On feminist survival kits

Since writing the final chapter of my thesis (also, hello, its been a while but I was writing a thesis) I’ve been thinking a lot about feminist survival kits (Ahmed 2017). Both about the importance of having a feminist survival kit, and about being a feminist survival kit.

Sara Ahmed (2017 p.236) teaches us that ‘Feminism needs feminists to survive,’ and that ‘feminists need feminism to survive’. In my final thesis chapter, I adopted this to say that Christian women need (other) Christian women to survive in the church. But more than this, if the church is to survive in the future, it needs women preachers, as well as gender-diverse preachers to survive. And I mean that in both the ways it can be read. The church needs women and gender-diverse preachers in order for the church to survive, and also it needs to stop harming women and gender-diverse preachers (and parishioners); they need to survive.

Wait – what is this about surviving?

Where churches do not work to hear women and gender-diverse people, either in the pulpit or in meetings, then women and gender diverse people are undervalued, and often excluded, their experiences and knowledge is undermined, and they do not have the same opportunities to further develop their teaching skills or seek employment as their male counterparts (Lauve-Moon 2021; Maddox-Pidgeon 2021). This can seriously hurt and limit women and gender-diverse Christians. Emma, an Anglican woman in her twenties spoke to me about the lack of women preaching as a ‘harm.’ Before coming to her current church, she ‘didn’t hear the Bible … from a woman’s perspective’ and sometimes felt that unsupported and limited by the church and by Christianity. She recalls that as teenager:

The harm that I felt then, is that, I just felt like my whole role and place in the world was really small. I didn’t feel like I could be capable of doing anything… this is my little life, and I’m dependent on the goodwill of others to either marry me or have like a little job and little children and I cook and clean for them until I die, and then, that’s the end… I didn’t feel …that God would use me in a particularly significant way.

We also know, that teaching which focuses on strict gender roles (like mothering, cooking and cleaning as the only appropriate paths for women) can contribute to domestic violence (Truong et al 2020). Additionally, given that we know Christian women are more likely than Christian men to experience and report intimate partner violence (Aune and Barnes 2018; Powell and Pepper 2021),and that the nature of this experience may lead them to seek the support of a woman on staff, we can assume that women on church staff will do more trauma work than men on staff (this in turn is another thing that makes experience of church gendered and unequal). Sometimes we really do have to do work to make our communities places of survival.

For Emma, hearing women preach was one factor which renewed her experience of church. It provided a sense of belonging and safety; she says women preaching showed her ‘that this truth is for me as well.’  Christian women preachers, leaders and mentors, who preach in a way which is critically informed by experience (you’ll just have to take me word on this for now and wait for thesis/thesis related publications) are a survival kit both for other women and for the church. 

A survival kit can include many things. Sara Ahmed lists 10 items to include in a feminist survival kit and among my favourites are books (item 1) and other killjoys (item 7). This one probably sounds strange if you aren’t a nerdy Ahmed fangirl (i mean, very serious reader of Ahmed), but my paraphrase is, you need people who will stand with you and alongside you when you call out the exclusion and harm that springs from heterosexism and racism. You need to surround yourself with people (and books) that show you it is possible to think, act, be and live in multiple ways, because its lonely to do it by yourself.

So, post-phd (ok, post thesis submission – I know it will come back) i’ve been having chats with some of the people who made up my own survival kit while I was studying about creating a bit of a network to act as survival kit for people doing feminist, queer, trauma-informed and decolonial church work and research. And we’re going to do it. We’re going to set up a Survival Collective (and my thanks to Sara Ahmed for giving a thumbs up to this project – please imagine me dancing excitedly in my living room when I read that message).

I’m not 100% sure how it will work, or what the full scope will be, but at the very least there will be a website which can act as a place to find resources to put in your own survival kit (along the lines of Ahmed’s 10 items), a place to publish short essays, and hopefully, in time, opportunities to connect, chat and support other people who are doing this sort of work, whether as a social researcher, theologian or pastor.

