Browsing Tag

purity culture

Feminism

Purity Culture Itself is the Problem

I got back from my short jaunt to  seminary this weekend, and I have my first massive paper of seminary due tomorrow, so that’s been what’s keeping me occupied. I did take Redeeming Love with me and was able to read a little of it, but I was somewhat preoccupied with an article I was writing for Rewire, which went up today!

It’s titled “How We Teaching Purity Culture isn’t the Problem: Purity Culture Itself is the Problem,” and I’m pretty excited about it. As always, if you think this is valuable reading, please share it generously with your social media circles.

This weekend is my big Halloween bash, so after that life should settle back down to something resembling more routine and I hope to return to at least a weekly blogging schedule. For now, enjoy my post over at Rewire and you can always find me on Twitter and Facebook ranting about things.

Photo by Noee
Theology

book review: “Good Christian Sex” by Bromleigh McCleneghan

I’ve been doing this blogging thing for about three and a half years now, so I was a little surprised by how pleased I was when Harper asked if they could send me a copy of Good Christian Sex: Why Chastity Isn’t the Only Option–And Other Things the Bible Says about Sex by Bromleigh McCleneghan. Somehow, that signaled to me that I’d “made it” as a blogger, even though I’m still (quite happily) pretty small-time. Anyway, here’s my honest review in exchange for a free copy of the book.

***

When I first crack open the spine of a book like Good Christian Sex, the first place I turn to is the bibliography. When I got this book about a month ago I glanced over the materials she referenced, and at first was a little wary. There were a lot of pop culture references, a blog post I’ve occasionally been frustrated with, a smattering of male theologians, and a feminist author who makes a case for abstinence that I thoroughly disagree with. Looking over the table of contents made me feel a touch cautious, as well: there’s a chapter on vulnerability and another on fidelity, two concepts I’ve seen go completely sideways in Christian-oriented books.

So I was hesitant as I started reading, but quickly felt my ambivalence evaporate. Basically, if you like the things I’ve written about and spoken about regarding sex, you’re probably going to love Good Christian Sex. I heartily– and almost unreservedly– give my endorsement, which I think has happened basically never.

Broadly, what I love about it the most is its basic assumption and over-arching structure, which are a wonderful harmony of form and function. I’ve argued here, many times, that all our daily choices will inevitably be the outworking of our theology. What we believe about God and their Nature will affect our choices. If you think they’re a malevolent bully with a long list of Thou Shalt Nots, your faith and life will be fear-driven and all that entails. If, like me and Bromleigh, you believe that God is Love … well, you’re going to have an incredibly different outlook.

I love that she fully embraces this outworking. It’s clear that she’s asked the question How does “God is Love” affect our view of sexual ethics? and this book is the result. Every chapter has this motion– from the general to the particular, from the theological principle to the application. I love writing that has clear organization and flow, and Good Christian Sex didn’t disappoint.

***

Each chapter deals with its own particular topic, but they build on each other– not something that always happens in these shorter non-fiction works. What I appreciated the most was that she doesn’t flinch away from the challenges any more typical evangelical question would make when encountering her title.

I don’t want to spoil it too much, but she addresses the assumptions of the Augustinian-Platonic view of the Flesh and Spirit, and why that dualistic treatment is problematic. I appreciated that she discussed pleasure holistically before talking about pleasure in any sexual context. For many Christians, pleasure in and of itself is suspect, and she deals with that fundamental idea before moving on to desire– another thing that Christians have a long history of demonizing.

Her third chapter lays out a holistic relational and sexual ethic (one that includes LGBTQ people!), and she even managed to include some ideas that pleasantly surprised and challenged me, which I didn’t expect. I’m going to gush a little, but this chapter is basically my “Consent is Not Enough” post more fully fleshed out and in someone else’s words. I also think anyone struggling with the nonsense in I Kissed Dating Goodbye should pay special attention to her chapters on vulnerability and “A Theology of Exes,” which is an excellent argument against purity culture’s particular fears and insecurities.

The chapter on fidelity that I was fearing might sour me on the book shockingly didn’t. For my friends and readers who are poly– there’s room in there for you, and it helped me to frame some of the reservations and questions I’ve been having in a new light. I think that chapter might be, by itself, why I’m so excited about this book. It’s a layperson-accessible, non-scholarly book, and I learned something. That hasn’t happened in … a while.

***

I’m very hopeful for Good Christian Sex‘s future. It’s already going on to my list of “books to recommend to questioning people,” and I think I’ll be buying a few copies just to have on hand in case I can convince someone to read it. I think this book could be a good way to start a conversation with someone, because it so thoroughly answers the base questions that an abstinence and purity-oriented person would have. It acknowledges all the different assumptions we might have, and oh-so-gently and graciously offers a completely different way of seeing relationships and sex, built on a different model they may not be used to. I’d already made the leap to structuring my relationships — sexual and otherwise– on a foundation of respect and consent, but this book can take someone by the hand and lightly guide them to new way of outworking their faith.

Feminism

Life After “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”

Back when I was gearing up to do my review series on I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I reached out to Joshua Harris to see if he’d be interested in contributing anything. He refused, although cordially, and I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. He was so incredibly young when he wrote it, had spent several years in a toxic church… and after all, he’s attending seminary now, so maybe he’s just too busy.

Turns out I was a little wrong.

There’s been a bit of a storm in a teacup about the interview he gave with NPR, but Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism wrote out my reaction almost word-for-word:

Oh my god, really? I mean, “the consequences of the way people applied the book,” is Harris freaking serious with this? That is not what taking responsibility looks like. The problem was not that his book was misunderstood. The problem was what he said in his book.

You should read the rest of her response, as she does an excellent job pointing out all the different ways Joshua avoided actually taking responsibility for the harm I Kissed Dating Goodbye has caused.

Shortly after he gave that interview, a few anti-purity-culture writers and activists noticed that he’d launched something new on his webpage: a call for stories. It’s been edited a few times since it went live, and initially he was asking for permission to use our stories online or in print, signaling to anyone who’s been on this particular carousel before that he was going to “revisit” I Kissed Dating Goodbye in some way, probably another book or speaking tour or some such– but most importantly in a way that we wouldn’t have control over.

So, some of us decided to launch our own, separate platform:

While we think that actually taking the time to listen is a good start for Harris, many of us are deeply uncomfortable with his chosen format. By giving Harris permission to share these stories, they are being licensed to him for use in whatever way he sees fit—in whole in or in part, censored or uncensored, in service of whatever conclusions he comes to about the impact of his work.

But the reality is that the impact of his work is not his to decide.

This week, we’re inviting you to share your stories—uncut and uncensored. We want to curate these stories in the hopes of preventing more damage from being done and to provide an alternative narrative to the rigid and narrow thinking that IKDG and Harris’ other work espouses.

Today is the beginning of our synchroblog/link-up. At lifeafterIKDG.com, there’s a way for you to submit your own blog post, podcast, or video that will be automatically posted to the main landing page. If you don’t have your own blog/channel, or if you would like to submit your story anonymously, we’re also taking submissions through IKDGstories.tumblr.com. If writing out a whole post or doing a whole video isn’t your style, we’re also using the hashtag #IKDGstories on twitter, and will be hosting a twitter chat Wednesday evening.

Each of us– Jim Kast-Keat, Emily Maynard, Elizabeth Esther, Emily Joy, and Hannah Paasch— are contributing posts for the site, and mine went up today.

