Why The Church Needs to Outgrow the Twirl

by jillst

Nearly a year ago now I started this blog. I never really thought much about what it was for. That’s why it looks sort of crappy.

It sat around while I did more important things, like eat a lot, watch TV, and post pictures of my dog. But today, I saw this article.

It’s a pretty typical piece of Christian writing. It takes a popular news story and discusses what it feels is a Christian perspective. In this case, that news story was about a reporter who asked a victorious female tennis star to twirl so the crowd could admire her whole outfit. It’s well written, and it’s from a site I admire – one that gives away lots of content for free.

But don’t let me be misunderstood. I think this article is bad. And it’s part of a problem that’s bothered me for a long time.

I’m not talking about the reporter who asked this woman to twirl – though I would have found that very insulting. He may have made a momentary mistake as he tried to fill air in a TV broadcast. He should recognise his mistake and move on, and we should recognise it and let him.

I’m not talking about the writer. I think he’s a good man, coming at this from what he feels is a good place. He clearly loves his daughters and encourages them to care about the things they care about. And for some little girls, that’s twirling. Good for them.

What I’m talking about is something I’ve noticed more and more on the internet, in my church, on beach mission and as I tried (I really tried, Lord) to teach girls at youth group to just calm down on the whole boy/dating/hotness thing. I’m talking about the idea some Christians perpetuate that women are fundamentally caught up in the way they look from birth. That they need a “strong man to protect them”. And that marriage and submission means becoming a man’s perpetual trophy rather than a loving, brave and thoughtful partner.

This is what I think is at the root of this article. And it’s this – not twirling – that made me angry.

This is not a momentary lapse – this is something the church has perpetuated for a long time. It perpetuates it in the way it does women’s ministry (another talk about being hot but modest, ladies) it perpetuates it in the way it talks about singleness (I can’t understand why you’re not married – you’re so pretty!) and (I think) worst of all, it perpetuates it when men talk about women (“she’s so hot hey, I’m really lucky”* or and “let’s face it, she’s easy on the eyes”** or [she] is inviting the world to see her beauty, to see the feminine glory of God)

But why. Why is this such a big deal? Why am I always such a whiny pain in the ass? I can’t answer that last one. But as to the first? To be honest, I just don’t see how Mr Reagan’s point (which I’d summarise as: woman should twirl because they fundamentally like twirling, and their feminine beauty is God’s glory) is supported by the passage he’s included:

The nations shall see your righteousness,
and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,

And we shall! We shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord! But I don’t think this means a physically beautiful crown. I think it means a crown of thorns. And I don’t think we’re to be a royal diadem in the sense of a royal trophy – I think we’re meant to be a royal diadem in the sense that we display God’s power and glory. All of us. Men and women, together as his chosen people.

but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.

Is this not about all of our standing before God? As his beloved, fought for, glory-bringing children? The bridegroom does rejoice over his bride! Because she is beautiful, sure. But I think the fundamental rejoicing here is because they’re now one, forever. Her beauty doesn’t bring glory – God does.

Which I guess brings me to my unpopular point. That if we take the bible seriously, and if there’s no other smoking gun passage that I’ve missed all these years that says a woman’s beauty is indeed her greatest offering, we need to change the way we talk about women and beauty.

Because the way we do it now hurts women.

It really hurts them. In all kinds of ways.

And unless you are a woman, you probably won’t know it.

Before you ask, I’m not saying there’s never a time to tell a woman she is beautiful. There are plenty of times. When you’re her boyfriend and you pick her up to take her to her year 12 formal. When you’re her dad and she’s upset because she doesn’t like how she looks in her braces. When she’s just walked down the aisle towards you. And lots of others besides, I’m sure. Because at all those moments she is so much more than just her looks. She’s excited and exciting, she’s brave and understanding. You’re glad she’s in your life. She knows that underneath those words is deep love and respect for all her other qualities. She knows those words mean “I care about you. I accept you. I support you. You’re amazing!”

But…there’s a certain Christian bro-culture I’ve seen grow and develop, subsidised by ideas about male headship, a dislike of political correctness, pastors who thought they were complimenting women and passages like Isaiah 62. It’s a culture where men wowzah in approval at pictures of other’s new girlfriends they’ve never met, where they discuss overweight women with a nose wrinkle, where boys at bible study are shocked when a girl gives a thoughtful, well-reasoned answer that contradicts their own. And it flat out needs to go.

It’s not what Mr Reagan’s article was talking about. But it’s where this misunderstanding – coupled with a little unintended misogony – leads. To valuing a woman’s beauty as her only glory, and a man as her protecter and her knight in shining armour, her perfect leader. And her beauty’s judge. Making women not sons, priests and co-heirs, but things to admire or revile based on a single pre-determined criteria.

I could go on. I could talk about rape jokes and back to the kitchen jokes and the assumption that women hate sex (maybe you’re just doing it wrong***). But I won’t because while they’re all connected, they weren’t the point.

So please, Mr Reagan. Encourage your daughters to twirl. But compliment them on their incredible design skills or their marvellous footwork, rather than their outer beauty. Because, as Christians say but never quite remember:

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Honour her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.” Proverbs 30:31-32

Good advice for tennis reporters and churchgoers alike.

*Actual quote from actual man
**Actual quote from actual man
***That was mean. I’m leaving it in to show I’m not perfect. And because maybe it’s true.