We Saw Your Boobs (and so did God)

When Seth MacFarlane did his song “We Saw Your Boobs”  about Oscar winners and female actresses who no matter how accomplished are reduced to their boobs  I thought to myself that though that song would never have been sung in a church it too closely echoed a sentiment among too many churches about women in ministry.

When I read this article Hey John Piper Is my femininity showing? it echoed sadness and frustrations I’ve had for years about how women are often viewed in the church. It reminded me of the question once asked to me by a pastor when I invited him to help me with my preaching. Wearing a then trendy poncho he asked “did you choose that outfit to cover your womanly figure?” He wasn’t asking because he was a concerned pastor worried about me being ashamed of being a woman, he was asking because I happen to be a preacher with boobs.

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We saw your boobs- the unspoken sentiment behind all the difficult decisions a woman preacher puts into deciding what to wear to preach in and thought in the back of your mind as you step onto the platform- “will I be seen as nothing more than my body? Will the people listening to me deliver the word of God that I’ve prayed over, studied, and worked hard at reduce me to what I’m wearing or how God has shaped me?”  On one end of the spectrum we’ve got someone like John Piper who at times needs to even put down a Bible commentary written by a woman lest thoughts pop into his head about her physically being a woman.  Even in an imagination while reading a Bible commentary “we saw your boobs.”

about to preach at Bethel College in IN earlier this year.

about to preach at Bethel College in IN earlier this year.

On the other end of the spectrum we’ve got another pastor Mark Driscoll who preaches about sex and describes his “smokin’ hot wife.” First I have to say- mad props to Driscoll for quoting Ricky Bobby from Talledega Nights in a sermon. But that’s about all I’ll give him props for. Recently I also read  I’m Sick of Hearing About Your Smoking Hot Wife a response by blogger Mary Demuth about how this attitude though intended to celebrate a healthy and vibrant sex life in marriage it ends up doing the opposite.  It ends up objectifying the wife for being nothing more than “smoking hot.”  For Mary an abuse survivor the idea of being smoking hot brings up painful memories of how she was objectified and abused as a young girl.  Shouldn’t church be a safe place for the many women like Mary who have been raped, abused, ogled or recipients of lewd comments because they are a woman? Even in church while trying to encourage others to have awesome sex with their wives everyone in the congregation is now thinking about Driscoll’s wife Grace’s boobs.  Once again “we saw your boobs” this time because your husband is preaching about how smoking hot you are and that presumably includes your lovely lady lumps as Fergie so eloquently sung about. Amazingly Grace herself is an abuse survivor! And yes, I cited an Atheist blog just to underscore how ludicrous this also seems to a person outside the Christian community.

On either end of the spectrum both of these views point to the same messed up, broken view of gender and women in the Christian community.  We saw your boobs and  we’re going to freak out because you have them and not allow women to preach or look at you directly in the eye.  We saw your boobs and hey! they’re smokin’ hot so instead of talking about how you’re a hardworking, resourceful woman like the one described in Proverbs 31 in the Bible we’ll talk about the body that God gave you.

proverbs printableblack

And that is the point my friends; God gave women their bodies.  God gave me this body with hazel eyes like my mother, sister and grandmother, genes that are predisposed to diabetes, and yes, I also have boobs. And those boobs served both of my babies well because I was able to nurse them and help them grow into strong children.  Yes, I know there are dudes that read my blog but I’m taking a risk to bring up a painful and unspoken area of brokenness so pervasive in the Christian culture. You might think about boobs reading this post but for God’s sake pray and work through any feelings of lust, fear or indifference that comes out.  We need you to understand how messed up this is to pray, repent and begin to see that God thought about boobs too.  He saw them when he formed me because he created me to look like this.  And that’s not bad, shameful, dirty or sinful or meant to be reduced to being smokin’ hot.

If I seem a passionately irked about this issue It’s because I’ve had to suffer both of these attitudes in trying to be obedient to be the preaching evangelist God has called me to be.  I’ve had men ogle me because of what I chose to wear when I preached. I’ve had men refuse to look at me when I preach. I’ve had men (and women) make comments about what is modest/fashionable/permissible to wear when I preach. And you know what I’ve concluded? God saw my boobs. And he was pleased because he made me in his image and has the right view of men and women- as his beloved children. Not only did he see my boobs, God saw the brain that he gave me that will earn a Masters Degree from Wheaton this month. God saw my heart that yearns for people to know his love.  He saw my ridiculous humor that inspired me to post this self-portrait on facebook last week because like me I knew friends needed a laugh when the news of the Boston bombing was unfolding.

