Women’s Day: Keith’s Message to Those Harmed by Evangelical Marriage Teaching

by | Mar 8, 2021 | Theology of Marriage and Sex | 36 comments

Keith's Message to Women Harmed by Evangelical Marriage Teaching

My husband Keith hasn’t written a post in a while, because for the last two months we were busy writing The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex together.

But he really wanted to be the one to write the post today in honour of Women’s Day. I couldn’t turn down that enthusiasm, so here he is:

I am reading The Great Sex Rescue again.

Honestly, I have lost track of how many times I have read it now. Obviously I am biased, but I believe there is so much in this book that it is likely that people will read again and again and again.  I think it has such a message of hope for both men and women about what a sexually healthy Christian marriage can look like.

As a man, I think this book will be freeing for a lot of Christian men.

Frankly, we have been fed a lot of garbage. Our bar has been set insultingly low, while simultaneously shaming us for being men in the first place. I don’t have any idea how we allowed teachings like this to continue. When we heard things like “We see the reason for the propensity of sexual sin among us, we got there just by being male” (Every Man’s Battle)  or “men just don’t have a Christian view of sex.” (Every Heart Restored) why did we stand for that? Do we really believe that it is impossible to be a sexually healthy Christian man?

I have a higher view of men than that and I don’t think I am alone among Christian men. Men are not God’s mistake that women have to clean up after. We are both meant to reflect the image of God. Marriage is supposed to be an image of Christ and the Church. How did we ever get to the point where a husband having an uncontrollable addiction for which his wife has to be the methadone is the image of a Christian marriage? As a man, I am appalled.

But as we approach Women’s Day, I have been reading it in a different way, trying to think of what it must have been like to grow up and try to make a marriage work under these teachings as a woman.

And I wept.

We have allowed Christian teachers to tell you that your voice doesn’t matter.

I am so sorry that you were given messages that tell you when your husband is doing something destructive in your marriage, like ignoring the children, that you must only speak to him briefly then wait 10-20 days before you approach him again (Love & Respect). I am sorry that you have been told that his “need for respect” at that level is more important than your “desire for love” and to be heard.

You should have been told that your opinions and feelings matter, because they do. You shouldn’t have to feel that they are secondary to his or that you need to put them on hold until he comes around to your view.  Any decent guy I know doesn’t really want that. Caring husbands value their wives’ input and want to know if they are going off track. They also want to know that they can talk to you in the same way when you are off base. Because they want to be partners with you in marriage. I am sorry we did not see that you were being taught something other than this. Please forgive us.

We have allowed Christian teachers to imply women are responsible for men’s sexual sins.

In the focus groups for the Great Sex Rescue, woman after woman told stories of how they had been raped, both before marriage and in marriage, but didn’t even realize that that was what happened because of what they had been taught in Christian circles. So many women told stories of saying “no” when they were teenagers, but he went ahead anyway. And they thought it was their fault because they had been taught that they were supposed to not let it get that far, that boys reach a point where they can’t stop. So not only did they live with the trauma of rape, people in the church heaped up shame on top of them by implying they had done something to make that happen by the way they dressed or acted.

If you are one of those women, I want you to know: Your “No” means “No”. If someone violated that, then that is not your fault. It doesn’t matter what you were wearing or what you did before you said “No”. I am so sorry the people in the church victimized you further by making you feel you were at least partly responsible for what happened. That should never have happened. It was not your fault.

How did we get to this point?

One of the reasons we have failed to recognize how harmful these books are is that they do say things that are healthy. They even make healthy statements which sound like they are supposed to be an overarching theme. They may say outright that they do not condone abuse and that a man is responsible for his own actions and imply that the reader needs to interpret what has been said in that context. The authors then tell stories of women who have come to them devastated by the rest of the teaching in their books, and the authors explain that they are simply misunderstanding the teaching.

