It’s Harder to Spread Bad Christian Marriage Teaching Now

by | Aug 18, 2023 | Research | 12 comments

toxic teachings in church
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Ever feel like the fog of toxic teaching is lifting?

One of the more encouraging things that’s happened to me online lately is my readers’ responses when I posted just one quote from the August 1 Desiring God article, “Your Husband Will Be Perfect; How To Love A Flawed Man”, that we talked about on Wednesday on how you don’t have to gaslight yourself. And we addressed it in yesterday’s podcast too!

We had over 400 comments on that Facebook post–and they keep coming! And they were really insightful, too. So many of you saw the flaws immediately, even with such a short excerpt.

Imagine, if we can all spot the spiritual and logical fallacies this easily now–imagine how we’ll be able to resist such teachings from pastors and from new books! Eventually the church that is stuck in toxicity is going to have to sit up and take notice, if this many people are seeing the problems with what too any segments of the church have been peddling to women. Eventually the church that is clinging to toxicity will have to adopt the healthy, Christ-filled teaching–or risk becoming reactionary and shrinking.

I want to share with you some of the comments that were left on that Facebook post. We’ve condensed them into four main themes: 

1. There’s a difference between being imperfect and being destructive

Commenters spotted the error in conflating imperfect human beings with men who are actively abusive and destructive in their marriages:

The failure of evangelicalism to distinguish between a spouse who is a sinner like us all that loves their spouse yet stumbles and messes up, yet repents and works on following jesus better, versus a perpetual, repetitive, and unrepentant abuser who seeks to actively destroy another human, and not just any other human, their spouse who they promised to love and cherish and protect and who God specifically called them to love like Christ loved the church.  They are nowhere near the same thing, but evangelicalism tries so hard to conflate the two.”

“No one is perfect… but heck. How low can we set the bar if we’re not even supposed to expect basic decencies such as not stealing, not giving in to sexual immorality, and not giving in to substance abuse? Holding individuals to a biblical standard is…….. BIBLICAL.”

“We all stumble. Not all of us have patterns of behavior that characterize our lives. They’re describing patterns of behavior, which is a completely different subject. If you have a “tendency,” that implies it’s a repeated offense. And also, as others have already said, this is not the wife’s problem. How he deals with his own sin tells us everything about his character. Much of what is listed here is straight-up abuse when it’s a pattern of behavior that persists. When you make his character issue her problem, you’ve also added spiritual abuse to her already heavy load.”

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2. Why are only women supposed to put up with toxicity?

Another theme our readers spotted was the inherent sexism of such thinking that leaves women who are in abusive marriages in a no-win situation:

“Change the genders and watch the patriarchy explode over such Jezebel wives. Okay for me, not for thee!”

“I just don’t understand why sanctification is only for women? Why aren’t these sinning men called to a higher standard of living?”

“Could you imagine reversing it and said what they actually mean?!  ‘At times your wife may be convinced she can do no wrong, scream at you, or be short fused. She will choose which deceitful desires to use to afflict you. She will stumble because she doesn’t guard her mind. She’s likely going to lie to you and about you (hello you can’t have a healthy relationship without honesty), take things from others, not hold up her end and just sit around all day, tear you apart with her words, resentful towards you and recounts everything you do wrong, she’ll only think of herself, she will not be satisfied with you and will seek other men for her sexual pleasures, through pictures, videos, texts, or physically if necessary, but you better be satisfied with just her because she is crazy jealous…don’t even look at another women, or speak to her in a way that could be flirtatious! She will be have desires that nothing can satisfy, power, money, anything, she may even turn to drugs to try and quench it. In a word she has no ability to love you…

If you have these expectations you will not be surprised by how awfully wicked she is and things will be as horrible as you predicted.’ Sounds more like the seductress described in the Proverbs…I’d say run hard and raw away!!!”

“Oh Lort, Lort, Lort. Once again, the implication of the message is that women are responsible for men’s unresolved issues and there are bible verses to back this up! Why am I not surprised that Desiring God is behind this poor teaching?”

3. Our identity is not “sinner”.

Others pointed out that it is a serious error, and unbiblical, to perpetuate the idea that sinners can’t help but sin. Scripture makes it clear that, once saved, Christians are no longer slaves to their sin (Romans 6:1-11). We have been called out of sin and are now expected to have our lives reflect the holiness of Christ:

If you’ve actually been born again, we are no longer to continue in sin and therefore are saints not sinners. Read Romans 6-8. God says it, not me.

Two thoughts:

1) The Bible says a sinner is unregenerate. The Bible never once refers to a Christian as “sinner”. Our name is Saint. As such, we are saints who sometimes sin. But our identity is no longer Sinner. 

2) This quote asks me to be content with his sin. The Bible tells me to confront a brother who sins. If he is a saved man, he is also my brother in Christ and I have a responsibility to lovingly point out his sin.

