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Mar 14, 2023

Last week, we read the introduction from the book Beautiful Union by Joshua Butler.

You know, the book that the Gospel Coalition posted an excerpt from two weeks ago, causing the Internet to lash out against TGC and Butler.

And this week, we’re reading the first half of the first chapter, and have our own variety of responses and reactions.

We are not theologians; check out Jackson Wu’s recent article on Patheos The Fundamental Flaws in Josh Butler’s Argument for a dissection of the problematic perspective of Butler’s (and many Evangelical leader’s) theology.

We are sex therapists. And we’re reading chapter one from the lens of how Butler’s theology informs the rigid expectations around sexuality that continue to fuel Evangelical and Pentecostal sermons and teachings.

Naming these rigid expectations and understanding how Evangelical theologians come to these conclusions help us deconstruct unhelpful expectations for humanity and recreate new possibilities for people to explore themselves and celebrate life through relationships.

  • Framing male ejaculation as “generosity”, and framing female sexuality as “hospitality” (14:55): Julia summarizes, “We've learned that giving and receiving are at the heart of sex, but really the penis and male pleasure is at the heart of sex.” And Jeremiah responds, “And once again, Julia, your job as a woman is to be hospitable—code, be passive—and also put on a smiling, happy face about.” This is before we acknowledge that a) not all sex requires genital stimulation; b) ejaculation and orgasm are not the same thing; c) this is setting up an anti-same-sex relationship position.

  • The problems of the parallel process between Jesus and the church and a male-female sexual relationship (29:30): Julia shares, “ This reads to me, and to apparently millions of people on the internet, like a real fetish around the female body and setting it up to be the depository of semen or salvation or the love of Jesus.” Jeremiah adds, “Which again gets back to the active/passive element, that the hospitable host or hostess is strictly to receive.”

  • Misandry… (41:50): Jeremiah summarizes Butler’s writing, “So in order to suggest that the way that I show my partner and practice with my partner to practice with you how Christ engages with the church is I come in and I immediately move towards you attempt to stimulate you, whether you want it or not, as a way of getting you to respond and move into a space of hospitality?”

  • …partnered with misogyny…(43:00): To which Julia responds, “What that communicates to me is that I'm a sexual object. That is completely subjugating to me. We don't need you to do anything. I come in the room, I come in the house, I see you, and I want you.”

  • creates a horrible double bind for men and women (45:00): Julia states, “That communicates that you walk around in the world unable to see a woman without mentally undressing and or mentally raping her. And my humanity doesn't exist outside of my sexuality. And your humanity exists as someone who is a sexual Initiator. So when you get home to your lovely submissive wife who's prepared herself, can just channel all of that pent up energy that you couldn't enact on every other woman that you saw today onto her.”

  • Spontaneous and responsive desire (47:00): Butler reflects on Emily Nagoski’s work on spontaneous and responsive desire. Julia fires back, “He is also doing the classic move that even the field of psychology has done, which is to take the conclusion of a study and then make broader implications around gender. Women more often than perhaps men in certain studies being aroused in responsive versus spontaneous contexts does not necessarily mean anything specific about gender, most likely. That actually is about the socialization, of men and women, rather than about men and women being different.”

Jeremiah summarizes, “This is not paradigm shifting. This is parroting the evangelical language from the eighties, nineties, two thousands, Focus on the Family nonsense and using slightly different language, slightly different metaphors.”

It’s imperative that we continue to discuss negative, confining, oppressive texts about sexuality, gender, and relationships, both from legislative outlets and Christian publishing houses. We’ll conclude chapter 1 on Beautiful Union next week!

Let’s heal together!