"whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." 1 Cor 10:21

Sex and Controversy

Recently the Christian Blogosphere has been in an uproar over a post on the Christian Gospel Coalition blog concerning sex in which Doug Wilson was quoted from his book, “Fidelity”. The offending post has since been removed and so I must rely on my memory of it and yours. The author of that post, Jared Wilson, has posted an apology and, I believe, it is one with reading.

Doug Wilson, the one quoted, has also posted some thoughts on the matter. It is his response that has finally caused me to respond. I suppose I would rather throw in my lot with the “bedwetters” and at least say something.

Regarding the original aritcle, it seems that most of the offense centered around the following points:

  1. The idea that a man should be dominant in the act of sex
  2. The terms Doug Wilson used in the quoted material to describe the act as they generally elicit conceptions of force and aggression in a negative sense.
  3. The idea that rape and/or rape fantasies are the result of an egalitarian approach to sex. (Really!?)

So, since we’re all discussing it anyway, what should sex look like between a married Christian couple? To answer that question, I think one must look at the overall relationship. As much as this kicks against the goads of popular culture, I do not read an endorsement of egalitarian marriage in the Bible. (Sorry, Rachel Held Evans fans!) Instead I see both that the husband is to be head of the relationship AND that he is to be a servent leader, putting the needs of his beloved above his own. He isn’t to disregard her needs or treat her as his slave–far from it. The wife, in turn, is to submit to and help this man who is called even to die for her good. She contributes not by silence and slavery but by the full use of the gifts, talents and intellect the Lord has given her.

In the context of a marriage where both strive for these ideals, how can they be cast aside at the foot of the bed? I am firmly convinced that a couple’s sex life will reflect the general operating mode of the relationship to the extent that human anatomy allows. How can it not? Basically then, since we know what the Bible says about marriage, we can apply the same principles to all its outward manifestations. That’s just common sense. Sex practiced within the context of a Biblical marriage*, therefore, naturally incorporates the meaningful contribution of both parties.

As far as the rest of the offending post is concerned:
The wording was tacky and offensive. I don’t want to be conquered like some weak nation overrun by an evil tyrant. Need I expound? No, many others have. Here’s a well-written, informative post on the original terminology used.

Concerning the cause of rape:
It’s been going on a lot longer than egalitarian relationships and an undiluted patriarchal society wouldn’t fix that. Let’s remember to keep the blame where it belongs–on the perpetrators.

Concerning the cause of some women having rape fantasies:
Even as a woman I am mystified and yet do not appreciate Doug Wilson’s speculations. (Is it really wise for a man to publicly speculate on this matter?) I do wonder, however, if this phenomenon is related to our general human appetite for vicarious immorality. Consider our timeless interest in senseless violence. Do we just like watching living images of God being desecrated and destroyed?

As I understand it, Rome had no trouble filling the coliseums with spectators and today our most popular movies are saturated with murder, blasphemy and fornication. Sadly, we like immorality and we want to see, taste and feel as much as possible without getting our own hands dirty. I don’t know why some women want to role play any part of such a heinous act as rape but I do suspect there is a correlation. Bottom line: we’re a fallen, sinful people with sinful inclinations. I am not convinced that an in-depth exploration of that particularly dark side of our nature will yield better results than those experienced by Dorian Gray. Let us instead recognize sin as sin and flee from it.

I welcome your thoughts and feedback. Please be kind or, at least, don’t take your cue from Doug Wilson!

* I do understand that many Christians who hold a high regard for scripture view Biblical marriage in different terms. I mean no disrespect.

