It’s no secret that I’m a critic of the whole gay-but-celibate Christian movement. But I’m simultaneously a critic of much of modern conservative evangelicalism. And the two are not at all unrelated. The same cultural current that keeps Beth Moore undisciplined in the SBC is the same that keeps Greg Johnson undisciplined in the PCA. In the PCA we have men who identify as gay but claim they are not actually sodomites. In the SBC we have women who identify as preachers but claim they are not actually pastors. It’s a very similar identity problem. In fact, the conservative church created this space where the gay-celibate Christians and technically-non-ordained women preachers have set up shop, and we are subsidizing the whole mess by our anemic view of masculinity. The foundational issue is our straightforward disobedience to God’s Word, but the proximate cause is our collective insistence that men be soft. Let me explain.
Soft Men & Soft Churches
As Ann Douglas has helpfully chronicled, starting sometime in the 19th century, the American church decided that instead of militant, masculine men as preachers, it wanted cultured men of letters who were relatable, entertaining, and winsome. In those days they didn’t use the word “winsome,” but they were after the same thing. They wanted men who used poetry and jokes and stories to disarm and persuade, rather than the blunt Pauline style of days of yore. And so it is that we’ve been collectively demanding Tim Kellers for going on two centuries, and that’s exactly what we’ve been given. But of course what this has really meant is that we wanted feminine preachers, and while this is likely a hate crime in certain countries, I will go out on a limb and point out that women are better at being feminine than men. And so it cannot have been that big of a surprise when American churches started actually ordaining women as a pastors. They are a lot better at being feminine and relating to people and being winsome than men.
Meanwhile, Margaret Sanger came along with her chemical thugs and began popularizing birth control. In the earliest days it was a straight up eugenics project, targeting unwanted populations in an often explicitly racist agenda. But it was not long before certain members of the radical left saw the potential in severing childrearing from sexual union. And it wasn’t long before, gullible Christians were popping birth control pills like the pagans. And the point here is particularly the gullibility and thoughtlessness. The Christian Church largely embraced a completely pagan understanding of childbearing, as a “choice” or an “option.” And when we accepted children as an optional accessory or amenity to marriage, we accepted in principle homosexual unions. Ok, there’s more to it than that, and I grant that a purposefully childless heterosexual couple is in a lot less confusion than two dudes shacking up, but we gave a large portion of the farm away when we surrendered the normative expectation of children. We surrendered fruitfulness as normal.
The play all along was the so-called “liberation” of women, which was always code for slavery to corporate masters and sexual promiscuity. If sex can be semi-sundered from childbearing, then sexual promiscuity can appear far less consequential. And men, like their father Adam, went along with it. We went limp, fearful, and refused to fight. We refused to defend our families, our churches, and our land. And the central place where the Church (with rare exceptions) failed to fight was in its refusal to discipline its members or leaders. And we did not require elders and pastors to have faithful, believing children. And we failed here because we did not believe the gospel. We did not believe that Jesus died for all of these sins, that His grace could actually take away our guilt and shame, and that He would bless us if we obeyed Him. Instead, we went with our own wisdom and dug our pits deeper by the decade.
So review our situation quickly: We insisted that childlessness was an option for Christian marriage, making marriage a souped-up roommate situation, something it was never meant to be. In addition to all the other Adamic lusts and sins we are at war with, separating children from the ordinary equation of marriage, set us up for lots more confusion, bitterness, slavery, abuse, and aimlessness. Why does God call a man to be the head of the household if we’re functionally just roommates? Why does he get to be in charge? Turns out obedience is a path that gets lighter and lighter, but disobedience is an icy path that only gets darker. And some sins are the inevitable result of previous sins. So here we are with “Christians” insisting that singleness and effeminate/butch lifestyles are perfectly normal options, since the conservative Christian church taught us long ago that that marriage is just a shapeless ‘complementary’ relationship. Well, why can’t two dudes have a celibate, complementary relationship too? Sure, we don’t have to call it marriage. We’ll call it “spiritual friendship.”
But the thing to point out is that all of this should be laid at the feet of the conservative Church. We have failed to biblically love those tempted to homosexuality, particularly the men, by the massively unbiblical culture of effeminacy we have cultivated in the Church. What does biblical manhood look like in most conservative Reformed/evangelical churches? It’s effeminate. It’s nice, friendly, studious, nice, winsome, relatable, funny, nice, clean cut, sophisticated, cultured, team player, chatty, hip and trendy, and of course, above all else, nice. “Spiritual friendship” is a nice gay description of the modern evangelical church. We flatter and nuance and share and mince words over lattes. Many churches still wouldn’t fly the rainbow flag, but they’re most certainly already flying the white flag of surrender. In other words, we have created a greenhouse that grows effeminate, cowardly men, and then we are shocked when the Greg Johnsons and Wes Hills and Nate Collins rise up in our midst.
