One of the top reasons I make brief runs through Facebook postings is to see what people are reading. What we post reveals what we care about. It announces which perspectives we deem (at least in part) to be authoritative; to define reality in helpful, provocative, even truthful ways. Or we post what seems so preposterous as to be wholly laughable—its own kind of truth telling. I am sometimes unsettled by the cacophony of perspectives cited by my friends.
There was a story on NPR this morning (I caught only a slice while on the road) about those who envisioned possibilities for the World Wide Web from as far back as the anti-establishment days of the 1960’s. John Perry Barlow of the Grateful Dead was quoted as saying that it would move us away from a vertical authority with God at the top, me at the bottom, and dad, pope and king in-between, to a horizontal authority, with everyone free to weigh in on their own. The internet is bringing unfathomable change to how we determine what an authoritative source is on any given topic. As with most change, there is a liberating upside and a shadowy downside. The age old question put to Jesus: “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” is as germane now as ever.
Two fb postings by friends this week offered a critique of the hyped up sexuality bandied about by so-called evangelical preachers who go on and on about their wives’ hotness. Apparently (something I was blissfully unaware of) there’s “an obsession among evangelical pastors/leaders with talking/tweeting endlessly about their ‘smokin’ hot wives—an obsession that has spread throughout American Christian culture” according to this blog post, which commends this critique by Mary DeMuth in Christianity Today called her-meneutics.
Truth be told, I’ve not listened to any of these preachers; don’t even recognize them by name. With a multitude of followers in thrall, they presume to speak with authority on all things biblical, godly and sexual. In my view, they are co-opted by our sexually saturated, consumptive culture. I deem their authority null and void.
The Song of Solomon talks in exhilarating ways about sexual intimacy, describing physical features of both the lover and the beloved with poetic rapture. Followers of Christ have a lot to learn about extolling the goodness of holy sexual intimacy that is shared between two lovers. No doubt, the preachers mentioned above are trying to correct for a long Christian history encumbered by uptight attitudes toward sexuality. To do so, however, by referring to one’s wife as if she were one more product to parade for her hotness is nothing less than preacher-endorsed pornography.
Those of us who long for reconciliation between men and women must find another way. How, I wonder, might a man speak of his wife if he truly loved her as a partner in mission rather than as a desirable object? How would lauding his wife’s vocation to serve God as a mother, professional, or neighbor be different from describing her as a play-thing? Any description that objectifies a woman—that focuses in the public arena on her “hotness” rather than on her partnership—demeans not only one’s wife, but all women. It is perverted sexuality—now scantily clad in Christian clothes. It is one more expression of sexualized marketing run amok. With nary a second thought, women’s bodies are being marketed through every venue imaginable; marketed not for their true beauty, winsomeness, talent or character. No. Women are being commodified for their body parts and their appeal as a consumable play-thing, in ways reminiscent of the slave trade.
This is grievous sin—with devastating consequences for women, men, families, and whole communities. When true preacher prophets (as opposed to false) align themselves with God’s purposes in the world, their voices ring with penetrating authority. The words they speak hold together both vertical and horizontal authority. Jeremiah’s prophetic warning rings with clarion authority in our day, as it did in his: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” says the Lord.
Ezekiel also cries out with God’s lament on behalf of men and women: “The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost…. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals.”