How I used to interpret Deuteronomy 22:13-21, and how I explain it now (in fewer than 500 words)

Picture of a bride with her eyes closed, standing against a white flowing veil-like background with the words: How I used to interpret Deuteronomy 22:13-21... and how I explain it now Summarised in fewer than 500 words. workthegreymatter.com

Deuteronomy 22:13-21 is one of the scarier passages for impressionable young Christian women, as it seems to hold up pre-marital sex as a crime punishable by death. Even for married women, such as myself, the passage can be puzzling: hymeneal blood following intercourse is a notoriously unreliable proof of virginity.

Well, having just published 2,600 words explaining this law (and that doesn’t count the footnotes), I thought I’d give the short version. Here it is in fewer than 500 words: Continue reading How I used to interpret Deuteronomy 22:13-21, and how I explain it now (in fewer than 500 words)

About that virginity test in Deuteronomy 22: it’s not what you think

Picture of a bride with her eyes closed, standing against a white flowing veil-like background with the words: About that virginity test in Deuteronomy 22:13-21... it's not what you think. Forget the hymen. This was about power. And money.. workthegreymatter.com

There was some justifiable outrage recently when rapper T.I. said that he had a gynaecologist annually test that his daughter’s hymen was still intact.

Leaving aside the brutal, if not fatal, penalties that women may suffer even today if they lose their virginity in a socially unacceptable manner, T.I.’s attitude is reminiscent of Old Testament times.

Or is it?

CONTENT WARNING for discussion of murder and toxic purity culture.

Deuteronomy 22:13-21 is one of the scarier passages for impressionable young Christian women, as it seems to hold up pre-marital sex as a crime punishable by death. Even for married women, such as myself, the passage can be puzzling: hymeneal blood following intercourse is a notoriously unreliable proof of virginity.

So, do we:

  1. Take Deuteronomy 22:13-21 as nevertheless prohibiting all pre-marital sex,
  2. Write it off as an ancient relic, void of Christian love as we know it, or
  3. Say there’s got to be more here than meets the eye?

In case you hadn’t guessed, this post is all about option 3. (If you want a summary in fewer than 500 words, click here.) Continue reading About that virginity test in Deuteronomy 22: it’s not what you think

On consent for sex in the middle of the night

Picture of the ocean at night with moonlight reflecting off the water, with the words: On consent for sex in the middle of the night (a response to another Christian blogger who I hope you haven’t heard of) workthegreymatter.com

A video of this post is also available on YouTube.

The middle of the night is not usually a good time to do things other than sleep. Lack of sleep makes us tired and most of us don’t get to snooze during the day. That said, sometimes our sense of nocturnal fun means we make exceptions.

Something you’ll hear me say is that marriage doesn’t give spouses a right to sex, but rather a right to approach each other for sex. So, in theory, sex in the middle of the night is on the cards.

Problem is — if your spouse is asleep, how do you know if it’s OK to have sex with them?

Well, for starters it is never ok to have penetrative sex with someone whilst that person is asleep!

Not even if that person is your spouse. Continue reading On consent for sex in the middle of the night

On wives ‘depriving’ their husbands of sex because she ‘doesn’t feel like it’

(…and marital rape, 1 Corinthians and ‘disciplining your body’. This post is a response to another Christian blogger who I hope you haven’t heard of. I’ve made two videos covering this post on my YouTube: part 1 is here and part 2 is here.)

Photo credit: BreathlessDesign on Pixabay

There is this idea amongst certain Christians[1], that if a husband feels like sex and his wife is there, then she should habitually allow him to have sex with her even when she doesn’t feel like it. ‘Wives mustn’t deprive their husbands,’ they say, quoting 1 Corinthians chapter 7.

The problem with this kind of teaching is that it normalises prioritisation of the husband’s wants and needs over the the wife’s wants and needs, and it ignores the asymmetry of men’s and women’s bodies.

It’s also not what Paul was saying when he wrote to the church in Corinth. Back then, Christians had this idea that you were more holy if you abstained from sex continuously. But Paul was like, ‘Er, no. Husbands and wives shouldn’t deprive each other except by mutual consent.’

Why did he write that? Because, amongst other reasons, he knew that sex is one of the ways that spouses can celebrate their intimacy together. So unless there’s some adverse circumstance, it doesn’t make sense for couples to continuously abstain from this physical act of mutual affirmation. And I would agree.

