My Reaction To (*most*) Evangelical Books On Relationships & Marriage

I know they’re out there. But I, personally, have trouble finding a theologically deep, well-written (!!!), thought-provoking book on marriage, celibacy, dating, relationships…etc. Which is simultaneously sad and frustrating.

So if you have one that you recommend, I’d love to hear it. I shant judge you (even if I do judge the book). So let’s hear it.

Because I’m running out of windows.

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The Fallacy Of A Happy Marriage

In a recent article posted on CNN titled “How Affairs Make My Marriage Strongeran anonymous blogger explained how she and her husband share a mutual understanding of the other’s promiscuity. She proceeded make the argument that this arrangement actually strengthened her marriage. As one could imagine the comments thread exploded on this article. And it was one of those threads that ranked high for moments in which I really just wanted to hit “Reply All” and tell everyone commenting:

Because not only were many of the comments somewhat arrogant and, at times, Neanderthalic to the extent that it seems only internet comment threads are capable of (“Ur soo stopid LOL!”) but I also really failed to see logical basis of the objections they raised.

Because, personally, when I read the article, I couldn’t help but think “yeah, okay…

If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard the argument a million times that mutual agreements of this sort can add vitality and life to a relationship. This is not a new statement, nor is it one without logical coherence. It really depends on one’s belief in the purpose of marriage.

The common held notion is that marriage should make you happy. This line of thought is strewn across our romantic lingo and sexual ethics. Although most of us will admit that marriage, love, and relationships take work, we still hold the practical belief that said work is for the end goal of our happiness. Thus, though all relationships require effort, there are some that are like old cars: no matter how much effort you put into them they’re still not going to function well. Though they once ran smoothly their glory days have faded and it is time to move on.

When attached to this train of logic, there is strong evidence for why affairs might be helpful in a marriage. Just like one mechanic may say one thing needs to be fixed on a car, and another says it doesn’t, so a marriage that is geared towards happiness may have numerous avenues of attaining it. Inasmuch, it makes completely logical sense why someone who is used to sleeping with the first person they flirt with at the grocery store (“Mangos, eh? Ever watched Seinfeld?”) would need such liberty within a marriage in order to be happy. And hey, if their spouse is happy too (which could easily fall under the “what they don’t know don’t hurt ’em” category) theennn:

And I expect this from American culture. I expect this from a consumeristic society that is based on subjective morality and self-satisfaction. So while I am saddened by the apparent pain of someone suffering under a lifestyle they chose but obviously isn’t working out for them  (the author of the article lamented, among other instances, the first part of their pregnancy when her husband was still having affairs while she was home sick), I am also neither surprised nor angered that someone who doesn’t hold my personal beliefs would fail to adhere to them.

But what is surprising/frustrating/demanding of reform is that Christians think the same way.

If you don’t think that’s true then take the time to compare divorce rates, percentages of infidelity, and pornography use between Christians and non-Christians.

Okay, so I’ll do it for you:

A poll done by Barna Group in 2008 revealed that 34% of Protestant Christians had been divorced at some point in their life while only 30% of atheist couples could make the same claim. According to Christian Post, a poll of 1,000 confessing Christians found that 50% of the men and 20% of the women were “addicted” to pornography. While Barna Groups poll revealed that Christians are 30% less likely than non-Christians to approve of extra-marital affairs, a Christianity Today poll found that 45% of Christians confessed to engaging in sexually inappropriate behavior outside of their marriage. Compare this to a recent poll of the general population which concluded close to 50% of women and 60% of men have engaged in extra-marital affairs and you’ll see the problem. The statistics show that there isn’t a lot of discrepancy between the two groups. Certainly not as much as there should be.

What’s more is I can’t help but notice how Christians talk about marriage no differently from the world. For instance, give yourself a point for every time you’ve heard any of the following statements from Christians in the last year, two points if you said it yourself (I scored 24!!) :

  • “The wedding was a success! They’re happily married.”
  • “He/she just makes me so happy.”
  • “I’m happy when I’m around you.”
  • “I’m not happy in this relationship anymore.”
  • “I just wish we had a happier marriage; don’t you remember how it used to be?”

