Modern conservatives have very few wins. We mostly lose. And we frequently lose because our flesh, the devil, and our enemies offer us compromises. Here, vote for this – it will look like you put up a good fight, it will look like you won something, but in actual fact, you will have given up ground and be in a worse position. But hardly anyone will notice for at least a couple of years and by then all the compromisers are lost in the crowd.
I mean look at us, we have been at least as numerous in national elections as leftists, sometimes holding majorities, and many red states are shot through with conservatives, and yet we rarely take ground back. Our “victories” frequently consist of us repelling a particular attack, which, to put it mildly is not the same as winning the battle. The same is often true in our denominations. We are rarely gaining on Christian principles. I say “rarely” because I know there are shining counter-examples. I’m just painting the broad side of our barn.
The Olympic Circus
So the Olympics are upon us and conservatives are desperate to display the old forgotten virtues of nationalism and piety and loyalty and tenacity and men in speedos. Also women in speedos or bikinis or whatever because gymnastics, running fast, and dress codes. Also women grappling with each other, trying to put one another in headlocks, throwing one another, and ultimately, if all goes well, pinning a woman to the mat. If you think any of this has been sexualized in the slightest, you’re a slimy pervert. Unless of course you are the women’s handball team from Norway, then you’re a hero. You go girl. But if you thought that any women might be sexualized before that, then you’re a slimy pervert. You’re only allowed to notice that something *might* be sexualized and immodest if all of the media outlets report on it first. You should also wait until the team intentionally disobeys the upstanding citizens on the Olympic committees requiring girls to play in their underwear. You should also probably wait until the whole team has been fined by the same committees for not playing handball in their underwear. Then, and only then, can you agree that there might be some, perhaps only a little, sexualizing and immodesty going on in that great and wholesome pagan circus known as the Olympics.
Now don’t get me wrong. I grew up in this land. Red blood courses through my veins. I too am not immune to those Facebook video ads of that guy who falls at the start of the race and then overtakes the pack and wins Olympic gold. I have a heart. And while the “gospel” presentations of how this poor orphan overcame odds, usually believed in herself, and then gets her chance in the Olympics are way overdone and overdone, I get the appeal. And when one of them actually is a Christian and they give all the glory to Christ and tell us that He is more precious than gold, and so on, sure, I’m thankful for that. Does my heart not beat U-S-A?
Desperate Youth Pastor Syndrome
But refer back to paragraphs one and two. On the whole, taking one thing with another, I would say that we, as a conservative Christian people have the discernment of a desperate youth pastor. We’ll do anything to get the kids to come to our Bible study. And if the last number of decades have taught us anything, it’s that the kids will come but when they go, what you actually discipled them in was rarely Jesus. You discipled them in silly antics, root beer floats, lame skits, bad music, and often lots of teen romance and sexual sin. And the Jesus stuff was this gold ring you kept trying to put on the snout of that pig’s nose. Which, come to think of it, never really made any sense. Congratulations.
This desperate youth pastor syndrome seemed to be on full display last week when Not the Bee – one of my favorite conservative news aggregators – posted this story about Tamyra Mensah-Stock winning Olympic gold in women’s wrestling. In the interview after her win she enthusiastically relates that it is by the grace of God that she can move her feet, she’s so grateful to her coaches for pushing her, and draped in an American flag, she says she “freaking loves” the USA.
Look, I’m not here to tell you that I think Mensah-Stock is a bad person. I hear she is a wife and a mother, and I really do wish her all the best. I’m guessing she’d make a fine neighbor. We would probably get along great. And do I prefer her enthusiasm and joy over soccer dikes with bad attitudes? Of course. Every day of the week. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t also see real problems. And the thing that Christians cannot get through their hard hearts is the fact that several decades of celebrating Mensah-Stock (as a culture) inevitably leads to soccer dikes with bad attitudes. Many Christians will (rightly) note that it’s not enough for us to go back to the 1950s (culturally speaking). We have to actually repent of our sins, including the sins of the 1950s that were harder to see. It’s the same thing here. We need to repent of the sins of the 1970s and 1980s when it was still cool to “freaking love the USA” but when we had already begun to despise the glory of women, by normalizing women’s wrestling, football, and ice hockey.
