Graham Heslop
Graham Heslop Graham has an insatiable appetite for books, occasionally dips into theology, and moonlights as a lecturer in New Testament Greek at George Whitefield College, Cape Town. He also serves on the staff team at Union Chapel Presbyterian Church and as the written content editor for TGC Africa. Graham is married to Lynsay-Anne and they have one son, Teddy.

Doodle: Are Evangelicals Obsessed with Other People's Genitalia?

Doodle: Are Evangelicals Obsessed with Other People's Genitalia?

I couldn’t initially pinpoint why, but this cartoon (pictured above) really got under my skin when I saw it on my Facebook feed. So I put my phone down and scribbled a few thoughts. Of course, my irritation is certainly in part down to the fact that the cartoonist, David Hayward, gets paid to be humorous—something I’m not funny enough to pull off. But another facet of my frustration is that while this self-identified Exvangelical appears profound and edgy, he’s little more than a shill for more progressive sexual ethics. Compounding this, all of his work is carried out under the banner of spirituality, by which I can only assume he means the zeitgeist, or ‘spirit of the age.’

This roughly written doodle isn’t about David Hayward’s larger aim to challenge the status quo, deconstruct dogma, and promote critical thinking. It’s about the comic and relative poverty of critical thinking that it promotes.

So, are Evangelicals obsessed with what people do with their genitalia? Put differently, is Hayward right in accusing Evangelicals of being overly fixated on sex? I’ll try answer that question, while providing clarity on my own agitation, under a few roughly hewn headers below.

Which Evangelicals or Evangelicalism?

Most theologians and Christian historians would sooner attempt to catch an eel with their bare hands, than attempt to define Evangelicalism. Not only is its historical origin debated, every iteration of it since the Enlightenment has been critical of those that preceded it. Much of this came to a height with the debates around Scripture (especially inerrancy and inspiration) in the 20th century, but that only goes to prove how vague the designation actually is.

When I asked a friend who is well versed in these matters how she might define Evangelicalism, she replied with the Earl of Shaftesbury’s epithet: “I knew what constituted an Evangelical in former times. I have no clear notion what constitutes one now.” That was in the late 1900s. We’ve had over a century of Evangelicalism since.

The difficulty in defining Evangelicalism or identifying its true proponents shows Hayward’s cartoon for what it truly is: pejorative. And he isn’t alone when it comes to turning the word ‘Evangelical’ into little more than a self-righteous insult aimed at those who are less progressive than you. This isn’t thought provoking. It doesn’t promote critical engagement. It’s just lazy.

Evangelicalism or 2000 Years of Christian Tradition?

Though Hayward would like his readers to believe that it’s only weirdly conservative and frighteningly puritanical Evangelicals that have a disturbing obsession with sex, the truth of the matter is that he’s railing against the traditional Christian sexual ethic. Evangelicals are merely an easy target. It’s cool to hate them right now, whoever they are. So singling them out makes sense, if you’re into logical fallacies such as unwarranted association jumps and gross generalisation.

Unfortunately for Hayward, his sketch of a relatively novel and radically insecure group of hyper-conservative Christians trying to control what people do with their genitalia is false. For his critique of Evangelicals applies to every major Christian tradition (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant) as well as most denominations (be they Baptists or Episcopalians) since Jesus walked the earth.

The Church (capital ‘C’) has always been concerned about sexual ethics. Calling that Evangelical is therefore both historically inaccurate and logically inept.

The More Important Question: Does God Care?

As I’ve already noted, it’s trendy to hate Evangelicals right now, but as far as I can tell Hayward isn’t quite ready to go the whole way and simply admit that he hates the Bible, or what God teaches about human sexuality—though that probably isn’t too far down the road. Because, let’s be honest, sexual ethics are significant and a regularly addressed matter throughout the Scriptures.

Whether it’s Paul (Romans 1:18-31; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20), John (Revelation 2:18-29), the writer to the Hebrews (Hebrews 13:4), Jude, David (Psalm 51), Solomon (Proverbs 6:32), the prophets, Yahweh (Exodus 20:14), or Jesus (John 4:17-18; Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 7:21-23), biblical teaching and ethics cannot help but be concerned about what we do with our genitalia. This probably explains why Evangelicals are too.

Trade-in Your Old Dogma for a Newer One

Hayward’s cartoon most certainly sets out to deconstruct dogma and tradition—biblical dogma and tradition. He does that by lampooning so-called Evangelicals and ignoring the fact that Christians throughout the ages have thought that what we do with our bodies and in our bedrooms matters. In the place of conservative sexual ethics he promotes the modern day dogma of progressive sexuality and ethics.

Neither the cartoon nor the cartoonist are edgy, provocative, or novel. Their ideological message is everywhere. It’s all around you. What’s truly shocking is the undiscerning readiness with which so many people lap it up.

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