An Open Letter to Evangelical Marriage Authors, Influencers and Speakers about Toxic Marriage Teaching

by | Mar 26, 2021 | Uncategorized | 42 comments

An Open Letter to Evangelical Marriage Authors: Please speak up about harmful teaching

To my regular blog readers: This is something that I needed to say, and the place to publish it where it will get seen the most is right here on the blog. So excuse me for injecting more discussion of toxic marriage teaching into the blog! I thought, though, that this made a fitting wrap-up to our week. I know this doesn’t apply to all of you who read the blog, but thank you for your grace in letting me post it–and if you are willing to share it to get more relevant eyeballs on it (or even tag influencers on Twitter/Facebook to whom it may apply) I would greatly appreciate it!


I had my first book published in 2003, by a wonderful little Christian publishing house, Kregel. It was called Bare Marriage: When you feel more like a maid than a wife and a mother (hence the name of my blog). Over the next few years, I continued to publish small books, and my speaking ministry grew.

Rebecca Katie children

The three of us at my first Publisher, Kregel, with copies of Bare Marriage in the background!

In 2008, I started this blog, because I needed a “platform” if I was ever going to get big in the Christian world and be able to write books that would reach a bigger audience. Blogging was slow. I wrote posts everyday, but they didn’t really take off. I didn’t know what I was doing.

But I kept at it. I got better.

I networked constantly, and found other bloggers who were also talking about marriage. I posted on their blogs; they posted on mine.

But I started to notice something. All of these big blogs were extremely conservative about marriage, sex, and dating. Most said that it was a sin to kiss before you were married. Many preached a form of wifely submission that I found actually quite dangerous. But I didn’t say anything, because, quite frankly, I wanted the audience. And so I toed the party-line, or at least I said as little about it as I could, so that I wouldn’t be antagonistic.

***

Many of those bloggers are now divorced, or have come forward with their own stories of emotional abuse, affairs, or domestic violence on the part of their husbands. Few are still blogging today–though some have done a 180 and turned into the biggest and best abuse advocates there are! But most have not. I am heartbroken for many of these women, who were just trying to serve Jesus.

And I wish I had been more open back then to encourage women to run after Jesus, not just to run after their husbands. I wish I had told them that Jesus cared about their needs, too, not just their husband’s needs. I wish I would have told them that you can’t create an intimate marriage if you keep all of your unhappiness inside, telling yourself that this is part of submission and serving your husbands. I wish. I wish.

***

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the emails and comments on this blog from desperate people. I’ve been trying to address these things on a case by case basis, writing posts about very specific marriage and sex issues.

But when the same things keep popping up, time and time again, I started to ask myself: “How can I address the root cause?”

Just over two years ago, I started wondering if maybe the reason that so many of the same issues kept recurring was because the Christian teaching in a particular area was faulty. 

Full disclosure: I had not read many Christian marriage books. I didn’t want to inadvertently plagiarize anyone, and I wanted all thoughts to be genuinely be my own. I read books to offer endorsements when asked, but I didn’t read for the sake of reading, except secular books on very specific topics to become more of an expert (like how our sexual physiology works).

So I wanted to rectify that, and I decided to start with one of the marriage best-sellers, Love & Respect.

I was horrified. I won’t go into all the reasons here; I have written at length on them before, most notably in the first post in my big review series where I talked about how Love & Respect handled sex, and in my Open Letter detailing my concerns. (And here’s a summary page for those interested).

But I want to offer a challenge to you all.

I know that many of you realized this book was terribly dangerous, too.

I’m not talking about doctrinal disagreements–those are fine, and it’s good and healthy to have different points of view.

But there’s a difference between a book you disagree with and a book that actively causes harm. No one who gives healthy marriage advice could fail to see how dangerous this book is. It does not take much discernment to realize that it’s not a good idea to say that sex is all about a husband’s physical release, and not even a mention intimacy or a wife’s pleasure; that it’s not a good idea to tell a woman whose husband has “withering rage” towards her, so much so that she feels like she should “get away and hide”, that she should ignore that and instead respond with unconditional respect; that it’s not a good idea to praise a woman who let her physically abusive husband back into the house simply because he said he repented, without mentioning the love bombing phenomenon and the need to prove repentance over time in the case of abuse. These are pretty obvious HUGE red flags.

Yet this book became an almost instant best-seller, and has kept that best-seller status, because people did not speak up.

We kept quiet. And it sold. And sold. And sold.

