Well, speaking as a former Evangelical (my wife Evie is a former E as well), I strongly suspect the distaste for linking sex to Jesus has a lot to do with the "purity" culture surrounding a lot of Evangelical churches. If there is one thing I regret about bringing my family into that culture it is the extremely harmful cult of purity. On paper it makes some sense, in practice it leads to a lot of unhappy marriages and unfulfilled women (and men who are angry, confused, or both). And it has led to a lot of young women feeling that sex is indeed something dirty or sinful rather than a God-given pleasure.

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When St. Paul likens Christ and the church to a marriage I very much believe he is talking about much, much more than what goes on in the bedroom. Overall Christianity tends to be rutted down in sex talk-- both the conservative churches and also the liberal churches with their rainbow altar cloths. There are seven deadly sins traditionally and only one of them in inherently connected to sex (although "lust" too can apply to other overweening desires). And in any event the besetting modern sin, IMO, is not sex, but hubris, and from that will come Judgment.

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My first thought when reading the excerpt from Butler's book was, "Wow, he sounds so Catholic, he probably won't be Protestant for much longer!"

When I was a Protestant, I might very well have found his words unsettling or kind of creepy. Protestants are very comfortable with singing, "Jesus, lover of my soul/Jesus, I'll never let you go," but I don't think many of us thought deeply about what it meant for Jesus to be our lover, other than warm happy feelings. My faith was located mainly in my mind and emotions. It wasn't until becoming Catholic and receiving the Eucharist and having powerful consolations while praying the rosary that I finally realized how all-consuming Jesus' love for us is. Honestly, Butler's words seem right in line with how some of the great female Saints describe their love of Christ and the ecstatic experiences they sometimes had in prayer.

As to some of the criticisms he received, it's like if you gave his book to Beavis and Butthead to read, of course they're going to say, "Huh, huh, dude, he said penetration, huh huh."

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Mar 6, 2023·edited Mar 6, 2023

My notes on the passing scene:

1) The intrinsic nature of Twitter has enabled and encouraged an enormous cohort of full-time Brahmins whose ignorance is surpassed only by their arrogance. The tweets cited in the first story illustrate this fact painfully. These people serve the contemporary role of the biblical Pharisees.

2) The Sexual Revolution in its various stages, is, at core, an intentional and complete rejection of Christian faith and teleology. The contemporary Sexual Revolution can best be defined as the normalization of No Fault Divorce, The Pill, Abortion on Demand, same sex attraction, and sexual "identity" concepts in conflict with the objective reality revealed in biology.

3) Individuals and organizations who accept the philosophical and practical precepts of the Sexual Revolution do NOT exist within the Christian telos. Rod, once some time has elapsed, this readership will want to understand your perspective on how divorce, your own as well as your readers', fits into larger faithful Christian teleology.

4) Western society has already entered its post-Christian period, just as USA has entered its post-Constitutional period. The parallels are numerous, but their respective collapses are easily observed in the way that each's institutions have failed. In larger Western culture, the institutional Churches have failed--they no longer serve their founding purposes. In USA, government no longer serves is founding purposes, nor do the media, nor the educational establishments. Even the practice of medicine, and science generally has been corrupted.

5) History reveals that cultural epochs have a life of about 500 years. The most recent Western cultural epoch, which started with the Protestant Reformation in October 1517, 505 years ago, has ended. Our transition to the new cultural epoch, likely best called the Digital Epoch, will not be easy, nor rapid, and we are in the midst of it. These are historic transitional moments.

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I don't have much of anything original to say on the matter, but I think this gets to the heart of it: "Because sex is so sacred, God put all kinds of rules around it, to guard it and to keep it holy." We're talking about a generative power that (literally) gives life to the community. It's also a thing that, when used inappropriately, is terribly destructive. We shouldn't need the current craziness to see that: Even in a more sane time, how many hearts and families have been broken by adultery? (Not to mention murders and brutality inspired by anger that in some way relates to it.) So we can abuse sex for our own end, treating it as a mere pleasure in the monumental selfishness of our age, or we can recoil in fear from it, treating it as something dirty, impure. Either way we sin by failing to recognize its sacred nature when we should be appreciating the sacred within its proper bounds set by God.

And as an icon? Of course! What on earth has God given us that isn't a sign of His divinity? Everything points back to Him. Why wouldn't the creative power that brings new life into the world be one of the most powerful symbols that God has given us of His own nature? I'm no theologian, nor even a regular church-goer, but even I can see that.

