Tim Bayly authored “The Grace of Shame” (Warhorn Media, 2017). To understand Bayly’s writing and worldview, it may be useful to know some of his background.
Bayly was ordained in the John Knox Presbytery (the Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin portion) of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA). In 1991 he transferred his ordination to the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the largest Reformed denomination in the US, which split from the PCUSA in 1973. In 2010, he moved his credentials to Clearnote Fellowship, a denomination he created from three churches: his own, Clearnote Church in Bloomington, IN, and two other churches. One church is pastored by his son, Joseph, who co-authored this book, and the other was planted by the son.
As of February 2019, Tim Bayly’s church changed its name from Clearnote Church to Trinity Reformed Church, also renaming and restructuring the Fellowship into its own denomination and presbytery, the Evangel Presbytery. Clearnote created a Pastors’ College in 2005, which is now also part of Evangel.
Part of the Evangel Presbytery confessions includes belief in the Creation Order: Adam first, followed by the God-ordained subjugation of Eve. Adherence to Creation Order strongly influences Bayly’s views on the roles of men and women, and what he considers to be masculine and feminine. By extension, this also impacts his views on those who identify as LGBTQ.
In 1997, Bayly was named the first executive director at the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). He later left CBMW disappointed that the organization was only committed to the headship of men over women in the home and church. Bayly thought male leadership should extend to business, government, and the legal systems. He acknowledges this position in “The Grace of Shame” writing:
“Outside the Christian home and church, we say there is nothing wrong with women serving as police persons, guards in men’s prisons, lawyers, doctors, senators, judges, combatants in the armed forces, governors, prime ministers, and presidents. We tell the world male leadership is just a private Christian thing, assuring ourselves that it’s just the private lives of Christians God is concerned about. We don’t have time to discuss where and how we should witness to God’s creation order of Adam then Eve among unbelievers. It’s complicated and that discussion would subvert the immediate task at hand.” (p. 26-27)
Bayly does not believe women should have any leadership roles within corporate worship. Women are not to lead worship, participate in the readings, or give announcements, with the exception perhaps of announcing women’s ministry events. It is important to note these extreme positions about the “acceptable” roles of women because these convictions spill over into his views about how men and women are to behave.
One might quickly notice by looking at Bayly’s social media postings that he is hyperfocused (actually obsessed) on what it means to be a man or masculine. He frequently posts with his signature #manup delineating how a “hard” man behaves versus a soft man, “the effeminate,” a term he very much favors.
Surprisingly, I agree with Tim Bayly on one point. The fundamental premise upon which he bases his book is that the Greek work “malakoi” should not be translated as boy/male prostitute, catamite, or as the passive partner in homosexual sex, as it has been in some modern Bibles. We very much disagree with how it could be best rendered, but we’ll get there.
First, it might be helpful to look at the various translations of the Greek word malakoi before 1946 as well as considering contextual and historical information so we can better understand the world in which malakoi was written and translated. It is against this backdrop that we can better assess Bayly’s ideology and translation of malakoi.
At the center of the controversy, there are two Greek words used in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10: arsenokoitai and malakoi. Arsenokoitai is the more difficult of the two to translate. Bayly assumes his translation of arsenokoitai, “it literally means men who lie with males” (p. 34) is the correct translation. However, most Bible scholars agree that no one can say with certainty what it means precisely.
“Men who lie with males” is the literal translation of two Old Testament Hebrew words used in Leviticus, arsen and koiten. However, it is believed the apostle Paul coined the Greek word arsenokoitai. We need to notice the passage in Leviticus was written 1,600 years before Paul coined his word in a different language. To understand how Paul may have intended to use the word when he addressed a sin happening in the church in Corinth, we need to look at other ways in which the word was used. Unfortunately, there is no historical notation along the lines of “this is what arsenokoitai means.”
The word mostly appears in list form and occurs fewer than 100 times over a period of 600 years. It is mostly associated with the economic sin of exploitation, rather than a purely sexual sin. This is not where I will focus, however, since arsenokoitai is not the focus of Bayly’s book. It is the other Greek word, malakoi that is the topic of “The Grace of Shame.” Bayly believes that malakoi should be translated today as the “sin of effeminacy”.