But wait, there’s more.
Purity Culture with Spikes
Now, in general, I’m not really sure what people are talking about when they use the phrase “purity culture,” but I certainly get the distinct impression that it’s bad and ugly and oppressive. And so, given the days we live in, I’m instinctively inclined to think purity culture is probably a good thing. But having spent a goodish number of years in conservative Christian circles, I can also imagine a number of ways in which people can take good, biblical principles and turn them into bludgeons to beat people with and nooses to hang them with. And maybe, just maybe “purity culture” is nothing more than people abusing good principles with their folly and lusts. So, in an attempt to get my boomer virtue signal on, let me launch forthwith into a diatribe about the evils of purity culture, or, well, at least one way we could get purity really, really wrong.
Imagine your average Christian high school boy and girl, all red-blooded and excited and full of hormones to the bursting. One of the worst things you could do is encourage them to date, to form emotional attachments and spend time alone together. This is like playing with matches and kerosene and firecrackers at a gas station, while hosing everyone and everything down with the Supreme blend. But imagine, and I know this sounds crazy, but imagine Christian families and communities where it was expected, maybe even encouraged, that nice Christian boys and girls in the youth group ought to pair off and form strong emotional attachments, always with the reminder and warning, but save your virginity for marriage!
This is what we would have called in saner days, psychotic. But in our world, we call it healthy, and it’s considered normal and mundane, and we are the idiots still scratching our heads about why our churches are so full of sexual sin.
But let me push the whole thing one step further. What if it was not merely expected or mildly encouraged, but what if it was insisted upon? What if all the sermons and Bible studies were about how 16 year old boys need to take 16 year old girls out and find some secluded dark place to park the car and sit alone together? What if the clear message was: you’re not really being holy unless you are cuddling with a girl, alone in the dark. This is what all the Christian kids do. This is true piety. This is true godliness. AND DON’T YOU DARE HAVE SEX. AND IF YOU DO, SHAME ON YOU FOREVER.
And imagine that any time somebody came home with that sheepish, defeated look and confessed that they had “crossed a line” and sinned sexually, we beat them over the head with their sin and shame, and then demanded that they take that girl out the very next night and try again, this time with the heater on. This is the only way to holiness and godliness, it is explained with the deeply furrowed brows of discernment.
Now, as I noted before, I’m honestly not sure what “purity culture” is, but I would call that a purity culture with spikes, poisonous purity culture, and I can also easily imagine a whole bunch of kids being scarred from that kind of insanity. This is like requiring boys struggling with lust to hang out at the local pool, insisting that all the truly pure, really Christian boys do ministry down at the beach with the bikini babes or at the strip club. After a while, some of the boys get tired of the whole insane charade, and they leave the crazy house for what seems relatively more sane, the world, where you take girls out and you sleep with them because that’s what you’re “supposed” to do. It’s what everything in their biology is screaming at them to do.
Just in case I’ve lost you, repentance here means the Church and Christian families need to repent of the whole dating/hookup culture. It means telling our children that courtship is for seeking romance and sexual fulfillment and children under God’s blessing in the covenant of marriage. And until someone is ready for that, they are not ready to ask any one out or accept such an invitation. Period. Full stop. Don’t start the car, if you’re not ready to drive. Don’t try the dress on, if you’re not ready to buy. Don’t point the gun at anything you’re not prepared to shoot. As John MacArthur would say, ‘Go home.’
Connecting the Dots
Now some of you are wondering what my purity with spikes example has to do with anything. Of course we shouldn’t send couples out to park in cars alone, of course teenage boys should not be on the front lines of strip club ministry, who would do something so ridiculous? Well, actually, we would. The Christian Church would. We would, and we have done so, particularly with men tempted to homosexuality.
Here in the conservative church, for over a century, we have held up effeminacy, niceness, chattiness, friendliness as the chief masculine virtues, and while many masculine men have simply left the church, many others have been slowly discipled into the soft-gay evangelical Christian culture. But it’s the same insanity as purity with spikes. We insist that they act gay, dress gay, talk gay, walk gay, and then when one of them has the audacity to actually suggest that they are gay, we blow into a paper bag for an hour wondering how this could happen to nice little Johnny. But how could it not happen? You spent two and half decades training him to be gay. That’s what most seminaries require.
