About me and my blog – April 2020 edition

About once a year I seem to have a good long hard think about what my blog is about and how I should present myself to the world. It’s not deliberate, but anyway — here is the latest about me, my writing, my theology and my feminism. (And the different sections of this post have now also been split over several pages on my site.)

Here’s a handy table of contents, because this post is over 5,000 words long!

 


Manga image of grey woman holding staff of Aaron with light showing her blue eyes
Extract from artwork created by Siku (@theartofsiku, www.TheArtOfSiku.com).

About me – Christine Woolgar

I’m a married Christian thirty-something, living in England, UK. I describe myself as a sex-positive theology nerd.

The image at the top of this page is what I would look like if I was a manga character. If you want to know a bit more about where that picture came from, it’s by Siku.

I’m also a borderline Aspie and a demisexual. Not heard that word before? Demisexual is a strand within asexuality, where a person doesn’t experience sexual attraction towards a person unless they’re in a strong emotional relationship with that person.

Things I enjoy in life include (in no particular order):

  • Harry Potter,
  • CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien,
  • Alanis Morisette
  • Star Trek and Babylon 5, theology, physics,
  • Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex
  • coffee and cake,
  • playing the piano, singing,
  • writing poetry,
  • writing theatre, and
  • going for long walks with my husband.

Oh, there are a few short videos of me playing the piano on YouTube — this one is my favourite.

When I was growing up I wanted to be an astronaut. I therefore chose science for my studies, but later decided that my efforts in life might be better spent trying to make the people on this planet get along better. Ever since I managed to land myself a boring desk job™, I’ve studied theology informally, along with other areas relevant to feminism and women’s equality.

I started to blog because, with the advent of Fifty Shades of Grey in cinemas in 2015, I wanted offer an informed Christian perspective on the issues it raises about consent, BDSM and purity culture. That desire was itself fuelled by my husband’s and my experience of needing psychosexual therapy when we married.

I was brought up in as an evangelical Anglican. Whilst I wouldn’t describe myself with either of those labels at the current time, I live with a sense of home-sickness for both, which never completely goes away. In some respects I have progressed very far from what I believed when I was younger, in others, I remain very orthodox.

The part of my faith that has surprised me most (not to mention others) has been my love of the Old Testament and the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). I feel like I know and love Jesus best, not when I experience him as a companion, good friend or advocate, but rather as a wonderful teacher of the law. Maybe that will change in the future, but it’s where I’m at now and I’m done trying to hide it.

I also think that the church can learn from people who are outside of the church. Certainly, this was my experience when it came to consent. (And Christians really oughta know about consent!)

So, that’s me in a nutshell. Welcome to my blog. Do check out my other ‘about me’ pages for more specifics about how I work out my theology and my feminism in practice — and what that means for particular issues (and controversial topics). Also, check out the about my writing page to get a feel for what I write about, what other people have said about my writing and how to find the topics that interest you most.

You can find me on:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • YouTube (though I’m still undecided on how I’ll use YouTube, hence the eclectic mix of consent monologues with piano performances)

 


From original artwork by Siku theartofsiku.com

About my writing

I’m actually quite a shy person.

But once I’m talking, I’ll tell it as it is. I’ll say the words that aren’t being said, I’ll delve the topics that are too taboo and I’ll throw out challenges for people to wrestle with.

As for this blog, it’s a space where I write at the edges of ideas that relate to hope, sexuality and consent. I want to lean into the grey places where people haven’t yet distilled their thoughts or figured out where they want to stand. I’ll disentangle complexities and dare to re-open questions where the standard answers now seem incomplete.

In practical terms, that means I write about:

  • sex and portrayals of sex,
  • consent and consent culture,
  • purity and purity culture,
  • inclusion and transformation,
  • bodies and personhood,
  • the Bible and Christian witness.

I approach these topics as a Christian and a feminist, but also with a listening ear to the sex-positive community.

I also incorporate these themes into my creative writing.

Who am I writing for?

A teacher once told me that people have a ‘comfort zone,’ a ‘stretch zone’ and a ‘panic zone’ when it comes to ideas. You could say my posts are kind of like that.

Some of them are well within the bounds of established Christian thought, others are a bit edgier, and others— well they might not cause a person to panic, but they are some way outside the comfort zones of many.

Following the theme of ‘Light in grey places’ I thought it might be cool to refer to these three categories of content as follows: sunlight, firelight, and moonlight. (With an eye roll for anyone who suggests ‘twilight’.)

Sunlight

This caters for people who lean towards a traditional view of sex and marriage but want to clue themselves up on sex and consent, Christian ideas of hope that bring joy (not guilt) when you share them, and some of the more nerdy aspects of the Bible.

