The shootings in Atlanta this week are all too tragic–but I believe they are also a logical extension to how evangelicalism too often talks about sex, porn, and women.
First, before I delve into this too much, these shootings were racially motivated. He killed mostly Asian women; he went to places Asian women worked at; he was reported to have been heard saying he was trying to kill Asians.
As I read the news unfold, I thought to myself, “I know what kind of porn he watches.”
To paraphrase Michael John Cusick in his excellent book Surfing for God (about defeating pornography addictions), he said that part of the allure of porn is that it makes you feel strong without actually having to be strong. You can “use” other people, and then when you’re feeling insecure, rejected, lonely–really anything negative–you can turn to porn to make you feel strong and like a real man again. And we can’t get away from the fact that many men feel strong by degrading others (which is what porn does). And it often degrades those who are seen as “less than”. That’s why fetishization of the very young or of certain racial groups is such a big deal in pornography. You really can’t separate the hatred of women from the hatred of certain races. Pornography takes all of our horrible prejudices and makes them worse, because it’s our prejudices that make us feel “better than”, or strong.
But what I want to look at today is how the excuses that he gave for what he did actually are the logical extension of much of our teaching around porn and temptation.
Here’s what the shooter said:
After his arrest, Long indicated to investigators he believed he had a sex addiction and “an issue with porn,” and claimed to see the spas as “a temptation … that he wanted to eliminate,”
So he saw these women as temptations to eliminate.
Well, that’s pretty much how Steve Arterburn, author of Every Man’s Battle, talks about lust. Let’s break this down:
1. Women are the enemy.
On this New Life website, he has an article on how to perfect the “bouncing your eyes” technique:
First Step: Make a List of Your Enemies!
The first way to start, Fred tells us, is by making a list of your “greatest enemies”. These could be lingerie ads, either in a seemingly harmless department store catalog, or that Victoria’s Secret magazine that your wife left laying around. It could include billboards, it could be TV shows or ads, it may be female joggers, or maybe it’s that female co-worker who tends to dress a little suggestively. And then there’s always the beach.
He literally puts women in the category of “enemy” and says you should make a list of them–a list that includes joggers and co-workers, or any woman at the beach.
The victim of lust is portrayed as the man’s purity not the woman he is objectiying
Every Man’s Battle portrays lots of rather disgusting anecdotes of how men get into trouble with lust, but the women that they are objectifying are not described as the victims here–instead, the man’s purity is described as what is being lost. When Alex masturbates to his sleeping sister-in-law, it’s not discussed how this objectifies her in his mind and how this is a sin against her. When a youth volunteer rapes a 15-year-old, the problem is that now he may get in trouble because her parents may report him–not one single word is spent describing the trauma he has just inflicted on this girl.
The cure for lust is in women’s hands
And how do men get over lust? It’s a two-fold process. First, they “bounce their eyes” away from women, and then they transfer all their sexual energy onto their wives. As Keith and I already talked about in different posts, “bouncing your eyes” only solidifies lust’s definition of women as dangerous, and never chooses to respect women and see them as human beings.
You may also enjoy:
- Why “bouncing your eyes” doesn’t work
- The Lust is Not Every Man’s Battle Podcast
- Can We Respect Women, Please? A New Look at Lust
After you bounce your eyes, though, you have to direct all your sexual energy to your wife, which will cause your desire for her to go up. And then she will become your “methadone”:
“Your wife can be a methadone-like fix when your temperature is rising.” p. 118
“This newfound hunger will shock her. She has been accustomed to providing you five bowls a week, primarily through physical foreplay and sexual intercourse. Things were at equilibrium. Suddenly you need an extra five bowls from her. For no apparent reason, you come calling for intercourse twice as often. ” p. 134
In Every Man’s Battle, women are only ever talked about in terms of their body parts or their looks–or their relationship to men
Women are either dangers or rescuers; they are never just people. Every Man’s Battle never talks about actually respecting women–only avoiding women or else using your wife. They equate male sexuality with objectifying women, and the goal seems to be to objectify one woman for the rest of your life. Sex isn’t talked about as intimacy, but only in terms of sexual release. To wives, they say:
“When men aren’t getting regular sexual release, their eyes are more difficult to control. Help him out in this battle. Give him release.” p. 148
And in the entire book there is no mention of women’s pleasure or experience at all. Women are only ever talked about in terms of what they can do for men. Even that horrible anecdote about the youth volunteer raping the 15-year-old is under the heading “lurking at your neighbor’s door”, as if the sin is really against the father.
When women are seen as the enemy; where men’s purity is the thing that is at danger, not women; when women are dehumanized; should we be surprised when this happens?
What would happen instead if, in church, we were taught that women were to be respected, and that respect didn’t look like avoiding women and trying not to look at them, but instead choosing to truly see them? What would happen if we talked about how women were more than their body parts? What would happen if, when talking about lust, we framed it as men being dangerous to women, rather than women being dangerous to men?
What would happen if we simply treated women as if they were real people?
I am so sorry for the grieving families in Atlanta today. But I believe that these messages about lust and women contributed to this killing, at least in part. And I believe these messages hurt so many others, even if no killing actually takes place. When women are dehumanized and men are told they have no self-control, and so need women to step in for them–how can anything but disaster ensue?
And what about that Missouri pastor being put on leave for saying that women need to stay attractive to their husbands?
I wasn’t going to talk about this because I felt his sermon was just so gross, but I think it fits in today’s broader theme. So let’s take a look for a moment.