This network, is very in-process, because as it happens, I’m research-tired & I need to spend some time with one of the key aspects of a survival kit – the texts i’ve read again & again which always bring me life (time, by the way, is item number 4).

Please watch this space, and feel free to check in and say, ‘hey Rosie Clare, what happened to that thing you were working on?’

From the Vault: At the Expense of Evangelism

I had a meeting with my PhD supervisor this morning.

One of the things we spoke about was that time a year ago when Sydney Diocese gave $1 million dollars to the Vote No campaign in the plebiscite on Same-Sex Marriage.  What a time. I wrote about that on my old blog last year, and I’ve decided to re-post it here.

why am i doing that? because now that I think about it, it is still that time; in the news this week we have a discussion around whether  religious schools should be able to expel a student or fire a teacher because they are gay .  It seems that all the things that shocked me last year are still relevant.

At the Expense of Evangelism: A response to the Archbishop’s defense of the Million Dollar Donation to the ‘vote no’ ad campaign.


I recently spoke on a panel event advertised as ‘Evangelicals Supporting Marriage Equality’. In the weeks preceding the event, I had coffee with an Anglican minister to discuss my involvement as a panellist, the use of the word Evangelical, and whether I apply it to myself.


In this piece, I respond to the letter written by the Sydney Anglican Archbishop, in which he defends the million dollar donation made by the Sydney Anglican Diocese to the Coalition for Marriage, urging Australians to ‘vote no’ in the postal survey on same-sex marriage. But my response to that letter is connected to the fact that I do, in certain key ways consider myself an Evangelical, so I will begin with a consideration of that term. Then, in responding to the letter, I suggest that as Evangelical Christians, we should consider how the million-dollar donation, and the defense of this action by the Archbishop, may actively work to detract from the evangelistic work of sharing the gospel.


Labels and Tags: Evangelical


I’m not particularly fond of labels and tags, but, as someone who spends a lot of time in feminist and queer theory, I understand there is value in declaring one’s subject position. Let me do this without the standard tags: I’ve dated a couple of men and – to borrow from Katy Perry –  I’ve kissed a girl, and I liked it. I’m unmarried and childfree. I read feminist theory. I critique cultural marriage narratives. I’m for feminist, transformative politics and subversive story telling[i]. Two of my grandparents were German-speaking Jews who came to Australia by boat, but I’m an inner-city white girl who grew up in the Anglican church.


I will take the label ‘Evangelical’. I do so because as a Christian there are certain key beliefs and values I align with that fall under the ‘Evangelical’ tag. The great source of knowledge that is Wikipedia defines Protestant Evangelicalism as a Christian movement which:


maintains the belief that the essence of the gospel consists of the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ’s atonement. Evangelicals believe in the centrality of the conversion or the “born again” experience in receiving salvation, in the authority of the Bible as God’s revelation to humanity, and in spreading the Christian message.[ii]


Amy DeRogatis, writing in Church History, uses ‘Protestant Evangelical’ as an “umbrella term”, for Protestant Christians who “who affirm the necessity of a spiritual rebirth” and are “grouped together by their literal reading of the Bible, their emphasis on inerrancy, the imminent return of Christ, mission-mindedness, and in many cases—though certainly not all—their suspicion of “worldliness” and the perils of secular culture”[iii].  While I do not insist on reading the bible through a literal framework, I do believe in the authority of scripture (and I seek to do justice both to the text and to the lived experience of people around me. I figure this is my duty if I’m to adequately pastorally care for my friends and family). I believe in salvation by grace. I do believe the gospel is good news, and I think most people I know would know that I’m always ready and willing to talk of my own faith, and of religion (and sex and politics).