We are the cause of this. We are the gay greenhouse. We insist that our worship songs must be emotional and orgasmic. If you haven’t cried, you haven’t really become a Christian. We insist that our buildings be slick and stylish and manicured and pedicured just like our men. We insist that our men be polished and fastidious and cultured and nice. And our entire paradigm of holiness is accountability groups, where men gaze into one another’s eyes and confess their deepest feelings and fears and lusts. What could go wrong?
Now the whole boat is about to capsize in evangelicalism, apart from the intervening grace of God. The conservative Presbyterians are already on their way over into the water, and the Southern Baptists are just a little bit behind, preferring to be dragged into the perversion pond by their racial guilt and Beth Moore, rather than straight up flamer boys.
And while it’s a crying shame, it’s hard to blame the guys who finally throw up their hands in exasperation at the insanity of the conservative church and just walk away, coming out of the closet, loud and proud, and leave congregations and marriages and families behind. Why stay in a schizophrenic church? Why continue cultivating gayness while pretending not to be gay? Why continue lusting after the approval of men, when we can’t close the deal when we finally get it? Does anybody know how to spell hypocrisy?
This is why the church must see the task before us as much larger than merely saying no to homosexuality in the church or lady preachers. Because as it stands, we are schizophrenic (and so am I). We demand purity, while insisting on effeminacy. We demand heterosexuality, while disciplining and frowning upon any actual masculinity that might show up in the church. We demand sharing and caring and nurturing and tears, while scorning every expression of testosterone. We cultivate the lust for the favor of men, and then we wonder why our men are so strongly tempted.
Repentance is always a two-fold action: turning away from sin and turning toward Christ and new obedience. And while there are no doubt slanderous lies surrounding much of the ‘pray the gay away’ programs, I do not doubt that to the extent that they have failed, it is because we have insisted that they not practice homosexuality while simultaneously requiring them to sit in the hot house of emasculation. We heap up the shame of sodomy while demanding that they go right back into the evangelical bathhouse and cozy up to some seminary studs. We are the insane ones.
Therefore, the call of repentance that must be issued is the call to return to a full-orbed biblical masculinity. The center of that is the call to embrace the hard work of marriage and childrearing. But in order for this to actually be a blessing, it must also include a call to men to actually lead their families, to take up the true authority and responsibility that God gives each man in his home, to rule their wives and children in the fear of God. We must insist that our men rule. We must insist that they take dominion. We must say this boldly without flinching, without a million qualifications. And both saying it and doing it requires courage, sacrifice, strength, wisdom, and it means fighting, warfare, militance, hatred – against all evil, beginning with the evil remaining inside each man’s own chest, and then spreading out in fatherly boldness to their families and communities.
We must recover the glory of this conflict against all sin, evil, the flesh, the devil, and the world. We must recover the glory and the joy of that holy ruckus. There will be riots. There will be op-eds. There will be fines and imprisonment. There will be persecution. People will be fired for refusing to use the damn pronouns. Businesses will be unjustly shut down. Churches will be harassed. And there will be protests. We will be called bigots and haters and white supremacists. There will be lawsuits and snubs and slanders and smears and slurs. But the godly Christian men will smile and laugh and sing because we were made for this. The world will scream and shriek and lay down in the cookie aisle and kick their legs, and we won’t care because we have better things to do. We’re building houses and schools and churches and businesses and nations.
Men were not for ‘tie-breaking’, and yes, I’m looking at you, Tim Keller. We were made to fight. We were made to rule. We were made to build. We were made to lead. We were made to die. We were made to take responsibility, to lay our lives down for Christ, for His kingdom, for the truth, for our families, for our people. And so, by the grace of God, we will.
The clear command from God is to take dominion and to be fruitful and multiply. A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. That’s the norm. That’s the usual. That’s the plan, unless God intervenes and clearly gives you a different assignment. The sin of homosexuality is forsaking the natural use of the opposite sex (Rom. 1). And therefore, those who have forsaken the opposite sex are called to return. Come home, not home to all the evangelical clowns and cowards, come home to Jesus, to the true man, to the man who never relinquished his authority and always used his power for good, the man who laid his life down for all of us, weak and evil men, in order to build a Kingdom that would grow and fill the world. God made men strong. And by the power of the gospel, He restores that strength to us for the good of the world. That is our glory. And the Church will be blessed when she is lead and guarded by those kind of men once again.