Archive Natural Law Philosophy Reformed Irenicism Steven Wedgeworth

What is Effeminacy?

So let’s talk about effeminacy. This came up as final point of criticism in my Mere Orthodoxy critique of the gay Christianity of Revoice and Spiritual Friendship. Now, I knew that “going there” would upset a lot of people. It’s basically touching the third rail to even say the word “effeminate” today. And yet, it’s also still what a lot of people are thinking but not saying. So I tried to give a historical background to the concept. I wanted to show that it wasn’t merely a visceral reaction against aesthetics or posture but rather a moral critique against failing to persevere in one’s duty. What at first seems to be an old-fashioned revulsion against foppishness turns out to have a significant place in the history of moral philosophy.

Now Jack Bates didn’t like this, and his choice of url would suggest that it registered somewhat viscerally. His response to the point about effeminacy was that these matters are subjective. Indeed, he suggests that to associate socio-political forms, duties, or fashions with one sex over and against the other is basically reducible to cultural bias. This is hardly a surprising response. It is the majority conviction of all modern Westerners at this point. I have basically outed myself as a neanderthal. Bates also adds that I am trapped by my own biases, biases which derive from my race, sex, and age:

Wedgeworth presents himself as an arbiter of the historic Christian tradition, but he manifests time and again the inability to inhabit any other perspective than that of a straight white man raised in the twentieth century. 

Ironically, the part about my being raised in the twentieth century actually falsifies his critique because, as I will show, my argument about effeminacy comes from premodern sources which are quite distant from my own context. If one moves beyond a cursory reflection, they can see that my religious and philosophical views have largely come in spite of my time and place. I was born Mississippi, and my family was a bit center-right as far as it goes. So you could go for the easy points by saying, “Aha, the Patriarchy!” But the reality is that I had a typically modern, secular, and even “liberal” (in the sense of general political theories) upbringing. I didn’t question modern individualism, nor even gender equality. I thought the perfect world would be one of unique meritocratic freedom. Practically speaking, I was catechized by popular television and music of the 1990s, the romantic sentimentality of Disney, and the public school curriculum which strongly emphasized diversity, individual expression, personal choice, and the ultimate good of breaking down boundaries and stereotypes. Growing up, I never questioned the ideals of equality and liberty, and I haven’t even told you about the music I listened to or the eclectic, eccentric, and sometimes deviant social circles I inhabited. My social and cultural context makes me far more “progressive” than any moral or social thinker of an earlier time, whether it be the Victorian era, the Renaissance, or Late Antiquity.

The sources I rely upon for understanding effeminacy are from a much earlier world. I cited scholarly surveys of ancient Greek and Roman literature, an example from the 16th cent. in John Calvin, and an example from the 13th in Thomas Aquinas. This outlook is peculiar, but ironically, it is only peculiar when judged by the values of the 20th century. The reality is that both Jack Bates and I are W.E.I.R.D. No matter our differences, we both come from the same larger social, political, and cultural world. Frankly, we’re both White– literally so, but we’re also products of the liberal-capitalistic consumerism (“Whiteness”/”Stuff White People Like”) over and against the majority world’s philosophy and values. If you really want to find those standing most “opposite” a gay outlook, it will not be among the Red State white guys living in late modernity. It will be among the Brown and Black people of African and central Asia. And it will also be among the religious cultures–every major world religion–of earlier centuries.

My interest was not really in external accouterments, nor even physical affection in general, though those discussions have their place. My point was about moral philosophy, the public embodiment of sexual virtue, and how Christians should deal with a perceived lack of pleasure. I would like to help us recover a usage of “effeminacy” in our basic moral theory.


The English term effeminacy is related to the basic concept that appears in moral philosophy starting, at least, in the classical Greek literature under the name of “softness.” One very common term for this concept was malakia. Malakia does not share a root with the word for female, as does its English counterpart. Instead, it means “soft.” It was used in opposition to endurance, and it carried the general idea of quitting an endeavor because of a sort of weakness. This was often applied to physical endeavors, but the philosophers always emphasized the moral component of it. Malakia had to do with a soft character, a failing will.

