From now on, the mere mention the names Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Al Franken, Glen Thrush, and Charlie Rose will summon thoughts of seedy sexual misconduct. Not that we needed more evidence that human sexuality is broken in heart-wrenching ways, but the last few weeks have been eye-opening to say the least.
It feels like things have changed. We’re told that police brutality has always existed, it’s just now we’re able to see smart phone video proof. Seems like our broken sexuality has always existed, but now it’s being reported and believed so there are finally consequences. But women will no longer tolerate victim status. We need to acknowledge this as a good thing.
I am usually pretty critical of culture. Yet, as more and more women come forward exposing the deplorable, dehumanizing actions of powerful men, I find myself feeling grateful for their courage and their willingness to tell the truth. I say rip off the band-aid. Let all of the darkness come into the light.
Our current situation does shine a rather bright spotlight on how broken our sexuality is as a human race. This thing that is supposed to drive us toward one another for love and intimacy often does the opposite. I have a few thoughts that may be a little disorganized, but they are all connected through the ongoing exposure of men behaving badly, and women telling the truth about it. So I wanted to put them out there for my readers to chew on.
The liberal option often tries to convince everyone that men and women are basically the same, nearly interchangeable. But we’re not the same. Men and women are different, and I think we all know this at a basic human level.
The conservative option admits men and women are different, but navigates the differences through subservience. Historically this rewards men with too much power, and has subjugated women.
In a theological sense, we should be looking for a way in which the differences between men and women are celebrated and explored peacefully (with shalom). The scriptures teach us that this will require mutual submission. The governing theology for men and women starts and ends with this ethic: “Be subject to one another,” (Eph. 5:21). Peace cannot start with men lording power over women or vice versa.
Sexuality holds incredible power. The differences between men and women are important for our mutual care and flourishing. Differences should not be subverted, nor should they be exploited. By devaluing the feminine, giving women subservient roles, men have missed out on something essential about what it means to be created in the image of God that we can only learn from women.
This is where we must begin. The theological principle that governs male/female relationships, the only thing that can regulate the practices that carry the potential to “un-break” our broken sexuality, is mutual submission. Be subject to one another … that’s the central theological piece. Here are a few others.
Stewardship of Power:
The wise use of power always involves two movements. 1) You have to know when to pick it up. 2) You have to know when to lay it down. Most people approach power as a matter of leverage. How can I use power to control the outcomes? That’s actually not the Christian approach to power.
Christians are not supposed to try to control outcomes. Christians are supposed to do the faithful thing ALWAYS, and then trust God with outcomes. Pragmatism is a faith killer. (If you want to read a book about this, it’s called Shrink & I highly recommend it!).
The wise use of power is really a matter of stewardship. We have to know when to pick it up in service of God’s kingdom, and when to lay it down in service of God’s kingdom. Both movements are cruciform and both are necessary.
Our problem is that, historically, men hold too much the power over women. Even in terms of relationships men have held the power. Men did the asking when it came to dating and marriage. Women were (and are) too often objectified, commodified, and subjugated to men. In terms of power, men have done too much picking it up and not enough laying it down.
This led to rampant abuse of power. Now men are being forced to lay power down. It’s only right–you abuse your power and you should lose it. For those of us who have not abused women, we still need to be ready to lay power at the feet of capable women who are ready to lead. We should embrace them as co-equals in the world and celebrate their gifts.
Very closely related to the question of power is the question of coercion. The phrase “Do you wanna have sex with me” is completely different when comes from the boss, as opposed to an equal. The difference involves power and the ability to coerce.
Christians should eschew coercion. Coercion involves some sort of threat (even of hell) or force. Coercion is about using power to play God. Coercion kills freedom, which means it kills love. Those are things Christians are supposed to avoid.
I was recently asked about flirting. Is that coercion? I think flirting is different from coercion. Flirtation is about expressing an openness to pursue further relationship. Flirting does not have to be coercive because flirting doesn’t violate the other person’s freedom. They are free to not flirt back. They can say “no” and that’s the end. That’s how this is supposed to work.
Coercion comes into play when someone (usually the man) refuses to take no for an answer. In order to do that, they need power.
For men: Coercion needs to go away in terms of human sexuality and our relationships. Coercion is toxic to love, and therefore subversive to healthy sexual relationships. Any sex you get through coercion is illegitimate sex. Men need to teach the boys in their lives that it’s never okay to use violence, threat of punishment, retribution, firing, or any other form of coercion in service of our sexual appetites.
For women: Women are responsible for the wise use of their considerable sexual power. Sometimes female sexuality is used against men in coercive ways. I know this can be overstated, and can lean toward shaming women. So let’s not do that. However, we should recognize that female sexuality is a powerful thing and must be stewarded in non-coercive ways as well.
Discipline v. Dissipation
Take food as an example: If you do not discipline your appetite for food, then food will damage your body. The human body is powerful and can do incredible things. But the misuse of food can dissipate all all the gifts that come with having a human body. The undisciplined pursuit of food can become inhuman, inhumane, and dehumanizing–making a person less than they were meant to be.
Sex–like eating, hygiene, hard work, exercise, and almost everything good–lives on a continuum between discipline and dissipation. If it is not disciplined, sexuality will lead to dissipation, and to the disintegration of human relationships. Sexuality that is undisciplined quickly becomes inhuman, inhumane, and dehumanizing.
Sex and Fidelity
Sex only works in an environment of fidelity (most good things only work in an environment of fidelity). All women are not evil temptresses. All men are not lecherous sex-freaks who attack women. When sex is healthy it’s covered in fidelity. When sex is unhealthy it nearly always suffers from the pain of infidelity in some fashion. Women and men can enjoy healthy platonic friendships, but to do so requires fidelity–keeping faith with one another and the healthy bounds of relationship.
There’s more we could say, for sure, but these are just a few of my thoughts today.