Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary

My Five Wishes for Christian Teachings on Sex and Marriage

Since I frequently write about adultery, divorce, and abuse, I also follow a number of Christian writers who focus on these topics. Most of the time, I find great compassion and a desire to help the church better understand the plight of those of us who have experienced this type of victimization.

I have used Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Marriage and When to Walk Away, as a great example of a marriage proponent who also recognizes the danger of some marriage teachings in abusive relationships. He wrote in a blog post entitled Enough is Enough that we should never elevate an institution over and individual. He also said we should thank God that divorce is available to those trapped in abusive marriages.

I am a fan of Gary Thomas--even though his book has been (wrongfully) used to condemn me for walking away from my adulterous ex-husband.

This week, Thomas released a new book, Married Sex, and a firestorm erupted! I refuse to name the originator of this firestorm, but he has been accused by this author of stealing research, plagiarizing, and keeping women in bondage. There has been a coordinated effort to write negative reviews for his book, and there have been horrible, venomous comments left on his Facebook page.

Let me start by saying I have not (yet) read either of these authors' books. I have purchased them and will be reading them in the coming weeks with plans to review both. However, I have yet to complete either one.

My problem is with a one-size-fits-all mentality. My problem is with vicious, personal attacks. My problem is with taking nuggets out of context and using them to demonize others. My problem is with in-fighting among Christians.

Here are my top five wishes:

I wish everyone would recognize some Christian teachings are toxic. Adultery is the only reason for divorce (or, worse yet, there is no reason for a Christian to ever divorce). If you do divorce, you must pine away single until death because divorce does not end the covenant of marriage. These teachings are rooted in scripture, but in my opinion (and the opinions of many Biblical scholars) are just wrong! They are human interpretations of the perfect Word of God.

Deuteronomy 24 clearly states that divorce is granted as a kindness to women to allow them to remarry. Malachi 2discusses how God despises the actions of the husband who mistreats his wife. 1 Corinthians 7 clearly states that if you remarry after you are "loosed" from a marriage, you have not sinned.

These scriptures were written to protect the female from abusive situations, to elevate women to a place of equality. The very scriptures intended to protect women are now being used to keep women in bondage! We have got to interpret scripture in light of the cultural context and the larger work of Scripture. How can a God of love expect an individual to be left in bondage when He came to set the prisoners free?

I wish all Christian authors/pastors would add caveats. I heard Andy Stanley one day give a caveat in a sermon on marriage. It was simply something like, "If you are in an abusive marriage, you can leave. These teachings do not apply to you." It was simple. He did not elaborate. He simply gave a caveat to help those enduring destructive marriages understand that although God's Word and Way are absolute truth, God's heart would never expect a woman (or man) to remain in an abusive marriage.

Will some people manipulate the word "abuse" so they can freely divorce? Yes, they will! But do you know what? There's a whole other segment that has been manipulating God's Word to keep their spouse in bondage for centuries! I heard so many times that my job was to submit, that he was the king of the castle and what he said went. We simply need to ask ourselves: Is it better than some people use our words to leave unnecessarily or that our words keep people in abusive marriages? I would much rather be guilty of someone using my words to walk away than to know that my words told an abused wife/husband to stay because that was God's will.

I wish all pastors would educate themselves on and preach on destructive marriages. When I got married in 1993, I thought of abuse as someone getting hit by their spouse. I had never heard terms like toxic, destructive, mental abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse. I was ill-prepared. It was actually my former sister-in-law who first called something my ex-husband said as emotional abuse. I had never thought of his outbursts that way because I didn't understand what it was. Aren't we all mature enough to handle each other with caring and compassion? Isn't that everyone's motivation? I've discovered that it's not.

Here's the thing: it is sometimes really hard to describe what mental and emotional abuse looks like. When I try to describe what I endured to others, it often doesn't sound that bad. And, as individual incidents, it probably isn't. We can all slip into a place where we say/do things we shouldn't. But emotional/mental abuse is different. First, it's a pattern. It is ongoing. They may promise never to do it again, but the promises are empty. It's mind-games designed to make you the crazy person, the one who is always at fault. It's using fear to control. It's separating you from your support system so you are alone. It's making you believe you don't deserve better. It's creating an atmosphere where you must walk on eggshells, never knowing what will set him/her off. 

In our home, the angry obscenity-laced outbursts were easy to pinpoint. We all cowered in fear, giving in to his wants so we didn't have to endure more. Some homes don't have these outbursts. Instead, the abuser actually masquerades as a sweet, quiet person who could never hurt anyone. It's the behind-the-scenes manipulation that is so dangerous. 

Again, it's hard to describe. Just remember you have no idea what goes on behind closed doors.

I wish everyone would realize that we are not a one-size-fits-all society. I can't even count the number of people who used the book Sacred Marriage as a weapon against me! "You should have stayed because marriage is designed to make you holy more than happy." I'm sorry, but there wasn't anything making me holy in my marriage! It was destroying me!

If you were to ask Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Marriage, about my situation, he would tell you the book was not written to those in abusive marriages. It was written to those in marriages where both people were committed to God and to one another, to making their marriage the best and most God-glorifying marriage it could be. To apply it to an abusive marriage is simply ludicrous! Does that mean we should throw it away altogether? Absolutely not! It has its place. It simply needs to be taken in the right context.

The same thing goes for so many other books. The Five Love Languages? It's a great book for a solid marriage, but it's not going to do a thing for an abusive marriage. Every Man's Battle? Is it truly every man's battle? Of course not! But a book titled Some Man's Battle just isn't going to sell the same way. 

I could go on and on, but I won't. My point is that we need to stop trying to create a one-size-fits-all society. We need to understand that my audience is different from Leslie Vernick's audience which is different from Gary Thomas's audience which is different from.... We need to learn to read critically, taking the good stuff and spitting out the pits. We need to learn to read and listen with Holy Spirit discernment.

I wish we would strive for unity in the Body of Christ. Please go read John 17 right now. I mean it.  Think about our society. Think about the fighting within the capital C Church. Would Jesus Christ be pleased?

Our Savior prayed for us--for you, for me, for every believer that walks the earth--and he asked the Father for only one thing: unityWhy unity? Because He knew that as long as we were fighting between ourselves, the world would miss Him. 

To see the mud-slinging from one Christian author to another this week broke my heart. What damage we are doing to the name of Christ! Doesn't scripture teach us that if we have something against a brother or sister in Christ that we should go to them personally? Of course, if we think about some of the things mentioned above, maybe there would be no reason to be upset in the first place. Maybe we simply need to realize there's room for both books and they apply to different audiences. 

Oh, friends! Sometimes I simply cry out, "Lord Jesus, come quickly!" I fear we are often doing far more damage by trying to right the "wrongs" of others. Can we not just be mature, Holy Spirit discerning, critically-thinking people? Are we falling into a pattern of toxicity by the fighting? 

Lord Jesus, come quickly!!

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