In this moral sense, malakia would be applied to men who avoided work or battle. Those given to luxury would also said to be “soft” (Aristotle says that luxury is a species of softness, Nicomachean Ethics 7.7). Thus the intemperate man, the man without proper restraint, was soft. “Passions” of each sort could lead to softness, and the hard man was expected to resist their pull. He was not to “give in.” He was to withstand and endure.

There certainly was an assumption on the part of many classical philosophers that women were more prone to these expressions of softness. Thus the connection between softness or weakness and the “feminine” was frequently invoked. For example, Plato’s Republic states:

But when in our lives some affliction comes to us, you are also aware that we plume ourselves upon the opposite, on our ability to remain calm and endure, in the belief that this is the conduct of a man, and what we were praising in the theater that of a woman. (Book X, 605 e)

The conduct of the theater is one of emotions and affections, often exaggerated. To Plato, this is not manly, and if a man behaves in that way during times of affliction, he is not enduring. Thus, it is easy to see how the name “effeminacy” came about.

I think there is a danger in uncritically adopting the assumption that women are “more emotional than men,” and this line has been overused to the point that even seeing a variation of it, no matter the source, causes a justifiably strong reaction. We can and should acknowledge the presence of misogyny in the ancient world. Plato also appears to teach that women are a sort of lower incarnation of men, needing to eventually return to the male state to be perfected (Timaeus, 42c). Many ancient medical theories about women are now rightly seen to have been based on entirely spurious and blinkered assumptions. Thus we need not deny the problems inherent in ancient bias.

The Bible does not teach the classical Greek view of human nature. Indeed, it teaches something strikingly different. Man and woman both have the image of God, and neither stands in need of being made into the other. Both will move into a different sort of existence in the New Heavens and the New Earth. They will all be sons of God and the bride of Christ.

At the same time, we must also acknowledge that the New Testament is closer to that ancient world than it is to the modern one. It does not argue that equality of created nature implies equality of earthly station. Further, it says that both man and woman are created in the image of God, but it also says that men are typified in the original man, Adam, and women are typified in the original woman, Eve, and thus men and women do have sex-specific ends. The Apostle Paul actually denies that man was made “for” the woman, while he affirms that woman was made “for” the man (1 Cor. 11:9). The New Testament retains a certain kind of hierarchical arrangement between men and women. This need not imply an ontological superiority or inferiority, but the New Testament does use the language of “weaker vessel” (1 Peter 3:6) and it does argue that the man is the “head” of the woman (1 Cor. 11:3). Isaiah 3:12 even says that a situation where women and children rule over men is one characteristic of judgment. These are offensive verses to many modern readers, but honesty compels us to note them here. If we believe that the Holy Spirit inspired them to be written precisely as they are, then we must do more than begrudgingly accept them. We must confess them to be true and gladly submit ourselves to them. We acknowledge the abuses of this as errors, either of excess or confused cause and effect. But we need to also admit that our own historical context causes us to avoid certain plain truths.

1 Cor. 16:13 even uses a term for bravery which literally means “to show oneself to be a man”: ανδριζεσθε. Interestingly for our purposes, that verse also calls for perseverance. “Stand firm in the faith, show manliness, be strong.” Manliness and perseverance, a typical ancient pairing.

Thus while we should not accept the simple assumptions about the constitution or ability of men and women made by classical philosophy, we can and should see the occasions when the classical teaching on hierarchy is nearly approximated by the Bible. This doesn’t mean that the Bible is dependent upon that classical background. But when this does happen, it means that both are responding to and identifying creational realities. And it is clear that the Bible does assert a theory of “manliness.” Men should not be soft.


An important concept closely related to softness is luxury. As mentioned earlier, Aristotle says that luxury is a species of softness. In the classical world, luxury was the overindulgence of certain appetites and the use of a good in a non-productive way. Storing up treasures or fine things rather than using their value for the needs of others would be one example. This luxury could be a product of a prior softness, but it was also thought to cause softness. As men indulged in luxury, they would become more and more morally soft. Since regular markers of luxury were fine things, soft things, it was easy to connect luxury to effeminacy as well.

We see this sort of thinking in John Chrysostom:

For wherein is delicate cookery and making sauces profitable to us? Nowhere: yea, they are greatly unprofitable and hurtful, doing harm both to body and soul, by bringing upon us the parent of all diseases and sufferings, luxury, together with great extravagance.

