One of the great things about evolution is that it explains the baffling nuances of human sexual life without the need for any knots of metaphysical moral mongering. It’s that clarity you gain when you ask What Is rather than What Ought, and seek answers from the bottom up (so to speak) rather than the top down. But it doesn’t become apparent just how smooth evolutionary notions of sex are until one looks at something so magnificently divided against itself as the rising Sex The Godly Way movement.
I was recently put in the position of having to watch pastor Mark Gungor’s relationship workshop musings about how men and women relate to each other, and how sex ideally works.
Gungor is a gifted speaker, with a Cosby-esque delivery and a number of original and humorous observations about how we function on a day to day basis. Until he gets to talking about sex, his ideas are at least as good as those of any other stand-up comic, and his bit about the Nothing Box is a fun and spirited set piece that rings rather true.
Then comes The Sex, and everything falls apart in a mass of contradictions that he is thoroughly at a loss to reconcile, especially when he is at his most insistent that the Bible has already and simply figured all of this stuff out. In his newo-Victorian view, men’s interest in women is entirely sexual, all other considerations being secondary to that desire for sex, while for women sex is entirely secondary, with issues of the heart and spiritual intimacy taking first place. It’s a rather tired and familiar narrative, but where he takes it is novel in its travesty.
Because men are only interested in sex, it is up to the wife to surrender sex to the husband if she wants to have a deeper connection with him (“You’ve got to be smart about this, girls…”). It’s an emotional prostitution passed off as part of God’s perfect plan whereby each gender has to sacrifice in order to get what it wants. The women are to use sex to gain some slim shreds of emotional contact with their men, and the men are to… well, their sacrifice isn’t made overly clear except that they’re to “be nice to the girl.” Women, prostitute yourselves, men, try to be nice from time to time, and the marriage is assured! It’s God’s Immaculate System!
It’s a cynical view of how humans work that flows easily from the lips of somebody versed in Christian discourse. But that asymmetry of sacrifice isn’t the worst of it. The worst comes when talking about how women are to behave BEFORE they are married. “There was something that happened in female culture, I think it’s because of the Women’s Lib Thing, and they think, ‘Well we can go out now and be as sexual as men,’ but they are fighting against their own interest. There are millions of women in America today that are so frustrated that they can never get this [indicating a close relationship]. You know why? Because they’re dumb! I don’t mean to be mean, but they’re doing a dumb thing by coughing this [indicating sex] up to every guy that comes along.”
It’s an exquisite contradiction, and Gungor runs gleefully into its maw. It comes crashing down around 6:43 of the clip above: “What a lot of women fail to recognize is the key to this [a man’s heart] is this [indicating sex or the genitals] and if you touch that [again, sex or the genitals], he’ll give you the green light to touch this [his heart]. ‘I thought you said we weren’t supposed to do that!’ Outside of marriage… [correcting himself] INSIDE of marriage, you’ve got to work it this way, OUTSIDE you defeat yourself, but INSIDE you have to realize this is a very important deal.”
It’s a mess, and it comes about when you have a pre-scripted need to rage against pre-marital sex running full up against the packaging of women’s sexual subservience as a matter of empowering choice. Again, the men’s part in all of this is to Be Nice, and Say Nice Things, while women are expected to carry the weight of responsible decision making, chastity, and then a constant Machiavellian use of their body to cynically gain something resembling emotional support from husbands who will only offer it if it is recognized as an exchange for sexual pleasure. “If it weren’t for this [sex], we [men] probably wouldn’t deal with y’all [women]… you take that out, and I don’t think we’d go through the trouble, honestly,” Gungor offers as the concluding basic male perspective.
Every time you slip a metaphysical construct between two people, the result will be alienation, and nothing breeds cynicism and tactics-slathering like alienation. It’s good for churches – the more people are working a perceived angle against each other, the more religion can step in as a friendly mediator to the conflict it caused in the first place. But it’s thoroughly unnecessary, and we’ve learned enough about humans now to discard this dishonest arbiter of gendered religious speculation. We can face each other and trust ourselves to come to an understanding unclouded by spasmatic celibacy or miserable mind games.
Gungor’s is an old story, really, one that has been repeated and rehearsed a thousand times from the lips of mothers to daughters in an anguished rite of advice given in the face of a world power structure overwhelmingly against them. It’s an anachronism masquerading as firm and modern tactical advice from the heart of the Good Book. And it’s an example of why religious discourse, which once gave at least average counsel about shouldering through the great unknowns of existence, is quickly losing its grip on giving centered, sensible accounts of how its arcane ideas interface with the world. What Gungor shows us, on that small stage, is the first act in the long coming drama of religion Giving Up, a show that promises much groaning awkwardness to follow, and perhaps some honest interpersonal happiness at play’s end.