Spending and Defending One Million Dollars


So here I am, a feminist who is critical of marriage narratives, but has votedyes, and a Sydney Anglican and Evangelical, who is deeply concerned by the words that the (my) Archbishop has used in his defence of the million-dollar donation made by the diocese. I find his defence problematic for several reasons, but I want to focus on a particular paragraph which stands in tension with the core Evangelical goal of evangelism. Let’s look at the words of the archbishop, sent in a letter to churches, read at synod and available on the Sydney Anglicans website:


This is not a debate of our choosing. I am sure that we would prefer to spend our energies telling people about God’s loving message of salvation through Jesus Christ, but in God’s providence, this is the point of engagement with our culture at this time.[iv]


This statement is a striking admission. Firstly, it privileges donating to an ad campaign over and above the evangelical work of sharing the gospel, that is, the good news of salvation by grace and making disciples of every nation (Matthew 28:19-20). It removes our agency and responsibility (We didn’t choose to debate same-sex marriage, it was thrown at us, and though we would ‘prefer’ to do something else we are, apparently, powerless to do so). An organisation that can find a spare one million dollars to give to an ad campaign cannot, with integrity, claim to be without voice or agency. But perhaps, most significantly, these words and the donation, actively detract from evangelistic or missional work and activities that Christians are currently engaged in as it deters people from seeing the beauty of the gospel.


A story of Evangelism


            Let me tell you a story of friendship, which is, in it’s a way, a story of evangelism. I first invited Lisa[v] to church over five years ago. She was not my “project”, she is my friend, but I confess that behind my first asking her there was a fair slice of evangelistic guilt; I was aware that I was not doing my bit as an evangelical. I was not inviting people to church. So, I asked Lisa.


She came with me to my local inner-west Anglican church a couple of times. Later when we were both living in London, she would occasionally join me at a small West London church where we attended a traditional prayer book service. Lisa recently told me it was in London that she “fell in love” with “the church service”. Then, when we were both back living in Sydney, and I had found a new church, I again asked her to come with me. We dropped into the afternoon contemporary service, and after a few weeks settled at the early morning, Book of Common Prayer service. For a few years, Lisa came to church steadily and, for a while, went to small group run by a mutual friend. Moved by an announcement in which our minister told the congregation we were at risk of not making our budget, she began to financially give to the church, because she was beginning to consider our church to be her community. During this time, Lisa also came out.


            Lisa continued coming to church with me. She didn’t, as far as I know, become a Christian. She dates women. She still loves the Book of Common Prayer. She still thinks about Christianity. However, heartbreakingly, as a result of the Anglican Church’s donation to the Coalition for Marriage she has no intention of ever coming back to church. There is no conversion story. No Evangelistic ‘happy ending’ (there’s a phrase I never thought I would write). Some people might think I failed to pray hard enough for Lisa’s conversion. But where I sit, I see many yearsof investment in a person, in a relationship. I see over five years of actively inviting someone into my spiritual life, by inviting them to church and always being willing to talk about questions of faith and of sexuality. And I also see that in the daysfollowing the announcement of the donation, that any sense Lisa had of belonging at church had been eroded. She said to me, “I know it’s not personal, but it feels that way”.


One Story. One Person


            So what. One story. One person. That’s not evidence you say. Sure. It might not be conclusive. But it happened, and it is the truth of our experience. In this week, all I have had time for is to gather personal stories. Anecdotes. I had coffee with a friend on Wednesday. She and her husband are appalled at the million-dollar donation. She sent me a message on facebook a few days later  to say they had spoken with their church leadership and have left their Anglican church. I spoke with a colleague yesterday. A gay man in his fifties, raised in the Catholic church. He’s fully aware of the actions of the Anglican church, and that it is a church I belong to. When people like him look to the church, what do they see? Via messenger, he wrote to me:


it does surprise me that there is enough money to put into some things, yet not enough for others of more importance. I was quite shocked at how much they’d allocated to domestic violence in comparison. I would have thought it was a more urgent and important matter.


Indeed. I’ve seen some clergy try to defend this. They say DFV is getting ongoing funding (which it may well be, and I’m very glad that it is). I’ve seen them suggest that the postal survey is a “once in a lifetime” event, requiring a sudden injection of funds, to stop society irrevocably walking down a path to destruction. The Archbishop’s letter, admittedly puts it more mildly, saying we “should stand firmly for God’s good plan for marriage in a world that has increasingly abandoned that plan.”