(If these are in your stretch zone, you are very welcome here! Don’t feel judged!)

It’s stuff that’s broadly uncontroversial within Christian egalitarian circles, but I talk about them in my own words, trying not to assume too much knowledge for people who aren’t Christians. I also focus on the positive side, on how things should be.

But maybe you want to think a bit more out of the box.

Firelight

The content in this category is also more bracing, looking at the problems of patriarchy and where things go wrong. That includes posts that unpick abuse dynamics, posts that challenge Christianity’s hyper-elevation of marriage (including complementarianism), and other posts that challenge exclusionary theology (including penal substitutionary atonement).

If you’re now puzzled or indeed nervous about how my beliefs drive my writing on these topics, it’s probably worth checking the about my theology page.

Moonlight

Then there are topics way outside the comfort zone for many who would describe themselves as Christian and/or feminist: erotica, BDSM and virginity, honour and violence.

Don’t get me wrong, my aim here is to shine a light in the dark. I’m not here to promote BDSM, or porn, or sex work, or polyamory — but I want to take an honest look at these edges. If you want to read more on what I’m willing to promote and what I’m willing to write about, it might be worth checking out the about my feminism page.

Meanwhile, I also had a realisation that I can’t discuss virginity without discussing violence. I therefore categorise all posts directly relating to purity culture as moonlight, regardless of how graphic they are. This is where you’ll find the posts all about the Deuteronomy 22 laws.

Starlight

OK, one more category: this is for my creative pieces (often themed around the Bible), contemplative posts about myself (especially my journey as a blogger), and other bits about theology and Bible that don’t fit elsewhere.

What other people have said about my writing

I treasure all positive feedback about my work, but here are some pieces from names that might be familiar to you.


This is the most comprehensive article I have ever read on the topic of consent.
– Ashley Easter

Ashley is a Christian feminist, writer, speaker, and abuse-victim advocate; founder of the Courage Conference; do check out her amazing website.
She was commenting on: this post about sex and consent.


I really appreciated this article. With so many obstacles that many of us faced with harmful teachings on purity, masturbation, sex in general, sometimes sex just doesn’t work out the way we had hoped and planned.
– Julie Anne Smith

Julie is an advocate for victims of spiritual abuse and founder of Spiritual Sounding Board; her important blogging work calling out abuse in the church has been recognised in The Washington Post.
She was commenting on: my open letter to the evangelical couple considering sex therapy.


Good questions & insights in your blog post, @hope4greyplaces!
– Vicky Beeching

Vicky is writer, broadcaster and equality campaigner; she was a singer-songwriter in the evangelical church and then came out as gay in 2014. Her amazing memoir is UNDIVIDED.
She was commenting on: Evangelicals can’t sanitise Vicky Beeching’s conversion exorcism as badly worded prayers.


I loved the way that you played with skandalon and what that might have meant for Jesus as he was growing up – and also what it might have meant for Mary and for Joseph too.
– Dr Paula Gooder

Paula is a New Testament scholar, author and Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, London.
She was commenting on: this creative monologue about Jesus visiting the temple as a boy, written from Mary’s point of view.


This is a clever and sharp piece of work and theologically sound
– Rev Dr Kevin Giles

Kevin is an Anglican minister, theologian and author of many books including The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity and What the Bible Actually Teaches on Women.
He was commenting on: a short sketch I wrote contrasting the paternal/filial relationships between Jonathan and Saul, and Jesus and the Father (not published on my blog).


Had a marvellous afternoon with @hope4greyplaces, who has a MASSIVE BRAIN and a good heart.
– Natalie Collins

Natalie is a gender justice advocate and author of Out of Control: Couples, Conflict and the Capacity for Change; we met up that day to talk about her Own My Life course which helps women regain ownership of their lives when they have subjected to abuse or violence by their partner.


I’m going to talk about [modesty] in terms of consent and context, which totally revolutionized this whole conversation for me. … Christine Woolgar cuts through the modesty kerfuffle with the most reasonable and rarely heard suggestion: modesty is not about the body; it’s about knowing when to display your “glory” and how to display it without excluding others.
– Bailey Bergmann Steger

Bailey is a lifestyle blogger and egalitarian and now mum who writes amazing and thoughtful pieces, particularly as regards civil conversation and her deconstruction from being a stay-at-home daughter.
She was commenting on: this post I wrote about modesty: Modesty 101: modesty is not about clothes, rather glory and context.