But not these only, but not even painting, or embroidery, would I for one allow to be an art, for they do but throw men into useless expense. But the arts ought to be concerned with things necessary and important to our life, to supply and work them up. For to this end God gave us skill at all, that we might invent methods, whereby to furnish out our life. But that there should be figures either on walls, or on garments, wherein is it useful, I pray you? For this same cause the sandal-makers too, and the weavers, should have great retrenchments made in their art. For most things in it they have carried into vulgar ostentation, having corrupted its necessary use, and mixed with an honest art an evil craft; which has been the case with the art of building also. But even as to this, so long as it builds houses and not theatres, and labors upon things necessary, and not superfluous, I give the name of an art; so the business of weaving too, as long as it makes clothes, and coverlids, but does not imitate the spiders, and overwhelm men with much absurdity, and unspeakable effeminacy, so long I call it an art.

And the sandal-makers’ trade, so long as it makes sandals, I will not rob of the appellation of art; but when it perverts men to the gestures of women, and causes them by their sandals to grow wanton and delicate, we will set it amidst the things hurtful and superfluous, and not so much as name it an art…

…And if you despise our judgments, hear the voice of Paul, with great earnestness forbidding these things, and then you will perceive the absurdity of them. What then says he? Not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array. 1 Timothy 2:9 Of what favor then can you be worthy; when, in spite of Paul’s prohibiting the married woman to have costly clothing, you extend this effeminacy even to your shoes, and hast no end of contrivances for the sake of this ridicule and reproach? Yes: for first a ship is built, then rowers are mustered, and a man for the prow, and a helmsman, and a sail is spread, and an ocean traversed, and, leaving wife and children and country, the merchant commits his very life to the waves, and comes to the land of the barbarians, and undergoes innumerable dangers for these threads, that after it all you may take them, and sew them into your shoes, and ornament the leather. And what can be done worse than this folly?

But the old ways are not like these, but such as become men. Wherefore I for my part expect that in process of time the young men among us will wear even women’s shoes, and not be ashamed. And what is more grievous, men’s fathers seeing these things are not much displeased, but do even account it an indifferent matter. (Homily 49 on Matthew, 5)

Chrysostom describes luxury as overly delicate and ornate, and he calls it a kind of effeminacy. Interestingly, he also alludes to androgny, saying that luxurious sandals “pervert men to the gestures of women.” He later worries that young men will actually begin to wear women’s shoes.

While technically distinct problems, androgyny and effeminacy have an obvious connection. If a man is androgynous, he will both “look like a woman” and fail in his duty to be a man, to conform to prudent standards of masculine appearance and attire. When it comes to luxury, this androgyny is a consumer choice, not at all necessary. Thus in this light, it is an act of rebellion, choosing an unnecessary thing for pleasure while abandoning the pursuit of virtue.

Again, this is an entirely unfashionable (pun intended) way of thinking. It arouses hoots of cynicism and disdain among modern readers, even (or especially) modern Christians. Importantly, even conservative and otherwise “manly” North American Christians will likely reject this perspective on luxury. But again, we see New Testament cases which cause similar discomfort. The Apostle Paul states that women should have long hair, as an external manifestation of glory, but that men should not have long hair. Paul says that long hair on a man is shameful (1 Cor. 11:14-15). That section in 1 Cor. 11 is certainly complex, and questions could be raised as to the rigidity or flexibility of customs of decorum. Was long hair on men always a shame, in every culture or every place, or was it only a shame in Paul’s culture? Either way, however, the basic point remains– Paul says that certain matters of decorum can be sexually inflected so as to make them appropriate for one sex but inappropriate for another. We will come back to the matter of decorum in a moment.

Indeed, Jesus himself criticizes luxury, highlighting especially “soft garments and fine apparel” (Luke 7:25). He also condemns the way that religious leaders are attracted to luxury and the perception of importance and sophistication (Luke 20:45-21:4). In this sense, it isn’t simply cowardice that pairs with luxury but a lazy approach to authority. Jesus is lambasting those men who enjoy the rewards of leadership but without the actual self-sacrifice that is necessary for it.

