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.
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):
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:
- Love & Respect
- Created to Be His Helpmeet
- Every Man’s Battle
- I Kissed Dating Good-bye
- 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
Founder of Bare Marriage
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