* * *

And here’s what it did (just a few examples of the thousands of comments and survey responses that we have now had):

This book was also harmful to me during the narcissistic discard/abandonment by my then husband of 28 years (who’d been a full time pastor for over 20 of those years). This book was part of me accepting the blame for everything and allowing things to get to the point where the kids and I were left homeless. Friends took us in and we were spared living on the street, but this message to continue to respect an abusive man and follow his lead played a large role in my trusting him despite continual deception and horrific treatment. I’m disgusted that I bought into these lies and didn’t better protect myself and my children.

In my marriage, many of the love and respect values were preached to me over the years any time I sought help. This deepened and perpetuated a cycle of abuse in which my husband was never allowed to be confronted, and I was continually squashed. It took a divorce attorney to tell me I had been in the victim of domestic violence. Meanwhile my ex continued so far in his sexual deviance that he was busted for watching pornography at work and now says he is bisexual. Yesterday n old friend reached out to me and shared her story. Suffice it to say that the church’s teaching, based on Love and Respect, lay the blame for his egregiously bad behavior at her feet. The church is losing people over this. Yes to affirming marriage. No to affirming abuse and narcissism. Yes to biblical boundaries and conflict resolution. No to encouraging abusers.

As a result of Love and Respect, the multi-faceted abuse perpetrated against me by my ex was further compounded with spiritual abuse, damaging my view of God, marriage, and myself. Fighting hard to save my marriage under these circumstances nearly cost my life and the life of my child. Sadly, I wish my story was the only one — but it’s not. I personally have many friends subject to abuse as a result of Love and Respect. Absolutely heartbreaking.

Our Bible study group did this book several years ago. We went into not knowing anything about it other than it was a popular marriage book. We were so excited. We ended up horrified by what we read. Eggerichs spends the whole book playing the victim and encouraging all men to follow suit. I am married to a believer who truly loves me (and I, him) and we have always communicated well. But he grew up with a passive aggressive mother who is the eternal victim. It has always been a struggle for him to not follow in her footsteps. Not only did this book give him permission for this behavior but it tried to teach him this is how he *should* be. And, as for me, until I realized I was reading lies, all this book did was make me feel bad about myself, like there was something inherently wrong with me. It did not spur me on to change or to good deeds, like godly conviction does. It just felt like a “you’ll never be a good wife” anchor. Praise God for the Holy Spirit, who spoke loud and clear that this message was flat out wrong. This book could have done some serious damage. You don’t have to be in an abusive situation for this book to be harmful.

Read many, many more comments in the comments section of my open letter.

* * *

It’s not just Eggerichs’ books, either. I recently conducted a survey of over 20,000 Christian women. We asked them an open-ended question: Are there any books, resources, or ministries that have harmed your marriage? We didn’t name any; we let people name them with no prompting.

The top 5 mentioned, in order, were:

  1. Love & Respect
  2. Created to Be His Helpmeet
  3. Every Man’s Battle
  4. I Kissed Dating Good-bye
  5. Focus on the Family (largely mentioned because of terrible advice to women in abusive marriages)

And there were so many more. So many.

I’m starting to read through many of those mentioned, so that I can be better informed. I dropped the ball for a long time because I didn’t want to see, and I did a disservice to my readers.

Why do we try not to see?

I think it’s self-protection, just like I was in self-protection mode when I started my blog. We want to grow our platform, and so that means that we can’t tick off the wrong people. We need people to endorse our books. We need to get invited to speak at conferences, and there are only so many to go around (and far fewer every year). It’s a relatively small, insular market. We can’t tick off potential publishers; potential bookstores; let alone potential denominations.

So we stay silent.

And we convince ourselves that that’s okay, because we’re just going to publish GOOD books. We’ll spread good teaching, and that will be enough.

Nope. It won’t.

Silence is not spiritual.

* * *

We can’t help marriages by publishing good books if terrible books are still the best-sellers. And if those terrible books are being sold and promoted through the same media outlets that we are trying to appear on, then we are propping up the very mouthpieces that are keeping women and men in bondage, and that are keeping marriages unhealthy.

Focus on the Family, for instance, may feature a wide variety of healthy guests, but when it comes down to what they actually, consistently promote, Emerson Eggerichs is one of their go-to people. When you appear on their show and give heathy advice, you make people think, “Focus on the Family is a good resource for help for my marriage.” You lend your personal seal of approval to Focus on the Family, and help them earn a reputation for being safe off of the backs of your books and your message.

But then they target those same listeners with messages to buy harmful materials like Love & Respect or Mothers & Sons.

Is this what we want to do? Don’t we want healthy marriage books and healthy parenting books to rise to the top? That won’t happen when the biggest organizations speaking about Christian marriage and family (and Focus is not the only one) believe and teach things like women can’t divorce in cases of abuse; that sex is an obligation women owe to their husbands. That won’t happen when the biggest voices blame women for men’s porn use or men’s lust or men’s affairs.