A final point about “luxury” is worth making. The condemnation of luxury in the ancient world was closely paired with the view that usury was unnatural and immoral. “Non-productive” money was luxury. Thus we could say that many modern monetary policies, lending practices, and perhaps even economic systems (those dependent upon basic consumer credit) are luxurious. The tangled history of usury demonstrates that economies can develop in new and surprising ways, and what was previously thought to be “non-productive” can become productive. Still, anything based on the promotion of, to use an old expression, vainglorious spending, would be luxurious, a species of effeminacy. This older concern about non-productive goods can apply in meaningful ways on the individual level as well. Any collection of goods or wealth without corresponding charity, service, and the empowerment of others towards productivity is essentially luxurious. It is a waste. Applying this to effeminacy, we can say that a truly “manly man” should be as concerned with covetous marketing in all its forms.. He should be as offended by a surplus of firearms and vehicles as he is with rhinestone jeans or miscolored hair. He should support sustainable business models and local entrepreneurial endeavors. He should be greatly distressed by policies and decisions which discourage true self-mastery, individual responsibility, creative thinking, and self-determination. A modern community of copycat despots may be significantly more effeminate than one of hipster craftsmen.

The critical question for luxury would be the use of any item. Is it merely being used to draw attention to oneself, to serve as an adornment or marker of one’s personal worth or ambition, or does it encourage and facilitate the production of a good? Manly men should be in the practice of making more men.

Sexual Deviancy

This sort of background explains why Calvin would read the “malakoi” of 1 Cor. 6:9 as luxurious or androgynous effeminates. Rather than seeing arsenokoi and malakoi as complementary sins, Calvin understood them as gradations along a scale:

By effeminate persons I understand those who, although they do not openly abandon themselves to impurity, discover, nevertheless, their unchastity by blandishments of speech, by lightness of gesture and apparel, and other allurements. The fourth description of crime is the most abominable of all — that monstrous pollution which was but too prevalent in Greece. (Commentary on 1 Cor. 6:9)

Calvin does not interpret the malakoi as merely morally soft men in terms of perseverance or courage. Rather, he sees them as men who, through luxury, take on effeminate adornment as a means of unchastity. This is, in Calvin’s view, a sort of sexual deviancy, not as extreme as sodomy, but as a lesser manifestation of a common vice.

Thomas Aquinas, who maintains that the chief meaning of effeminacy is the lack of perseverance, nevertheless also makes a connection to the malakoi of 1 Cor. 6:9. Interestingly, he does not say that this is merely luxurious or androgynous adornment, but is indeed a kind of effeminate sexual deviation. Thus he acknowledges the particular verse is directed at passive homosexual partners. Still, he does see a connected logic:

Objection 1. It seems that effeminacy is not opposed to perseverance. For a gloss on 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind,” expounds the text thus: “Effeminate—i.e. obscene, given to unnatural vice.” But this is opposed to chastity. Therefore effeminacy is not a vice opposed to perseverance.

Reply to Objection 1. This effeminacy is caused in two ways. On one way, by custom: for where a man is accustomed to enjoy pleasures, it is more difficult for him to endure the lack of them. On another way, by natural disposition, because, to wit, his mind is less persevering through the frailty of his temperament. This is how women are compared to men, as the Philosopher says (Ethic. vii, 7): wherefore those who are passively sodomitical are said to be effeminate, being womanish themselves, as it were. (ST II-II. Q.138. A1)

While Thomas’ larger point is to prove the basic Aristotelian meaning of effeminacy– moral softness which withdraws from pursuit of the good–he grants that the malakoi of 1 Cor. 6:9 are sexually perverse, even “passively sodomitical.” He then admits that this softness can come from luxurious custom. He does not say that the malakoi of 1 Cor. 6:9 have the problem of luxury, and so he is not making the same point as Calvin. But he does say that their behavior is as if they are making themselves women–they are “being womanish.” They are effeminate because, instead of persevering in the call to manhood, they become like women. Thus the name of effeminacy is given to them.

