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“Thou Shalt Remain Sexy”: Christian Women and the Perils of Aging

I just finished reading Rachel Held Evans’s remarkable book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, in which she undertakes to live “biblically” for a year. (Yes, I know that the yearlong project book has been done before, and rumor has it that I even wrote one such book myself, but before you roll your eyes at all the derivations in book publishing please understand that Evans’s book is funny, wise, and totally worth your time. It’ll be out in late October.)

Anyway, one of the most interesting chapters of the book deals with beauty and sex in the Bible. Not surprisingly, our culture’s ideas about beauty and sex are not very biblical. But when I say “our culture,” I’m including the Christian church in America, because on this score the church is preaching some messages that are every bit as damaging to women as anything Hollywood has come up with.

Now, Mark Driscoll is admittedly an easy target here, but here’s the thing about his extremist misogyny . . . people listen to it. Lots of people. So when he makes comments like the following, which Evans quotes in her book, his words have some weight:

At the risk of being even more widely despised than I currently am, I will lean over the plate and take one for the team on this. It is not uncommon to meet pastors’ wives who really let themselves go; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness. A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in ways that the Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband’s sin, but she may not be helping him either.

First off, you have to admire the full-blown persecution complex of an attack dog like Driscoll who simply doesn’t understand why, after a career of making outrageous comments in the name of Jesus Christ, he is “widely despised.” Besides that, however, let’s look at the message he’s sending. The context for this statement was the 2006 revelation that megachurch leader Ted Haggard had engaged in a homosexual affair with another man. When in doubt, blame Ted’s wife, who must not have been sexually available to him, or who must have allowed herself to become ugly, or who must have succumbed to the natural effects of aging. It’s not her fault, Driscoll says, but . . . no, actually, it is.

Unfortunately, Driscoll’s views are only the most blatant and overt of many opinions expressed by Christian writers, several of whom Evans quotes, that women are responsible for keeping themselves attractive and therefore “holding” their man. Evans writes:

At the last Christian women’s conference I attended, several speakers mentioned the importance of keeping a beauty routine so that husbands will not be tempted to “look elsewhere.” The message is as clear as it is ominous: Stay beautiful, or your husband might leave you . . . and if he does, it’s partially your fault.

Evans then investigates what the Bible actually says about women and beauty, especially aging. Beauty, the proverb says, is fleeting, while a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. It seems Driscoll kind of missed the whole “fleeting” part. But as Evans concludes,

... there is nothing in Scripture to suggest that a woman is expected to maintain a youthful appearance throughout all phases of life. Nowhere does the Bible teach that a woman shares responsibility for her husband’s infidelity because she “let herself go” . . . . No one gets off the hook because the other is wearing sweatpants or going bald or carrying a child or battling cancer. Any pastor who claims the Bible says otherwise is lying. End of story.

Preach it, my sister.

 

The image of a sexy and decidedly non-middle-aged woman is used with permission of Shutterstock.com.

Topics: Faith, Doctrine & Practice
Beliefs: Christian - Catholic, Christian - Orthodox, Christian - Protestant, Mormon
Tags: a year of biblical womanhood, christian women and beauty, flunking sainthood, jana riess, mark driscoll, rachel held evans, sexism in the church, ted haggard, women who "let themselves go"

Comments

  1. Ugh, that is awful.

  2. Yep. The whole thing drove me to eat multiple squares of Trader Joe’s chocolate last night.

  3. I think the problem is that women’s attraction and appearance are their only routes to prestige in religious institutions. Men “rise” in ranks and respect based on their careers, positions, success, etc. Women? There is nothing. Only what man they can attract and keep. Thus, maintaining that attraction is where our success lies, it is such a sad sad conundrum.

  4. If we don’t want to perpetuate all this wrong thinking about sex, wouldn’t it be helpful to not post a photo of an almost nude woman ?

  5. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    Can I just say how fortunate I am to have a husband who has found me beautiful in all stages of pregnancy and after pregnancy body weirdness. Who is more concerned about the beauty and well being of my heart than my face or body or hair or clothes. I am so blessed.

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  7. It seems to me his biggest mistake is making a judgement based on appearance only of whether or not a person has “let themselves go” i.e. how much effort they are putting in to make their marriage work.  Not to mention whether or not that is high on their spouse’s priority list.  I believe God desires succesful marriages and my experience is that succesful marriage requires effort in some area that we don’t value as much as our spouse may, regardless of whether its the husband or wife.  His own wife can let him know what his apparently high priority on appearance says about him and their relationship.

  8. I think this is more complex in Mormonism where girls that maybe aren’t as attractive as others or are plainer are deemed to have “sweet spirits,” implying that the less worldly attractive you are, the more spiritual you are. Women that are maybe a bit more flashier in their dress or style are sometimes looked at as less spiritual.

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