you can have it this way... or evangelicals' way
Reading Time: 8 minutes (Zuza Gałczyńska.)
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Hi and welcome back! In the evangelical world of all sins being equal, unapproved sex remains the sin that is the most equal of all. We got reminded of that truth recently in the story of Carl Lentz, a megapastor who lost his job for cheating on his wife. Today, let’s dive into why evangelicals fight against the ‘sin’ of unapproved sex more than all others combined.

you can have it this way... or evangelicals' way
(Zuza Gałczyńska.)

(My 2015 post “Building a Worldview Around Consent” is probably one of my all-time favorites in the history of this blog. I hope you’ll check it out.)

An Age-Old Scandal.

It’s a joke by now, evangelical men’s total inability to follow their own rules about sex. Some websites actually make funny listicles about all the Bible-thumping, strange-humping evangelical leaders caught with their pants down. I’m sure that choice keeps those sites very busy, because the more restrictive any evangelical leader’s sex rules are and the more concerned he is with other people’s sex lives, the more flagrantly he seems to break his own rules.

In the case of Carl Lentz, his job was apparently on the line before his admission of adultery. Hillsong’s official statement reads:

This action has been taken following ongoing discussions in relation to leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures.

So they were already apparently deeply concerned with something Lentz was doing. But it was his “moral failures” — evangelical code for unapproved sex — that did him in. They didn’t even go the farcical “pastoral restoration” route with him. No, they just shitcanned him. That decision should speak volumes about how absolutely ‘wish a mother would’ DONE they were with him.

Carl Lentz’ secret dalliances very clearly represented the last straw. His private infidelity mattered more to Hillsong’s overlords than how he publicly led a major branch of their megachurch complex.

And there’s a reason why evangelicals have those priorities.

A Quick Thought Exercise.

Think, if you will, of a sinful woman.

Imagine her in your mind. See her.

… Does this woman have unapproved sex?

She almost certainly does.

She’s not robbing banks or cheating on her state’s bar exam. No, she’s having unapproved sex.

There’s a reason why that’s the activity that comes to most people’s minds when that phrase is invoked.

All Sins Are Equal — But Unapproved Sex is the MOST Equal.

A sin is a thought or deed that makes baby Jesus angry. That’s all. It can be utterly victimless, like masturbation or angry thoughts, or it can be more on the scale of planetary genocide (unless Jesus does it or orders it). All that matters for anything to be a sin is that Jesus doesn’t like it.

Hell-believing Christians almost universally believe that any single sin, no matter how small or victimless, is more than enough to send any person to eternal torture in Hell. They’ve been teaching that since I was a small Catholic child. Evangelicals take this teaching way, way further, of course. They also get way more imaginative about the Hell they just know is the fate of those who defy their control-grabs.

But somehow, these Christians always end up emphasizing sex-based sins the most. For some reason, out of a whole dictionary list of things that baby Jesus hates, sexual sins seem to what he hates the most. It’s sure what bothers TRUE CHRISTIANS™ the most!

That said, it’s funny as hell to me to watch Christians do a hand-waving two-step around this incongruence. Oh, sure, some of ’em object to this conceptualization — but they’re very much in the minority.

The Standard Explanation.

It’s very easy to find a lot of that hand-waving.

Got Questions offers the best display of evangelical Christians’ incongruence about sex. Their main problem with modern sexuality is that it’s based in human rights and consent, rather than on who owns whose body and therefore gets to use it as they please. And they happily invoke a strawman of their own to go with this fuming. As they write:

Modern culture has tried to redefine sexuality as a personal right to be exercised any way an individual wishes. Sexual behavior is considered a personal choice, akin to the decision of whether to buy a house or rent a condo. At the same time, popular opinion has all but removed the word sin from our culture’s vocabulary. The only sexual expression considered “wrong” is what is deemed distasteful to the definer.

Actually, the only sexual expression decent humans consider “wrong” is that which is done without consent from all parties to the proposed festivities. Obviously, most people won’t consent to sex they consider distasteful. But hey, part of my own dedication to human rights tells me not to yuck someone else’s yum. Distaste isn’t the dealbreaker, therefore. Lack of consent is. So it’s not at all a personal right that can be used “any way an individual wishes.”

In addition to that all-too-revealing nonsense, Got Questions’ lengthy page contains all of the talking points I’ve heard Christians employ when trying to explain why sexual “sins” are the very worst of all, even though literally any “sin” condemns humans to eternal torture.

Words, words, words — and still they fail to make clear why this one sin is so much worse than any and all others.

Consent: Ickie.

The writer at that site offers the usual blahblah about how secular people “misuse” sex to the point that it becomes “deadly.” By “deadly,” of course, their writer means “abortion, poverty, rape, adultery, divorce, and pornography.”

Yes, because TRUE CHRISTIANS™ following an ownership-based model of human sexuality have literally never sought abortions, faced poverty, raped anyone, committed adultery, divorced their spouse, or consumed pornography.

Oh wait.

That writer also blahblahs about dedicated monogamous man-woman marriage being a model for Jesus and the church body of Christians generally. Sex represents what they think is some kind of “covenant” between their god and themselves. It cannot mean anything else, ever, to anyone. So even people outside their tribe must follow their rules about it, and all couples must adopt that view of sexuality in their private lives.

