An article came out today in Relevant Magazine adapted from the book Talking Back to the Purity Culture by Rachel Joy Welcher. It mirrors a number of other articles I have read lately from therapists such as Andrew Bauman and Jay Stringer, who work extensively with men and sexual addiction. Their message is this: the current strategy of dealing with pornography addiction and sex addiction and lust is only making matters worse by turning women into dangerous objects of lust and seduction rather than creatures of value.
My husband will say that most men know that women are not the danger. Men are. And yet it is the women getting punished by this method of managing desire.
Last week a friend heard a sermon where the pastor acknowledged the huge problem of pornography addiction within the church and how incredibly destructive such addiction is to relationships and marriage. Good enough. And yet his advice to men was to "stay far away from the opposite sex."
That mode of managing desire may work for an alcoholic (just don't go where they are serving alcohol) or an ex-smoker (avoid people who are smoking) or a member of Gambler's Anonymous (stay the heck out of the casinos). But women aren't alcohol or cigarettes or one-armed bandits. We are people. Real, live breathing beings with minds and hearts and souls.
For the past 37 years of my life I have been in churches that hold to the view of male only leadership. This complementarian view says that, while men and women are created of equal value, they have different roles and, per certain passages of scripture, men are the leaders and the heads of churches and families. Some hold a "loose complementarian view" while others are much MUCH more hardcore. But every church I have been in has had only male pastors. Only male elders. Only male deacons. Any questioning of this becomes the "I didn't create this order. God did."
I am not a Bible scholar and certainly not versed in the hermeneutics of scripture. But I am a woman in this system and I will ask you this:
What do you think happens to women in the church when you combine
A.) a complementarian, male headship only ideology and
B.) "avoid members of the opposite sex"? You get
C.) Women lose. Women lose out on it all.
You cannot on the one hand set up all sorts of restrictions against interacting with women and then on the other insist that only men are allowed in leadership positions within the church without women really, really, really getting a raw deal in the process. The women get no real care and have no voice because the men in power have to keep their distance.
I have experienced this over and over and over again. Other women share the same story. And it is absolutely heartbreaking.
I know some men try to remedy this in different ways. I have had plenty of pastors who will meet with me (upon my request) but insist that my husband come along. Do you know what happens? He ends up talking with my husband and I am left out of the game. My voice is lost. My story goes unheard. My ideas count for nothing. I no longer matter.
My husband says by way of observation that it could be that men are just more comfortable talking with other men. If that is the case, then they either need to learn how to talk with women (practice is always good) or they need to have women in leadership positions who can talk to women. But you cannot hold to the ideals of male-only leadership and avoid the opposite sex without more than half the church suffering from neglect and, quite often abuse.
(Yes, abuse. I need to save this topic for another post because so many women, suffering abuse at the hands of their husbands are not listened to or believed by the leadership in their churches and are quite often excommunicated or disciplined for seeking to leave their abuser and is a tragedy that deserves to be addressed separately.)
What is so interesting is that Jesus was continually moving toward women. Not away from them. He approached the woman at the well and didn't end the interaction when she drew him water. He didn't send Mary back into the kitchen as she sat at his feet, in fact he said she chose the better way. When a prostitute washed his feet with her tears, he saw her heart and dealt with her so gently, while the leaders wanted to send her away.
It is passages like these that give me hope that I am something more than a collection of cooties or a walking death trap. That I am not invisible. Or dangerous.
So many women I know long for healthy, encouraging interactions with men. And men need healthy, encouraging interactions with women.
As Welcher says, "If women are to be viewed as whole person, the male gaze must be addressed holistically. The problem of male lust is not solved by looking away from women, but by looking at them correctly--as more than their physical bodies, the temptations they pose or the sexual satisfaction they provide. They must learn to see them as sisters, image bearers and coheirs of the kingdom of God."If women are to be viewed as whole persons, the male gaze must be addressed holistically. The problem of male lust is not solved by looking away from women, but by looking at them correctly—as more than their physical bodies, the temptations they pose or the sexual satisfaction they provide. They must learn to see them as sisters, image bearers and coheirs of the kingdom of God.