Sexual effeminacy, men looking or acting like a woman, is a failure of moral endurance. It could perhaps be a reaction to a previous failure, a way of masking that failure or insulating against a repetition of it. More than just a “failure,” however, it could be a response to the failure of others, a response to abuse or trauma. This was once a common explanation offered for homosexuality. It has largely been discarded now, as it is perceived as retaining a stigma which modern sensibilities reject, though Christians still use it from time to time. Interestingly, in modern Western cultures, sexual effeminacy can actually assist in one’s accumulation of power, as it offers a way to be shameless, proud, or maximally indulgent. These traits can even give one a competitive advantage in many fields. This sort of effeminacy can also provide a basis or justification for the violation of other customs and taboos, and so it becomes a complementary feature to any culture of consumption or excess. “Queer culture” is not so much an undermining of modern liberal-capitalism as it is a predictable outcome and self-sustaining feature of it. “Gayness” has become a natural ally to the market. It’s hard to find a global corporation that lacks pride. Consumption has become an end in itself.

A Sense of Decorum

Finally, we should address the most common meaning of effeminacy today– too not be or look manly. A man might be said to be effeminate because of his physique, his vocal tone, his gait, his hobbies, or his dress. This seems to present the perfect recipe for abuse. Critics are allowed to be arbitrary, inconsistent, and even unjust. A man has no control over the size and shape of his body. Critics can also condemn the low-hanging fruit of an obvious externality while avoiding the more challenging moral aspects of the formation of the will and the appropriate environmental factors which shape it. And without offering more than a visceral reaction to a foreign cultural artifact, this kind of criticism easily gives way to a chauvinism which fails to examine the areas of moral softness or excess within its own boundaries. It does not cultivate and encourage the minds of its youth, helping them to see the moral principle at stake, and it falls rather easily to the simple question of “How do we know?” Thus the rugged manliness of the 1950s proved unable to withstand the war of progress waged by its own children.

So, how do we know if someone is being properly manly? On one level, this is only seen over time as people persevere against pain in pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful. On a public level, however, there have been helpful categories to provide some direction. It’s just that we have abandoned them. Two of the most helpful are propriety and decorum. Propriety is simply the concept of being proper, of being appropriate. It is doing what is “proper,” what is fitting, in any given situation. Propriety is founded on a more basic moral truth, but it involves the application or execution of that moral truth in a complex and subjective concrete setting. It has to do with doing the right thing, at the right time, and in the right way. The common Greek term for this idea was prepon. The more familiar Latin name, decorum, has remained in use in English, and it is typically applied to the external manifestations of propriety or the social customs developed to preserve and promote propriety.

One of the classic sources for understanding decorum is Cicero’s On Moral Duties. There he writes:

I have now to speak of the only remaining division of the right, embracing modesty, which gives a certain lustre to life, temperance, discretion, serenity of soul, and moderation in all things. Under this head is included what we may fitly call decorum, or becomingness; the Greeks call it πρέπον. The property of this is that it cannot be separated from the right; for whatever is becoming is right, and whatever is right is becoming. In what way the right and the becoming differ is more easily felt than told; for whatever it is that constitutes becomingness, it makes its appearance when the right has gone before; and thus the becoming is not confined to the division of the right now under discussion, but is equally manifest in the three other divisions. For it is becoming to employ both reason and speech with discretion, and to do what you do deliberately, and on every subject to perceive and discern the truth; and, on the other hand, it is as unbecoming to be deceived, to misjudge, to commit grave mistakes, to be deluded into unwise conduct, as it is to be delirious or insane. Then, too, whatever is just is becoming; on the other hand, whatever is unjust, as it is base, is also unbecoming. The case is the same with courage; for whatever is done manfully and high-spiritedly seems worthy of a man, and becoming; whatever is the opposite of this, as it is base, is also unbecoming. Thus this becomingness of which I speak belongs, indeed, to all virtue, and so belongs to it that it is not discerned by any abstruse process of reasoning, but is perfectly obvious. For there is, in truth, a certain something which is becoming — and it is understood to be contained in every form of virtue — which can be separated from virtue in thought rather than in fact. As grace and beauty of body cannot be separated from health, so this becomingness of which I am speaking is entirely blended with virtue, yet is distinguished from it in conception and thought. (On Moral Duties, 1.27)

Cicero goes on to say that fittingness is “conformity with nature” (ibid, 1.28). Men ought to be who they are. They should both act like and look like the kind of person that they are. They should present themselves honestly.

