I do not believe that pastors need to be perfect.
I absolutely believe that all of us are works in progress, and that we will always have areas where we need to grow.
And I think it’s a good idea, in general, for pastors to admit when they’re still growing or where they have certain areas they’re working on.
However–and this is a big however–there’s a huge difference between a struggle to love well and a struggle to not abuse or objectify someone.
Struggling about how to communicate well with your spouse when you’re just so tired? Struggling with how to prioritize everyone’s needs while work is also stressful? Struggling to become more disciplined while you’re trying to prioritize your health? Trying to defeat materialism and get God’s view of money?
Totally understandable. Things that everyone goes through. Yep.
But then there are other struggles–struggles to not watch porn or not to lust, for instance. Or I was recently reading a big marriage blog where the couple said that they’re having struggles because she doesn’t feel safe sharing around him because of their past problems and current dynamics.
If a wife doesn’t feel safe, that’s not a run of the mill marriage problem. That’s a serious marriage problem.
It’s one thing to say,
Earlier in our marriage, I treated her badly, and I often belittled and criticized her. I got help for that and I don’t do it anymore, but sometimes when I get careless or busy I can trigger her to think that we’re going back to that dynamic.
So we’ve learned a quick thing to do is for her to say a phrase, like, “am I safe?”, and I immediately realize what I’m doing and give her my 100% attention so she knows that old me hasn’t crept in again.
You see, that would be showing, “the abusive me was in the past, and I recognize and own the problem, and I take steps to correct it.”
But if you just admit that your wife doesn’t feel safe with you, then you have a dynamic that isn’t safe. And this is not someone who should be teaching about marriage, and really not someone who should be leading a congregation.
There is a difference between normal struggles that people face, and struggles caused by one person trying to control another or use another.
We need to start making a clear differentiation between the two.
If someone is trying to control or use another, that person is unfit for the pastorate, and is unfit for any teaching role.
And, I would argue, if someone doesn’t recognize how dangerous trying to control or use someone is, they are also unfit for the pastorate and unfit for any teaching role.
When pastors “confess” certain sins that use, abuse, or degrade another, they make people, especially women, unsafe.
That’s why there are two things that I believe a pastor or speaker should never say from the pulpit:
- They should never tell anecdotes where objectification or lust of others is normalized
- They should never tell anecdotes where they were abusive towards someone, and this is ongoing (or where someone else did, and it’s seen as normal behaviour).
When abuse or objectification are confessed from the pulpit, as if they were any other sins and aren’t treated as something that disqualifies them, it normalizes these sins, making it harder for women to fight against them in their marriage.
It also makes women especially (though also men) feel unsafe with the pastor.
To show you what I mean, here’s a brilliant Facebook post that was written by Ngina Otiende from Intentional Today. I really appreciate Ngina. I had her on the podcast a while ago to talk about why she’s changed how she teaches about marriage, and she’s been sharing AMAZING posts on Facebook. She’s on FIRE (and you really need to follow her!).
I recently heard a speaker talk about how he and his wife addressed a huge crisis in their marriage.
The gist: Prolonged emotional disconnection had led to prolonged sexual disconnection. Sexual disconnection led to his sexual infidelity.
Rather than help people, here’s what this speaker did.
- He outed himself as an unsafe man.
- He devasted the women in the audience ravaged by the evil that is infidelity.
- He pretty much told the men “if your wife is not giving any, you can look for it elsewhere because men need sex and when they can’t get it from their wives they’ll find it elsewhere and that’s just the way God created them.” “Women, it doesn’t matter if your husband has abandoned you emotionally/you’re feeling emotionally disconnected; you give up the goods. If you don’t, you’re a terrible woman who is driving her poor husband into the arms of another woman.
Women: Can we just say “no” to men putting their sin on us?
Let’s say “no” to pastors and preachers pressuring us to fix problems that have nothing to do with us.
Let’s normalize walking out of rooms and spaces that traumatize/retraumatize us.
If the takeaways from this pastor’s illustration were
- how he took responsibility for his sin of infidelity,
- how he alone was responsible for breaking his marriage vow
- the steps he took to address his misogyny, entitlement, and wounds
- how he created safety for his wife and earned back her trust,
- how they eventually were able to address the issues that led to the emotional disconnection
Then perhaps it would have been a sermon worth listening to.
(It was a very problematic sermon, overall, but that part could have been salvageable.)
The thing is, emotional disconnection in marriage is a symptom of something else going on.
It is not the actual problem. Spouses need to be taught how to diagnose issues, not encouraged to bypass symptoms and engage in dummy “solutions.”
No one should feel pressured to have sex with someone they are not feeling connected to. Healthy sex is about intimacy and connection, not about “male sexual release” or fusing of male and female g*nitalia.
When the emotional connection is missing in a marriage, sex should automatically be off the table as a couple seeks to address the root cause of the disconnection.
A sex life devoid of emotional connection is traumatizing. Horrendously traumatizing. Expecting or pressurizing a woman to be sexually available to a husband when she is not feeling it, is cruel. It is sex without consent. It is encouraging marital r*pe.
My heart is grieving today. Oh, we have such a long way to go, church.
For the men who’ve been counseled incorrectly, who’ve been taught that they are owed sex, and they can’t do without sex, but they want to explore and do better, you’re not alone. There’s plenty of help. Check out:
- Andrew J. Bauman Read his books and blogs and check out his coaching
- Keith and Sheila Gregoire’s To Love, Honor and Vacuum. Read their Good Guys Guide to Great Sex book.
We serve a wonderful, safe and loving God. He does not coercively control or devastate. He is not mean. He is not a user. He is safe. Our marriages should reflect Him.
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I think Ngina’s exactly right.
It also reminds me of this:
Women should not have to feel as if they are not safe in church.
But when pastors and male evangelical leaders tell us that it’s inevitable that men will lust and want to undress them with their eyes, why would we want to be anywhere near them?
Seriously, after reading all of these evangelical marriage and sex books, I have a long list of male evangelical leaders I will NEVER allow myself to be in a room with.
Women deserve to feel safe, and if pastors can’t help but objectify and lust after the women in their congregation, then they should deal with that, rather than subject women to it. Because as we found in our survey of men for The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex, lust is NOT every man’s battle. There is no excuse. Jesus didn’t objectify women, and men can learn to treat women as whole people, made in the image of God, too.
I think we need to set higher standards of pastors and leaders so that people are protected.
Church should be our safe haven, not the place where we feel the least safe. Church should be a place where treating each other well is normalized, not where it’s assumed that others will try to control or objectify you.
I think this can change. Next time your pastor does this, write a letter to the elders’ board explaining how that made you feel. If the response is not positive, consider leaving that church. If we stopped putting up with this, I think we’d see real change.
What do you think? Has a pastor ever said anything that made you feel unsafe? Let’s talk in the comments!