            Can we pause and reflect on that for a minute. Even if we work within the framework that views homosexual acts as sinful[vi], what we see in the rhetoric of church leaders, when they describe this money, this campaign to vote no asnecessary to stop society abandoning God’s good plan for marriage and walking headfirst into supposed moral decay, is that the prospect of a gay or lesbian couple being married is considered more destructive than domestic and family violence. That is not only deeply insulting to gay and lesbian people, it glosses over the very real danger to those in unsafe relationships.  You might feel like these are very different issues, but at their core, both DFV and same-sex relationships ask us to think about marriage, sexuality and what it means to be ethically responsible. Given that Christians, have traditionally opposed same-sex relationships on the understanding they are immoral, there is also an important question here about what constitutes immorality. Rather than uncritically equate homosexuality with immorality (thereby making a ‘no’ vote seem easy and obvious), it may be more ethically responsible of us to think hard about what immorality is. Because there are many ‘immoral’ or unethical sex acts, and if domestic violence and sexual assault does not evoke at least the same amount of moral outrage and financial intervention as the thought of a committed, monogamous, state sanctioned non-hetero marriage, we need to ask ourselves some tough questions, and perhaps reflect on the bible verse about specks and planks of wood[vii].


Again, I know, the interaction with my colleague is ‘just’ an anecdote. I sometimes wonder when the Archbishop  last had to discuss his actions with a gay colleague or a queer best friend. But even if I am the only person in the diocese with such stories, I believe that even one such story matters. I believe that oneperson who is no longer coming to church matters. I believe that one family leaving their church matters. I believe that one gay man, looking on at the church while still remembering the hurt of being bullied in school as a 12 year old matters.


We believe in a God who would leave the ninety-nine to go searching for the one. And it just might be that the one, like my friend Lisa, is a lesbian. This week, when Lisa looked at the actions of the church, she learned that, perhaps, in the eyes of the church, she did not matter.


            How I long to tell her she is wrong.


But that doesn’t feel genuine. Yes, she matters to me. And I believe she matters to my creator God. But, I cannot, with any sense of honesty tell her she matters to my church. As she walks away from my Anglican church, I want my Archbishop, and my diocese, to know that I didn’t just wish I could have spent my energytelling her about God’s loving message of salvation through Jesus Christ, I did do that. And I want the Archbishop to know that letting an ad campaign take precedence over evangelistic work signals a major shift in Evangelical church priorities.  While I try to find a way to tell myself it was well-intentioned, I cannot help but think that collectively, the Anglican church risks failing to go looking for the one, choosing instead to feed and protect the ninety-nine.




[i] For ideas on subversive story-telling, see Jack Zipes, (2016),  ‘Once  upon  a  time:  Changing  the  World through  Storytelling’, in Common Knowledge,  22 (2), 227-283. doi: 10.1215/0961754X-3464961.

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelicalism

[iii] DeRogatis, A. (2005). What would Jesus do? Sexuality and salvation in Protestant Evangelical sex manuals, 1950s to the present. Church History, 74 (1),97-137. doi: 0.1017/S0009640700109679.

[iv] https://sydneyanglicans.net/blogs/ministrythinking/archbishops-letter-to-churches

[v] Name changed

[vi] For a comprehensive discussion on different approaches to understanding what the bible teaches about homosexuality, I thoroughly recommend, ‘Two views on homosexuality, the Bible and the Church’, edited by  P Sprinkle, published by  Zondervan.

[vii] Matthew 7:1-5

Bodies, Gender, Sex and Purity


This week has been a week of reading. Some of it planned, some, a welcome surprise. There were books I needed to reread and then write up notes, because there comes a time when those fifty little coloured sticky notes need to be recorded in a more cohesive manner. Then, there was brief article reviewing a book on Purity Culture that came my way via social media, and the writing of this post, that was unexpected.

