This is the fifth in a year-long blog series by Lindsey Snyder about what pastors and parents need to know to better minister to gay Christian women according to a historic sexual ethic. This two-part post explores the challenges parents and pastors face by examining shifting views in metropolitan America concerning morality, gay people, and women. Please note: Location makes a difference. Some of these shifts may not have taken place in small, conservative towns.
Last week, we started an exploration of the ways culture is rapidly changing and how that impacts ministering to gay women according to a Biblical, traditional (historic) sexual ethic. The root causes of these changes can be seen in three ways: shifting views about morality, shifting views about gay people, and shifting views about women. These three layers are not independent of each other. Rather, they compound, causing multi-faceted difficulties for women navigating their sexuality.
In this post, we will focus on our culture’s shifting views about women. After reviewing these cultural shifting sands, we’ll conclude with an oasis of practical responses for pastors and parents.
Shifting Views about Women
Girls growing up today are finding themselves in a sexually permissive, relativistic moral landscape. On top of that, they’re witnessing changing perspectives of what being gay means and are discovering widespread affirmation from peers, media, educators, and more. As if that wasn’t enough to process for parents and pastors, girls are also experiencing a shift in how culture views women.
Kissing Purity Culture Goodbye
Christian purity culture, with its heyday in the 90s and early 2000s, offered harmful teachings that have led to where we are today. Abstinence was used to sell sex. Sex was promoted as something dangerous and gross until marriage, at which point it would suddenly become one of God’s most incredible inventions. If you failed sexually, you were shamed and seen as having lost something that you could never regain. Boys were portrayed as sex-crazed beings, yet the responsibility to keep both boys and girls pure fell mainly to girls. Teen girls had to “protect” their brothers in Christ from falling into sin by dressing modestly, as if lust and even sexual assault could be prevented by what women choose to wear. Kutter Callaway describes purity culture this way: “I began to see marriage as a kind of Christian loophole–the only religiously sanctioned site for experiencing the ultimate (and otherwise forbidden) human pleasure. Marriage became the solution to the problem of one’s sexual angst, the cure for a lifetime of loneliness.”
As divorce rates rose and sexual fulfillment and marital satisfaction plummeted because of empty promises from the Church, purity culture disintegrated. Since then, the Church has failed to replace purity culture with a healthy, biblically accurate alternative. It seems there is no consensus on how to encourage Christian teens and young adults to embrace God’s wisdom. And because purity culture was particularly about burdening women for the sake of men’s sexual purity, the void has left some Christian women asking, “So, how does God want me to think about my sexuality?”
Women watch porn too
If you’re alive right now, you are aware that humanity has a lust problem. Increased availability and access to pornography has pushed lust towards an addiction for many of us. According to research groups from Barna and Covenant Eyes, 76% of young Christian adults 18-24 years old actively search for porn.
One 2011 study of 5,490 people revealed a growing trend among young women . . . more females than males in the 18 – 25 year-old age range watch porn (Attwood, Smith, & Barker, 2019). According to a 2014 study, most girls’ first exposure to porn was between 10 – 12 years old. Sadly, that age is probably even younger just six years later.
It is not a new concept that women and girls have problems with lust. However, that women’s lust is often directed to porn use is relatively new to the public eye, particularly in Christian circles. The good news of this discovery is that girls can feel less shame and feel less alone than they have in the past. When a girl knows she is not alone in struggling with something classically known as a “man problem,” it helps break the shame cycle. However, the reality of the increasing ease of porn accessibility for women has facilitated more addiction and destructive relationships than in the past. It has also given women greater opportunity to experiment sexually without the risk of partnered sex and thus has heaped even more confusion on girls questioning their sexuality. Women who watch porn to determine their sexual orientation can become increasingly confused, because, unlike most men, arousal can shift, not always having a consistent distinctive pattern between men and women.
Feminism and Liberation
Let’s face the ugly facts. Women have been belittled, oppressed, objectified and taken advantage of as the “weaker” sex for thousands of years. Misogyny continues to be a real issue in our nation today. Personal experience adds even more layers of hurt to societal oppression.
