Are Women Passive? What History Says about Gender, Sexuality, and Christian Ministry | CBE International

You are here

Are Women Passive? What History Says about Gender, Sexuality, and Christian Ministry

Within both mainstream and Christian media outlets in the United States, the dominant message about sexual desire is that men want sex more than women do. Within marriage literature, in particular, Christian writers often urge wives to respond favorably to their husbands’ advances. Embedded within this advice is the assumption that women do not often want to engage in intimate acts. Authors suggest that it is normal and natural for men to desire lots of sex while women purportedly agree to sex on an infrequent and often reluctant basis. In terms of sexual relationships, men are supposedly suited for active pursuit while women are inclined toward being passive and responsive.1 These assumptions have profound implications, since they set up relationship dynamics that are often unhealthy. Such beliefs can also lead women who have strong sexual desires or assertive personalities to feel excluded or abnormal.2

In addition to affecting intimate relationships, unfounded assumptions regarding sexuality have profoundly, if subtly, shaped assumptions regarding who is fit for Christian ministry and leadership. Christian literature, both past and present, has often suggested that, because of their passive and accommodating nature, women are unfit for leadership roles. In terms of sexuality, simplistic analyses of biological copulation imply that women are reluctant and passive receivers while men are eager and active contributors. Authors have used this type of simplistic portrayal of the sexual act as evidence of consistency in the natures of men and women. Supposedly, the “fact” that men are biologically suited for being active leaders in the bedroom is consistent with the “fact” that they are suited for leadership activities elsewhere. Likewise, the “fact” that women are passive responders in the bedroom supposedly aligns with their passive and receptive role in other spheres of life, including Christian ministry.3

Contemporary authors, including theologians, have often emphasized the supposedly passive nature of women and the supposedly assertive nature of men. John Piper, for example, has identified initiation as a masculine trait and responsiveness as a feminine trait. In terms of both marriage relationships and Christian ministry, Piper argues, men are suited for taking an assertive role while God designed women to be submissive and passive. Stu Weber has explicitly argued that because men are the initiators and penetrators in sexual relationships, they are naturally suited for leadership roles. Thomas Schreiner has argued that, although God has allowed women to serve as prophets, he does not allow them to hold pastoral offices or official leadership positions within churches. When explaining this discrepancy, he has argued that God allowed women to serve as prophets in the Bible because prophecy is a passive activity in which women receive and merely transmit God’s messages to others. This “passive” role was different from that of preaching or teaching, according to Schreiner.4

Likewise, Christian marriage literature often portrays men as naturally assertive and women as naturally passive. Boy Meets Girl, by Josh Harris, argues that it is normal for men to initiate and women to respond. Indeed, the phrasing of the book’s title is illustrative: males initiate romantic pursuit while women respond to male initiative. His Needs, Her Needs, by Willard Harley Jr., is a perennial best-seller that lists sex as the top need of men but does not include it in the list of women’s needs. The book goes on to argue that wives need to respond favorably to their husbands’ sexual advances, again suggesting that it is “normal” for men to pursue and women to respond. Numerous other Christian books on marriage repeat the message that it is natural for men to be sexual pursuers and initiators and for women to be passive responders. It is no accident that in two genres of contemporary Christian literature—works dealing with marriage and texts dealing with Christian leadership—authors often portray women as naturally passive and men as naturally assertive. In a few cases, authors such as Weber and Piper are bold enough to explicitly make logical connections between assertive male sexuality, passive female sexuality, and which gender group is best suited for leadership roles.5