One of my planned tasks for this week was to re-read ‘Sex Difference in Christian Theology’ by Megan DeFranza[1]. Though one of my friends has jokingly mocked the dryness of the title and blandness of the cover, it is a thoroughly engaging read, no less so the second time round. Sure, there are no witty puns in the title, no catchy or provocative phrases, no dramatic, bold pink and red lettering against a black background, no arty graphics (seriously compare the title & cover to Roxane Gay’s “Difficult Women” or Jakobson and Pellegrini’s “Love the Sin”), but it is a title that tells you exactly what you are in for.

In Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female and Intersex in the Image of God, DeFranza gives an overview of intersex conditions from a contemporary medical point of view, as well as a brief history of ancient and historical approaches to categorizing, understanding and making space for intersex bodies. She considers what questions and challenges may surface in Christian Theology when the reality of intersex bodies and the lives of intersex persons is taken seriously. The key biblical figure that DeFranza focuses on is that of the eunuch, and the passages of the bible that she most frequently returns to are Isaiah 56, Matthew 19 and Galatians 3.

My purpose is not to offer a full review, but to take a moment to dwell on the thoughts that came to me as I read (and re-read) DeFranza, particularly her comments on Galatians 3. Then I want to bring those thoughts into conversation with the book review of ‘Pure’, which I read this morning after a friend posted it on social media.


Neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.

DeFranza uses the following NIV translation of Gal 3:26-9.

You are all [male, female and intersex] sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

On my desk sits a more recent publication of the NIV (an NNIV perhaps?), where the word “sons” has been replaced with “children”. Once I would have applauded the inclusiveness of this change, but on reading DeFranza, I was struck by the fact that a much more significant moment of inclusion might actually be lost when “son” is replaced with “children”. It is, in my pedestrian theological opinion, actually important that I, especially I, a woman, have become like a son and not a daughter, because it was only to a son that the promise and privilege of inheritance and status was given. I don’t become an actual boy, nor will I be resurrected as one, but the promise is that even though I am not actually a son, I get all the benefits of being one.  This was presumably quite exciting in the first century, and maybe still is today when, for instance, we consider that to be girly or to do anything -throw, cry- like a girl is still an insult. It would seem that in the eyes of God, my being a woman, should no longer be a reason for exclusion. It is not that being a Christian erases who we are;  those embodied points of difference that effect how we see and are seen, (those categories we think of when we talk about intersectionality), or that there are no differences between bodies that are male, female or otherwise, or that there aren’t differences between being ethnically Jewish or Gentile (or Australian), but that these points of difference should not be used by Christian people to create boundaries or exclusive practices. DeFranza writes:

Being ‘in Christ’ does not make all believers male ‘sons’ any more than the declaration of being ‘Abraham’s seed’ makes all believers Jewish – thus eliminating ethnic, cultural and racial distinctions upheld in Revelation 7:9. Rather all these distinctions, which now divide, are taken up into Christ, who is revealed as the true image of God, the seal of our shared humanity and the promise of its perfection” (184-5)


OK, so what, you ask.   What’s it to a girl who eats  feminist theory for breakfast that she can celebrate being a son? Well, my celebration is not just that I get to be a Son, but that all of the church, the men as well, get to be brides. We all get to be Sons and Brides, and being male or female (or otherwise) is not meant to be a difference we see as affecting our place in the church,  which makes me feel like it might be time to sit back and wonder why we (as a collective church) seem to be worried about upholding a strict binary understanding of what it is to be a human, who -apparently – must necessarily be male or female, and exhibit correspondingly ‘correct’ binary gendered behaviours. If I as a Christian woman, am both a son and a bride, what exactly is it to be feminine? And why be bothered with being the correct version of feminine (whatever that might be), when I know I’m meant to be modelling my life on my saviour who had a man’s body anyway?   Defranza persuasively argues – what perhaps many of us instinctively know – that path to being Christlike is the same path for all regardless of gender/sexed body:

