Consent means… *communicating* if something’s not going to plan (in a context of mutual trust)

When it comes to sex, I’m not a believer that consensual = no mistakes.

Sure, consensual means no big, life-changing mistakes and no clearly and easily avoidable mistakes. It means avoiding all the nasty stuff like:

  • penetration without an active ‘yes’, or
  • lack of regard for risks or consequences, or
  • sex without an easy, agreed, recognisable way to withdraw consent, or
  • negotiation where a hard limit is discussed like it’s a soft limit or a preference.

People talk about “active, informed and enthusiastic” consent because it goes a long way to prevent the above.

But even when you stay well clear of those mistakes, even when your partner is a decent human being who would never want to violate or harm you — that doesn’t mean everything always goes to plan. Maybe an unwelcome memory rears its ugly head. Maybe your body starts feeling wildly uncomfortable when you didn’t think it would. Maybe you didn’t shut the door and the cat walks in.

Mistakes will happen; the question is, what do you when you realise it’s not working? And do you learn from your mistakes? Continue reading Consent means… *communicating* if something’s not going to plan (in a context of mutual trust)

Why do I care so much about the Old Testament rape laws?

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

What I blog about and what I want to blog about, do not always align.

The Old Testament laws on sex, adultery and rape, particularly those in Deuteronomy 22:13-29, are a sensitive topic to say the least. Whenever I find an angle to write about, my inner caution tends to apply the brakes before my enthusiasm gets to the point of posting.

It’s not that this is a topic to be enthusiastic about, per se. It’s just that, in the last few years, the biblical scholarship I’ve read on these passages has absolutely blown my mind. And the more feminist literature I read (currently working through Jessica Valenti’s The Purity Myth), the more I believe the church needs to re-evaluate its relationship with these verses.

If you’re now raising your eyebrow at me, I’m gonna guess it’s for one of several reasons. I’ll take them in turn. Continue reading Why do I care so much about the Old Testament rape laws?

Shameless about…? On hearing Nadia Bolz-Weber at Southwark Cathedral

Picture of the book "Shameless: A sexual reformation" by Nadia Bolz-Weber, with a card sticking out saying "I'm ready to be SHAMELESS about ...." Text over the top: On hearing Nadia Bolz-Weber at Southwark Cathedral workthegreymatter.com

“Breathe in the good s***, breathe out the bulls***.”

As I told a friend I was going to hear Nadia Bolz-Weber speak, he said she was the only person he’d ever heard swear in St Paul’s Cathedral. She’s probably also the only person people have heard swear in Southwark Cathedral too – which is where I heard her speak about her recent book “Shameless.” Trust me, when I use asterisks in this post, you can be sure that she didn’t.

For those who don’t know, Nadia is a rather unconventional Lutheran pastor. She was the founding pastor of a congregation called “House for All Sinners and Saints” and she’s gone on record saying that ethically-sourced porn is OK. Her Twitter handle is @sarcasticluther and she puts “SHAMELESS af” after her name.

Well that’s one way to make a statement.

She’s also authentic in what she says and a lot of people appreciate her honesty. I personally think she preached sensationally at Rachel Held Evans’ funeral. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch it here. Continue reading Shameless about…? On hearing Nadia Bolz-Weber at Southwark Cathedral

Sex and Consent: How does that work in a long-term relationship?

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Photo credit: sasint from pixabay

I originally wrote this post for abuse advocate Ashley Easter and you can find it on her blog. I’m re-posting here with a few minor edits to smooth over the language, but you’ll see it’s largely unchanged. It’s long (5,500 words) so have a think about when you might read it, but feedback seems to show it’s been very useful for people – whether Christian or not, married or not.


To this day, my husband and I are still unsure if some of our early sexual encounters with each other were consensual. Seriously. Make no mistake, we have a mutually fun and consensual sex life now and I believe we have loved each other deeply for as long as we’ve been sexually active with each other. But we didn’t always understand consent. Or sex. And I used to have some pretty messed up ideas about my place in the relationship. How we got into that situation and how we got out of it are both stories for another time. Right now, I want to tell you about how we’ve come to understand consent. Continue reading Sex and Consent: How does that work in a long-term relationship?