I am a follower of Jesus Christ living in Hamilton, ON with my wonderful husband and our children.
  1. Kelly P
    Hi Rose! I think you did a great job of summarizing the main issues. I'm still trying to understand what you mean in your paragraph about sex in Christian marriage. How exactly does headship and submission come into play, if you don't believe in egalitarian views of mutuality? How do your views interact with 1 Corinithians 7?
    • Rose
      Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “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. (1 Corinthians 7:1-5 ESV)
      Kelly, I welcome your thoughts on this passage as well. As I read it, I see an admonishment that neither spouse deprive the other. Through the act of sex, the husband serves the wife and the wife serves her husband. There IS an aspect of mutuality, I believe, as it is meant to edify both and strengthen the bonds between them. A man who seeks the good of his wife will also seek her pleasure. A woman who wishes to be her husband's helpmate (and I mean that in a positive sense) will seek his. How it is acted out, I reason, is a reflection of the operating principles of its relational context. I actually see no contradiction between 1 Cor. 7 and the "complementation view" on marriage I described. That said, I also see no reason why an egalitarian Christian couple would be selfish towards one another in this arena.
  2. Kelly P
    I agree so far with what you've said, but I also have to echo Rachel Held Evans in asking that if complementarians say that the headship/submission issue goes for sex as well, what do you mean? So far, all I am hearing you say (and in Corinthians as well) is that each has a right and each should submit to the other, for the sake of each other. I don't see any gender roles or authoritarian issues coming into play with that.
  3. Rose
    Kelly, I hope I understand your question properly. You may have to explain more but I'll give it a shot. Surely, I am out of my league.

    I'll preface this by saying that with any relationship where the man and woman seek one another's good (coming from whatever perspective) I would expect that to be manifest in sex. If someone on the outside could detect the difference is beyond me. Compare one of these couples to an abusive/abused couple and the differences would surely be obvious. My original point was not so much that sex "looks" different so much as it reflects the marriage in which it is contained.

    Here's the best I can do:

    The love between a man and wife is going to have a particular shape to it (be that best defined by the term complementarian, egalitarian, or something else). It is hard for me to see any other possibility than that an act so central to the situation as to be called "love-making" would be heavily, heavily influenced by the shape of that love. Even if there is role-playing (let's hope not a rape scenario), how is the decision reached and how are the "rules" of the game determined? The dialogue and decision-making process is going to be reflective of the larger relationship. The scenario chosen is also going to be influenced by the values of the couple. Role playing aside, there are still particular decisions to be made and agreements to be reached.

    Because there are so, so many different personalities and preferences among the people of God, I am leery of being more specific. I just don't think it is "safe" to say "it looks like this" when the Bible doesn't. (And I'd rather not follow Doug Wilson's example in making an attempt.) Headship and submission, rightly understood and lived out, require particular dispositions of heart and, in both cases, an allegiance and even greater submission to Christ. If that doesn't influence intercourse then, I believe, those dispositions are fake, shallow and to be questioned.
  4. Kelly P
    Hi Rose,

    Sorry for the delay. I was typing up a reply yesterday, looked out the window and saw one of our chickens lying limp on the ground! We're taking care of her now, but were preoccupied all evening.

    So you seem to be saying that you believe the Bible teaches that marriage should operate under this principle: the man is the head and the woman is to submit to him; and this principle should be somehow applied to every facet of the marriage relationship.

    You seem to mean that we should deliberately arrange our relationship in accordance with this principle, since you say that it should be lived out and should influence intercourse. Although you admit that you're not sure that there will be any obvious or visible sign, you say that the marriage must reflect this principle in some way.

    Is that close to what you're saying? I want to make sure I'm not misunderstanding your point of view.

    Assuming I understand you, I don't follow your argument when you say that if we are required to have this type of relationship in marriage that it must also be reflected in sex. I can definitely see your train of thought, because it makes sense to me as well (assuming the Bible teaches that the headship/submission model for marriage), but Paul specifically goes out of his way in 1 Corinthians to give a unique explanation of sex - and sex alone - in marriage.

    To me, that would suggest that sex in marriage can be discussed in its own context, since that's exactly Paul did. Not only that, but that it can have its own set of rules, mostly because Paul clearly teaches that sex in marriage is defined as a mutual right, requiring mutual submission and the presence of mutuality in decision-making regarding sex in marriage.

    Which also makes me wonder whether our authoritarian understanding of marriage (and parenting and slavery) might be incorrect. When I read Ephesians 5, this is what I see: All Christians should submit to one another, no matter which role you play in the relationship you find yourself in: whether you are the one obeying/submitting or the one leading.

    If both parties submit to one another out of love, as he says to, wouldn't it look like and function as mutual submission, because both of you are seeking the good of the other? In other words, authority may be a part of society, and it may even be useful, but because of Christ there is mutual submission in all things, in all Christian relationships.

