Relevant Magazine Doesn’t Want Husbands Texting Women Who Aren’t Their Spouse

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by John Ellis

Over at Relevant Magazine, Zack Carter wrote an article urging married Christians to consider not texting members of the opposite sex who are not their spouse.  In the article, he writes, “Text messaging provides an opportunity for wandering hearts, hearts not fully committed to their spouses, to seek pleasure from someone other than their spouses when their relationship grass may be losing its color.” And, man, is that brother taking a beating online for that article.

The word “legalism” is liberally used by the horde of angry commenters. Zack Carter has been accused of being patriarchal, of course, of engaging in social repression, as well as a litany of pejoratives that I don’t want to print. Apparently, people take their freedom to text members of the opposite sex very seriously. Woe on anyone who dares meddle, even if that meddling is nothing more than an opinion piece with a recommendation based on true Biblical principles. People are aware that they are under no obligation to obey online writers, right?

The thing is, you do not necessarily have to agree with Zack Carter’s conclusion to appreciate and agree with the above quote. Later in this article, I’m going explain where I stand regarding Carter’s conclusion, but in the meantime, I want to interact with that quote, which is the meat of the article’s argument. And what rich, true, and God-honoring meat it is.

With his article, Zack Carter is rightfully acknowledging that most of us are prone to lust, and that when left unchecked, lust quickly and easily flames into a sinful fire ravaging holiness. Anyone who denies that is most likely lying because he or she doesn’t want to submit his or her sexuality to the sovereign holiness of God. Anyone, meaning Zack Carter in this instance, that challenges their desire for sinful autonomy regarding their sexuality is branded a pariah and an intolerant voice of legalism that needs to be shouted down with insults instead of engaging the actual arguments. Welcome to “dialogue” in the digital age.

The above quote drills even deeper and confronts specific people – those with “wandering hearts, hearts that are not fully committed to their spouses.” The thing is, as Carter astutely points out, all married people at one time or another have a heart that wanders and is not fully committed to their spouse. Once again, denying that either means that you’ve been married for about a day or that you’re lying for the sake of preserving your autonomy instead of submitting to the Lordship of Christ in all things. Furthermore, he is absolutely right in pointing out that text messaging someone of the opposite sex who is not your spouse does provide an opportunity for sin. To deny that is nonsensical. Accepting the claim as true is not the same thing as claiming that texting will lead to immorality.

Accepting the validity of Carter’s claim, however, doesn’t require acceptance of his solution. For many men, taking their children to a public playground provides opportunities for lust. That truth doesn’t mean that fathers shouldn’t take their children to public playgrounds. It does mean that fathers should prayerfully take their children to public playgrounds. Taking it a step further, some fathers should probably consider not taking their children to public playgrounds until further growth in their sanctification has occurred. That requires being honest about sin and the continued presence of sinful idols in our heart. When Jesus said that “if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out (Matthew 5:29),” he didn’t mean it literally, but he did mean something[1].

Jesus’ strongly worded admonishment in Matthew 5:29 is why I believe that Zack Carter’s conclusion is good, right, and a helpful corrective to American evangelicals who have become complacent as the world continues to flaunt their sexual rebellion before God. It is not legalism to be intentional in pursuing holiness and purity. Christians are commanded to pursue holiness, and if we’re being honest, most of us fail miserably at pursuing holiness, especially in reference to sexual purity.

Pursuing holiness in reference to purity doesn’t undermine the relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, it elevates those relationships to a place where God’s name is magnified. The bride of Christ is marred and disfigured when we allow sin into our midst. Thankfully, and, yes, if we are in Christ, God sees Jesus’ righteousness when He looks at us. But that does not excuse sin. If we are truly in Christ, we will pursue obedience as a joyful act of thanksgiving and praise to being adopted into the family of God. Guarding purity within our lives and our church families is an important way that we should be expressing our thankfulness for our salvation.

Frankly, the specious argument that Carter’s conclusion hinders healthy relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ makes me wonder what the individuals making the argument want to preserve. Married men have very little reason for having a casual relationship with a woman who is not their wife, apart from their wife. And by “very little reason,” I mean zero reason.

I do occasionally text women who aren’t my wife, almost always in the context of church business. But Zack Carter’s article has caused me to question the wisdom of my actions. The thing is, I don’t have to delve too deeply to conclude that Carter offers a helpful practical application based on solid Biblical arguments. And, it’s very easy to include my wife in those text messages; it costs me nothing. Refusing to do so because it’s my right, probably means that, at best, my rights are an idol. At worst, it could reveal that I’m not as far away from Carter’s worst case scenarios as I pretend.