How have many in society today responded?
Beyonce says it best: “Who run the world? Girls.”
The feminist movement has made powerful and necessary changes in society over the years. Lately, we have seen the rise of encouraging strong and independent women, most obviously in movies like Gal Godot’s Wonder Woman. We have also heard the voices of women amplified through avenues like the #metoo movement. These societal soundboards have been overwhelmingly positive in encouraging and empowering women.
And yet, once again, the pendulum swings too far the opposite direction. Those claiming to be feminists are urged to be sexually liberated and adventurous. There is pressure now for girls to push boundaries in sexual expression to claim rights and find power in freedom.
“Whatever sexual flourishing looks like for you, that’s what I would love to see happen in your life,” writes public theologian and author, Nadia Bolz-Weber.
Glennon Doyle, best-selling author of the book Untamed writes, “Maybe Eve was never meant to be our warning. Maybe she was meant to be our model. Own your wanting. Eat the apple.”
These changes have led to an increased freedom in girls questioning their sexuality. “Curiosity about one’s sexual attractions, social expectations of what it means to be LGB+, and availability of partners” (Ybarra et al., 2020) has led to a correlating increase of girls experimenting sexually with other girls, sometimes in order to determine their own orientation. Some studies suggest that girls are sometimes publicly challenged (by both straight and gay peers) about whether they are truly lesbian, at times daring them to “prove it” with public displays of affection, and in the process coercing girls to engage in ways they might not have been ready for (Ybarra et al., 2020).
As you can see, the cultural shifts of the past 50 years and even in the last 15 years… are earth-shattering. With the changing views of morality, gay people, and women, girls especially are swept up in powerful, compounding messages regarding their sexuality that feel liberating, even intoxicating.
First, there’s the general shift in morality:
Then there’s the shift of how society views gay people:
And finally, we have seen some big changes in how culture views women:
This is the world in which your gay Christian daughter or congregant lives. Each layer stacks upon the next, complicating the sexuality conversation. Do you remember the story of the princess and the pea? In the fairytale, a girl must detect a pea beneath 20 mattresses to prove that she is a princess. Remarkably, she detects the disturbance, proclaiming, “I have scarcely closed my eyes all night. Heaven only knows what was in the bed, but I was lying on something hard, so that I am black and blue all over my body. It’s horrible!”
Distinguishing truth about sexuality in our times has become about as difficult as discerning the presence of a pea beneath 20 mattresses, yet this is what we are asking of our gay daughters and congregants.
The first 10 mattresses are the foundation of relativistic morality, which probably make things the most difficult to detect truth in our culture. On top of that are five mattresses of shifting views about gay people, moving us towards systemic change (in both good and difficult ways). The last five mattresses indicate the shifting views of women. Though purity culture birthed a lot of destruction, the liberation of women is now swinging so far the opposite direction that the pinnacle of liberation is perceived to be sexual fulfillment, which comes with its own set of problems. All of these “mattresses” cause the truth of the Biblical traditional sexual ethic hardly able to be discerned, let alone desired.
An Oasis of Hope
How then, can parents and pastors respond?
Most importantly, talk early and often to your children about sexuality in age-appropriate ways. If you’d like to know where to start, check out our recent Parent Conversation Starters written by our very own Amber Carroll on how to talk to your kids about sexuality. Teach them the foundations of sexual stewardship found in Scripture. Affirm the wisdom and goodness in God’s plan for both single and married people. Don’t set up expectations for marriage. Don’t idolize romance. Don’t give empty promises that your child will eventually find “the one.” Be compassionate. Encourage openness and honesty, reassuring your children or the kids under your pastoral care that you and God will love them no matter what. Talk about the realities of pornography and masturbation. If they don’t hear it from you, they’ll learn it from school or a TV show.