This is so good and important as always. I am in awe of Christine’s openness, wisdom and nuanced approaches.
– Amy Norton

Amy is a sex and BDSM blogger (her very not-safe-for-work blog is here)
She was commenting on: this post about how we use the language of consent: “The sub is in control” — actually, this isn’t true and consent culture needs better words.


If you appreciate my writing, please like, share and subscribe!

I’m here to build up a library of useful notes and reflections – it’s up to you what you make of them. Whether you agree or disagree (or both), my aim is to help you gather your thoughts.

So if this site does help you, I would love it if you would share that with your friends, follow my Twitter profile or Facebook page, or indeed subscribe to this blog (there’s a box in the widgets – you can see it at the side on a PC, or at the bottom on a mobile device).

 


From original artwork by Siku theartofsiku.com

About my theology

You might have noticed that my main profile picture is of a woman holding a staff that has budded. That’s a reference to Aaron’s staff (Numbers 17:8) and the image is from a piece of artwork by Siku. The picture above is similar: the snake is a reference to how Moses and Aaron threw down their staffs in front of Pharaoh (Exodus 7:8-11) and how Aaron’s staff devoured the staffs of Pharaoh’s magicians. She’s picking it up by the tail because that’s how Moses was instructed to pick up his staff when God met with him at the burning bush (Exodus 4:4).

So, theology…

From one angle, my beliefs are quite orthodox: I believe we are all equally in need of salvation and that there is no salvation outside of the cross of Jesus Christ. However, I’m really not sure how consciously aware people need to be of the cross and/or Jesus before they can participate in the resurrection life. So, from that angle, I differ from many Christians who hold strong conversionist beliefs and this is one of the reasons why I wouldn’t describe myself as an evangelical. Meanwhile, although I believe Jesus is the one who saves, it’s not for me to judge who will ultimately be proven as having entered his salvation.

So I try not to.

Am I about to try and convert people?

I have little love of conversionism and I’m not here to make people agree with me.

That said, I’m not going to be dishonest about my faith. And no, I don’t believe there’s any way of life that can surpass having a conscious, active and living relationship with Jesus (and all persons of the Trinity for that matter).

If I have an agenda then, I suppose you could say it’s to help people imagine what it might mean to know God, or to know him more closely. I’m not about to hand out tracts. Instead, I’ll offer my writings in the hope that people will come and taste what the kingdom of heaven is really about. If you come here and walk away with a more integrated, rounded, and/or nuanced approach to life, I’ll count that as a success. After all, thriving relationships, being our full selves, appreciation for the world around us — I believe these are all part of what relationship with God is in its fullness.

Meanwhile, it’s taken me a while to get to where I am and I know I haven’t got it all figured out just yet. But then, I think a person’s direction of travel is more important than where they currently are.

What do I believe about Bible?

I think it’s an absolutely amazing compilation of books, from voices across a wide expanse of time, all of whom I believe were inspired by the Holy Spirit when they wrote.

I believe the Bible is God’s word written. So, whilst I believe the Bible was written through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit speaks through the Bible in a way that is unmatched by any other text or medium, I do not believe the Bible is itself a person or a substitute for the persons of the Trinity.

I don’t believe the Bible is God’s Word. I believe Jesus is God’s Word.

I don’t believe the Bible to be infallible. I think of infallibility as an attribute of a person, not a text. Jesus is infallible, a book cannot be.

I don’t believe the Bible to be inerrant. If it is, then why, for example, does Isaiah 61:1 talk about release for the captives and prisoners, but Luke 8:14 (quoting that verse) talk about release for the prisoners and the blind? Seriously, if the Bible is inerrant, then why do the Masoretic text and the Septuagint vary from each other? (You have heard of the Masoretic text and the LXX, right? If not, do a quick internet search.)

Importantly, although I don’t believe the Bible is inerrant, I do believe it is trustworthy for matters of faith. However, I also believe — as CS Lewis put it — that if we don’t in some sense read it as literature, we don’t read it at all.

I believe the Bible is less a rule-book and more the witness of the revelation of God throughout history, up until the early church. This revelation means that humanity’s understanding about who God is has developed over time — and indeed we are still learning. I believe that the church actually needs to be OK with being changed by groups of people who have historically been excluded from it. Actually, this is something that’s really important to me and I wrote more on it in this post here.

Meanwhile, I really love the Old Testament including the Old Testament law and I write about them often. That’s not because I’m a legalist disguised as a progressive, it’s because I have a different view on it compared to many others and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I wrote more about how I view the Old Testament law here.

Do I believe God desires and celebrates women in positions of teaching and leadership, both inside the church and outside the church?

Yes. Definitely.

Also, I love preaching. (I did a short video on this subject on Facebook.)