I could go on. Or I could just rip a page out of a Nicholas Sparks novel and type the dialogue verbatim. But let’s be honest:

Ain-t-Nobody-Got-Time-Fo-Dat-sweet-brown-31241125-480-330

The point is Christians, from a practical standpoint, strive towards happiness in a marriage just as much as our secular counter-parts. The difference is nil. We date the people who make us happy, marry the ones we’re convinced will make us happiest, and stick with the marriages that produce happiness. We might sing worship songs on Sunday morning and jam to K-Love en route to our nuptials but we’re really clapping to the same tune.

This is our greatest fallacy within marriage and the reason our marriages can’t exist as a testimony in contrast to the relationship featured in this article. Because what’s the difference between us save for our tactics?

The cruel irony is that a marriage aimed towards happiness is really rather hopeless. I don’t mean to be a downer here, but if you think about it, no matter how happy you are at any point in your marriage it’s still going to end one of three ways: death, divorce, or abduction by rogue aliens.

really
Okay, maybe not the last one

So from a utilitarian standpoint, if you’re pursuing marriage for the sake of happiness then it would behoove you to think again. Rather, save your money, sleep around, retain your independence, lock your heart in a drawer somewhere deep within your soul and be done with the whole thing. I guarantee you’ll have less heartache, conflict, disputes, sleepless nights and despair. Probably a lot more “happiness”.

And so it would make sense that the end goal of a Christian marriage is not happiness, just like the end goal of a Christian life is not happiness. Instead, it’s aim is sanctification.

A Christian marriage points not to the comforts of this life but to the hope of eternal life; it glories not in the happiness evoked by being dedicated and committed to another person but in the testimony of being pursued and redeemed into permanent relationship with Christ. Thus a Christian perspective of marriage offers that marriage ought to refine a person, to push them to be more like the Object Of Our Faith. Marriage ought to exist as a living, breathing, fighting, forgiving, loving, laughing, crying testimony of two imperfect persons attempting to illustrate the perfect love of a perfect God. In short: marriage ought to reflect Christ’s love for the church. Unless crucifixion was actually a Greek word for some obscure form of happiness, then we’ve really lost our way.

Now, if I could get personal with you for a moment:

how about no
Eh, I’m going to anyway.

I married a saint of a woman. Not only is she a saint but she is also infinitely cute, like “OMG I saw this in an indie movie once and it was adorbs!!!” cute. Like “dude, she’s ten times out of your league in combined score of looks and personality” cute. But I am not always happy in my marriage. In fact, sometimes I’m very unhappy in my marriage. Mostly because my selfish desires don’t always co-align with the needs of another reasonable human being.

But I find encouragement from the fact that my marriage hasn’t always made me happy. Because though it may not be making me happy, it is making me better. And I pray for the fortitude, understanding and determination to stick it out through times when happy moments are few and far between.

Such determination must be built on a proper perspective of marriage. Because if happiness is my goal, then this game will end quickly and poorly and my tactics will never reflect eternal hope or Christ’s love.

The Christian fallacy of pursuing happiness in our relationships is that it takes our eyes off the true purpose of marriage. If our aim is happiness then our testimony is diluted, both in and outside of the marital covenant. Pursuing an affair to maintain marital satisfaction may be more drastic than the measures the rest of us take but that doesn’t mean we Christians are free of blame.

Rather, the Christian marriage would to well to understand that:

And if we set our eyes on sanctification, if we aim to be living testimonies to the love and sacrificial dedication of Christ, we will find that our relationships, our marriages and our lives are all working towards a greater purpose. This is a purpose that goes beyond us and our desires. It is a purpose into which we have been adopted and granted a role, not by our own merit, but by the love we now seek to imitate.

Indeed, it is a purpose that exceeds anything that happiness, marriage, sex, dating, affairs, and definitely Nicholas Sparks books could offer. For it exceeds, oh-glorious thought, anything that world could ever offer.