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He saw my love of color, art and form and my delight at channeling my creativity into coming up with an aesthetically pleasing outfit to wear when I’m at the playground with my children or when I’m preaching before thousands of people.  The conversation about the role of women in the church isn’t simply about who is staying most true to scripture and theology about gender. Lurking behind those vehement conversations and arguments is the unspoken question- “how do men and women relate to one another as embodied beings?” How do we do this to the glory of God and honor the people he has made us to be?” It has got to move beyond legalistic rules and outward objectification.

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39 thoughts on “We Saw Your Boobs (and so did God)

  1. Thanks, Jess. I also was frustrated by Piper’s messed up logic that leads him to believe he can only learn from a woman if her femaleness is out of sight. I think this logic reveals a paradox in his beliefs about gender.

    Egalitarians are often caricatured by complementarians as claiming that gender makes no difference in who we are. I’ve often seen the argument that if you believe men and women should be equal partners in the church and in the home, rather than in a hierarchical relationship, then you also believe that men and women are basically interchangeable, and that the only differences between them are physical.

    While I believe in mutual submission in marriage and in all Christian relationships, and I believe women should be able to do pretty much anything in the church from organizing potlucks to preaching on Sunday morning to heading a team of pastors as they lead a church forward in mission, I also believe that men and women are different–not only physically but in other ways as well. I believe men and women do complement each other, and that’s exactly why we both need to have equal voice at home and in the church. (However, I don’t believe that this complementarity means that men and women are supposed to fit into certain stereotypes–each of is us, after all, an individual first, before we are a man or a woman— see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lauren-dubinsky/the-most-difficult-but-gr_b_2960095.html)

    So, Piper seems to believe that it’s OK for him to learn from a woman as long as he does not have to be reminded that the person he’s learning from is a woman. As if her femaleness doesn’t infuse everything she’s writing. As if what she is writing as she expounds Scripture is going to be exactly the same as what a man would write. As if a person’s physical body and experience in the world as a gendered person has no impact at all on her perspective of the Scriptures. Piper can read a commentary written by a woman as long as he can’t see her, because basically the only difference there is between a man writing a commentary and a woman writing a commentary is that a woman has boobs and a man has a penis.

    It’s sad the kind of logical contortions some people have to come up with in order to maintain a legalistic view of gender in the church.

    • Helpful thoughts Mindy- thanks for your comments. It’s true- who we are as gendered people infuses everything we do. We are made differently, distinctly and beautifully. I really had to show restraint writing this blog and not make snarky comments about what dudes wear when they preach or if the same questions crossed their minds “do my pecs look muscular in this shirt?” because I know they typically don’t think about it because they haven’t needed to.

  2. Girl, I love you, and your boobs! That wasn’t too weird, was it? Okay, I love that you HAVE boobs and are breaking down barriers for us ladies in the Believing world. I haven’t read Piper’s article, but it sounds like he has a personal problem with lust, and should be approaching God about that, and not blaming any woman for his personal struggles.

  3. Not weird at all April- I get you 🙂 I respect men such as Piper for wanting to keep their thoughts pure and not fall into temptation. But his perspective just goes waaay too far and seems extremely distorted.

  4. SICK article, Jess. So freaking proud to call you my coach, mentor, and friend. You know how relevant this is to my life right now and I’m glad to have a role model like you rocking ministry for the xx chromosome set. (This would make an excellent book chapter… just sayin’) 😉

  5. Sigh. I listened to the Piper podcast. 5 years ago, I would have heard it as purely his own complementarian perspective. What is different is that Piper’s podcast was critiqued on Her.meneutics at (an internet-induced?) cultural moment. The Smokin’ Hot Wives articles had just made their appearances and we were already feeling aware of the way women’s bodies are regarded by the average and the notable Evangelical pastors who are leading us down this track. (I’m facebook friends with a few and see the hot wife photos–gag). Meanwhile, some of us are also reading _Lean In_ and realizing that the church and vocational ministry has to be one of the hardest places to “lean In.” This is a cultural moment.

