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Monday, June 29, 2015

Parenting Beyond Religion ~How I Answer the Difficult Questions

I have a lot of people ask me these days, "how do you parent without religion? How do you talk to your kids about why we don't go to church anymore? How do you explain your beliefs to them? How do you answer their questions?"

These are interesting questions, usually asked by other ex-Christian parents who are struggling with the idea that all the answers they used to have have been pulled out from under them. "For the Bible tells me so" is no longer the answer to everything from "why is lying bad?" to "what happens when you die?" Suddenly, we're forced to think deeper, to be purposeful, and to challenge ourselves. We don't get to play the God card anymore.

I can't speak for everyone who has been through the deconversion process with their family, but I can explain my own experiences and how I've approached parenting differently these days.

In the beginning of our journey, about 3 years ago, we left a toxic church. This was difficult for my kids, who were very young, because it meant losing their friends and social group. Even though we tried to stay in touch with those whom we were close to, it's just not the same when you don't see them 3 times a week and don't share the beliefs they hold dear. ("Friendship by proximity" is what my friend Sam called these relationships, not implying that they aren't genuine but that they are upheld by proximity, as are many other friendships, such as from a job or other social group). They missed the children's church and the potlucks and the singing and activities. They also missed the routine. They asked a lot of questions about why we don't go to church and why we can't go see some of their friends anymore. I avoided these at first, because I was hurting from betrayal and rejection and seeing my kids' pain and confusion was just another knife in my heart. I also just didn't know how to answer them, to explain that I still believed in God, but had no idea what else I may or may not believe it. That I wasn't sure where I was going on my own spiritual journey. And how do you explain things like triggers and panic attacks due to my past to children? Eventually though I had to be honest and explain as best as I could.

That first conversation, initiated by my daughter, K (who was 7) went like this:

K: "Mom, why don't we go to church anymore? I miss church."

Me: "K., we had to leave that church because we  were no longer welcome because we disagreed with some things they were teaching that we feel are wrong and hurtful. We haven't found another church that doesn't teach these wrong things so we decided to stay home and do fun family things instead."
K: "Like what kind of bad things to they teach, Mom?"

Me: "Well, like that women can't do things just because they are women....."

K, interrupting: "What?! That's stupid. That's an Old Times belief. Girls can do and be whatever they want today, so can boys."

Me, suppressing a smile: "Yes, but the church we left didn't believe that, didn't like that we believed something different, and we didn't want to raise our kids in a church that tells boys and girls who they must be and how they must act because of their gender." 

That was the beginning of a series of conversations that we had about a few beliefs that I didn't think were healthy and that were keeping us from church. I kept it as simple as I could and they haven't asked about church in a long time. Their lives are now full of school and friends and family adventures.

Recently, they've begun to ask deeper questions about God, life, behavior, values, afterlife, science, and philosophy. These have been interesting for me, and, I admit, scary as it is completely new territory. Whereas before I would answer "we don't lie because it is sin", now I have be more thoughtful and pragmatic in presenting my values and ethics to them. *I* have to understand the "why" before I can help them understand.

When asked point-blank whether God exists or not, I have explained various viewpoints, including other gods and goddesses in the list of "what people believe". I am very honest in explaining that we cannot prove that any god exists, but that people chose to have faith in one god or many, for many different reasons. I try to stress the difference between scientific proof/knowledge and faith, and how these things are compatible and how they are not. I often answer with "this is what we know and can prove, this is what we don't, this is what some people believe" and asking them "what do *you* think?" Because someday they're going to choose for themselves what they believe and I have no desire to dictate that to them. Not by conditioning them now while they are young or prejudicing them toward or against one belief system or another. I care only that they are good, strong, ethical people, who are critical thinkers and intelligent, not that they worship Jesus or Odin or no one.

Kids are smart and vastly underestimated. Kids who aren't told what to believe, who aren't scared by hell fire into accepting a system they are too young to understand, and who are taught how to think are really fun to have deep conversations with. They know they can ask me anything and I'll answer them as honestly as I can and have no problem saying "I don't know, what do you think?". I have no agenda to make sure they have The Right beliefs or none at all. They are and will always be free to chose any faith or none, THAT is the gift I want to give them now as I raise them to be free-thinkers. It was not a gift ever given to me as a child. The only thing that would ever disappoint me is if they chose a faith system that devalues them and other humans. And yet, I'm not all that worried. They are strong thinkers, science-minded, emotionally healthy, with hearts full of discovery and empathy. I could be wrong but I can't see them throwing out those instilled and natural values, but rather bringing them into whatever faith they choose.