Are your thoughts and prayers with … the system? Maybe they should be.

Picture of bullet shell on the ground in a deserted place with the words: Are your thoughts and prayers with ... the system? Maybe they should be workthegreymatter.com

I’m grateful to say that gun violence is something quite remote from my experience and everyday life. The UK has tight gun controls and most of our police don’t carry firearms. I don’t think I’ve seen a gun fired, ever, let alone at anyone.

So, as I write this post, I’m going to do my best not to claim knowledge and understanding that I don’t have. However, how we pray and what we pray for is in my blogging lane, and I think it’s time I say something on this. Continue reading Are your thoughts and prayers with … the system? Maybe they should be.

Why egalitarianism can’t reclaim Vashti and Esther — and doesn’t need to anyway

Picture of chess board with King and pawns on the board and the text: Why egalitarianism can't reclaim Vashti and Esther - and doesn't need to anyway workthegreymatter.com

The story of Esther, a Jewish orphan who became queen of Persia and saved her people from annihilation, is loaded with intrigue and drama. But that doesn’t necessarily make it comfortable reading.

Even in its earliest days, it had mixed reception. The Jews at Qumran ignored it; the Alexandrian Jews added extra passages to make the story more normative to Jewish ideology; and whoever translated the Hebrew into Greek “corrected” the original by (for example) pervasively inserting references to God.[1]

Likewise today, the book’s reception amongst Christian audiences faces tension. However, the topics now seem less concerned with whether Esther kept Torah, and more concerned with the justice (or otherwise) of patriarchy and warfare. Even so, the story remains immensely popular, with commentaries and Bible studies vying to interpret how Esther and Mordecai’s actions are exemplary for the modern Christian.

And in the middle of this, every now and then I see someone drawing attention to Vashti, who was queen before Esther, and they commend Vashti for her thoroughly feminist refusal to be a spectacle for the drunken king.

But is women’s equality what the author of the book had in mind, and if not, how much are we helped when we look at her through a feminist or egalitarian lens? These are the questions I want to explore in this post. Continue reading Why egalitarianism can’t reclaim Vashti and Esther — and doesn’t need to anyway

On telling wives and girlfriends about their partner’s misogyny – please be careful

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Photo credit: rawpixel on Pixabay

The thought of getting your own back feels great. Some random guy sent you a lewd unsolicited message and a quick flick through his timeline shows that you’re probably not the first woman he’s tried this with. His comments ooze with ego and a grossly misplaced sense of entitlement. You see it. You’re fed up with it.

And after a little digging you’ve found out who his wife, girlfriend or play-partner is.

You relish the thought of busting this guy and seeing this woman triumph over him in a blaze of fury.

But as satisfying as the thought is, is it realistic? Continue reading On telling wives and girlfriends about their partner’s misogyny – please be careful

I met Sheila Gregoire! And we talked about sex, consent and blogging over ice cream.

Glass bowl of pink ice cream on a wooden surface with the words: I met Sheila Gregoire! And we talked about sex, consent and blogging over ice cream. workthgreymatter.com

So, Sheila Gregoire came to the UK on holiday and WE MET UP!

We had a great chat over ice cream and it was wonderful hearing her vision for her platform and her take on recent events in the marriage/sex blogging world.

So, if you’ve not heard of her, she runs To Love, Honour & Vacuum.

Her topic is sex (for married, Christian, heterosexual couples) and she finds that a lot of people come to her blog for sex and begin to deconstruct a number of their (false) complementarian beliefs. Which is an absolutely fabulous work. Continue reading I met Sheila Gregoire! And we talked about sex, consent and blogging over ice cream.

Ever had a moment when you glimpsed how amazing Jesus is? I just had one. (Whilst studying Deuteronomy. I know, I’m weird)

Picture of woman from behind, sitting in church pew, with large Orthodox icon at the front of the church. Text: Ever had a moment when you got a glimpse of how amazing Jesus is? I just had one. (Whilst studying Deuteronomy. I know, I'm weird) workthegreymatter.com

When I was in my teens, I had a somewhat unorthodox rant with God.

“Why do churches go on and on and on about Jesus?” I said. “It’s ‘Jesus this, Jesus that,’ wherever I go! Why? It’s not like he’s the be-all-and-end-all!”