That won’t happen when we allow these organizations to represent us and speak for us.

I did it three times. I didn’t do my homework. I didn’t understand what I was promoting.

Or is that I just didn’t want to see?

* * *

So what should we do instead?

Do the legwork. Get on as many podcasts as you can–podcasts that aren’t beholden to donors. Podcasts where you can truly say what you think. There are so many out there! Yes, it will mean more work to move the needle for book sales. But many of those podcasts actually have more engaged audiences than some of the bigger broadcasts. And in a few short years, they will have a far bigger audience than the huge, traditional media anyway, if they don’t already. The world is changing quickly.

So partner with the smaller outlets that are doing a good job. Support the ones that don’t cover up sexual abuse; that don’t keep women in bondage. Partner with those who respect and protect their listeners.

* * *

And while we’re at it, don’t be afraid to say what you think.

Most Christians today do not listen to big Christian broadcasts. They don’t read Christian magazines. Likely, they don’t even go to church.

The “dones” still claim allegiance to Jesus. They’re just done with church. And the nones and dones outnumber those in the pews.

You don’t need the big name Christian organizations to prop you up. Speak up, and the “dones” and “nearly dones” will notice–and there are a lot of them. Often they’re “done” because of the messages coming from those big organizations–organizations that we have allowed to speak with a singular voice because of our silence.

If all of us who actually have a healthy view of what it means to follow Jesus; who don’t see Christianity through an authoritarian mold; who believe that some of what is being preached about marriage is toxic–do you know how encouraging that would be to the “dones”? Do you not see how that would inspire millennials to have hope in the church again–a hope that they have largely lost because we all speak the same message and dance to the same tune–a tune that’s becoming increasingly off-key?

We would tell the “dones”:  we see you. We hear you. We want to know the real Jesus, too, and separate the weird teachings from what Jesus really says. We don’t want to be toxic. We’re listening. 

* * *

God is shaking the church. He is bringing down the principalities and powers that have perverted His body. Mars Hill. Harvest Bible. Willow Creek. Sovereign Grace. Moody. Gospel for Asia. The SBC. Bill Gothard. Carl Lentz. Ravi Zacharias. And so many, many more. He is separating the modern-day Pharisees from the modern-day disciples.

He is not finished. This purging will go on, and on, and on, because God will not be mocked. Too many are pursuing Christianity for their own agenda, not Jesus’. Too many are going after power, or money, or sex, or anything else–anything but Jesus.

And God has chosen this moment in time to act.

We need to decide: will we pursue Jesus, or cultural-Christian fame? Will we be so seduced by the idea of being a household name in Christian circles that we won’t speak up? Or will we say, “He must increase, and I must decrease”? Will we sacrifice our reputation and accolades in order to stand up for the least of these?

Women’s pain needs to matter more than our own ability to be famous on Christian media.

It really is that simple.

And if we all spoke up, together, we could change the conversation.

To my readers: Will you share this on social media, and tag influencers and authors and podcasters and bloggers that you know? Let’s get this message out there. And share it with your own message, too. Let’s start a bigger conversation about the Evangelical Industrial Complex, and how we need to get more discerning instead of just protecting the reputations of those at the top. 

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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42 Comments

  1. Melody

    I haven’t read most of those books, but I’ve seen the effects of them.
    “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” was popular in high school (I read half) and dating was super weird on my conservative Christian college campus.
    “Every Man’s Battle” was sweeping the campus my freshman or junior year and it inspired a host of dysfunctional behaviors/relationships.
    One guy was upset that I wasn’t more critical of him, to give him something to conquer, which is apparently an EMB thing (set your own goals, bro).
    Another guy shocked the heck out of me by saying EMB showed him his mom caused a lot of problems by not treating him well and his father should have punished her for it. Not that he stood by when he should have protected his child, but that he should have taken his wife over his knee and spanked her!
    I’m convinced that part of the reason I have a health marriage is that my husband walked away from the church during the period of time when he would have been imbibing this and went to a state college rather than a Christian one.
    In marriage counseling we read “Love that Lasts” by Gary and Betsy Ricucci and I knew I’d made the right choice when he recoiled in disgust at many moments in the book that seemed unhealthy or downright misogynistic.

    Reply
  2. Chris

    Sheila, just a eandom thought (although my random thoughts tend to get me into trouble), have you ever considered having Joshua Harris on the podcast? You could do a segment about the growing number of “dones” in the church. To be fair, there’s a lot going on OUTSIDE the church that is causing young people to leave too.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      A number of people have mentioned it to me lately! I will try to Instagram him. I don’t know the best way to get a hold of him. I do know some people who have had him on their podcast, so maybe they have his email? I’ll check.