    Because a parent is the parent, they will ask their children to do things, but only because they are seeking the good and well-being of the child; and because the child is a child, they should obey their parent, but only because it is right, not because in their essence, children are creatures of submission or inferiority.

    A wife submits to her husband because she loves him, respects him and because it is right - society works out better to have hierarchical structures; but not because to be Female means she by nature surrenders, submits or accepts. Just as the husband is the head (it never says leader), because that is what is right (God made him first, as it happens); but not because by his nature a Man is a conqueror, a colonizer or a warrior.

    I do not see leadership being the role of the husband, but loving concern. And I don't see surrendering to her husband as the role of the wife, but respectful consideration. And it seems to go along the same vein for children and slaves, and parents and masters.

    If conquering and leading were the essential characteristics of the husband, and accepting, surrendering and submitting were those of the wife, then we would have to apply those same characteristics to the other examples Paul gives, which would be horribly demeaning to the dignity and holiness of children and slaves.

    It seems to me that God calls them to submit because it is the right thing to do to promote peace and their own good (given their situation in society), and not because it is their nature to be led or conquered.

    If the defining characteristic of ANY Christian relationship is mutual submission out of love, then how can sex be or look like anything but mutuality? (And if that's true, then I'm not so sure that egalitarian isn't a good description.)

    As always, I hope I wasn't too wordy to get my point across, Rose!
  5. Tony Pyles
    Let me begin by taking just a moment to distance my own (and, I believe, my wife's) views from those of Rev. Wilson (of whom I have a sustained very very low opinion—but I will leave it at that).

    I believe that there is a kind of leadership which does not necessitate martial metaphors, the kind of leadership of which John paints such a beautiful picture when he narrates Jesus' last evening with the disciples before the crucifixion. That leadership has among its highest ends the interests of others, service and self-sacrifice. I believe that Paul does in fact call husbands to a specific leadership role in the context of marriage—but the leadership to which Paul calls husbands is better explained by John 13 or Philippians 2 or Ephesians 5 than it is by words such as "conquer," "colonize," or "plant" (dare I add rape, pillage, and burn). I think most complementarians would agree with that, though some may be more invested in "traditional family values" (whatever that means) and inclined to expand the notion of leadership in a direction I would not necessarily follow.

    I do not mean that wives are free from the instructions of Philippians 2 or the example of Christ in the marriage relationship; simply that, when in the context of Ephesians 5–6, as Paul begins to make specific application of his general principle of submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, his application to husbands has a very specific content which seems to me to boil down to an amplified version of the example of Christ, and his application to wives has a different focus.

    I am at pains to distance myself (and Rose) from the views of Wilson (and probably others) because in your reply, Kelly, I perceive the ghost of Wilson, e.g. "authoritarian understanding of marriage". Also your wording seems to suggest that any "leadership" goes hand-in-hand with "conquering". You say "I do not see leadership being the role of the husband, but loving concern." I would say that a husband's leadership role should manifest itself precisely in loving concern. Does this make sense?

    I think the sum of what Rose has been trying to say is that if a couple has complementarian convictions about the way husband and wife relate to one another, this will manifest itself in the marriage bed just as it will manifest itself in other areas of their relationship. It is not a question of arranging things, but a consequence of one's understanding of the nature of things.

    My train of thought has now been entirely and disastrously derailed by our son who wants me to read to him before bedtime! But I hope that helps.
  6. Rose
    Thanks for weighing in Tony!

    Hi Kelly,
    I suspect my upholding of a particular view of marriage has blurred my actual point. It is my contention that the general shape of a couple's love will be reflected in the act of love-making. It "should" be reflected in the sense that 2+2 "should" equal 4. I say that not as a statement of morality but as a statement of expectation.

    Concerning 1 Corinthians 7:
    To divorce sex from the rest of the marriage seems both unnatural and unhealthy. I've read the passage and I just don't see Paul saying, "Here's something new and novel. Here's the exception..." Neither spouse is to deny the other sexual pleasure. I see no inconsistency with that statement and the view I see the Bible upholding. Obviously, we're approaching this passage differently though so please be patient with me. I do see that Paul is speaking more narrowly about sex but, again, I expect sex to inescapably reflect its context. Consequently, these words have bearing on the entirety of the relationship. Does this make sense?