“Christ Jesus is ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Col. 1:15 NRSV), and all Christians – male, female, interexed – ‘are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit’  (2 Cor. 3:18 NIV). Despite its potential effectiveness as a rhetorical strategy for men, growth in holiness must not be misconstrued as growth toward manhood. Holiness must be separated from any gendered understandings of virtue – masculine, feminine, intersex or transgendered. Holiness must not be presented as pink, blue or purple. Christ is the model or all. All Christians are to model his victory (1 Cor. 15:54-57; Eph. 6:10-17). All Christians receive his inheritance as sons (Gal. 3:36-4:7). All Christians become his bride (Eph 5:25 – 27). These mixed metaphors illustrate the universal call to conformity to Christ, but they do even more than this; they also testify to the mystery that remains in any exploration of the Christian life, no less in any exploration of the image of God” (284)

Again, what strikes me as I read this is the importance of being a ‘son’ of God. However, I also realise how rarely we talk of what it might mean for those with non-female bodies to be like a ‘bride’. I actually raised this at a bible study a few months ago and one of the guys responded, “oh but that’s collective, we – the church – are brides of Christ, I don’t know how I feel about being a bride”, and he’s right, it is collective, in the same way that we’re also collectively sons of God, but that doesn’t mean that he himself, with his male sexed body, isn’t also a bride of Christ.

Of course, our bodies matter, in that they shape how we move through the world, and how other people respond to us, but they don’t matter when it comes to understanding what a good, moral or ethical Christian life is, because we are all to conform to the same standard, which is Jesus Christ. Haven’t we all been standing side by side, singing may the mind of Christ my saviour, dwell in me from day to day, by his love and power controlling, all I do and say …?


Bodies, Sex and Purity

This morning as I read ‘New Book Details Harm of Evangelical Purity Movement and Obstacle to Change’ by Elizabeth Shively, a review of the book ‘Pure’ by Linda Kaye Klein. The review came my way when it was posted in a little Facebook group I co-founded and “facilitate” called Reading Faith, Gender and Sexuality. (I use scare quotes around the word “facilitate” because I kind of dropped off the planet over winter, and the extent to which I facilitated anything is questionable).

I re-posted the review on my own page, noting that the article references a pastor interviewed in the book who said he didn’t know what he could teach instead of Purity Culture, I suggested it would be interesting to see a well-balanced  Evangelical engagement with sex-ed that didn’t involve Purity Culture.

Shively opens her review with a memory Klein includes in her book, which from everything I read on American Purity Culture while completing my Master of Research last year, and my own memories of Sydney Anglican youth group, is a fairly standard experience. Here’s Klein’s story:

“[Klein] dreamed of being cast as a virtuous woman or pious martyr in church plays. Instead, because of her sexually developed body and feminine curves, she was often cast as a demon or Jezebel figure; and once, she writes, she even played sex itself, miming the role in a skit about a Christian resisting temptations. It wasn’t until she was physically emaciated and weak, recovering from surgery due to untreated Crohn’s disease that she was offered the role of Mary, mother of Jesus, in the church Nativity play. It was only when both her body and spirit had been whittled down to size that she was deemed appropriate to represent the pious mother.”

In a nutshell Purity Culture is about sexual abstinence. But its not just ‘don’t have sex, because God says so in the bible’ (though to be fair, it is also that), it’s don’t have sex, and perhaps don’t even kiss or date, because you will be plagued by shame and never have good married relationship as an adult. (If you want a more thorough account see Sarah Bessey’s several blog posts on this, or, if you were an evangelical teenager in the nineties, cast your mind back to I Kissed Dating Goodbye). Just as Little Red Riding Hood was given strict instructions not to stray from the path, good evangelical girls learn to fear stepping off the path that leads good girls to marriage (and by implication to the proper expression of their sexual selves within a necessarily heterosexual marriage). Red Riding Hood refused to be a good girl, strayed from the path and invited shame, danger and death not just into her own life, but also her family’s. In purity culture, Evangelical girls walk the path for fear of inviting shame, distress, danger and potentially (spiritual or actual) death into their lives.[2]

In my Master of Research thesis, drawing on Sara Ahmed’s[3] theory that  Happiness Scripts which promise future happiness for specific behaviours and life choices, I looked at some of the problems with how emotions like future fear, shame and also happiness operate within evangelical cultures. Ahmed (2010) teaches us that Happiness scripts work in two ways.[4]  Firstly, they direct us towards choices and relationships that are deemed as good, but they also teach us that to choose otherwise is to walk a path that is not good, and not happy. Purity Culture is a prime example of this.

