Godly men and Smokin Hot Wives

ricky-bobby

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:

  1. Publicly professing to be Christian
  2. 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)
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Comments

  1. TL Steinwert says

    I doubt these comments have anything to do with the women themselves. Having a “smokin’ hot wife” proves the sexual prowess, virility, and machismo of the male Christian leader. I think it is a thinly veiled attempt to counter the “church is for girls” critique that has become popular thanks to Mark Driscoll and Paul Nixon who degrade “Mr. Rogers” type pastors. This is worse than simply objectifying the woman for her own beauty (which, let’s be clear, is bad enough). This is an objectification that empties the woman of all value beyond that of serving the reputation of her husband.

  2. Dylan says

    I bet all the tweets you posted were Groeschel. I had an ex-girlfriend who started going to Lifechurch (before I became a pastor) and she commented all the time how much she liked that he talked like this about his wife. I always found it to be ‘playing the crowd’ and juvenile, but then again, he did pack up his toys and go start another playground so he didn’t have to play by the rules.

  3. Allie Scott says

    I agree with Tiffany on this one. The “smokin’ hot wife” mantra maintains power inequalities between genders by valuing women based on how much their husband values their appearance. There was a Huffington Post blog in response to the Christianity Today article this past April (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/zach-j-hoag/smokin-hot-wives-and-wate_b_3158025.html), and I appreciated its candor. One thing I thought was really interesting is that this goes hand-in-hand with many churches’ obsession with “unacceptable” sex, namely outside of marriage; by ludely proclaiming their wife’s beauty, there is proof that what outsiders might see as legalistic or prudish *isn’t* at all. With detrimental consequences for the gender they profess to adore.

  4. Laura says

    Ah, one of my pet peeves, thanks for writing on this! Also, I still get surprised when some Christian leaders include the hotness/beauty of their wives in their OFFICIAL bios.

  5. says

    Of course, that phrase entered into the popular lexicon through the movie “Talledega Nights.” Will Farrell was mocking Christian leaders (or you may prefer the more charitable “being ironic”) with that phrase. But with the inability to tell irony from sincerity (?!) it was adopted and now provide chapter headings for books on marriage published by celebrity pastors.

    I guess it can be justified by saying that the evangelical adoption of “smokin’ hot” is akin to the Christians stealing Saturnalia from the Romans and calling it Christmas. All in the name of redeeming culture, right?

  6. Gary Bebop says

    I admire Jeremy’s willingness to stray into a little nit-picking (smile). But as a teacher listening in on both student and STAFF conversations, I can tell you that both genders discuss their complements in smokin’ hot semiotics without parsing for moral correctness…

    • local pastor says

      Really? Do you encounter male leaders introduced as “attractive male pastor! Isn’t he good looking?”

      • Gary Bebop says

        Not to be fussy, but…yes…attractive male leaders ARE often introduced with reference to physical image…but often with more subtlety than we’ve mastered when the subject is female.

  7. John P. says

    Nit pickinn, why don’t you find out what the wife thinks? I have not met a woman who doesn’t appreciate a compliment, correction anyone.

    • John P. says

      Just because you mention a person’s attractiveness does’t mean your dismissing or placing their other attributes below the compliment

        • local pastor says

          Precisely.

          How would you feel if you heard a male DS or pastor introduced as “the most handsome pastor in our district!” or something to that effect. Weird, ain’t it?

    • TL Steinwert says

      Actually, I would be mortified if my partner introduced me or referred to me as “smokin’ hot.” My body and sexuality is my own and not for consumption by others. I think my partner respects me enough not to use me in that way. I don’t think I am the only woman who feels that way.

  8. Gary Bebop says

    Hey, not to start a hair-rat contest here, but I use the term “complement” (rather than “compliment”) to refer to how the genders gabble about the “other”…as in a Willa Cather novella.

    My casual lunchroom survey suggests both genders liberally fling concupiscence around in describing the other. Does it ever get out of hand? Yeah, it can…

  9. Shelley says

    Years and years ago when I first told my pastor that I thought I might be experiencing a call to ordained ministry, he said, “Good! We need more attractive young women pastors.”

  10. Vera says

    Having worshiped in an independent evangelical church for 12 years and encountered this phenomenon frequently, here are some observations:
    — The vast majority of evangelical leaders and lay men who do this sincerely believe they are paying their wives a high compliment, especially when they declare such things in public settings (eg from the pulpit, online, in church meetings, in small groups, etc.). They really do think “this is what women want.”
    — They also think they are setting good examples for other Christian men when they do this… as in, “see, this is what keeps our marriage strong and keeps me off the internet porn sites and from having affairs.” Seriously. The amount of attention given over to staying away from porn and being faithful in your marriage among evangelical men is at a seriously high level. It is as if they believe without the constant reminders, Christian men would just be slaves to their loins and go haywire constantly.
    — The phenomenon goes hand in hand with “the man is the head of the household” complementarianism. Churches that are big into this tend to see more “smokin’ hot” comments.
    — It seems to also stem from the “Promise Keepers” strain of evangelical men’s thinking in which the man is to shower his [weaker, needier, affection-driven and longing for protection] wife with compliments, flowers, date nights, projects to make their home more beautiful, etc. etc. in order to show his appreciation for her.

    There’s a whole worldview that goes along with these kinds of comments.

  11. says

    As a wife, mother, lay leader, and woman working in a predominantly male environment, I would feel quite disrespected if my husband, or any of my colleagues referred to my appearance as my most important attribute (even back in the day 30-some years ago when I actually might have been “smokin’ hot”). That particular compliment can make a woman feel humiliated and mortified and how do you respond, “Uh, thank you?” Like many women, I wear a lot of hats, both professionally and personally. When a woman (or man for that matter) is given value only because they are attractive, they are given no value at all. If we’re lucky, we’ll get older, wrinklier, and much, much less hot (except occasionally in flashes). I would like to believe my spouse, my friends and my family value me more for who I am as I get older and wiser (or older and wider). Shame on those who can’t move beyond the sexual maturity level of your average teenage boy.

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