Feminism

I Kissed Dating Goodbye review: 187-208

We made it all the way through to the end of I Kissed Dating Goodbye. He ends it better than some of the other books I’ve reviewed– there’s an actual summation and conclusion at the end of it, and he wraps it up in a way that makes it feel finished. Considering the number of non-fiction books I’ve read that just sort of meander their way to an ending before finally sputtering out, this is actually an accomplishment.

One of the interesting things that jumped out to me is that he finishes it like he opens it: with the assertion that he’s not really trying to tell us exactly how to “date” or “court” … but then he says that his way actually is God’s way. See here:

I hope to give a broad outline of how a God-honoring relationship can unfold … just as a one-of-a-kind snowflake can only form at a specific temperature and precipitation, a God-honoring romance can only form when we follow godly patterns and principles. (187)

We need new attitudes– values that are shaped by Scripture and a radically God-centered view of romance. (188)

I think these seasons can help us develop godly romantic relationships. (189)

The new pattern we’ve discussed is only an outline. As with anything, a couple can manipulate it to fulfill on the minimum requirements. (202)

All of these statements come with some sort of caveat in the surrounding text, like “every relationship is different, blah blah blah,” but an important thing to note is that when a fundamentalist says that, and then follows it up with “but my way is God-honoring and godly,” (like Joshua does a half dozen times), they don’t really mean it. It makes them sound like they’re reasonable and accommodating, but they’re not. His way honors God, and your way doesn’t. There’s not a lot of room for argument against that in fundamentalist culture.

Another pattern of this last section is the way he’s forcing everything to fit under a complementarian view of the world. He likes the term courtship instead of dating not because he finds an antiquated approach to the “marriage market” more biblical, but because it invokes a sense of chivalry (188). Chivalry, like I make clear at the link, is benevolent sexism that relies on sexist perceptions of women as being “weak” and needing “protection.” It should surprise no one that Joshua holds to this attitude, but it comes out in some interesting ways:

[Clearly defining the purposes of the relationship] specifically applies to the guys, who I believe should be the ones to “make the first move.” Please don’t misunderstand this as a chauvinistic attitude … the Bible clearly defines the importance of a man’s spiritual leadership in marriage, and I believe part of that leadership should begin in this season of the relationship. (196)

Oh, I’m not misunderstanding anything. Chauvinism is the belief that men are superior to women, and by saying that men are the ones who are the ones who lead, the ones who are obeyed, the ones who are submitted to for no other reason besides their gender, you are asserting that men are superior to women. I’m sick of complementarians refusing to own this. They know it’s bad, they know that it’s wrong, but they want to get all the benefits of patriarchy without copping to it.

There’s also this:

A young man out to show respect for the person responsible for the girl. If that means approaching her pastor or grandfather, do it. (197)

This is supposedly to take place once the people involved are at a life stage where considering marriage and setting up their own independent household is a mature decision, but Joshua just assumes that there will be a man in the young woman’s life who is “responsible” for her, as in she cannot make decisions on her own or take care of herself independently. In fact, in the last chapter, Joshua criticizes his mother for being too “head-strong” and “independent” at the time she met his father (205). Also notice the “man/girl” language that he’s using again. This is a small, linguistic illustration of Joshua’s belief that men are superior. Men are automatically more mature and capable than “girls.”

Also, when Handsome and I were dating, one of the things we settled on in the early days was that we weren’t going to consider anything “serious” until we’d been together for a year. That didn’t last, and it didn’t last because I was the one who said, after six months, that I wanted to become more committed. I brought it up to talk about it first– and after we talked about it together, we agreed. He proposed two months later, and we got married after dating for eleven months (I don’t recommend this for everyone, but it worked for us).

I can’t even imagine a scenario where two people are ready to consider marriage where the woman isn’t even responsible for herself and is dependent on the men in her life to tell her where to go and what to do and who to date and when to get married. It’s ridiculous.

The last section is dedicated to laying out what Joshua calls “the seasons of the relationship”:

  1. Casual friendship
  2. Deeper friendship
  3. Courtship
  4. Engagement

He obviously thinks this approach is a healthy, appropriate, and mature, and I disagree because his approach has the couple moving “beyond” or “past” friendship once they reach stage three. To him, once “romance” has entered the picture, something fundamental about the relationship shifts. Friendship isn’t intimate, friendship can’t be romantic.

I don’t think this is a healthy view of either romance or friendship. I’m within sight of thirty years old, and the lasting friendships I have are still there because of relational intimacy. We know each other extremely well– we can predict each other’s sentences, opinions, reactions. We understand our life stories, the complicated set of events and personality that make up who we are. We’ve let down walls and boundaries that keep acquaintances at arm’s length, and that comes with risk.

These sorts of relationships are rare, but they’re incredibly important. And when I look over the past few years with Handsome, I know I decided to marry him first of all because he is my friend. I wanted to move into the same house as him, talk to him every day, because of friendship. There’s very little that separates my relationship with him from my relationships with close friends– he’s just my best friend, the person I decided I was the most compatible with. There’s romance on top of that, and I’m in love with him, but that’s icing on top of our friendship cake. We enjoy the same books, the same movies, the same video games. We live life at the same pace. We have similar communication styles. We value and prioritize the same things.

The same can be said, to a lesser degree, of those I consider my friends.

Joshua envisions a life-partner relationship as being fundamentally different from friendship, as though married people have a completely different way of interacting with each other than friends do. This is probably due to the fact that he’s never been in a serious relationship, let alone married, but I’m not entirely sure that his perspective has changed much, even though he’s married now– and I think that’s because of complementarianism.

In a friendship, the man doesn’t have an automatic trump card. In a friendship, there’s no requirement for the woman to obey and submit. In a friendship, there’s no hierarchy, no authority, no spiritual headship.

Friendship implies equality.

In the end, I think that’s the saddest thing about I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Joshua seems like a decent, earnest young person. I think he would appreciate all the benefits of an egalitarian marriage, of having a competent and capable life-partner by his side, who can support him and challenge him… but he doesn’t think that anyone can have that, especially not him.

***

Next up, I’m going to be reviewing Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love. I haven’t read it before, and it’s my first fiction review on the blog, so we’ll see how that goes. Dani Kelley has some introductory notes on it, and there’s an excellent long-form review by Lindsay, so if you’re not familiar with Redeeming Love those are two good places to start. There’s also the option of reading it along with me and having a book club-style discussion in the comments. Since it’s fiction, there will be a lot more room for interpretation.

If doing a fiction review pans out, I’m thinking of digging into some of Christian culture’s favorites, like oh say The Drums of Change by Janette Oke or The Princess by Lori Wick. Let me know if that’s something y’all’d be interested in.

Feminism

I Kissed Dating Goodbye review: 165-186

“Ready for the Sack but Not for the Sacrifice” &
“What Matters at Fifty?”

We’re in the last section of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, titled “Looking Ahead,” and if you were tired of an unmarried, not-even-dating high school graduate lecturing you about your love life, then you’re just going to love this section because it’s about marriage. So, jumping right in with Joshua’s assertion that young people have an unrealistic view of what that is:

These people thing of married life as one grand, thrilling moment after another– the everyday, mundane parts of marriage are safely edited from the picture. (166)

Le sigh.

I’ve only been married three years, but, so far, the “everyday, mundane” parts are the “thrilling” parts. Cooking while he loads the dishwasher. Watching TV or readings books out loud to each other. Going on walks. Making household decisions, like choosing which garbage pickup service we want. Maybe I won’t feel like this in ten years, but for now, the times when I’m the happiest, the most content, are those simple moments.