      Reply
  3. Samantha

    I’m so glad people are speaking out against FOTF and L&R’s teachings. I have to wonder how many women are “happily” (I use this term loosely) married to narcissistic, abusive men like Emerson because they think it’s normal. My mom thinks 4-5 hour screaming matches with my dad every single weekend is normal conflict in marriage and would tell you she’s in a happy marriage.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, that’s heartbreaking. And, yes, I think it’s far too common.

      Reply
  4. L

    Oh Sheila! You were one of the more progressive voices back in the early years of my marriage. I got married in 2008 when you started your blog. 3 years down the line, and I was crying into my pillow every night. Not because my husband was an abusive man, but because I was v timid( with a history of abuse) and he was not very good at communicating emotions. So I did exactly as most Christian marriage blogs told me to. To shut up and do as you are told. I think it made my marriage worse for a while and while I got more timid, my husband who was more loving earlier, got more self-centered. that was the darkest time of my married life. Am so glad I found your blog. You truly have been a light of Jesus in my marriage. Your article on submission has been an eye opener for me. Ironically, I reached your blog through one of those conservative Christian bloggers who has now divorced.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad you found me, L! So glad. Yes, the advice that we often give just doesn’t work, and we need to learn to recognize what is emotionally and spiritually healthy.

      Reply
  5. Dorthea

    Thank you Sheila! And thank you for speaking up for us “dones.” If the church started acting like The Church/ The Body of Christ many of us would come back. But I for one am “done” with the toxic, ungodly, unchristlike, unbiblical teachings and behaviors found in so many churches. They have done enough harm.
    I hope you know from at least one of your regular readers you can post whatever God puts on your heart and we’re here for you, praying got you all and supporting you as you chase after Jesus and call all of us to do the same!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, thank you, Dorthea! And I’m so glad you feel as if you see Jesus here.

      Reply
      • Dorthea

        I most certainly do!

        Reply
  6. Mara R

    I think I might have a testimony concerning the gradual decline of the Love & Respect book. At least I hope so.
    I used to go to Hobby Lobby and find Love and Respect prominently displayed near the check out. Every time I saw it, I got so mad, I’d turn the copies upside down in protest. I know, pretty childish move. I even considered printing off book marks to put in the books saying something to the effect of “This book has the potential to destroy your marriage” or something. Still pathetic, I know. But what do you do when you see poison, bitter waters, promoted as healing waters? What can you do with so much frustration?
    Anyway, onto my (possible) testimony. This last time I was in my local Hobby Lobby, I couldn’t find Love & Respect. But I did see the Boundaries books there which was so refreshing!
    So here’s to hoping that the decline will continue because nobody needs the teaching that Eggerichs has to offer. Not until he deals with his own traumas of growing up in an abusive home.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s amazing! That’s promising. I do hope the tide is turning!

      Reply
    • Amy

      Mara – my Hobby Lobby still has L&R on their book display, and I turn them over too! I have thought about printing off the url to Sheila’s open letter to FOTF about L&R and slipping them in the books. However, instead I emailed HL with links to Sheila’s reviews and asked them to remove the book.

      Reply
  7. Kelly Ann

    As you know, Sheila, I found your blog through another Christian blogger in 2011 after My now ex-husband had committed infidelity. Your article on Children and divorce was what kept me from divorcing him at that time.
    I read L&R in hopes of saving my marriage. It didn’t help it. I gave him every bit of respect. Yet he remained unloving. So in my case, it wasn’t helpful. May have made it worse.
    I took your groundbreaking survey while still a married woman. And I do believe I named L&R as a book that had harmed me.
    It’s sad that the big names in the Christian blogging/writing/messaging world almost refuse to rebuke EE for his harmful teaching. Like as if they ignore it, then it doesn’t exist.
    And EE says he and his wife go thru the crazy cycle 2-3 times a week? That tells me that his method obviously doesn’t work.
    Keep fighting! Keep speaking out! You’ve got a lot of people behind you!

    Reply
  8. Wild Honey

    I started avoiding any marriage books that marketed themselves as “Christian” because their advice just never seemed to work in my marriage. So, joke’s on evangelical authors who promote this kind of stuff hoping to get more money; you’ve stopped getting mine!
    Glad I found this blog AFTER Sheila’s great awakening.

    Reply
    • EOF

      Same here. My marriage finally began improving after I stopped looking for help from “Christian” resources.
      That really says something, doesn’t it?