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I think the outrage over the Butler article primarily had to do not with the idea that there is a spiritual metaphor contained within our sexuality, but with the specific theological way he framed the culmination of the sex act: he argued that the man practices the generosity of Christ by giving the woman his semen, and the woman practices hospitality by welcoming the semen into her body. The male part of this equation is obviously flawed - the man is honored with the virtue of generosity simply by pursuing his own sexual climax?? I believe this is where many Evangelical women asked to get off the bus. There is no doubt that male generosity is called for within the sex act when it is done well, but it is not found in the spilling of semen. I think there is a biological "orgasm gap" that the Evangelical church has no idea how to handle, so instead they choose to ignore it. If more Evangelical women had a voice, this would likely not be the case.

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this brings to mind that old joke of why don't Baptists (or fill in your favorite denomination) make love standing up? It might lead to dancing.

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From Father Richard Rohr:

"Above all else, pilgrimage is praying with your body, and it’s praying with your feet. It’s an exterior prayer, and the exterior prayer keeps calling you into the interior prayer."


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Mar 6, 2023·edited Mar 6, 2023

I'm not Evangelical, but I'm a Protestant, and I spend lots of time in spaces among other Protestant women hearing what they have had to say about their traditions.

My thoughts?

I think a lot of that has to do with how some women experience their femaleness and sexuality in Evangelical spaces.

They experience a lot of Evangelical Christianity as a male power play to disempower women and demand their ultimate submission, without protection for them as women.

The men obsess over women's submission. Thus, women are constantly assessed (or judge themselves) for how submissive they are, and that leads the door open to a whole host of abuses.

The biblical messages become justification for what was already there. They believe that controlling and abusive men gravitate towards Evangelical Christianity for that reason, to find justification for how they treat women.

It's as though they believe Evangelical men--preachers, theologians, and husbands as heads of household--focus so much on the "submit" aspects of Paul's message but forget the parts that require them to love their wives as they love themselves.

Women are seen as evil temptresses, as per Eve. Then the prohibition against women preaching becomes a rationale for denying women recognition of their own gifts in the church.

It includes having no role in the public life of the church whatsoever, except insofar as it in support of a husband's ministry, or if their ministry focuses on women and children.

The Catholic Church (I was raised RC) didn't go that far. The only limitation has been on women becoming priests.

Evangelical men seem to have a never-ending hatred for those women who seem to be doing ministry in acceptable ways, even when the women raise legitimate questions about abuse in the church. See ie., Beth Moore.

Returning to the Evangelical women I know of, if they are ex-evangelicals, many of them have found a haven in Mainline Christianity because it is seen as less oppressive of women.

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I'm an Evangelical who's been writing about sexual issues for 25 years and counseling the sexually abused, confused, and addicted for 20 years. Until about 12 years ago, Protestantism lacked a clear, balanced, and biblical theology of sexuality. When the Sexual Revolution gained traction in the 60's and beyond, about all we as Evangelicals could do was cry, "Don't do it!" We've made the LGBTQ community the scapegoat, unloading all of our angst an anger against them, while ignoring the elephant in the room: the prevalent sexual brokenness found in the pews every Sunday.

Thankfully, that has begun to shift with many fine books published by Evangelical thinkers in the past decade. But the backlash for Josh Butler is multi-faceted, I believe, springing from the abused, the disenchanted, and antagonistic who, like all who wield the canceling club of social media, lash out like someone with road rage.

Evangelical leaders are learning much from the writings of Pope John Paul II and, I trust, from the Orthodox tradition.

I'd be honored if any of you would check out my Substack: Tsunami Surfing, or look for my books.

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Butler's Calvinist theology has significant implications for his argument and how the piece has been received. Calvinism is monergistic. God acts to save (a limited number!) of human beings. Human beings simply receive the gift of salvation by grace through faith. The human role in salvation is fundamentally passive. Most Calvinists I know try to water down the fact of human passivity in the Calvinist salvation model because they know it's controversial. But it's the logical conclusion of their theology. This is in contrast to the Arminian view within Protestantism, which emphases the role of human will while still affirming humanity's complete reliance on God's prevenient grace. And it's in starker contrast to Catholic and Orthodox views, which are synergistic.

In Butler's analogy, the man is an analogy for Christ and the woman is an analogy for the church. Readers who understand that Butler is Calvinist accurately perceive that his account of sex aligns with his model for salvation. 100% of the initiative and agency is assigned to God/husband. 100% of the reception and passivity is assigned to church/woman. That account of sex disempowers women and doesn't resonate with readers (male and female) at best. Numerous evangelical women have come forward with testimonies of being theologically manipulated by appeals to submission as an obligation that overrides other considerations. See the recent accounts of counseling by elders at John MacArthur's church.

Rod, you quoted Chrysostom in your TAC blog post. The Chrysostom excerpt, from my recollection, included far more references to mutuality, although it did use language about male initiative and female welcoming/hospitality similar to Butler. Chrysostom held to synergistic views of salvation, if I'm not mistaken.

