Like other women, when church ladies don their spandex in order to go work out at the gym, they have to obtain that spandex first. But not many people know that (unlike other women) the church ladies have to get theirs from an alternative manufacturer—theirs needs to be stretchier, because it must not only tightly contain the feminine goods—it must also be able to hide the plain import of 1 Tim. 2:9-10, Prov. 11:22, Is. 3:16-26, Prov. 7:10, Prov. 31:25; and 1 Pet. 3:1-6. And so unlike the feminine goods, this special kind of spandex really has to cover up the the Scriptures, so that you can’t see any of them, or even guess that they were ever even there. The Bible verses have to be rendered entirely invisible, while at the same time rendering the contours of everything else quite visible. This is not quite as easy as it sounds.
There are two problems that necessarily attend this wearing of spandex to the gym, and the two problems actually compete with one another. But it has to be one problem or the other one.
The first problem is when the woman in question looks quite as good as she thinks she does. She is a comely wench, and she pretty much knows about it. The onlooking gym rats also know it. That is the first problem. It is a problem of sexual propriety. The second problem is what occurs when the woman in question does not look quite as good as she thinks she does. That is quite another problem, one that generates a completely different set of difficulties. It is the problem of a sexual delusion.
The woman is either sexually attractive or she is not, and so both situations are displays of a deficiency in self-respect—although failing at self-respect in different areas.
Now concerning the first woman, the men all assume that everyone must love and admire her, which is not the case. Concerning the second, they think that nobody does, which could be the case.
These male gym rats themselves can be divided into two categories. There are the pagans, who like it when the comely ones come down to the gym in order to give all the boys a treat. They have no problem at all with imagining what it would be like to jump her bones, and the fact that she is pretends to be oblivious to this part of the lust game doesn’t even slow them down.
Then there are the ones, usually a distinct minority, who believe that women should be treated with more dignity than that, and so they spend a lot of their time on the bench press, which enables them to spend a goodish bit of time looking at the ceiling. This can help them out with their pec development, but it is still unfortunate in other key respects.
Let Us Suppose . . .
Now let us suppose that there is a diligent young man, a fine Christian, who works out at this particular gym, and who had been doing so for several years before the evangelical hoochie mamas from his church had started showing up. He finds that he is now spending way more time averting his gaze than he would like, and so in an unguarded moment, back in the locker room, he mentions to another guy, also a member of his church, that he now knows way more about the youth pastor’s wife’s moneymaker than he would like. This other fellow is secretly indignant over the flagrant disregard of that woman’s Christian liberty that he thought he detected in this MOST offensive comment, and so goes and tells the youth pastor about it, who goes and tells the senior pastor. And of course we now have ourselves a SITUATION.
However, let us ask ourselves some questions as we head into our situation. Let us ponder what might unfold in the course of this particular embroilment. Let us pose a query about the approaching contretemps. Which member of this church will be the one in actual trouble? The wife of a staff member who dresses like she aspires to be utterly abandoned, or the poor chump who noticed what was going on and said something about it?
In any case, the pastor was furious with this young man. “Moneymaker? You accuse a devout Christian woman of being a pole dancer?” Now by this point the young man is reading the situation much more accurately than he had been before and so he thinks, but certainly does not say, that professional pole dancing was not what he was referring to, in that she was performing all her routines for free, but that he was nevertheless glad to observe that she was not yet in the position of ancient Israel, who was willing to pay the men to get them more involved (Eze. 16:33). There’s always a bright spot if you look hard enough.
Remember that all churches discipline. Discipline is inescapable. If nothing is done about what one group is doing, then something is being done about any group that objects to it.
If there are no enforced standards, then it is not possible to say that a group exists at all. A group of random strangers standing around at a bus stop need not have any distinctive standards that they must enforce (other than the ones that apply to the society at large), but then again we don’t think of that group as a club, or a church, or a regiment, or anything organized. But once it is distinctively organized, there will be standards that govern that organization, and those standards will be enforced. If they are not enforced at all, in any direction, then the group is actually well advanced in the process of disintegration and dissolution.
Now many conservative believers tend to think that their church doesn’t “practice church discipline” anymore, when actually they do practice it. The young man in our example is being disciplined, and he is being disciplined in strict accordance with a particular (and very new) standard. That standard is that you must not intimate in any way that you think that it is possible for women to sin in distinctively feminine ways. Not only is this “sin” listed in our modern lexicon of sins, it is categorized under the mortal ones. Neither may you suggest that women should receive pastoral care as though they actually were women, with specific temptations and vulnerabilities.
This is a standard that is vigorously enforced, and it has something in common with the standard of discipline described in the New Testament. Those standards too are vigorously enforced. But what they don’t have in common is the idea that women don’t need or require pastoral care. For example, in the book of Ephesians, the apostle lays the doctrinal groundwork in the first three chapters. He then turns to moral exhortations that are grounded in the doctrines he has set forth, which are general exhortations and applicable to all Christians. But after that, he starts addressing certain demographic cohorts in the church—husbands, wives, children, slaves and so on. They all receive pastoral attention, and the principles invoked include a dim view of yoga pants.
By way of contrast, the modern church has only one category of parishioner that they think fit for discipline, and that would be that class of Christian who thinks that the standards of behavior set forth in the New Testament ought to be standards that we should try to incorporate into our lives. That cannot be tolerated, which is why the young man in our example is receiving what might be called The Treatment.