That said, you can’t physically affirm someone when you feel that they pressure you, or ignore you, or use you.

And sometimes that’s how wives feel when they’re approached for sex. Continue reading On wives ‘depriving’ their husbands of sex because she ‘doesn’t feel like it’

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

Picture of woman sitting outside with her eyes closed and a slight frown, holding a closed copy of the Bible, with the words: Why do I care so much about the Old Testament rape laws? workthegreymatter.com

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?

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

Picture of woman looking at her phone, not smiling, with the words: He sent you a lewd message. Now you want to tell his wife. OK... but please be careful. workthegreymatter.com

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

An open letter to my pro-porn friend: ethic impossible?

An open letter to my pro porn friend: ethic impossible?

Dear Amy,

Very near the end of our conversation you asked me what I think of porn.

You asked me this, knowing that I don’t masturbate. You asked me, knowing that I’m a Christian and committed to my husband in a lifelong, monogamous relationship. And you asked, knowing that a lot of my good friends are strongly anti-porn.

For a moment, I hesitated. I wondered what I could say, or how I could say it, that would be congruent with what I believe, but wouldn’t be an affront to you.

You, after all, are very different to me.

You masturbate frequently. You earn money reviewing vibrators and dildos on your blog! You’ve gone from agnostic to atheist, you have little love of the institution of marriage and you’re polyamorous. Meanwhile, you’ve got plenty of friends who really quite like porn.

So, um… actually it meant a lot to me that you felt able to ask. Continue reading An open letter to my pro-porn friend: ethic impossible?

How the word ‘proxy’ helps me talk about equality

Night sky with stars and planets above a black mountain
Photo credit: Martin Jernberg https://unsplash.com/@martinjernberg

Over the last few years I’ve found that there are some words that I’ve started to use or think about more frequently. They’re little tools, like an adjustable wrench or an alum key, that I never much needed when I was growing up, but are now really handy. Probably because I’m more purposeful and aware when it comes to theological deconstruction and reconstruction.

‘Proxy’ is one of those words and it’s particularly helped me as I’ve thought about, and talked about, equality. Continue reading How the word ‘proxy’ helps me talk about equality

Let’s talk about that Deuteronomy 22 law where a girl marries her rapist. Because it’s not about marriage or sex.

Juliet from 1996 20th Century Fox adaptation of Romeo & Juliet, with quote "Proud can I never be of what I hate" and text "Let's talk about that Old Testament law where a girl marries her rapist"
Background picture of Claire Danes, taken from the 20th Century Fox 1996 adaptation of Romeo & Juliet.

CONTENT NOTE: This post has general discussion of murder, rape, parent-perpetrated domestic violence, forced marriage and child marriage.  

‘Proud can I never be of what I hate’
– Juliet

Juliet’s words sum up the reaction of many women when they read a certain law in Deuteronomy 22.

The law I’m thinking of is this one:

If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.
– Deuteronomy 22:28-29 (NIVUK)

In a world even remotely aware of consent and women’s bodily agency, this law makes no apparent sense. How, how, how can it be good for a woman to have to marry – and have sex with – a man who raped her? How can a law be good when it means women – often children – are forced to marry? How can a marriage be good, when its origin was an act of violence?

Or, to take Juliet’s words, how can a woman expect to be proud of being married to someone she hates?

You might have heard the apologist arguments before: it was a different culture, virginity in a woman was a big deal, no one else would marry a raped woman, sex was thought to constitute marriage.

Well, guess again. Because I don’t think this law is about marriage or about sex.

To explain what I’m talking about, let’s have a look at the scene in William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, where this quote comes from.

(Grab a cuppa, this post is 3,000 words long – or over 4,000 if you read all the footnotes.)

Continue reading Let’s talk about that Deuteronomy 22 law where a girl marries her rapist. Because it’s not about marriage or sex.

10 uncomfortable realities in Morgan Freeman’s statement on sexual harassment

10 uncomfortable realities in Morgan Freeman's statement on sexual harassment

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations and the #MeToo movement, a story broke recently where eight women accused Morgan Freeman of inappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment.

His initial response was:

Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I am not someone who would intentionally offend or knowingly make anyone feel uneasy. I apologize to anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected — that was never my intent.

