The Devil’s Gateway


“. . . you are the devil’s gateway. . . you are she who persuaded him, whom the devil did not dare attack. . . . Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on your sex, lives on in this age; the guilt, necessarily, lives on too.”

—Tertullian

The view of woman as “temptress” has early roots and is alive and well today both in the wider culture (see links below) and sadly also in Christian circles.

I was a speaker at a gathering of pastors who were interested in doing a better job of utilizing women’s gifts. The first question asked during the open forum afterwards stunned me, “If we work with women, won’t we be tempted?”

What followed was not a candid discussion about the heart and where is the real problem when there is a moral failure (as in as what goes on behind closed doors when a man is alone with his computer), but a laundry list of precautions to safeguard oneself from moral hazards when working or dealing with women.

Women find this kind of thinking offensive, and rightly so. This low view of women conflicts with the Bible’s high redemptive view of us. What strikes me as I think about this, however, is that this negative view of women also reflects badly on men as testosterone driven, morally weak, and unable to control themselves. This is not to say that our sex-saturated culture doesn’t create serious problems for everyone. But it is one thing to think wisely about modesty and conduct and quite another to view women as seductresses.

So here are my questions:

First, are men also outraged by the temptress view of women—because of what it implies about them? And second, is it possible to hold a low view of women without degrading men?

Your thoughts?

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28 Responses to The Devil’s Gateway

  1. Anonymous says:

    I don't know this woman or her blog (you may) but I found it in some web wanderings one day. She addresses your question with the analog of money and temptation to materialism. I thought that was interesting. I relocated when I read your blog.

    http://blog.bible.org/tapestry/content/eugene-peterson:-role-women

    Steve Bicker

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  2. Carolyn says:

    Sandi Glahn is an adjunct professor at Dallas Seminary. She's a good friend, a writer, and also has done a lot with Synergy.Her blog is always worth reading, and the Peterson interview is a helpful addition to this discussion.

    The point about money is well taken. Same for computers.

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  3. Kamilla says:

    I am blessed to have some extraordinary working relationships with men who are not only godly in themselves, but do care about the “laundry list” as well – that it guards both of us from forming the sort of inappropriate emotional intimacy that can lead to sexual intimacy. *That's* why the laundry list isn't merely about avoiding the evil temptress.

    For instance, I recently had coffee with a man who has the reputation of being very charismatic. And yes, he genuinely is charming and attractive. But when the time came for our meeting to break up, we each had other places to be, he offered to drop me off at my next appointment rather than my taking a taxi. But when he did so, he made a point of asking if I was comfortable with that and, while we were in the car, he phoned his assistant to let her know that I was with him and he was dropping me off on his way.

    By acting this way, he not only protected both of us from temptation, he created an atmosphere of safety for me – I knew I could depend upon his honorable actions in the future as well.

    You write about the “laundry list” as if it is *only* about avoiding the evil of female temptresses. It's about much nore – there's a reason you *never* go to a man's hotel room, you know.

    Kamilla

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  4. Carolyn says:

    Kamilla,

    Like you, most of the women I'm hearing from have great relationships with male colleagues who show a lot of respect for them. Asking if you were comfortable accepting a ride is quite different from refusing to offer you a ride because his “laundry list” includes not riding alone in the car with a woman.

    I will say that I'm not sure your time with him would pass for a “laundry list” approved meeting. Such lists often include just about any kind of one-on-one meeting with a woman (including Starbucks) as well as riding alone in a car with a woman. I'm not sure a phonecall to his assistant changes anything.

    There is, as your hotel room remark illustrates, a difference between the “laundry list” and exercising wisdom.

    Thanks for your comment.