Let me illustrate this another way. Many of the pecksniffian objections to the robustly American and almost Elizabethan metaphors and comparisons that make appearances from time to time in the word choices of the present writer are objections that are attempts at a form of church discipline. They believe, and earnestly, that it ill-becomes a minister of Word and sacrament to use expressions like, say, hoochie mama, or moneymaker, or jumping her bones. At the same time, while diligently policing this particular boundary of verbal decorum, they are entirely good with insisting that the whole congregation pretend not to know anything about that youth pastor’s wife’s moneymaker—on actual display. Shaking your moneymaker is a matter of Christian liberty, apparently, while saying “I don’t know, man” about said shaking is the height of Pharisaic legalism. So everyone pretends not to know anything about somebody’s buns, even though they all kind of do. They all kind of do because that somebody is kind of hard to miss.
So the new standard is there, and it is being enforced, even though it “maketh no sense,” as Samuel Rutherford might have put it. The saints in this particular church might get together for a church dinner, say, and let us suppose further that somebody’s derriere is the single most prominent objet d’art in the room. Even so, the commandment to be observed is “thou shalt pretend not to have noticed anything.”
Gaslighting as a Method of Discipline
The chances are pretty good that at different points in his controversy the young man in question was told that he needed to “get his mind out of the gutter,” and he was probably also accused of maintaining that a woman who dressed “immodestly” was, if raped, somehow “asking for it.” The longer their conversations went, the more heated they got, and the more these two points kept coming up.
Now I can vouch for this young man, and am prepared to give him a clean bill of health on both counts. This is because he is a fictional character, a young man that I made up out of my own head. I can assert with all confidence that he never thought any of those things. He did not have his mind in the gutter—in fact the whole issue arose because he was being diligent about keeping his mind out of the gutter. Man, that boy is true blue. I made him up that way myself.
As for the other charge, that he was somehow accusing rape victims of “deserving” what they got, that was an issue that had never even occurred to him. But once it was thrown in his teeth two or three times, he did start to ask a few questions. However . . . because he had realized that he was the one being disciplined, he asked them only to himself, inside his own head, and to a close friend who lived on the other side of the country. That point was that if someone drove downtown to volunteer at the church’s soup kitchen in order to volunteer at it, and left his wallet on the dashboard with twenty dollar bills sticking out of it, it should be possible to object strongly to the theft that would inevitably occur without thinking that leaving the wallet there was a good idea. Two distinct issues, he thought to himself.
But the main thing to realize about these exchanges is that they were forms of gaslighting accusations. He was being disciplined for maintaining that the sky is blue, that the grass is green, that water is wet, that rocks are hard, that snow is white, and that a Christian woman’s sexuality should not be publicly flaunted.
He had concluded, “this is all about sex,” and he is sternly rebuked for drawing such an obvious conclusion. Which leads to the next and final point.
This pretense is for a limited time only. Gaslighting is not a forever game—it is merely a transitional game. There comes a point when everybody quits pretending that the flagrant immodesty is totally within the bounds of decency. There comes a time when the immodesty stops calling itself modesty and embraces the inner lasciviousness that intelligent observers had identified as present from the get go.
Before that moment of embrace you are a hater if you identity the presence of the lust. After the embrace you are a hater if you fail to recognize the supposed goodness of the lust. And by lust I am referring both to the desire to want and the desire to be wanted.
The idea had been that it was possible to dance around the golden calf without actually listening to the lyrics, because the bass line was really stellar, and yet still be married to a Levite staff member who was totally sold out to Yahweh. Because remember that it always is possible for a Levite who is totally sold out to Yahweh not to know how to say no to his wife, and therefore not to know how to say, “You are not going to the gym in that.” Levites can be gaslit too.
So the pretense of decency did not cover up what was actually going on, just like the stretch pants didn’t, but the pretense nevertheless worked as a form of gaslighting other people—like my poor beleaguered young man in the example.
But like I said, the gaslighting is transitional. There comes a moment, after it is too late to do anything about it, when the music gets to a throbbing crescendo and the clothes start coming off, and the thing turns into an orgy.
“And when Moses saw that the people had broken loose (for Aaron had let them break loose, to the derision of their enemies)”
Exodus 32:25 (ESV)
A big part of the NQN season, apart from the silver bells and mistletoe, is our practice of giving away free stuff. So at the bottom of every NQN post, as in, like right here, keep your eyes peeled for the current offers, whatever they might be.
2. This November, anyone can get one free month of Canon+ with code NQNQ. This only works for new subscribers—sorry, it doesn’t work for existing or annual subscriptions. We have a lot of postmill work to do yet. This is not our rule, but rather that of our digital masters. But if you do this, you will be able to watch my new documentary over Thanksgiving, and to do so for free. The name of the doc is “How to Save the World (in Eleven *Simple Steps).”
3. This November, current subscribers can give a year’s subscription of Canon+ for just fifty bucks—$49.99 instead of $95.88. That way you can get that pastor, friend, or enemy the Canon+ content they’ve been so wishing for.
4. And in addition to all of that, from my quaint little Mablog Shoppe, for those same days (Nov. 1-5), my little book on the economics of N.T. Wright is available for free. The title of that one is N.T. Wright Rides a Pale Horse.