Post Author: Katie Chullino
A few weeks ago I ran across an article, “How Women Can Make Church a Safe Place for Men”[i] by Dannah Gresh. The basic premise of her article is to say that men lust over women and that women are capable of reducing that lust. Her goal here is to teach women to eliminate distractions which may force men to lust, thus helping our Christian brothers not to sin. She wants women to dress modestly so that men aren’t distracted by hemlines and what lies beyond them. She wants women to understand that men are weakened by these things and she wants women to be accountable and responsible for the presentation of their bodies in worship.
Gresh is part of a ministry called Pure Freedom. Their mission is, “to equip men and women of all ages to live a vibrant life of purity, to experience healing from past impurity if it exists in their lives and to experience a vibrant, passionate marriage which portrays the love Christ has for his Bride the church.”[ii] Her lifework is evident in the article and is, in ways, admirable. However, the article seems to miss the most basic of Christian teaching: God’s Word of love and grace for our lives.
That Word begins with creation, the very humans which God created in God’s own image. The people created to be in relationship with the entirety of the world. God made people. God commission people to serve and they were naked. Before Adam and Eve sinned nakedness wasn’t an issue. Gresh says that sin is, “missing God’s intended purpose” for us.[iii] That’s a solid definition. She goes on to insist that the presentation of the human body is sinful, that it must be covered in order to keep the sin of lust to a minimum. That’s where she lost me. God’s intended purpose for humankind was to exist and care for the whole world — for men and women to live in relationship with God. Humankind wasn’t just about body parts, but about loving relationships. In an attempt to cultivate a pure worship space Gresh equates love with sex, devalues the humanity, shifts blame, and misses the good news.
My discontentment with Gresh’s work begins in her scriptural analysis for the article. Gresh writes, “men have a God-given craving for a woman’s beauty. Proverbs 5:18-19 says, ‘Rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer—may her breasts satisfy you always. May you be ever intoxicated by her sex.’”[iv] This translation replaces the Hebrew noun for love with sex. This noun can be used to express human love, “of man toward man,” as in Psalm 109, or “love for one’s self,” as in 1 Samuel 20, or “between man and woman,” as in Proverbs 5, and can even indicate “God’s love to his people,” as in Hosea 11 and Jeremiah 31.[v] For example, if Gresh’s translation better reflected the Hebrew translation, then we ought to consider that in Jeremiah 31 God would have loved the people with an everlasting sex rather than an everlasting love. Love has multiple connotations and the Hebrew language can wrap all of those in one word. Love isn’t sex. Love may involve sex but the two aren’t interchangeable. Gresh is right in that some men have a God-given craving for a woman’s beauty. But the love of beauty isn’t just sexual. It is spiritual, mental and much more than we comprehend. The feeling of love can’t be fully expressed in sex. In Hebrew, English, or any language and in life: love is more.
In further disappointment, Gresh is caught proof-texting with Ephesians 5. She uses verse 3 to say that women hint at sexual sin by wearing low cut shirts. That isn’t what this text is about. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 3 But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving. 5 Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”[vi] This is about giving thanks to God and imitating God (which doesn’t mean eradicating temptation rather living in loving relationships). This text claims that the person who is the fornicator, impure, or greedy has no inheritance in the kingdom—not the person who is being coveted or desired. Gresh twists that to say women are to blame for the impure thoughts men might think about women. In her work, men come across as incapable of living with their desire for the temptress.
We are brothers and sisters in Christ, made in God’s image, both body and soul. Gresh writes as if beauty is the sole attribute humans find attractive and seductive. This is false. People are attracted to talent, kindness, compassion, and as the snake and tree in the garden shows us, intelligence. God doesn’t hide temptations, but Gresh claims women should hide temptations from men.
Women and Men, God has made you in God’s image and when you stray from that image God re-creates you in the image of Christ. Brothers and Sisters, hear the good news: you are more than skin and bones. Brothers, you aren’t helpless. Sisters, you aren’t temptresses.
The church isn’t laden with impurity because of a low-cut shirt, but because of our condemnation of those we are called to love. Read beyond scripture’s few verses about sex and the body. Read those commandments to love your neighbor (which appears no less than nine times). Be less concerned with the skin covered by our garments and more concerned with the ethics: treatment of the people who make clothes, sustainability of garment materials, people who suffer the elements without necessary clothes. Making the church (and world) a safe place for all begins with our trust that God loves, forgives, creates, and re-creates us to be for the world signs of the love of Christ who gave himself up for us.
This Sunday, I’ll put on my clergy collar and jeans, not because these cover the body God created, but because these reflect who God created me to be: one who listens for God’s Word and speaks out for love. Put on clothes which show you are God’s own image — as beautiful and beloved, created and re-created sisters and brothers in Christ.
[i] Dannah Gresh, “How Women Can Make Church a Safe Place for Men.” http://www.charismamag.com/life/women/9703-how-women-can-make-church-a-safe-place-for-men, accessed May 13, 2014.
[ii] “Mission,” www.purefreedom.org/meet/mission/, accessed May 14, 2014.
[iii] “According to its Hebrew and Greek definitions, sin means missing God’s intended purpose for our lives.”
[iv] “How Women Can Make Church a Safe Place for Men.”
[v] Francis Brown, SR Driver, Charles A. Briggs. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, hbha, page 13 line 160. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. Massachusetts, 2004.
[vi] New Revised Standard Version
Photo Credit: Photo by César Viteri Ramirez, Atracción fatal / Fatal Attraction. Accessed May 15, 2014, https://flic.kr/p/egJbAc, used by Creative Commons License.