The assumptions about female passivity found in contemporary writing have their roots in ancient philosophy and medieval theology. Numerous historical authors and philosophers propounded the notion that sexually assertive male initiators would make better leaders than supposedly passive female responders. The ancient Greeks were among the first to differentiate between active and passive sexual roles. Aristotle viewed men as the primary cause in procreation. They introduced the life-creating seed while women merely provided a suitable environment for new offspring. The Romans, likewise, placed great emphasis upon the “active,” or penetrating, component of male sexuality.6 The “wisdom” of the ancients greatly informed medieval Christian thinkers, including Thomas Aquinas. In the Summa Theologica, he wrote that “woman is by nature of lower capacity and quality than man; for the active cause is always more honourable than the passive, as Augustine says.”7 He also associated the “active power in the seed of the male” with the successful production of male babies. He then attributed femaleness to defects in the reproductive process, including changes in environmental conditions. Aquinas, like other medieval theologians, saw the active male seed as a sign of superiority and women’s receptive and passive nature as a sign of inferiority.8 Not surprisingly, Aquinas and other such thinkers argued that it was necessary to ban women from holding leadership positions within churches.

There are multiple ways of critiquing the biological determinism of Aquinas and other thinkers. As Gilbert Bilezikian has noted, true biblical notions of leadership, which emphasize servanthood and humility, are vastly different from worldly notions of leadership that value aggression and physical power.9 That is, even if we accept the notion that men are somehow naturally more assertive and aggressive than women, this does not mean that men are somehow better suited for Christian leadership. Another way, however, to critique the notion that sexually assertive men make better leaders than passive women is to question the supposed “facts” that undergird this type of thinking. Are men naturally more assertive and active in the bedroom? Is it biologically “normal” for women to be passive and less desirous? Both history and scripture suggest that the answer to both of these questions is “no.” Abundant evidence suggests that variations in human sexuality are more the product of culture than of biology. What might seem true in contemporary American culture and society has not always been true for people living in other places and other eras. This includes, for example, people living both in ancient biblical cultures and in colonial North America. Historical evidence, found in both the scriptures and colonial North American records, offers egalitarians new ways of viewing human sexuality that contradict the myth of female sexual passivity. As such, this evidence helps undermine misconceptions about the nature of men and women and their respective fitness for Christian leadership.

Male and female sexuality in scripture

Several passages from both the OT and NT indicate that women in ancient, biblical societies were sexually assertive. In Gen 39, we read that Potiphar’s wife approached Joseph and expressed her desire for sexual relations. The passage suggests that her attraction to him was based, at least in part, upon his physical features. While contemporary Christian literature suggests that men are visually stimulated, this passage indicates that women also have experienced feelings of attraction for physically appealing men. Likewise, Gomer, the wife of the prophet Hosea, actively pursued extramarital relationships with other men. These passages, even as they implicitly condemn extramarital intercourse, recognize the historical reality of female sexual desire. In these cases, the male characters in the stories, Joseph and Hosea, properly acted with restraint while the women pursued sexual activity vigorously.10 Perhaps more important than accounts of wayward, assertive women in the OT is the more normative description of healthy sexuality found in the Song of Songs. As commentators have noted, the relationship described in this book of the Bible is one of mutual pursuit and shared desire. While there are many possible ways to read this poetic section of scripture, one straightforward interpretation of Song of Songs would be that it is normal, appropriate, and healthy for a man and woman to pursue each other sexually. Both partners in the account are visually stimulated by one another and, as ch. 3 suggests, at times, the woman actively pursues her mate. Like the Song of Songs, the book of Ruth also positively describes women who acted assertively regarding a romantic encounter. In ch. 3, Naomi and Ruth act boldly in preparation for and during an interaction with Boaz, and he responds affirmatively to their initiative.11

Perhaps the clearest evidence that scripture affirms female sexual assertiveness is found in the NT. One of the clearest passages on marriage in the epistles, 1 Cor 7, indicates that God created marriage as a healthy avenue for both men and women to express their sexuality. Verse 5 begins, “Do not deprive each other,” which indicates that women, as well as men, can feel deprived of sex in the marital relationship. The mutuality described in the passage makes it clear that it is normal for both husbands and wives to desire sex and each partner should consider the other’s needs in this area. There is no evidence to suggest that it is normal for men to be the active pursuers or women to be passive responders. Neither is there an assumption in 1 Cor 7 that men will desire sex more often or that women will typically be reluctant partners. This passage strongly indicates that the notion that women desire sex less than men is cultural, not biblical, in origin.12