Ok, let me get a few easy objections out of the way. First, I’m not saying women can’t play sports. But if we are Christians who are utterly committed to repenting of our cultural sins and committed to pursuing true freedom and glory in Christ, we have to begin by confessing that we do not know what the Hell we are doing when it comes to men and women, boys and girls. We live in a cauldron of confusion. We live in a lair of lies. So the first thing you should not do is saunter up to the microphone like you know that women’s wrestling is fine because you’ve actually seen it done. Right. We won’t be coming to you for advice or counsel.
I’ll tell you what else we won’t do: we won’t be getting advice from people whose immediate response to God’s warnings about sexual confusion is defensiveness and belligerence. Scripture says that it is an abomination for women to wear the clothing/gear/tools/weapons of men, just as it is an abomination for men to wear what pertains to a woman (Dt. 22:5). This is clearly talking about sexual confusion, dressing and acting like the opposite sex. This forbids every form of crossdressing, and we should not miss the fact that cross-dressing lite is often just practicing for full mastectomies and hormone therapy.
And let me just say that when the Bible calls something an abomination, that isn’t the moment to say, well, I guess that was the Old Testament. At the very least, you should exercise extreme caution. And at the other very least, you should have deep understanding for a fellow Christian who may draw the line tighter than you do. It’s not hateful to not want to nuke your family, community, and nation. When the timid guy clears his throat at the city council meeting and wonders whether or not the local science club should be playing with Uranium, it’s not a good argument to call that guy an f*****g idiot.
Our Smoking Ruins
But of course everyone immediately wants to know where the line is. Can a woman play soccer? Basketball? Run? What about shooting? What about martial arts? Sure, let’s talk about all of those questions, but first let’s talk about the smoking ruins we’re living in. Over 60 million human beings will never get the chance to breathe, let alone play any games or compete in any Olympics because we gave God the middle finger and told Him that we know all about sexuality and what it means to be human beings. We live at the bottom of a crater of our sexual arrogance and hubris and rebellion.
And the fact that many conservative Christians have the audacity to immediately object to someone who says that our tranny confusions are connected to our celebration of women wrestling – that tells you that we aren’t ready to repent yet. We don’t have soft hearts, teachable hearts, humble hearts ready to admit that we’ve been wrong. We have hard hearts, clenched fists, and jaws that are jutting out in defiance. Girls can too fight! All that tells me is that we should brace for more cultural turmoil. We don’t have anything good to say to the world, so God shut down our churches last year and put gags over our mouths, as if to say, would you please shut up? And if we keep saying the stupid things we love to say, He can and will do it again.
So if we’re going to have a conversation, an actual conversation, then we have to have it in the spirit of utter defeat. We don’t know what we’re doing. Imagine a field laced with landmines, our cousins and aunts and uncles and friends have been trying to get across this field for the last several decades and many are dead or missing limbs. And if my analogy is too deft, what I mean is that our families and communities are full of apostates, lesbians, sodomites, adulterers, porn addicts, divorces, single moms, abortions, abusers and abuse victims.
I mean, do we have a sexual abuse problem or not? I have no doubt that we do, but I also think we are an utterly insane people who have been given over to madness by our Maker because we refuse to humble ourselves before Him (Rom. 1). And in our madness, we continue to do the same things over and over again, expecting different results. So let’s have the conversation, but let’s have the conversation with the appropriate sobriety. There are landmines everywhere. And just so I’m being clear, I’m not just talking about the progressive idiots teaching 5 year olds how to masturbate. I’m also talking about the conservative idiots homeschooling their 12 kids naively unaware of the incest taking place in their home. There are landmines everywhere.