Accept that if the foundational teaching of a traditional biblical sexual ethic was not presented from a parent or pastor by the time your child is a teen, culture has likely been the primary educator, and it could be a difficult journey forward. Painful as it is, accept your rhetorical disadvantage and be winsome, not judgmental. Live out what you hope to see instilled in your child: a desire to follow God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, no matter the cost.
Recognize the goodness embedded in some of the cultural shifts noted above. Because of the Church’s general turning away from purity culture, for instance, women do not feel as much toxic shame in regards to their sexuality as they once did.
Acknowledge the horrendous behavior of our nation, including that of Christians, in oppressing gay people. We can’t turn back the cultural tide from seeing same-sex sexual behavior as a social justice issue back to a moral issue. The Church has lost her moral high ground. But we can bring morality into social justice as a point of discussion. We can be nuanced, lamenting how terribly gay people have been treated in the past and present. We can also ask our children what they think about morality and how/why it has changed over the years. Asking non-threatening questions is one of the most effective ways to spark new or long-forgotten convictions. The Holy Spirit just might sweep in those windows of opportunity, if you are brave enough to ask questions instead of berating with answers.
Encourage a high view of friendship. Too often, our society devalues friendship as a lesser love than marriage or romance. But as Jesus says in John 15:13, “No one has greater love [nor stronger commitment] than to lay down his own life for his friends.” Christ did not say there is no greater love than to lay down one’s own life for one’s spouse or one’s children . . . but for one’s friends. Ponder the enormity of that statement and live that out for your kids or congregants to witness.
For girls in particular, provide a robust model of femininity that isn’t overly narrow in either direction. Femininity and masculinity are mostly cultural constructs, in my view. That’s a topic for another day, but suffice it to say for now that it is good to encourage your child in their interests, whether or not they are acceptably “feminine” or “masculine.” Let your son take ballet lessons instead of joining the football team. Don’t shame your daughter for not wanting to wear makeup or a dress.
Journalist Rachel Hills is spot on when she describes the heart of sexual regulation in our culture as “. . . the sense that sex can be the best thing or the worst thing, but it is always important, always significant, and always central to who we are.” Consider ways you can dismantle this viewpoint. Sex is a good thing in context of marriage, but it is not the best thing, and it is certainly not central to who we are. If you cannot imagine a life without sex or a spouse, it may be time to do some soul-searching, break down your own idols, and don’t pass them down to the next generation. Equip recommends Breaking the Marriage Idol as a helpful resource.
Trust that God is working and will continue to pursue and love your child towards truth.
Madeleine L’engle once said, “We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe . . . but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” If you feel like you have lost your window of opportunity in communicating truth to your child, this is the most powerful thing you can do. Make a habit of treasuring the beauty and goodness of Christ in word and action. Your child will notice, whether they admit it or not, and they just might be drawn to a light that is, indeed, “so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it”.
Help your church become a place where gay women can belong and thrive and where pastors and parents shepherd their gay children with love and truth by contacting Equip today!
Attwood, F., Smith, C., & Barker, M. (2019). Engaging with pornography: An examination of women aged 18–26 as porn consumers. Feminist Media Studies, 1-16. doi:10.1080/14680777.2019.1681490
Frost, D., & Boyd, H. (2020, January 07). The Counterfeit ‘Honesty’ of Polyamory. Retrieved July 16, 2020, from https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/01/polyamory-elevating-sexual-desires-over-obligations-has-predictable-consequences/
Hart-Brinson, P. (2016). The Social Imagination of Homosexuality and the Rise of Same-sex Marriage in the United States. Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, 2, 237802311663055. doi:10.1177/2378023116630555
Hills, R. (2014, December 02). Sexual Revolution Then and Now: Hook-Ups From 1964 to Today. Retrieved July 09, 2020, from https://time.com/3611781/sexual-revolution-revisited/
Pearson, J., Muller, C., & Frisco, M. L. (2006). Parental Involvement, Family Structure, and Adolescent Sexual Decision Making. Sociological Perspectives, 49(1), 67–90. https://doi.org/10.1525/sop.2006.49.1.67
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2018, February 12). Moral Majority. Retrieved July 09, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Moral-Majority