    I think where Piper’s podcast is problematic is that it exists amidst other cultural elements. The complementarian conversation is based on the idea of foundational truths in the Bible about how God made men and women. These understood truths lead Piper to need explanations for how and when to use indirect female leadership. But when you lay down what he said next to an article that tells you that pastors are commenting on their wives body and seductiveness as a focal point for the whole congregation, you have to ask what hope Piper’s view gives women at all. Our physical bodies are either a sexual purity threat or an Evangelical sexual trophy. Did Piper mean to say this? No, I don’t think so, but because of where the conversation was already heading, he did.

    My point is that I don’t think Piper thought about the larger conversation about women, their bodies, the messages we are currently receiving, and the on-going sins of the church on these issues. He seems to assume his audience was a bunch of men who really needed help on this commentary issue, even thought it was on a national podcast. I think this is the problem. More and more it seems that any “truths” that are delivered without cultural awareness and pastoral care are just unhelpful and often hurtful. I don’t expect complementarianism to go away, but I would love to hear pastors who hold to this view acknowledge the messed up cultural state of the church on these issues and show care and concern for the daughters who are born into this jacked up situation. I am horrified that my daughter could grow up in a congregation where the biggest honor is growing up to marry a pastor and become eye candy. I would like to hear more sensitivity and careful language when it comes to women’s bodies because of historical and ongoing vulnerabilities to rape, abuse, and self-hatred for our forms. I’m sure this is not the first time Piper shared his views on commentaries written by women, but our culture is always changing and it requires us to put our theology in conversation with the live issues in our midst. Of course, this also requires asking women about their experiences, which would require another Desiring God podcast.

    P.S. On the issue of divorcing the commentary from the female gender and form because it is indirect, well that is problematic on a whole other level. Imagine if someone read a book by my husband, but pretended he wasn’t Chinese American…

    • Lisa- thoughtful and eloquent as usual. I’m thankful for your voice and who God made you to be. You hit the nail on the head “our physical bodies are either a sexual purity threat or an Evangelical sexual trophy.” We need more than these two categories- Jesus help us find a way!

  6. Dare I be the first male to post, but thanks so much for writing and being you, Jess.

    And someday, I think we egalitarian men will be looking to you and others who have walked your journey in uncovering a feminine identity to help us discover a new masculinity in our embodied beings that is neither predicated on our junk, putting the other gender in a corner, but something that is built on being like Jesus.

    (I mean, we did get the incarnation in our gender…because we do need things to be specific for us…)

    Thanks again for writing, and keep on writing. I hope at least one encouragement from me (along with many others) to not stop you from being you.

    • Andy- way to be daring! I knew guys would be nervous about posting comments on this blog. Thanks for the encouragement to keep being me and writing what’s on my heart.

  7. I am a man. There are so many conflicting thoughts running through my head on how to comment on this or even if it would be profitable.

    Laying aside for a moment the doctrinal issue of how women should function in ministry (and both ‘complementarians & egalitarians believe that they do and should function in ministry), the thing that looms large is a complementary point to your own, that is, men are also embodied creatures and our bodies find your bodies to be exceedingly interesting. Men experience their bodies in a profoundly different way than do women to an extent it is difficult to describe. Put differently, we see your boobs whether we want to or not. We evaluate the sexual attractiveness of a woman whether we consciously intend to or not, although most men would not describe it quite this way. It has very little to do with a woman’s competence, professionalism, ministry acumen, or intelligence.

    There is more to say, but I will leave it there for now and wait for the slings and arrows to come.

    • TBC- Thank you thank you thank you for your comment! I really was hoping that some male voices would chime in and I appreciate your willingness to enter into the conservation. There will be no slings and arrows from me! I think your comment brings up a helpful point that needs to be considered in this conversation- men are also embodied creatures. As you say men find women’s bodies exceedingly interesting- as they should, God designed it to be that way. But just as everything in our world has been affected by the fall and the brokenness of sin the problem comes when a women’s body is valued by men or women more than anything else. Whether that is hyper-awareness so that a man or woman can’t focus on the words of God being preached because of an female embodiment, gnosticism that shuns any awareness of having a body, or obsessiveness that prizes physical beauty or smokin’ hotness above all other values. This is such a crazily complex issue and it was hard to know how to begin to address it. We need both mens and women’s voices, experience and humble dependance upon Jesus to know how to honor and serve one another and this world. We need to demonstrate that because of Jesus men and women see one another differently despite all the sin and baggage we are working through as embodied people.

