In a recent column discussing the Atlanta spa shooter, Washington Post gender columnist Monica Hesse asserted that “some faiths have historically taught such horrifying messages of misogyny and female subservience that ‘he went to church’ is as much of an explanation as an expression of dumbfoundedness.” She added, more aggressively: “What kind of church? Is it a place where non-heterosexual people are viewed as sinful?”
Thus, in just one paragraph, we can see how the terrible events in Georgia will be exploited by enterprising journalists to malign traditional teachings on human sexuality — and the Christian institutions that uphold such doctrines.
Hesse’s histrionics are unsurprising, although they are increasingly common, despite their fallacious absurdity. Time claimed that evangelical culture and its strong condemnations of pornography are to blame for creating the kind of moral anxiety and self-hatred evident in the shooter.
“The rhetoric of addiction obscures more than it helps because a lot of what these men are struggling with is shame and guilt… there is another level of self-flagellation and self-condemnation and negatively defining one’s own identity as a porn addict that doesn’t help these men,” the author argued.
“With motive still disputed, some point to shooting suspect’s religion, shame,” was the title of another article at NBC News.
‘If Only He Could Have Been Sexually Free’
In other words, Christian churches and organizations that are aggressively critical of certain sexual behaviors — pornography, masturbation, extramarital sex, non-heterosexual acts, etc. — are at least partly to blame for the shooter’s acts, because they contributed to his mental instability by shaming him. If only his sexual urges had been affirmed and properly channeled — of course always upholding consent, the first commandment of our hyper-sexualized culture — this might not have happened. Conservative Christian holdouts, we’re told, need to get on the right side of history and accept individuals’ unique sexual expression, in all its diverse forms.
I won’t deny that a few Christians may adhere to some form of “misogyny,” although feminists like Hesse are inclined to interpret even St. Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 5:22 for wives to “submit” to their husbands as misogynistic, in effect caricaturing the Bible itself as “bigoted.” Perhaps there are some churches where non-heterosexual people are “viewed as sinful,” although while spending almost two decades in evangelicalism, including attending a Reformed seminary, I was taught everyone is sinful. The typical evangelical language is that certain sexual behaviors are sin, some of which are common to non-heterosexuals, others not.
I will further grant Hesse and her feminist fellow-travelers that her criticisms of purity culture have some validity. “Purity culture twists normal desires into malignance,” she writes. Hesse also denounces those Christian subcultures that view premarital sex as “such a moral failing that girls believe they are worthless if they have it,” and that encourage boys to “believe they should blame girls for making them want it at all.”
Purity culture, for the uninitiated, refers to what David French describes in a recent piece as “an elaborate set of extra-biblical rituals and teachings that became popular in the 1990s and were designed to build safeguards and ‘strongholds’ of sexual purity in Christian communities.” This included, among other things, “purity pledges” for young men and women, father-daughter “purity balls” in which dads would often give their daughters “purity rings” to symbolize their commitment to chastity, and “purity contracts” prohibiting physical contact. “Courtship” rather than dating was the name of the game, popularized by evangelical pastor Joshua Harris’s popular 1997 book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”
I spent almost two decades in evangelicalism, from upper-elementary school until well after college. I attended youth groups and Bible studies, led Young Life while in college, and participated in multiple Cru mission trips all over the South. I had only tangential knowledge of the “purity culture” phenomenon, finding some of it useful (e.g., encouraging chastity and boundaries), and some of it bizarre (see French’s examples). It also seemed to make unhelpful, idealistic demands on young people that would provoke shame and rebellion.
Yet what the WaPo, NYT, Time, NBC, and others are attacking are not simply the extremes of evangelicalism. They aim to malign what Christians have believed about human sexuality for 2,000 years. Catholicism, like much of evangelical Christianity, remains defiant in its opposition to the sexual revolution, labeling masturbation, pornographic use, and homosexual behavior as mortally sinful.
Such teachings originate not only in Holy Scripture, but the consistent testimony of the early church fathers, ecclesial traditions, and church councils. Thus we are witnessing a calculated, exploitative use of the shooter’s religion to attack Christianity.
A Sex-Obsessed Country Is Unhealthy
Although legacy media stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the facts, America’s obsession with sex has been decidedly for the worse. More than half of divorce proceedings cite an “obsessive interest” in pornography. Porn encourages physically aggressive forms of sexual behavior: almost 90 percent of porn videos depict physical aggression, according to one study. It has contributed to the expansion of human trafficking across the globe.
Counter-intuitively, it also vitiates people’s ability to engage in healthy sexual behavior, both because it pushes its users further into more extreme, deviant forms (think “Fifty Shades of Grey”) and because it promotes a fantasy world that instrumentalizes and dehumanizes people.
Humans are often tempted, not only by sex, but by extreme reactions to it. Some of the eccentric practices found in “purity culture” represent one extreme in its over-reliance on fear and shame to stem the ravaging effects of the sexual revolution. Another extreme, common among our cultural elites, is to think that simply allowing the indulgence of every fantasy and desire, restrained only by consent, will enable humans to realize full personhood (the Me Too movement, among other things, demonstrated how naïve that is).
In truth, while sexual desire remains both complex and mysterious, some sexual desires and behaviors undermine, rather than engender, authentic human flourishing. Christianity has always taught as much.
Indeed, the New Testament writers witnessed first-hand a Roman civilization increasingly obsessed with sex in all its self-indulgent, aberrant forms, and thus, despite impressive military victories, slowly rotting from within. There’s a lesson there for Christianity’s detractors — “progress” is sometimes deceptively anything but.
Unfortunately, leftists may be too busy pursuing their own form of extremism as they exploit the Atlanta murders in an attempt to delegitimize the heroic few trying to preserve America from the same fate as decadent Rome.