Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary

What Makes a Marriage, Part 2

Before I dive into the rest of the interview with Gary Thomas, I want to say a few things. I have already written about Married Sex, Gary's latest book written with Debra Fileta. Sadly, many of you have heard many negative and critical comments about it.

It is so important that we refuse to take words out of context. Scripture says if two or more are in agreement, we will receive from God whatever we ask (Matthew 18:19). Does that mean if I pray to win the lottery with my husband and kids, God has to let us win? That takes a single scripture out of context of the scripture as a whole. In 1 John 5:14-15, it says if we ask according to His will. Failure to accept the whole context renders an invalid interpretation.

In the context of my first marriage, Gary's book Sacred Marriage and his advice that marriage is about making us holy more than happy would cause me to remain in an abusive situation and endure mistreatment that God never intended. The same is true for Married Sex. In the context of my first marriage, the advice presented could cause me to endure additional abuse. Howeverin the context of my current marriage--one filled with mutual love and respect--both books can provide valuable help to make my marriage even better than it is.

We are in a cancel culture where we have deemed that being offensive to anyone is reason to cancel, to demonize, to destroy. Sadly, the Word of God states that the cross is offensive to those who do not believe. We are walking a slippery slope. We see the attempts to cancel the Word of God becoming more real each day because His way is contrary to that of this world. If we aren't careful, we will one day see the Scripture canceled in our society because it is offensive to those who do not believe.

I encourage you to think long and hard about this truth. Ignore the demonization that has taken place around Gary Thomas and his new book. Listen to his heart. Consider his words in the context for which they are intended (one of a mutually loving, respectful marriage). Remember the "offensive snippets" that have been shared have been removed from the greater context and twisted to fit an agenda. Remind yourself that if we cancel everything that might be offensive, the Word of God is at the top of the list.

And here is the rest of the interview:

Prior to your blog post Enough is Enough, I intentionally avoided your writings because of the way Sacred Marriage had been used as a weapon against me. What prompted your blog post Enough is Enough? What was the response? How has the response changed you? Would you change anything in the post?

[Gary Thomas]: I mentioned in the post that a series of conversations at a women’s conference overwhelmed me. I saw the hurt first hand. I was looking into their faces. And it probably didn’t hurt that some were the age of my daughters. You start to feel a fatherly concern for younger women at a certain age. 

The response was viral in one sense: well over 100,000 shares on social media, people surprised that a nationally known marriage ministry pastor would say this. A smaller group challenged me, saying Sacred Marriage contributed to the problem so that I was being disingenuous. My take has been that Sacred Marriage has been poorly applied, but I stand by the teachings as they are stated in the book and subsequent books and blog posts (my second marriage book, A Lifelong Love, has an appendix entitled “God Hates Domestic Violence). 

A few national leaders, who don’t think abuse is cause for a divorce,  told me I was wrecking my reputation and needed to take it down. Of course, it’s still up. 

What is the intended audience for Married Sex? Is it possible for 

[Gary Thomas]: For the first half, the book is written for Christian  married couples who want theological, psychological, relational, physical and anecdotal advice to increase their level of intimacy and pleasure in the bedroom. Some are held back by theological repression. Some have to work through psychological wounds or trauma. Some couples have relational issues to address. Some need physical advice. And many just want some tips and ideas from other couples as to how keep their sex lives fresh and fun. 

What would you like to say to critics who believe the book is damaging to those who have been abused? 

[Gary Thomas]: There have been numerous trauma trained counselors and survivors who have told us exactly the opposite. A book on sex, especially written to the Christian community, is bound to be somewhat controversial. In this case, I believe some of the pushback has come from a campaign to support another book in which ours is seen, sadly, as competition.  

Did you have any experts on abuse review the manuscript/concepts prior to publication? What was their response? 

[Gary Thomas]: Debra is herself a licensed counselor. We had two editors, a male and a female, which is unusual. One of those editors, by the way, is the exact same editor who oversaw and edited the book of an author who has perhaps attacked us most. There are over 70 references to “healthy” in the book (I searched and counted!) so we made it clear we’re not writing a manual for those in abusive marriages, and we warned readers in instances where the counsel wouldn’t be wise in an unsafe marriage. 

Following the controversy, Zondervan had another trauma trained woman review it. 

Will I own up to a “few problematic sentences” in a book over 80,000 words? Absolutely. And I’m grateful we can address this with a light gloss for the next printing.

[Dena's note: I do not have permission from Zondervan to share the full outcome of the trauma trained reviewer. However, I hope that one day the words of the reviewer will be made public. Suffice it to say that the negative critiques have originated from one source, and not everyone trained in trauma sensitivity agrees. Not every abuse survivor agrees.

My biggest issue is that people are jumping on the cancel-culture train based upon snippets taken out of context. I have reviewed some other books that have been demonized, and looked for the specific quotes that have been listed. In almost every instance, important aspects have been left out of the critique.

If you have questions about the book, I encourage you to pick it up and read it. Do not simply listen to someone else's opinion. We must learn to critically engage in these situations.]

What training do you have in abuse? Debra? How much time have you spent discussing these topics with abuse survivors? 

[Gary Thomas]: I’m not sure about Debra. I don’t have any formal training in abuse. I have spoken out against it as a pastor, but I have avoided writing books giving advice to abused spouses. It’s one thing to speak out against it, as I do in my books and blogs, to increase visibility and point people toward proper pastoral care. But I try to stay in my lane and address couples who are in a place where it’s healthy to work on their marriage. 

[Dena's note: I am ending with these words again because they are so powerful.]

Do you have any final words to Christians who have experienced an abusive marriage?

God hates what is happening (or has happened) to you and wants it to stop. It is not selfish to seek safety; in fact, it’s an act of worship.