 

 

5 Things Every Married Man Should Do Around Single Women- The Smackdown

I read this article yesterday and at first glance I was so frustrated I nearly ripped out half of my hair. Then I read the comments thread beneath it and just about lost hope for all of Christendom. And we can’t let that happen. So a rebuttal seemed in order. Of course, no decently articulate rebuttal is complete without memes and footnotes[1]. Ergo:

rebuttals

If you haven’t read said article go ahead and take five minutes to peruse the contents by clicking on these words. If you’re too rushed to do so, I totally understand which is why I will give you my summary of the contents here:

  1. This writer is concerned about Christian men preserving their marriages
  2. So he comes up with five things men should always (his words) do around single women to safeguard said marriages
  3. He then lists his five things men should always do, which are (again in his words): keep your ring on, hang up pictures of your wife at work, keep eye contact simple and short, keep conversation general and professional, talk about your wife and family often.

Let me start with the good aspects of this article[2]:

1.)  The writer is concerned about men maintaining healthy marriages. Wonderful. So am I.

2.)  He mentions men should wear their wedding rings and he alludes to the fact that this is a sign of the covenant between a man and woman. Which is good. Kudos.

3.)  The writer calls on men to lead in relationships, however vague a notion that may be…. okay, okay. Ephesians 5, I see you.

4.)  I really appreciated his tip about having a photo in one’s work space, which is of a “happy” time. Find your happy place with your wife, good stuff.

5.)  No typos. I respect that. Seeing as a majority of the things I post often times luuk lyke dizZzz (but more commas).

6.)  Oh, the name of the blog it was originally posted on is called “Manturity”. I like it. I’m always up for a pun.

7.)  Lastly, he listed some Bible verses to “support” his points. Scratch that, they were all out of context.

Annnndddd that just about sums it up. I’m sure the article was written with the best of intentions but there’s a lot of roads to Florida, I mean- hell, paved with those. Good intentions don’t excuse awful theology. [3]

care to explain?

Certainly. But rather than just launch on a rabbit trail of disorganized objections let me present you with three (semi)coherent objections.

1)   The Attack on Single Women 

Let’s start with the title shall we? The fact that this author singles out “single” women

pun
Two can play this game…

starts him off on the wrong foot. If women are a threat to one’s marriage (which they aren’t) then it’s not just single women. In fact according to recent studies married women are just as likely to have an affair as married men.[4] Even if statistics didn’t back up that point[5] the logic behind single women being the primary threat is just plain void. If men are in danger of cheating so much that such drastic measures have to be taken, then so are married women. And thus any author of an article such as this one should at least have the decency to remove “single” from the title.

harsh

No, not at all. Because the point of this article was incredibly dehumanizing and (I’m just going to say it) sexist. What this article does is play right into the pornographic culture that claims everyone is a sexual being first and foremost and, ergo, every single woman who isn’t reigned in by a husband is probably on the prowl and going to vault herself onto the first man who seems willing.

If the author was truly convinced that single woman in his office are automatically a threat to one’s marriage, then he should have the wherewithal to take his head out of the ground and realize that succumbing to this type of logic requires that one’s guard be up against all women, not just single women.

Then again, such logic leads straight to:

2 ) The Objectification/Dehumanization Of Women

This builds of my previous point that the author seems to have a general distrust of women and views them entirely as sexual threats.[6] But his advice in this article is astoundingly atrocious:

  • “keep eye contact simple and short”
  • “keep conversation professional and general”

Yes, because heaven forbid you realize the woman you are talking to has feelings. Heaven forbid you realize the women you are talking to has needs for friendship and community. Heaven forbid you actually ask your co-worker something about how you can be praying for them, how their day is going or- I dunno- something beyond “do you have the 1059A report!?” (eyes downcast). And by all means, heaven forbid you realize that your co-worker is anything other than a sexual deviant who can’t wait for the chance to rip your clothes off and your marriage in two.

