Sex, Bondage and Domination

Accusations of Endorsing Sexual Aggression

I had recently arrived for a trimester at Oxford when I took a stroll down High Street and stopped in a little square beneath Carfax Tower.  Two straw-haired street urchins were there, apparently all alone, dirty and unkempt.  One of them came to me and asked if I had any money to spare, and, being an idealistic college student, I gave her some change I had in my pocket and felt rather good about myself.

It was not long before the second girl came over and asked for money as well.  Suspecting something was amiss, I declined as politely as I could.  “Why’d you give her money, then?” she asked loudly, with a thick cockney accent.  “Are you paying her to do something sick for you?”

Mortified that I had just been accused of paying a child for sexual favors, and afraid by how loudly she had made her accusation, I gave her a coin just so she would leave me alone (which of course had been their plan from the beginning) and walked away as quickly as I could.  I was disturbed to my core, and remained so for days, not because my intentions had been anything less than honorable but because I had been accused of something I find so deeply hateful and repulsive.

Caution: sex discussion ahead

I imagine that’s a bit what Jared C. Wilson feels like right now: shocked and mortified at what he’s been accused of, largely because the crime of which he has been accused of encouraging so deeply disturbs him.  He wrote a blog post intending to cast some light on the sinfulness of rape and the kind of rape-fantasies that are lived out in BDSM scenarios, and ended up receiving a torrent of outrage and accusations that he was somehow encouraging husbands to rape their wives.  He should take responsibility for poorly communicating his point (his attempt to clarify has not much helped), but I understand the intense desire to insist that he has done nothing to condone something he so deeply hates.

I’m not interested in adding to the outrage factory.  Nuance, balance and charity are so desperately needed here and yet so sorely lacking.  It’s unfortunate that the Christian blogosphere is growing so warlike, so…well, so much like the political blogosphere.  There are here the same kinds of political undercurrents and tribal resentments that present a clear and present danger to the unity of the church.

Are Rape Fantasies a Perversion of Male Authority?

Which is not to say we cannot criticize.  Indeed, I am critical of Wilson’s view.  Wilson was trying to suggest that rape fantasies — like many sins — are perversions of a God-given order.  God created males, Wilson believes, to exercise authority within the household — but a benevolent, loving and deeply (cruciform) self-sacrificial authority.  God also creates males to be aggressors in the world, to be conquerors and planters.  In rape fantasies, and certainly in rape itself, that God-given authority and aggression are unmoored from their anchor in love for the other and become horrific and extreme and violent.  So he quoted Doug Wilson’s book, Fidelity:

When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.

So, Jared Wilson was drawing on Doug Wilson to make the point: “this sort of sexual pathology is a perverted version of good, God-honoring, and body-protecting authority and submission between husbands and wives.”  Here are my thoughts:

  1. Words matter.  Images matter.  Doug Wilson is referring to the anatomy and physicality of the act: the male penetrates the female (active), the female is penetrated (passive).  The male is more often the pursuer, and the female surrenders to his pursuit.  Yet I fear that the Wilsons have spent too much time in their own thought-world to know how this sounds outside of it.  The contrast Doug Wilson draws depends on a certain metaphor — a metaphor that is not a simple physical fact like gravity.  We could speak less of “colonization” and more of communion.  We could speak of sex less as “penetration” and more as the female “enveloping” the male, or as the male and female fitting together like pieces of a puzzle.  In other words, there’s nothing in the act itself that demands the metaphor of penetration or conquering.  It could be understood in more mutual, less violent and exploitative terms and images.
  2. As Rachel Held Evans made clear, part of what she finds so upsetting about this post is that it suggests the egalitarian ordering of things — departing, as the Wilsons see it, from the order God ordained — has something to do with encouraging the perversions of sexual desire in rape and rape fantasy.  The Wilsons are clearly not encouraging violence against women.  But this kind of language, these kinds of metaphors, this whole way of thinking about male authority over women in sex — the contention from the more reasonable egalitarian critics is that all of this cultivates a mindset more inclined toward sexual aggression against women.  It’s not an unreasonable charge.  The contention from the complementarians — or at least these ones — is that God created male and female as equally valuable, equally precious, but intended for different roles in the household.  Men, no longer accorded their proper role as head of the family, belittled and emasculated and condemned to live lives of quiet desperation in the cubicle forest, reassert their “authority” in a perverted, exaggerated, violent form in rape or rape fantasies.  Given a different set of presuppositions, I don’t find that to be an unreasonable charge either.
  3. As others have noted, the paragraph from Wilson seems to stand in contrast to 1 Corinthians 7, where the picture of submission in bed is far more mutual.  Paul speaks not of “conquering” or “colonization” but of bodies that each belong to the other, bodies that are offered in mutual submission.  According to my observations, women actually tend to have more power in the bedroom.  While each partner in a marriage should take seriously his and her responsibility to be a satisfying sexual partner, I don’t think the marital bed is a place for a husband to exercise “authority” unless it is the “authority” of being first-in-submission.
  4. I do not agree with those who have called for this post or for the offending paragraph to be taken down.  That’s just not how the internet works.  The paragraph has already been copied into scores of other posts.  I believe in editing out obscenities, but I don’t believe in editing out ideas.  Properly understood, this is not a morally horrific post.  It reflects a position that should be represented and addressed in the marketplace of ideas.