Raising thinking children means being a thinking parent. It means no cliches, no pad answers, no dismissing. This is really hard, not gonna lie. It goes against everything I once was and once believed. It's meant re-training my habits and reactions and thought-processes in order to be more true to myself and more honest with my kids. It means being fearless in my thoughts and my answers to their questions, being vulnerable, being uncomfortable, admitting wrong, being honest and open. But I find myself at peace with the relationship I have with my own beliefs and with my children. This is a journey, one I'm sure we'll be on for a long time yet. But we're on it together, forging a connection and trust, even if I don't always know how to answer their questions.

And, really, that's the most important thing.

Friday, May 22, 2015

On Forgiveness

Forgiveness.

I'm having a difficult time with this concept. I know in my world, it meant "you nicely forget everything bad that was done to you and never bring it up again or treat the other person different because, they're forgiven. As far as the east is from the west." It was like the magic eraser of all wrong-doing. And you didn't have a choice in the matter. If you didn't forgive someone, God wouldn't forgive you. You'd allow a "root of bitterness" to spring up in your heart, "give the Devil a foothold" and suddenly Satan had a stronghold in your soul from which he could reign terror over your life. Didn't matter what the offense was, they were all equal in the sight of God and all needed to be forgiven and you certainly aren't perfect so who are you to withhold forgiveness and cast stones. That one time I lied pretty much negated any right I had to be angry at my sister for stealing from me or angry at my mom for manipulating me. Being angry at someone who sinned against you wasn't allowed because that meant you hadn't truly forgiven them. Remembering what they'd done and avoiding them or treating them differently because of it wasn't true forgiveness either.

No matter how much I try, I cannot help but see the concept of forgiveness as a means by which you enable people to hurt you. A means that abusers and toxic people use to control you and be sure you never talk about what they did to you. All wrapped up in a neat package with the label of "For The Bible Tells Me So".

Since becoming an adult, I have only seen forgiveness used to hide serious evil against other human beings. Abuse of every kind is covered up by the world "you must forgive them". And victims are silenced and suffer alone, feeling like they are the ones who failed when they cannot help but be angry or sad at how someone has treated them. They are not allowed to be angry at someone who abused them because "no one is perfect".

As far as I can tell though, forgiveness from a Judeo-Christian perspective, as far back as the Old Law, was not anything like what the church preaches today. It was really more of a legal definition. That whole eye for an eye thing? It's talking about natural retribution. Payment for a debt owed. If someone hurt you or stole from you, they owed you and you had the right to retribution, to make them pay. Forgiveness was about debt. Not about saying "it's OK, I'll forget this ever happened and we'll all feel loving again". No, it was more like, "I will not enact retribution for this action. I will not take what is owed me." Now that I can get behind. ('Course Christians claim that Jesus came along and changed all that and that's where it gets a little murky in the area of definitions and practicality.)

And yet....some actions demand retribution. They demand a debt be paid. This is how our legal system works. You kill or steal or destroy, you pay. It's how all human institutions have functioned throughout all history. Wrong-doing demands retribution. Whether or not a person chooses to forgive that debt that is owed, and how they choose to do so, is completely up to them. No one can demand that from them. And it has nothing whatsoever to do with forgetting what was done or demanding that someone not feel a certain emotion for it or treat the evil-doer as they would someone who had not enacted evil against them. This is not only unhealthy, it is dangerous.

I am so sick and tired of people playing the forgiveness card. The manipulation is disgusting. And the control that it has over so many people thanks to religion is abhorant. "Forgive" a child molester? Um, no. That's a debt that legally must be paid so others are protected. Whether the child demands retribution for that evil against them or not is up to the child and does not affect how the rest of the world treats a person who commits such atrocity.

People need to stop hiding behind the modern Christian view of forgiveness, stop trying to coerce people into shutting up for Jesus. Stop telling children that if they feel revulsion and hatred for a person who molested them then God won't forgive them and their lives will be ruined. That kind of forgiveness can never be a choice. It will always be coercion. Those kids who were abused deserve to enact retribution. They deserve to feel whatever they want to feel. They deserve to say "No, I don't forgive you for this pain". And they deserve the choice of when or if any amount of release of that debt happens in their own hearts, regardless of what justice must be enacted on their behalf.