Another objection that’s always tossed out by those who don’t want the words “holiness” and “purity” connected to sexuality is that standards like the one proposed by Zack Carter make women the problem. The argument states that men should stop blaming women for their lust. Well, I agree, men should not be blaming women for their lust.

Adhering to certain standards that are designed to help guard against lust should reflect that men[2] are acknowledging their own weaknesses, their own sin. Of course, men have sinfully laid the blame for their lust at the feet of women, and tragically, until King Jesus returns, some men will continue to do so. However, when that happens, the men in question are not mortifying their flesh, to borrow language from John Owens; they’re excusing their sin, and, most likely, continuing to feed their lust.

Even if you personally believe that there is no problem with married people texting members of the opposite sex, I pray that you will at least recognize and honor the fact that a brother in Christ is concerned enough about the purity and holiness of the Church that he wrote an article that, on the whole, is edifying, filled with truth, and God-honoring. I also pray that his article will cause you to examine your own practices in order to make sure that you aren’t unwittingly providing opportunity to feed lust.

On a personal note, I want to commend Zack Carter for the humility and courage he exhibited by writing the article[3]. No doubt, he anticipated the responses. And, if Relevant is like PJ Media, the website I write for, the angry horde has propelled Carter’s article to a view count that has scored him some bonus money. However, that doesn’t make it any easier to suffer the slings and arrows. I know that all too well. I pray that he is being encouraged by his church family and honored by them for his service to the American church, at large, and, more importantly, his service to our King.

Soli Deo Gloria


[1] This is where we need to prayerfully engage one another in honest questions and confessions. We all have blind spots, and another brother or sister in Christ can help us see where we’re vulnerable. Making personal decisions about how to “tear your eye out” should be commended, not mocked. A Christian who is genuinely attempting to pursue holiness should be honored, even if we don’t agree with the specific standard(s) implemented. On the flip side, we also have to be willing to exhibit grace and charity to brothers and sisters in Christ who have different standards than we do. Zack Carter’s article is gracious and charitable, and comfortably far away from legalism. He’s simply offering a way for us to “tear out our eye.”

[2] Women lust, too. But I’ve never heard anyone say that women should stop blaming men for their lust. I’m not saying that has never been said, I’m saying I’ve never heard it.

[3] Furthermore, Zack Carter has challenged me to consider being more pro-active in using the platforms God has given me to call other brothers in Christ to pursue purity and holiness. I have some personal standards that, by God’s grace, I’ve implemented in my own life to guard my heart. I haven’t written about them because, frankly, it’s embarrassing to detail struggles in a context that doesn’t allow for nuance. But maybe writing about my standards will embolden brothers and sisters in Christ in their own pursuit of holiness and purity.

 

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8 thoughts on “Relevant Magazine Doesn’t Want Husbands Texting Women Who Aren’t Their Spouse

  1. Thanks as always John! I do wonder, how do you reconcile Zack Carter’s admonishment with Jen Wilkin’s article on TGC that you referenced earlier where she specifically mentions “The Temptress”? If I recall correctly she specifically mentioned communicating with a woman and CC’ing a colleague or the woman’s spouse on all correspondence. To be fair she didn’t say anything about, as a man, copying your own spouse on the communication but I understood her lament to be one where a man never had a “private” or “one-on-one” correspondence with a woman. Is there any need to reconcile Zack’s and Jen’s perspectives?

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    • I’m not sure if they need to be reconciled. I do believe that they both need to be engaged. Does that make sense?

      For me, Zack’s article is less about the specific standard (although, as I wrote, I do believe that it is a good and helpful suggestion), and more about the overall admonishment to guard ourselves from sin. As for Jen’s article, as I wrote, I don’t necessarily agree with her on every point. Once again, for me it’s the larger issue that needs to be dealt with. Working this stuff out in a fallen world is going to create paradoxes in different places for different people. Sadly, many professing Christians are too in love with their “rights” and rarely consider if their actions are helping or hurting themselves pursue holiness. Paradoxes are better than blissfully sticking our heads in the sand of self-deceit.

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  2. Excellent post, John. A VERY relevant topic. Your piece made me think of the time when I, as the school superintendent, innocently asked a school mother to be my Facebook friend. First thing the next morning, her husband was in my office for an unscheduled meeting. He wanted to know why I was asking his wife to be a Facebook friend. For one of the few times in my life, I studdered and stammered for words, which didn’t exactly make me look innocent. I gathered my composure, humbled myself, told him I understood entirely why he was upset, even if I meant nothing by my invitation other than to stay connected to more parents at the school, and told him, on the spot, that I would never ask another female to be my Facebook friend again. I have remained true to that promise, although I will accept the friendship of women if they make the invitation. (Perhaps that hypocritical. I may need to renalyze that position after reading your post.). The bottom line is to not even give the appearance of sexual immorality. Boundaries are good things. Thanks for yet another thought-provoking piece of writing!