Earlier English translations of malakoi indicate a weakness or degeneracy in character: lechers, weaklings, the wanton, and, eventually, the 1611 King James Version translates the word as “the effeminate.” The use of the English word “effeminate” is consistent in the 1881 English Revised Version and 1901 American Standard Bible.
Next, a series of somewhat consistent shifts takes place in the mid-20th century. Sometimes the two Greek words are combined into one word or expression, and other times they are individually translated.
1946 Revised Standard Version—combined to one expression—homosexual
1963 New American Standard Bible—effeminate, homosexual
1971 English Standard Version—men who practice homosexuality
1971 The Living Bible—those who are homosexual
1973 The Message Bible—those who use and abuse others, those who use and abuse sex
1973 New International Version— men who have sex with men
1982 New King James—homosexuals, sodomites
1995 New American Standard—male prostitutes, sodomites
2001 English Standard Version—men who practice homosexuality (with a clarification footnote: the active and passive partners in consensual homosexual sex)
Bayly does not like these changes that have occurred since 1946. He writes, “Past generations of English Bible readers were able to read the word God’s Holy Spirit inspired. Their Bibles always translated the Greek word malakoi into English, so everyone knew effeminacy was a sin distinct from homosexual intercourse, and that both sins excluded men from the Kingdom of God.” (p.36) He further contends that we need to return to the translation of malakoi used in the KJV, ERV, and ASV where malakoi/effeminate is recognized as a sin distinct from arsenokoitai/homosexuals, homosexuality (his interpretation, not mine). “Their justifications (modern translators) for this removal (of the word effeminate) are inexcusable. Past Bible scholars all left the word intact and translated correctly, so they had many faithful witnesses across the centuries that they could have easily followed.” (p. 37)
Bayly advocates for returning to the pre-1946 meaning of malakoi and renames the sin, the “sin of effeminacy.” He says of The Shame of Grace, “This book is our plea for the church to return to the words and truths of Scripture and her loving witness to the effeminate, sodomites, women who lie with other women, and similar abominations.” (p. 5) He is disturbed that “The sin of effeminacy is never mentioned in our churches today. In fact, our modern Bible translations have removed effeminacy from the list of sins in 1 Corinthians 6.” (p.35) “Pastors and elders particularly must not rob them (the effeminates) of repentance by refusing to use the words God uses about their sin.” (p. 7)
I have no doubt Bayly is earnest in his desire to shepherd people faithfully, and consistent with the Scriptures. But words, especially two thousand year old words, have cultural and time-bound baggage. Malakoi in the first century is not equal to effeminate or “the sin of effeminacy” in the 21st century. This is the crux of the problem with Bayly’s translation, ideology, and teachings in his book.
The ancient and historical distinctions between what is male/masculine and what is female/ feminine would be utterly unfamiliar to us today. Moreover, the bulk of these views associated with sex and gender roles would likely seem foolish.
This is a quick overview of the world into which the word “malakoi” was used and then translated as “effeminate” in 1611.
The whole of a human being was contained in the male semen. A woman’s sole contribution to conception was the fertile planting field of her uterus. It was not discovered until 1870 that a baby was produced by the joining of sperm and egg. A woman’s reproductive system was the inversion of a man’s anatomy. Her vagina was called a woman’s penis (along with other slang terms), but there was no scientific name for the vagina until 1680.)
Sex was performed only with the intent of procreation. Any non-procreative sex (no matter the sex of the partners) was sodomy. All sex acts should be devoid of passion and lust.
Ancient views of the male/masculinity and the female/femininity were determined by the balance and amounts of four types of bodily liquids (humours). If the hot, dry humours of a man overcame the cold, wet humours of a woman, you got a boy baby. If they didn’t, oh well, you got a girl. A woman’s “stuff” was on the inside because she was “cold.” Men’s “stuff” was on the outside because he was “hot.” Upon the birth of a baby, menstrual blood transformed to lactation milk. Her skin was seen as porous, vulnerable, and weak. Ancients thought women needed to stay indoors to protect their porous skin. It was so porous in fact that any excess liquid needed to be expelled monthly (her menses). Ancients thought every aspect of a woman from skin to vagina was the anatomical proof of her role to be penetrated in sex.
