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How the Church Treats Women & Sex

Original Publication Date
August 30, 2020
Updated
Jan 10, 2023 12:17 AM
Tags
Women
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This post was originally posted on my blog on August 30, 2020; it has been updated and edited for clarity.

Last week I did a "Would You Rather?" post contrasting Rahab and Mary, Mother of Jesus (Would You Rather?: Rahab vs. Mary). In that post, I mentioned that it was a loaded question, and I alluded to the fact that sexism plays a part in the both the question and the answer; however, I never delved into that subject. In Galatians 3:28, Paul reminds us that there is neither male nor female but we are all one in Christ. Unfortunately, sexism still persists in the church.

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Don't think that because I say "sexism" I mean a one-way mistreatment of women; sexism can effect both genders. This post, however, is just going to focus on the treatment of women when it comes to sex.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 KJV

Accountability

Let’s start with the difference in how we approach accountability.

I have a friend who used to be "the other woman"—let's call her Jane Doe. The guy she was seeing—let's call him John Doe, no relation 😂—was good friends with the guys in my friend circle. Basically, everyone except John’s actual girlfriend were in my friend circle. When the affair got out, the reaction among the women vs. the men was starkly different, even though we all were raised in Christian households, all professed to be Christian, and for the most part, all attended the same church.

When my female friends and I found out, we immediately went into accountability mode. We were saying things like "you can do better," "you wouldn't want someone doing that to you," and "this is not ok." We stopped inviting both of them to the same events at our apartment and made it clear—in a loving manner—we disapproved of their actions. We knew they may continue to see each other, but we refused to provide a catalyst or environment that promoted the affair.

My male friends knew long before we did, and they did not care. Their reactions were complete apathy. They would hang out with John and his girlfriend one night, then turn around and hang out with John and Jane the next night. None of them said anything to John about his behavior or suggested he was being unfair to both women. When we asked why they didn’t say anything, their response was “he’s a grown man.”

Now, there are a lot of issues we could talk about from this scenario, but the one I want to focus on is the difference in our reactions.

Slut Shaming

Have you ever heard a man called a home-wrecker, hoe, or slut? While I am prone to calling my male friends’ reckless behavior as hoe behavior to their face, I don't think this a general trend.

From high school all the way through college, in every scandal, only the girl was ridiculed. Of course, when I look back on those situations, it wasn't men ridiculing said girl; girls shame girls. Sure, when word gets around guys might not take the girl as seriously (we'll get to that in the next section), but the name calling, whispering, rumor spreading, and other ostracizing behavior usually came from the women. Meanwhile the guy in the scandal is either celebrated by their male peers or met with apathy, just as John was.

Why is it that women are more likely to have and express a negative opinion on such situations?

Standards and Values

We unconsciously (and consciously) set standards that dictate whether we see people as "good" or "bad." These standards are based off traits: kindness, honesty, reliability, loyalty, etc. Generally speaking, the traits valued in men are different than those valued in women. One of the traits placed at high value for women is purity. Whether we learned it from Disney, from church, or from slasher films where only the virgin survives, women pick up the idea that our value is tied to our purity. While I don't condone sleeping around or even premarital sex, you're not a less valuable human being if you've done these things. Yet, because this idea creeps into our minds subconsciously, women not only internalize this standard but project it upon our female peers. Men, on the other hand, use it as an excuse to not value women they see as promiscuous.

Since there is no value placed on men being pure, they do not internalize the idea that promiscuity devalues them. In fact, men are often praised for promiscuity. It is the guy who isn’t rushing in to sex and wants the experience to be with only one special person that gets ostracized by his male peers (maybe even some of his female peers).

The question is, where does this standard come from and why is it different across genders? If we are picking up this idea from society, why isn't the Church doing anything to counter it? If it’s being picked up from the Church, where are the Bible verses that say it’s ok for a man to sleep around but not ok for a woman? If a woman must be married to have sex, it follows that the man must marry the woman to have sex with her…

Modesty

The standard and values we set around purity most likely begins in our subconscious from the way the Church teaches modesty. The same way virginity is almost always discussed in the context of women, and “home-wrecker” is also only applied to women, modesty discussions always focus solely on women.