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  5. Meredith says:

    Amen, Carolyn. I have long thought that men who feared the temptress were refusing to accept responsibility for their own weaknesses. I don't know any men (in ministry) who do not go some way toward accepting this depiction of women. It puts us all under immediate suspicion, which is grievous. Now, fair enough, women should not wear tight or revealing clothes or behave inappropriately, but absolutely no one seems to say anything about men's behavior, so it appears that the whole temptation train leads straight to Eve every time.
    Discouraging.
    To be honest, I thought being married would put me in a no-go safe zone, but that's not the case. I believe I will wait until I am wrinkled and grey to take part in official ministry, in order to avoid this particular tripwire.
    I would very much like to hear if there are any men who agree that this view of women also demeans their own masculine strength.
    Thanks for posting.

    Like

  6. Kamilla says:

    Carolyn,

    Just a couple of comments in response before I leave you to your discussion.

    First, of course the call to his assistant made a difference! It created accountability and avoided the appearance of impropriety. I would agree that a pastor should never meet with a woman alone if it is a question of exercising his shepherding duties as in a counseling or a church discipline situation. However, meeting at a public (and yes, it did so happen to be a Starbucks) place for something more like business is a different matter (though the man I met with in this instance was not a pastor). And yes, there are even some situations when an unrelated man and woman shouldn't be alone together in a car.

    “The first two facts which a healthy boy or girl feels about sex are these: first that it is beautiful and then that it is dangerous.” Chesterton wrote that just over 100 years ago. He knew what religious feminists like yourself wish to ignore. To dismiss the concerns of those pastors as coming from a low view of women or a woman thinking she is “off limits” simply because she is married is not only foolish. It is downright dangerous.

    Kamilla

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  7. Anonymous says:

    >>The view of woman as “temptress” has early roots and is alive and well today both in the wider culture (see links below) and sadly also in Christian circles.< < Yes, it's very sad that women were seen (and still are) as “temptresses.” Was Tertullian married? I truly doubt that a man comfortable with his sex life and his relationships would indulge in projecting lust onto anyone else (women or otherwise.) What about the “Papal Gentleman” having sex with male prostitutes? He must have “been tempted” while working with men. Why is it that so much odd sex occurs within a religious context where the desired behavior is vigorously condemned (I'm thinking of Ted Haggard and others like him)? I think the problem needs a therapeutic and psychological solution. Perhaps we all need to understand ourselves and our needs and drives better. I've worked with men with few problems. Yes, there were undercurrents here and there, but mature people know how to block and divert advances with very little difficulty. If someone was truly harassing another person, that would have been dealt with.

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  8. Jonathan says:

    The view of men as the more virtuous gender and women as the more inclined to sin prevailed throughout Western society until approximately the Victorian era. In fact, the word “virtue” is derived from the Latin word “vir”, meaning “man”, and has “manliness” as one of its early meanings.

    However, for most people in the West, the converse is now true: in general, women are viewed as the more virtuous gender. For instance, girls are often taught (explicitly or implicitly) that they are the ones who need to set limits on premarital sexual expression, because boys can't or won't.

    As a man, I am offended by the expectation of lack of self-control. I respect the need to avoid the appearance of impropriety, but men and women both need to take responsibility for their responses to their circumstances, hormones, and temptations.

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  9. >>For instance, girls are often taught (explicitly or implicitly) that they are the ones who need to set limits on premarital sexual expression, because boys can't or won't.< < Perhaps girls are taught that because of the reality that the child that might result would wind up in their wombs and would be their responsibility while the boy might get off scott-free.

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  10. Carolyn says:

    Lots of interesting comments on this post on Scot McKnight's blog, Jesus Creed:

    http://blog.beliefnet.com/jesuscreed/2010/03/views-correlate.html

    Like

  11. Anna says:

    >>Why is it that so much odd sex occurs within a religious context where the desired behavior is vigorously condemned< < Amen, sista! A group of mixed sex doctors, lawyers, or engineers are unlikely to be sitting around cogitating as to whether or not they may be “tempted.” They're likely too busy getting on with the job at hand. So why on earth does this question of temptation come up within a religious context? It seems weak, immature, and self-indulgent to allow it to be an issue. Sexual attraction is part of being human. Adults may be attracted to the opposite sex, the same sex, children, animals, or whatever. What is important is professionalism and self-discipline. It is the responsibility of the individual to cope with his or her desires in a mature and humane way that, more than anything else, does not hurt others. It's outrageous to suggest that women should be restricted from equal opportunities and open mingling with men because some idiot is worried he won't be able to keep it in his pants. Heck, what society are we living in?! The Land of the Apes?