Male and female sexuality in colonial North America

While many who live in the early twenty-first century often assume that men are biologically inclined toward desiring sex and women are often reluctant participants, in earlier eras, the opposite was often true. During the 1600s and early 1700s, for example, early European Americans typically believed that women needed and desired copulation more fervently than men. Women’s passionate natures and empty uteruses supposedly cried out to be satisfied, while the supposedly more rational and subdued husbands often viewed sexual activity as a marital duty. According to one historian, Europeans of the 1600s and 1700s saw a woman’s libido as so strong that a husband who neglected to fulfill his wife’s desires “was virtually asking her to commit adultery.”13

Available sources suggest that early Americans saw women as eager pursuers of sexual activity. Published sources, including medical books and almanacs, often argued that women were lustful and passionate creatures. Almanacs published during the early 1700s often portrayed women as bold, aggressive, adulterous, and manipulative. Newspapers, likewise, included sensational accounts of prostitutes in London and other stories that depicted women as lusty creatures. Historians note that these same published sources, particularly the newspapers, began to portray women differently by the late 1700s. Instead of portraying women as eager participants in sexual liaisons, stories began to portray them as innocent victims of male sexual aggression. This was part of a larger transformation in European and American sexual mores that eventually culminated in Victorian beliefs about female passivity. Nevertheless, during the early 1700s, the belief that women were often sexually assertive persisted.14

William Byrd II, a wealthy planter who lived in colonial Virginia during the early 1700s, commented frequently in his private writings about the lustful nature of women. In his writings, he related numerous tales about sexually assertive wives who were able to maneuver their reluctant husbands into copulation. In some of his stories, he suggested that women were extremely voracious consumers of sexual pleasure. While historians believe these stories were fictional, the stories reflect Byrd’s beliefs about women and likely incorporate elements of popular literary accounts he read during times of leisure. One of Byrd’s stories was about a woman who pursued her partner so continuously that he despaired of keeping her happy. He cut off one of his legs so that his blood would flow to more necessary “limbs” in an attempt to keep up with her vigorous libido. In these and other private writings, Byrd made it clear that he viewed women as salacious, lustful, and demanding. Byrd’s diary suggests that his actual experiences with Lucy, his wife, involved mutual assertiveness. While he often framed himself as the pursuer and aggressor, he also admitted in his diary that his wife, Lucy, often persuaded him to remain with her in bed in the morning, so they could be intimate.15

While William Byrd saw marital sex as a source of enjoyment, husbands in Puritan New England often saw sex as a duty. Apparently, some of them were reluctant participants in conjugal union, so much so that officials and leaders had to intervene. Ministers often described the husband’s sexual role in marriage as a “responsibility” or “duty.” This duty was so important that husbands could and did face prosecution for failing to provide sexual pleasure to their wives. For example, in 1665, Plymouth Colony officials brought John Williams to court for “refusing to perform marriage duty towards her [his wife] according to the law of God and man.”16 In other, similar cases in New England during the 1600s, churches and courts sanctioned men for failing to meet the sexual needs of their wives. Neglecting to provide a wife with sexual pleasure was one of the few acceptable grounds for divorce in colonial New England. In Connecticut, Hannah Foote secured a divorce from her husband, John, in 1657 because of his impotence. Men felt shame and embarrassment if rumors circulated that they were unable to meet the sexual needs of their wives.17 All of this evidence, when taken together, suggests that husbands in colonial society often saw sex as a duty they had to perform, sometimes reluctantly, while wives saw it as a desirable and pleasurable experience. Women in colonial North America actively pursued sex, even taking husbands to court if they failed to fulfill their marital duty satisfactorily. The New England Puritans, Bible believing Christians who lived in a time and place far removed from us, collectively agreed that it was normal and appropriate for married women to enjoy and pursue sex.