We deserve to be angry. To be filled with rage. To not let abusers off the hook because they pulled the forgiveness card. We deserve the choice to determine how we handle wrong-doing against us....without coercion or guilt-trips or religious platitudes. We should not be told that we cannot judge an atrocity because "he apologized"and "you're not perfect either". (One nice thing about not being a christian anymore is that I don't have to believe that the one time I stole five dollars from my dad is just as bad as Josh Duggar molesting his sisters. Judge him I certainly will.)

And the next person who tells me "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" is going to get some rocks chucked at them.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Through Our Eyes

Death to life
Darkness to light
Evening to morning
Winter to spring
Despair to hope

Over and over and over again, from the beginning we never saw to the end we will never see.

This is who we are, what we do, what we obverse, what we grieve, what we celebrate. Like everyone who came before us and those who will come after us, our lives march to the rhythm of these things.  

Peace to you all today as you celebrate this circle of life in whichever way you prefer.


I wrote those words on Facebook this morning, trying to present another perspective in a sea of "He is risen" posts, trying to honor all my friends who choose today to honor life in their own ways.

A friend immediately sent me a note thanking me for writing an Easter status that wasn't triggering.

Another friend was chatting with me, sitting in a coffee shop after she tried to go to church this morning and just couldn't. "People need to know that there are other people hurt by the church", she said.

People need to know.

They need to know that many of my friends have avoided Facebook all weekend because the blatant religiosity causes them physical pain.

They need to know that watching the people who inflicted that pain post sanctimonious scriptures about death and resurrection is like a knife in the heart.

They need to know that many are missing family gatherings today because they are no longer an accepted part of a family that cries "He is risen!" yet rejects their own in His Name.

They need to know that people like me can't sit in a church service or in a group of Christians arguing about pagan holidays and what day Jesus was crucified because both cause panic attacks.

They need to know that when we watch them post about how gay people don't deserve pizza and wedding cakes, then turn around and post about how Jesus died for them and is risen, all we can think is "Who gives a shit that your god is risen when you can't even bother to treat others as human beings? What good is your god and your faith then?"

They need to know that many, so many, people whom they claim their savior died for are hurting today because of them. Because of Christians. Because of church. Because of teachings that taught them they are worthless without god, that their worthlessness killed god, that the only thing keeping his wrath against them in check is the torture and blood of an innocent. "Alas and did my savior bleed and did my sovereign die? Would he devote his sacred head for such a worm as I?" Because "come as you are, open to all" is usually a lie as some of us know that far too well.

I know it's hard to imagine that something that gives you such joy can cause others horrific pain. That this isn't a happy day for so many people. Some of those others want so badly to get the same joy out of your faith as you do. But they can't. Maybe someday they will be able to, maybe never again. It's hard to imagine that your faith you love so dearly isn't the answer for everyone. That when you insist it is, you can hurt more than help.

But this day, right now, there are people hurting as a direct result of the church caring too much about how well people celebrate a day on the calender and not enough about who has been kicked out, abused, forgotten, and shunned. Told it was their fault. Told they deserved it. Given a To-Do list to finish before they are accepted back. Lost their family because of religion. Told God wants them to suffer for their perceived sins. Told they are not good enough for community. Made an outcast. Told what was done to them by Christians was sanctioned by God.

Is it any wonder so many are hiding and avoiding social media and celebratory gatherings today? 

I wrote this once:

"No matter how hard I try, the abusive religion I grew up immersed in will always be there in the scars on my heart, screaming louder as I try to silence them in order to think. I'm so very tired of the struggle.

If you've managed to find a God that isn't abusive, kudos to you. I can't find Him. I only see what people do in his name, I only feel the fear of being a child afraid of hell and afraid of God, the overwhelming disgust at all the things I have felt and heard and said and done and wept about because of him."

When mentions of Easter and death and sin bring up flashbacks of abuse masked in religiosity, telling people "not all Churches" isn't going to help. Leaving your church pew in search of them, not to preach, but to sit and listen and just be, without ulterior motive or agenda....that would help far more. If you want to show "not all Christians" it will have to be with actions not words. It will have to be on other days too, not just this one. "He is risen" written all over Facebook and spoken from pulpits today can't erase the ugly that was said done all the previous weeks.

