On Jesus and Slut-Shaming

Are you reading this because the word “slut” is in the title? (Wondering if I should retitle all of the stuff I write? Just kidding.)

What is it about that word that jars us? It’s truly awful—crude, demeaning. The kind of word that makes you forget that someone is an actual person, a soul with skin. I know some people who will not like that I used that word, will not like the way that the black letters affixed on a white screen causes their teeth to clinch. 

But I have something to say about the clinched teeth—that sometimes it’s a little out of whack. Like the way we viscerally react to the word “slut," yet we can treat someone or witness the treatment of someone as the living representation of that word and be pretty unaffected. Or worse, we lean into the conversation a bit: “She wore what?” “She did that?” Or perhaps we aren’t viewing a woman as a slut—perhaps we demean her personhood in other ways. We just think she’s inconsequential. Silly. Overly emotional. Maybe that other jarring word that starts with a “b” and only ever applies to women. 

I’m taking us into some choppy waters, and I’m going to go ahead and admit that I am not qualified to write this. You may want to get out of my boat. I do not have a vast knowledge of women’s issues, just a collection of stories and a heart that longs to protect women, to preach their worth, to invest in their knowledge of and love for God. 

One of the reasons I love to study the Bible: Over and over again I am brought to tears when I see the way that Jesus treats women. When the other men in the scenario are ignoring, judging, or demeaning women, Jesus draws women into meaningful conversation, using words full of gentleness, not condescension, fully acknowledging their person-ness in a society that loves to deny it (John 4). He speaks up for them when others are shaming them (Luke 7). He warns that indulging sexual thoughts about women, as if their bodies are available for mental ownership and degradation, is every bit as destructive and sinful as adultery (Matthew 5:28). 

“Don’t look at her like that,” he seems to warn. “Don’t talk about her like that,” he seems to caution.

He wasn’t supposed to be talking to her—“They marveled that he was talking with a woman” John 4:27.

He wasn’t supposed to let her near him—“If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner” Luke 7:39.

And yet he did. The world pushed away what he pulled close, and it did not go unnoticed. His love evoked a strange new strength and dignity from them. In his eyes, they were not silly. In his eyes, they were not sluts. In his eyes, they were not drama queens. They were just loved. And when someone looks at you like that, speaks to you like that, speaks up for you like that, it changes you from the inside out. It makes you brave.

It seems like it’s the curse of women to look for love like that (Genesis 3). Maybe that’s why some of us have been labeled sluts—because we hoped that what we had to offer would inspire a man to love us forever. Maybe that’s why some of us have become angry and hardened—because we have become so weary and cynical of the search, so hurt by the violations. Maybe that’s why some of us have chosen to dive into the superficial—because things of meaning are too painful, too difficult.

But we were looking at the wrong men. There are certainly many wonderful men out there, men that are a lot like Jesus (marry one like that), but none of them are Jesus. He’s the only one who can love us like that. It’s the kind of love that brushes away tears, that tucks flowers into our hair, that clothes us in a white dress, even though we don’t qualify for the color. And yet, we step out, with that special strength and dignity that comes from being totally unqualified yet loved all the more. And we walk forward, to the one who unfailingly loves us, in that white dress and make this promise: I will always follow you. I am always yours.

And so the women—the silly ones, the sluts, the drama queens—they gathered at his feet as he was being crucified (Matthew 27:55). Most of his disciples had fled, but they stayed, faithful through his most painful moments, ministering with nearness despite certain fear and darkness, weeping over the brutality.

They stayed because he spoke up for them when others debated their worth. Because he was gentle when the world was harsh. Because he spoke words of peace when the world spoke words of violation.

Praise God for the woman who stays, who ministers with nearness, who weeps when she sees pain! Let us not speak a word against her. She is not silly. She is not a slut. She is not dramatic. She is His. How beautiful and brave is the woman whose sin the Lord will not count against her! "Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame." Psalm 34:5

And if she is not His? Surely it goes without saying: Let us not speak a word against her. We must be gentle as he is gentle. We must defend her as he does. Perhaps it’s through us that many hurting, defamed women will be able to finally rest in the love and kindness for which her soul aches. Dear one, “come out of hiding, you’re safe here with me. There’s no need to cover what I already see” (Steffany Gretzinger, “Out of Hiding”).

Praise God for His kindness to us, for his love for women! Even when the world forgets it, he could not—that he created us to be image bearers, too.

A few years ago I read Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey, and I have not doubt that God has used the wisdom in that book to soften my heart towards women's issues and to draw me to a deeper understanding of the beautiful, unique tones of his love for women. Very grateful for writers who challenge me.