It was a typical summer weekend service at our local church. I was perusing the bulletin announcements about our son’s upcoming youth group trip that included a water park excursion. Amidst the details for the trip was the following blurb instructing students what to bring:
First of all, androgyny is not an eradication of being female or male. It has nothing to do with your sexuality. Being androgynous, rather, means that you have characteristics commonly associated with the female gender as well as those commonly associated with the male gender.
The Western sexual revolution brought renewed emphasis on consent, body affirmation/confidence, female pleasure, and women’s equal (and enthusiastic!) sexual participation in marriage. We should celebrate those gains. But it also brought a slew of toxic, oppressive ideas about female sexuality.
I’ve avoided writing on rape culture for a while, because it’s a difficult issue to tackle from a Christian perspective. In my experience, Christian churches don’t often talk about power and consent, and even more rarely do they truly acknowledge the reach and implications of rape culture for the body of Christ.
We’ve all heard them. Stupid jokes and thoughtless comments. Sexist sayings and caricatures. From the pulpit, at the altar, in school, from boyfriends, girlfriends, teachers, parents, and friends. People pass off myths as facts and case-by-case examples as universal truth. Women are like this and men are like that. Women are obnoxious. Men are arrogant. Women are needy and men are emotionally unavailable. These statements are infused with cultural and gendered assumptions. They have no basis in the gospel and what’s more—they are rooted heavily in socialization. And yet, despite Christians’ pledge to reject unhealthy and sinful cultural messages, these painful and divisive gender jokes and ideologies have infiltrated the church. And it’s not no big deal, people. It’s a really big deal. Here’s why.
I have long deliberated the possible efficacy of another Wild at Heart critique.1 Although many excellent critiques arose in the years after the book’s initial release in 2001, it still sells unusually well, progressively working its way into churches, homes, and minds. The English language version has sold over 4.5 million copies, annual sales exceed 100,000, and it currently holds the #1 Best Seller spot in Christian Men’s Issues on Amazon. To date, the book has been translated into thirty languages. Beyond this, the ideologies of Wild at Heart find expression in subsequent books written by John and Stasi Eldredge, most notably Captivating, as well as numerous contemporary Christian works on sex and gender that display direct influence from the Eldredges’ teachings or promote similar ideas. Hardly a year passes without some popular Christian book on gender or parenting acknowledging the Eldredges and their teachings or listing Wild at Heart as recommended reading. Stephen Mansfield, for example, calls the book “masterful,” listing it first in “The Ten Essential Books for Manly Men,” because it provides men with “the tools for understanding and living out the essential passions of manhood.” For Eldredge himself, such steady reception confirms its timeless truth. It is somehow paradoxically “truer” than before, because “it rings eternal, and universal. God was in it then; he is in it still.”