    I appreciate you dialoging with me on this Kelly.
  7. Kelly P
    Hi Pyles family. :) I think I see where you're coming from, and I definitely can see that it's not from the same perspective as Wilson . (Tony, I know that you especially have never much cared for his teachings or attitude.) I can appreciate that there are roles in each type of relationship that require different behavior from each person, and I don't find that offensive or oppressive. What I take issue with is the idea that the woman alone is to be submissive, when the Bible clearly teaches that every Christian is to have a submissive attitude toward each other. So it's in that context that we play out our roles; which is why a Christian marriage, family and business would look much more upside down with regard to authority than the world's: because we are not seeking to play out our roles, but to give the other person MORE honor by submitting to them in love. I think we both agree on that? I think another way of putting is that I see Christian relationships as being about laying down our rights for others, rather than insisting that others treat us the right way. If the entire context of any relationship we are in is mutual love and submission, then I imagine that relationship will reflect mutuality much more than it reflects the roles. Does that make sense? For example, I think in a Christian family, although you may see a child obeying and a parent directing, what you will see the most is a shockingly humble effort on the side of the parent to love their child, make the child's role in society an easier burden, and to make it as easy for them to obey as possible. I don't think the mark of a Christian family is obedient children and "consistent" parents; rather loving parents (and later, as they mature, loving children). In the same way, although in a Christian marriage you will probably see a wife submit to her husband on an issue they can't agree on and see the husband shoulder responsibilities and constantly caring for his wife's well-being, I don't think that is what is really going on. The Christian part in all that is that they are mutually seeking to lay down their lives for the other. So the mark of a Christian marriage is not how well they play out their roles, but how much love and mutual submission there is between each other. So although there are different behaviors, as we are all called to do different things, the greater, higher calling seems to me to be to love each other submissively. I think it can be dangerous to teach roles outside the context of mutual submission, because that can easily lead to abuse or legalism. The point isn't to act the right way; the point is to love and promote peace. Men insisting women submit does not promote peace and is not love. Women insisting men must lead does not promote peace nor is it loving. Not only that, but when we insist that Christian marriage MUST look a certain way (especially saying that women should BE submissive, rather than submit; and that men must BE good leaders, rather than willing to take on responsibility), we are imposing a law that I never heard Christ command. We are demanding people change their personalities, rather than do what Christ and Paul are calling us to do: love. That's how I read Ephesians 5, anyway. Do you see it differently?
    • Rose
      This is so hard to respond to Kelly and I've been struggling with how to do so. I use the term "submit" when speaking of the wife's role and "serving" when it comes to the husband's role. They are similar in nature and yet I'm reluctant to swap them and I can't explain why just yet. I've had a lot of other things on my mind. Maybe when I get a chance to think about this more. So much of it seems to be semantics though. "Leadership", to me involves responsibility....

      I hear Amos trying to sneak down the stairs to avoid his nap. He "shhh"'s himself constantly when he's trying to get away with something. It's the cutest, most self-defeating behavior I've ever seen any of my kids exhibit. And, there, he just stuck his head around the door to see if I was looking. ....Caught him! Guess I better get this little fellow back in bed. I'll keep my thinking cap on...
  8. Kelly P
    (By the way, I'm so sorry to make these posts so long. You both know how different my opinions are from, say, 8 years ago! This is a process for me, so I don't know exactly where I'll land. And I'm trying not to hold too tightly to any given view, since our own knowledge is so limited. But I know that I disagree with patriarchy, and am working out the rest. So maybe a summary would sound like this: what influences every aspect of our marriage, parenting and other relationships isn't the specifics of that relationship, but our mutual submission and love for each other because of Christ. And I think that's the reason Paul describes sex as entirely a mutual affair, without any mention of respect/submission.)
  9. Jenny
    Whereas no one is to force the submission or leadership on the other person and all of it is to stem from love and a desire to serve, I daresay that in considering how marriage is a picture of Christ and His church demands that the ideas of the husband leading and the wife submitting not be done away with. We may need to redefine what those terms mean to us, but they can't be dissolved.
    • Rose
      Thanks Jenny!! That's a very, very good point!