By Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers
Have you ever found yourself absolutely confused or angry about the messages sent to women about their bodies, sexuality, their value? Even the messages we send to men seem confusing, limiting and degrading. Life lately has invited me again into these conversations of confusion and frustration.
A few months back I received an email from a past student who is now a pastor in Eastern Washington. Several years ago, he was in a graduate human sexuality course I teach each spring. This class invites many rich, dynamic conversations about gender, sexuality, culture and religion. It is my favorite class and if I could teach it all year long, I would! John sent me this brief line in an email …
“Did you see this piece? As a person who is leading the way on the church's reception and treatment of the physical, I figured you'd be intrigued by this as I was.”
I read this piece on “Smokin Hot Wives” and of course it sent me reeling. I felt it first in my body and then had to deconstruct what I was feeling - what exactly were the messages I was reacting to? We are created beloved … each and every one of us … fearfully and wonderfully made … every hair on our head known and loved … every day of our lives counted, inspired, filled with the breath of God. How could any of us be an object, a trophy on the arm of another, to be used as a prize? What kind of ignorance or arrogance does it take to receive a gift and responsibility so powerful (the gift we receive and the responsibility we commit at marriage – a gift we don’t deserve from a God whose love we didn’t earn) and then treat that gift as a token of our hunt? This “Smokin Hot Wives” idea proposed at some churches and modeled by some pastors in my opinion is a good example of where the church has inadvertently crawled into bed with culture – and is singing her song … “People are to be used for your pleasure without regard for the effect.” Here was my response to John –
“I always have to calm down after reading something like this … you know how I can fly (like a bird heading full tilt toward a glass window) onto my soapbox! So, since I read this yesterday … I am in a better place to think more clearly and a little less red today.”
“I think this is a further perversion of the misguided sexual paradigm Christianity has been in since the onset … more recently re-emphasized by the purity movement … namely, a sexual “ethic” driven by patriarchy, power and control, owning and dominating, and focused on the exterior – behaviors/parts instead of on intimacy/relationships/ the desire to be known, loved, seen, accepted and redeemed – Christ. Or our innate desire to be intimately known and intimately touched in a way that draws us deeper into God’s call on our life as Beloved. This objectification and commodification of women and their bodies (without regard for effect) is sold by our gold-plated consumer culture and purchased ‘hook-line-and-sinker’ by pop-Christianity. Of course we sell men and children too. This ‘marriage of pop-religion and culture’ continues the old story of splitting body from soul and relationship. It ignores that what we do to another we do to Christ. It fails to honor the woman as God’s beloved and fails to honor the man as God’s beloved who (if he really understood this) would never dream of treating another, partner, child, Jesus this way.”
When the church fails to evaluate its overt and covert dealings with gender and sexuality, it becomes susceptible to absorb cultures messages. Jennifer McKinney, sociology professor at SPU, recently stated that she had some of her students do a content analysis of the articles in the top 6 men’s magazines and the top 6 women’s magazines. The analysis came to this – Women: How to get men into a relationship after having sex with them. Men: How to keep from getting into a relationship with women after having sex with them. THIS is some of what culture is teaching – 1. Use each other for sex and pseudo – pleasure/touch/comfort; 2. The ends justify the means – the ethics of how you get there doesn’t matter as long as you get there; 3. Women do sex just for relationship – they do not enjoy sex, it is just a tool to hook a guy; 4. Men just pretend they want relationships, attachment, intimacy – they just want to use women for sex. To say that these messages are ridiculous, reductionistic, disrespectful, harming, etc. is of course, an understatement. Yet, isn’t “Smokin Hot Wives” an enactment of this? Men want sex, women are their prizes, women don’t want sex, they want a relationship. They look like a prize, they get a man and become his prize. They give him sex in order to keep the relationship. YUCK!!!! And, by pastors, are you kidding me??!!
How do we as a culture/society benefit when we paint women or men this way? As a culture we need to honor that woman AND men are both hard wired for connection/intimacy and pleasure. Individuals, partners, families, communities grow when individuals are being fully themselves – emotionally expressive and responsible, intellectually directed and responsible, socially aware and responsible, physically healthy and responsible, spiritually mindful and responsible. We need messages that support us caring for ourselves and each other … not dismissing ourselves and using each other.
Continuing the Conversation …
Jonalyn Fincher, blog author of Ruby Slippers interviewed me after referencing a blog I had written on masturbation. In our interview she was interested in writing a new series looking at issues of religious sexual shame and modesty. While she and I had grown up in a different era of Christianity in America, we had both witnessed how messages intended to be protective had instead become vehicles for self-loathing and mistrust. Mistrust of self and mistrust of others. Jonalyn wrote two blogs and interviewed me via Skype on June 21st to continue the conversation.
I hope you will join Jonalyn and I as we try to further upack the baggage of gender, sexuality and Christianity, and hopefully continue to unveil what it is to live into our core nature as God’s beloved and our core call – to learn the art and craft of love.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. Jn 13:35
For more reading on this issue - Check out "Beloved Sex - Healing Shame and Restoring the Sacred to Sexuality" in Sex, Gender and Christianity an edited book by Drs. Priscilla and Jack Levison
Chapter 11: Beloved Sex - Healing Shame and Restoring the Sacred to Sexuality by Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers
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