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  12. One reality that male ministers face is that some women have a preacher fetish. I don't know whether this is documented in the psychological literature, but it has been observed. I am not saying that this is the phenomenon to which Tertullian referred, but I do put it forth as a reason women might be considered a pathway to sin. That having been said, one might consider whether other men who are in positions of authority face the same challenges.

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  13. Anna says:

    Bobby, power and holding high-profile positions does seem to be an aphrodisiac, both for men and women (consider the stalking of women movie stars.) However, should the existence of male stalkers mean that men should all be tarred with the same brush and kept off limits from working women? Should the existence of pedophile priests mean no priest should have contact with children? Or that adoring children can be a “pathway to sin” for child abusers?These people with problems (fetishists, stalkers, abusers) are a separate group from the majority and should not be allowed to imbalance male-female relationships. I feel their issues should be addressed head-on when they become a problem, but shouldn't be allowed to get in the way of healthy working relationships.

    Also, I wonder how much of this “preacher fetish” problem exists in the mind of the beholder (i.e., the preacher)? Or whether there is sometimes a sort of sense of control or a feeling that they have the right to cross boundaries by pastors concerning their flocks? Something I have only, until now, shared with my husband and only years after it happened is that when my husband and I met with our pastor when we first joined a particular church, the pastor kept pressing his leg against mine under the table. At first I thought it was an accident and moved away, but he was quite persistent. It was very obvious what he was doing. I had the exact same experience with a creepy guy I once worked with (that one I did discuss with my husband, who immediately identified the weaselly guy!) I wasn't upset by the pastor, but I was puzzled. Since it didn't really effect anything much, I didn't say anything at the time. My husband was just coming to Christ, and I didn't want to scare him away from the church by letting him know. I think I made it clear, very politely (I'm not very assertive,) that I wasn't interested and the pastor didn't really do anything after that (there was just one slightly ambiguous incident later — again, I didn't react and there were people around.) If I had made a fuss, I suppose the pastor could have accused me of leading him on (or having a preacher fetish) in the good, ole boy Tertullian style.

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  14. Anna,
    One thing interesting in the story of the Fall is how Eve and the Serpent strengthen God's prohibitions into statements that are easily seen to be false so that they may then go on to make a lie of what God really said.

    I said that there are some women who have preacher fetishes. I didn't draw that all women must be treated in the way you described. I will stand by the statement that some women do have preacher fetishes.

    That having been said, I believe that we are deluding ourselves if we say that men and women are the same. I am not claiming that you or anyone else here is saying that, but it is a common error of the current age. Men and women are both apt to sin, but there are paths that are more common to each than to the other. As our sex is something that we each confront every day of our lives–every time we urinate for goodness sake–we cannot escape it.

    It might be easy to make fun of that Old African Tertullian, but I'd listen a while before I laughed him off.

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  15. Nicholas says:

    Bobby is spot on and this blog post makes a very poor attempt at assuming that men and women are the same. Women are beautiful and men are keen on female beauty and are therefore tempted by it. Some women like the perceived safety of ministers (Bobby's preacher fetish) for the same reason some women only hunt, and I use that word advisedly, men with wedding bands and are tempted to use said temptations.

    The odd assumption in most of these posts is that we're not fallen and we should all behave as if everyone is perfect (the professionals post for example). I'm unaware of any scripture that encourages such mean spirited and ignorant behavior.