Am I affirming of LGBTQ+ identities and relationships?

Yes, though whether the LGBTQ+ community would call me an ally is another matter. My blogging focuses more on purity culture and how the institution of marriage should or shouldn’t relate to sex, rather than the major LGBTQ+ debates and clobber passages.

Do I believe that God ordained monogamous marriage as the only place for sex?

Deep breath… no, I don’t. For several reasons.

I’m yet to lay out my theology on this, but meanwhile, if you want to know more, this post here talks about why I don’t think all extra-marital sex can be considered equivalent to what the Bible terms ‘sexual immorality’.

Meanwhile, I have a whole ‘unmeaning marriage’ page because I think the church has given too much religious meaning to marriage, when even in Jesus’s words it’s something that will not last.

I have serious misgivings about the widely accepted notion that marriage is an illustration of Christ’s relationship with the church. Yes, it sounds pretty and romantic but… I don’t think that’s what Paul was actually getting at in Ephesians 5. Plus, whilst the New Testament uses the image of a wedding and the bridegroom and bride to symbolise Jesus and the church, it doesn’t talk about marriage.

As for the Old Testament passages that I used to interpret as being about the sanctity of marriage — when I read them now, they seem to be far more about honour. Do browse through the page on virginity, honour and violence for more on this.

Overall then, I still think marriage can be a great thing, and I think sex can be fun and very precious. However, I no longer believe that ethical living requires sex to be exclusively inside marriage.

I also… OK and I know this is even more controversial, but I’m really not sure that monogamy is a necessity for sexual ethics either. I have zero time for polygamy, because I think it fosters inequality between men and women; but I’m not convinced that all forms of polyamory constitute ‘sexual promiscuity’. So, although I’m not about to promote polyamory, I think dialogue on the subject should be fair and informed. I’ve met some very interesting and ethical people who are polyamorous, and they raise questions that I think the church would do well to consider.

You might also want to read the about my feminism page as some of the topics there are also relevant.

Do I believe in hell?

I don’t think so. I definitely don’t believe in eternal conscious torment. I wrote about the Mark 9 clobber passage here.

Do I believe in substitutionary atonement?

Probably, but I reject in penal substitutionary atonement — and it’s PSA that I hear ex-evangelicals and ex-fundamentalists having real issue with. I wrote more about my issues with PSA here.

Do I believe the doctrine of the Trinity?

Yes.

And I think neglect of the Trinity is a hallmark of toxic theology (for example, see this post: when we don’t explain the Trinity, the gospel gets ugly – especially for wives).

I am also very tired of seeing the Holy Spirit erased from our understanding of the gospel and under-represented in worship.

Do I believe Jesus physically rose from the dead?

Maybe this wasn’t the most pressing question on your mind, but yes, yes I do believe that and it’s very important to me! More here. The affirmation of our physicality is a big part of body-positivity. Also, in case you hadn’t noticed, the staff in my profile picture is a symbol of resurrection.

As I said, this stuff is important to me.

 


Grey woman with the staff of Aaron, art by Siku
Extract from original artwork by Siku www.theartofsiku.com

About my feminism

(For the avoidance of doubt, the staff in the image above is a reference to Aaron’s staff and, in context, it’s a symbol of protection and life.)

I support women’s equality and the ending of violence against women. I volunteered an afternoon a week for a year with a domestic violence charity, and whereas domestic violence isn’t my primary blogging focus, I do write about abuse dynamics.

Also, and it might seem weird that I feel I need to say this, but I’ll say it anyway: I don’t believe that benevolent administration of patriarchal structures will ever create societies where women are truly able to act as equals and be treated as such. I get the impression sometimes that Christians believe patriarchy could and really would work, so long as men are upstanding and monogamous. Well, I don’t agree.

Why I focus on purity culture

When I write about feminist issues, I focus mainly on iterations of purity culture. This is partly because:

  • I can speak to my personal experience of how it impacted my sex life,
  • It has strong ties to modesty culture, and
  • It links in with the Old Testament passages that are of particular interest to me.

More significantly though, I believe purity ideology underpins the most horrific forms of gender violence including: FGM, child marriage, forced marriage, ‘honour’ based violence and sex trafficking. I see purity ideology as part of what fuels the fear and stigma associated with revenge porn.

Which takes me onto some of the more controversial parts of where I stand as a feminist.

Before I get to those though, I want to make a few things very, very clear.

My lines in the sand

I am against human trafficking.

I am against non-consensual sex and non-consensual sexual acts.

I am against non-consensual porn and revenge porn.