Also, do none of these “many young adults” have parents? I spent 20+ years watching my parents be married, and while I didn’t have an inside-out understanding of what being married is like, I certainly wasn’t expecting rainbows and unicorns. I love being married, 15/10 would recommend, but I knew going in that I, as a human being, was going to be living with another human being.

He then moves on to define “what marriage is,” relying on Love that Lasts by the Ricuccis (considering Carolyn Mahaney wrote the foreward, I think this is a book written by people at his church). He (and the Ricuccis) argue that “Marriage depicts the supernatural union between Jesus and the church” (168) which… yes. Marriage is one metaphor for that relationship in Scripture.

But so are grape vines, and architecture, and armies. The metaphor is a beautiful one, even powerful– something I understood better once I was married to a wonderful person– but it is just a metaphor. American Christian culture has idolized marriage, and one of the ways they’ve done it is through over-literalizing one metaphor among many. It was convenient for them to perpetuate a whole set of cultural conceptions and roles, so they took advantage of it.

The last few pages of this chapter turn into a dumpster fire, though:

As quickly as possible, we must dispel any selfish notions that marriage is about what we can get instead of what we can give. (171)

No, Joshua, it is about both. I “get” a patient, compassionate husband who carries me when I can’t walk, who helps me clean our home when I want to entertain even though he’d almost rather be a hermit, who says “let’s get takeout” when I don’t have the energy to cook. I give my love of research (on grills, washing machines, lawn mowers, cars…), my enthusiasm and hope, my willingness to handle all those grown-up calls we have to make to water companies and medical insurers.

People who aren’t “getting” anything while “giving” everything are in unstable, unbalanced, and unhealthy relationships. If you’re not “getting” anything from your life partner, it is a problem that needs to be addressed and corrected.

And then here’s the dumpster fire. Joshua is quoting from by Ann Landers, written in 1967:

…Marriage is giving– and more important, it’s forgiving.
And it is almost always the wife who must do these things.
Then, as if that were not enough, she must be willing to forget what she forgave… (171)

and this one by who he says was written by Lena Lathrop (it wasn’t; it’s by Mary Lathrap), penned before 1895:

…You require a cook for your mutton and beef,
I require a far greater thing;
A seamstress you’re wanting for socks and shirts–
I look for a man and a king … (173)

I have ugggghhhh scrawled over the margins here. Gender roles from the 60s and the Victorian era were all the rage in the culture I shared with Joshua, and it’s both hilarious and sad that he read the Lathrap poem and thought it was some kind of encouragement to young women to “keep their standards high” (174). These are just a few lines from the whole poems he quotes, but both place the tasks of drudgery and long-suffering on the women. Men get to be kings, get to have all their faults and foibles not only forgiven but forgotten, while women are perfectly content to be cooks and seamstresses if only their husbands are “kings.”

Just … ugh.

***

So far in I Kissed Dating Goodbye, it’s been obvious that Joshua has been trying to write something resembling gender parity. If he says something negative about women as a gender, he then attempts to say something disparaging about men as a gender. In my opinion the attempts fail because he can’t acknowledge the patriarchal system that is his bread and butter, but in chapter fourteen he just clear gives up:

When I meet a beautiful girl and I’m tempted to be overly impressed by her external features, I try to imagine what this girl will look like when she’s fifty years old … This girl may be young and pretty now, but what happens when the beauty fades? … When pregnancies and stretch marks and the years add extra pounds … (175-76)

This is nothing but misogyny, and it’s a point of view that’s reinforced by the Bible, which Joshua quotes from: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting” (176).

Beauty is not fleeting; nor is it tied to youthfulness, thinness, or a lack of stretch marks. Not every person meets our white supremacist, misogynist society’s “standards” for beauty, but I know I’m not the only person who is capable of seeing beauty in every person, young or old, fat or thin. The way my mother-in-law’s eyes sparkle when she’s feeling mischievous. The delight that lights up my mother’s entire face until it feels like I’m looking at sunshine. The way my father’s face crinkles when he’s so proud of his children he could burst. The easy suppleness in the way my partner walks. The elegance in her hands when my sister-in-law is painting, the way my sister’s lips curl when she’s feeling especially fierce.

All of those are breathtakingly beautiful to me. Joshua’s view of “beauty” is so shallow and insipid it makes me sick.

The rest of the chapter is dedicated to laying out the qualities we should all look for in a mate. Because someone who thinks a fifty-year-old woman can’t be beautiful is definitely someone we should listen to about this. He places everything under two major headings, “character,” and “attitude,” and then chops those up into easily digestible bits.

How a Person Relates to God

Two brief things: first, people who aren’t Christians can have wonderful marriages. Secondly:

“It’s obvious when he really loves the Lord,” my friend Sarah said. “When he’s telling you about his love for God, you can tell he’s not distracted by you.” (178)

Bullshit. My ex could absolutely not shut up about how much he loved God, and how much he desired to serve God and become a missionary. Virtually everyone he knew would talk about how he was “on fire” for God until the cows came home. Didn’t stop him from being an abuser and a rapist. How a person “relates to God” is not something you can even begin to understand until you’ve been through life with them.

How a Person Relates to Others

The most important thing to note about this section is what he thinks is the most important and least important: how your potential significant other interacts with “the authorities” comes first, and whether or not they’re a jerk to their friends comes dead last (178-79). In his paragraph on “authorities” he makes it clear that a woman who “can’t respect a teacher’s authority will have difficulty honoring her husband.” I’ve had difficult respecting some teacher’s authority for a variety of reasons. They were bullies, or just incompetent. Just because someone is an authority doesn’t mean they automatically deserve respect. But, according to Joshua, exercising my judgment means I’m not good wifely material.

To me, the first thing that stood out to me about Handsome was that he’s empathetic. Truly understanding others is essential to his character; compassion and kindness are his first instincts in his relationships. Because I’ve gotten to know him, compassion is now a character trait I value in all my friendships. However, he has no regard for authority because they’re authority. He treats everyone with respect, but if you hurt someone it doesn’t matter to him what power you hold. This is one of the best and most wonderful things I love about him.

Personal Discipline

He spends almost two pages basically saying that we can’t be slutty (“flirtatious”) or get fat, and if we do, it’s a sign of bad character. Awesome.

An Attitude of Humility

He asks the men reading his book to observe how she “responds to conflict” in her family, and the only metric men need to use is whether or not we’re “humble enough to share blame” (182). This a tactic abusers use– the whole “it takes two to tango” idea, that it’s impossible for conflict to arise without more than one person contributing.

Often, that could be true. Most of the tense moments in my marriage come because we’re both doing something. But sometimes one person is grumpy and taking it out on the other, and there’s no equal share of blame to go around. The grumpy person needs to quit it. Sure, the other person can help by being sympathetic and understanding, but they are not to blame.

***

He finishes off the chapter by returning to “beauty,” this time emphasizing how “the spirit that lights up her sparkling eyes will still be young, vibrant, and alive” (186). It’s a rehashing of the tired trope that “beauty is more than skin deep,” but he’s still associating it with youth!

These were a couple frustrating chapters. But, good news, we’re almost done. I can’t wait to kiss this bloody book goodbye.

Feminism

I Kissed Dating Goodbye Review: 137-164

Before we begin, I want to offer my love to all my LGBT+ and Latinx readers. We are grieving for all those precious, beautiful lives, and we are living with yet another ghastly reminder of the hatred that so many bear toward us. Today is the day after, where we have to try to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and keep breathing. Just keep breathing, beloved. We’re here, we’re queer, and love is love is love is love is love.