    How do you all deal with the many warnings in Proverbs for heaven's sake? Do you just glide over all of those unsavory passages that relate female temptation to a sticky pit?

    “Man and woman he created them” not Model 601a and 601b.

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  16. Anna says:

    Nicholas, I don't think anyone is trying to suggest that men and women are not different or that boundaries are never crossed or that some will not be tempted. What we are discussing is how men and women can coexist and work together within this reality. Really, we should say how “people” in general can work together, since not all attraction is male-female. We can't exclude children, for example, from a classroom because the teacher is a pedophile. We need instead to address the pedophile's behavior. In the same way, we need to be able to handle temptation and predatory behavior in the work place or in ministry. One can't expect women to wear veils and bhurkas just because some guy is a little excitable.

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  17. Anna says:

    Bobby, I imagine that in this world of, what, nearly 7 billion (?) people, there are some women out there with preacher fetishes. I suspect there is a far larger number of men who project their own desires onto women, or who confuse trust and respect from a woman with a sexual come on. I admit I could well be wrong. My assumptions are partially based on my own experiences and are therefore subjective. If we are to be “different but equal” in all aspects of life, we need to better understand sexuality and how it works in ourselves and in different people. Someone suggested more psychological education. I think that would be a good place to start if we are to understand communication better.

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  18. Anna,
    No doubt there are men as you describe just as there are the women that I describe. We are all sinners. Man is fallen and the earth is cursed on our account. The Bible presents Man's fall as a group enterprise. Adam bore the ultimate responsibility, but each sex brought its own unique short-comings into play. In Man's redemption, Jesus, the new Adam, and Mary, the new Eve each bring their own unique strengths into the game.

    Along the way, there are the folks like Tertullian who are trying to live day-to-day in the world and facing the temptations that do arise.

    Biology has, as a price of survival of the species, equipped us with certain natural biological responses. While I am in control of my own body and it is my responsibility to control my own urges, I do respect those women who choose a modest form of dress so as not to aggravate the natural biological urges we experience. A burkha isn't necessary, but gosh those hip-hugger jeans and short t-shirts are a trial.

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  19. Anna says:

    Bobby, you are wise and funny. Thanks for pointing out how women's dress affects men. I have some characteristics of Asperger's Disorder (general social dyslexia,) so I'm not as aware of stuff like that as some people, which is probably why I have blundered into so many awkward situations when I think I'm just minding my own business. Maybe most people would benefit from training in how to identify and deflect signals. I seem to be completely blind to that stuff. I don't know how we all do as well as we do when these situations are so complicated.

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  20. Ethan C. says:

    “Asking if you were comfortable accepting a ride is quite different from refusing to offer you a ride because his “laundry list” includes not riding alone in the car with a woman.”

    I see what you mean about the difference. However, I can think of particular situations in which such a strict ban might be the best course of action.

    Perhaps if a man has a history of extramarital affairs and has decided to change his ways, he might not wish to even be in a situation of mild temptation.

    Or if an innocent man has been publicly accused of some misbehavior, he might wish to avoid even giving the appearance that it could possibly be true.

    It's rather the same as men who have trouble with pornography, and ask that the computers or televisions in hotel rooms be disabled when they are traveling.

    Not every admission of male weakness is an accusation of female complicity. And we can't always expect men to maintain self control, even when they know they should and are trying hard to.

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  21. Nicholas says:

    Ethan,

    We are all prone (as a sex) to these misbehaviors and therefore most of us avoid them even where we don't have problems with them. The smart ones anyway.

    Then there's women that expect us to be, contrary to every evidence and Biblical injunction, to be saintly on earth. They usually lead unhappy lives.

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  22. Lark says:

    Bobby:

    Hi! I'm wondering exactly what you meant by something that you said.

    “It might be easy to make fun of that Old African Tertullian, but I'd listen a while before I laughed him off.”