This category became a common place for any social or moral writing. Interestingly, John Calvin makes a great deal of it in his sermons on 1 Cor. 11:2-16. These have been translated and published as a book titled, Men, Women, and Order in the Church, and selection on the role of custom is available online here.

Calvin recognizes that the Apostle Paul uses a specific custom to maintain decorum in order to preserve appropriate order in the church. In his Commentary on 1 Corinthians, Calvin puts it this way:

For as a man’s dress or gesture has in some cases the effect of disfiguring, and in others of adorning him, so all actions are set off to advantage by decorum, and are vitiated by the want of it. Much, therefore, depends upon decorum (τὸ πρεπον,) and that not merely for securing for our actions gracefulness and beauty, but also to accustom our minds to propriety. (Comment. 1 Cor. 11:2)

Decorum, then, is the outward presentation, and propriety is the mental or moral principle. Importantly, the two are related. Decorum accustoms the mind.

Calvin was not wrong to emphasize this point. It appears throughout the Apostle Paul’s writings. He appeals to propriety in 1 Cor. 11:13. He argues that a “tradition” (1 Cor. 11:2) or a “custom” (1 Cor. 11:16) should be retained by Christians. He wants them to avoid shame or disgrace in their public presentation of themselves (11:6, 11:14). Paul believes that this can be learned from “nature” (11:14), but he also provides a sort of cosmic hierarchy as justification (11:3). He appeals to the creation account (11:9, 12), and is clearly calling on men and women to be what they were created to be. He is arguing that they should live in conformity with their nature. This is a clear argument for decorum. A second argument of this sort appears in 1 Tim. 2:9-10, where Paul is again talking about the adornment of women in the church. Paul contrasts external jewelry with good works, but then he calls on the women to have a “proper” look. He moves from improper decorum to the propriety of the mind. Their presentation should match their profession, and he emphasizes modesty and sobriety.

An interesting third occurrence of the concept of propriety in Paul is Ephesians 5:3, “as is fitting [πρέπει] among the saints.” He does not go on to discuss physical decorum, but he does forbid “foolish talk” along with obscene speech and coarse jesting. Paul then restates the idea that such activities are “out of place” (Eph. 5:4). They are not merely wrong. They do not “fit” the character. Whether a jokester attitude is actually lurid or merely “light,” it is still not befitting.

The details are always going to be tricky here. Some actions, behaviors, and modes of self-expression are always wrong. Natural law and the creation ordinances instruct us on these matters. Thus, basic human sexuality–the fact of our existence as male or female and the role of marriage as a bond between one man and one woman–is a matter of basic morality and law.

However, most specific matters of decorum depend upon the logic of a local culture. The significance of a certain fashion is found in its meaning in a specific place, to a particular community. Various customs develop over time and in different places. A skirt is effeminate, whereas a kilt is not. A century ago, grown men rarely wore shorts. What is the Biblical approach to respecting such customs? Contrary to the modern assumption, the Bible would have us respect local custom as much as possible (1 Cor. 9:19-23). We are instructed to be content in our station in life (1 Cor. 7:20). We are to maintain order (1 Cor. 14:40). We are to submit to hierarchies and authorities (Rom. 13:1, 7). We shouldn’t miss the fact that both Paul and Peter work through a common list of hierarchies: civil magistrates and citizens, husbands and wives, parents and children, and masters and slaves (Rom. 13:1-7; Eph. 5:22-6:9; 1 Peter 2:13-3:7).

The exception to this would be if a set of customs were overtly sinful or clearly unbecoming of a Christian. In a culture with very low standards for modesty, Christians ought to take care in being distinct. So too with punctuality, generosity, and sobriety. Still, the application and execution of these things will necessarily be subjective, and so they require prudence, a wisdom learned from studying the past and keeping our neighbor’s best interest at the forefront of our minds.

Importantly, the Bible does not really prescribe customs–not in any kind of positive law manner. Rather, the Bible presumes the existence of various customs as a reality of human social ordering. Some are deformed and therefore immoral. These are condemned. But others are simply variations upon the expression of human ordering, and here the Bible calls on us to respect these customs. We are simply not to fixate upon them as a matter of ultimate importance but instead to use them for the good. This is very clearly reflected in the post-Biblical Epistle to Diognetus (chapter 5), but the principles are already present in places like 1 Cor. 7:29-31:

But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away.