      • I’m glad to know that my commentary is welcomed. It is a great ironic tragedy (but perhaps a predictable one) that in the wake of ‘women’s liberation’ which was purportedly to ‘free’ women, women’s value has come to be more and more limited to or defined by their bodies and access (or lack of access) to them. Instead of being freeing, it becomes degrading to the point that it is no longer the respectable ,”Mrs. Mark Driscoll” but the “smokin’ hot babe/wife” — a complex, competent, and relationally connected woman reduced to her value in the sexual market place. It is a description that makes me want to look up her picture on the net, though I have no rights to her. She has been made, by that description, an object, not a person.

        And many Christian women are caught in the cross-currents, some opting to dress in such a way that players can talk about the “Sunday morning night club” without any sense of irony, because what is worn there would not be out of place on floor of the dance club. Other women hide their bodies behind misshapen clothes in an effort at modest that really may be more an expression of shame at even being a woman and daring to have breasts. In both cases they miss that our embodied selves are holy vessels consecrated for God and (if married) for husbands. Therefore they are not objects for either shameful hiding or prideful display, but they are ourselves and all of it is for the Lord and the dress should therefore be “as fitting in the Lord” and of “a gentle and quiet spirit.”

  8. These are some really interesting points. I just want to say as a woman that at the Oscars we are seeing way too much of a lot of the womans ‘boobs’. Even though many are awesome actresses,directors etc they are not modest and are making a spectacle of themselves.Most have not met the Redeemer Jesus and that is the world’s way to get attention .I’m not condemning them I’m just making the point that yah we saw your boobs because you showed them to us.I have also dealt with this area in my life.We as woman have a shape God gave us but I do believe in being covered in a modest way.It really bugs me to see woman in church services in low cut outfits.Come on.

    • Hi Leslie- yep there are a lot of gratuitous scenes in movies often times for no apparent reason. And yes, modesty is important. What I am concerned about is when shame about being who God made you to be is veiled in seeming modesty. There isn’t anything wrong with wanting to be pretty, enjoy fashion or to wear clothes that are flattering to the form God has given you as long as it doesn’t become an idol for women or a way to get attention from men in an unhealthy way.

      • I agree.I think the Holy Spirit has to lead us what we should be wearing.I’m not about legalism.It’s just that modesty is in the Book and some times God’s people look like the world in that area. Thanks for opening up the discussion.

  9. This is awesome!

    As a young woman considering how God has called her to lead, this post and others about femininity and ministry are wonderful to read.

    As a young woman who is in her first relationship, this post is wonderful to read. Having a boyfriend brings up all sorts of questions and concerns, about womanhood and my body. What my role is in our relationship’s purity, what is his role.

    And I know this is on target, because just the other week, my best friend called me in a tizzy because *she was afraid to buy a bra that was not a minimizer bra.* She was worried about buying a bra that fit her and did it’s job well, because it was not a minimizer bra, and shouldn’t she as a Christian, do all she can to hide the fact that she has boobs? It made my heart break.

    I’m glad there are leaders like you who can speak frankly about the brokenness she sees.

    • ugh- minimizer bras. I seriously think wearing a bra that doesn’t fit correctly is a form of torture. you just feel awful and awkward all day whether it’s too big or too small. the girls need proper support! Glad you were encouraged and stopped by!

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    • Yep. biology. Having a husband I get it. Dudes like boobs. It’s just figuring out how to care for each other and not just deny or obsess about certain body parts.

