This article was posted on a CRC online forum and I thought it was excellent. https://jay-stringer.com/ravi-zacharias-and-the-sexual-binge-purge-cycle-of-evangelical-men/. Someone commented that CRC Safe Church is going to have the author in for some other shindig thing because they loved it so much.
The regularity and predictability of high status church MEN behaving badly sexually creates an interesting game in our culture war. It’s like a sailboat in a windstorm. All the aspects of the individual play into the chaotic maelstrom of our collective misery.
The argument for SSM for most people revolves around the current imaginary with regard to “the natural”. For whatever combination of nature and nurture you want to postulate there is a degree of moral permission around sexual expression or gratification that feels authentic to them with a few notable remaining exceptions.
The current lament and agenda is that Christianity has since late antiquity forced individuals into binding social situations that take from them the joy of fulfilment that would be theirs IF they had been free to pursue their bliss. The emphasis has been on social stigmas (such as “homophobia”) that has punished or repressed an individual’s natural expression and restricted them from pursuing their bliss. This has followed a previous wave where historical events, even individual choice “missteps” have locked some person into an unfortunate or unwise pairing and only later did they realize that they have missed out on a better arrangement which would have been an upgrade compared to the one they are now locked into. The movie that might exemplify that is perhaps Bridges of Madison County.
Religious people have in many ways taken center stage in such dramas because of “religio” from the Latin which is “binding”. It classically prompts people to commit themselves to costly arrangements often at the prompting of some “supernatural” power who demands sacrifice, and in this case the sacrifice of one’s freedom to pursue fulfillment, happiness, joy, or whatever narrative one might imagine to produce the bliss we fell ourselves entitled to.
Our current cultural moral imaginary is a combination of Gnosticism and Scientism. “Science” will tell us that high status mammalian males are biologically driven to colonize history with their superior genetic material. Females watch men compete and select the winners to mate with. They don’t necessarily have to be good looking (Donald Trump) but it doesn’t hurt (Brad Pitt). This is “normal”, “natural” behavior for high status males. You can watch it in the animal kingdom. You can see it clearly throughout history. Powerful men have access to beautiful women and the higher the status the more they’ve got (read the book of Esther, or look at King David or King Solomon).
Christianity has not only been anti-gay in this narrative but anti-high-status-male. The Apostle Paul tells Christian men of the Roman empire to love their wives (not a given) tells other men not to frequent prostitutes which is sort of a poor man’s polygamy. Rent a partner instead of paying exclusive access and legal heirs.
Our culture has enough Christianity in it that we applaud the marital arrangement of Barack Obama over against Donald Trump, but this I would suggest is likely on increasingly thin ice in the unending tug of war between the interests of men and the interests of women.
Men and women tend to want EXCLUSIVE access to the other because it is in their own interest. Men don’t want other men implanting their seed in their women. Women don’t want competition for the man’s resources from the offspring of other women. In some ways the truce is monogamy and if that can’t be gained then minimalized serial polygamy which is divorce and remarriage. “One sexual partner at a time please…”
Our technological democratic age rushes in to offer affordable compromises to both sides. Women get cheap and effective birth control (and abortion) to afford more choice in terms of attracting and selecting a male that might be the best choice for that provider male who will be exclusively committed with his resources to her offspring.
With great power comes great responsibility though. She’d better be careful with this strategy because it’s a waiting game and there are also now societal pressures to seek her own security by waiting. Many want to construct their own path to security by pursuing education and career so as not to be dependent upon a man for finances but at the expense of her peak fertility and sexual attractiveness. Many women are not navigating this well and finding themselves in their mid 30s with financial assets but reduced capacity in the attracting-a-man market and hence having to purchase seed to fertilize their own eggs.
Biology (or God) has unfairly afforded men an advantage when it comes to time. Men have no comparable biological clock. They too can use tools of contraception to enjoy the milk without having to purchase the cow. High status males in the dating market are doing very well in terms of gaining sexual access to a disproportionate number of women in the market. By our own admission in this age of two-track narratives where “the real reasons” are beneath the conscious level, women are in some ways auditioning the men as fathers for their offspring while the men are happy to oblige without the risk of being tied down. They no longer have the privilege nor expense of paying child support. Many can play this game until, at some point, if they want to they can “settle down” and have a family with a woman of their choice. Jerry Seinfeld might be a good example of that. “Play the field” through one’s 20s and 30s and if so inclined find a younger wife of child bearing age and then have children in your 40s and 50s. This women wins because she secure a high status male ready to make compromises. He’s sown his wild oats (without actually sowing because of contraception) and is now ready to settle down. The women he’s been with (how many women do you imagine Jerry Seinfeld had sex with before he settled down…) maybe didn’t want to marry, maybe got to have sex with a famous figure but don’t have access to his near billion dollar “net worth”.
Lower status men increasingly have virtual access to highly attractive women through pornography. Democracy and technology go hand in hand.
Enter the high-status-conservative Christian male. This poor victim has all the biological, natural compulsion to spread his seed and all the religious pressure to NOT do so. This sets up for them a real “gotcha”. Their status is dependent upon fulfilling a rather anti-biological sexual script of self-denial. If they betray that script they lose their status and also the opportunity for fulfilling their biological drive. If they keep to the script they lose out on what their biology wants for them. How do they compensate? There needs to be other goods above and beyond what sexual biology is offering them.
Now these trade-offs are of course not unique. There are trade-offs all over the place in life. Monogamy is a system of trade-offs. “Til death do us part” is a trade-off where lots of other goods come in to compensate for the sacrifices inherent in the relationship. Men and women both get exclusive access, which both like. Children get exclusive access to resources, which both like. Both also sacrifice. Plenty of trade-offs.