Clearly, ancient cultures were steeped in patriarchy and gender hierarchy (male dominance is all arenas). These negative views and the sub-importance of women and the feminine form an inextricable backdrop to the first century meaning of malakoi as well as its 17th-century translation “effeminate.”
The historical meaning of malakoi is fairly easy to define by observing context and usage. Malakoi had many meanings, some which Bayly acknowledges in his book (like cowardice and soft clothing), but the word also describes dispositions associated with the negative traits of women that were held as true in ancient times.
Women were thought to be morally weak, lazy, unchaste, given to unnatural vices, lustful, impure, and submissive in sex–to be penetrated. But the word was also used to describe men who were weak in battle, strutted and dressed as “peacocks” for women, too bookish, fell in love with women and lost control of their passions, and men who neglected their businesses.
Beyond contextual meanings of malakoi, our knowledge concerning human sexuality and what defines male and female has greatly expanded beyond the above nonsense. And, taking a more expansive view, we know what it is to be male/masculine and female/feminine/effeminate has not been and is not stagnant for all times and all places.
Because the Scripture warns that being malakoi can bar one from heaven, Bayly holds firm that the “sin of effeminacy” has the same result. While the 1 Corinthians passage does not even slightly indicate the social or sexual behavior of actual women, Bayly freely extrapolates his “sin of effeminacy” to women by flipping an inverse posture: The “sin of hardness” keeps women from heaven.
Throughout his book, Bayly attempts to give guidelines and examples of what are and are not effeminate behaviors, though he never strictly defines them. He somewhat defines it as a refusal by a man to occupy the place and role he should in a given relationship. “Effeminacy is the denial of one’s manhood decreed by God, and thus effeminacy is a sexual sin even when it is committed by a man who is all alone.” (p. 40) Bayly neglects most of the actual ancient concepts associated with malakoi and adds his own conditions he considers to be effeminate.
Should access to heaven be barred for those who read a lot of books, eat fine foods and drink fine wines, dress nicely, use nicer hair and skin care products, unbutton one too many buttons on their shirts, have long hair, are more passive in social situations, fall in love with women and “lose” themselves romantically and sexually, perform any sex act that is not procreative (By the way, Bayly is anti-masturbation too. He wants to call out “every form of sexual sin from fornication to effeminacy to adultery to incest to bestiality to masturbation.” (p. 30))
And let’s not forget that we need to be aware of “hard women.” Are they the ones with short hair who wear masculine clothing? Are they “too educated”? Maybe they’re the ones in traditionally male jobs, who can fix their own cars and plumbing, or take care of the family finances?
It is all rather subjective but the core message is apparently written in our anatomy. Bayly writes: “Hard is not what God made woman to be. Look at a woman’s sexual organ and consider the simple truth that godliness for woman means living in obedience to her body. Her body is soft in receiving man’s initiative and bearing the fruit of his initiative through her gift of life, and this is the reason hard women will not enter the Kingdom of God. They are in rebellion against God and who he made them to be.” (p. 54) There’s more: “Those with eyes to see the meaning our Creator has written into our body parts easily understand that man is made to initiate and women to receive. Again, the book of nature and the book of God agree.” (p. 62)
Why the focus on the sin of effeminacy? If unchecked, it may lead to the next listed sin, arsenokoitai/homosexuality. “What happens when a man gives himself to effeminacy and playing the woman? Not being able to say no to his lust, the effeminate decays until he finds himself in bed with another man. A man giving himself over to softness is well on the way to giving himself over to bedding another man.” (p. 64)
Bayly recounts a story where he failed to rein in an effeminate before he gave himself over to homosexuality. Pastor Bayly allowed the man, a countertenor in his congregation, to sing a “female aria” from Handel’s “Messiah” one Sunday morning during Advent. Some congregation members thought a woman was singing. Upon re-thinking his permission for the man to sing, Bayly wrote that he should not have allowed the countertenor to sing because it eventually contributed to his return to homosexuality. “I had not called him to be a man. I had not called him to sing like a man. I had not taught him to be a man. I had utterly failed him, and this book is a small part of my repentance.” (p. 142)
Let’s back this train up a bit and we will bump into irony.