      Reply
  9. Nathan

    > > Why do we try not to see?
    A big part of this is something that has been discussed here and elsewhere many times. People think that criticizing the Earthly Church (or a church leader, or somebody who writes books as a Christian author) is the same as criticizing God Himself.
    ANYBODY can claim to be Godly, and ANYBODY can write a book and put a label on it that says “Bible based advice in a Godly manner”. That doesn’t make it so. Sadly, once somebody puts on the label, many others are afraid to criticize them, no matter how toxic they are.
    NOBODY is this good, except God and Jesus. Not Eggerich, not Sheila, not myself. Nobody should get a completely free pass and have their words accepted on the same level as God’s word just because s/he says it is.
    We need the wisdom to constantly examine our teachings to see if they really match up with God, and the courage to speak out against somebody who is giving Ungodly and/or toxic/abusive advice under the guise of Jesus, no matter how high in the church he is.

    Reply
  10. G.C.B.

    Powerful as always, Sheila!
    This reminds me of the past few days, including today, when I was reflecting on reading the feedback from a Catholic Columnist encouraging repentance for the roles we played leading up to Insurrection Day (January 6th, 2021 in D.C.)
    One reader left a comment (that I’m paraphrasing) that not only broke my heart, but also worded the thoughts I was so afraid to admit myself:
    Thanks to that day, the more outspoken and proud somebody is about their religion, the less I trust them.
    Nones and Dones outnumbering Faithful Parishoners.
    It’s nothing new, and yet revolutionary in the way you worded it.
    Thanks for taking a stand and being a representative of Christians (and Catholics) like me who are horrified at this sight of our Brothers and Sisters embracing the enemy’s vision of us, and longing and searching for opportunities and ways to provide love, healing, restitution and ways to fight back.

    Reply
  11. Kim

    What should I read then? Not newly married and the spark just isn’t there. We have been married 23 years and together for 30.

    Reply
  12. Em

    Very grateful for the work you are doing. I don’t have a full perspective on how hard it has been and how hard you have worked to get FOTF to see the light. I can imagine it’s been H-A-R-D.
    In the midst of fighting for truth, though, do we have to subscribe to cancel culture?
    Jesus telling people to render unto Caesar didn’t imply endorsement of the horrific things the caesars did, though their money would certainly have funded the horrific things the caesars did.
    Are you saying we should boycott helpful FOTF resources, like Odyssey? How much inadvertent harm could you cause with this message? Isn’t this why Jesus leaves the tares behind with the wheat?
    You’ll hack off the branch you’re sitting on, because at some point, you’ll say something incorrect as well, and then ‘deserve’ shunning yourself.
    Please keep speaking up, without telling people where NOT to speak.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hi Em! I hear what you’re saying, and I do hear that sentiment a lot: “But I love Adventures in Odyssey!”
      I get that. But here’s the thing: FOTF takes in $100 million. I think for $100 million we could have something like Adventures in Odyssey, PLUS a whole lot more. Like, we don’t need FOTF to create kids’ content. That’s only a small portion of what they do, and that content would still be created because there’s such a large demand for it (and there are so many more alternatives everyday because now people can make their own podcasts and YouTube channels! For little kids, I highly recommend Slugs and Bugs).
      If donors want Odyssey, there will be a way to have Odyssey no matter what. But that doesn’t mean that we should have to keep all the other stuff. And $100 million is a really big price tag. Think of what that money could do fighting sex trafficking in Cambodia or something! I just think we need to think outside the box. Organizations like FOTF are still working on a 1970s model when you couldn’t create content and make money at it; you needed donor dollars. Today there are umpteen podcasts and YouTube channels and more that are all free (like this blog or my podcast!) because content creators can get paid in other ways. So I don’t ask for donations to do my podcast or blog, but FOTF is still taking in $100 million a year, even though daily radio programs and blog posts are all created for free by a myriad of content creators all over the world everyday. It’s operating on an old model.
      I think if we moved to a new model, the good stuff (like Odyssey) would stay because there’s a demand for it and you could monetize it. But it is time that these orgs that take in so much money producing stuff that so many others do for free to rethink their mission, especially when there are so many greater challenges around the world. The internet has changed things, but so many ministries haven’t adapted, and I do think it’s time for donors to be more discerning about where their money goes.