***

“Guard Your Heart” & “Redeeming the Time”

Joshua opens Chapter 11 with a few pages on how your feelings can get the better of you– if you let them. There’s a long story about “Emily” going away to college and interacting with decent Christian young men for the first time ever, and how that upends everything she “believed” about dating. He uses Emily’s experience to highlight “how easily [our heart] can be swayed in the wrong direction,” and then he launches into this:

First, picture guarding your heart as if your heart were a criminal tied in a chair who would like to break free and knock you over the head. (141)

Again, he’s chosen incredibly violent imagery to communicate his point. From falling off cliffs, to tightrope-walking over “gaping chasms,” and now physical assault and battery … everything is bent on convincing us how dangerous it is not to “guard your heart.”

What that can look like is basically girls nursing crushes on boys and boys lusting after girls. Interestingly, he uses the same term for both of these experiences– “infatuation”– but they look dramatically different based on his perception of gender. He’s certainly never walked in my shoes– my “crushes” (using his definition) have been few and far apart, but the times where I’ve been sexually attracted to a person in the way he describes that men experience “infatuation” are numerous and abundant.

He bases most of this chapter on a passage from 1 John: “Do not love the world, or anything in the world … For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does– comes not from the Father but from the world,” which Joshua reduces down to three categories: sinful cravings, lust, and prideful comparisons with others. To him, this translates into our romantic lives as infatuation, lust, and self-pity (143).

Which … just.. that’s a leap. This passage from 1 John is lifted out of a passionate argument to love our neighbors, deny antichrists, and how we “must live as Jesus did,” but he’s trying to make it be about avoiding romance and sexual attraction. First of all, his interpretation doesn’t really line up with traditional ones, and he’s also going out of his way to ignore the meanings behind ἐπιθυμία, σάρξ, ἀλαζονεία, and ὀφθαλμός– the words behind lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life. He defines epithymia ophthalmos as “to crave something sexually that God has forbidden” (146), and that’s just not accurate. I’m not a Greek scholar, but a brief look over the lexicons seems to indicate lust of the eyes  doesn’t really have much to do with sexual objectification.

Also, how a word that essentially means “braggart” got turned into “self-pity” absolutely boggles me. It’s eternally frustrating when ten minutes of surface-level research completely upends an argument made by someone who claims to take the Bible seriously. No, Joshua, you really don’t, since you’re quite happy to make it say whatever you want. I’m a hippy-dippy liberal who doesn’t even think the Bible is inspired, and I’m not going to try to magically transform braggart into self-pity.

I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with Joshua’s particular tendency to conflate sexual attraction with sexual objectification here, so I don’t want to dig into that too much, other than to point out that sexual attraction is normal, healthy, and largely unpreventable, but sexual objectification is a problem.

This chapter is the first time I became truly angry with him, though (content note for homophobic bigotry):

This time, I could in no way mistake their intent or the reason I’d felt strange–these guys were homosexuals and were checking me out. They whistled, winked, and laughed at my bafflement. Finally they sped away, leaving me to fume.

I’ll never forget the anger and disgust I felt at that moment. I was outraged to have served as the object of their lust, to have their eyes crawling over me. It was so wrong, so filthy. I remember turning to God in self-righteous anger and hissing through my clenched teeth, “Those people are so sick!” (146)

Which brings to mind this definition of homophobia: “the fear that another man will treat you like you treat women.” Joshua does take an incredibly brief moment to compare the two, but it never seems to dawn on him that his reaction was spurred by femmephobia, homophobia, and misogyny. He says that his “heterosexual lust” is just as disgusting to God (147), but it’s clear that he’s comparing his sexual objectification to homosexuality in general.

Disgusting. Sick. Those are the exact ideas that Omar Mateen used to justify a massacre yesterday. And Joshua had the incomprehensible audacity to tweet “Praying for all those touched by this wicked act” yesterday when his feelings about my queer family were shared by that murderer. Joshua’s never killed anyone, but the blood is on his hands. He clearly said that disgust and repugnance are the God-sanctioned feelings that Christians should espouse toward LGBT people.

I’m beyond done. I’m furious.

***

The next chapter is a short treatise on everything single people should do before they find that “special someone,” including a 21-year-old’s wisdom about: child care, communication, budgeting, and home maintenance. I don’t really disagree with much in this chapter … although the fact that he’s a fundiegelical Christian trickles out in places, like the assumption that it’s unhealthy for teenagers to shut themselves up in their rooms (158) and that boys should merely observe how older men discipline their kids while girls should “apprentice” themselves to church ladies and do their cooking, laundry, and cleaning (161).

So, annoying, but when it comes right down to the brass tacks, not horribly hurtful. Learning about how to clean out a bathtub drain or to stay within a budget aren’t exactly bad skills to acquire.

However, something stood out to me today when he told the story of Rebekah watering Eliezar’s camels:

For Rebekah, the trip to the well that particular evening was nothing special. She made that trip every night. And she’d probably watered more than a few camels. Yet though her task was mundane, she had a quickness to her step and a ready willingness to serve others. These qualities put her in the right place at the right time with the right attitude when God intended to match her with Isaac. (157)

Joshua comments that “she’d probably watered more than a few camels,” which makes me curious about what he’d learned concerning this story. Growing up I always heard this story with the factoid that Rebekah would have had to draw around 400 gallons in order to water ten camels … an exhausting and back-breaking amount of work that, according to the story, Rebekah seemed to have done cheerfully.

This story reminds me a lot of similar folk tales, like the Cinderella archetype, or virtually any other story about a young woman doing everyday labor, being kind to a stranger, and then being rewarded for it. There was one from my childhood about a girl who gave an odd little man something to eat or drink– in return he said she could harvest golden apples from his tree, but she’s the only one who can do it. If anyone else tries to pluck those apples, they would turn into rocks. One thing leads to another (mostly her family being terrible and greedy) and she ends up marrying the prince/Isaac-figure.

We know from various academic disciplines that the biblical narrative of Israel’s founding is largely mythical, and it seems even more obvious when you set “Rebekah And the Ten Camels” alongside other similar folklore traditions. It’s impossible to ignore that, in that context, this story is a woman’s story. It was likely created by grandmothers, re-told by mothers, and preserved by their daughters. In it, an ordinary woman through an act of extraordinary kindness (involving water, a powerful symbol for a desert culture) becomes one of Judaism’s greatest figures.

All of that mythic potential in this story– the symbology of water, the exaltation of womanhood, the meaning of beauty– is ultimately discarded by Joshua’s application. To him, the main thing to draw out of it is “Rebekah was able to meet God’s divine appointment for her life because she was faithfully carrying out her obligations” (157).

The English major in me died a little.

The Bible, as a collected oral tradition containing a milennia’s worth of folklore, is rich and its tales are full of meaning. But not if we ignore what those stories are, and how they were meant to function.

Feminism

I Kissed Dating Goodbye review: 123-136

“Just Friends in a Just-Do-It World”

I’m just covering one chapter for today’s review– I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this, but I got a job at a local used bookstore. Usually I only work two days a week, which makes it doable with my fibromyalgia, but I’ve needed to work the last four days. On top of that, my childhood dog passed away this afternoon (she was 15), so today has been … rough. It’ll be back to the regular schedule on Wednesday, though, never fear.

