Last week was Smokin' Hot.
Since there has been so much wonderful back and forth and even a little bit of brouhaha about last Monday's piece, I figured I would follow up with a few clarifiers.
Fact is, the vast majority of responses have come in the form of an "amen" of one kind or another, and some of those have been heart-wrenching stories from women readers about the demeaning culture in some evangelical churches. There have also been a minority that have pushed back, some quite hard, on my suggestion that Christian men and especially pastors making public statements about their wives' hotness is not a good thing. "Lighten up bro!" has been the general tone of these responses, though one guy made a point to troll around the Internet calling me "douchy." Par for the course, I guess.
Before the clarifiers though, please know that I'm not backing down on the original post. Not one bit. In fact, it's more obvious to me than ever after hearing from readers that this problem of a demeaning culture in the church is real; and until we are honest about that, change will not happen. The powers that be are simply too insistent on keeping things the way they have been.
Further, this problem is, I'm convinced, the fruit of a root complementarian theology that is deserving of a nice sharp axe (look for that post shortly).
Now, the clarifiers:
1. The Non-Complementarian
I've received some kind, thoughtful responses from leaders who stand by their hot-wife talk on the grounds that they affirm women at all levels of ministry and a more equal marriage relationship than "conservative complementarians" do. This is an important nuance to add to the conversation, existing mostly in a more charismatic context. Could the public focus on wives' smoking hotness be offset somewhat by this charismatic egalitarian thrust? Perhaps somewhat. But I still think the public celebrating of wives' physical appearance/sexiness/body parts automatically lumps you in with the conservative complementarian smokin' hot crowd, if only by association. That may be an unjust association in some cases, but there is some sense to it. The watching world, and many women in the church, may still see and assume and experience a form of chauvinism/sexism. (Again, I truly appreciate the charity with which these leaders have approached me -- they are good people, and I have learned from them.)
2. The Overreaction
As mentioned, most of the pushback came in the form of, "Chill bro," with the basic belief that my post was just a giant hippy overreaction. Did I over-generalize and broad-stroke and fear-monger about the eeeeevils of sexy talk? Surely lots of pastors who may compliment their wives' good looks in public spaces are just in love with their wives and modeling a positive, healthy married relationship! Surely their congregations are benefiting from the lurrrrve! But here's the reality: objectification is often subtle, and it can be caught even if it's not explicitly taught. Allowing for a superficial culture in the church where women feel pressure to cater to "the male gaze," i.e., seeing their value mainly through men's pleasure at their physical appearance, makes them feel like less of a person. Men in power who publicly and persistently draw attention to their wives' physical appearance (even in seemingly lighthearted, innocent ways) send the message that this is the (primary) place of a woman's value. I've now heard from so many women that this is largely a negative when they observe it in their church culture -- the gender/power dynamic is incredibly strong.
3. The Rulebook
This clarification pertains to what I think is the biggest misunderstanding of my post that was recycled over and over last week. And that is the idea that my goal was just to get pastors/Christian men to not compliment their wives' physical appearance. Like, ever. And definitely not in front of people. In other words, I am just the compliment police, drafting a new legalistic rulebook for holy Christian talking and tweeting. That is not the case! First off, dudes, compliment your wives all you want, and do it however she (truly) likes to be complimented! Even the most super-duper-sexy compliments shared between you and your spouse are totally legit with Jesus. And smokin' hot-type talk may even have a place when you both are hanging with those nearest and dearest to you. What I am specifically challenging, though, is the marketing and PR-driven public heralding of your wife's hotness, as an outworking of your complimentarian bedrock theology and sex-obsessed sermonizing and writing. THIS creates an oppressive, objectifying culture in the church, and that kind of culture is becoming pervasive and normative among evangelicals. Even in the less "cool" churches, this kind of chauvinism is alive and well. AND IT HAS TO STOP.
Till next time.