People need to know.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Emotional Purity and Courtship: A Few Years Later


Four years ago, when I was beginning to process my life story and to critically think through the things I had been taught, believed, and practiced growing up in homeschool culture, I wrote a piece called “How TheTeachings of Emotional Purity and Courtship Damage Healthy Relationships”. It was just my thoughts on the courtship movement and teachings about emotional purity that had dominated mine and my friends’ teen years. I had no idea it would be my most popular post ever, that it would still be read 4 years later and re-posted by thousands of people. I’m glad it’s helped and given clarity to so many stuck in that system. I never dreamed it would be so popular or that my experience was shared by so many until the comments started rolling in with stories just like mine.

I read back over it today as it popped up yet again in my Facebook feed, remembering where I was when I wrote it. I still agree with some of what I wrote back then, but my journey has been so vast since that time. Covered so much space. I suppose blogging is much like journaling in that respect, only in public where you can all see my thoughts and the evolution of my soul.

In my original post, I argued three negative outcomes that often are the result of the teachings of emotional purity. I spoke from still inside the paradigm of Christianity, using scriptural ideas and assuming Christianity as a framework for my thoughts.

But, like most journeys, you never stay in the same place. You might come back around to it eventually or you might leave never to return. The me of 4 years ago that wrote about how God doesn’t do formulas is not the me of today.

The me of today doesn’t believe I need to use God to justify my choices.

I’ve done that my whole life....used scripture and God and “God’s will” to make decisions and defend them to everyone who thought I was wrong or had an opinion about me. And no matter what the choice was or how well I defended it “from scripture” someone always thought it was wrong. Because they too could defend their belief about my wrongness from scripture. It always turned into a “who has better hermeneutics” war, which I often won, given my upbringing steeped in knowledge of the Bible and Bible interpretation. But what I didn’t realize for so long is that all these mental and scriptural gymnastics were unnecessary. Even from a Christian stand-point, it really wasn’t anyone else’s business telling me what God wanted from me. In that belief system, we were supposed to “hear God for ourselves” and discern His will on our own (unless of course we were of the persuasion that our parents did that for us).

But the most important point and perspective comes now from outside that theoretical framework. From a more humanistic one that says that all people have value and innate human rights. Among those rights are right to live, to love, to choose, and to not be controlled and manipulated by others; our value not determined by them and how well we followed the rules. The same rights our parents took for themselves when they chose to go against the rules and the status quo and live their lives their way were denied to us. In the Name of their God. With Biblical justification.

I wrote my courtship story in brief for HomeschoolersAnonymous’ courtship series. My conclusion of that entire fiasco is also my thoughts on what I wrote four years ago on the subject:

“I read my journals and even the story I wrote out 6 years ago, and I am angered. I should not have had to use God to justify my choices. I should not have had to invoke His will for my life, to try to convince my parents that I knew my own mind and could “hear God for myself”. I should not have had to field emotional abuse and manipulation and spiritual control of my mind and heart and body. I should not have had to flee home just to get away from them and find peace. I was an adult, that should have been enough to make my own choices. But in our world, it was not. In the world for which courtship was invented, the ultimate sin was rebellion against God’s order of authority, against what your parents wanted for you, and choosing to walk on your own amid cries of “rebellion”. In this world, men could not be trusted and women were assets to be controlled, and the two could only meet under many layers of rules meant to keep us dependent on our authorities, despising of our own desires, and mistrusting of our own hearts and minds. It has always amazed me how two people who were declared not mature enough to conduct a relationship without supervision and under extreme outside constraint could somehow be mature enough to begin a marriage.

It took me until about 4 years ago to finally stop making spiritual-sounding excuses for why we conducted a secret relationship, why we rejected courtship, why we did everything “wrong” and against my parents’ will; to stop trying to get anyone listening to acknowledge the legitimacy of our choices by invoking God’s will.

To finally simply declare, “Because it was what we wanted and we had that right”.
Such a basic idea yet so foreign to those of us who are refugees from the homeschooling movement. We have that right....the right to love, to choose, to live. To not have our adult choices dictated by another, our autonomy robbed in the name of “because God says so”, coerced by ideologies that left us no real choice because “do this or suffer hell” is not a real choice. It was what we wanted. And that should have been enough.”

Do I still think that these teachings cause “pride, shame, and dysfunction”, as I wrote years ago? Sure. But I think those things are far less important than the idea that our human rights were violated. That we were taught to allow them to be violated from a very young age. That we were assets to be controlled and not people in our own right. That idea, far above all the rest, is far more damaging in my mind these days.


