Our series this month is “putting Christ back in Christian marriage advice.”
When I told Keith that, he said that there’s something he’s been wanting say for a while, but it would be intense.
I told him to go for it. And so I’ve named this post Keith’s manifesto! Here’s what’s been haunting and bothering him, especially over the last year. May we all see change come.
I vividly remember going to a Summer Youth Rally just weeks after I accepted Christ after a long period as an atheist.
Together with all the other wide-eyed teens, I heard the pastor explain the “Boiling Frog Analogy”:
“If you drop a frog into boiling water, it will of course immediately jump out. But if you put it in warm water and turn the heat up slowly enough, it won’t recognize the danger and it will be cooked alive.”
Now I recognize this analogy is scientifically untrue (not to mention cruel). But as a teenager it resonated. I vowed to do my best to not conform to my culture lest it slowly draw me away from God again.
That’s the first tidbit you need to know as background. The second is this:
With the exception of one brief period, I have always believed that God did not design hierarchy into the relationship between men and women, either in marriage or in the church.
To me the clear reading of Genesis is that male and female were created to rule over creation together under God (Gen 1:28) and men ruling over women is clearly a result of the fall (Gen 3:16). Paul tells us that Jesus lifted the curse (Gal 3:13) which has restored men and women to right relationship together under God (Gal 3:28), a fact Paul lived out in his own life as seen in Romans 16 where a full third of the people he lists working with him in the service of God are women (in a time when women’s legal rights were few and far between!)
However, I recognize that there are diverse opinions about this in the church. My view, while completely orthodox, is not the only view. Some believe that men were placed by God hierarchically in a position above women, including some of my early mentors in the faith. In fact, the reason I briefly believed in the hierarchy viewpoint was people using the “Boiling Frog Analogy” to convince me that I was conforming to our “feminist culture” rather than following “God’s true way”. How I came to recognize that was not true and get back to my original belief is a post in itself, but let me stick to the point I want to make today:
The fact is that the cultural creep, the ungodly compromise, the true danger in the church these days is now in exactly the opposite direction.
A culture of misogyny has been percolating in the evangelical church for decades. It has now reached a level of overtness and sinfulness – a “boiling point”, if you will, but somehow the people inside don’t seem to realize it.
Take, for example the discussions around the idea of the husband being the spiritual leader of the home. The Gospel Coalition recently posted on Instagram about how “easy it is for men to be passive” and how women need to reassure their husbands about how much they respect them so their husbands will be able to “take some of the risks that are involved in spiritual leadership”. They proceed to spell out these risky behaviors:
- “Being the main person getting the family to go to church on Sunday”,
- “praying and reading the Scriptures” and
- “thinking about things from a Biblical perspective”.
Seriously?!? Think about that. The Gospel Coalition is identifying a crisis in the church – that men are so passive that they won’t do what everybody agrees are basic and fundamental aspects of following the faith – and their solution: women need to do better at making men feel respected.
Now I agree wholeheartedly that we should not be passive in our faith but we should all (men and women) be “pressing on toward the goal” (Phil 3:14). I don’t even have a problem (though I might disagree with them) with men who feel it is their specific God-given duty to take initiative in their family in a way that their wife doesn’t need to. If that is how you see it, then by all means, take the initiative!
But when we got to the point where men started to shift blame to women for their own lack of engagement and even for their failure to do the basic elements of the Christian faith, we should have jumped out of the water.
Leaders lead; they don’t shout through megaphones for people to submit.
If you read books on leadership, you will find chapters on getting your own house in order, working on your own moral character, thinking about others and being open to other perspectives. What you will NOT find is a chapter on how to use propaganda to convince people to follow you even if you are a manifestly bad leader. Yet that is what so many evangelical Christian resources are teaching. It doesn’t matter if your husband is terrible, un-Christlike, even abusive, God has ordained that you respect him because God has woven male preeminence into the very fabric of creation.
The fruits of this teaching are stunningly awful to anyone who has jumped out of the boiling water. It has created an army of what Patrick Weaver calls “dysfunctional man-boys”, men who feel they deserve deference from women despite their own bad character and husbands who feel they can chalk up any failures on their own part to their wives’ “lack of respect”.