    These seems like an odd thing to say in light of your other comments, which seem to respect the value of women and the actual Tertullian quote used:

    “. . . you are the devil's gateway. . . you are she who persuaded him, whom the devil did not dare attack. . . . Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on your sex, lives on in this age; the guilt, necessarily, lives on too.”

    What he's saying isn't a benign aduration to refrain from potentially sinful situations with the opposite sex; it's the wholesale condemnation of all women as intrinsically evil. I really don't see any other way to read it. His statement seems hate-filled at worst and misogynistic at best. I can see no way, as a Christian, to take Tertullian's statement here seriously. It's not a matter of laughing at Old African Tertullian; it's a matter of being horrified that such a statement could come out of the mouth of any serious Christian source.

    Were you referring to something else and I just missed it?

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  23. Lark,
    One point would be that Tertullian did say other things besides this. Another point would be that Tertullian was living in another world than this one, separated by time and culture.

    Quite frankly I find your surprise at such comments to be coming from a Christian source to be…well, surprising. I also find your interpretation of his remarks as the wholesale condemnation of women as intrinsically evil to be a gross over-reaction to what is being said. It is neither hate-filled nor misogynistic; it is just Tertullian.

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  24. Carolyn says:

    Bobby,

    “It is just Tertullian” sounds a little like “Boys will be boys.” Historically Tertullian's words here have been interpreted as a blast against the female sex. One can only hope at some point he regretted what he said. But it isn't always easy to take words back once they're spoken. Sadly, he wasn't/isn't the only one of our heroes to makes statements like this, and historically, it has done a lot of damage.

    A revealing test of how a statement (or a joke) like this sounds to the group being targeted is to substitute yourself or a minority in place of women as the object of his words. My guess is that might make Tertullian a little harder to excuse.

    CJ

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  25. Meredith says:

    Tertullian is my second-favorite heretic. But he was not a Christian in the end, and therefore should not be viewed as a 'Christian source' imho. He lived about sixty years, but was a Christian for only about ten of those, and he was married (Anon. wondered). His remarks on Eve cannot be interpreted in any way other than an attack on women. Just because he lived a long time ago in Africa doesn't change that.

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  26. Carolyn,
    As you say, historically Tertullian's words have been interpreted in this way. I rather doubt that at any point he regretted it. He was in the business of saving people from hell and eternal damnation and he did truly believe what he said.

    I don't know that he ever imagined a world in which the lot of women had been made so different for women through the efforts of Christians, himself among those. He did have the lapse into Montanism in the end.

    Quite frankly, strip-mining the past to look for places within church history to look for places in which one might be offended strikes me as a waste of time.

    As for “It's just Tertullian” sounding like “boys will be boys,” consider this: Tertullian is gruff, but he would've died for you. As far as this sort of remark doing a lot of damage, I think one has to have historical blinders on to actually believe that.

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  27. Anonymous says:

    I don't think I have blinders when I say that following this blog has been enlightening! And my only comment would be: 'Bobby will be Bobby' and Carolyn…well, she is 'just Carolyn' and my guess would be, in true character of an 'ezer' take a bullet for you, Bobby. To become more Christlike, we must demand harder work in the areas of truth and love, which Jesus was full of (John 1:14)and the “battle of the sexes” will only be victorious through a Blessed Alliance which Jesus offers freely in a different Kingdom than this earth offers…He taught us what loving one another looks like…yet we still stumble, don't we? ~ a sister in Christ

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  28. My husband and I were lunch guests of a pastor/district overseer of 13 churches on the coast of SC last year. During the initial order of food, a waitress with minimal- revealing cleavage took our order. This man immediately threw a newspaper he brought with him in front of his face and told her he'd like another waitress in a higher-cut top, because didn't want to have to look at her. Afterward, when we were back in our motel room, we looked at each other wide-eyed and open-mouthed in disbelief. My husband said “That episode showed us MUCH morer about him than any questions would have revealved.” Our diagnosis? What a weak man he obviously was.

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