She didn’t put it in quite those terms, of course, but that’s exactly the allegation Sheila Gregoire is making in her recent article. She writes:
Evangelicals are pointing fingers at “celebrity Christian culture,” blaming it for the tragic Ravi Zacharias sexual abuse and rape scandal and the extramarital escapades of Hillsong pastor Carl Lentz (as well as so many more). But what if this epidemic is not just — or even mostly — caused by celebrity culture?
What if it’s the evangelical view of sex?
Yes, celebrity culture gave Zacharias more access to victims and gave both men cover for what they were doing. But it was not celebrity culture that taught these men to objectify women. Our evangelical culture primed them for it.
So how exactly did evangelical culture teach men to “objectify” women? Well, by acknowledging men’s struggle with lust and by pointing out God’s solution for that struggle which Paul recorded in 1 Corinthians 7:
It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
To support her case, Gregoire throws together a lengthy list of quotes from various popular evangelical writings: all applying these verses and all seasoned with commentary meant to poison the well. She undoubtedly expects the reader to be whipped into an outrage matching her own by the end of the list. However, any critical reader will notice that the list of quotes mostly just acknowledge what the Bible acknowledges and attempt to make specific exhortations based on the Bible’s general exhortations. I’m not going to critique the whole list since they’re all out-of-context anyway, but at a glance, they fail by offending the tone-police more than by actually teaching falsely.
Next, Gregoire attempts to put the shoe on the other foot, claiming that if anybody is being sexually neglected in marriage, it’s women. After all, while 92% of men report always or almost always climaxing in sexual encounters, only 49% of women do. Of course, there are a lot of physiological differences between male and female orgasms–not surprising given that sex is where the sexes are, by design, the most different. Accordingly, blaming men for the orgasm gap makes almost as little sense as blaming women for the erectile disfunction gap. Sometimes it’s the fault of one partner or the other, but in most cases, no one is really to blame.
And since I know the devotees of whataboutism will object to that… Yes, some husbands are indeed at fault on the orgasm issue. Maybe they don’t care enough; maybe they’re too lazy to put in the effort; maybe they’re simply inept. But then, some wives are to blame as well. Maybe they’re frigid and unable to lower their guard sufficiently to climax; maybe they’re unwilling, unable, or too ashamed to tell their husbands about their own specific desires. After all, most husbands enjoy their wife’s orgasms and would happily put in the effort if it meant more. In fact, that masculine desire is strong enough that it can itself become problematic by creating a kind of performance anxiety for the wife–a problem only exacerbated when folks like Gregoire try to toss a moral obligation onto the pile.
But beyond these kinds of situations, there lie a whole host of cases where no one is really to blame. There are often physical, psychological, or pharmacological barriers to orgasm that are more the result of circumstance than anything else. But these unfortunate realities of life in a fallen world tend to be overlooked by women like Gregoire because blame is a feminist’s only real currency.
That’s why the orgasm gap isn’t really the issue here. Neither is Gregoire’s vague desire for “a Jesus-centered sexual ethic, rooted in mutuality and intimacy.” The issue is that feminists cannot countenance the idea that a woman could have an obligation she doesn’t feel like fulfilling. In the words of Gloria Steinem, “Feminism starts out being very simple. It starts out being the instinct of a little child who says ‘it’s not fair’ and ‘you are not the boss of me,’ and it ends up being a worldview that questions hierarchy altogether.” Blame is always the result when this attitude of selfish entitlement meets a reality in which God-given authority and responsibility truly exist.
As I’ve written before, sex in marriage is a duty. We all want it to be more than a duty, of course, but we must never regard it as less than one. If we cannot be bothered to even care for our spouse’s needs after making ourselves their sole provider, then we will neither achieve nor maintain the genuine intimacy and loving-kindness we’d like to experience. Accordingly, we should not regard emotional intimacy as a prerequisite for sex in marriage, but rather as the fruit of sex in marriage.
When we reverse this, we fall into the trap C.S. Lewis describes in The Screwtape Letters. The demon Screwtape observes:
The humans are to be encouraged to regard as the basis for marriage a highly-coloured and distorted version of something the Enemy really promises as its result. Two advantages follow. In the first place, humans who have not the gift of continence can be deterred from seeking marriage as a solution because they do not find themselves ‘in love’, and, thanks to us, the idea of marrying with any other motive seems to them low and cynical. Yes, they think that. They regard the intention of loyalty to a partnership for mutual help, for the preservation of chastity, and for the transmission of life, as something lower than a storm of emotion.
This demonic mix-up is no less damaging within marriage than without, and it is precisely what Gregoire is promoting. She despises God’s commands regarding sex in marriage so that she can prop up an idol of emotional satisfaction. As with any other issue, we would do far better to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and then all these things will be added unto us.
Like most feminist analysis, Gregoire’s complaints here do nothing but turn marriages into resentment factories. After all, feminism teaches women that they cannot feel safe around men unless they can control them, but nature simultaneously teaches women to despise men whom they control. It’s like turning off the tap and then complaining that that the sink is dry. But this is a strategy we’re all nauseatingly familiar with by now: Sow anti-male resentment among women, claim that resentment as proof of abuse, and then use abuse to license divorce, fornication, and pursuit of women’s preferred form of promiscuity: serial monogamy.
Because in the end, there is a problem with the way evangelical culture views lust. It’s just not the one that Gregoire sees–insufficient hatred of masculinity. The real oversight is that while evangelicals will freely acknowledge men’s vulnerabilities to sin, they fail to acknowledge women’s. In fact, I suspect that this may be part of Gregoire’s problem here–she expects men to be as immune to temptation as evangelicalism pretends women are. Sometimes people drink the Kool-Aid simply because it’s the only beverage they’ve ever been offered.
In any case, women lust too–as badly as men do, in some respects. They merely lust along the lines of their own natural mechanisms of desire rather than men’s. But God offers the same solution to both sexes: faithful marriage. If evangelicals were more willing to acknowledge women’s frailties alongside men’s, it wouldn’t just be wives getting advice on how to help their husbands, but also husbands learning how to help their wives overcome temptation. And that advice would look less like perpetually trying to find ways to sate feminist demands for fried ice, and more like finding ways to become more attractive to their spouses.
As for men like Ravi Zacharias, help in resisting temptation will do no good to anyone determined to flirt with it. Neither does 1 Corinthians 7 somehow undo “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” But we must not hide away God’s help from struggling men simply because some men refuse to struggle. After all, some men’s failure to abide by God’s word neither deprives it of its power nor gives anyone else license to cast it aside.