If we have ears to hear, a man blaming a woman for his own sin will sound familiar and will instantly be seen for what it is.
But if you think that is a stunning example of how we have learned nothing since Genesis chapter 3, take a look at how the church handles lust.
In the evangelical church, the idea that lust is “every man’s battle” is ubiquitous.
What is the solution? Women need to “top up” their husbands and cover up themselves. Both are dangerous doctrinal errors. And both have gone unrecognized as such because the movement toward these beliefs was so insidious.
In the first case, it has become common teaching that wives need to “top up their husband’s cup” – that is, have sex as often as their husbands say they need it, otherwise men will inevitably be tempted to stray. They can’t help it; they are men. You wives need to stand in the gap. This is your God-given duty.
Seriously?!? What happened to self-control? Apparently that fruit of the Spirit is off the table if you were born with a Y chromosome!
How did we get to this point without jumping out of the water?
It is clearly a doctrinal error on at least two counts. First, it makes one person accountable for another person’s sin. (And let me ask: how did we not realize that the “misogyny thermometer” in the evangelical church was near the top when we started believing a woman should be held responsible for a husband’s unfaithfulness?)
And second, it is clearly an error to portray any sin as an endless struggle without victory apart from the assistance of your wife. Paul says to “put lust to death” (Col 3:5) not to “push lust below the surface where it will continue to fester your entire male life”, but that is precisely what the evangelical church is teaching. All because we have swallowed the lie that sexual sin is “rooted in our maleness”.
We are straying from sound doctrine in order to cling to an idea about masculinity that is clearly and unmistakably flawed.
Which brings me to the second point: women need to cover up. Sheila has already talked about why the modesty message is toxic, so let me keep this short. The “misogyny thermometer” in the evangelical church has reached the boiling point in the modesty message.
Now certainly being modest in our dress and habits is a Christian ideal (though “modest” doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it means).
However, it is clear to me that the evangelical church sees women dressing immodestly as a worse sin than men lusting after them.
Every time Sheila talks about lust, someone always chimes in with how the real problem is with how immodest women are in their dress. We should all instantly recognize that saying one sin excuses another is blatantly antithetical to Biblical morality. But we do this in the case of men lusting after women so effortlessly, shamelessly and unironically that it is a marvel to behold. Again, it comes down to our flawed view of masculinity that we refuse to relinquish:
Women can choose how to dress and must be held accountable. Men, however, get a pass, for they cannot choose not to lust; God made them that way.
This teaching is everywhere. For example, take the recent book “Married Sex”, where Gary Thomas explains to women that by God’s design, men’s brains are wired in such a way that “sexual thoughts flicker in the background of a man’s visual cortex all day and night, making him always at the ready for seizing sexual opportunity”.
Is this what we hold up as the model of what a redeemed and Spirit-filled man looks like?
Even if it were presented as “less than ideal, but the best we can hope for”, it would be disheartening. Yes, of course men are going to be sexually attracted to women. That is how God made us and we shouldn’t be ashamed of a healthy male sexuality. But to me this passage sounds predatory and frightening. I can only imagine how it sounds to a woman!
Worse still, there is a horrific doctrinal issue here that I am trying to wrap my head around. If we believe that this is inherently what all men are like and if we believe that Jesus was “tempted in every way just as we are” (Heb 4:15)…I hesitate to put the next words in writing…then we must conclude that as Jesus walked the byways of Galilee with his female followers that He too had sexual thoughts flickering in his visual cortex, “making him always at the ready for seizing sexual opportunity”.
Do we actually think that about our Lord and Saviour?
If we believe this was untrue of Jesus, then we have only two choices.
- It can also be untrue for us men today (and so we need to stop talking about lust the way we do) or
- Jesus was different from today’s men in a fundamental way. In other words, he was human, but not a human completely like us.
I talked in a recent post about how some people are willing to sacrifice the divinity of Christ to cling to distorted views of gender relations. Is sacrificing the humanity of Christ the next step?
No, Church! We must do better!
We can jump out of the boiling water.
We can stop blaming women for men’s sin. We can refuse to see the objectification of women and male sexuality as the same thing.
And part of that – in my opinion – is realizing that by teaching that women are in any way less than men, we are training men to see women as objects for their use rather than equal partners working together for God’s kingdom.