Where’s the Line?
So where is the line? The principles are two fold: We are required to honor the respective sexual glories of men and women, and we are forbidden from confusing them. Go and learn what that means. Ok, I’ll say a little more. The goal in sports as with the rest of life should be to practice what we want to become permanent. The glory of young men is their strength, and the glory of women is their beauty. This does not mean that women are not strong, and this does not mean that men must not care about aesthetics. But it does mean that we are made to display God’s glory in different ways, and we need to lean into it.
Of course everyone wants to bring up Jael and Deborah – those women were fighters. Well, actually, no. That’s not what the text says at all. Jael was a homemaker, and Deborah was a wife and judge who was also usually at home or at least judging from her home town. They were both clearly very strong women, and we should celebrate that. But their glory was not their strength. Their glory was their wisdom and grace.
So can a woman be trained to physically defend herself? Of course. But she should be trained as a woman. And this means that it must be done in all purity, modesty, and with an eye to honoring her God-given strength to bear children and make a home. This means that she should not be trained exactly like a man. The end product will not be a woman who defends herself just as well as a man. Will some women be particularly gifted? Sure. Good for them. But we are not training black belts, Army Rangers, or Navy Seals. We are training an army of wives and mothers. Why? Because that is more potent. Their beautiful and wise fruitfulness and homemaking will overcome the world.
At the same time, I do know that some of you men are black belts and Rangers and Navy Seals, and you will be in a position to train your wives and daughters more thoroughly than some of us, and feel free. But it should be fixed in your mind that her more potent weapons against the darkness are bearing children, building and keeping a home, and speaking words of wisdom. And note this well: this is because we want more Jaels and Deborahs.
Just because we grant a woman may be trained as a woman, does not at all mean that it is fine for her to compete on a national stage or even your local wrestling club. What a father may be able to do (appropriately) to prepare his daughter or wife for an attacker is not at all the same as what is appropriate for another man (or woman) to do with your wife or daughter out in public. And different skills admit different protocols. Shooting a gun is different than learning jiu jitsu. I do believe that girls’ sports and physical training can be very formative and helpful, but they really do have to be done carefully.
Butch soccer chicks do not happen randomly. We trained them. We demanded that they play like dudes, and shock! we cannot imagine how it is that they came to believe that they don’t need men in their lives or that they can be men themselves. So as our daughters play sports and train, they must be taught to understand the difference between what they are practicing for and what their brothers and male counterparts are practicing for. Men are practicing for battle. Women are practicing for feminine strength, running homes, and childrearing.
So yes, women can play basketball, softball, volleyball, participate in track and field (this is not an exhaustive list!), but it must be done with stark, bright lines distinguishing the way women participate in them and the way men do. What is the standard? Is the standard men? Is the standard men, just turned down 3 or 10 degrees? Then I call that misogynist. The standard must be the actual glory that God made women for.
What Are We Becoming?
What are we training our sons and daughters for? If we train our daughters to take a hit, to get hit and bounce back up, to throw elbows, we are training them to be hard. We are training them to be rough. Which is just another way to say that we are training them to be dudes. They may not come out as lesbians, but it will certainly be harder for them to have a gentle and quiet spirit, which is most precious in the sight of God (1 Pet. 3).
Note well: this does not mean that our girls should not be taught to be physically, emotionally, and intellectually tough. The Proverbs 31 woman clothes her arms in strength, staying up late, and getting up early to run her household well. I fully endorse beast mode homemaking.
Related to all of this, we really do need to include in our discussions of women in sports what intense physical training often does to female bodies. Women who stress their bodies constantly frequently have hormonal imbalances, other health challenges, struggle with barrenness, and often, to be frank, destroy their bodies. I know nobody wants to be that guy, but what the heck, I’m already here. It’s great to be “in shape” and “healthy” but girls with chiseled biceps are ugly. That isn’t your glory.