European women were not the only females in colonial American society to actively pursue sexual relations. On occasion, European traders and travelers noted in their journals that Native American women could be sexually assertive. Nicholas Cresswell, an English traveler who visited numerous Indian communities during the 1770s, reported that several Indian women made sexual advances toward him. He indicated that he was at first reluctant to join himself with them, but that eventually he realized that, from an Indian perspective, sexual relations were an essential component of trade and diplomacy. Native American groups living in New England saw being sexually assertive as a normal and healthy condition for both men and women. In colonial North Carolina, English observers indicated that Indian women in the region felt free to pursue sexual relations, while Indian men purportedly acted with restraint and passivity. Overall, these Native Americans’ approach to sex suggests that culture, not biology, plays a leading role in determining whether or not it is “normal” for women to desire and pursue sex.18

Early Americans expected sexual activity to be physically pleasurable for women. Byrd, for example, wrote glowingly in his diary about his wife’s enjoyment of sex, on one occasion saying that she experienced “great ecstasy and refreshment.” On another occasion, he wrote that he gave Lucy “a flourish in which she had a great deal of pleasure.”19 According to his diary, Lucy’s strong sexual desire made it easier for him to resolve disagreements and maintain peace in his household. In many cases, Byrd recorded in his diary that when he and Lucy were experiencing conflict, sex became part of the journey to conflict resolution. Her need and enjoyment of sex were perfectly normal in his eyes, and he viewed his wife’s libido as a way of maintaining peaceful relations in his household.20

Ministers feared that sexual pleasure would tempt unmarried members of both gender groups, especially youths. In a sermon, Cotton Mather warned “all people, and especially young people, against the sin of uncleanness in particular. . . . ”21 In the rest of the document, he made it clear that he wanted both men and women to avoid masturbation, fornication, and adultery. Similarly, a tract, titled Onania; Or, The Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution, and All Its Frightful Consequences, in Both Sexes, Considerd, talked specifically about the dangers of self-gratification. (Figure 1 is the title page of Onania, visually illustrating that the book was specifically addressed to both sexes.) Buyers in both Old and New England purchased tens of thousands of copies of this anonymous work, and it went through multiple publication cycles in both Europe and North America. This religious tract identified “self-pollution” as a sin to which both men and women could succumb. In startlingly clear language, it even went so far as to state that any difference between men and women in terms of sexual inclinations and proclivities was the result of culture, not biology: “to imagine that women are naturally more modest than men, is a mistake; all the difference between them, depends upon custom and education; and I am much mistaken, if this great power of fashions and instruction does not point at a remedy. . . .”22 The author then goes on to say that training and education could help people, both male and female, avoid the temptations of the flesh. Early Americans, it would seem, recognized the importance of culture in shaping sexual behavior.

In addition to offering opinions regarding the sexual inclinations of both men and women, Onania and other texts also argued that both genders faced negative consequences if they engaged in self-gratification. Anemia, barrenness or sterility, and a loss of sexual vigor awaited both men and women who engaged in self-stimulation, according to the author of Onania. Indeed, the text includes pages filled, albeit almost entirely inaccurately, with diseases and problems that would supposedly occur as a result of this behavior. Modern science, of course, has shown that gonorrhea, barrenness, “puny children,” and other problems have no connection to engaging in masturbation. Nonetheless, what the tract reveals is a fear among colonial authorities that young men and women would pursue the physical pleasures of sex in ways deemed inappropriate. That such a tract existed at all suggests that people perceived masturbation to be a problem among both men and women. Specifically, it reveals that religious authorities saw women as capable of succumbing to the desires of the flesh.