As soon as I said it, I felt the Holy Spirit give what I can only describe as a polite cough next to me. “So, what do you think he meant when he said he’s the Alpha and the Omega?”

I groaned and threw my hands up in the air. God: 1, Christine: 0. There was no winning the argument, but I was still dissatisfied with how churches only ever seemed to talk about Jesus. Continue reading Ever had a moment when you glimpsed how amazing Jesus is? I just had one. (Whilst studying Deuteronomy. I know, I’m weird)

But if I have not consent… (a poem inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:1-8)

Two lovers standing facing each other, silhouetted against sunset with the words: If I have not love... a poem inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 workthegreymatter.com

And now I will show you the most the most excellent way.

If I speak in compliments, or confessions of undying love,

but have not consent,

then my words are mere noise and intrusive.

 

If I have sexual prowess,

and know all of a person’s bodily responses,

if I can give orgasm after orgasm,

but have not consent — I’m no lover at all.

 

Continue reading But if I have not consent… (a poem inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:1-8)

Why do Methodist evangelicals insist that all sex outside marriage is ‘sexual immorality’? Because it’s not in the Bible.

Text on purple, white and black swirly background: Why do Methodist evangelicals insist all sex outside marriage is 'sexual immorality'? Because that's not in the Bible. workthegreymatter.com

The Methodist Conference in Great Britain recently commended a report about marriage and relationships, God In Love Unites Us, by 247 votes to 48. The headlines have focussed on how this report commends same-sex marriage, but it’s actually much broader than this. For example, it also discusses cohabitation, developing resources for married people, and even developing liturgies for when relationships end.

Meanwhile, Methodist Evangelicals Together have issued a statement and article in Premier Christianity saying that the report was one-sided, ignored testimony, and biblically unsound.  They’re calling on evangelicals to “make the case for a biblical view of marriage and relationships” rather than echo society’s views. [Edited to add: I should probably caveat here that that not all Methodist Evangelicals agree with the stance that MET has taken. Certainly, I saw tweets to the contrary as the report and article came out.]

Now, I might have my own problems with the report (the section on good sexual relating doesn’t mention consent), but I also recognise that it’s attempting to tackle and contextualise big and very sensitive issues, whilst still being accessible to read. And on the whole, I reckon does very well at this. What’s more, far from being unbiblical, I think the report is conceptually groundbreaking in how it de-couples sexual ethics from marriage.

Make no mistake, the report doesn’t give a free-for-all. For all my talk of ‘groundbreaking’, much of what the report says about sex is still well within the bounds of Methodist evangelical sexual ethics. It explicitly says “promiscuous, exploitative or demeaning” sex is unacceptable and emphasises exclusivity (albeit, not marriage) as a pre-requisite for sexual flourishing.

As such, the report places itself outside of much sex-positive thought, including any discussion of, for example, BDSM or polyamory. I’m not going to debate that in this post. In fact, right now, I’m not interested in going over same-sex marriage (though you’ll probably be able to guess where I stand).

What I want to ask is simply this:

Why do evangelicals insist on directly linking extra-marital sex to sexual immorality?  Continue reading Why do Methodist evangelicals insist that all sex outside marriage is ‘sexual immorality’? Because it’s not in the Bible.

“Just don’t do it” review: a zany swipe at abstinence culture — but can it find its audience?

Flyer for 'Just don't do it' by Beside Ourselves collective, on a black background. The flyer says 'Sex. Celibacy. The Church' and has two women on it, facing the camer. One is dressed as a bride; the other in a tracksuit. The bride is holding a large 'no entry' sign over the top of the other woman's legs. There's also large text: "Just don't do it review: a zany swipe at abstinence culture - but can it find its audience?" workthegreymatter.com

Where do I begin? This is a two-woman show about the failings of church attitudes towards sex and sexuality, complete with parodied worship lyrics, a chicken wire wedding veil, and vagina hand-puppets.

I got to see the Beside Ourselves Collective, with Kate Mounce and Eleanor Young, at the ‘Out of Control’ conference organised by Natalie Collins in March 2019. The conference had gathered a number of Christian speakers and artists to discuss gender violence and the church, with Natalie enthusiastically chairing and uttering words like “vagina” and “clitoris.” This play was performed just after lunch and with its savage commentary on purity balls and abstinence-only education, it was a fabulous fit for the conference.