First, early on in his book (p. 57-59) Bayly compared manly music (Frederic Handel’s) to effeminate music (Mick Jagger’s). Of course, he found the manly music superior because it “was biblical, celebrating the violence of God against His enemies.” (p. 57) (Please don’t tell Mr. Bayly that Handel wore wigs and soft clothing and never married or had children.)
I spoke with a music expert about Handel. Handel wrote his most famous operatic and oratorio repertoire with one particular countertenor (male soprano) in mind. Cathedral choirs were fully male since women were not allowed to perform. So the piece Bayly allowed his congregant to perform was actually written for a man who could sing countertenor.
I next spoke with a highly visable countertenor friend about his singing gift. His response was fascinating: “All men have two voices: a chest voice (technically called “modal”) and a head voice (often mistakenly called “falsetto”). The difference in sound is due to fewer than 100% of the vocal cords touching when singing or speaking in head voice. Chest/modal voice is what we primarily speak/sing in (using 100% of our vocal cords touching and air passing through to create sound). Every single male, hetero or other sexual, has the ability to use both voices! Anecdotally, I’d say 90% of current countertenors are gay, but that has more to do with our culture shaming men who ‘act feminine’ by singing in a currently feminine range (because historically, before women were allowed to sing in church or on stage, men sang today’s ‘women’s parts’). This likely scares straight men from singing in their head voice (countertenor range) for fear they’ll be called gay or made fun of for being ‘feminine’ (when in reality, they’re just doing something EVERY man could do).”
Bayly shamed and eventually voted with his church leadership to disfellowship a man who was singing to God’s glory in a way and in a voice that is natural to all men if they would be willing to endure cultural shaming. Shaming in the vein Bayly dishes out.
Where does one draw the line to define the “sin of effeminacy”?
It seems the minutiae is known by Bayly. Follow his social media for updates, #manup. “As men, we don’t want God to bar us from his Kingdom because we didn’t understand effeminacy is sin and thus fail to live out the manhood he decreed for us.” (p. 55) “This is what a pastor or counselor working with the seeker has to do. We have to command him to turn away from his effeminacy and instead love and live his masculinity. She turned away from her bull-dykiness and instead loved and lived into her femininity.” (p. 139) “We must join our brothers and sisters in Christ, helping them to bear the grief and agony of their effeminate and sodomitic parts.” (p. 136)
In telling “effeminate” people that they must change their behaviors/traits/characteristics to please God is to stretch the meaning of malakoi far beyond its contextual bounds, all the while neglecting two-thousand years of social change and medical enlightenment about human sexuality and the roles of men and women.
Having read and reviewed forty-five non-LGBTQ-affirming Christian books, I know Bayly’s usage and designation of malakoi as the “sin of effeminacy” is unique to his writing and teaching.
Back to entrenched patriarchy, today better referred to as misogyny. To have journeyed this far from the intended meaning and usage of a word, one must also, intended or not, hold to the ancient view of the sub-value of women and anything feminine. Bayly would likely deny this. But, you can’t have a “sin of effeminacy” without misogyny.
As a final point, you may have noticed that the title of the book is quite severe: ”The Grace of Shame.” Mental health care experts will assure you the two words do not travel well together. The title is Bayly’s interesting twist on the grace of God’s Law (p. 159). He explains: “Shame is their (the effeminates’) hope. To them, shame is the gospel. It is eternal life.” (p. 114)
Bayly has created a narrow gateway to heaven largely centered around conformity to very restrictive gender roles including very rigid views of what masculinity and femininity are. At the foundation of his ideology, he has ignored two millennia of medical and social change and has wrongly tied his disgust with effeminacy to a new moral sin category—”the sin of effeminacy.”
It’s bad theology, bad ideology, and bad historical work.
This review is not intended to impact Bayly. I am well aware he believes women do not have the “right” to bring correction. This review is a warning to potential readers of this toxic and shaming ideology.