The evangelical crisis about gender roles is much worse than you think. I know this because discerning, biblically-grounded complementarian friends read Gospel Hope in Hookup Culture by Owen Strachan, and thought it was pretty good.
It was not pretty good. It is lightly-rebranded feminism.
Why is the Gospel Coalition sponsoring an articulation of “biblical sexuality” that is basically rebranded feminism? Why is that articulation coming from a former president of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood—an organization dedicated to correcting this sort of error? And why are discerning, biblically-grounded complementarians reading it without their bullshit detectors going off?
Because see the first sentence of this article.
Satan used just enough truth when he tempted Eve to prevent any red flags going up. The same thing is happening here. Owen’s points are just truthful enough for us to nod our heads and keep reading, instead of saying, “Wait a minute, what about…”
Let’s work through each of his four points. I’m going to start with point 2 first, because it comes logically prior to point 1—and the fact that Owen seems oblivious to this is almost certainly part of the problem:
2. Promote God-honoring romance, not sexual utilitarianism.
This is a lopsided secular caricature of what the Bible actually says about the relationship between sex and love. God designed sex to image covenant love—not romantic love. I think the ideal covenant love within marriage does involve romance, but it is the covenant that sanctifies the sex, not the romance. Romance doesn’t purify sex, and sex without romance is not dirty. Marriage purifies sex, and sex without marriage is dirty.
This Disney-chivalry notion of romance has a great deal to do with where we are today. Once romance became all that was required to legitimize sex, fornication became a matter of course.
1. Promote an ethic that focuses on the whole person, not ‘hotness.’
This is the standard feminist solution to perceived problems of objectification. The issue is not that it’s wrong, per se, but that it promotes an indirect solution to physical attraction, instead of the direct solution which the Bible explicitly advocates. What about…marriage (1 Corinthians 7:9)? If you’re going to “hook up” with someone, the way the Bible says to do it is to marry.
Here’s another way of getting at the problem: Owen is suggesting we should encourage serial fornicators to consider that God would rather they treated people as more than just objects of sexual desire. The implicit hope is that they will therefore realize that purely physical sex degrades both parties, and so stop fornicating. But that isn’t realistic, and it doesn’t represent what God would have them do anyway:
- It isn’t realistic because what will actually happen is that since their sexual urges won’t go away, they will think that God would rather they chose their sexual partners on the basis of more than just looks (see: romance sanctifies sex)—and they will keep fornicating anyway.
- It isn’t what God would have them do, because God would have them repent of their fornicating and make proper use of their sexual urges by marrying someone to have sex with.
Moreover, couching the solution in terms of the “whole person” secularizes what the Bible says about the qualities to desire in a spouse (aside from hotness): namely, virtues like fidelity, responsibility, wisdom etc. Once you’ve disconnected marriage as the proper context for sexual urges, and connected up romance instead, you naturally become quite coy about what to look for in a partner, because you’re thinking like a romcom instead of like a Christian.
3. Train men to care for women, not prey on them.
Obviously we don’t want men preying on women. But as commenters on the article asked, does Owen have any actual working knowledge of hookup culture? Like them, I doubt it. From the first-hand accounts I have read, it is the women who typically prey on the men. Indeed, it is a cliché in our culture that women are in control of sex. Men always want it; women exercise power by selectively granting it.
Owen’s point here is especially insidious because if you react against it, there’s a presumption that you are soft on rape. Well, no. I’m as hard on rape as the Bible is (cf. Dt. 22). But if you’re trying to offer a solution to women’s consistently and insistently treating men as sexbots, and your solution is, “teach men to behave better,” I am going to point out that you are a fool, because the problem starts with the women behaving badly. You don’t fix a leaking roof by putting a bucket under it.
4. Help students see they are not defined by their sexuality.
Yeap, once again true…except look at how Owen describes the problem:
Hookup culture is equally corrosive for women. According to Wade, “Sexy costume themes” at campus parties “reward women for revealing and provocative clothes, stratify them and put them into competition, all while reminding them that it’s their job to make parties sexy” (195). By Wade’s own testimony, the postmodern approach to sex robs women of their dignity, puts them into competition, and plunges them into unhappiness by rendering them as mere objects.
Notice the grammar. Who are the actors in this paragraph? It is not the women. The women are passive. It is the “parties” and the “postmodern approach.” Since parties and approaches are merely proxies for the real actors, the clear implication is that it is men who are doing this to women. But that is simply garbage. The entire philosophy underpinning what Owen describes is feminism: driven by women. Enabled by men, certainly—but driven by the sin of women’s envy. And in terms of the practice, if you consult first-hand sources, you will discover that again, while men often enable this behavior, it is women who eagerly jump into the most provocative outfits they can find; women who establish hierarchies and competition with each other; women who see it as their jobs to make parties sexy; women who are the first to bid men to treat them as mere objects (and, of course, the first to complain when men comply).
If I were to put my criticism another way, I’d perhaps say this: Owen claims that he is advocating for a gospel hope in a hookup culture, but he fails to actually anchor a single point he makes in the gospel. He doesn’t even anchor them securely in the facts. He mostly just regurgitates received cultural wisdom—aka feminism.