I don’t know about you but I was in tears when I read Ann Voskamp’s post, After Steubenville: 25 Things Our Sons need to know about Manhood.
Beautifully written, Ann speaks passionately from the heart of a woman and mother who has been raised up in the evangelical church.
Ann spoke about a lot good and important things but I would like to add some thoughts to her incredible piece knowing full well I’m a white male and knowing I can’t even come close to writing as well as she does.
I know much has already been written on the Steubenville culture.
Can Jesus-followers speak hope into this darkness? Can Jesus-followers speak hope for women?
Are we resigned to this? “Boys will be boys????”
One of the things Ann did not address is Jesus’ friendship with women.
Another thing Ann did not address is the “body-parts sexuality” in our culture which many Christians subscribe to. While Ann speaks for many Christians when she pointed out how Jesus related to women, I think she missed the powerful narrative of body-parts sexuality held by many evangelicals.
Many good and sincere evangelicals would quickly denounce what happened in Steubenville. But as Ann points out, she experienced a similar culture in her youth at a church.
So I would like to suggest body-parts sexuality is a powerful paradigm in the evangelical world. We hear this from evangelicals if we were to hang out in their communities for a while: the grown-up version of “boys will be boys.” We would also hear from many of these same evangelicals that men and women can’t be close friends because men are biologically hardwired to have sex when they are in close proximity to women.
This is deeply puzzling given the fact that evangelicals believe Jesus never had sex.
Since I began to go public with my close friendships with women and then write a book, I have heard this logic, this danger narrative over and over again from evangelical men and women. Men are hardwired to have sex.
The evangelical dogma of body-parts sexuality.
If this is true, close friendship between men and women is out the window. Because at the heart of deep healthy friendship is vulnerability. Men hardwired for sex can’t be trusted in the presence of women’s body parts when women let their guard down—emotionally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually.
This is the message of Steubenville.
This is the message of body-parts sexuality.
This is the message in so many evangelical churches.
As one evangelical man said to my friend, Vanessa, “All men are alley cats.”
It’s not going to help young men from moving past “boys will be boys” as long as evangelical grown-ups reduce sexuality to “parts and plumbing” relating.
The body-parts sexuality sends a strong message that all relational sexuality for boys and men is driven by body-parts—not by spiritual unity, friendship, mutuality or character.
In body-parts sexuality, bystanders become enablers to this fact: masculinity emerging in young men and then manhood is driven to seek satisfaction, fulfillment, pleasure, and unity through women’s body parts. So in a body-parts sexuality, women have to always keep their guard up in the presence of men.
Sacred friendships are about something radically different.
All men and women should seek spiritual unity in marriage, friendship, and community. Spiritual unity is much deeper than mere equality.
I think Carolyn Custis James makes a good point in a recent HuffPost article:
“Gaining ground against all forms of abuse -- including abuse of power, sexual, spiritual and emotional abuse, domestic violence, as well as sex-trafficking and pornography -- will be sporadic until women are routinely part of church leadership.”
But I don’t think women in leadership will gain the ground she thinks it will as long as a body-parts sexuality serves a powerful undercurrent in church communities.
Let me put forth something: Spiritual unity in the Christian tradition between men and women is centered on personhood, dignity, mutuality and character between men and women made in the image of God.
Men can follow Jesus and nurture friendship virtues to honor women’s dignity, their personhood, and their character in women’s most vulnerable moments.
These are sacred friendships.
How many of our children (young, adolescent, teenaged) are seeing us model this holistic sexuality before their eyes?
This would be a narrative of deep beauty (instead of one driven by fear and power) of holistic sexuality between men and women.
Ask most evangelicals why men and women can’t be friends and sooner or later you are going to run into the “hard-wired” narrative and culture behind the Steubenville rape:
men can’t be trusted around women when women are at their most vulnerable moments unless men have an outlet for their sexual impulse toward body parts.
In the Steubenville culture, girls and women always have to have their guard up. They can never put themselves—their character, their personhood, their whole self in a vulnerable position with men in close proximity.
This is at the heart of why men and women can’t be close friends.
We saw the hard-wired logic and culture in the case of the Iowa dentist who predicted he would have an affair with assistant (even when she wasn’t attracted to him) if she continued working for him. His pastors agreed. According to Knight's own admission, he was afraid that Nelson’s tight clothing might lead him to act out on urges that he knew was appropriate for the marital bed only.
Back when I revealed my close relationship with my single friend to my then pastor, he pleaded with me that I was playing with fire. He urged me to understand that I was “hard-wired” to have sex with women I got close to.
How do we reverse the evil of the Steubenville culture?
What would happen if we as Jesus-followers began to embrace the beauty of women as friends of equal dignity in their whole person instead of body-parts? What would happen if personhood and character were at the center of spiritual unity instead of body-parts? What would happen if we could actually nurture intimate trust in friendships between men and women?
We would experience a culture of trust emerging where women in their most vulnerable moments could rest in a deep sense of safety and peace in the presence of the men.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Matt 5:9
The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Jesus, John 17:22-23
If you come to the Sacred Friendship Gathering next month, you are going to hear stories of men and women who enjoy a deep sense of safety between each other as friends. Embodiment and trust in holistic sexuality.