Related to thinking carefully about what you’re practicing for is the whole modesty issue both in terms of dress but also in terms of how you carry your body. When we talk about modesty, conservative Christians almost immediately jump to what is sexually alluring or stumbling, but that isn’t the only sense of the word. Modesty also has to do with what is fitting. As I have noted in previous rounds of my discussions related to feminine glory, this is why wise Christian women ought to refuse all fashion trends offering to dress you up like a circus clown. Despite the smoldering claims in the commercials that it is “sexy” or just “fun,” tattoos and pink hair and body piercings are the uniform of the lost and enslaved. None of it is practicing for the beautiful strength of motherhood. Note well: I didn’t say you can’t possibly be a faithful wife and mother with those things, I’m just saying they’re the wrong uniform. They aren’t fitting.
A modest woman is not only careful in what she wears but also in what she says, how she carries herself. A wise woman is discrete in her actions and words. She knows that she is the glory of man, and so she carries that glory with propriety, dignity, and deftness. This ought not be stuffy or frumpy or prudish. A daughter of the king must be joyful, adorned with the boldness and glory of the gospel, and humble. But rolling around on a mat, sweating, with limbs and butts in the air – even with another woman is not what I would call dignified or modest. And the point is not that this is necessarily salacious, although in our perverse world you really shouldn’t assume anything, but the point is that it isn’t feminine and more importantly, it isn’t practicing for real feminine glory. We should not want our daughters to get use to that kind of behavior. We don’t want it to be normal. I do not want Mensah-Stock to be my daughters’ hero. I do not want my daughters practicing that kind of behavior. I don’t want them to be used to that. And this doesn’t mean that we should not want our daughters to have many opportunities to learn and train themselves to be tough, even tough as nails, especially the kind that you may need to drive through the head of one of your enemies.
All of this applies to all the bikini wearing. Let me say this nicely: just because you are within 50 yards of water or a gym mat doesn’t mean it’s ok to wear your underwear in public. And my first concern is *not* who might look or who might stumble. My first concern is my own daughters. I do not want them to get used to being seen like that. I don’t want them to feel normal, displaying their glory for the whole world to see. Their glory, their beauty is precious to God and to me, and it is for their husband one day. It is too beautiful, too precious to be given away for free to any random passerby. I will not value my wife or daughters as something that you could just flip through on a TV. And that includes all physical training and competitions. If they cannot compete modestly, then why sell your daughter’s glory for a stupid trophy? And yes, I’m also talking about your wife’s yoga pants and sports bra at the local gym. Again, I underline this point: I’m not in the first instance worried about some guy’s personal problems (although love can and does apply there), my primary concern is for her. I want her to prize her own glory. And her glory is her God-given beauty and motherhood, not a second rate man body.
So let’s recap. I don’t hate Tamyra Mensah-Stock. I’m thankful for her joy, her enthusiasm, her patriotism, and what appears to be a genuine Christian faith on a very public stage. I can appreciate all of that, and yet still throw a flag when what she’s actually doing is dishonoring her feminine glory. I can also appreciate how our culture has not prepared her to understand this, and she’s just doing her best with the cards she was dealt. No doubt many otherwise faithful Christian women wrestlers will enter the kingdom ahead of our many spineless evangelical pastors. But we can say that and still disapprove her grappling like a dude on an international stage. We can be thankful for an otherwise faithful Christian woman in the military or political leadership, and we can still lament the state of our culture when women and children rule over us.
And if nothing else, I hope I have instigated numerous conversations about this topic. What are you practicing for? How are you guarding and honoring the particular glory that God has bestowed upon you, upon your wife, or your daughters? And it’s not good enough to say that nothing bad has happened (yet). Again, I refer you to the field littered with landmines and corpses. We are not here to survive. We are here to win. And we need strong women, women like Sarah and Jael and Ruth and Mary and Monica and Kate Luther and Elizabeth Eliot and Darlene Deibler-Rose and Corrie ten Boom.