There’s one more thought I want to share on this — and it has more to do with something Rachel Held Evans wrote in her response, something that I find terrifically wrong.  Tune back in an hour and I’ll have it ready.

About Timothy Dalrymple

Timothy Dalrymple was raised in non-denominational evangelical congregations in California. The son and grandson of ministers, as a young boy he spent far too many hours each night staring at the ceiling and pondering the afterlife.
 
In all his work he seeks a better understanding of why people do, and do not, come to faith, and researches and teaches in religion and science, faith and reason, theology and philosophy, the origins of atheism, Christology, and the religious transformations of suffering

  • Brantley Gasaway

    You wrote: “Yet I fear that the Wilsons have spent too much time in their own thought-world to know how this sounds outside of it. ” Bingo! One of the greatest blessings–and greatest curses–of blogs is that they reach far beyond an assumed audience and will likely include those who will interpret things much differently than authors intended. I’ve seen it happen to you, Tim, and the recent posts by Nancy French on her blog regarding Lady Gaga and Office Depot have certainly illustrated this as well.

    But what I found most disappointing about how both Wilsons handled the situation is that they largely accused those who were offended of a lack of reading comprehension, rather than recognizing how hurtful it may sound to others. One need not retract the ideas, as you say, but one should be willing to frame them in language that is less offensive.

    • David French

      Brantley, I agree that some of us spend too much time in our own thought-world, but Nancy’s posts on Lady Gaga hit their intended audience and had the predicted effect. We both find it quite illuminating and helpful to show the dark side of modern “tolerance.”

      • Brantley Gasaway

        Thanks, David. I didn’t mean that as a criticism. Forgive me if this seems a hijack this thread, but I think this is relevant. (I tried to raise this issue in the comments on Nancy’s post related to the refusal of a Harvard administrator to identify with a gendered pronoun).

        My point then, and my continued concern now, is that many blogs–not all, I concede, and not usually yours–seem to be more concerned with preaching to the choir (or, as I phrased it at your blog, rallying the troops) rather than encouraging open, civil discussions with those who may differ. But my temperament and vocation (Christian professor at a secular university) make me want something different–and I think our society suffers for a lack of such places to discuss differences respectfully.

        Alas, perhaps that is the destiny of the most blogs–for perhaps most have no intention of creating such dialogue but would rather become a place where people who feel marginalized elsewhere can be encouraged (or, more cynically, have their biases reconfirmed). This is relative to the present issue, I think, because Wilson felt justified in using language and imagery that only those who hold a strong patriarchal view could relate to–and then he showed little patience for those who objected.

        I would ask you, though, concerning Nancy’s repeated posts on Lady Gaga: what was the point? How were they “illuminating and helpful”? Did you–or your readers–really need more evidence of the irony of modern “tolerance”? Or did you hope that you might persuade those unaware of such phenomena? Thanks for the engagement.

  • Dan

    You have some good observations here. Having read the original posts and most of the comments on relevant sites I am really saddened by the lack of dialogue. Attempts to clarify were responded to with protests that, in essence, said Wilson was lying. It seems that much of the outrage is against the Complementarian position in particular. Some comments go so far as to say that this post typifies what is wrong with the so-called Neo-Reformed at the Gospel Coalition.

    Unfortunately, in situations like this the conversation grinds to a halt. Hopefully the fury will subside and an actual exchange of ideas in Christian charity will be able to begin.

  • http://rachelheldevans.com Rachel H. Evans

    Good post. If, in the next one, you plan to comment on my note that “some may prefer a degree of conquering…” please see the original post for a clarification on that. I think some people thought I was endorsing BDSM! Note the case: http://rachelheldevans.com/gospel-coalition-douglas-wilson-sex

    …And I take full responsibility for that miscommunication. :-)

    • http://timothy.green.name Timothy (TRiG)

      What on earth is wrong with BDSM?