But the authors were wrong not to listen to those women, because those women were right. An author cannot present an anecdote in a book about a woman who wants to run away and hide from a husband’s withering rage and somewhere else in the book say “I do not condone abuse.” By presenting that story and failing to label it abuse, the author has in essence condoned abuse. Similarly, an author cannot spend pages and pages talking about how men are sexually tempted in a way that women can never understand such that women need to dress differently and act differently and then say they are not implying men are not responsible for their actions.

When women read this, they are not confused because they are misunderstanding the teaching; they are confused because they are being simultaneously taught two opposing things.

So if you are a woman who read these teachings and was harmed by them, then felt like you were crazy, I want to tell you, you are not. I would have interpreted what was written the same way you did. Ideally, we should have given you a healthier message from the start, but we certainly should have listened to you after you told us you were hurt. It is awful that you were not heard. Because you should have been.

Women are not less important than men

As I have read through most Christian marriage teaching, the overall message I would take away if I were a woman is that the Christian view is basically that I am an appendage to my husband. My role is to support what he is doing and to keep him safe from sin by the way I treat him, while his role is to do what God has called him to do.  You may not have read the teachings this way, but if I were a woman reading this stuff I would feel like I was basically “one step down the food chain”, spiritually speaking. And that is a terrible tragedy. I believe this is a misinterpretation of God’s word. You are God’s daughter and He has a plan for you as well as your husband.

I believe most Christian husbands don’t want a subordinate; they want a partner. They want a co-laborer in the gospel to go with them through life, serving the Lord. I know I am ruffling feathers, but I think we have been sold a rather anti-woman version of God’s plan. Some men have bought into it because it played on their selfishness and their need to feel powerful. I myself was not entirely immune to that. I do not think that the majority of Christian men are like that, though. But those of us who did not fully buy into this mindset are still not entirely guiltless since we have not raised our voices to support you as we should have. Please forgive us. Know that we want to do better now.

And to the courageous women and men who have been warning us about these things for so long and making so little progress. I am sorry it took so long to catch up with you. Thank you for staying faithful even when others said you were fringe. We are praying with you now for the tide to turn.

I have been calling the 20,000 women who completed the survey “Sheila’s army”. My hope and prayer is that they are but the advanced guard. I hope healthy Christians everywhere will join her army. Together, I know we will create a healthy Christian sexual ethic where both husband and wife receive the respect, dignity and love we all long for.

The Great Sex Rescue

Now Available!

What if you’re NOT the problem with your sex life?

What if the things that you’ve been taught have messed things up–and what if there’s a way to escape these messages?

Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.

Message to Those Harmed by Evangelical Marriage teaching

This has honestly been a really emotional month for Keith as he’s realized how deep this stuff goes. I wish you all could hear his emotion in this. He feels this tremendously.

We welcome your comments!

Written by

Keith Gregoire


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Keith Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Keith has been married to Sheila for over 30 years! They met while he was in pre-med at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. He has served as Chief of Pediatrics in the Quinte Region, and has been the chair of undergraduate pediatric medical education at Queen's University, and participated in the Royal College examination board for new pediatricians. He is the co-author with Sheila of The Good Guy's Guide to Great Sex, and a new marriage book they're working on. An avid birder, he loves traveling with Sheila all over North America in their RV.

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  1. Active Mom

    “One step down the food chain”
    Perfect way to say what has happened to many women for so many years.

  2. Chris

    Its interesting. Growing up as a boy we were always taught the exact opposite. We were taught that men were expendable scum and that women were God’s crowning achievement.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      What do you mean by that, Chris? Like men were terrible sinners but women were saints?

      • Chris

        I definitely did not learn that in church. I grew up Catholic and I would say that in church we were taught about the different roles men and women had within the church, but that we were all equal in God’s eyes. We were definitely NOT taught in church that anyone was better or more importantly than anyone else.
        No, I learned it in the culture. We were taught from a very young age that our lives were to be lived for the protection and provision of women. Regardless of the cost to us. It was very subtle but very much there. And by enlarge the women were oblivious to this messaging we soaked up. I could give examples all day but by themselves, each example is something very minor. But add up a few hundred thousand of those very minor things over years, and it becomes a real punch in the gut. Maybe this is why the “sex is for men” message finds such fertile ground in a lot of men’s minds:“We live all of our existence for women, but with sex? Ok, finally something for us! Finally something women do for us!” I wonder if there could be something to that.

