Misogyny in Missions

by Jonathan Trotter on July 4, 2016

Ladies Who Lunch – With Men

That’s the name of an article I shared on Facebook recently, not knowing it would unleash a torrent of opinion. How should men and women interact? If they work together, what sort of rules should we put around their interaction? How do we safeguard marriages while treating women with respect?

Do our rules surrounding male-female interaction demean women?

It was an interesting discussion, and one that I think our community needs to have.

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Women as Traps
Are men and women who aren’t married to each other allowed to meet together? Ride in cars together? Be in the office alone together? If we allow those types of things, is an affair inevitable?

The author of “Ladies Who Lunch” references The Billy Graham Rule. She says, The ‘rule’ goes something like this: to avoid temptation, or the appearance thereof, it has been said that Billy Graham never meets with a woman alone. Graham has done his best to avoid solo encounters with females—whether over lunch, prayer, dinner, a meeting, or any other occasion.”

Many churches and missions agencies have similar rules and policies, and I believe they’ve typically been enacted with good intentions and without malevolence. However, I believe there are problems with strict enforcement, least of which is that it misses the heart of the matter entirely, treating women as traps.

These types of rules, broadly applied, end up sexualizing every woman I meet, dehumanizing her and turning her into an existential threat to my marriage. An illicit liaison waiting to happen. That, to me, is simply untenable.

Bill Gothard, Doug Phillips, Josh Duggar, all had VERY STRICT rules surrounding their interactions with women. Or at least that’s what it looked like.

The thing is, moral purity cannot be created through rules. And frankly, rules provide much less protection than we think while objectifying women more than we think.

These rules have been made by men for men. And typically, the conversations are filled with male voices. I’d love to hear from the women. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. 

 

Culturally Sensitive?
Perhaps some of these policies are the result of cultural sensitivity. Great. There’s certainly a place for that.
Perhaps the driving force is our fear of false accusations. OK, we can talk about that.
Or perhaps the rules exist because deep down, to the core, we believe that women are scary.

Well, I’m not really ok with that.

Protecting marriages is a great thing. Recognizing the great risk of moral failure is wise. But when that slips into discouraging men from having normal and healthy friendships with women, we’re in dangerous territory, and we end up robbing our communities of something both the men and the women need; healthy relationships with one another!

The difference is subtle, but just because something is hard to see doesn’t mean it’s not there.

 

Objectification Much?
Do our rules actually end up objectifying women? Often, I think the answer is YES.

Now, if you’re a guy and you don’t like what I’m saying, can I ask you a question? Do you watch porn? Do you watch movies or shows that objectify women?

Using women in private and then piously protecting yourself from them in public seems a bit disingenuous. Don’t punish women in public for your sin in private. Deal with your own stuff.

My wife experienced this in a local church before we met. Strict rules, with high levels of outward purity. And a respected leader who abused girls. He’s still a leader.

I experienced it too. Charismatic leader, courtship culture, very restrictive purity rules, and a leader who’s now been accused of sexually molesting scores of young women. He’s still a leader.

I’m NOT saying that every guy that disagrees with me on this has a porn problem or is an abuser. It’s just that I’ve come across too many men with “high standards” in public who hurt women in private. I’m not ok with that, and I’m pretty sure Jesus isn’t either.

 

Should we have rules?
Yeah! In Proverbs 5, the young man is warned about the immoral woman. [And I will certainly teach my daughters to take heed and avoid the immoral man!] This is the woman whose lips are “as sweet as honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil.” This is the woman who “cares nothing about the path to life.”

He is warned: “Stay away from her! Don’t go near the door of her house.”

The caution is to stay away from her door, not all doors. He’s not told to avoid walking by the houses of all women all the time. Just her house. She is dangerous. She’s looking for an affair and she cares nothing about the path to life.

This does not mean that all women are dangerous to him. Or me.

We shouldn’t check our brains at the door and avoid all women. We also shouldn’t check our brains at the door and embrace all women.