Overall, the evidence indicates that English ministers perceived that both men and women pursued illicit sex because of the pleasure it provided. Ministers did not assume that young, single women would pursue sex because of emotional need or because they lacked love from within their own families. They instead indicated that physical pleasure was the main temptation for men and women. New England ministers believed that every Christian man and every Christian woman battled against lust and the pleasures of illicit sex. It was not a gender-specific battle rooted in supposed biological differences but a universal one faced by all human beings.23

In addition to viewing women as potentially eager partners, early Americans closely connected a woman’s sexual pleasure with procreation. The available evidence, including court records and advice manuals, indicates that English colonists believed that a woman needed to experience an orgasm to become pregnant. The production and union of seed, according to many advice manuals read in the colonies, required mutual enjoyment of both husband and wife. It seems unlikely that such a belief would have lasted long in a society where women typically gave birth to multiple children over the course of their lives, unless women were, in fact, experiencing enjoyment during copulation. Precisely how such a belief affected marital relationships is largely a matter of guesswork, but the available evidence does suggest that couples sought, and in many cases found, mutual sexual fulfillment on a regular basis. One horrific result of this belief was that many Europeans of this era, including those who arrived in North America, believed that women who became pregnant must have enjoyed the sexual act. Rape victims found their complaints falling on deaf ears if pregnancy resulted from the act.24

Early Americans not only believed that women sought positive pleasure from sex, but they further argued that women who suffered sexual deprivation faced negative consequences. Several medical commentators argued that a woman’s uterus needed to be filled with a man’s seed, or it would become withered and sick.25 Undersexed women, according to some commentators, could develop wombs that were so hungry that only pints of male fluid could quench the intense fire that developed. Women who endured long stretches of singleness could acquire “greensickness,” a malady affecting the nervous system. European physicians of this era, who authored works that were widely read in the American colonies, advised moderate amounts of sex for women so they could avoid such illnesses. Women who actively sought sexual union in colonial North America were pursuing a normal and healthy part of the human experience. Indeed, for women not to do so was to invite illness. The early American view of active female sexuality stands in stark contrast to the passivity and modesty associated with “normal” femininity in Victorian writings or contemporary Christian literature.26

Conclusion

Medieval authors, such as Aquinas, specifically linked the supposed sexual passivity of women to their unfitness for Christian leadership. Collectively, much current Christian literature echoes this sentiment. Books on marriage and sexuality often emphasize the supposedly passive and responsive nature of women. Books on Christian leadership emphasize how the passive and responsive nature of women purportedly makes them unfit for ministerial posts. Taken together, the current literature perpetuates the myth of female passivity and advances the argument that, biologically speaking, men are better suited for leadership roles than women.

Deconstructing the myth that women’s passive nature disqualifies them for Christian leadership requires a multi-pronged approach. One avenue of criticism open to egalitarians is to question the notion that it is normal for men to have stronger sex drives than women. That is, whatever potential discrepancy in sexual urges between men and women that exists in contemporary society is more the product of nurture than nature. Men are not biologically inclined toward being more sexually assertive than women, and women are not naturally inclined toward being passive or reluctant. Instead, people learn at early ages that it is normal to have certain expectations and desires, and this shapes their behavior and belief systems. Historical documents, including the Bible and records from seventeenth and eighteenth-century North America, suggest that beliefs about male and female sexuality have varied over the course of time. While it would be wrong to characterize early North America as a sexual utopia for either sex, it is clear that beliefs about human sexuality during that time period were quite different from the beliefs of many in the twenty-first century. Both history and scripture show that women have an equal capacity for actively pursuing sex. They are not inherently “passive” at all.

