All summer long, I’ll be running a series of guest posts here on the blog called “Smokin’ Hot Conversations.” These will be posts about gender, relationships, power, and the church, meant to move us to deeper reflection and conversation about the often distracting or harmful messages in Christian culture. Unfortunately, this isn’t a guest post – because I wrote it! Sorry ’bout that. (But trust me, it’s an awesome post.)
And if you’d like to contribute to this series, drop me a line.
I have something I need to tell you. I’m attracted to you.
You might have noticed that this Smokin’ Hot Conversations series has, up to this point, featured only women contributors.
And that’s awesome.
Because if any message could possibly get through to you via this illustrious blog series, it ought to be the message that men have dominated the conversation about sexuality and gender in the church, which has perpetuated all kinds of horrible power dynamics, AND THIS HAS TO STOP. I am in awe of the women whose voices are currently changing this reality in the church and contributing to a more just and equal future. Truly, if the church is going to flourish in the next few hundred years, it will be because it finally welcomes the voices it once marginalized.
But I’ll add my voice today because, honestly, I have something to say from a dude’s perspective to other dudes in this conversation. And, it’s a response to some things I’ve been hearing these last few months from guys who are, by their own claims, feminists. It has to do with the topic of attraction.
Namely, it’s clear that we dudes need to stop equating and conflating physical attraction with the sin that the church commonly calls lust. These are not the same. Amy Martin eloquently proved this in an earlier smokin’ hot post:
The marriage of attraction and lust, controlled by shame and mixed with entrenched gender expectations, causes a perpetuation of heartbreak, misunderstanding, and less-than-ideal gender relations… [S]hame doesn’t allow us to see that the root of attraction isn’t lust. In a sex-hyped culture, we’ve narrowed attraction down to simplistic terms, but the truth is we wouldn’t reach out to anyone, friend, lover or otherwise, if we weren’t ‘attracted’ to them in some way. Physically, emotionally, and more, attraction is simply a fundamental part of the human need to see and be seen. To connect. If humans are wired to do anything, it’s to recognize beauty and connect with other humans.
From a straight man’s perspective, attraction is, firstly, a simple biological/psychological response to a woman’s physical appearance. Moreover, attraction may involve a higher aesthetic and emotional function – a celebration of beauty or a magnetic draw to personality. Much digital ink has been spilled on this, so I won’t belabor it, but when Jesus talked about committing adultery in your heart when you lust after another woman (probably in his context, another man’s wife), he was referring to an act of the will to desire possession and ownership of something that God has not granted (which is what lust is). He was not describing the simple experience of attraction.
Recently I tweeted, “2013: The Year of the Romper.” I did so because I was sitting in Starbucks working and pretty much every woman between the ages of 18 and 25 seemed to be wearing a one-piece shorts n’ top getup (typically with a micro floral print or something like that). Simultaneously, I realized how much I dislike this fashion trend (because toddler clothes) and how I was physically attracted to a couple of the women wearing them (because sheerness and shortness and yeah). This realization didn’t take any time whatsoever, and a glance was enough for the attraction part of the response to take place. It’s biology, stupid.
However, the tendency I am noticing in the dude discourse on this topic is that something more than what I’ve described is perfectly fine and natural – or at least unavoidable – in situations like this. Namely, a hairpin left turn into detailed, explicit, erotic thought, which then leads to detailed, explicit, erotic writing and blogging on the experience. All under the banner of attraction. Which then just makes attraction feel downright icky. Again.
And it feels icky because it begins to justify, if not what Christians call lust, at least what feminists call the male gaze. A moral male human being in a patriarchal culture, if not an outright rape culture, has a clear decision to make. Will he override the turn towards diving into the explicit and the erotic by holding to a standard of respect for women as equal human beings and not objects? Will he manage his gaze and find a way to channel his thoughts and actions toward respecting the other instead of demeaning the other?
In short, will he love his neighbor, the lady in the romper at Starbucks?
We all make mistakes, and I’m not trying to shame anyone here. But to suggest that this is impossible is, I think, a destructive dudebro farce. Even in a “sexualized culture” it is possible to retrain and override, to keep thoughts and actions moving in the right direction. It takes decision and discipline and patience, but it’s possible. Even moreso if we are yielding to the work of the Spirit as followers of Jesus. And again, God is patient with us when we screw up.
I love how Amy ends her piece:
But attraction doesn’t have to lead to an uncontrollable vortex of possession/lust in mind or reality, and that’s why this whole mess is maddening to me. By binding two fundamentally different experiences together and controlling them with shame, we risk teaching people to disengage from the experience of beauty altogether.
I wonder what would happen if we truly latched on to a higher appreciation for beauty in all of life. I wonder how cultivating that might even sanctify our feelings of attraction. I wonder how it might expand attraction to that place of human connection that Amy wrote about, so that, really, we would be attracted to all of the human beings in our life, whether we felt a kneejerk physical response or not.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that vortex, that hairpin left turn into lust, sucks.
But I’m still attracted to you.
All of you.