Now obviously the dynamics for same-sex attracted people are different. Right away it is clear that biological reproduction isn’t at play in the same way that it is with primarily opposite sex attracted people. Contraception has of course changed this equation though making heterosexual behavior increasingly “fruitless” like sterile homosexual behavior. It gets enormously complex of course because the desire to procreate is there in same-sex attracted people but it isn’t a “natural” outcome of their sexual desire. If you follow the logic you can see how, let’s say, the math is different.
But here’s the rub. The moral economy of the two systems are joined. The low resolution take-away from both high profile Christian moral failures and common demand to remove religious and societal barriers to “natural” sexual fulfilment find each other. Traditional Christianity is seen as unnatural and therefore untrue. It says that same-sex attracted individuals should not seek what’s natural to them, and when high status Christian men fail to keep to the script someone comes along and says “see, it doesn’t even work for those who are most successful at promoting it! It must be denounced and abandoned!”
Not everyone will jump on anti-religious-skeptic bandwagon though. Many see the tremendous sunk costs in Christianity and the goods it has afforded and want compromise. Certainly the goods of monogamy can been seen as beneficial over promiscuity and chaos. Let’s use Christianity’s tools of influence to tame gay men and elevate the social status of lesbian women. Let’s use all that God talk to undo what the God talk did 1500 years ago. The (already receding) threat of divine punishment can be done away with God (via the church) affirming same sex marriage. The acceptance tent can be expanded so that all the riches of the church can be available to all. Win win.
High status politicians not too long ago in the Democratic primaries played the “how does their gay marriage threaten your hetero marriage” card quite publicly and on one level they seem to have a point. If I am attracted to the opposite sex I have the freedom to marry a woman. Who am I to tell them they can’t marry someone of the same sex and have it celebrated and validated by the same powerful religious social structure that I enjoy? This is clearly inequitable.
However, does this really NOT tinker with the powerful forces that have been marshalled along other battle fronts with larger populations than those who are significantly and durably same-sex attracted?
There is no question that the very very old economy of sexual pursuit has been deeply blunted by those same powerful Christian forces trying to resist what we have come to expect from high status men. Why should God deny liberation from the natural, authentic desires of some but not others. That too is inequitable. (Equity always must have a limited purview to do its demanding math.)
The article I began with suggests that the solution to the frustration of the blunted, natural, biological imperative of the high status Christian man is the opposite of the Billy Graham rule or the Mike Pence rule. Billy Graham and Mike Pence basically blunt-forced the problem in order to not lose the game. It’s an inelegant and perhaps unfair solution but is reasonably effective at achieving its goal. Many lower-status yet locally high-status Christian men, such as local church pastors have been using basic tricks and hacks like that for years. Safe church promotes such tricks and hacks all over the place. Install windows, have more than one person there… These aren’t necessarily that different from what seasoned alcoholics do to keep from getting into situations of temptation and fall.
The challenge to the article are guys like Bill Hybels. Hybels, like other high status Christian leaders struggled and in some ways failed. He was affirming of women in ministry and saw to it that women played prominent roles in the operations of Willow Creek.
I’m often amazed that people fail to give Donald Trump credit for how many women he elevates to positions of leadership in his organizations even before becoming POTUS. Now it’s true that he seems to like to name good looking women, but they are still women and women have their own interesting relationship with attractiveness as you can see in any grocery store check-out line.
Contrary to the old bias, high status men are not necessarily intimidated by powerful women. Their power might in fact make them more attractive. Sexual attractiveness is only one kind of power that women use to attract potential reproductive partners and to compete against other women who may be rivals for exclusive access to men’s resources.
In some ways, perhaps, the article I noted plays along with another male status game which is men allying with women’s cause in order to gain status among women in order to… you know what.
Now some will read this and say “women are not so crass and simple as to be involved in this sort of sexual economy…”
Yeah, but I think that’s yet another part of the economy. Just as its going to be harder to deny high status Christian men the object of their natural and authentic desires, as you undermine the power of the Christian system to generally demand resistance to such desires so also it will be increasingly difficult to deny the reality of two level theories.
Two level theories are also deeply promoted today. All white people are natural-born white-supremacists whether they know it or not and they need to perpetually own their privilege and daily confess and war against it. All cis-gender men are natural-born misogynists and must confess their patriarchy every day and war against it. Now if you’re not a white man you might feel safe but someone with greater oppression Olympic status is going to come after you with a two level theory and demand that a privilege be owned, confessions be ritualized, and reparations be paid.
To be clear I’m not skeptical about the validity of two-level-theories. I think they are real and many of their observations are valid. My skepticism comes when they are isolated and weaponized. Discovering one two-level-theory is easy and convenient but recognizing just how many of them there are and how dynamic that economy is beneath the surface of all of us is what I would wish for us to realize.
Christianity, of course, has its own hierarchy of values. Mortify some desires so that other goods can come to the fore. Make some trade offs so that greater gains can be had.
Now you might say “these economies don’t intermingle” but I’d say they do and that we really don’t know how changes in one area impact changes in another. I am skeptical that you can selectively dismantle aspects of a moral economy without consequences in other areas. As always we ask “who pays and who benefits?”
We are all participating in this live action experiment. That is what history does. My point is that you can’t expect to marshal forces against high status males if you keep undermining the significant achievements that have curtailed them for centuries. You say “your sexual freedom is what’s important” and then say “don’t pursue what you are able to by virtue of wealth and biology”. It isn’t going to work. pvk