      Reply
      • Em

        Thanks, Sheila, for responding! So neat. 🙂
        FOTF may well have an antiquated charitable and business model. It is reasonable to discuss where Christians should be spending money–the internet age has changed everything! But that’s not the heart of your post, unless I am misunderstanding. I’ll try once more to see if I can reframe my thoughts. I’m not saying, “But what about Odyssey? Isn’t that worth saving?”, so much as I’m saying, “Should we all jump off the ship and shoot at it in hopes that it sinks faster? Is that really Christ-like? Won’t we inadvertently hurt a lot of people?”.
        I think the wheat and tares parable might apply; this presents an ethic in stark contrast to cancel culture. The current cultural mood is so antithetical to redemption, grace, and reconciliation, that to hear you (seem to) echo it makes me sad. In Galatians, Paul talks about opposing Peter vehemently when he was clearly in the wrong, but he didn’t write him off from then on, and tell people how to sabotage his life’s work.
        I’m truly wrestling with these ideas, and hope I don’t come across as know-it-all. Maybe some things are so corrupt they ought to crash completely. But let’s try to navigate this transition period with a different attitude than cancel culture’s. It’s not true that to speak on a radio program signifies endorsement of everything else the program has offered in the past. Speech suppression, or encouraged speech suppression, is truly frightening.
        Having lived through myriad church traumas, I think I do have an underlying ability to imagine, though not understand, some of your anguish and frustration over those who injure and suppress the truth. But some true disciples are still on the ship, doing what they can. Speak the truth with a bullhorn, yes, but please don’t shoot.

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, one other thing–I’m not trying to cancel anyone. I just want people to own when they’ve taught something wrong and then recant. Like, if tomorrow Focus on the Family apologized and stopped supporting Eggerichs, I would shout it from the rooftops and thank them! If Eggerichs repudiated Love & Respect, and wrote a different book saying that he was wrong, I would laud him and tell everyone how great this was.
      It’s not the person I’m trying to cancel, but the teaching.
      And indeed, I’ve said many, many things wrong in the past! Some I’ve realized myself; some have been brought to my attention by others. And you know what I’ve done? I’ve taken down blog posts and revised them. I took down one podcast permanently. I asked for two of my earliest books to be taken out of print. It actually isn’t that hard to simply own when you’ve said something wrong and then change it. I think that should be normal in the Christian world. We shouldn’t have to stay static forever. We should be able to grow, and say when we no longer believe something. I just want others to be humble enough to do the same.

      Reply
      • Nathan

        Definitely, Sheila! We’re supposed to confess our sins to one another, and admitting our mistakes openly should also be part of that.

        Reply
      • Em

        Thanks, Sheila! Those are wonderful examples you’ve given, and I was aware of many of them. Takes grace and humility. Yes, that should definitely be the norm!
        I’m sorry my point seems to be so misunderstood. Never did I think you were personally attacking authors or cancelling them personally. It’s the implied boycotting of FOTF as a whole that I feel is akin to the current cultural mood and not to biblical principles. But like I said, I’m not on the front lines of this, and you might be well justified in the suggestion.
        I’m curious to know why you think this: “When you appear on their show and give heathy advice, you make people think, “Focus on the Family is a good resource for help for my marriage.” You lend your personal seal of approval to Focus on the Family, and help them earn a reputation for being safe off of the backs of your books and your message.”
        A real conversation would be better than this!Anyway, with all sincerity, thanks so much for the work you and your family are doing.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Hi, Em! What confuses me about Focus on the Family, to be honest, is that they have such contradictory guests. So they’ll feature Henry Cloud from Boundaries on their radio show, but then, in their emails to donors and supporters, they’ll try to sell them Love & Respect or offer them Love & Respect in exchange for donations.
          The problem is that Boundaries and Love & Respect have diametrically opposite messages. Boundaries is all about, well, having good boundaries. Love & Respect teaches that women can’t have them (if you’re upset at your husband, you can say 1-3 sentences every 10-20 days, and that’s it. And you must keep giving all the elements of respect, including sex, during this time). So let’s say that someone listens to the radio show and hears Cloud & Townsend, and hears Leslie Vernick talk about emotionally destructive marriages, and even hears me talk about how to make decisions properly (I was on their show three times after all). That person, listening to the radio show, is going to hear healthy information. So they’ll think, “Focus on the Family tells healthy stuff.”
          But then they’ll get an email from Focus saying, “here’s Love & Respect, which we publish and endorse!” So now people trust Focus because of the good guests on their show, so they assume that Love & Respect is also teaching something healthy.
          Does that make sense? This is my problem. The stuff that Focus features on their social media and email list is often very, very different from what they feature on their radio show. On our rubric of healthy sexuality, for instance, Boundaries in Marriage scored 42/48 (really very good for a book that didn’t talk a lot about sex), while Love & Respect literally scored 0. They are very, very different books.
          But people have no way of understanding that if they just listen to Focus on the Family, and indeed, they’ll think that Love & Respect must be good because they hear all this good stuff on their show. That’s what I’m concerned about. I hope that makes sense!

          Reply
      • Amy

        Gary Thomas is a good example. He has a blog post about how he came face to face with abuse survivors at a conference (the post is called Enough is Enough). In response, he revised Sacred Marriage to clean up some problematic parts and even wrote a book about toxic relationships (When to Walk Away). Is Gary’s teaching perfect. No. However, he acknowledged that some of his writing could be harming people and took active steps to improve it. I noticed in the back of The Great Sex Rescue that Gary even helped spread Sheila’s survey. He’s a teacher I would be inclined to trust because he’s shown a willingness to own his mistakes, to keep learning, and to listen to his audience. I just wish others would follow this example.

