A few years back, there was a district gathering of Methodist churches with all the pastors and lead laity at the same picnic. My district superintendent (the highest ranking church official there) was a woman and she had a laity man speaking before her. The man ended his remarks with “And don’t we have the most beautiful district superintendent of all?”
Now, the DS is a class act and ignored his remarks. But as a hotheaded young pastor, I remember being quite incensed that out of the many MANY gifts of my DS, beauty is certainly one of them but not the one that most qualified her to be leading this district. Nor the one that should have been commented on that day.
Sadly, casual objectification of women clergy and laity in Christian cultures is commonplace. I saw it with my own eyes at a conference a few weeks ago where the only female presenter’s first Q&A question was about “where she got her belt buckle” (SERIOUSLY). But it is fascinating how commonplace it is in public form from Christian leaders.
Stuff Christian Culture Likes is a twitter account (and a blog) that posts commentary on Christian Culture and either pokes fun or skewers it on its regular programming. Last week, Rev. Jody Stowell (a priest in the Church of England) tipped me off that the SCCL person decided to search Twitter for people that had two things in common:
- Publicly professing to be Christian
- Posting the phrase “hot wife”
Here’s a few choice ones SCCL found. While I appreciate the power of the internet to shame people, that’s not my focus so I’m removing their names. Keep in mind most of these folks are leaders in Christian churches in some form:
Really blessed to have such a godly smokin hot wife!!
Happy Birthday to my hot wife! Thankful for this beautiful woman being a Godly Mother and Wife.
Date night with my hot wife
Unexpected date night with my smokin’ hot wife! At the Istanbul Grill. #blessed
Awesome date night with my hot wife! #Blessed #Love #Hottie #Amazing
Happy Bday to my awesome, Godly, fun, and smokin hot wife #oneluckyguy
Why is this a thing, guys? It’s okay to believe your wife is beautiful–and I hope you tell her that twice as much as she expects. That’s a good relationship protip. But as Christian leaders, you (and I) are held to a different standard because our words mean something more than just about our spouse.
Mary Demuth wrote a scathing Christianity Today article about the problem of objectification of women in evangelical circles. Read it all. For example, here’s a Baptist pastor at a NASCAR race that gives thanks for his “smokin’ hot wife” without any instigation. Even President Obama isn’t above some objectification when he commented on a California lawyer’s physical appearance. In short, it’s a commonplace occurrence, and while I’m not blameless in this type of situation, I do recognize when my words overreach what I intended them to be. As Christian Culture wrote back in 2009:
Fortunately Christian hotness standards are not quite the same as conventional “secular” hotness standards. Value is supposed to be placed on people themselves rather than on appearance. Even so, hotness is still a valuable commodity even in Christian culture. The public declaration of a spouse’s hotness is an incredibly lovely sentiment, but can become disquieting when expressed frequently and fervently.
Finally, Owen Strachan writes about marginalized women (such as those who have been abused and those who have battled breast cancer and had mastectomies) as reasons why veneration of smoking hotness isn’t a merely charitable comment. Having worked with youth extensively (and mostly female youth), I witnessed firsthand that my personal restraint at commenting on their appearance and calling male youth out on their comments created a healthier culture where the young women could comment more openly on their struggles with cultural expectations. Hopefully a few seeds were planted…
The short truth is that such “smokin’ hot wife” statements by church leaders perpetuate a culture of praising women for what they look like and framing any other qualities as secondary. It denies their intrinsic worth as children of God first. And it encourages passerbys and children and twitter lurkers to replicate that culture instead of doing one of our God-given responsibilities: holding culture accountable for equality and justice. A compliment to your spouse or church official may seem innocent, but the fact that it seems innocent is precisely the problem you should be paying attention to.
Thoughts?(Picture: Ricky Bobby’s prayer to baby Jesus which includes “smokin’ hot wife” in it. Watch the video clip here)