A pastor in Malden, Mo., preached that women should remain at least “participation” trophies for their husbands and found himself in a leave of absence and professional counseling.

Stewart-Allen Clark delivered the controversial sermon on Feb. 28 at First General Baptist Church about how God built men to look at women and the ways in which women should maintain their physical appearance.

“I’m not saying every woman can be the epic trophy wife of all time, like Melania Trump,” he said, with a large image of the former first lady behind his head. “Most women can’t be trophy wives like her, maybe you’re a participation trophy … But you don’t need to look like a butch either.”

His message, which was shared by a Facebook user, attracted thousands of comments scrutinizing his words, his body and how religion could justify what many deemed as insulting rhetoric aimed at women.

The church released a statement on Monday that said Clark’s sermon wasn’t aligned with its positions and values, KCTV reported. General Baptist Ministries, the national organization for General Baptists that’s based in Poplar Bluff, Mo., stated similar sentiments and mentioned that Clark had resigned as a moderator for a meeting of religious leaders the organization hosts in July 2022.

“General Baptists believe that every woman was created in the image of God, and they should be valued for that reason,” the organization said in its statement.

As offensive as his message might be to some, it’s rather unremarkable to conservative sects of Christianity or even to society at large, religion and gender scholars told The Washington Post.

Clark argued that women simply don’t understand that God made men to be drawn to beautiful women and how they must try to look attractive.

“But you say, ‘how can I do that?’ Oh, I’m so glad you asked that question,” he said to his congregation. “If you were sitting in my office, here’s the first thing I’d say to you. And boy, I hate to say this: weight control.”

Clark suggested women put down cupcakes and wear makeup to experience the “miracles” it can unfold.

“Praise God for makeup,” he said. “It’s like Bondo for dented vehicles. And it’s like crack filler for your drywall.”

When video of Clark’s sermon made it to the news feed of Calvin University history professor Kristin Kobes Du Mez, she thought, “Nothing new here.”

Variations of Clark’s message can be found in guides on Christian womanhood and marriage, she said in an interview Monday. Those publications have been popular at least since the latter half of the 20th century when authors like Marabel Morgan or Beverly LaHaye, founder of the conservative group Concerned Women for America, were instructing women how to comport themselves in their marriages.

“This is common inside of a particular culture,” she said. “When people on the outside hear it or get a glimpse, that’s where the shock registers.”

Prescriptive Christian womanhood can come with influential power and platforms, such as the ones Morgan and LaHaye built, but it can be incredibly difficult for women to balance conflicting messages about how they should actually be, she said.

In his sermon, Clark mentioned that King Solomon had hundreds of beautiful concubines but also followed it up with scripture that reads, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

On one hand, women are expected to invest a lot of time in their appearance while another school of thought looks at that devotion to vanity as time taken away from studying the word of God, Du Mez said.

“It’s about control and who gets to wield power and expectations,” she added.

Clark highlighted his wife’s commitment to staying slim for him after being “quite robust” and giving birth to multiple children. She’s lost up to 50 pounds after each pregnancy because she understands the kind of man he is, he said.

“One of her favorite expressions is food never tastes as good as skinny feels,” he told his flock.

Requests for comment to Clark and his wife weren’t answered.

His words and his wife’s adherence to his desires aren’t just foregrounded in religion but in what society tells women they should value, according to Kari J. Winter, professor of American studies at the University at Buffalo.

“Women are pressured from the time we’re born to believe that if we support patriarchal power, we’re going to be rewarded,” she said.

Traces of women supporting oppressive regimes, even at their own peril, can be traced back to at least the 19th century with Catherine Beecher’s writings about roles suitable for women or even to the 20th century when Phyllis Schlafly took center stage with her anti-feminist beliefs, she added.

A man’s playboy ways and endless wealth, like former president Donald Trump, should earn him a reward that looks like Melania Trump, many imagine, according to Winter.

“The really toxic dynamic is it’s not so much which model of womanhood but that men in power have the right to define what a woman should look like and reduce her to her appearance,” she said. “Melania models that.”

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