This morning I followed a friend’s Facebook link to a Gospel Coalition blog post. Here is the post I read. It’s hard to summarize, but the basic topic is the “good, God-honoring, and body-protecting authority and submission between husbands and wives.” That part sounds not so bad, but the blog post quotes a guy named Douglas Wilson who says:
In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage.
You can go to the post to read the quote in a bit of a fuller context, but I was still amazed to read this at a site that is usually as exegetically careful as the Gospel Coalition. Once you’ve read the initial blog post, I’ve reproduced the comment I left at that site here:
This, of course, is the most difficult part of the initial quote:
In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.
A key concept of discourse analysis (Steve Runge talks about this with reference to the Greek New Testament) is that “choice implies meaning.” So instead of the Biblical Hebrew “goes into,” Wilson chose “penetrates.” Instead of “establishes/builds,” he chose “colonizes,” etc. It’s his prerogative as an author to choose those words, whether one likes them or not.
The problem is, each of those words has meanings associated with them, whether we want them to or not. This is true whether or not a word *should* mean a certain thing. (I’m thinking of Jared’s comment, “It is difficult to understand, I’m sure, when they are defined with violence in mind. In this isolated passage Wilson has ruled that out.”)
I don’t agree that Wilson has sufficiently ruled that out (that last paragraph when he speaks against “devours” is too short to do that, but maybe the rest of Wilson’s work does?). But even if he has ruled out violence, his *choice* to use especially *colonizes* is confusing. As the immense and growing field of post-colonial literature attests, colonization has left untold trauma in its wake. And, yes, colonization was all too often violent. Rape often occurred as part of colonization, so that choice of word (remember, choice implies meaning) in this context (speaking about rape–even if against it) was particularly surprising and probably did not help the author’s case at all.
Also, Wilson’s saying “the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party” is just bizarre. Besides seeming like an unwarranted barb against egalitarians, what seems to be implied (with that sentence contextualizing the next two) is that there is no way (“cannot”) for *both* parties (“egalitarian”) to be *pleasured* (“pleasuring party”) all the time, since one is busy “penetrat[ing]” (with pleasure) and the other (merely) “receives” and “surrenders” (implied: even if she doesn’t receive pleasure from it?). You can see how it’s not a far leap in the reader’s mind from there to rape imagery, whether Wilson means this or not. I’m certainly not accusing him of anything. But it was, at best, a bad choice of words.
Is it egalitarianism that he is speaking against? Or is it against the idea of man and woman both having pleasure in sex? In other words, would Wilson approve of a “complementarian pleasuring party where the man penetrates and the woman receives, both receive pleasure, and if one does not, per I Cor 7:4-5, both stop out of mutual love for each other?” I’d assume he would, based on these comments above.
But “surrenders” in this context, especially when used unidirectionally and paired with “colonizes”–IF Wilson means to apply them specifically to the sex act, which it seems he does–is an unfortunate choice of words. If/when there is any “surrendering” in sex, it goes both ways, as the apostle Paul points out. (I know Paul is talking about *not* having sex, but his larger principle from I Cor 7:4 surely applies to having sex, too.) Neither has authority over his/her own body, but yields it to the other. “Colonizes” and “surrenders” are pretty difficult to square with this.
UPDATE: A reply and my reply to the reply here.