A pastor compared honeymoon sex to how "Christ penetrates his church"
Josh Butler's disturbing article on The Gospel Coalition's website is a master class in how not to write about sex
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Proving yet again that conservative Christians are incapable of talking about sex without being completely weird about it, Pastor Josh Butler has written an article for The Gospel Coalition linking sex with salvation and it’s rubbing (sorry) everyone the wrong way. (UPDATE: A working link to the article can now be found here.)
The Gospel Coalition, if you’re not familiar with it, is notorious for having the worst takes on the biggest hot button issues, from telling someone with a transgender colleague to never refer to her as “she,” to blaming the existence of bisexuals on “social contagion,” to claiming a man is no longer gay because his “identity is… in Jesus.”
But Butler decided to up the ante with his piece about sex.
He begins by mentioning how casual sex didn’t do much for him when he was younger… which is fine and relatable! But then things go off the rails fast.
… idolizing sex results in slavery. You can chart up your long list of ex-lovers and join Taylor Swift in telling the newest applicant, “I’ve got a blank space, baby, and I’ll write your name.” You can end up in the Egypt of a new romantic wasteland, more cynical and isolated than when you first began. Yet I’ve discovered a crucial corrective in the gospel that can lead us out into true freedom.
Sex wasn’t designed to be your salvation but to point you to the One who is.
It never occurs to Butler that some people are perfectly fine with casual sex. They aren’t traumatized by it. They don’t regret it. They have a great time. And that’s exactly what they’re looking for. You don’t have to feel the same way to understand that people can have different takes on this.
But it’s not enough that casual sex never worked for Butler. He needs to show you why sex within the context of marriage isn’t just better; it’s biblical. Just consider how sex is an act of generosity… for half of the people involved.
Generosity and hospitality are both embodied in the sexual act. Think about it. Generosity involves giving extravagantly to someone. You give the best you’ve got to give, lavishly pouring out your time, energy, or money. At a deeper level, generosity is giving not just your resources but your very self. And what deeper form of self-giving is there than sexual union where the husband pours out his very presence not only upon but within his wife?
There’s nothing Jesus loves more than a husband who jizzes on and inside his wife.
Even if we overlook the extremely specific language there, it’s messed up that the only definition of “generosity” within sex is the man ejaculating inside (and upon!) his wife. That’s literally “the best you’ve got to give.”
I guarantee if you ask any sex therapist—or anyone who has a healthy sex life—generosity in the bedroom would be defined by what you do for someone else.
Sex, as defined by Josh Butler, is something that’s purposely selfish. It’s about the man’s pleasure. That’s it.
What about the woman, though? Does she have a role to play here too? Of course! says Butler. God wants her to be a sexual homemaker, preparing space… for her husband’s semen.
Hospitality, on the other hand, involves receiving the life of the other. You prepare a space for the guest to enter your home, welcoming him warmly into your circle of intimacy, to share your dwelling place with you. Here again, what deeper form of hospitality is there than sexual union where the wife welcomes her husband into the sanctuary of her very self?
I swear, it’s not that hard to just admit sex is fun. Not everything needs a goddamn biblical tie-in to be enjoyable.
But Butler isn’t done yet! He hasn’t mentioned thrusting, much less thrusting in another language.
… The most frequent Hebrew phrase for sex is, literally, “he went into her” (wayyabo eleha). Translations often soften this for modern ears, saying he “made love to her” or they “slept together.” But the Bible is less prudish than we are, using more graphic language to describe what happens in the honeymoon tent.
That’s not an argument for why sex is good. That’s an argument for why Florida should ban the Bible before it gets into kids’ hands.
One Sunday morning, I learned how graphic this language can be. My friend Karen…
Oh no. Oh, God, no...
We were in Genesis 29, where Jacob marries Leah and Rachel, and the phrase wayyabo eleha shows up (we discovered) a lot! Karen has, you might say, a “Rated-G” personality: very prim, proper, and polite. We all saw her cheeks turn bright red, with a lot of awkward pauses, as she had to continually read the phrase “and Jacob went into her” over and over again.
First of all, why is Karen reading that chapter aloud without knowing what’s in it? That’s her fault. If Karen can’t handle what the Bible says, she shouldn’t be reading it.
Still, Butler makes it sounds like the entire chapter reads like erotica. It’s not! (It would be far more interesting if it was.) If you click on the very link he includes there, there are literally just two instances where the phrase “went into her” even shows up:
… But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and he went in to her. (29:23)
So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years. (29:30)
That’s it?! She couldn’t read those lines without turning red?! Why is Butler exaggerating how sexual all that is? He wrote how she had to “continually” read that phrase “over and over again.”
It. Shows. Up. Two. Times.
There are all kinds of things messed about that chapter of the Bible, but the sanitized language used to describe one guy having sex with two different women isn’t one of them.
With all that as background, Butler then moves on to discussing Honeymoon Sex.
On that honeymoon in Cabo, the groom goes into his bride. He is not only with his beloved but within his beloved. He enters the sanctuary of his spouse, where he pours out his deepest presence and bestows an offering, a gift, a sign of his pilgrimage, that has the potential to grow within her into new life.