Still, the story didn’t go away and a few days later he issued a second statement.

His words illustrate uncomfortable realities about sexual harassment, power imbalances and how our society responds to these cases. And I have some thoughts about all that.  Continue reading 10 uncomfortable realities in Morgan Freeman’s statement on sexual harassment

Books of 2017: Titles of interest to egalitarian Christians

1 Corinthians 11:3. Ephesians 5:22. If you’ve been anywhere near the arguments about complementarianism you’ll probably know what these verses say about women without having to look them up. Even if you don’t, you’ll definitely be familiar with what people have said they mean.

Several of my reads in 2017 were about the role and place of women. There were moments I was ready to write very long thank you letters to the authors; other times, I filled the margins with angry scribbles. Here are some short reviews of:

  • The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity
  • The Meaning of Marriage
  • God’s Feminist Movement
  • Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves
  • Why Not Women?
  • Scars Across Humanity

Continue reading Books of 2017: Titles of interest to egalitarian Christians

Books of 2017: ‘The Twilight of Cutting’ taught me about more than FGM

From theology to anthropology to fiction, these are my books of 2017. I didn’t like all of them, and I didn’t read all of them from cover to cover. But in this post (and the next three), I’ll share some thoughts on what I made of them.

The number one spot belongs to The Twilight of Cutting and it warrants a full blog post in its own right.

Written by a Bosnian woman who works as an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Cornell University, it is a stunning study of the complexities of discourses surrounding female genital mutilation (FGM), which is also known as ‘cutting’.

It’s thick, it’s heavy, it’s academic. I read the first ten pages and thought, “OK, that was a fairly comprehensive intro” – only to realise the introduction was 50 pages long. But even from what I was able to understand (and I did read it all) this book profoundly shifted my understanding of the world.  Continue reading Books of 2017: ‘The Twilight of Cutting’ taught me about more than FGM

Modesty 101: Are dress codes helpful or harmful? — Ezer Rising

I just remembered that I can reblog from other sites. So, here is part 2 of the modesty series I’ve been writing for Ezer Rising.

by Christine Woolgar It might have escaped your notice, but Hogwarts has a dress code. In having a uniform, Hogwarts’ follows mainstream practice in UK primary and secondary schools (that is, those for pupils up to the age of 16). Uniforms certainly differ, but regardless of how a school is funded, they all have […]

via Modesty 101: Are dress codes helpful or harmful? — Ezer Rising

Modesty 101: modesty is not about clothes, rather glory and context

Modesty 101 fig leaves

So… the fabulous Sierra White has asked me to share some thoughts on modesty for her Facebook page Ezer Rising (and blog: Ezer Rising), which (if you didn’t know) is committed to sharing content about women’s equality from a Christian perspective.

First thing I’ll say is that I’m going to approach modesty in a way that I haven’t seen done elsewhere. Not because other ways are necessarily wrong or flawed, but because different ways of looking at things work for different people. And sometimes a different perspective can help us appreciate things that we hadn’t seen before.

For the Christians reading this, this also means I’m not going to start with Bible passages to make my case. I love the Bible, but if we start with a question like “What does the Bible say about modesty?” then it’s very easy to look for the word “modesty” and find ourselves constrained to considering only a few passages. Instead of doing that, I’ll step back and ask “What is modesty?” You can then go away and weigh my ideas against what you find in the Bible. (Or not, if the Bible isn’t really your book.)

So: modesty.  Continue reading Modesty 101: modesty is not about clothes, rather glory and context

Gary Thomas’ claim that Christians should have more children is unbiblical

Pair of ducklings

Gary Thomas recently published an article “Does God Care How Many Children We Have?” It’s one of those really banal questions that people only ask when they have a poor, flat, empty view of God.

Of course he cares.

God has emotional investment in every area of our lives – because he has emotional investment in all of us as people.

Oh, but that’s not what Gary was getting at.

The question he really meant to ask was this: “Should we allow God’s desires to influence our decision when we consider how many children we have?” I’m not exaggerating when I say that his answer opens himself up to accusations of racism and sexism; but hey, for the purposes of this post, I’ll make the case for why it’s deeply flawed theologically. Continue reading Gary Thomas’ claim that Christians should have more children is unbiblical