A loving relationship between two autonomous human beings, on our terms, was what we wanted. And that should have been enough. The teachings of courtship and emotional purity stole that from us and we let them because we had been convinced that “God wants this from you”. 

And that remains the biggest problem of all. 


Friday, March 20, 2015

Thoughts on Christian Marriage Teachings ~Part 3

I can't talk about bad Christian marriage teachings without addressing one of the most common ones that tends to lead to all the rest of them. It goes something like this:

"The husband is the head of the family. He is the spiritual leader. He is responsible for the spiritual life and growth of his wife and children. God's blessings to the family come through the husband and father who is connected to God. A man out of sync with God can take down his family. A woman submits to God by submitting to her husband's leadership. A woman cannot usurp her husband's spiritual leadership or God will not bless the family. "

There's variations of those sentiments, but that's about the gist of it. A family cannot be a godly family, or a successful family, without the spiritual leadership of a godly man. The requirements for such a man are numerous and many words have been written and spoken and debated about them. Everything from "must lead family worship every day" to "must be active in the church" to "must lead his wife with the Word of God".

It is clear from most Christian marriage books, conferences, and counseling material that when the man fails in his duty of spiritual leader, the family will also fail. Failure to lead spiritually is the root of all manner of dysfunction and sin in a family. This has caused a lot of women much heartache as they call into Christian radio programs or sit crying with their pastors over their husband's behavior and character flaws. His sin? "Not being a spiritual leader." Consider this article from Family Life Today, a program that is considered solid Christian family material, whose founders do marriage conferences around the U.S.:
"How can I motivate my husband to get right with God and become the spiritual leader of our family? This question represents the longing of many wives who are growing in their faith but are married to men whose Christian growth seems stagnant or who seem unwilling to take the spiritual lead in the family. If one of these represents your situation, realize that you are not alone."
The article goes on to showcase the various popular teachings on what a husband is expected to do and what happens when he isn't following through. It also goes into the expectations of a wife whose husband is failing at leading. And, in a very predictable manner, blames the wife for her husband's shortcomings. Because that's how it always ends up in this paradigm: the wife wasn't submissive enough, or godly enough, or giving enough sex, or being spiritual enough, or being quiet and meek enough, or she usurped his authority and dared to lead for a bit, and THAT'S why her husband isn't doing her job. "...carefully evaluate if you are inhibiting your husband's spiritual leadership by taking the lead yourself....[if] he is instinctively looking to you to set the spiritual atmosphere in the home because of your experience or your spiritual maturity, you may actually be robbing him of the opportunity to become the leader God desires." Oh noes. Men's leadership abilites are apparently so fragile as to disappear altogether if the wife doesn't submit properly. It doesn't matter if she is actually better equipped than he is, it's his job and she better not do it, for the sake of their family's spiritual status.

In another article by Focus on the Family, entitled "How Do I Spiritually Lead My Family?", the author explains:
"Naturally, there is a great deal of controversy in the church today surrounding the precise meaning of these words. Some husbands wonder, “What am I supposed to do – act like a preacher?” Some wives ask, “Why is he supposed to be the only spiritual leader? Why can’t we both do it?” In the end, it all comes down to a very simple and fundamental truth: families need leaders. The buck has to stop somewhere if the household is to function smoothly and efficiently." 
He then goes on to give out some basic qualifications on what this looks like practically, such as  "he must have a strong connection with his Heavenly Father, finding his happiness in Christ first, realizing that he can lead effectively only if he maintains an intimate relationship with the Lord."

When you get into popular theologians like John Piper and John MacArthur, you get even more specific and deeper into the murk of the teachings on male spiritual leadership. Piper says,
"I define spiritual leadership as knowing where God wants people to be and taking the initiative to use God's methods to get them there in reliance on God's power...If we would be the kind of leaders we ought to be, we must make it our aim to develop persons rather than dictate plans. You can get people to do what you want, but if they don't change in their heart you have not led them spiritually. You have not taken them to where God wants them to be." 
His following list of how to benevolently dictate the lives of everyone under him in the name of God is very long and tedious and I would imagine looks a bit overwhleming to your average husband, father, and church-leader

I once shared this:
"What I didn't realize until recently was just how much my husband was hurting from these teachings. I remember going to church without him one week years ago and listening to a guest speaker rail on the men for not being better leaders, better husbands, and better fathers. (This was his usual sermon when he visited.) How I wished my husband had been there! I confess I thought he could use a good ass-whipping to be the man he wasn't being (and since I was trying to be the perfect submissive wife, I certainly couldn't give it to him). When I told him later who spoke, he muttered under his breath "Another guilt-trip for not being a good enough man. Oh yay." That hit me hard."   
I was so convinced that our marriage wasn't working, our family was falling apart, and I was being stunted spiritually all because my husband wasn't interested in spiritual matters. At least, not to the extent that everyone said he should be. I was the woman in the article I posted first, from Family Life Today, wringing my hands because the man who was supposed to be in control of not only my physical life, but my spiritual growth, wasn't doing his job. I was stuck. I felt hopeless. I had no concept at all that I could be in control of my own spiritual growth or that of my children, no concept of autonomy or agency. 

And this brings me to one of the biggest problems with these teachings. They cause women to be stuck. If your man is supposed to be your leader but he's not leading, and if blessings from God are supposed to come through your man but he's not doing his job to get the blessings, and if you are told that you must always submit and always respect and never usurp his authority by leading your family yourself because that's Satan tempting Eve, then what is a woman to do? Well, she manipulates. She jumps through hoops to grovel to her husband's position over her while still passive-aggressively manipulating her man to do what she wants him to. The much-revered book on marriage, Created to Be His Helpmeet, is an entire book on how a woman can manipulate her man to do what she and God wants while still being a submissive "godly woman".  It becomes the only option left. Real communication cannot happen in such an atmosphere.

Women are inferior in this paradigm because they cannot lead themselves but must depend on a man -- a man who is naturally superior in position and spirituality. Though no complementarian teacher will admit this and many protest against the idea, there is no way to operate within this worldview without spiritual and physical inequality between the sexes. They say things like "equal in value but not equal in role". They can try to redefine "value" all they want but it doesn't change the practicality that women are inferior in this teaching. 

The fact of the matter is, no one is responsible for me except me. No one is my "spiritual leader". I am my own person with my own beliefs and my own journey and NONE of that is dependent on my husband. Because he is his own person with his own journey too and that's not dependent on me. We walk our own paths even as we have chosen to walk together. To say that a marriage can only work if the husband is the spiritual leader is ridiculous. Look outside this narrow worldview for one moment and see all the marriages that have worked and are working splendidly without a male leader. Or with the wife leading. Or with one or both of them atheists and no spirituality whatsoever. Or with equal partnerships. Or in Egalitarian Christian marriages. Or in any number of variables and beliefs and situations. Look outside the confines of the cages built by the Complementarian leadership of the American Church and breathe free air for a minute. Then tell me I should go back to a system that says I can't be anything without my husband's leadership. That my children will go to hell because he doesn't go to church or lead prayer or ever talk about God with them, regardless of whether he is a good husband and good father. That it's probably all my fault the formula isn't working because it's always the wife's fault in this paradigm when her husband isn't doing his job.

I watch as conservative religious friends go to various marriage seminars where they are instructed on how to have a good marriage within the confines of complementarian teachings. They come back all fired up and high off repenting for not being submissive enough and not being loving enough. But it never lasts. And after a while, back they go to another conference to have it instilled yet again how to operate their relationship in forced, gendered, hierarchical ways. Some manage to last, many don't. It's no wonder to me that marriages in these confines need so much encouragement, so many books, yet another conference. Because this type of relationship is not sustainable. Not in a healthy way, not for very long.

Now contrast everything I wrote above with how my marriage is now, years after giving up the teachings of male spiritual leadership. We are equal partners. We are free to use our strengths for the growth of our family without worrying that I'm not being submissive enough or he's not being leaderly enough. I can call him out when he's being unreasonable and he can tell me when I'm being a butthead and we can set up boundaries to ensure healthy communication and actions without some weird hierarchical paradigm within which we to try to manipulate each other. We are individual, separate, independent people who adore doing life together and are free to do that in a way that works best for us. I am strong and free to operate my own life and he is free from the burden of treating me as child that needs his direction. We offer each other support, wisdom, criticism, trust, respect, and love. We are not bound by gender roles that force us into unnatural ways of being. We are free. So very free, to be ourselves for each other and for our children. And it is a beautiful thing to behold. Because where freedom lives, love can grow in leaps and bounds.

Once again, giving up saved our marriage. And we didn't even need a marriage conference to do it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Thoughts On Christian Marriage Teachings, Part 2

So with my story in mind from Part 1, let’s talk about the teachings that claim that without the Christian god, marriage cannot work.

It doesn’t take a genius to see the problems with that belief. But it does take objectivity and willingness to look outside the confines of your world and paradigm. The fact is that marriages, all relationships really, work just fine (or don’t) across all religious and ethnic and historic boundaries. Atheists, Catholics, Protestants of every flavor, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, New Age folks, Pagans, Wiccans, Mormons, Jews, and every combination of these have had great, life-long, healthy marriages throughout history (they’ve also all fucked up a lot of relationships). So what is the constant there? Because it obviously isn’t the Christian God.

Christians think that if their marriage goes wrong, it’s because they aren’t doing Christianity well enough. But even the casual observer can see that that has nothing to do with it. That people without any god at all can manage to do relationships well. God, anyone’s version of it, is not what holds relationships together. Those that say they are only together because of God make me pause and wonder what will happen when their idea of god changes, or if one spouse’s journey leads away from Christianity.  

If belief in Jesus causes you to treat one another better and therefor have a more fulfilling relationship, then that’s great! I’m not knocking that at all. But there’s some concerns with that line of thought. To say that belief in your god is *the only thing* that can hold together a marriage is not only false, it’s dismissing of every good marriage outside your paradigm. And it’s concerning to watch people go through highs and lows and to constantly blame the way they treat their spouse on whether they are doing religion correctly or not. Human beings have managed to be respectful, loving, and empathetic, be they Christian or not, and if one cannot be compelled to treat another person in those ways without allegiance to one’s god, then I have to ask why, because non-Christians manage it every single day. 

I see my husband as deserving of my respect and empathy, not because a deity declared him so, but because he’s a human being and valued. He values me purely because he loves me and I am worth it as another human being, not because he has to “see Jesus in me” in order to see my worth or because he can’t love me without first loving God. 

So while I do think that faith can enhance one’s life and relationship, I can also see where it has been used as a crutch and a get-out-of-jail free card that people use to blame their problems on. But when you’ve been used to blaming your actions on God, lack of Him, flesh nature, Satan, Eve, and everything else *but* your own self, it’s tough to start admitting personal responsibility. No, my flesh nature is not responsible for me yelling at my husband. *I* did that, I chose that action, *I* am responsible to make it right. No, my lack of empathy toward my wife is not because I didn’t pray enough this week, but because *I* chose to act in that way and *I* alone am responsible to fix it. God isn’t going to fix it for me. That’s on me. And it’s on you.

Thankfully, I know now by both reason and experience that I can do good without anyone’s version of god. I can have a great marriage with myself and my spouse at the center of it and without a god in the equation. That many people, the world over, throughout history, have managed to do much good and have fulfilling relationships with others with and without God (anyone’s version of him/her). The traits that make us human, that cause us to have healthy relationships with other humans, are not exclusive to Christianity. We all have access to them, we all have the opportunity for amazing relationships, god or no god.

Thoughts on Christian Marriage Teachings, Part 1

“God needs to be the center of your marriage or it will fall apart.

“Marriage takes three to work well.”

“A good husband is one who helps his wife fall more in love with God than with him.”

“The most important thing in marriage is for both to have faith in God.”

“Without God, marriage cannot work well. We are two selfish to accomplish a good marriage on our own without his sanctification and redemption.”

“A husband must be completely surrendered to God in order for his wife to completely surrender to him.”

“The closer you move toward God, the closer you move toward each other.”

“God ordained marriage and God sustains marriage.”


If you look up “Christian marriage quotes”, you’ll find thousands of pages and tens of thousands of quotes like the ones above. Some of us don’t have to Google, these things were drilled into us from babyhood. We heard them from our parents, the pulpit, pre-marital pastoral counseling, Christian marriage books, our own wedding ceremonies, and marriage seminars and conferences.

The closest concept I can think of for this type of thinking is “ethnocentric thinking”. I know that’s not quite right, but I’m not sure there is a better word to describe this type of religious-centrism, or the idea that your perspective based on your religion is a universal truth, when in reality the world around you is a much bigger place with broader views that don’t follow your rules or operate within your paradigm.

I’d like to talk a little more thoughtfully about the idea that “having a relationship with God and God as the center” is not necessary for having a wonderful marriage and how dependence on this concept can be damaging. 

But first, a story. My story, and what led to the broadening of my own views on healthy marriage.

These teachings about having God at the center of your marriage, almost tanked my own marriage. Along with the erroneous teachings of Complementarianism, the idea that God had to be the center of my marriage, and all that entails, was disastrous for my marriage.

I came into marriage with a lot of funny ideas on what a Godly marriage was supposed to look like. I’d been raised a good little female homeschooler and read all the right books, including Created to Be HisHelpmeet. I knew that in order to have a godly marriage that lasts a lifetime, I had to learn submission to my husband, he had to be in tune with God in order to lead correctly, we had to both be in daily communication with God, prayer together daily, discuss our faith, be part of Bible studies that would encourage us in our personal faith and our godly marriage, and be sure to “keep God at the center” of our marriage. We could only love each other well if we loved God more. Every church we were part of reinforced these teachings. Every couple we talked to in the church declared them to be true.

But nothing worked out like it was supposed to. As my husband said to me just last night, “Doing marriage the Christian way almost killed our marriage”. The more I tried to respectfully get him to lead prayer with me, or to go to men’s retreats where he’d learn to be a more godly leader, the more he resisted and the more distant he got. He’d cave and go to a retreat where, in his words, “they’d spend the whole time telling us how we weren’t good enough men and needed to repent and get closer to God and we’d come home feeling both dejected and on a repentance high.” (He likes to refer to the emotional upswing that happens after a spiritual encounter as a “spiritual high”.) We had quite a few of those experiences in the first 5 years of trying to be a godly couple. There seemed to always be something to repent of, something we weren’t doing quite right, something we needed to do better in order to obtain what we were supposedly missing: connection with God and therefore each other and therefore God’s blessing on our marriage.

Somewhere along the line, we both gave up. We loved each other, had great chemistry, were committed for life. But we were tired. So tired of trying to fit into boxes we didn’t fit in. Trying to pursue the elusive spiritual connection that would finally help us obtain “godly marriage”. We never fought, we just disconnected. I was sure it was over because we never prayed together and he was sullen because I lived in fear that we’d messed up, that God wasn’t the center of our marriage, that we could never have what all those smiling couples on the marriage books had. And we were both miserable.

Giving up saved our marriage.

When we were both able to give up on expectations of each other and ourselves, expectations we were told came straight from God, we were finally able to see the people we were and the relationship we had. We were able to appreciate the uniqueness that was us instead of forcing something that wasn’t us and was killing our hearts and souls and relationship. We gave up the idea that either of us had to be close to God to be close to each other and started connecting based on who we were as people, not as Christians. We stopped sharing our personal faith journeys with each other in a forced “we have to share because it’s what we’re supposed to do” way, which was really me trying to pry his thoughts out of his head in order to feel some sort of spiritual connection to him. We stopped trying to model the male headship structure and decided that Egalitarianism was more true to who we were and made more sense for a healthy relationship between adults. I started to blossom as my own person, an independent individual, something I had never done before as a conservative homeschooled female. I no longer needed him to shape up spiritually in order to lead me. I didn’t need a leader, I needed a partner, a companion. He didn’t need me to be another child that needed leading, he needed and wanted a partner in life.

We stopped asking “what are we supposed to do? What are we supposed to get out of this relationship? How can we glorify God with our marriage?” and started asking “what do we want to do? What do we want from this relationship? How can we live a fulfilled, healthy life within our marriage?” We threw out the books, stopped going to conferences, and completely gave up any spiritual and religious aspect of our marriage. We didn’t talk about God with each other for *years* and just let the other person have their own faith and do whatever they liked with it. We stripped it all down to two people, madly in love, who like each other and want to do life together, and now what?


That was the first 5 years of our marriage. The last 5 years have been truly phenomenal. Real connection, mutual respect, freeing each other to be individuals, talking til 2 AM about everything and nothing, sexual fulfillment, laughter, partners in crime, best friends, each on our own spiritual journey and not threatened by the others’, doing life together in an easy, non-forced way. According to every sermon, every book, every conference, every meme and internet quote passed around Facebook, our marriage should be falling apart without God. But without God and the expectations that came with the idea of him, our marriage is thriving, as are many others in the same place as we are. I am sometimes angered by the fact that something that started out so good was almost destroyed because we submitted to teachings of men in the name of their god. I'll talk a little more about those teachings and the problems inherent in them in Part 2.