Will the Christian find himself in an unsure situation? Of course. And in those cases the law of charity reigns. We are not to judge another’s servant. Deference should be given to the weaker brother, but these are not matters to bind the conscience. Still each Christian should have the same motivation. He should use decorum to preserve and promote propriety in all humility. “Art” is not an essential danger in these matters, but honest reflection should admit that art is often used as cover to violate propriety and revolutionize decorum. Beauty is not an evil in these matters, but it should be an appropriate beauty, one that fits the purpose and occasion. It should be a true and righteous beauty rather than a vain one. It should not be a beauty which merely draws attention to itself, but one which exalts others and ultimately points to the beauty of God.

This relates to effeminacy in a few ways. Luxurious effeminacy overturns decorum through excess. It promotes impropriety through decadence. Sexual deviancy fails to respect the fitting forms of sexual presentation, or it mockingly rejects them and seeks to undermine them. The testimony of history, whether in the ancient Near East, the Greco-Roman world, Western Europe, or North America is that moral softness manifests itself in both luxury and sexual deviancy, both of which begin to promote immoral lifestyles and the subversion of nature. Disorder soon follows.

It would be a grave mistake for a Christian, in the name of their individual freedom and flourishing to disregard time-established community norms of modesty and propriety. Nothing feels more natural to our modern Western spirit than exactly this, and yet the Bible clearly speaks against it.

A Christian struggling with same-sex attraction should not join together with other, usually young, Christians with the same struggle and ask the larger community to redefine its notion of propriety and decorum. Rather Christians in this situation should join with older and mature Christian families and seek to best honor propriety and decorum, leaning how to possess their bodies with integrity and how best to serve the larger community through humble and sincere service. Modesty, chastity, and sobriety should be the order of the day. Most all, brave perseverance in holiness will be the final mark of victory.


This has not been a typically 20th century outlook on effeminacy and human sexuality. In many ways, the 20th century oversaw the collapse of these values. A “man’s man” in the 20th century was an individualist, one willing to break the rules and not let any person or tradition hold him back. In other words, he was already effeminate. In fact, this outlook had slowly been growing for centuries. A “straight white Christian man” today will find much of what has been written here to be entirely foreign, even if he can recognize its force. I can’t think of many pastors, churches, or Christian institutions who would even know how to talk about these matters, and I am rather skeptical that many would have the willpower necessary to do so if they did.

Given this historical reality, it would actually be inappropriate to expect people to immediately understand manliness and effeminacy. Using the concepts merely as a weapon against soft targets might well be a sort of flattery to one’s base. And yet, if the concepts are true, then we do need to start talking about them and we do need to start expecting Christian leaders to become familiar with them. Many cultural practices or “gender roles” which are quickly mocked today were actually built upon customs of decorum and propriety. People have forgotten the logic, but instead of allowing that weakness to move us further away from proper standards and boundaries, we should ask people to recover the older concepts. This is especially true for anyone promoting the historic Christian sexual ethic.

The erosion of proper customs and decorum have not made that ethic easier to understand but instead have made it nearly unintelligible. And so Christians should not assume that traditional Christian sexuality is obvious or even understood at all. We also cannot believe that the problem will be addressed by a list of rules or even one or two proof-texts. Rather than retreating to the commitment of private special revelation, we should demonstrate how God’s natural revelation can be interpreted and embodied in a consistent and comprehensive manner.

The good news is that reality is stubborn. Disorder does not hold together. Decadence never lasts. Men and women will become “manly” and “womanly” as they live out who they actually are.

To persevere will require faith. You must trust God and His revealed will, and you must believe that He will fulfill the desires of your heart. Effeminacy pulls away in the absence of pleasure, looking for fulfillment elsewhere. But God promises to grant us the grace of perseverance. Our faith is not of ourselves. We overcome because He who is in us is greater than He who is in the world. We can do all things because Christ makes us strong.

By Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the Rector of Christ Church Anglican in South Bend, Indiana. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a founding member of the Davenant Institute.