I'm a man and an egalitarian (grew up in the evangelical wing of the PCUSA, now at an ECO Presbyterian church). When I read the article, I quickly concluded it was a warmed-over John Eldredge Wild at Heart take not to be unexpected from TGC-esque complementarianism. But in the age of #churchtoo and #SBCtoo, I'm not surprised that sophisticated readers who understood the full theological context undergirding Butler's piece spoke out so vehemently. With respect to Rod my Orthodox brother in Christ, I don't think you, as a Catholic turned Orthodox Christian initially grasped the full implications of Butler's piece. A gendered/sexed mapping of Christ's and humanity's role in salvation onto sex within a Calvinistic framework takes gender/sex difference to an extreme that most pre-modern (i.e. pre-Calvinist) theologians writing about the Ephesians 5 would reject.

/prepares for the Augustinians to join the chat/

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I was born and raised in the evangelical church world. In my late teens I did a couple of tours of duty doing recon into the LDS church for the sake of a girl.

Thanks to the Apostle Paul and Martin Luther i was repatriated back into the protestant ranks but not the evangelical world. I came to realize that it shared something with the LDS church: sexual obsession.

Nothing was more taboo and shame-inducing than sexuality and the functions of the body. To discuss it was absolute filth. To even conceive that our Lord had a bowel movement was to court damnation.

Someone then said to me that it is as blasphemous to deny the humanity of Christ as it is to deny His divinity.

The body of Christ is comprised of redeemed humans with bodies. The evangelicals contributed mightily to the interest in pornography by stigmatizing sexuality and shaming the functions of the body.

This version of the church world and its dogma always take me back to Mark Twain’s Huck Finn,

“…She makes me get up the same time every morning. She makes me wash. I gotta wear them fancy clothes that just smothers me. I can't smoke, I cant chaw. I gotta wear shoes all Sunday. I gotta ask to go swimmin', I gotta ask to go fishin'. Well I'll be damned if I don't have to ask to do everything. I tell ya, I had to sneak up to the attic and cuss for ten minutes just to get the taste back in my mouth.”

Dogmatic traditions leave only a boneyard of lost souls in its wake.

And with all due respect to different practices of devoted souls, i don’t believe that the communion is to be a high liturgical matter. The Apostle Paul was very clear: you simply partake worthily - the manner of partaking.

Jesus and His disciples were in the upper room. Nothing fancy. The bread and blood are symbolic. You discern the meaning and partake remembering Him who offered His body and spilled His blood for our redemption. The table of grace is open to all who remember the restoration of the body and soul. None of us are worthy but we can partake worthily.

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As a former Evangelical, what springs to mind for me is the fact that this is just another instance of Evangelical fracture. They do not agree amongst themselves on baptism, Holy Commmunion, or the nature of worship. Why would we think they'd get sex right? I don't say this to be mean, but to offer a simple observation.

I think the Orthodox commenter on the other thread who talked of the tail wagging the dog was making a great point. To my mind what's "icky" about Butler's take on the thing is the level to which he takes the symbolism's detail. One can comment on the analogies, I think, without necessarily going into all the "plumbing," and this talk of the details serves to reverse the direction of the symbolism.

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I finally read the full article and the various reactions to it, and some of the negative ones seem pretty reasonable to me:

For example, where Butler says: "And what deeper form of self-giving is there than sexual union where the husband pours out his very presence not only upon but within his wife?" 'Upon' is a little kinky.

And the constant description of male orgasm as "his generous gift"? Men spend most of their teen years and early adult years (and sometimes all their years) trying desperately to give their "generous gift" to every woman they can. And while I know Baker is talking about a bride and a groom, I have news for him, having worked in the court system: a lot of rapists, incestors, and general jerks claim that the woman, ANY woman, should be complimented by their desire to get all generous with her, whether she wants it or not.

And I think one woman's comment is very, very good:

"Like, what is this business about ejaculation being the greatest expression of generosity, when pregnancy exists? Like, you wanna talk about giving your body for someone else?"

And from Butler's book, "Holy Union": "Yet prostitution welcomes a “guest” while charging admission. It turns what ought to be an exchange of pure gift into a transaction. It makes a person a product. Selling sex rents out a holy place, converting the sanctuary into a transit station, a bus depot..."

Notice he puts the blame firmly on the woman for selling sex, but not a bit on the man who buys sex.

In fact, he doesn't talk about it at all in terms of "buying" sex. Just that the man wants to be generous again, I guess.

He also puts the blame firmly on the woman for not giving enough sex to the man: "It's usually not the guy going 'I have a headache.'" (p. 12)

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St Paul said it!

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At least you Orthodox are willing to let your priests play the game! As an Anglican friend of mine says about Catholics, “You no playa da game, you no maka da rules.”

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