This is one of those chapters where I just want to throw my hands up into the air and shout “I reject this entire premise!” since it’s basically all practical advice on how not to date, since we all know dating is like falling off a cliff. In fact, being just friends is as difficult as walking a tightrope over a “gaping chasm” (124). Images like these are frustrating because they don’t reflect reality at all. Dating someone and breaking up is not as harmful as falling off a cliff. That kills you. Dating is educational. Breakups are educational. As long as everyone’s boundaries and autonomy are being respected, a little bit of the blues at the end of the relationship isn’t going to kill you. Not even close.

I just do not understand why Joshua believes experiencing some temporary sadness is as horrifying as falling to your death. So, instead, lets take a look at the advice this barely-not-a-teenager person has for people trying to keep things “just friends.”

For this chapter, he’s drawing upon the biblical metaphor of “brothers and sisters in Christ” in order to inform his opinion on friendship. According to him, there are a few characteristics of being someone’s brother or sister in Christ: biblical fellowship, affection, and genuine care.

Biblical Fellowship

He argues that Christian friendships won’t be “shallow and meaningless” like what you see on television sitcoms, instead “their passion isn’t to appear witty, but to grow in godliness” (129). First, I’m pretty confident that most people are aware that their relationships don’t look like sitcoms, but I’m not sure Josh knows that. If he was anything like me at his age, he was told by the authorities he trusted that Seinfeld and Friends are an accurate depiction of secular friendships. Except, things like How I Met your Mother and anything written by Aaron Sorkin are good television because they’re not like real life. No one steals a blue french horn off a restaurant wall in order to impress a girl. Women do not show up in coffee shops wearing their wedding dress looking for their high school buddy and a place to live. But why am I telling y’all this?

The problem with Joshua’s attempt to contrast supposedly secular and Christian friendship fails, because in truth it’s more of a comparison than I think he realizes. I don’t think non-Christians walk around spending all their time trying to appear “witty,” but plenty of the Christians I’ve known do walk around trying to appear “godly.” Most of the relationships I’ve had with church folk have been shallow and meaningless because everyone was making sure they appeared “godly” instead of human. I’ve known some church people for half a decade that I barely know because the only thing I’ve ever heard them talk about is how much God’s blessed them. It’s difficult to form a “deep friendship” with someone who’s never honest because being transparent would threaten their reputation for “godliness.”

Affection

He uses an example in order to explain what he means:

On one occasion the men of the group planned a special dinner for the ladies, served all the food, and even had special gifts for each girl. After the meal the men shared reasons why they respected and valued the friendship of each girl. This is genuine affection! (130)

No, Josh, that’s weird and creepy. This kind of event is also a marker for a cult– churches that actively foster this sort of environment are establishing a boundary-erasing over-involvement. One of the things I’ve had to unlearn is how incredibly bound up together the members of my cult-like church were. There were so many strings tying us up, it was like being caught in a spider’s web. At that place, an event like the one Joshua describes would be commonplace, but I’ve never experienced anything like it at healthier churches … for a reason.

Genuine Care

This one was just sad because the entire section is focused on criticism.

God used our conversation to convict Christina and reveal the dangerous path she was on. She involved her mom and other girlfriends and changed the nature of her friendship with the guy.

I’ve benefited from being challenged as well. My friend Heather provided this kind of care for me when she talked to me about the way I was interacting with the girls in our singles group … It was hard to hear, but God used Heather’s words to help me change. (131)

There’s nothing in here about encouragement, or support, or compassion, or empathy. Nothing about kindness, or faithfulness, or even forgiveness. To Joshua, apparently the only way to “care” about someone is to criticize them. This doesn’t surprise me, considering the only two things I heard about friendship growing up were “faithful are the wounds of a friend” and “iron sharpeneth iron.”

No we get to the practical advice section of the chapter. It’s a lot of “do group things” and “mostly be friends with other men, guys” (which I’ve had words about before), but I want to focus on his first piece of advice:

Understand the difference between friendship and intimacy.

I have no idea what he’s talking about, and I read this section over a few times trying to figure it out. He’s basing this on a C.S. Lewis quote: “We picture lovers face to face, but friends side by side; their eyes look ahead.” He’s saying that friendships are about “things outside the relationship,” while intimacy is supposedly focused on the “relationship itself” (132) and I’m just not following. Friends “do things together” while lovers … don’t?

I’m confused.

I’m a bisexual woman, so theoretically any friendship I have with another woman could potentially turn romantic. None of them ever have for reasons that I can’t possibly explain since, supposedly, staying “just friends” is like “walking a tightrope over a gaping chasm.” Most of my friendships involve us chatting about our lives and things we find discussion-worthy … as does my relationship with my partner. The only difference is I fell in love with him and decided living in the same house as he does sounded pretty amazing. Otherwise, the substance of the things I do with him and my friends don’t look different (except, of course, for the sex. Duh).

I think the problem with this piece of advice is that Joshua simply didn’t have the life experience to talk about it. He’s never been married, or even really experienced adult friendships– all his buddies are still in high school and college at this point. I wonder, given that, what Joshua thinks about this section now.

Feminism

my church says I’m dirty, my mother says I’m awesome: lessons on sex

Today’s post is a guest post from Mara.

I grew up in a very average, white, suburban Evangelical church. My church was not extreme or controversial in any way. But what I learned from church about gender, sex, and relationships has ultimately hurt me. Some of these lessons were explicitly taught; some were insidious undertones, assumptions, or cultural norms that I absorbed over the years.

These are the lessons I learned from church about sex and relationships:

  1. Your purity is valuable. If you have sex, you’ll disappoint God and harm your relationship with him, and harm your relationship with your future husband.
  2. What you want is irrelevant. All that matters is what God wants. What you want is probably sinful.
  3. You can’t trust yourself. You aren’t capable of good judgment when it comes to sex.
  4. You are not in control. If you ever find yourself alone with a guy, the mere proximity will cause the two of you to spontaneously combust. All people want sex all of the time, and men are ruled by this desire.
  5. Listen to your guilt. Guilt is the Holy Spirit convicting you of sin.
  6. Women shouldn’t be in charge. My church paid lip service to gender equality while excluding women from leadership and exclusively using male language for God. Subtly, the way gender roles were played out in the church conditioned me to believe that it was weird (and maybe wrong) for a woman to be in charge – and by extension, weird for me to be calling the shots or in control.
  7. Sex is wrong outside of heterosexual marriages. The only thing worth discussing about sexual boundaries is, “How far can I go without damaging my purity?”

Fortunately, my parents acted as a buffer to many of the destructive messages I was absorbing from “purity culture” at church. As I was growing up, they told me constantly that I was loved, smart, beautiful, good, and competent. My mother also gave me the best relationship advice I have ever gotten. She looked me in the eye and said insistently,

Listen. This is important. Never let a guy talk down to you, because you are awesome. If any guy ever says differently or puts you down, punch him in the face. I mean it. You are awesome. Don’t believe any guy that says differently. And if you try to tell a guy something and he doesn’t understand, he’s the crazy one, not you. You are awesome.

But all of their affirmation wasn’t enough to undo what I had learned from church. I sincerely wanted to be faithful; I wanted to do the right thing. My naïve sincerity worked against me.

The first time these lessons failed me was the first time I was kissed, in high school. I turned to say something to the guy sitting next to me and found his mouth suddenly on mine. I froze. I knew I didn’t want his tongue in my mouth, but it never occurred to me to push him away. I didn’t know I had that option. In matter of seconds, a debate went on in my mind about what I should do.  The conclusion I came to in those seconds was that if it was a sin, I should pull back and do what God wants. But most people I knew didn’t consider a kiss to be “too far”, so it probably wasn’t sinful. And I felt guilty about “leading him on”: since I had flirted with him, I felt he had a right to expect I would kiss him. Therefore, I decided I should let him kiss me because my guilt told me it was the right thing to do. I was very uncomfortable, rather confused, and wished he would stop. True to the lessons I had learned from church, I didn’t trust myself, I wasn’t in control, and what I actually wanted was never part of my decision-making process.