      • Victim and Free Survior

        Thank you to you both for the work you are doing.
        Keith thank you for this article. God rescued me from an abusive marriage. My church made of male leaders issued me their “Letter of Support” and never spoke to me again. It is so moving to see you and other Godly men standing up to apologize and reach out in Christ’s love. Your words are pushing back the darkness and giving hope in a church culture that views women as disposable. You have put a finger on the loneliness of being without a church while also holding out joy that it will not always be this way. Thank you for not just standing “for” women but standing *with* women, giving validation to our hurts.

  3. Nathan

    Chris, were you taught that a church or from pop culture? Either way, it’s a sad thing to teach that only one gender is the “good” one

  4. Alison

    Thank you, Keith (and of course, Sheila!), for that message and your support of Christian women. I did not grow up evangelical, but my husband did, and I have been continually horrified and outraged by the blatant subjugation and degradation of women I have witnessed in my in-laws’ denomination. As you put it, women are definitely “one step down the food chain.” Second-class citizens for sure. Thank you both for having and promoting a healthier, more edifying view of both men and women. I’m proud to be a part of “Sheila’s Army!”

  5. Kelleu

    Chris, I think this is actually part of the double speak. On one hand, the wife is second to her husband. He has the power and she obeys, presumably because he is wiser? But when it comes to sexual matters, men are seen as helpless and weak. Women must be careful what they wear because men can’t be expected to control their thoughts. Women are to be their husband’s methadone because he is powerless to resist porn without her help. He is the pig, she is the angel.

    • Wild Honey

      Reminds me of a church I used to attend where men were considered spiritual heads of households and the office of pastor and elder was barred from women. But the children’s ministry had a policy that no men could change diapers. Didn’t quite understand how men could be so untrustworthy around the most vulnerable, yet at the same time the only ones trusted to spiritually lead the church.

      • Anonymous

        Thank you! For the first time in my life, I am finally feeling understood in this. I cannot say thank you enough. You described me. I was born into this, and married a man who had also been brainwashed all his life with these horrible lies. Over a decade ago we went into our marriage as virgins. We saw a “biblical counselor” at one point, who only told me that my concerns about sex didn’t matter, and our actual problem was that I wasn’t under my husbands authority. Now for the first time since, I finally feel like maybe there’s hope for a mutually satisfying sexual relationship. Thank you for hearing and thank you for caring. It means so much.

  6. Dorthea

    Thank you for speaking up on our behalf. And I too am proud to be Sheila’s army- or advance guard as more join us!

  7. EOF

    Thank you, Keith. Even after years of reading this blog, I’m still in the process of trying to see my value. I’ve been silenced, ignored, and chastised when begging for help from the church. I was told to submit to verbally and emotionally abusive behavior because that would make him stop sinning.
    Spoiler alert: It didn’t.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, EOF, I’m so sorry. I’m glad you’re here! But I’m so sorry you’ve been sidelined and gaslighted. That really isn’t okay.

      • Abby

        Thank you Keith for being willing to share your heart. I’m so very blessed to be married to a man who I think would echo most of your words, and is helping me process my way through The Great Sex Rescue.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I’m so glad you’re finding it helpful–and yay for amazing husbands!

