Mars Hill and Boomer Sexual Fundamentalism

At Aaron’s suggestion, I recently began listening to the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast from Christianity Today. It’s a biased account, the whole game being to smear conservatives with Driscoll’s bad behavior. Nevertheless, it is well-produced and can spur useful reflection among those of us who remain committed to a Biblical understanding of sexuality.

A clever trick the podcast sometimes uses is that of misdirection. If they want to make a point, for example, and Driscoll’s admittedly voluminous amount of raw material doesn’t lend itself to the point, they will pivot to feature someone other than Driscoll. One example of this was when Driscoll claimed that a woman propositioned him in the communion line. 

For those of us familiar with hypergamy, or just people with common sense, it’s entirely plausible Driscoll was being truthful. He was the most famous pastor in the world at the time, and he was specifically famous for being dangerous / controversial and he is an attractive, athletic guy. It’s not a surprise that women would be attracted to him, and since women are sinners too, it’s not implausible that someone in his gigantic church propositioned him. And, indeed, it is to Driscoll’s credit that his controversies have never involved a shred of personal sexual misconduct despite probably more opportunity than any pastor of the last twenty years. Necessity isn’t virtue, so his soy-faced critics probably can’t relate to the temptation he constantly faced.

The podcast, however, wanted to cast doubt on whether a woman had ever propositioned Driscoll. Sneakily, they immediately pivot to an unrelated story of James Dobson telling some anecdote about how he thought a woman was propositioning him with her eyes, while they were both in their vehicles at a stoplight. So they undermine Driscoll’s entirely plausible claim with a goofy story told by a doughy, sweater-vest-wearing Boomer at some conference somewhere before the Internet.

One episode similarly featured Driscoll bragging about his own “smoking hot” wife, somehow casting Grace Driscoll as a victim for her husband publicly praising her appearance (and, admittedly, for this traditional southern Christian, all the sex talk from Driscoll is uncomfortable, but it’s also West Coast evangelicalism, which has always seemed weird to me culturally). Again, the soy-influenced producers can’t imagine that a woman would actually enjoy being praised this way, and likely did. What they really wanted, however, was to smear Driscoll for fat-shaming women. They couldn’t exactly find any audio of him doing this, and notably, Driscoll would never do this based on other sermons he preached telling men to be attracted to whatever body their wife happens to have. So off they go searching for an evangelical goofball they can use to smear by association. And, boy, did they find it.

An unfortunate hinterland pastor in Missouri, Stewart Allen-Clark, preached this in a sermon and had his cornpone routine go viral:

“I’m not saying every woman can be the epic trophy wife of all time, like Melania Trump,” he said, with a large image of the former first lady behind his head. “Most women can’t be trophy wives like her, maybe you’re a participation trophy … But you don’t need to look like a butch either.”

Clark argued that women simply don’t understand that God made men to be drawn to beautiful women and how they must try to look attractive.

“But you say, ‘how can I do that?’ Oh, I’m so glad you asked that question,” he said to his congregation. “If you were sitting in my office, here’s the first thing I’d say to you. And boy, I hate to say this: weight control.”

Beyond the cringe and creepiness of publicly praising the appearance of another man’s wife, my immediate reaction was the right-wing Twitter meme, “poast physique.” “Poast physique,” related to the meme “bro do you even lift,” is almost always directed towards male commenters. The meme implies that if a man can’t manage to keep his body fit, his ideas are probably not worth considering. It may not be strictly logical, but it’s a useful filter. It’s so easy for most men to get in shape - lift, limit the carbs, put down the soda, eat lots of meat - that a guy who won’t bother is probably not worth listening to. Even guys with genuine insight, like Rod Dreher, would be much less depressive and hard to read if they would lift weights and lay off the seed oils and craft beer phytoestrogens.

So what does Pastor Clark’s physique look like?

Oh. He’s a goofball with a gut who dresses like a toddler. 

One recurring theme in the podcast is the disgust various women feel at being told they must have sex with their husbands in pastoral counseling sessions. This phenomenon has always mystified me. What kind of man would want to have sex with his wife if she didn’t want to have sex with him? In a sense, sex that both spouses don’t enjoy is not really sex. Such advice addresses the surface symptom rather than deeper issues in a marriage.

Pastor Clark helps confirm my hypothesis for explaining part of the anger around Driscoll: women are angry at being told they have to have sex with unattractive men and submitting to the authority of the same. The feminization of the church means there are more women than men, and so on average, in the church, a woman has poorer choices than a man does in choosing a partner. Ironically, making the church more feminine has severely impoverished women’s choices in life’s most important relationship.

If you think about prominent evangelical female teachers in the church, they’re generally in much better shape than many of the male pastors in leadership. Think of how unusual John MacArthur is in being a spry, physically fit pastor past the age of 60. There’s something structurally problematic about obese older men being in positions of leadership in the church where their general lack of self-control can often manifest in creepy and inappropriate behavior towards female staff. 

Beth Moore likely has been harassed from time to time by guys like this. There are a lot of leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention who need to lay off the “cokes” and fried chicken and have an overly familiar way of interacting with other men’s wives and daughters. They can’t stop themselves from making inappropriate comments for the same reason they can’t stop eating Doritos. If these male leaders were fit and athletic, women likely would be more charitable and less insulted in interpreting borderline behavior. 

The issue here is two-fold. The first is a Boomer fundamentalist misunderstanding of the purpose of sex, which, ironically and contrary to the podcast’s allusions, Driscoll implicitly endorses. In this paradigm, sex is a kind of bodily function for men that women are responsible for fulfilling. Its primary purpose is to help men avoid temptation and sin. This is myopic compared to the fuller understanding of sex as the means of procreation and unity within marriage. And if both partners aren’t enjoying it, it’s not fulfilling the latter purpose. This is not to say that there are never situations where one spouse is unjustly denying the other marital relations, or where issues such as past trauma and abuse make it difficult to achieve intimacy. But I think much of it could be explained by the second factor, a lack of attractiveness exhibited by one or both partners. 

Humans aren’t animalistic in their sexuality; it is more than a mere body function. Attraction needs to go both ways for both partners to have a satisfying experience. And, contrary to Boomer sexual reductionism, attractiveness is largely objective, involuntary, and independent of religious convictions. 

Aaron has talked about the poor job the church does in teaching men how to be attractive. If the church had fewer Bible studies and more weightlifting groups, dropped the “godliness is sexy” lie, dropped the servant leadership con so men could actually lead, and focused on the importance of physical fitness for everyone, perhaps some of these women would feel differently. If the church required its leaders to practice the fundamental spiritual discipline of physical fitness, pastors would have both the ethos and the executive function to deliver that same message in a winsome way to men and women in the church.

Obesity, for both men and women, is objectively unattractive because it is objectively unhealthy; God, in His Providence, oriented our attractiveness around that which is also good for us. Pastor Clark isn’t fundamentally wrong. It is arguably a form of marital fraud when either spouse lets themselves go after marriage, and it’s not uncommon for women to suddenly find a way to lose a bunch of weight after a divorce, for example. But having a fat guy who won’t tuck his shirt in delivering that message is not helping anyone.

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