Nothing in my religious education taught me that it was wrong for him to touch me in a way I didn’t want.

I didn’t really start dating until my junior year of college. The first time I met him, I awkwardly blurted out that I didn’t want to have sex until marriage. I was deathly afraid “leading him on,” and I feared that talking to him at all without an upfront caveat would be deceptive. I fully believed he would walk away, since church had taught me that all guys always want sex. But he didn’t care. I was shocked that he actually just liked being around me. We kept seeing each other, and I liked hanging out with him, and I liked kissing him – some of the time.  Once when we were kissing his hand reached behind me for my bra clasp, but he paused, looking at me to see what I wanted. My mind froze, torn between what I thought the church expected of me, and what I thought he expected of me. I didn’t know I was allowed to make decisions based on what I wanted. I didn’t know what to do, so I kissed him to end the panic. And the bra came off, even though I was definitely not ready for that. The next time I saw him, I wore a tricky front-clasping bra, hoping it would deter him without my actually having to communicate with him. It was ineffective.

Throughout the relationship, he would ask me if I was comfortable and what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to answer those questions, and my voice would stick in my throat. True to his word, he never asked for sex. But still, after some encounters where paralysis from my underlying beliefs left me unable to communicate my discomfort, I would start shaking and shivering uncontrollably, exactly as I had after that unwanted kiss in high school. Trying to make decisions based on guilt was disastrous. I felt guilty for telling him no (because by flirting with him or kissing him, I must have been “teasing” or “leading him on”), and I felt guilty for doing anything physical and damaging my “purity.” I ended the relationship after a couple of months because I couldn’t handle the anxiety from the conflicting guilt messages, or the resulting paralysis. I had no concept of what a healthy dating relationship looked like or what consent meant.

Eventually, as my beliefs and understanding around sex evolved and I dated other guys, I learned (slowly and painfully) how to communicate, how to ignore guilt, and how to make decisions based on what I actually wanted and what was right for me. I finally learned that no man ever has a right to touch me. I remember distinctly the first time I was able to actualize this newfound insight. After a date, a guy walked me home, and kissed me at the gate. Then he tried to put his hand down my pants. I pushed him away and told him no, clearly and firmly, and I didn’t feel guilty. I walked away and laughed. I celebrated that night. I celebrated belonging to me, and to no one else. I was 21 years old.

***

Experience has taught me that just about everything I learned about sex and relationships from Evangelicalism was wrong, unhelpful, or dangerous. I’ve discovered that it’s a complete myth that men unilaterally have stronger sex drives than women or that they are controlled by such an imperative for sex. The only guy I’ve gone out with who actually believed that was one who tried to rape me. It was how he justified the assault.

In that situation and many others, I may have been able to protect myself better if I had been taught to trust myself, to trust my instincts when they sense something is going wrong. But the church’s message that I can’t trust myself has been the most insidious, the hardest to root out. It’s an issue beyond just sexual situations. I was recently in a serious relationship with a man that I loved and adored. He was a good guy in every measurable way. But something felt off, and it bothered me. He always felt distant; I felt like I couldn’t get close to him, even though he said he loved me and he called me every day. I explained it away as being the result of a long-distance relationship. But the feeling grew over time, to the point where I felt like I wasn’t a priority to him, like he took me for granted. I told him how I felt, and his response was that I was overly sensitive and I was imagining it or that he already does enough and it was unreasonable to expect anything else. Eventually, when I was miserable enough, I remembered my mother’s advice: he must be the crazy one, not me. My emotions were legitimate, and deserved to be taken seriously.

A few months after we broke up, I found out he had been in love with another girl since high school. He told me that if at any time she had become available, he would have left me for her. He literally said I was his “second choice.” My instincts had been dead on: he was distant and emotionally unavailable, and I was not his priority. I’m not about to be anybody’s second choice. I’m too awesome for that.

As I have come to believe more firmly that I’m awesome and valuable, I have also come to see the value in having sex within a committed relationship. I didn’t always see this value. I felt secure having sex with a guy I felt safe with and who treated me well, as long as we always used condoms and I was on the pill. Then came the unfortunate week in which a condom malfunction coincided with a missed birth control pill – which was followed by a missed period.

During the ensuing panic, three things became very clear to me: I wanted to keep the baby, but having a baby would make graduate school (which I wanted more than anything) very complicated, maybe impossible; and I was horrified at the thought of having this guy be the father of my child, and being tied to him for the rest of my life.

Even after finding out I wasn’t pregnant, the impression of the riskiness of sex stuck with me.  Around this time, the logic of my father’s theory on sex began to sink in. He always said that it was best to keep sex inside marriage (even common law marriage) because it was protective against some of the consequences of sex. I now saw his point: I decided I wasn’t going to risk that kind of sex again until I’d finished graduate school and I was with someone I at least wouldn’t be horrified about being connected to for the rest of my life.

While a serious relationship with someone I know and trust can be protective against the risks and dangers of sex, I’ve realized this is a guideline, not a rule. It makes it less likely I’ll get a sexually transmitted infection, less likely a pregnancy would be unbearable, less likely the sex is exploitative or harmful. There’s value in that.

But it’s also true that some sex outside of committed long-term relationships could be beneficial, and some married sex is extremely harmful.

This is the reason I would not marry someone without having some kind of sex with him first.  You can’t tell for sure how a guy is going to behave or how he communicates or what he prioritizes about sex until something physical starts happening. There are certainly signs to pay attention to before that; if he treats you poorly outside the bedroom, you can be pretty sure he won’t be any better inside. But I’ve been with guys who are respectful, considerate, good guys, but don’t communicate or behave in a way that I’m comfortable with when things start to get physical. Before I agree to spend the rest of my life with someone, I need to know for certain that I’m as safe with and respected by him with the bedroom door closed as I am when we’re at dinner with my parents.

Looking back, these are the lessons I wish I had learned from my church as a teenager, lessons my church would have been well equipped to teach:

  1. You are valuable. Not your purity, not your vagina, you – the person made in the image of God – are valuable. No matter what happens to you or what decisions you make, you are valuable.
  2. What you want is extremely important. If someone touches you in a way you don’t want, that’s called sexual assault. That’s a crime that person perpetrated against you. It is not your fault.
  3. You have good instincts. Trust your instincts. You can sharpen your instincts even more by learning about red flags of abuse to watch out for so you can keep yourself safe.
  4. If you don’t feel in control in a situation, something is wrong. Take a step back. Are you in danger? Do the two of you need to communicate better? Are you not sure yet what you want, and need to pause until you are?
  5. Guilt is a terrible measure for decision-making. You will feel guilty for telling a man yes. You will also feel guilty for telling a man no. Don’t listen to the guilt. Listen to your own, God-given wise mind. Check in with your emotions and your reason. Are you feeling any outside pressure to make a decision one way or the other? Do you actually want the sex itself, or do you want to have sex because you want to make him happy or to be closer to him or because you think it is expected of you? Make sure you know why you are making whatever choice you are making. Double check if this is really a good idea, if this is really what you want. Is this right for you? Is it safe? Are you sure you can trust him? What will you think about this decision three months from now?
  6. Women are equal partners in sex and relationships. Both parties should be benefiting. Both parties have a say in what happens. If you’re not enjoying it as much as he is, do something different. Communication is always necessary, always good.
  7. Sex is wrong when it is exploitative. This is true no matter what type of relationship you have, from strangers to spouses. This means that sex is wrong if:
    1. There is not clear, enthusiastic consent, every time for every act (and continuing through each act).
    2. There is a power differential (employer/employee; adult/minor; sex trafficking; etc.).
    3. There is coercion, force, or manipulation of any kind.
    4. It’s used as a weapon to control, harm, or humiliate.
  8. Make informed choices. Make sure you understand human anatomy, the way birth control works, how to have safe sex, and how to get tested for STDs. Make sure you understand the risks and possible consequences of sex, including pregnancy, HIV, other STDs, and potential changes in the dynamics of your relationship.
  9. You are awesome. Remember you are awesome when you’re making decisions, especially about sex and relationships. Remember how awesome you are before you take unnecessary risks. You are awesome.
Photo by Tall And Ginger
Feminism