Nobody’s perfect, but as Christians should we still be calling ourselves sinners? Do we still struggle with sin? Yes, we’re still human. But as Christians we should be being transformed by the Holy Spirit. To me, it’s like a butterfly has stages. I’ve heard some pastors refer to Christians as butterflies, but I don’t think we reach that stage until heaven. As Christians alive on this earth, we are in the pupa stage–we are being transformed. Even Paul says, should we continue sin so that grace may abound? No, we’re supposed to put away the “old man.” “The light protects us from surprise over our husband’s failures”–I thought the light was supposed to reveal the sin?

4. It’s okay to have expectations!

Many of our readers pointed out the logical conclusion from this article: women are simply supposed to fall in line and respect their husbands, never questioning them or calling out inappropriate behaviour. Women who live within this theological system are told to live with, and accept, a husband who doesn’t respect her or, worse, is actively abusive towards her.

“It sounds to me like she expects that wives should never be calling out the sins of their husbands, instead just expecting them to live with it. Because if you expect them to fail, you won’t be disappointed? Nah. My husband’s ego isn’t nearly that fragile. He expects me to call him out on things, because if there is no accountability, where is the growth?”

I’m so tired of seeing this trope: “exposing lies that shape their expectations for marriage.”

Ie: If you just didn’t *expect* so much from your husband then you wouldn’t be so disappointed. Yep, that was ONE of the mindsets that kept me in my abusive marriage for 21 years.

It reads that she’s saying women have too high expectations for men. That we should live every day of married life with the bar so low because they’re a sinner and be expecting them to wound us. Forget the fact that we are all to be holy as God is holy. Or that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. Throw all that out because we need to accept the crumbs that a sinner husband can offer us.

Jesus wants us to move towards wholeness and health in our relationships. 

And that means speaking the truth about where we’re at!

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that it’s unbiblical to speak truth, and it’s biblical to believe a lie.

She Deserves Better!

Because we all deserve a big faith.

Your daughter deserves better than what you likely grew up with in church.

What would it look like to prepare the next generation without toxic teachings about modesty, sex, or consent, and instead set her up for a big faith?

I’ve come back from vacation super motivated!

I ran an Instagram post earlier this week with pictures of Keith and me goofing around on the cruise ship when the photographer was away from the photo booth (so we took these ourselves!). 

And I said this:

Keith and I had fun fooling around at the photo shoots on the cruise when the photographers weren’t there!

Seriously, I really needed a few weeks off.

It’s been a heavy few years, and in all of it I haven’t really unplugged very much. I just wrote blog posts and social media posts to run when I was away.

But this time? I just took it off.

It was wonderful. I had a lot of time to think, and pray, and just relax and get some perspective.

And you know what? I think we’ve been thinking too small. I’ve been wanting to alert people to toxic teachings in Christian books.

But what would happen if we raised up an army of researchers who did a ton of studies on the effects of patriarchy and hierarchy and unhealthy teachings in evangelicalism–so much that seminaries had to take notice?

What would happen if we so flooded the market that everyone knew the term “evidence-based” and couldn’t get away with giving advice without anything to back it up?

What would happen if we had a whole host of sex ed resources for all ages, so that people didn’t go into marriage with little to no understanding of sex.

What would happen if we made sure all teens in the church knew what consent meant?

I’m thinking about how to make these things into actionable goals. I think the first to come will be funding people doing more research!

I’m excited. Aslan is on the move!

We’re having staff meetings about future plans, and we’re trying to dream bigger. I’d love to know your thoughts too!

But this week really showed me: We’re in this together. You all see the toxicity too. There are so many of us.

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Together, we can make a huge difference. And just imagine the people and couples and families who will be spared the heavy burdens of toxic teachings so many of us grew up with! Keep spreading the word. Keep using your discernment.

And above all, look for Jesus. Because far too many have misprepresented Him, and it needs to stop.

Toxic Teachings in Church

What do you think? Are people seeing through the fog more? Are you noticing a difference? 

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at 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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  1. Lisa Johns

    WOKE at its finest and best! We are naming abuse and injustice for what it is! Did you ever think you would be starting a revolution? 😀

  2. A

    The part that shocked me the most was your comment that the author is a professor at a John Piper affiliated university.
    They allow women to teach/have leadership/demonstrate intelligence/have jobs??? It just seems inconsistent on their part.

    The actual content of the article seems like a reiteration of the problematic beliefs that keep showing up. And your work has helped so many see through the facade to the destruction beneath.

    I know your work has helped me identify the injustices I knew were there but couldn’t quite put into words.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think she’s a professor in the “Homemaking” department or Ministerial Wives or something like that?

      • Lisa Johns

        Guaranteed that she is a (flips hair here) *wife* and a *mother* — no woman has street cred in that setting without those two qualifications.

  3. EOF

    I’m so glad to see so many people speaking up and thinking critically too. I was going to comment on the FB post, but after reading through a bunch of comments, I realized everything I had to say had already been said – multiple times! We’re definitely moving in the right direction.

