Arise
God’s word our story
Desperate for Jesus
Colour
Lovely
All Things Are Possible
Cherish
God’s Leading Ladies
Gathering of Women Leaders
Flourish
Valued and Thriving

 
Men’s events

Resurrection
Fighting the good fight of faith
Xcel
Men’s Summit
A Call to Arms
Courageous
No Regrets
The Gathering
Iron sharpens iron
Fight
It seems, in general, fighting is for men and feeling is for  women.

 

I know those who run these events are passionate about what they do and that many people gets loads out of single-sex events, and not all of them are hideously bad, plus it would be unfair to invalidate whole events based on their name.  The question is, are these events solely using stereotypes to attract their audience, or are they perpetuating the very boxes which restrict women and men from becoming all God is calling them to be.  I’ve spoken to so many women and men who find the current single-sex conferences alienate them and leave them feeling either inadequate or under pressure to conform.

 

I’m not sure what the way forward is, but surely there’s got to be a better way than this…?

 

Guest Blog: Dr Kate Middleton on Gender

It seems at the moment that everywhere you look there are debates on the issue of gender boundaries categories for children’s toys – challenges of Lego’s recent addition of ‘girl’s’ Lego, comments on how some stores layout their merchandise or complaints from authors regarding how book covers try to suggest which gender of child ‘should’ read their books.

 

Quite rightly so, a lot of people would say. But why does it matter so much? Some people might think that ‘making a fuss’ over something like this is overkill, but the answer is it really does matter.

 

Now don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that we cannot admit men and women/girls and boys are different. As Jenny Baker says in her excellent book ‘Equals’:

 

“We’re clearly different in lots of ways. We have different body parts, grow hair in different places and the difference in our chromosomes is reproduced in every cell of our bodies. In almost all sports, whether it’s running, cycling , swimming or jumping, men are consistently faster than women: they jump higher, lift heavier weights, throw further and score more. That pattern of men and women achieving differently is repeated in lots of different spheres of life. How can we say that women and men are equal?”

 

There are clearly differences between men and women, particularly if you look at physical – that is ‘body’ factors. There have also been argued to be cognitive – that is brain – differences between males and females as well, although this remains a hotly controversial topic. But two vitally important facts need to be emphasised.

 

The first is that although there are some differences, there are a lot more ways in which we are NOT different. This is particularly true if you consider that differences claimed in scientific research look at averages – the statistical centre of natural variation along any given skill/measure. Taking that natural variation into account there is an awful lot of overlap – plenty of women who do not demonstrate the more classically ‘female’ trends; plenty of men who find that they identify with some ‘female’ stereotypes.

 

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the fact is that equality does not need to assume that there are no differences. Quoting Jenny Baker again, she says:

 

“Equality is the belief that all people have the same value, regardless of any other defining characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability and age… equality is about treating people fairly without prejudice or assumptions and it’s the essential foundation on which all fruitful relationships are built. Equality particularly when we’re talking about women and men, is about being free to choose the direction your life takes and having the encouragement and opportunities to enact that choice, rather than being constrained by stereotypes or cultural convention. It’s about everyone being able to flourish.”

 

So why do these gender stereotypes matter so much? Why not create brands and toys which are pink and feature more classically ‘female’ play types like cooking, fashion or looking after babies? Why not separate ‘boys’ from ‘girls’ toys in stores and supermarkets? Why not brand and design books according to which gender is more likely to want to buy them?

 

There are lots of answers to this, but one compelling one lies in the psychology of humans. One thing that cannot be denied about humans is how we prefer to simplify the world by making generalisations. One way we display this is in our tendency to form ‘groups’ in our minds for people. We tend to classify these groups fairly simply – as either ‘in-group’ (that is, of the same group as us) or ‘out-group’. You can see this in all kinds of things – social class stereotypes, our love of forming and supporting specific football teams, what newspaper we read – it happens all over our society.