It should therefore go without saying that I’m against child sexual abuse (and indeed all abuse against children). Still, I think it’s worth being more specific than just that, because age, maturity and sex-related matters intersect in very complicated ways.

So, here goes:

  • I support age-related legislation that places restrictions on both consensual sex and consensual marriage. (Remember, I have no time for anything that is non-consensual.) I recognise that such legislation is not a substitute for sex education or sexual health services, nor can it perfectly meet the developmental circumstances of all people. However, even with those inherent limitations, I think age-related legislation can be a good tool.
  • I support ‘age of consent’ legislation, particularly as a mechanism to protect minors from abusive adults, and young adults from abusers in positions of trust. In the UK, the age of consent is set at 16.
  • I don’t think it makes sense for the state to recognise a person as legally married but not legally an adult, so I would support the prohibition of marriage involving anyone who has not reached the age of majority. In the UK, the age of majority is 18. Marriage is legal from the age of 16 in the UK, under restricted circumstances, but I would support a blanket ban.
  • I support the prohibition of sex work involving anyone who has not reached the age of majority. Moreover, I do not think the state should consider a person able to consent to the public dissemination of themselves (or an image of themselves) in a sexualised context, when the state does not consider that person to be an adult.

Where I stand on BDSM

This blog is not here to promote consensual BDSM.

I do however want to promote awareness of what consensual BDSM is and isn’t; I think the BDSM community has some very good things to say about consent and misinformation doesn’t help anyone. More details here.

Meanwhile, I don’t believe a person can consent to grievous bodily harm or death. And I have serious misgivings about consenting to anything that has more than a remote risk of grievous bodily harm or death, even though I know that such risk is considered acceptable in other contexts (e.g. boxing). I also have serious misgivings about 24/7 dominant/submissive dynamics, despite having friends who would describe themselves as in such a dynamic. Plus there’s a whole heap of grooming and abuse that I know takes place in the BDSM scene, yet there are also BDSM-ers out there who actively work against that.

In other words, there’s plenty to have misgivings about, but there are also people of integrity and whatever dialogue we have about BDSM should take account of that.

So, I’m not about to kink-shame (I actively try not to), but I’m not about to promote BDSM practices as a way to spice up your sex life.

Where I stand on porn

This blog is not here to promote porn, nor will I post pornographic content on it.

Most of what I’ve heard about mainstream porn leads me to believe that it’s unethical (good grief, the stories I’ve read about Pornhub are appalling). However, I am open to the possibility that there is or could be such a thing as ethical sexual imagery and I’m interested in having a fair dialogue on that topic — I’m tired of consensual and non-consensual porn being conflated with each other. That said, I also want to be respectful of the fact that some people have had very, very negative experiences with porn, and you’ll see that in how I write about this subject.

I have absolutely zero time for revenge porn and image-based abuse.

Where I stand on sex work

Similar to porn, I find most discussions about sex work frustrating, because they don’t differentiate between (i) sex trafficking, (ii) legal sex work where the worker freely exercises their agency (including their economic agency), and (iii) everyone in between.

I don’t think I will ever recommend sex work as a life choice to anyone, even in a legal context. I would only offer reasons not to go into it, search out alternatives and, at best, say “Well, it’s your choice, it’s your body and it’s legal; insofar as it’s down to you, please make your customer due diligence good enough so that you won’t become a means for people to cheat on their partners.”

So I’m not exactly ‘pro’ sex work.

However, I have issue with the standard feminist stance that says all sex work is just part of how men oppress women. I think it’s more complicated than that.

So: I’m not going to talk about sex work in a wholly negative light. I’m not going to promote the consumption or commissioning of it, but I’m not going to hate on it either.

For one thing, I think it carries way too much stigma — and that stigma adds to the awful impact of revenge porn. Imagine if that that stigma could just… not be an issue?

Theologically, I also have difficulty painting sex work as wholly bad. In the Old Testament, prostitution in certain circumstances was legal, and that’s not to mention the (righteous) example of Rahab. I know that some Christians see sex in sacred terms and that, for example, CS Lewis said that money was an “unnatural” reward for love, with the implication that all sex work is bad. But… I can’t help but suspect that Christians hyper-elevate sex and that this pedestalling is misguided.

So, to wrap up, I’m not going to promote sex work, but if I see interesting articles and threads about sex work, I may well share them and write about them. Plus, if I see good writing about consent or bodily autonomy etc, I’m not going to hold back from sharing that just because the person who wrote it was a sex worker.

Also, whilst not all sex bloggers are sex workers, it should go without saying that if I’m prepared to listen to the perspectives of sex workers, then I’m willing to listen to sex bloggers too.

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