sarcastic

And what about the line: “The single women you engage with each day, if you have to…[7]. Oh, yea. If you have to speak to these sub-human beings…then here’s how you handle it. If you have to go out of your way and address them, if you absolutely, no f%$&# way around it, must talk to a single woman, spray yourself down with Lysol, don your chastity belt and then go in. What the hell, better yet, I think I can get you that suit from The Hurt Locker:

hurt locker 

Yep, you’re set. But heaven help you if you look them in eye. They can sense weakness. And fear.

calm down

Maybe I should apologize for being so rash. But this is the thing that really gets me. I mean for heavens sake, treat women, treat everyone, like human beings.

please

Unless you have Bible verses to back it up….which…oh! here we go:

3) The Egregious Use of Bible Verses to Support Said Points

So confession. I wasn’t quite sure what “egregious” meant but I was pretty sure it fit the context. In case you’re in the same boat as me, here’s the definition:

e·gre·gious

iˈgrējəs/

adjective

1.outstandingly bad; shocking.

“egregious abuses of verses like Matthew 5:28”

synonyms:

shockingappallingterribleawfulhorrendous,abominable,

Yep. It fits the context.

Speaking of “context”, that’s another word this author probably should understand before he uses Bible verses to support his claims.

For instance, to support his point that men “should keep eye contact short and simple” he pointed readers to Matthew 5:28: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”. Okay, uh, I get it if your point is “keep your practice runs of x-ray vision to a minimum with women other than your wife”.

But it’s not.

He’s saying avoid eye contact, which has absolutely nothing to do with lusting. In fact, if you want to realize the humanity of another person, if you want to enable yourself to see them as a human being with a soul, then eye contact is probably the best thing you can do.

Furthermore, this passage falls in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. And what does he sum up this teaching with?

“So in everything, do to others as you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12)

“As you would have them do unto you”. You know…like treat them like human beings. Look ‘em in the eye. Ask ‘em about their day. Stuff like that. I dunno. Whatever.

suggestions

But okay. Maybe that was just a slip up. Maybe he had a deadline and wanted to support his points with Biblical data like a good evangelical so he grabbed a Concordance, flipped to “Lust” and wa-la! We’ll give him that.

But then under his point “keep conversation short and professional” he cited:

‘Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.” (Romans 6:13)

Again, this is so blatantly out of context I’m not even sure where to begin. And this article is long enough as it is. But let me just say this: Paul is writing about life in Christ as opposed to death in Adam (synonymous for sin). Leading up to this verse he is appealing to the Romans to pursue a life that isn’t controlled by sin…which this author somehow equates with asking a single woman in the office if she had a good weekend. Furthermore, when viewed in context and when the audience of this letter is taken into consideration one would learn that Roman Christians were actually counter-cultural for the way they valued singleness and single women, an ironic oversight on this author’s part.[8]

The point is, I am not the only person who (though I am now married) can remember at some point in my single life being treated like a fencepost by married Christian couples. There were moments in my interactions with married people that I literally wanted to scream:

i'm not trying

human And I’m a male. And I can pull my head out of the ground long enough to realize there are some double standards in the church: one of them being the disregard we tend to have for single females.[9] 

Members of the church, how can such actions be justified?

Look, I’m a married man. I get it. Protecting my marriage is a high priority and I am all for someone who is helping other men do as much. And it isn’t easy in today’s society. To clear up any misconceptions please let me make this clear: I am not attempting to demonize the writer of this article, and I am sorry if any of my comments have come across as vicious.[10]

But my marriage is supposed to be reflective of Christ and the church; my marriage is supposed to make single people feel welcomed into a community that has historically embraced celibacy and singleness, not felt threatened by it. Furthermore, if you treat other humans like objects in your own mind that’s quickly what they will become; and don’t think your objectification of women will not affect your relationship with your wife.

Do I have long dinner conversations with women (single or married)? No. Do I have women over to my apartment when my wife isn’t home? Yea…uh…no. Do I flirt with women? Absolutely not. Do I take off my wedding ring? Only when rock climbing (have you ever caught your ring in a finger hold? #hurtslikehell) and water-tubing (because that’s how everyone loses it). And only with my wife’s knowledge and permission.

But do I look women in the eye and treat them, if Christians, like sisters in an eternal kingdom and family and if not with the warm and accepting nature of Christ towards the woman at the well? Yes, or at least I try.