Let me finish by telling you about the moment when the memory of that Youth Rally and the “Boiling Frog Analogy” came back into my mind.
It was last year while the hideous story of abuse and human trafficking committed by Ravi Zacharias was being unearthed. Owen Strachan, a former president of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, tweeted about it:
“An unbeliever reads about an awful scandal and thinks, ‘That person is so awful! I hate people like that.’ A Christian reads about an awful scandal and thinks, ‘That could EASILY be me. God be merciful to me.’”
An unbeliever reads about an awful scandal and thinks, “That person is so awful! I hate people like that.”— Owen Strachan (@ostrachan) February 12, 2021
A Christian reads about an awful scandal and thinks, “That could EASILY be me. God be merciful to me.”
I remember people reacting with “Oh, yeah, Owen. I could wake up some morning and OOOPS! I seem to have created a human trafficking ring to indulge my sexual deviance!” But my first thought was to agree 100% with Owen Strachan.
Ravi Zacharias abused hundreds of women while simultaneously claiming to be a spokesperson for God. More than that, his victims report that he considered his interactions with these women “his reward for his service to God”.
How does anyone get to the point where their conscience is so seared that they can see sexual abuse in this light?
He did not see these women as human beings. In his own words, they were “rewards”, things, objects for his consumption.
Believing women are less than men, that women exist primarily to help and benefit men turns on the stove. To get to a Ravi Zacharias from that point is merely a matter of slowly turning up the heat.
So, yes, I agree with Owen Strachan’s self -assessment: anyone who preaches that God has designed men to be over women is only a short series of bad choices away from becoming a monster. Strachan was wiser than he realized.
I have an idea: How about instead we start to see women as co-heirs of the gospel, as sisters in Christ and full participants in God’s kingdom?
How about we see misogyny as a sin and stand up for God’s daughters? How about when we hear about a man sexually abusing a woman in the church we identify with the victim rather than the perpetrator and work to see she gets to safety and he gets brought to justice?
If even after all I have said, you still can’t let go of the idea of male preeminence, then please know this:
To those of us who have jumped out of the boiling water, when you shout about women needing to submit while failing to work on your own moral failings, we do not see a protector of Biblical truth. We see a scared little boy trying to feel strong by making others feel weak. Similarly, when you shame and chastise women for immodest dress and “being a stumbling block”, we do not see those women as the harlots you try to paint them. Instead, we see you as a man who is not safe to be around.
And, most of all, when you push patriarchy and male privilege and then say you could EASILY become an abuser, know this: We believe you.
Thankfully, the tide is turning.
Despite what anyone may try to tell you, you can reject misogyny and still be a Christian.
In fact, the number of Christians who believe male preeminence is a “hill worth dying on” is very small – and getting smaller by the day. The voices of men like Owen Strachan and his ilk are being drowned out by the voices of strong women like Kristen Kobes DuMez, Beth Allison Barr and my amazing wife, Sheila Wray Gregoire. Women are finding freedom after years of church-sanctioned abuse by listening to voices like Leslie Vernick, Sarah McDugal and Gretchen Baskerville. And I get to stand shoulder to shoulder with men like Andrew Baumann, Patrick Weaver and Scott Coley as we try to rediscover a healthy Christian male sexual ethic – one that refuses to believe men are irredeemably bent in our sexuality or that our identity as men is so fragile that it demands women make themselves small.
We aren’t there yet, but we have begun to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (Heb 12:1) and are beginning to witness a new birth of freedom in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:2). And I am excited so see how much farther we get in 2022!
Did you have a “jump out of the water” moment? Do you have encouragement to share about how things are changing? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
Putting Christ Back in Christian Marriage Series
- Putting Christ Back in Christian Marriage Introductory Podcast
- 6 Ways Christian Marriage Advice Leaves Christ Out
- Why There’s More to Christian Marriage Than Just 5 Passages
- Does a “Christian” Marriage Need to Suffer to Grow?
- Do We Need to Jump out of the Boiling Water? How Advice for Christian Men Got So Off Track
Plus please see my submission series!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Blog and Podcast Contributor, Co-Author with Sheila of two upcoming marriage books
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