  11. No one wants to be objectified and I do agree that calling your wife “smokin’ hot” in front of your congregation is generally inappropriate and unedifying. But does this issue really need to be so “crazily complex”? What about just doing what God calls you to do, going where He calls you to go, with humility and realizing that yes, we are in a fallen world and being a woman in the limelight of ministry means that we do have to be a little more modest than our peers (which we ought to be anyway since anything goes with the wardrobe these days)? Some men will understand; some women will understand; some of both sexes will not and think you have no place being where you are. As a woman in ministry, I don’t expect men to understand me, I don’t wait for it, and I don’t really want to be a part of their boys’ club either. I do not want to network with them; I do not want to spend an inordinate amount of time with them. Most of them are married and I do not want to be with them alone. I am a fan of not removing the ancient boundary (Proverbs 22:28) – yes, I realize the verse was not written in the context of relationships between men/women but I still think it espouses a worthwhile principle in this instance. Maybe I am missing your point. I just don’t think issues of gender need to be so confusing. Yes, I am hurt by being an anomaly in the church, being left out, etc. However, I choose to let the Lord promote me and fight most of the battle in prayer. Yes, men are screwed up. They need to remove their eyes from filth so it is easier to look at any woman (not just those in ministry) with pure eyes. Women will be objectified this side of heaven (not that it’s right, because it’s not); and even “the good guys” may at times be nervous at how to best protect themselves and the women with whom they associate in ministry, and may say awkward things because of this. Maybe I’m being naive, but I don’t know that analyzing it is really going to profit much.

    • rmo- I would point you to the comments people have left on this post to understand why this issue is crazily complex. As for doing what God calls you to do- yes- just do it, haters are gonna hate, etc. But we deal with hurt, pain, insecurity, judgement, wanting to please people more than God, trying to be ourselves but being scared to do so. That’s what makes it complex- figuring out how to just do what God calls you to do with joy, passion and freedom in who he has created you to be is a life-long journey.

  12. On the shame issue, though – I considered wearing a head covering when I go to other churches/my state denominational functions – because I don’t want to appear “out of line.” NO ONE IN MY DENOMINATION DOES THIS, and my pastor/pastor’s wife discouraged me from this. So…yeah…it’s hard to be a woman in front of an audience – I will give you that.

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  14. Of course I’m not in John Piper’s head, but maybe the idea of indirect/disembodied female leadership seems reasonable to him because strangers don’t regularly interact with him as if he is a masculine body first and a human being second. A lot of people say really dumb things because they cannot internalize the experience of being objectified regularly (not that they should have to).

    I live in a mostly black and latino neighborhood these days, and I’ve fallen into the habit of walking down the street with b—- face. The other day, a guy was like, “Hey, you know it’s okay to smile”. And I’m thinking, ‘You only get to say that because people don’t hit on you or make rude comments all the time!’ And besides, if I smile, then I just end up in an annoying conversation where some guy doesn’t know how to take no for an answer. There’s probably a bunch of cultural miscommunication going on because I’m asian and don’t know how to deal with such direct language.

    I know it’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it’s such a regular part of my daily experience that I think about it all the time.

    And then all these “progressive” young male church planters get up in the pulpit every Sunday and preach about how we should love and meet our neighbors more. But how the hell am I supposed to meet people who don’t see me as HUMAN?

    /end rant

    • Whoo! You’ve been thinking about that a lot! I agree- it’s really difficult to know how to be a friendly witness and not send the wrong message when dudes notice you. I have struggled with that too- it’s hard to know the difference between being safe and not encouraging unwelcome comments and being kind. Perhaps the next time someone yells a rude comment at you you can yell “Jesus loves you brother!” That would likely cut him short 🙂 Or, just keep up with the b—-face and (at first I thought you meant black face, and I was horrified!) and choose who you’ll engage with in your neighborhood. It’s difficult to objectify someone when you talk to someone- they are forced to see you as a person and not just a body.

  15. Hi! Longtime fan of Jessica’s here. Met you at Urbana. Loved you!

    Just wanted to add something positive to the conversation… I have had the privilege of knowing many godly men who do affirm women as teachers, and surprisingly, it’s been in the business world. My husband is one of those men, and we met in a leadership community business called LIFE that primarily focuses on bringing people to Christ and building stronger marriages and families. The leading ladies in that group dress “fitted enough to know you’re a woman and conservative enough to know you’re a lady.” Bring on the leopard print shoes! The men take notes when the women speak, and constantly affirm the ways they are leading in their own families and communities. The women respect and follow the leadership of the men after the pattern of the Trinity and 1 Tim 2.
    I’ve often thought the church would do well to imitate that, to me it’s a refreshing example of mutual respect to promote learning for all.

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