Come to think of it, that attitude certainly explains a lot of evangelical men’s objectification of women.


They end with more of the same stuff I heard during my entire time as a Christian:

Unrepentant sexual sin defiles the heart, making it impossible to experience the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. If we wish to be pure in heart, we cannot engage in sexual sin.

Oh, okay. Genocide is fine. But unapproved sex will utterly “defile” someone. Only unapproved sex can utterly disqualify someone from being “pure in heart.”

I’m sure every molested child and rape victim in the world is happy to hear that. Remember, consent doesn’t exist in the world of these Christians. They scorn those who consider a distasteful sex act off-limits.

Lemme tell ya, this “god of love” and “prince of peace” is looking less loving and peaceful by the moment.

Why Evangelicals Really Hate Unapproved Sex.

Every day at least one man admits they’re bad at sex by talking shit about WAP.

a hot take from Twitter about a popular 2020 song

Evangelicals in particular condemn unapproved sex as hard as they do for some important reasons.

First, the only way their men will get sex is if they can force, manipulate, or coerce it out of otherwise-unwilling women.

Evangelical men are the worst. Most of them are controlling, unfair, temperamental, spoiled, childish, and misogynistic times ten. They see their wives as mommy-maids they can fondle. Those traits makes sex with them an onerous chore, not a pleasure or a joy. Amusingly, the “myths” named in this post are all completely true, going by my own experience and that of my friends in church. Almost all of us claimed to have two-week-long periods — just to avoid unwanted advances from our domineering husbands.

So it’s not even a little surprising that evangelicals demand the adoption of a model of human sexuality based solely around men’s perceived ownership of women’s bodies. A consent-based model simply destroys those men’s sex lives.

(I’m just imagining some evangelical man reading in his recliner while his wife picks up his trash around him, and snorting “Hmph! Can you believe those librul scumbags? They think the only wrong sex is sex someone doesn’t want! Not like us! We know it’s all based on what **I** want! That’s the Jesus way! HAW HAW!” …And his wife sighs before replying in a soft monotone, “Yes, dear. The Jesus way.” And then familiar thoughts flit into her mind yet again about how nice it’d be to just pack her bags and leave for good. Those thoughts must be demons. She frowns and chants a thought stopper, and they go away — for a little while. She’s already building up to her big pre-bedtime headache.)

Without authoritarian control tactics, I don’t see many of these evangelical dudes getting laid. Even then, they ain’t getting it near as often as they claim and it’s nowhere near as good as they claim. Guarantee you that.

And the Other Big Reason.

Of course, that’s not the only reason why evangelicals push hard on controlling people’s sex lives — even the sex lives of people completely outside of their tribe. This one’s way more insidious.

Good sex creates extremely powerful feelings in a whole lot of people — while it puts the demands of their religious leaders into an all-new perspective. And the approved forms of sex, described above, don’t usually inspire those feelings.

Resentment, feelings of helplessness and obligation, and physical discomfort don’t tend to combine into good sex. But good sex releases feel-good hormones and pleasure signals in our brains. Those inspire feelings that can take us to heights of joy we never even suspected existed. They can drive us to go to impossible and hitherto-unimaginable lengths for the people who inspired those feelings in us.

Once we know that those feelings exist, all the nattering and finger-pointing and silly demands of religious leaders all shrink to a tinny, enraged little background buzz that barely even matters anymore. What does matter is getting that feeling again — and soon.

Even if the people having the unapproved sex aren’t paired-off lovers, the pleasure and giddy joy that comes from great sex are real, while nothing in Christianity really is. Indeed, the worked-up euphoria in the rowdiest Pentecostal revival I ever attended just cannot come close to the sheer cosmic FWAKOOOOOM of earth-shattering good sex.

Y’all, that is what really makes unapproved sex truly dangerous to evangelical leaders. Good sex is powerful and it’s real, which are both things their god isn’t. At all costs, then, sex must be corralled, defanged, and sanitized to the point of body horror.

The Nose Ring of Christianity.

On a more practical level, control of a person’s most intimate functions usually leads to total control of that person. Once you persuade them that a god demands they follow silly rules even in their most private moments, you can get them to do damn near anything.

In this way, Christians’ gatekeeping and control over sex works like the ring in the nose of a bull. Farmers put those rings in bulls’ noses because bulls are powerful animals that can kill a human being very easily. But a good tug on their nose ring brings them around quickly — because that ring’s in a very sensitive spot.

Out of all the other things people do and think about, very few are as personal as sex. Whether someone’s ace, het, gay, nonbinary, straight, or anything else, they will certainly have opinions and feelings about sex that grate up against evangelicals’ gatekeeping — and so must be brought into line with their tightly-restricted, heteronormative, male-ownership-based model.

Control the nose ring, control the bull.

Control the sexuality, control the human.

Leave it to evangelicals to see that situation as a divine ideal. I reckon if their god isn’t real, then their model drops everyone to the next level of owner-and-chattel — which is far more to their Dear Leaders’ liking.

NEXT UP: Why evangelicals in particular, with their big huge reasons for gatekeeping sex, can’t even follow their own silly rules about it.

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...

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