Of course, as already mentioned, the notion that Christian leaders need to have an assertive and commanding personality is itself problematic. This is another avenue of criticism open to egalitarians as they question the notion that female passivity disqualifies women from leadership roles. As numerous scholars have pointed out, Jesus commanded his disciples to be servants, and he explicitly told them to avoid the trappings of worldly power. Being “strong” or “commanding” in a worldly sense is antithetical to basic principles of Christian leadership. Indeed, many of the attributes associated with American masculinity—such as aggressiveness, competitiveness, and lustfulness—do not align with a biblical understanding of Christian leadership. It is important to point out, however, that both men and women can be domineering and overly aggressive in their relationships. Both sexes can also be gentle, kind, and servant-like, especially with the help of the Holy Spirit. Christian maturity and individual giftedness best determine a person’s fitness for ministry, rather than untrue assumptions and generalizations rooted in biological determinism.27

Overall, deconstructing and critiquing the untruths surrounding gender relations is a complex and difficult task. There are many ideological barriers to accepting the notion of women as ministry leaders. One of the strands of deception has been the assumption—as supposedly revealed by biological design—that God created women to be passive and submissive. This strand of deception, like the others, does not stand up to the truth of history or of God’s word. And, like all untruth, the damaging effects of believing this stereotype extend into many areas. Assertive women and gentle men are left to wonder about their value and identity within the body of Christ. Wives and husbands struggle to be “normal” instead of blossoming into the unique spouses and individuals God created them to be. In terms of Christian ministry, women feel uneasy about exercising their gifts and abilities to the fullest while men perceive women as a possible threat to their position, instead of allies and fellow servants in Christ. Egalitarians need to be relentless in challenging and disproving harmful stereotypes about men and women, including those related to human sexuality, if the doors to gift-based ministry opportunities are to be fully opened.