Stewart-Allen Clark, of First General Baptist Church, in a sermon sometime in February, said:
“I really don’t believe women understand how visual men are…I don’t think women understand how important it is for a man to have a beautiful woman on his arm.”
“You can call it juvenile, immature, sexist…God made men to be drawn to beautiful women. We are made this way, we can’t help ourselves.”
He also said:
“I want you to know a need that your man has that he won’t ever tell you about, but since I’m the preacher man, I’ll say it: Your man needs an attractive wife.”
And finally, about the “do not deprive” verses, he said:
“The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband…After you get married, men, put this on your headboard in the house…Whenever she’s not in the mood, take out your Bible.”
Over and over again in the sermon, he said “that’s just the way men are made”, but he didn’t reference hardly any Scripture for that. Instead, he read from one of the very books we used in The Great Sex Rescue to show how problematic the teaching is–His Needs, Her Needs.
Now, the problem with his sermon was that he said all of this over and over and over again, and when you listen you just get disgusted. But here’s the issue I’m having:
Everything he said is ALSO said in our evangelical bestsellers.
Just a few examples:
His Needs Her Needs says “An Attractive Spouse” is one of men’s five big emotional needs in marriage–whereas it doesn’t register for women in the same way. “She should try to look the way her husband likes her to look. She should resemble the woman he married. Does that mean a woman mus stay eternally young? Of course not, but getting old is not an excuse for gaining weight and dressing like a bag lady.”
He also says that being married to a wife who had gained 100 pounds is “like a prison sentence.”
For Women Only says that men need you to try to be attractive, too. “As we struggle with [the] hard truth [that when you take care of yourself, your expectation that ‘I only have eyes for you’ feels fairer and easier to accomplish], it might be helpful to remember that we’re not alone: We’re also asking our man to do something that is hard and goes against his natural instinct [not look at other women] The man who originally opened my eyes to this issue explained it this way: “We need to see that you care about keeping our attention on you–and off of other women. Sometimes it is so hard for us to look away. It takes a lot of work and a lot of effort. But it helps me so much if I see that my wife is willing to do her part and purposefully work toward staying in shape and looking good.” p. 168.
“A man can’t not want to look.” p. 112
Through a Man’s Eyes (also by Shaunti Feldhahn) says: “because men and women are wired so differently, women often don’t realize how the opposite sex sees the world. Most women simply aren’t aware of what men’s visual nature means, or how much it impacts literally every area of most men’s lives and relationships.” p. 8. It describes Jack’s typical day at work, where most of his mental energy goes into trying not to look at co-workers, get distracted by billboards, or stare at the teenagers in bikinis in the hotel pool. It says things about his day like, “the next few hours are tough” because a female co-worker is in sight, or “Jack breathes a sigh of relief” because a skirt doesn’t ride up.
Every Man’s Battle has a chapter on lust simply called “Just by being male.” It’s how God made them, you see!
Act of Marriage says: “Women must cultivate the problem of visual lust, whereas men almost universally must cope with the problem just because they are men.” p. 298
Love & Respect says, “His sexuality is different from yours, because he is visually stimulated. He needs sexual release just as you need emotional release.” p. 251
Every Heart Restored says, “because of male hardwiring, men don’t naturally have that Christian view of sex.” p. 87
And that interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7, where men can just use it as a weapon every time she doesn’t want sex? It’s all over our evangelical bestsellers, everywhere.
You know what’s missing? Any discussion of consent.
One of the big findings of our survey was the believing that a wife is obligated to have sex when her husband wants it wrecks sex for women and causes sexual pain to skyrocket. It’s one of the big reasons that evangelical women suffer from twice the rate of sexual pain as the general population. You can listen to a longer discussion of it in our podcast on obligation sex, or, of course, check out The Great Sex Rescue!
The Great Sex Rescue
Changing the conversation about sex & marriage in the evangelical church.
What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?
What if the things that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these messages?
Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.
I just have one simple question after laying this all out:
Why is it that when people say EXACTLY THE SAME THING that is in our bestsellers and it hits the news, Christians are horrified–and yet we keep buying these bestsellers?
The Atlanta shooter conveyed the exact same message as Every Man’s Battle, and shows the logical conclusion of that argument, and yet no one batted an eye when that series sold four million copies.
The Missouri pastor’s sermon is basically just a whole bunch of lines from all of our bestsellers strung together, and yet when we see it that way, we’re upset. But we still bought all of these bestsellers that say the same thing!
This stuff comes from a common place. Our evangelical culture treats women, lust, and porn in terrible, terrible ways. We don’t talk about respect and dignity. We don’t talk about freedom in Christ. We talk about dangers and neutralizing threats and men being lust monsters (which they’re not, and which contributes to men feeling shame from normal sexual attraction, which they shouldn’t).
We cover all of this at length in The Great Sex Rescue, and I truly believe it’s a freeing message.
I’ve spent all week recording the audio version at a studio near here, and so I’ve just read it all out loud over the last few days. It is honestly a very good book that gets to the heart of what is wrong with the way we talk about sex.
But when I see these news stories, I just get so saddened and horrified and frustrated all at the same time, because it’s just all so predictable and so unnecessary.
Church, this has nothing to do with Christ. And we can do better.
Can’t we? Please. I need to believe that we can change the conversation about sex. Can you believe with me?
And, again, I know that many people struggle with lust, and I’m not trying to shame them. I just think the way we talks about this makes it worse. Many men have said they found our lust podcast freeing, and I hope you do, too!
What do you think? Why can people say this terrible stuff in books but then people not make the leap to how dangerous it is? How can we stop it? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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