… back in the wedding suite, the bride embraces her most intimate guest on the threshold of her dwelling place and welcomes him into the sanctuary of her very self. She gladly receives the warmth of his presence and accepts the sacrificial offering he bestows upon the altar within her Most Holy Place.
You see, kids, according to conservative Christians, a honeymoon is when two virgins spend their first moments of marriage with one person inside another, at which point—probably about 30 seconds into the act—the male “enters the sanctuary” marking his “deepest presence” inside of her and “pours out” a liquid-y communion wafer. Or, if you want to be extra creepy about it, “a sign of his pilgrimage.”
It’s telling that Butler refers to a woman’s vagina as the “Most Holy Place,” as if that’s the only part of her that has spiritual value. (Good luck finding any article on The Gospel Coalition’s website in which a woman’s brain gets the same description.)
The whole passage just gives off huge “penis homes” vibes.
There’s no mention of foreplay. There’s no mention of satisfying her needs. There’s no mention of how sex can still be meaningful without it leading to childbirth. And there definitely isn’t any mention of how deranged the underlying message is: Butler is just assuming both people are virgins, and they’re having sex for the first time on their honeymoon, and that everything is bound to be absolutely perfect, which for many virgins will absolutely not be the case. The Purity Culture mentality here is so damaging to so many people!
This is the sort of bullshit you write when you’re a Christian guy who has never spent any time thinking about a woman’s sexual desires. Sex, to Butler, is what a man does to a woman. Not with her. The pleasure goes in one direction. No other combinations are permitted. Procreation must be the end goal. And instead of just talking about the joy of the act, he’s trying to prose it up and wrap sex in biblical packaging.
Anyway, all of that leads us to Butler’s big revelation: Having sex with your wife is exactly like Jesus making sweet sweet love to a church.
This is a picture of the gospel. Christ arrives in salvation to be not only with his church but within his church. Christ gives himself to his beloved with extravagant generosity, showering his love upon us and imparting his very presence within us. Christ penetrates his church with the generative seed of his Word and the life-giving presence of his Spirit, which takes root within her and grows to bring new life into the world.
Thrust that church, Jesus.
Do it continually.
Do it over and over again.
Wayyabo eleha the hell out of that building until you unleash Your seed all over (and within) our bodies to the point where we all need holy cigarettes.
If there’s any truth to this strained metaphor, it’s that Jesus leaves a lot of people unsatisfied.
At least that’s the vibe on Twitter from people who can’t believe anyone would publish this garbage.
The saddest thing about this article is that it’s not just a one-off piece of trash. It’s an excerpt from a book! Josh Butler wrote an entire book about sex despite clearly knowing nothing about sex! And if you consider that the excerpts given to websites by publishers usually represent the best parts of the book, that means there are hundreds of pages that are somehow even worse than this!
Another writer, who had provided a blurb for the book, has retracted it in the wake of Butler’s article:
Villodas says, "I was wrong to write an endorsement for something I didn't fully read." Huh. That also turns out to be atheists' biggest criticism of most pastors.
Butler, his bio says, is also “leading a seven-week online cohort” on “the Christian Sexual Ethic.” Which makes about as much sense as George Santos teaching a class on honesty.
It just goes to show you that putting “pastor” in front of your name and claiming to be a Jesus follower will always override expertise for a certain group of very gullible Christians.
Interestingly enough, Butler was scheduled to present more on this subject at a conference this weekend called IF:Gathering, which is geared toward Christian women. His pre-recorded breakout session was titled “Beautiful Union: God’s Vision for Sex.” But after the publication of his article, he was apparently removed from the lineup.
That means the main image for the creepy sex article features the hands of two people who aren’t even married yet.
Looks like the person who picked that photo did as much research as Butler.
***Update***: The Gospel Coalition has now taken down the article with the excuse that it “lacked sufficient context.” The lack of context wasn’t the problem. The beliefs themselves were the problem. But you can read the original essay here.
***Update***: Another author who blurbed the book, Dennae Pierre, has retracted her endorsement:
She writes she only did "a quick skim and assumed his tone in pursuing God was more than enough to endorse this one."
Once again, a voice of Christian authority endorsed something she never read because she thought the overarching idea was valuable.
Just remember that the next time a Christian tells you the Bible is awesome.
***Update***: The Gospel Coalition says Butler has resigned from being a “Keller Center fellow.”
Earlier this week, we accepted Josh’s resignation as a Keller Center fellow. He will no longer lead an online cohort with the center nor speak at TGC23. While he will no longer participate in these events, Josh remains a beloved brother and friend whom we respect and care deeply about.
To our fellows and our readers, please forgive us. The Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics is a new effort by TGC, and we are still learning how to work with our directors and our fellows to produce content that will serve our readers in a way that is trusted and wise. To ensure greater accountability with our fellows, we will develop better review systems for our work together. We will also review our publication processes more broadly at TGC and develop plans to ensure greater accountability to you, our readers.
Notice that they don't distance themselves from anything he wrote. They're fine with the anti-women stuff. They just don't like the backlash.
(Featured image via Shutterstock)