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    • This evening, I received and responded to a text message from a lady who is a member of the small group I lead. Her question was entirely related to the small group. It struck me funny, though, that after writing this article today, I became a hypocrite.

      I think flexibility and honest assessment about our flexibility is needed on occasion when interacting with standards like this one. For example, and my pastor and I have talked about this, if I’m alone in my car during a rainstorm and see a sister in Christ from my church walking down the sidewalk, I’d offer her a ride. I’d also text my wife and let her know, but I’d offer the sister a ride.

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  3. Well, coming from a woman’s perspective, I guess I don’t agree with such a blanket approach. I do think there are Christian men who just shouldn’t pursue any friendships with women other than their wife, and vice versa for some Christian women. That is a particular temptation for them, a besetting sin, that they can only fight by avoiding. But I think that’s a very small minority, and for everyone else to basically say, “You can’t be my friend because you’re a woman (or a man)” seems to me to be more an easy crutch that cuts off the messiness of friendship or having to explain a friendship with a woman (on a side note, I don’t understand your use of the phrase “casual relationship”–is this your definition of friendship?) to their male friends. Certainly, if your wife does not approve of the friendship, or if you find yourself lusting for a particular woman, that’s another matter, but to simply make a new rule for yourself cutting off any friendship with women, I just don’t get it. What does “there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female” mean in this context?

    I’ve thought a lot about this recently after a crisis in my PCA church brought to light the natural extreme of this approach, which is to basically ghettoize women in the church in a way that, in a denomination that believes in male-only leadership, leaves them without male leadership because none of the men wants to be SEEN AS “too friendly” to a woman. I’ve been a member of this church since 2005 and this was the first time I ever realized that the elders, or almost all of them, believed that women and men shouldn’t be friends outside of marriage. I was told by an elder, in this crisis, that the Women in the Church would deal with the defenseless and unsupported wife and mother of four who had been left by her unfaithful pastor husband, but in fact, that didn’t happen because of personal disputes amongst the women, none of whom has any formal role or accountability to the congregation. To be clear, I believe in male-only leadership, but nowhere in the New Testament do I read that the male leaders should treat women in the church like pariahs and segregate them into women-only ghettos, which is the natural extreme of this position.

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    • Why is men seeking to pursue holiness by guarding their purity defined as turning women into pariahs and segregating them into women-only ghettos? Maybe it’s not about women. Maybe it’s about the sinfulness of men.

      Seeking to protect purity in thought and deed does not abrogate the responsibility of the church leadership to care for and minster to hurting women. CCing your wife on text messages doesn’t undermine the call for Elders to shepherd the women in the church. And, men CCing their wife on text messages isn’t a requirement. It’s simply a suggestion. The principle is what’s most important.

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    • I didn’t “define” anything, just stated my observation of the natural extreme of this kind of extra-Biblical rule-making. I also didn’t say anything about men copying their wives on text messages, but took issue with the “principle” you stated above about men and women being friends. (Personally, I don’t text, and I’ve seen two marriages blow up over texting–not outside of marriage, but the spouses texting hurtful and sometimes drunken messages back and forth–so I’m not inclined to take up texting or drinking anytime soon.)

      And yes, it is partly about women which is why I thought I would add my perspective. If you don’t want women reading your blog or commenting, please just say so.

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      • I don’t appreciate you implying (pretty explicitly) that I don’t want women reading my blog or commenting just because I pushed back on your comment. I am not going to pander to identity politics by backing off from stating what I believe to be true. If you disagree with my arguments and conclusions, fine. Say so. But please don’t make it personal.

        For the record, I believe firmly that men and women (specifically married men and women) cannot be friends with each other using the same definition of “friend” that’s applied between those of the same sex. I’m working on article about that, though. So I’ll leave it at that.

        By the way, we all engage in “extra-Biblical rule making.” I found Zack’s suggestion helpful and good for my life. I don’t expect (and neither does he) that everyone in all places and at all times needs to implement the rule in their life, much less be required to obey our “extra-Biblical rule.” One of the things that I’m not going to allow happen is being silenced from articulating things that the Holy Spirit is teaching about myself and about my own pursuit of holiness. No one, and I do mean no one, is under any obligation to obey my “rules.” I trust that readers can prayerfully discern for themselves if my “rules” are good and right for their own lives. When I start saying, “And God commands ….” that’s when charges of legalism can appropriately be applied to me.

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