Can it really be that there is no Evangelical alternative to the way fear and shame is used to limit and control the expression of sexuality of being afraid or ashamed of one’s body or sexuality. How can we think about our bodies and sexualities, as Christian people, without fear and shame? Let’s go back to DeFranza.

What Megan DeFranza Can Teach Us

After sharing the article, I began to wonder whether DeFranza’s work which in many ways seeks to de-centre – but not ignore – gender identity and the untangle ideas of supposedly deviant bodies, sexualities and moralities, by looking instead to the actually very gender-neutral call to Christians to be like Christ, may actually be what needs to be taught instead. And yes, of course Churches already teach this, but maybe we need to rethink how we teach it in relation to sexual ethics. And that we should teach it alongside actual sex-ed, that involves equipping evangelical youth with an adequate understanding of things like consent and contraception. Maybe we need to move away from purity culture which operates via an economy of fear and shame, and instead develop a theory of what it is to conduct an intimate relationship -or indeed any relationship – in a Christlike way.

DeFranza’s work revolves around the image of the eunuch. The eunuch (whether a castrated male or perhaps a person born with what would now be considered an intersex variation) moved through the ancient world in a body that evoked both fear and shame due to its failure to conform to a masculine ideal, and a mix of alternating belief’s about Eunuchs being infertile, asexual, sexually active and sexually deviant.

Because eunuchs were gendered as other, their presence unsettled many beliefs and ideas assumed to be natural and given. Defranza writes that Eunuchs “were simultaneously considered asexual and unable to restrain themselves from sexual passion. The physical ambiguity of eunuchs translated into the moral realm in areas well beyond sexuality. Eunuchs suffered the same aspersions of character as did women in the ancient world. … self control was believed to be a masculine virtue, visible in the hardness of men’s bodies. The etymological link between virtus (virtue)  and vir (man, male) is debated; nevertheless the linguistic association remained strong among Latin speakers” p77

Yet DeFranza goes on to remind us that Isaiah prophesies a time when the eunuch would be welcomed into God’s family. Defranza writes that Isaiah 56 promise a time of future inclusion, when a person’s moral status will be judged according to faith and action, not the type of body they have: “These pious eunuchs would no longer be excluded from God’s people. In other words, eunuchs would no longer be judged by their physicality; they would be judged by their moral practice – their faith that binds them to YHWH and their obedience to God’s Law” p 82. And maybe part of being Christlike is to stop judging and fearing the physicality of our own sexed (and sexual) bodies, and that of others.

I wonder if there is a lesson here for Purity Culture, and perhaps also for those who continue to insist on gay conversion therapy or for those in non-hetero relationships to opt out of ministry. Imagine, if within the church a person was not excluded from ministry on the basis of their sexed-body (for example, being a woman) or their sexuality (for example being in a queer relationship) but considered on the basis of their faith that binds them to the Lord.

Josh Harris confesses[5] that when he first received criticism for I Kissed Dating Goodbye, it took him some time to detach his identity and sense of value from the status of being a best-selling author.  It took me some time to detach my identity and sense of value from being someone who refused to certain things with their body, and I wonder how my own perception of my body and sexual self might have been different had I not been taught that displaying my body (for example, in a bikini) would weaken the faith of others or that I was essentially a gift to a potential husband and that any and every sexual encounter decreased the value and beauty of that gift, ie, of me. I remember telling someone I could not sleep with them because then I wouldn’t know who I was anymore. How might I be a different person, and how might have modelled Christ better if I had had a sexual ethic I didn’t need to completely tear apart and rebuild from virtually nothing before I could begin to be at home in my body?