 

A series of studies both historical and more recent demonstrate how easy it is to induce people to form these kinds of group identities. Perhaps the most famous, called the robbers cave experiment, took a bunch of 11 year old body on a summer camp in the USA. When these kids arrived, they were randomly allocated to one of two groups. At first on camp, simple steps were taken to enforce these group identifies. Each group didn’t know the other existed, but they ate together, took part in activities and chose group names and emblems. Its not that surprising that the kids really took on this group thing and started to share a real sense of group ‘togetherness’.

 

What’s interesting about this experiment is what happened next. When the camp organisers revealed the existence of the ‘other’ group, what developed was almost immediate hostility – mainly in the groups calling each other names. Once the groups then started to compete against each other this inter group rivalry got more significant. When one group eventually won the ‘camp cup’ this sense of superiority was marked and the hostility increased. It wasn’t long before the groups refused to even eat in the same room as each other.

 

This famous study then began to explore how best to break down this inter group hostility. But the reason I’m talking about it now is to look at what happens when we strengthen group identity and draw attention to or exaggerate perceived or real differences between two groups. Very quickly a sense of hierarchy develops, particularly if one group, for whatever reason, can be perceived as ‘weaker’. Once that sense of hierarchy is there, it grows. The outcome of this can be very powerful – more than once psychologists, researchers and even school teachers have attempted repeats on different scales of this kind of experiment, and had to interrupt their plans because the degree of hostility was alarming and unexpected.

 

There are differences between men and women. But the more we exaggerate these by slipping into stereotypical shorthand in order to simplify our world, the more we risk building an ‘in-group’ mentality that can foster and encourage feelings of hostility, negative behaviour and unhelpful beliefs about the ‘other’ group. The more we teach people – however implicitly – that boys are totally different from girls, the greater the chance then members of one group will start to foster and justify cynical or unpleasant beliefs and behaviours toward the other – and thanks to the historical discrimination against women it is usually this group that comes off the worst.

 

There’s plenty of evidence for this happening. Take some of the classically quoted stats about men and women – such as the claim that women use thousands more words per day than men as a fairly non-controversial example. I know I’ve heard this quoted so many times! And yet, as Deborah Cameron explains in her very interesting book ‘The Myth of Mars and Venus,’ this statistic has no empirical basis at all – in fact studies tend to find little or no difference in the average numbers of words used per day by men and women. So why is this so widely believed? Because those subtle, subliminal messages we see everyday teach us that men and women are much more different than they really are, making us much more likely to believe messages like this that then exaggerate a difference that was never really there in the first place.

 

Genesis 1:27 states clearly that men and women are made in the image of God. The Message puts it beautifully translating God’s command ‘make them reflecting our nature.’ We need to be really careful about how and when we subconsciously or deliberately separate two groups of people who were created, not identical, but equal. It is in the combination of men and women, in the God ordained harmony of both working together and in real equality that we see the entire reflection of the image of God, not in separating them.

 

It isn’t just gender stereotypes in kids merchandise that risks this. I’m urging caution on a whole realm of ‘for women’ or ‘for men’ stuff. Of course there’s no harm in us meeting sometimes as guys or women only – sure, we have stuff to talk about that the others may find a bit bewildering or irrelevant. But lets work together and not be defensive to good challenges where perhaps things need to change. Lets take appropriate caution that we are not slipping into lazy stereotypes that risk at best alienating those who do not conform or excluding some who would otherwise have benefited, and at worst building up group identities that may foster and encourage very negative attitudes. Lets celebrate our amazing, God reflecting, common humanity rather than separating what God made equal.

 

Dr Kate Middleton is a church leader & psychologist with a passion for applying psychology and faith to real life. Although working mainly in the UK, she is currently based in Paris and balances commuting back to the UK with building links there. Kate is one of the leaders of ‘Mind and soul‘ & regularly writes for their website. She also speaks across the UK on a variety of topics & has written several books. In the UK Kate works with the Hitchin Christian Centre where you can find articles, talks etc by her. On Twitter she is @communik8ion.