 

False Accusations
Strict rules on male-female interaction probably do provide some protection against false accusations, and there’s some value to that. Even so, we seem to be way more concerned with false accusations than Jesus ever was. He let women do stuff to him that REALLY caused a stir and ignited the burning glares of the religious elite.

He didn’t stop her and say “This looks bad. The important men are going to judge me.” No, he saw HER instead of the others. He saw what SHE needed instead of what he needed.

She needed love more than he needed respect.

There are lessons here for us.

 

Our Story
Early on in our marriage, I had to come to terms with the fact that my wife was in a male-dominated university studying engineering with a bunch of guys. She had male lab partners, she studied late on projects with guys; frankly, she was with guys alone a whole lot. I think my thoughts on this are greatly flavored by that experience.

And then, of course, I started studying nursing, which meant I was in a female-dominated world, with female lab partners, studying late on projects, etc. And then I worked as a nurse with a bunch of ladies.

And then, as now, we talked about it. There were no secrets, but there was trust. And it was totally cool.

Nowadays, I do a lot of member care and pastoral counseling, and since women seek out pastoral care too, I often meet with women.

If I’m going to have a meeting with a woman, Elizabeth knows about it. While protecting client confidentiality, I still tell Elizabeth when I’m meeting and where I’m meeting. There’s still trust.

 

Honesty as Protection
If I begin to feel any attraction, even slightly, for another woman, I tell Elizabeth. I name it and say it and steal temptation’s power. The light defuses the darkness.

When I do this, I’m not telling my wife that I’ve fallen in love with another woman; I’m telling her that I don’t want to. I’m acknowledging that there’s some attraction there, but I’m affirming our relationship, and I’m recognizing that in the telling, the temptation’s power is stripped and the threat greatly reduced.

Honesty. Trust.

We had conversations like this when I worked in a local church in America, when I was in nursing school, when I worked at a hospital, and now, when I’m working as a pastoral counselor.

Not talking about it doesn’t make it not exist. It just makes it a secret.

Women are not scary. Secrets are.

Talking about it brings it out into the open, and it also shows Elizabeth that I’m turning my heart towards her. And if I’m constantly turning my heart towards my wife, it’ll be much less likely to turn towards another woman. It’s locked on Elizabeth.

 

Conclusion
Rules are easy to make.

Rules make us feel safe.

Rules are simple to follow.

And rules are terrible at creating emotionally healthy, intimately connected human beings.

What if we spent more time growing intimacy on the inside of our marriages and less time trying to kill the threats on the outside?

What if we worked to develop trust and honesty within more than we fretted about the dangers without?

Sure, it might be scary, and it might be complicated.

But I think it’d also be really, really good.

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Questions
We come from a great variety of cultures and experiences, so please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

A friend of mine commented on my original Facebook post that perhaps this is an American thing. What do you think? Are these types of rules something that Americans are hung up on?

How have you been impacted by these types of rules?

How do we balance the desire to guard against false accusations with the mandate to love people well?

How do we ensure that women on the field (married or single) feel like equal players, with equal access to relationships and opportunities?

 

Further Reading:
Women are Scary (and other lessons modesty culture teaches men)

What is a Woman Worth?

A Letter to Singles

I asked a friend of mine to preview an early draft of this article. Her responses were so insightful and her perspective so unique that I asked her if I could publish them. In Misogyny in Missions {part 2}, Tanya Crossman gives us a whole lot to chew on.

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About Jonathan Trotter

Jonathan is a missionary in Southeast Asia, where he provides pastoral counseling at a local counseling center. He also serves as one of the pastors at an international church. Before moving to the field with his wife of eighteen years and their four kids, he served as a youth pastor in the Midwest for ten years and as an inner-city ER/trauma nurse for three years. He enjoys walking with people towards Jesus and eating imported Twizzlers. | www.trotters41.com | facebook: trotters41 | twitter: @trotters41

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