 How might we, as Christians, conduct our lives, and particularly our sexually intimate lives, differently if we spent more time dwelling on who we are in Christ, and  less time thinking about who I am (ok, who I was) as an individual  ‘pure’, no-sex-please kind of girl.

I realise I’ve done that thing where I ask lots of questions and don’t propose an actual answer. But what should we teach if not Purity Culture? How will a Christian person develop a good sexual ethic? The same way they will develop any ‘good’ ethic, by being focused on being Christlike, and modelling that in their lives, and in their bodies, whatever kind of body they have.  Let’s return to Defranza’s point that the path to being Christlike is the same path for all regardless of sexed body, regardless of the gendered behaviours we gravitate towards.

“Christ Jesus is ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Col. 1:15 NRSV), and all Christians – male, female, interexed – ‘are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit’  (2 Cor. 3:18 NIV). Despite its potential effectiveness as a rhetorical strategy for men, growth in holiness must not be misconstrued as growth toward manhood. Holiness must be separated from any gendered understandings of virtue – masculine, feminine, intersex or transgendered. Holiness must not be presented as pink, blue or purple. Christ is the model or all. All Christians are to model his victory (1 Cor. 15:54-57; Eph. 6:10-17). All Christians receive his inheritance as sons (Gal. 3:36-4:7). All Christians become his bride (Eph 5:25 – 27). These mixed metaphors illustrate the universal call to conformity to Christ, but they do even more than this; they also testify to the mystery that remains in any exploration of the Christian life, no less in any exploration of the image of God” p284

There is indeed a lot of mystery in any life. But in the Christian life one thing that is not a mystery is that all of us, regardless of our bodies, are to  strive to be Christlike. The mystery of course is what that looks like. And, I’m not sure, but maybe even if they a Christian person isn’t in a heterosexual marriage, or perhaps, isn’t in their first, heterosexual marriage, maybe they will find a way that they can be Christlike in the intimate relationships they do or don’t have, and maybe we have to be willing to have a more flexible conversation around this, so that people can actually grow into a place of holiness rather than have a cookie cutter vision of right behaviour enforced upon them.







[1] DeFranza, M.K (2015). Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, female and intersex in the image of God. Grand Rapids, Michigan & Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[2]       Maybe you think Purity Culture isn’t really like that, or that no-one is really that shaken by it. Here is a little extract from my thesis:

Sarah Bessey has written on her blog in detail about some of the less-than-happy ways Protestant Evangelical youth are taught to direct their lives towards marriage, particularly in the movement known as ‘Purity Culture’.. Bessey recalls being:

nineteen years old and crazy in love with Jesus when that preacher told an auditorium I was “damaged goods” because of my sexual past …  he didn’t call me up to the front and name me. But he stood up there and talked about me with such disgust, like I couldn’t be in that real-life crowd of young people worshipping in that church. (2013, n.p)

Here, rather than a scriptural command, emotional shaming for those who have had sex before or outside of marriage, and the threat of shame, unhappiness, of not really belonging, are used to direct those who might be contemplating lives that do not follow the path which dictates that sex is for marriage. Similarly, Joshua Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, the widely read advice manual for Protestant Evangelical youth, describes a couple who had pre-marital sex as “violating each other’s purity” (1997, p69).


[3] Ahmed, S. (2010). The promise of happiness. Durham and London:  Duke University Press.

[4] Ahmed writes that “Happiness scripts are powerful even when we fail or refuse to follow them, even when we deviate from their line. …Happiness scripts encourage us to avoid the unhappy consequences of deviation by making those consequences explicit” (2010, p91). If, either in a Christian or secular context, marriage and married sexuality is held up as the best or only way to be happy,  it is possibleto be enticed, or even coerced, into following a specific happiness-via-marriage script, so that we might not suffer unhappiness.


[5] It’s a while since I read the articles on Harris, and can’t find the exact ones I read last year, but here’s one: