"Real Marriage" review: 65-85, "The Respectful Wife"

With a chapter title like that, you just know how much I loved it. I probably should have expected this chapter to be more infuriating than the one devoted to men, but I didn’t. My marginalia has a lot more “WTF” and “BS” (which stands for both bullshit and benevolent sexism; nice how that one worked out) than the last chapter did– and I wish I could talk about a lot more than I have the space for.

But, today, we’re going to start of with Significant Problem #1:

Mark and Grace twist Scripture to the point of deceit. Or they proof text in order to mislead. Or they use footnotes as if the verses they’re referencing have anything at all to do with their argument. In short: Mark and Grace use the Bible to lie, and it pisses me off. What they’re doing isn’t at all unusual in complementarian circles, because the “biblical” argument for complementarianism is incredibly weak so they are forced to rely on manipulative tactics like these. Unfortunately, these deceptions work on far too many people.

The first time I threw the book today was when I got to page 71, and Grace quotes 1 Cor. 11:7-9 in order to support her argument that women need to be “companions” and “helpers” in the complementarian sense. I have actually written about this exact problem, in a post I’m particularly proud of.

Grace quotes this:

“Man is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.”

And then she stops. Because, if she kept going, she’d eventually run into this:

Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman, For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman.

Grace purposely omits this part of the passage, even though from a grammatical stand point the passage climaxes here. Stopping where she stops would be a bit like me stopping a sentence right before a but. After what she quotes is nevertheless. Nevertheless, (πλήν) as in, “in spite of what has just been said” or “but rather, except.” Quoting a passage in order to prove your point when the author himself says “but” right after the section you’re quoting is … well, I threw the book across the room. Now I just want to type out curse words. It’s wrong and misleading and dishonest and she’s doing this to the Bible, a book they both claim to live their lives by. This isn’t the only instance (she does something similar at least four times), but I have to keep going.

On to Significant Problem #2!

Grace and Mark put all of the responsibility for a healthy marriage and productive life onto wives. In the chapter Mark addressed to men, all he basically said was “don’t be a monster”; he never once uses the word “abuse” even though he describes emotional, verbal, and physical abuse. He didn’t even really take it beyond that into “here’s how to be a decent human being”– he just talks a lot about all the ways men can abuse their wives and then says “don’t be that guy.”

In this chapter, though, Grace has got a lot to say about all the things that a woman has to do.

  • She prays for her husband about every single thing he has to do all day long.
  • She touches him affectionately, romantically, and sexually.
  • She texts him through the day.
  • She makes sure the prepare healthful meals.
  • She takes up his interests.
  • She reads the Bible (71-75).

And while when she’s talking about learning to communicate she indicates this is something husbands and wives have to learn how to do together, “dudes, talk to your wife about what you think a problem is” is something Mark never tells husbands to do. Communication is a two-way street, but they’ve missed that.

And, lastly, Significant Problem #3:

Grace uses the “except if you’re being abused” line.

I wish I could tell you how much I hate that line. I hate it. I hate it more than any other single phrase I’ve ever heard come out of a spiritual leader’s mouth. I have gotten up and left church services because of it, and at this point if I hear it uttered in a sermon and I talk to the pastor afterward and their reaction is nonchalance, I’m never going back to that church. I am done with this phrase.

It is worse than useless. It is dangerous.

It is especially dangerous because of the context of this book. Chapter three spent a lot of time describing abusive behaviors– and not just verbal and emotional abuse, but physical coercion and violence as well. But, Mark never once says “this is what abuse looks like.” He spends the entire chapter minimizing it– personally, I think he has a vested interest in minimizing abuse, because he’s an abuser. There’s no way in hell Grace isn’t going through at home what Mark has been putting his church and staff through for years.

He gets away with it, though, because hardly anyone in our culture understands what abuse actually is. We have the vague thought that it’s black eyes, broken arms, women who “fall down stairs.” But the reality is that my abuser called me Goddamn fucking bitch every single day for almost three years and I never thought it was abuse because he wasn’t hitting me. He would pinch me and twist my fingers like he was playing “Uncle,” and I never thought it was abuse because there were never any bruises.

It is extraordinarily rare for a person in an abusive relationship to understand that’s what is happening. When someone says “oh, if you’re in an abusive relationship, none of this applies to you,” there is basically not a single fucking person who’s going to hear that and think “oh, that means me.”

If you’re about to say something that you think needs to have that disclaimer slapped onto it, then you need to think about it really, really hard. If you know that something you believe could be twisted by an abuser or a victim in order to trap them, then that belief must be re-evaluated, period. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit.

But, Real Marriage makes it so much more worse than that. She tells women that they are commanded to submit to their husbands, even if he makes an irresponsible decision that could be detrimental to both of them (80). She compares a woman submitting to her husband to a child obeying their parents (82). She says that “if your husband isn’t working on his part of loving, you are still called to work on your part of submitting” (84).

But, worst of all, she says this:

If your husband is verbally or physically abusing you, he is not loving or respecting you. If this is an ongoing issue, it should be addressed and stopped immediately by a pastor or trustworthy leader who will listen to you both.

There is so much wrong with this. First of all, if you realize that you are in an abusive situation, leaving should be your end goal. Not reconciliation. Not redemption. Not forgiveness. Getting yourself (and children if you have them) safe is your first and only priority, however you need to go about doing that.

Second, Grace’s idea that someone in an abusive marriage should go to a leader “who will listen to you both” is beyond wrong. It is worse than wrong. That “advice” can, has, and will kill people. Anyone who is willing to listen to both a victim and their abuser is an unwise person who should not be sought out or listened to. If they are willing to “listen” to the abuser, if they want to “hear both sides,” they will be used by the abuser to further ensnare their victim. A wise and properly trained counselor who hears “my husband hits me” will not be interested in hearing from the person willing to hit their spouse.

That Grace (and, presumably Mark), think this is a good idea is horrifying.

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  • Sarah S

    ” If they are willing to “listen” to the abuser, if they want to “hear both sides,” they will be used by the abuser to further ensnare their victim. A wise and properly trained counselor who hears “my husband hits me” will not be interested in hearing from the person willing to hit their spouse.

    That Grace (and, presumably Mark), think this is a good idea is horrifying.”

    Agreed. I have seen this happen. It is horrifying.

  • Of course they’d choose to quote that old misogynist Paul, instead of the founder of the Christian Faith, Jesus. Then again, Jesus respected women and treated them like equals. Of course, I am being a little unfair to Paul. Yeah, he was an ass but there were times in which he truly transcended and became more than just the old misogynist. Like the love chapter in I Corinthians: that was awesome. Me, I just wonder if Paul didn’t have a split personality or something.

    • From the research I’ve been doing, it seems that most scholars believe that the books and passages with the most flagrantly misogynistic writings were not actually written by Paul.

      • Cheryel Lemley-McRoy

        When Paul says in 2 Timothy 3: 16, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,…”, Paul was referring to the Old Testament because the New Testament wasn’t written yet, and no one considered Paul’s letters scripture. In fact, it was the custom of the new churches to copy Paul’s letters and send them on to other churches. Many errors were made in the copying because, unlike Torah scribes who trained all their lives for copying the scriptures, anyone who could draw the letters could be given the task. It is important to know also, that the various heads of the churches, also added or changed what Paul wrote if they disagreed or thought he needed clarification. The injunction against women speaking in church or having authority over men was added somewhere in the 2nd or 3rd century, long after Paul died. So we need to ask ourselves, is this indeed scripture given the injunction in Revelations against adding or subtracting to scripture.

    • It’s not really fair to Paul to call him a misogynist; certainly his writings look so to us but in first century Roman culture his ideas about gender roles would have been seen as radically subversive. He was giving women an active role in the church (even if it didn’t include preaching and teaching) in an age when their role was entirely passive; describing marriage as a mutual relationship (even if wives were told to submit to their husbands) in an age when your wife was considered your property.

      To use a musical analogy, labeling Paul as a misogynist because he didn’t advocate for modern egalitarianism is kind of like saying Haydn wasn’t an innovative composer because he didn’t write atonal music.

      • KP

        Following up on what Samantha mentioned, it’s especially not fair to call Paul a misogynist for books he almost certainly didn’t write, like Ephesians (“wives, submit to your husbands”) and 1 Timothy (not permitting women to have authority over men), which were later writers’ blatant attempts to reverse Paul’s actual positions like in Galatians, where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, man nor woman, etc. I’ve been reading Bart Ehrman’s Forged, and he gives a pretty accessible account for why scholars (well, at least those who aren’t forced to assume inerrancy has to be true) think many of the NT books were written by authors other than those named in the text or ascribed by history, including many (most?) of the controversial passages that are misogynist and anti-Semitic.

      • Melody

        Too bad that often isn’t considered.

        I’ve often disliked Paul but that isn’t necessarily fair as it is the intepretation of Paul that causes the issues. The Quakers or Friends already used Paul’s sayings about there is no male and female, no Jew and gentile, etc. in Christ as a stepping stone to have female preachers centuries ago, whereas I grew up in a church that had no such roles for women only a few decades ago…

        When placed in his time, Paul, like Jesus, is pretty progressive, but when taken literally in this day and age, not so much….

      • Oh, Paul could still be a jerk to people. I actually like him a little more because of it, because it shows his flaws and that he was still just as human as the rest of us. It forces us to wrestle with the cultures in which the different parts of the Bible were written and to figure out how we in the 21st century will repond to them. I love the musical analogy, though. That’s a great way to put it.

    • aquilamaris

      To add, there are also different ways to interpret those texts, ans some translations prioritize one meaning over another. Or they could have been inserted later into the text – one of the earlier manuscripts actually notes one of those passages as doubtful (I forgot which one.) besides, it doesn’t really match up with the rest of the letters, where we find women doing all sorts of things, and it doesn’t match up with how Christ treated women, according to the Gospels. So I think Mark is interpreting according to what he wants to believe, and he doesn’t respect a lot of people.

  • I feel sorry for Grace. What you describe in this post makes me wonder just how much say she really had in the writing of this book. If Mark is truly an abuser, of course Grace believes this about the placement of women and the role of wives. And even if, deep down, she really doesn’t, a guy like Mark would never allow for that to be shown in his book.

  • Melody

    She prays for her husband about every single thing he has to do all day long.
    She touches him affectionately, romantically, and sexually.
    She texts him through the day.
    She makes sure to prepare healthful meals.
    She takes up his interests.
    She reads the Bible (71-75).

    This list just makes me angry: her sole existence in aid of her husband. This is problematic in so many ways…. What is a woman to do who doesn’t have a husband (yet)? Or one who is a lesbian or asexual, or simply longs to remain single?

    So apparently the wife is supposed to give up her entire individuality: her own interests, live her life (at home) immersed in his agenda for the day… The whole thing also sounds so smothering to me (enmeshed and co-dependent too) as if they need to be in constant contact etc (so he can work and she can pray for his work) which presumably is where her agency lies…

    It reminds me a bit of the age-old idea that women could determine the sex of the baby: they’d be punished if it was a girl because that showed she was rebellious… Here her power lies in her praying for him. Everything has to go via God which, at least in this case, effectively means it is out of her own hands again….

  • Melissa

    I learned recently that in many states, (abused) women are held MORE responsible than men when the men kill or horrifically abuse their children (http://www.buzzfeed.com/alexcampbell/how-the-law-turns-battered-women-into-criminals#4k9fp9u). Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. And yet women are taught 1) that they aren’t being abused and 2) that they should stay in abusive relationships. And it’s not only the church that teaches it.

    • Tim

      Thanks for the buzzfeed article. It was pretty hard to read, but I’m glad to be aware of the issue. It seems to me that the women in these horrific circumstances mainly were aware that they were being abused, but just couldn’t fathom how to get out. If the woman calls the cops, she figures maybe the guy will get arrested, but then he’ll bond out, comes home and kill her and her kids. So maybe she calculate it’s better to try to placate him, and he may beat her but probably not kill her. There are multiple failures there, and not a single simple solution. But teaching people how to recognize abuse is helpful, and confusing the issue is harmful.

      This issue about the church not being the only cultural sphere that teaches confusion on this topic is definitely true. Sometimes some churches are just going along with the mainstream of the broader culture they’re embedded in. This played out in the past in the church’s complicity in cultural acceptance of slavery in the South, and is still playing out in, for example, fundamentalist denunciations of “homosexuals” – a socially constructed category with secular origins barely more than a century old. It’s not biblical, but people (including me) who grow up in a particular culture tend to interpret the Bible through the lens of that culture.

  • KP

    My parents have what they would describe as a complementarian marriage (they probably don’t know that word; they probably would say “biblical” marriage). But I’ve been thankful that the relationship that they actually modeled was, in all but a couple of specific instances, actually pretty egalitarian. I think it’s because my parents actually do many things across type (my dad did the grocery shopping and cooking, my mom did yard work, because those are the chores they most enjoyed), and are generally even tempered and easy to get along with, and they negotiated on most things. My dad was not the person who was dominating in any way, even if he did nominally consider himself head of the house. For most intents and purposes, they modeled a pretty equal relationship, so it wasn’t that difficult for me after I grew up to move to a mental place where equal partnership was the ideal. It makes me wonder about the people like Mark and Grace who feel they have to so vociferously police the gender boundaries. Complementarian ideas were pretty benign in my family, but in the hands of someone like Mark Driscoll, it seems like they’re pretty baldly used as an excuse to reinforce the man’s power.

    • My parents are pretty much the same way– people like John Piper and Wayne Grudem disparagingly refer to our parents as “functional egalitarians” and that’s supposed to be an insult. Mark would call both of our fathers “feminized” and “pussies.”

      • Crystal

        Can’t these people just ACCEPT that people have different temperaments? That SOME PEOPLE want to negotiate? That SOME PEOPLE want to lead? Why does it have to do with the equipment between my legs? I must be thick. Could someone help me here?

        • In most cases, Crystal, it comes down to power. There is a vested interest for those in power to hold it. The rest of us are raised and taught that this is normal, just The Way Thing Are. In a society that often falls prey to Tribalism, being a part of the Tribe means fulfilling the roles that we’re called to fill. Once you step out of that role, then you become in danger of becoming the Other which often gets demonized and marginalized.

          I’m sure there are True Believers that honestly believe that what you have between your legs determines your role, function, and abilities, but this finds its origin in holding and keeping power.

          • Crystal

            I’ve never heard of the tribalism concept before. It sounds evolutionary. If a conservative thought something was evolutionary sounding, they would dismiss it at once. You know, God created, Genesis 1:1, all that (not that a literal reading of Genesis is necessarily a personal problem for me; in fact, I tend to favour it over the millions of years concept). According to them, tribalism wouldn’t exist because it’s based on the concept we’re primates. It’s the Created Order. God made it that way, and if we step out of his will – bad things happen. However, I can accept that the principle of tribalism takes place often (although I don’t believe we came from primates or soup) and it does explain a few things. So thank you for your answer, Erik K.

            When I come in from a hard day’s work in the garden and read this rubbish, I don’t like it. If a man is THE HEAD OF HOUSE, why does HE get almost NO responsibility and the woman A GREAT DEAL MORE? If a man is the head, he should be receiving the responsibilities of communication, attempting to understand his spouse, etc. I thought so myself. How can he be the head and just be told not to abuse? It doesn’t make sense.

          • If it helps, the concept of Tribalism isn’t actually grounded in evolution. You can see the concept in the Old Testament, and then again through out history. It’s the idea that people form groups, and then those groups differentiate themselves from the other groups around them. Think of the Israelites in the Old Testament and all the places God said, “Those around you do ‘this’, but I call you to do ‘this’.” That’s actually the origin for the word “holy” – it means set apart.

            In this case, we’re talking about the evangelical people group, a Tribe that takes seriously the call to “be apart from the world, not of it”. One of the ways they differentiate themselves from those around them is the roles they ascribe to men and to women. The gate keepers of the Tribe determine who is officially a part of the Tribe, and who has become Other than, and thus must be pushed away. They won’t tell you that the foundation of this system is power keeping. They instead point to God and the Bible, claiming their founding there, but as Samantha is demonstrating wonderfully, such a claim has quite a few fatal flaws.

            There are some forms of complementarism that do put “the weight” on the Man, but this is just another form of Benevolent Sexism. ANY time one makes sweeping judgement and role decisions about people based on sex, it’s going to be sexist.

            As for why most forms of complementarian thought make most of the work put on the woman? Well, that’s how you keep one part of the population in their place (that is, the place you’ve shoved them) and maintain power over them.

            In case it’s not obvious, I think such things are sick and wrong. I just try and understand the underlying principles and thoughts behind such systems to better guard against and dismantle them. I try really hard to stay humble and be aware of the privilege I was born with.

            I hope this helped to better explain what I was proposing earlier.

          • Crystal

            Oh, it does, Erik. It does, and I understand entirely where you are coming from. I have a suggestion for everyone out there, JUST IN CASE DEAR LITTLE MARK IS SURFING THE INTERNET, ‘specially for his benefit, although I think everyone else would benefit too:
            I’m sorry, but I’ve held it in too long. I have to say it. Anyone that believes in this roles stuff should watch the movies Pour Elle (Anything for Her) and The Next Three Days. It’s a pretty safe bet that (although the directors didn’t mean it that way) that the men in those stories were behaving just as an Ephesians 5:25-33 husband should, laying down their lives for and LOVING their wives. They need to watch these movies before discussing submission, respect, and all that. It would be an excellent tonic for them.
            The links to tell what the movies are about are below as follows:

  • Jackie

    I’ve come to hate that hackneyed phraase “sticks and stones etc” when words can draw the most blood and outsiders can’t see the scars.

  • From a man’s perspective the list of things a woman should do, and if my wife did that would drive me up the wall. Way too clingy. Mars/Venus says men like to be needed, but run from neediness. This list describes a woman who can’t exist without her husband and would drive away a man who respects women and make them prey for abusers. Pet peeve here, I don’t like getting texts especially at work, if you want to talk call. The only time I text is when my client is in a meeting and he can’t speak and something comes up where I need to communicate.

  • Abby Normal

    Good gravy, I knew this book was a bad one but I had no idea how bad. I’m wondering how long it will be before one of the Driscoll kids comes out with a tell-all about the crazy stuff that must be going on behind the scenes in that family.

    Is it weird of me to say that, although I’m a Christian myself, reading stuff like this makes me kind of realieved that I didn’t marry a Christian? I mean I work full time and my husband stays home–even when I’ve met other Christian guys who weren’t as out-there as Driscoll, it still always seemed to me like the majority of them were kind of leery of that arrangement–ambivalent at best, hostile and potentially “emasculated” at worst. Even non-Mars Hill guys seem to absorb a lot of this crap. It seemed like by virtue of being a non-Christian, my husband escaped a lot of that baggage.

    • I also got lucky in a sense. Mine is a Christian, and he grew up attending church, but he never was invested in that “scene” or as “Christian” being a part of his identity. He spent most of his life having close relationships with non-Christians, and I think that’s made a huge difference.

      • Crystal

        I do understand what you’re saying, believe me, about the misogyny being buried deep in the church fabric. However, I must say that a Christian man can be a kind, loving, gentle person, because Jesus. On the flipside, being a non-Christian man does not make that man immune to abusing another person, regardless whether he is religious or otherwise.These men will just use other justifications for it.

  • Adele

    Wow, that last quote is toxic. In addition to everything you pointed out that is wrong with it, I hate the phrase, “If this is an ongoing issue” LIke, if he hits you once or twice that doesn’t even need to be addressed at all and you should just wait around to see if it *becomes* “an ongoing issue”. No!

    • Caroline M

      Exactly! It’s like when Piper says women might have to endure getting smacked for a night. Why do they think women should put up with ANY abuse?

      • Anna

        Yes, one punch could kill. Emotional abuse may not kill you, but it will destroy the essence of who you are. Women should never put up with any of this bull. I am beginning to think that many of these so-called leaders of the church are sociopaths.

  • You just hit the nail on the head so hard! I love what you write. Even though I’m not a Christian any more, I wish I had read what you wrote when I was. Might have stopped some damage. As it happens, it’s helping me understand a lot about why I ended up with my abuser and why the church saw nothing wrong with him being the way he was. x

  • Anna

    I believe in Jesus, but to be honest, I have no idea where I belong as far as the organized church. Complementarianism and all this gender role crap makes me feel worthless, degraded, demeaned, etc., and I won’t be a part of it. The “equality with different roles” bull is what really yanks my chain. I am also disturbed by the lack of individuality among the women active in Complementarian circles. They are all exactly the same. Their lives all revolve around obeying men, cooking, cleaning, make applesauce and Xmas ornaments.
    Ugh!! Don’t any of them want to be a leader at work, or become a lawyer, or study the solar system, or become politcally involved or collect snakes? They are all controlled and defined by men. This can not be God’s will.
    I am now trying to find a good egalitarian church near me (I left a comp church less than a year ago), and I hope to meet normal men. It does feel good to know lots of other people, including men, feel the same way I do.

    • Crystal

      Yes, Anna, it’s very good to know that there are men that feel the same way as you on that subject. Often, I’ve asked a friend of mine if he felt demeaned or degraded because of equality and his answer is that if he did, he would tell me, and he likes being equal with me.

      When the men feel the same way you do, that is one of the greatest strengths for the cause because then the comps can see that you are not necessarily just a group of whiny women. However, they say that the men have been co-oped by feminism and strong-willed, domineering women, so it isn’t always going to work.

  • My mother went to the pastor’s wife at her church, when I was nine. She was advised to return to my father and confront him alone, because she was supposedly violating the mat the principles of Matthew 18 by seeking help. He brow beat her into submission, eventually convincing her that I was a crazy liar, and that I was also a sexual devian,t which was her fault somehow. He became extremely violent after that, and it was a short time later that he trafficked me to a business partner for one night. I agree with you that the advice to seek help from a leader who is trained to seek reconciliation rather than justice or safety or the abused is extremely dangerous advice.

  • sivandra

    The marriage counseling my (now ex) husband and I received was this: the pastor took Devin into a room and said, “Don’t beat your wife, ok?” and laughed. The pastor’s wife took myself into a room and said, “Men have sexual, emotional, and domestic needs. Make sure you meet them, or you will be in danger of him having an affair.”
    Yes, it really happened, just like that.
    While Alena’s experience is far past mine in the spectrum of abusive patriarchy, all of us who were steeped in, reared in, trapped in fundamentalism have felt the lash to one extent or another. The things in the Driscoll’s book make me ill, because they are verbatim the lies that were fed to me for so long that I thought I liked the taste. Thank you for fostering conversation, and helping people like us to at the very least be able to name the abuse, which thank God leads often to escaping from it.