I Kissed Dating Goodbye review: 87-110

“The Direction of Purity” &
“A Cleansed Past: The Room”

The bulk of chapter seven is dedicated to a concept I disagree with: any sex outside of monogamous marriage is a sin. I’ve laid out an argument for why I think sex that causes I or someone else harm should be our standard, starting here, but I am aware that my argument is not the only way to interpret the New Testament passages regarding porneia, usually translated “fornication” or “sexual immorality.” While I feel that my argument is sound, it does reflect a hermenuetic that conflicts with a more conservative understanding of the Bible and Christianity. I asked why NT writers would condemn porneia, and then based my position on the answer to that question. However, if your answer is “because God preserved penetrative intercourse for marriage,” then obviously you’ll end up in a far different place.

Personally, I feel people like Joshua aren’t taking a holistic approach to the Bible when they make arguments like “God preserved sex for marriage.” That narrow view comes out like this:

God guards [physical intimacy] carefully and places many stipulations on it because He considers it extremely precious. (94)

The only “stipulation” that (according to conservative evangelicals) God places on sex in the New Testament is “don’t have it unless you’re married,” so it seems logical to assume that when Joshua refers to “many stipulations” he’s referring to the Law. Unfortunately, the Law includes such “stipulations” as a woman being required to marry her rapist. I don’t think it’s possible to argue that a woman being forced to spend her life with the man who raped her represents sex inside marriage being precious.

However, I’m not the only Christian in the world and I believe one can make a “biblical” argument for saving sex for marriage, so I’m not going to fully address his argument. Instead, I’ll point out where I think he went wrong.

***

This chapter sees Joshua using The Quintessential Example of A Good Man Gone Wrong: and if you guessed “David,” you’d be right. As is typical, he talks about David and Bathsheba as if they had a consensual affair. There are so many reasons that interpretation is disastrously wrong– David raped Bathsheba, David is a rapist— but I think it’s important to highlight something else.

When men like Joshua talk about David and Bathsheba, they’re using David as an example of what could, theoretically, happen to anyone. You stay home from the battlefield. You indulge. You see a naked woman, and then you choose not to look away. You decide you want to sleep with her, and you figure out how to do it. You plan. And then you cover it up.

The problem with this narrative is that this is not a story about a man plotting out his affair. It’s about a man who decides he’s going to abuse his power and rape a woman. Every time this goes unacknowledged, these men inculcate rape culture in their congregations just a little bit more. They entrench, just a bit more deeply, the idea that they can kidnap a woman in the middle of the night and force themselves on her and that’s not rape. This is a total erasure of what consent is and what it looks like.

This is important because rapists are not monsters. They’re normal, everyday people. They’re our friends, our parents, our siblings, our pastors, our co-workers. They buy you coffee, they open doors for you, they preach messages about self-sacrifice and loving your neighbor … and they are rapists not because they’re so different from “normal” people, but because they believe that women are something they can just take. They believe that because we tell them so.

Because Joshua told them so.

I’ve talked some about why purity culture is incompatible with teaching consent, and it comes out here:

You can’t slow down, you can’t turn around; you can only continue speeding farther and farther from your destination. How many Christians in dating relationships have felt the same way as they struggle with accelerating physical involvement? They want to exit, but their own sinful passion takes them further and further from God’s will. (91)

Again, for this post I’m not challenging the idea that “God’s will” is to save sex for marriage. However, this section illustrates a problem because it views people as being in a default state of consent, when the reverse is true. A person’s default state is non-consenting. When you think every man, every woman, exists in a frame of mind where they simply cannot say no, even when “they want to exit,” then rape is impossible to commit. A healthy sexual ethic (even one that assumes that sex is sinful outside of marriage) must include consent as its basis. Except teaching consent undermines purity culture– and they can’t give up using fear of “being unable to stop” as their primary weapon.

***

Toward the end of the chapter he encourages “guys and girls” to help each other stay pure, and unsurprisingly I have problems.

We [men] need to stop acting like hunters trying to catch girls and begin seeing ourselves as warriors standing guard over them … we must realize that girls don’t struggle with the same temptations we struggle with. We wrestle more with our sex drives, while girls struggle more with their emotions. (98)

Beat my head into a friggin wall.

This is, in short, benevolent sexism. Joshua places women on a pedestal and tells men to guard it … and then he goes on to reassert the myth that women are chaste angels who are lured in by romance. It’s not his fault he thinks this– I’m pretty sure every woman in his life has spent a long time reinforcing the message that women just don’t experience arousal, not really— but it’s frustrating nonetheless. Women are just as capable of experiencing hubba hubba feelings as men are, and science backs me up.

He then goes on to share a story about his friend Matt who wanted to date Julie, but refrained from flirting with her for a period of time because “God made it clear to Julie that she had to focus on Him and not be distracted by Matt” (98). Joshua says look at him, that was the right thing to do, and I agree– but for an utterly different reason. In Joshua’s telling, Matt’s focus is on honoring God by not interfering with Julie’s time of “serving Him.” In my view, Matt did the right thing because Julie set a boundary and Matt respected it. Julie said “I like you, but I want to wait” and Matt, instead of interfering with her decision or trying to get her to do what he wanted, made himself be ok with waiting.

But talk about boundaries in relationships subverts the teaching that women aren’t allowed to have boundaries once they’re married. They’re not supposed to deny their husband anything. After all, their body doesn’t belong to them, but to their husband. And vice versa, supposedly, but when have women ever literally owned their husbands?

It gets worse when he turns to “The Girl’s Responsibility,” where he focuses on women being modest:

Now, I don’t want to dictate your wardrobe, but honestly speaking, I would be blessed if girls considered more than fashion when shopping for clothes. Yes, guys are responsible for maintaining self-control, but you can help by refusing to wear clothing designed to attract attention to your body. (99)

Anyone who’s ever criticized Christian modesty teachings points out that when they say that men are “responsible for maintaining self-control,” and it’s not a woman’s fault when a man “stumbles” they’re not being honest. Joshua contradicts himself not even a paragraph later:

A single mom who had recently rededicated her life to Christ told me, “I went through my closet and got rid of anything that might have caused a brother in the Lord to stumble. I asked God to forgive me and to help protect the purity of those around me.”

If it’s not her fault, why does she need forgiveness?

Hilariously, the problem with telling women they have to be modest or they’re sinning is highlighted in this little line: “even in the summer, when it seems impossible to find a modest pair of shorts!”