But more than that, the show took all my emotional armour away, evoking buckets of tears and reams of hand-written notes which I pressed earnestly into Kate’s and Eleanor’s hands before I scurried away home.

Yeah, I didn’t really pay attention to the speakers in the afternoon.

Anyway, the play has finished its tour, but I still figured it would be worth writing up what I made of it. Its subject matter is very much in my blogging lane. Continue reading “Just don’t do it” review: a zany swipe at abstinence culture — but can it find its audience?

Does Good Omens promote the Gospel? Not quite, but it comes close

Book of Good Omens, brown cover, hardback, by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, on black background with the text "Does Good Omens promote the gospel? Not quite, but it comes close..." workthegreymatter.com

This is the second of a pair of posts about Good Omens. I’ll start with a quick recap of where I got to in the previous one, and don’t worry, this post is half the length of its predecessor.

There was this bit:

We should appreciate then that the story is about misfits trying to change the establishment, far more than any modern concepts of witchcraft. In fact, all the heroes, by their very nature and identity, transgress the bounds of acceptability in one way or another.

And this bit:

The question for critics, if they can concede that Good Omens is a good piece of storytelling, is whether its transgressive core is against Christian belief. Because let’s face it: disobedience, mischief and rebellion aren’t exactly renowned Christian virtues.

OK, let’s get stuck in. Continue reading Does Good Omens promote the Gospel? Not quite, but it comes close

Does Good Omens promote Satanism? Wow, OK, let’s talk about this.

Hardback book, "The Quite Nice and Fairly Accurate Good Omens script book" adapted from the novel, by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, on black background with the text "Does Good Omens promote Satanism? Wow, OK, let's talk about this" workthegreymatter.com

It’s easy to guffaw when a bunch of anxious conservative Christians launch a petition calling for Netflix to cancel a popular show. Especially when that show, the recent adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s and Neil Gaiman’s book Good Omens, was actually a joint work from Amazon and the BBC.

But if we can reasonably assume that these concerns will persist even in the face of Netflix’s promise not to make any more, let’s ask the question in all seriousness: does the show make Satanism ‘appear normal, light and acceptable’? Does it mock God’s wisdom?

In my habit of writing long posts, I’ve split this one into two parts. Part 1 digs into the genre of Good Omens and what that does and (more to the point) doesn’t say about Satanism. In Part 2, I focus more on the faith angle, looking at the theology of challenging norms and asking how closely Good Omens fits with this. Continue reading Does Good Omens promote Satanism? Wow, OK, let’s talk about this.

To my egalitarian friends: please don’t hate on the Old Testament law (or at least, not on my blog)

Ancient Hebrew manuscript showing extract from Exodus with the words superimposed: To my egalitarian friends: please don't hate on the Old Testament law (or at least, not on my blog)

Photo credit: Tanner Mardis via Unsplash

In fairness, no one has actually come to my blog and ranted about the Old Testament laws. So, this post probably isn’t aimed directly at you.

That said, I want to get more and more into writing about them and I could easily imagine many egalitarian Christians looking at me baffled and asking why I would bother at all. That in itself is not so much a problem; it’s great when people ask genuine questions. The difficulty I want to avoid is people saying things up front like, “Yeah, but we’re under grace now,” or “Moses was a misogynist.”

I have no problem sharing a high-five with anyone who believes women are equally as capable of leading as men are; I have no problem sitting with someone who believes that Jesus was the fulfilment of the Old Testament law. But I don’t think egalitarians need to disregard the Old Testament, or the Torah (or those deeply uncomfortable Deuteronomy laws) in order to make their case.

Instead, I think the egalitarian standpoint (that’s the idea men and women might be different but are still equally capable of leadership) is stronger when it has an integrated understanding of the Old Testament, its stories and its laws. This is why I want to write about them.

So my ask is this: if you’re one of my allies, and you agree with what I have to say about consent etc, please don’t pile on with how the Old Testament is irrelevant or perverse. Continue reading To my egalitarian friends: please don’t hate on the Old Testament law (or at least, not on my blog)