  8. Bre

    Thank you so much for this, Keith! Over the last two years, I’ve been in a Spiritually rough place after learning about all the garbage that the church has bought into about women. Your description of the church’s message to women being anti-women/female is sadly incredibly accurate. But reading this blog and others has given me hope. The sort of marriage junk that the church keeps peddling is a big reason why I don’t want to get married; I can’t stand the ideas of the stupid assumptions and expectations that people would have for me as a “Christian wife”. But I’m starting to get some hope that, in the future, there will be more men who will think the way you and some of the other teachers that I follow do. It’s very comforting that people like you and Sheila are speaking up. I don’t mean this in a bad way but, going by the TLHV Facebook posts, you two are around the ages of my own parents. Many of the others I follow are grandparents or even great-grandparents. I’ve been told by elderly family members that I’ve been seduced by the spirit of the age and am being worldly and sinful because of the things that I believe about women, marriage, and females in the church. Seeing older, “normal” people like you two putting their foot down and repenting of falling for bad teachings and/or being silent gives me hope. A major response to this sort of push-back is “oh, the younger generation is sinful and falling for ear-tickling teachings because they don’t want the truth and want to re-write God’s will”. But you are showing that, no, this isn’t the younger generation being sinful; they’ve just picked up on the baloney that others have already noticed far quicker that past generations. You are laying the groundwork for future generations to stand up and do things differently and supporting them. You’re also helping people who’ve been hurt by the supposedly “God-ordained” marriage ideas and listening to people who’ve been ignored or forcibly shut up. It makes me happy and I really want to believe that things are changing and, even if they re never perfect, they will be far more healthy in the future. Thank you so much for all you guys do! Again!

    • JM

      Thank you Keith and Sheila. Thank you for your work and for speaking up for vulnerable women. So many women have lived whole lives in unimaginable circumstances. Makes me so sad. I grew up in an evangelical Christian environment that largely didn’t talk about sex. Only to say “don’t do it outside of marriage”. So mine and my husband’s experience was one of abandonment and being left to struggle on our own. And struggle we did. For 2 decades and still only beginning to come out of it now. I’m going to order your book (even though reading it is hard for me, opens up deep wounds) but I know my marriage will benefit if I read it. I remember opening up to a fairly young Christian woman before and she just told me that I’m “making my husband sin” if we are not having regular sex. It devastated me but immediately I knew it was a lie. Thank you for sharing truth, not lies. God bless you.

  9. Katie

    Tears. I grew up so confused….trying so darn hard to make all this make sense. Resigning myself to second class, so much that I enthusiastically embraced the messages espoused by books like Created to be His Helpmeet and Love and Respect. If that’s was God’s way, I was going to follow it to the letter. I shoved aside my feelings of being less-than and attributed to pride and my own sinful nature that I was balking inside at the idea that I wasn’t truly equal to men. Your words (along with those of my husband as I revealed to him the extent of what I was taught) have been soothing balm to my soul. Thank you.

    • L

      Same ! Same ! I thought I was wrong to want to be equal …. Sheila helped me realise that submitting in marriage is so different from what has been preached. I remember many a times being so mad at God for not creating girls equal to boys … who knew it’s the teaching that was wrong not God !

  10. Recovering from abuse

    Thank you Keith. Your words are a healing balm on decades of wounds. Thank you.

  11. Belinda

    Thank you for saying ALOUD that this has been a wrong and harmful teaching.
    The Great Sex Rescue has been triggering even more memories of “helpful marriage counsel ” like “You need to keep having sex with your husband or else Satan will get a foothold in your marriage” who knew being told that would be the foothold he got.
    I have enjoyed the affirmations within this book that I wasn’t crazy all these years for thinking something wasn’t right with this advice. Thank you all who were involved including the other 19,999 women bared their hearts and souls in the survey.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      You really aren’t crazy, Belinda. I’m so sorry you were ever made to feel like you were.

  12. Megan

    Thank you Keith, and thank you Sheila. The attitudes and beliefs that have produced a sexual/gender ethic like the one you’re addressing have all but completely driven me away from Jesus in the past two years. These messages have been partially responsible for depression, anxiety, and guilt following sexual and emotional abuse that I experienced.
    I don’t have many words but I can say that posts like these give me hope that maybe Jesus has a seat at the table for me, after all.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, he does, Megan! He really does. I think many of us feel like we’ve lost Jesus because we never really understood who He was to begin with. But He is there! And I think he’s gesturing to get us all to come over where he is!