    It frustrates me that I had such a strong Biblical perspective on marriage going in, but I was shut up quickly by the church culture I was part of. I was gaslit into thinking that I had a wrong view of the Bible.

    Now, almost a quarter century later, I see that I was right as an early-20s newlywed. But I’ve been pushed down, ignored, put in my “place,” told to obey a narcissist, and to trust him over my own thoughts (because the heart can’t be trusted!)

    I have so far to go before I can get back to where I was all those years ago. It’s sad to think about where I could be now, but instead how far I’ve fallen, because of the church.

    • Taylor

      I was gaslighted with that Scripture, too.

      So, my question is, if my heart is deceitful (Jer 17:9) and prone to tricking me into believing lies, and if this applies to everyone under Romans 3:23, isn’t my ex-husband’s heart also deceitful and prone to lying? And if that’s true, why should I trust his lies but not trust my own lies? For that matter, why should I trust everyone else’s lies over my own lies? Including church family? Pastor? Pastor’s wife? In that train of logic, I’m way better off trusting my own lies than anyone else’s lies. Because then I would have only one person’s lies to believe–mine.

      Why am I required to believe in his inherent goodness and my inherent badness?

      People should be held accountable for flinging Scripture around out of context–it was poetry written by a prophet in a particular time and place to a particular people group enacting particular sin. It was written to oppressors. It was not written to victims.

      • EOF

        Yes! That’s a true crazy cycle. When I learned about what that scripture really means (I wish I could remember the source) I was shocked. It wasn’t actually saying that I can’t trust myself! Like you said, it was referring to people living in sin. Not people striving to love God and follow him.

        Which brings us back to Sheila’s point the other day: “Our identity, once we are saved, is NOT as a sinner. It is as a saint.”

        These power-hungry leaders want us pushed down so we will be more easily controlled. We matter! Our allegiance is to God, and not man. Getting married doesn’t negate that. Jesus was against power structures, but these modern-day Pharisees would have us believe otherwise.

        Matthew 20:25-28 “Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That is really, really sad, EOF. I grieve with you.

  4. Taylor

    What’s coming to light for me in all this crazy is that on a practical level, in pat/comp theology and purity culture, the woman is viewed as having a free will, but the man isn’t. The man can’t help being and doing x, y, z, because he’s a man. And a woman then has to choose the righteous path for both the man and the woman. (Unless her free-will choosing interferes with his can’t-help-it choosing. Then she’s just stuck.)

    Also. Women being required to trust that God is magically working on the man, and so he can just sort-of drift into righteousness. If that’s true, why can’t women drift into righteousness? Why does she have to work so @#$% hard for her righteousness AND his righteousness?

    And why are women constantly expected to prove their respect and love with overt demonstrations of devotion and tolerance of bad behavior, while men are expected to prove absolutely nothing? She’s supposed to believe in his love with no evidence. And she’s expected to keep him believing in her love because his memory is short.

    She is expected to believe in her inherent inadequacy and sinfulness, and she’s expected to trust in his inherent goodness–or to trust in God’s goodness in him, which amounts to the same thing.

    It’s maddening.

    • EOF

      Yes, we’re supposed to revere our husbands because they CLAIM they would die for us. So, we’re supposed to put up with decades of abuse because ONE TIME they MIGHT take a bullet for us. How often does that actually happen? Why aren’t Christian husbands expected to ACTUALLY sacrifice themselves by loving their wives? THAT is in the same passages that talk about submission!

      I’ve had my husband YELL at me that he would die for me, while in the middle of a tirade about how disrespectful I am. The man expects me to be Pollyanna no matter how he’s acting or speaking. I never have ANY reason to give him disrespect, ever. I can’t tell him that he’s being rude to the kids, or I’m teaching them to be disrespectful. (Of course, their disrespect has NOTHING to do with HIS selfish, pushy, rude behavior! Why would it? He doesn’t do anything wrong because he’s head of the household, and we were created to respect him. The man won’t read any book, but he devoured L&R. Surprise, surprise.)

      All of this submission garbage pushed by complementarians and patriarchists is only about pushing women down and letting men get away with whatever they want. It has nothing to do with the Bible. They just use cherry-picked verses to gaslight us and keep us in line.

      I take comfort in Job 42:7 “After the LORD had finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has.”

      God is NOT pleased by this horrible behavior. He does not take lightly people misrepresenting him.

  5. Perfect Number

    Yes 🙂 This is a great vision, about more and more Christians calling out the bad and toxic teaching and the problems that the church has ignored. And, I hope it will also apply to the ways that queer people are uniquely harmed by purity ideology and Christian marriage teaching- the church acts like queer people don’t exist, and that needs to change.

  6. Joel

    The die has been cast, i guess. These heresies will soon be on their way out. They better be. After growing up hearing this stuff I’m so happy i got out of it, and I’m sure plenty of others like me feel the same. Change is coming.


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