Another Double Standard

I remember running in to a professor and his wife outside of class one day. It was over 90 degrees outside and the sun was blazing. It makes perfect sense that the professor was in a short-sleeve t-shirt, cargo shorts, sneakers, and low-rise socks. His wife, however, had on a long sleeve shirt, long pants, loafers, long socks, and a hijab—ever bit of skin aside from her face and fingers was covered. This visual contrast may not exist in the Christian community, or isn’t as drastic when it does appear, but the mindset seems to be everywhere.

Before we continue the conversation, though, I want to clearly state that I'm not attacking the concept of covering yourself (or even wearing a hijab). I am attacking the double standard that says its perfectly ok for a man to wear shorts but not ok for a woman to.

Men will post shirtless pictures of themselves, but talk about a woman who posts a picture in a swimsuit. Men will wear tight pants but degrade women for doing the same. Men will wear muscle shirts, but a woman showing off her curves is "asking for it." We're put in a lose-lose situation where if we cover up too much, we're being oppressed or frumpy and if we don't cover up enough, we're loose. Women could spend hours debated what to wear to walk that fine line in the middle—of course then we’re self absorbed, empty headed, and take too long to get dressed—but men never have to worry about it.

Responsibility

Despite the Bible proclaiming men to be the leaders of the house, the responsibility of purity is placed on the woman's shoulders. Many churches teach that it is the woman's responsibility to keep the man from lusting and never tell the men that

  1. It is their responsibility to control their mind; and
  2. They are to treat a woman with respect no matter how she dresses; because
  3. They are supposed to be the leaders.

Meanwhile, women are taught to control our thoughts regardless of what men do.

The Visual Creatures Excuse

But "men are visual creatures."

I'm not sure why people don't think women are visual creatures. We struggle with lust, too, and I can tell you many times it has nothing to do with how a man dresses (though sometimes it does). If you pay attention on line you will find a large community of women talking about beards and gray sweatpants.

In the interest of proving a point, I'm going to be transparent. Ok, so there are things that make a person attractive, but then there are things that go beyond attraction: turn ons. For me, those things are athletic legs and voice (I'm not even going to say a deep voice, it's just a certain type of voice that hits you a certain type of way). So, there used to be a guy in my young adult group who had both great legs and a great voice. The first time this man volunteered to read Bible verses in Sabbath school, my mind forgot all about Sabbath, the Bible, and the lesson. After having conversations with others, I know that I was not the only one who experienced this.

Can you imagine if men were required to pitch up their voices so women weren't distracted? Or be fully clothed in the heat so we aren't distracted by calf-muscle flex or your biceps or your six-pack? This is unnecessary though, because from an early age, we're taught to suppress those thoughts. After the initial shock of hearing that guy read, we dug into our basket of Spiritual Fruit, pulled out self control, and focused on the lesson.

Instead of placing the responsibility of male thoughts on women, why don't we encourage men to tap into this miraculous power of being in control of their own thoughts?

The Prostitute and the Virgin

So that brings us back to the “Would You Rather?” I asked about Rahab and Mary. In it, we see total opposite ends of the spectrum: hyper-sexuality and hyper-purity. While I think there is room to discuss both, we rarely have conversations about the middle area. The church spends time praising virginity (but only for women) and time condemning promiscuity (also, only for women), but never stops to confirm that sex between a married couple is not only normal but good. This is the problem with sticking to a one-sided script; we lose the balance and then lose part of the message.

Suggested Reading

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PSALMS to God is a blog, podcast, and YouTube channel that discusses many topics and issues, always keeping YHWH as the anchor. Hosea 4:6 says “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”—here, the aim is to always ask questions and study to find the answers. You can keep up with new content by signing up for the weekly newsletter.

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