Ah, Joshua. This is one of the reasons why I wasn’t allowed to read your book when I was a teenager … you think shorts can be modest. Not just pants. Shorts. Dear Lord, you’d allow a woman to expose her knees?!

And that right there is the biggest reason why teachings on “modesty” are the biggest load of crock. There are no clothes a woman can put on her body that a man can’t conceive of as sexy, because it’s not actually the clothes. It’s the man and his own personal issues– what he personally finds attractive or sexy, or what his personal fetish is. It’s impossible for a woman to “cause” her brother to stumble because no woman is psychic, and even if she dressed to avoid one man’s fetish, she’d just end up in an outfit that is some other man’s fetish. It’s ridiculous.

***

The last chapter of this section is Joshua telling us about a dream he had that he thinks illustrates God’s forgiveness and grace, which I think is a good thing to include. As much as I disagree with the way he’s handled … almost everything … one thing he hasn’t done (at least so far) is talk about how ruinous sex outside of marriage supposedly is. Oh, he’s talked about how “dangerous” it is, and how we can’t give pieces of our heart away, so he’s definitely contributing to the damaging consequences of purity culture, but he hasn’t said anything like “having sex makes you a half-eaten candy bar or a cup full of spit” so I guess that’s something.

The next section we’re getting into is “Building a New Lifestyle,” so we’ll see how that goes.

Feminism

I Kissed Dating Goodbye review: 59-86

“Looking up ‘Love’ in God’s Dictionary” &
“The Right Thing at the Wrong Time is the Wrong Thing”

This week we’re entering the second Part of IKDG: “The Heart of the Matter.” I was hoping this meant that we’d be digging into different ideas, but so far these two chapters were repetitive. There’s building your argument, and then there’s just restating yourself, and Joshua is going in circles at this point. However, it did make it clear that there are two realities that are affecting his judgment: 1) his utter lack of experience, and 2) the cynicism and suspicion he’s been taught to see The World through. These combine to form an inaccurate understanding of how The World actually works; a side-effect is that he’s far too sanguine about fellow Christians and their behavior.

For example, he cites Eric and Leslie Ludy (although he doesn’t use their last name, which seemed odd to me) as a model for how courtship should work and why it’s successful, contrasting it with a high school friend who lied to his parents in order to sleep with his girlfriend. However, he does nothing to address the fact that in the early days of their speaking tours, the Ludys talked about the fact that they didn’t consummate their marriage for over a year. Joshua presents them as the ideal: “You’d be hard pressed to find two more romantic people” (61), but he glosses over (or doesn’t know about) their lack of sex, which Joshua has argued is central to marriage.

In the next chapter he cites William Bennett, using a parable of Bennett’s creation about self-discipline and patience, concluding with Bennett’s line:

“Too often, people want what they want … right now. The irony of their impatience is that only by learning to wait, and by a willingness to accept the bad with the good, do we usually attain those things that are truly worthwhile. (76)

This statement serves as the chapter’s main thesis, except … Bennett had such a severe gambling problem that he lost millions of dollars in Vegas. But sure. It’s “The World” that has the problem with selfishness and impatience.

I’m also worried about Joshua’s view of sex. He has consistently portrayed sex as something that happens primarily because of selfishness, because a person is consumed about their own gratification– and has applied this definition to his own view of sex. This worries me because what you believe about the nature of sex doesn’t change simply because you signed a piece of paper. If he thinks that sex outside of marriage can only be selfish (65), what miracle happens to suddenly transform selfishness into benevolence when a couple signs on the dotted line?

His lack of experience shines through here: he doesn’t believe it is possible for sex outside of marriage to be anything except selfishly motivated. And sure, it frequently can be. However, that’s not an intrinsic part of pre-marital sex, but a problem with the individual person. In my experience, pre-marital sex was one of the most affirming, life-giving, healing, and beneficial experiences of my life. With Handsome’s help, I was able to overcome some elements of my PTSD. If we’d waited until we were married to start exploring this area of our relationship, I am 100% positive that it would have been disastrous for us. In our case, it was the least selfish thing we could do for each other.

He’s being overly cynical about what sex outside of marriage can look like for people. It’s probable he’s only ever heard horror stories used to bolster the abstinence-only position. If someone ever came into his church’s pulpit and said “we had sex before we got married and everything was fine” I’ll eat my hat. Except, for a lot of people, that is the reality of their experience– everything was fine.

One of his points is that “Love must be sincere,” following Romans 12:9. He uses this to denounce the “fact” that dating comes with a “an angle, a hidden agenda” (70). He describes a conversation he once heard between young men where they talked about negging (although he doesn’t use that term) and other manipulative PUA-style tactics. So while I agree with him that love is sincere and honest, and he’s right to condemn horrible things like negging, he’s holding up betas and PUAs like they’re the standard form of secular dating. Hint: they’re not.

He also condemns the type of boyfriend who says “If you really loved me, you’d do it” (65) but infuriatingly ignores the ubiquitousness of “if you don’t sleep with your husband, you don’t love him (and you’re responsible if he cheats on you!)” in his complementarian culture.

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In the next chapter he breaks down what he views as cultural problems that affect romantic relationships, like how The World is supposedly all about impatience– and the more impatient our culture becomes, it affects how we treat sex, such as having it at increasingly early ages. Spoiler alert: the trend at the time Joshua wrote IKDG was actually the opposite of this. The rate of girls ages 15-19 who’d had sex fell by 8% from 1988 to 1995, and that trend continued past the original publishing of IKDG. Today, the average age for a woman to have sex for the first time is 17, and the number of high-schoolers who say they’ve had sex has dropped below 50%.

But, little things like facts and research shouldn’t stand in the way of a perfectly good pearl-clutching moment.

The latter half of this chapter is dedicated to the concept that you have to trust God and their perfect timing, which is one of the primary messages of purity culture. If you try to rush things, you’ll inevitably be losing out on “God’s best.” Wait for the person God has for you. God knows best. God knows better than you ever could. You can’t be allowed to make your own decisions because you will screw it up.

This is all based in a view of God that is primarily punitive:

God takes us to the foot of a tree on which a naked and bloodied man hangs and says, “This is love.” God always defines love by pointing to His Son. This was the only way our sins could be forgiven. The innocent One took the place of the guilty–He offered himself up to death so that we could have eternal life. God’s perfect love for a fallen world is more clearly seen in the death of His Son. (67)

My marginalia for this section is “UGH.” Because that specific understanding of the Atonement is supposed to be viewed by us as the pinnacle of love. God points at the torture and crucifixion of Jesus, the beating, the misery, and says “that’s what love looks like“? It looks like violence and terror? It looks like an execution performed by the state? Just … this articulation always makes me want to beat my head into the wall. I also find it disturbing that, according to penal substitionary atonement theory, it is impossible for God to be merciful and forgiving. They must exact vengeance, a price. Sin must be paid for, or we will all burn in hell.

That’s not love. That’s not forgiveness. That’s not mercy.

Jesus paints such a different portrait of God. In his Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, Jesus portrays God as a king who forgives his servant of an enormous debt– a number that would look something like $10 million dollars when you make $30,000 a year. He forgives the debt for no other reason than that his servant begs him to be merciful, and he is. This is what the kingdom of heaven is like, Jesus says. A king who forgives incomprehensible debt for no reason besides mercy.

But if your view of God is the opposite of this, then of course it makes sense to see our human relationships as being extremely precarious. There’s no room for grace or second chances, of making mistakes and learning from them, if this is who you think God is.