        Reply
      • Em

        Thanks, Sheila, for the clarifiers. I see where you are coming from. And it’s so very perplexing to me that you’ve met with such stonewalling at FOTF. I am still unconvinced that dropping the whole organization is a healthy way to address unrepentant evil within it. But I’m thinking about it. It seems like this approach easy generalizes to dropping the whole body of Christ, the whole institution of the gathered church, in general. I mean, there’s so much corruption! But we are still called to be a part of that body, with all its ugly parts. Interesting discussion–thanks.

        Reply
    • Jo

      Em,
      Are you aware of how The Great Sex Rescue came to be written? Sheila has been answering the same issues for YEARS via blog posts and her own books, then she asked herself, “What if the reason these problems recur is because of unbiblical teaching about marriage and sex?”
      All the good food, exercise, fresh air, sufficient sleep, and sunshine in the world won’t overcome prolonged, excessive, dangerous radiation exposure, and that’s what these books represent: poisonous thoughts that simply can’t be overcome by sufficient proper teaching. And since these books continue to be best-sellers, their EFfects continue to INfect the church.
      I’m glad Sheila told you herself about posts and books she has removed.
      Are you aware, Em, that some of these problematic books, even though they’ve gone through several editions (which ought to mean complete revisions but apparently doesn’t) STILL contain majorly problematic sections and scenarios? The Act of Marriage story of poor Aunt Matilda, whose wedding night was self-described as rape, and which description Tim and Beverly LaHaye apparently agree with, is still related with the statement that the husband, er, rapist, was “equally unhappy” as his wife. A rapist is “equally unhappy” as his victim!!! Several of the other books admit that women had approached the authors and described the harm that had occurred as they tried to live out the messages of the books. And yet those descriptions of harm never caused those sections to be rewritten or removed, let alone to have the entire book recalled. You can’t admit to problems right in the book itself, then turn around in the next paragraph or chapter to say that the message is sound.
      Sheila says repeatedly that she is not personally attacking these authors (which group includes both men and women). She is critiquing and dismantling the MESSAGES in these books, messages which studies show give bad outcomes to husbands, wives, children, and marriages. Why aren’t these authors reexamining their messages to make sure they really are helpful, not harmful? How many more people have to suffer for weeks, months, years, and even decades?

      Reply
      • Em

        Jo, thanks for your response. I don’t think she is personally attacking anyone–I was referencing a specific quote in the article above that strikes me as uncharacteristic in this blog’s otherwise wise and courageous approach to these false teachings. Please see my comment to Nathan below!

        Reply
  13. Bobbi Heien

    Thank you for speaking the truth. Yes I was told to submit. Yes I was told that even tho he threatened to kill me, and came close to doing so, I was to stay. I tried to see a counselor and they said the counsel of the church was enough. I wanted to leave the church, leave him, but my children were heavily invested in the church and friends there. I waited until the children were grown to leave. Wish I had left sooner. Wish I had found a way….

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so sorry, Bobbi. I’m sorry the church wasn’t a help to you but instead made it worse.

      Reply
  14. Jo

    A couple of thoughts:
    1. Would you be receiving this level of negative feedback if you were a man? Or would these male authors man up (pun intended) and realize this was an “iron sharpening iron” situation? Would they engage a man’s arguments against their teachings rather than attempt to dismiss them out of hand? It’s not that big a leap to think that these authors would lean toward “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man” (1 Tim. 2:12) as being an absolute, even though Acts 18:24-26 outright says Priscilla was not tagging along just for certain wifely activities when “they [Priscilla and Aquila] took him [Apollos] aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (v. 26). It’s an even shorter leap to think that believing the 1 Tim 2:12 statement is an absolute would eventually lead to the idea that women are not allowed to teach any man anything on any topic in any setting or situation. (Compare John Piper’s comments in his article on whether women can be cops and drill sergeants https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/should-women-be-police-officers). If one takes this belief to the home, then of course wives are not allowed to teach their husbands at all, not even how to sort laundry or change a baby’s diaper. And how would a wife confront her husband’s porn use, drug or other addiction, or infidelity if the husband can always play the “women can’t teach men anything” card?
    2. EE has done enough research to be aware of the the term “stonewalling,” giving his own meaning and interpretation to the term. The problem is that he reverses the originator’s actual meaning and declares it a good thing when the originator says it’s a bad thing. So he has a superficial understanding of a text from which he draws the absolute 180-degree wrong conclusion. I suggest he’s doing the same with another, much longer, and somewhat more important text…

    Reply
  15. Nathan

    > > You’ll hack off the branch you’re sitting on, because
    > > at some point, you’ll say something incorrect as well,
    > > and then ‘deserve’ shunning yourself.
    The criticism of resources like “Love and Respect” isn’t based on finding one small flaw in the book and then cutting off the entire branch because of one bad leaf. It’s entire philosophy is toxic and hurtful, to both men and women.