  13. Jane Eyre

    I grew up in a very liberal environment wherein people were mocked for waiting until marriage. I, and a LOT of women I know, were dumped for not “putting out.” Christianity, at least in theory, can tell us why this is so wrong: sex is for marriage, for mutual pleasure. Sex is harder for women and one night stands are, on the average, a much better deal for men. God did not make us to be used as sexual playthings.
    Then you get Christian teachings that are basically the same thing as the modern sexual ethic: men are entitled to sex (from their wives). If you don’t provide sex, he will leave you. Don’t be so hung up on your own emotions about sex – just spread ’em. Not getting regular sex is very upsetting to men. Men are going to be very aroused by young, attractive women; just deal (if young and attractive, put out; if old and married, paste a smile on your face).
    It makes it really hard to shake the feeling that my body was made for other people’s enjoyment, not my own.
    Thank you, Sheila and Keith, for your work and ministry.

  14. K

    Thank you so much for this encouraging blog post. I have never left a comment on this blog before, but I really wanted to take a moment today to say thank you to Sheila, Rebecca and Joanna for pouring out your hearts in writing your new book. Thank you to Keith for your encouragement to your wife and to others. I was encouraged by you today.
    There are two reasons why today is the day I’m leaving a message – the first is in honour of a friend who recently had to run from her home to save her life. She was sexually molested as a child, and raped in her marriage – in Jesus name. She is reading your new book as we speak and weeping through it, on a path to healing. She is grateful. For her sake and for all of the women like her, thank you, thank you, thank you. May God bless you.
    The second reason I am writing, is that I am in an abusive marriage, myself. I’m not going to tell my whole story here, but I have also experienced rape, relentless criticism and open contempt. My husband purchased a copy of Love and Respect from Focus on the Family about 2 years ago, and a couple of months ago in a conversation mentioned that he hadn’t found the book very helpful. “It hadn’t taught him anything that he didn’t already know.” I recently received a letter from him in which he openly expresses that he is entitled to unconditional respect, all of my rapt attention and sex on his terms. There is so much more I would like to say, but I will end with this – Sheila, I may not have been a regular here – but I am absolutely putting my name down in full support of your “army”!
    With the love of Christ and my sincere and most grateful best wishes.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, wow, K, I’m so sorry for what you’re going through! Thank you so much for your encouragement today. That means so much. Do you have a counselor to talk this through with? Or anyone to support you? And you can call a domestic abuse hotline if you ever need to. That’s so not okay. I’m so sorry that your husband is doing this in Jesus’ name. That’s blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and it is not okay.

      • K

        Bless you Sheila! ♥️ I’m in contact with a local woman’s shelter and counselling group. Also have my first appointment with a lawyer next week to see how I can get out. Everything has to be done secretly – the MOSAIC score for my situation is a 7 and things are a bit volatile.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Wow! I’ll say a prayer for you, K. I’m sorry. I’m glad you have support and help, though.

  15. Purplecandy

    I am reading through TGSR currently. And I had to stop and weep, and pray for those women who answered that they had sex with their husband so that he won’t treat them badly….
    It is also helping me understand how to raise my sons in a culture that has so many harmful messages…

  16. Patricia

    When I was a teenager my father (yes, my dad!) actually told me that women are always in control, but men reach a point of no return where they can’t stop. So, the message was that if something happens that shouldn’t have, it’s always the girl’s fault. Terrible, terrible message. Neither of my parents had healthy attitudes toward sex so I grew up with some seriously wrong thinking. Sadly there are still too many churches with some seriously sick sexist messages.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, that’s so sad. No, men never reach a point of no return. They do reach a point where they will ejaculate no matter what, but that doesn’t mean they have to continue with intercourse. Just awful.

      • Dale

        Great article Keith!

  17. Stephanie

    This is possibly the greatest writing I have ever read from a man.
    Thank you, Keith. Thank you.

  18. Carla

    I really believe that too many in leadership are narcissistic and use these teachings to inculcate the qualities they want into their flock, and the predators take advantage of prey that has already been groomed for them.


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