Notes

  1. Henry Cloud, How to Get a Date Worth Keeping: Be Dating in Six Months or Get Your Money Back (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005); Josh Harris, Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2000); Willard Harley Jr., His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair Proof Marriage (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1986); Shaunti Feldhahn, For Women Only: What You Need to Know about the Inner Lives of Men (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2004), 91–136; David Murrow, What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You: A Guided Tour of a Man’s Body, Soul, and Spirit (Bloomington: Bethany House, 2012), 71–92; John Piper, What’s the Difference? Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible (Westchester: Crossway, 1990), 33–36.
  2. There is some debate among social scientists regarding the extent to which historical context shapes human sexuality versus the extent to which biology shapes sexuality. The idea that biology is solely determinative, however, has been soundly rejected: Roy Porter and Leslie Hall, The Facts of Life: The Creation of Sexual Knowledge in Britain (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), 1–12; Richard Godbeer, Sexual Revolution in Early America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 10–12; Katherine Crawford, European Sexualities, 1400–1800 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 1–10. Even studies that argue that men are biologically inclined to desire sex more than women recognize that culture also plays some role in a person’s choices: Roy Baumeister, Kathleen Catanese, and Kathleen Vohs, “Is There a Gender Difference in Strength of Sex Drive? Theoretical Views, Conceptual Distinctions, and a Review of Relevant Evidence,” Personality and Social Psychology Review 5 (2001): 242–73. Other studies have argued that culture is more important than biology in shaping sex drive and that women and men tend to have equal biological capacity for pursuing copulation: See Terri Conley and others, “Women, Men, and the Bedroom: Methodological and Conceptual Insights that Narrow, Reframe, and Eliminate Gender Differences in Sexuality,” Current Directions in Psychological Science 20 (2011): 296–300.
  3. Stu Weber, Tender Warrior: Every Man’s Purpose, Every Woman’s Dream, Every Child’s Hope (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2009), 48–51.
  4. Piper, What’s the Difference? 23–64; Weber, Tender Warrior, 48–51; Thomas R. Schreiner, “Women in Ministry,” in Two Views on Women in Ministry (ed. James R. Beck and Craig L. Blomberg; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 189–90.
  5. Weber, Tender Warrior, 48–51. See also Feldhahn, For Women Only, 91–136; Murrow, What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You, 71–92; Brenda Stoeker, “An Open Letter to Wives,” in Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker, Every Man’s Marriage: An Every Man’s Guide to Winning the Heart of a Woman (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook, 2003), 283–85.
  6. Crawford, European Sexualities, 56–60.
  7. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologia: Latin Text and English Translation, Vol. 13, Man Made to God’s Image (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963), 35.
  8. Aquinas, Summa Theologia, 13:35–37.
  9. Gilbert Bilezikian, “Church Leadership that Kills Community,” Priscilla Papers 21, no. 4 (Autumn 2007): 5–7.
  10. It is important to recognize that the Bible portrays sexual assertiveness as positive or negative based upon context. Samson and David are examples of men who violated God’s laws regarding sex by pursuing illicit relationships. Ruth and the woman in Song of Songs are examples of women who fulfilled God’s intention, in part by pursuing a sexual relationship honorably.
  11. Catherine Clark Kroeger and Mary J. Evans, eds., The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2002), 146–53, 346–52; Cristina S. Richie, “Can Sex Be Egalitarian,” Mutuality 18, no. 4 (Winter 2011): 10–11; Karen Shaw, “Taking Initiative: You Wanna Start Somethin’?” Mutuality 18, no. 1 (Spring 2010): 4–5; Jason Eden, “The Power of Even If,” Mutuality 15, no. 2 (Summer 2008): 16.
  12. Kroeger and Evans, IVP Women’s Bible Commentary, 653–56; Ronald W. Pierce, “First Corinthians 7: Paul’s Neglected Treatise on Gender,” Priscilla Papers 23, no. 3 (Summer 2009): 8–13.
  13. Crawford, European Sexualities, 41–42.
  14. Godbeer, Sexual Revolution in Early America, 270–98; Crawford, European Sexualities, 100–17.
  15. Godbeer, Sexual Revolution in Early America, 196–98, 267–72; Kathleen Brown, Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 329–35.; Louis B. Wright and Marion Tinling, eds., The Great American Gentleman: William Byrd of Westover Virginia, His Secret Diary for the Years 1709–1712 (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1963).
  16. Nathaniel Shurtleff and David Pulsifer, eds., Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England (12 vols.; Boston: William White, 1855–1861), 4:121; Godbeer, Sexual Revolution in Early America, 59.
  17. Gloria Main, Peoples of a Spacious Land: Families and Cultures in Colonial New England (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), 65–68; Edmund Morgan, “The Puritans and Sex,” The New England Quarterly 15 (December 1942): 591–607; Godbeer, Sexual Revolution in Early America, 52–83.
  18. Godbeer, Sexual Revolution in Early America, 184–87; Main, Peoples of a Spacious Land, 62–65; Kirsten Fischer, Suspect Relations: Sex, Race, and Resistance in Colonial North Carolina (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002), 55–85.
  19. Godbeer, Sexual Revolution in Early America, 196–97; Wright and Tinling, The Great American Gentleman, 109, 147.
  20. Godbeer, Sexual Revolution in Early America, 196–98.
  21. Cotton Mather, Warnings from the Dead (Boston: Bartholomew Green, 1693), 71.
  22. Onania; Or, The Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution, and All Its Frightful Consequences, in Both Sexes, Considerd (Boston, 1724), 12.
  23. Godbeer, Sexual Revolution in Early America, 67–71.
  24. Crawford, European Sexualities, 120–25; Godbeer, Sexual Revolution in Early America, 52–83.
  25. Crawford, European Sexualities, 121–25.
  26. Onania, 46–48; Crawford, European Sexualities, 120–25.
  27. In Matt 20:25, Mark 10:42, and Luke 22:25, Jesus makes it clear that his followers are not to be aggressive in their pursuit of leadership status. Similarly, Gal 6:1, 1 Thess 2:6–8, John 13, and numerous other passages encourage all Christians, especially leaders, to demonstrate humility, gentleness, and a willingness to serve others. See Bilezikian, “Church Leadership that Kills Community,” for a deeper analysis of this issue.

Join the Cause

CBE advances the gospel by equipping Christians to use their God-given talents in leadership and service regardless of gender, ethnicity, or class. Together with supporters and ministry partners from 100 denominations and 65 countries, CBE works to inspire and mobilize women and men with the Bible’s call to lead and serve as equals.

Learn More