    Reply
    • Em

      Wow, I wasn’t expecting my comment to generate so much discussion–it’s great to chat with everyone. I’m one of those blog readers who essentially never comments! And I clearly lack practice, because I don’t think my point is understood.
      I fully support the wonderful work Sheila et al. are doing–and I think they are courageous champions for doing it. Have read dozens of her blog posts on this topic, and don’t disagree with a single word of those.
      With this particular post, she lost me at: “When you appear on their show and give heathy advice, you make people think, “Focus on the Family is a good resource for help for my marriage.” You lend your personal seal of approval to Focus on the Family, and help them earn a reputation for being safe off of the backs of your books and your message.”
      I disagree with that point. That’s all, but I think it’s an important point of disagreement. We can disagree–vehemently and persistently–without boycotting a multipronged organization that otherwise does a fair bit of good. My two cents, having never written a book, appeared on a radio show, or spoken at a big women’s event! The end!

      Reply
  16. Jo

    One other thought…
    Since the husband represents Jesus in the relationship between Christ and the church, do some men subconsciously have this little stream of “Well, since I’m representing Jesus in my relationship as my wife represents the church, then that must mean I’ve now become infallible and omniscient, just like Christ is”?
    That would go pretty far to explain why a wife must never question Hubby: how could any of us (especially women) imply, let alone accuse, Jesus of being wrong about something?

    Reply
    • Jane Eyre

      I agree, Jo.
      The analogy between husband and wife, and Christ and the Church, can go wrong in a multitude of ways. Most of them are when we try to understand marriage as it relates to Christ and his Church, not Christ as we understand marriage. If I think of a husband and wife who love each other, put the other person first, and have the mutual aim of establishing a joyful, Christian home and raising good kids, I can start to understand what Jesus wants for us and whats us to do for Him. That’s a relationship.
      But if you start to say husband = Jesus and wife = Church, it gets gross. Husband is infallible? His wife exists for his sake? Many women hate sex, or even if they like it, do not get nearly the pleasure their husbands do. Does that mean that heaven is going to be great for God and Jesus but humanity spends an eternity saying “not tonight, honey, I have a headache”?
      How ’bout we not use this analogy to understand marriage.

      Reply
  17. Rachel

    I never post responses, but have to let my voice cry out with so many others: I, too, am going through a divorce after experiencing domestic violence and abuse for many years. We met in the late 1990s at the height of being taught “let the man define the relationship/women submit and follow.” Being a good Christian girl, I followed! Little did I know I was being love bombed and mirrored by a man with sociopathic tendencies. In our 17 years of marriage, we went to A Weekend to Remember and Love & Respect conferences and met with several Christian marriage counselors. I can’t tell you the number of times my husband yelled, “RESPECT ME!!” as he verbally abused me, raged, threw items at me, and beat down doors to intimate me.
    I was grasping at straws with all the Christian literature that didn’t speak to my situation. I kept trying harder and harder to earn his love, and to submit and respect. I never learned or considered the word “Abuse” until the final year of marriage when I was near death and a gentle Christian marriage counselor explained that this had a name, and it was domestic assault. I now understand that my husband was leading his family into a dark pit that had no end, and no amount of respect would save us. I praise God for teachers like Sheila Gregoire, Henry Cloud, Julie Roys, Gretchen Baskerville, Lundy Bancroft, Patricia Evans and Natalie Hoffman. They empowered me and strengthen me still as I still try to get out of this marriage (1.5 years into my separation) and still endure spiritual abuse/abandonment from my long-term church where he works. Let our voices rise together: women are dying by staying in abusive marriages because they are being misled by Christian teaching. This is a very important topic. Thank you for continuing to bring it forward.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Rachel, I’m so, so sorry. I’m sorry for what you went through, but I’m especially sorry that the church both primed you for this and then didn’t help when it should have. And I’m sorry that your church has abandoned you. Thank you for speaking up. I’m glad you’re in a safer place now.

      Reply
      • Rachel

        Thank you so much for your ministry, Sheila! Truly life-changing for me. I am still for marriage and for the church and for Christ. I’m healing and learning so much. You and these other teachers have given me such greater perspective of Christ’s love and character. Thank you.

        Reply

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