      TRiG.

  • Scot McKnight

    Tim, my call to pull the post down was not about censorship but about TGC not endorsing those set of images as the way to see the relation of a husband and a wife. So, for me, this was about the theological integrity and influence of TGC.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I understand, but (1) publishing something is not the same as endorsing it and (2) I’d rather see them have a thoughtful conversation around the issue. Should there be a repudiation? Perhaps, but they need to take their time and think it through, and not do it just because there’s a clamor for it. And even if there’s a repudiation, I wouldn’t take it down.

  • Tanya

    My problem is, “the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party” — uh, why not? Mr. Wilson writes as if that would be a bad thing. HUH?

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Without taking a position on the substance of the matter: I think his point is that you might *try* to turn sex into an egalitarian pleasuring party, but there are certain innate facts of who we are and how we are made that will inevitably lead back toward a more complementarian, conqueror/conquered experience.

    • cowalker

      The main thing I think we’ve learned from the original web post is what is going through Jared Wilson’s and Doug Wilson’s minds as they have perfectly consensual and probably mutually satisfying sexual intercourse with their wives. In their heads the men are “conquering” and “colonizing.” Sure, fine, whatever. We have no need to know that. Most people sense that is better not to share what is going on in their heads during sex. Jared Wilson and Doug Wilson have learned this the hard way.

  • http://danieldarling.com Daniel Darling

    Tim,
    I agree with you completely on this issue. My contention all along has been this: we are quick to so carefully exegete and dissect the words of our ideological opponents for examples of something terrible that we can then peddle into outrage and discredit their ideas. I felt Rachel did this. In doing so, she ignores her own often overheated and sloppy accusations against those with whom she disagrees, words that could easily be turned into their own examples of outrageousness and provoke the kind of campaign she is now endorsing against TGC. I’ve read response posts to this by some of RHE’s ideological friends that contained outright slander and the idea that TGC endorses rape, etc. I don’t see RHE disavowing those or ordering those to be pulled down.

    Sadly we’ve adopted the ungodly rhetorical weapons of partisan politics.

  • SB

    What no one has mentioned, so far as I can tell:

    CS Lewis, “Equality,” in Present Concerns (Walter Hooper, ed., 1986):

    Men have so horribly abused their power over women in the past that to wives, of all people, equality is in danger of appearing as an ideal. But Mrs. Naomi Mitchison has laid her finger on the real point. Have as much equality as you please — the more the better — in our marriage laws; but at some level consent to inequality, nay, delight in inequality, is an erotic necessity. . . . This is the tragi-comedy of the modern woman; taught by Freud to consider the act of love the most important thing in life, and then inhibited by feminism from that internal surrender which alone can make it a complete emotional success. Merely for the sake of her own erotic pleasure, to go no further, some degree of obedience and humility seems to be (normally) necessary on the woman’s part.

  • Piper Green

    I am very disillusioned by this whole discussion. I understand the Church needs to be open to discussing issues that have long been avoided ,for far too long, leaving believers feeling isolated and alone. I welcome an opened forum to discuss these issues. The original issue of Fifty Shades of Grey, being inappropriate for Christian women to read, is a valid issue and has been lost in the bickering. I have not read the book, or either of the Wilson’s books, I have only seen excerpts in the discussions, but FSOG seems harmful. I am not impressed with the Wilson’s books either. However, I am disturbed far more by the tone of the discourse. I have not seen one truly healthy discussion concerning sex. I have seen name calling, accusations (some which are so wrong, they should be ashamed), and as Daniel Darling so poignantly stated, “we’ve adopted the ungodly rhetorical weapons of partisan politics.”

    I have been a Christian for over twenty years and am strong in the Lord, but if new or young believers came across this and other discussions, if I were one of them, I would be turned off immediately to the Church. I have not seen love displayed, I have not seen Christ imitated. I have seen nothing that would edify the Church, or equip her to help those who have suffered from rape or sexual abuse. I am saddened by the whole discussion because none of it has been helpful to the hurting. What could have been a helpful, healthy, forum for this issue of sex to believers who have no where else to turn for help but the Church, has turned to an ugly mud-slinging argument, This discussion has fallen short of what the world needs to see from the Church.
    For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. Romans 8:19

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Well, I hope my post didn’t add to the disillusionment! But I’m guessing you’re agreeing with my point (which Dan Darling echoed) regarding the outrage factory and the tribal animosities playing out here. It’s ugly.


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