Do I acknowledge that I am a brother and a co-heir in the kingdom of Christ, that Christian is my primary identity and husband falls within that not above it? Most certainly.

Do I acknowledge that marriage is a temporary and worldly institution, one that ends with death and that if I shun and treat every single woman I encounter day-to-day like the Samaritan on the side of the road, then I could have some potentially awkward and “shoot I’m sorry” reunions for, uh, all eternity in heaven? Absolutely. Whole heartedly:[11]

yea i do

There are different ways to make single women feel valued and none of them, I guarantee you, require breaking up your marriage. Talk with your spouse and see what they’re comfortable with. If I know of a single woman at work that I want to reach out to, I often tell my wife about her and we (note the emphasis) have her over for coffee. Pretty soon she’s talking more to my wife than she is to me. But she knows that I don’t treat her like a threat. She knows that in me she has a brother in the kingdom of Christ. If she’s not a Christian, she knows there’s something different about me because I’ve allowed her into our home to see the way I value my wife up close and personal. If I treat my wife like a human being too, then this woman will see and respect the boundaries we have in our marriage and value us for them.

You can be on your guard without dehumanizing other people and playing into the lie of our overly sexualized society. The answer is not sequestering single woman but establishing a marriage that reflects the kingdom of God in every day and age. The answer is not exclusion but inclusion. The answer is one that values everyone no matter their walk of life and meets them there.

The answer is in our calling as Christians first and foremost and the blessed calling as husbands and wives we find within that.

 


[1] Which, like any half decent graduate student, I will use to make comments I simply couldn’t excuse including in the rebuttal.

[2] Despite my potentially deceptive tone, I’m not being sarcastic here. I truly thought these were good aspects of the article. All six of ‘em.

[3] DISCLAIMER: I bear no ill will or grudge towards the author of this article. I’m sure he’s a good guy with a good heart. The pacifist in me felt the need to say that.

[4] This is based on a recent study from Indiana University reported in this news story: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/women-cheating-men-study/story?id=13885519#.UENkZ1QcAi4

[5] Which…by the way, they do. See above^

[6] Though, to be fair, maybe its emotional affairs he’s concerned about. But from the tone of the article there is no reason to see it that way.

[7] I realize I just broke the cardinal rule of writing and used emphatic amounts of bolding and type adjustment to enhance my point. Please forgive me.

[8] Ready for the longest footnote ever? Here it goes:

In the ancient world, women had very limited power over their own well-being. They couldn’t inherit estates, own wealth and often times were unemployable. Their value depended on their fathers and then on their husbands and, as a last resort, on their sons. A single woman with no sons was in big trouble; this is what makes the story of Ruth such a powerful one. Ruth chose poverty and almost certain death to remain loyal to her mother in law; as a result she was not only provided for but found a place in the lineage of Christ.

Ergo, early Christians were a threat to the Roman Empire because of many things, one of which being the fact that they valued singleness; women didn’t have to be married to participate, live and thrive in their communities. This led to a breakdown in family structure and a lack of trust placed in the empire and worldly security. Instead, trust was placed in Christ. They were counter cultural in their love and acceptance of single woman and the way they treated them not as merely objects or wives but as valuable participants in the kingdom of Heaven.

Contrary to this today, articles like this sequester singles and label them as threats to our the sanctity of marriage, which suddenly has a higher importance than the God-given role of the Church. The author of this article sounds more like the Roman culture than the Roman Christians he associates himself with in citing Paul’s letter.

For more on this: see S.K. Johnson’s pending thesis: Singleness and the Early Church. I can get you a copy if needed.

[9] If you don’t believe me. Read the comment thread on this article. A single female raised similar objections to mine and was told, rather abrasively, that she was taking this “too personally”. They might as well have attempted to cite the Biblical passage “speak only when spoken too” (note: not actually in the Bible, more sarcasm)

[10] I mean it. Truly. If my sarcasm denotes anything other than sincere critique, I apologize.

[11] Do I take excessive liberty in the realm of run-on sentences? Yes.