I’ll be the first to admit that Matt’s and my marriage isn’t perfect. It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s full of love and admiration and giving of each other completely… but it has its share of ups and downs. Fortunately, we’ve come to a great place where we work through those downs and celebrate the ups by coming to a place of mutual respect and understanding.
However, having had our experiences does not mean we are experts in marriage and relationships, not even close. And while we enjoy sex, we’re not experts in that, either. (Matt may beg to differ. ) We’ve sometimes been asked for advice from friends, but it’s not like our word is binding, nor will our advice, seldom as it is given, work for anyone else. (After all, how many of y’all actually diffuse an argument by childishly exclaiming, “You’re a[n] [insert issue here]!” and collapsing into giggles? That shit doesn’t work for everyone!) Their relationships are not ours.
But there are people, individuals and couples alike, who believe that they are the end-all, be-all source for marital, sexual, and relationship advice. Take, for instance, Mark Driscoll, who’s been the focus of much of my internet research for a while now, especially since the release of his new book, Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life Together. Check out a preview of the first chapter on Scribd.
[DISCLAIMER] I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t read the book, only the first chapter provided above and several critiques of his work, both good and bad. I probably wouldn’t read it unless it was provided to me, and by that, I mean if someone literally shoved it into my hands and held a gun to my head to force me to read. I’ve heard (and experienced) enough misogynistic crap without having to delve into this drivel.
That being said, there are more than enough quotes from the book floating around to give me a good idea of what’s between its covers (oh god, mental image, ew ew ew). I’m sure there are some gems in the book — in fact, there’s a whole chapter dedicated to how your spouse should also be your friend (though it’s shrouded as a “friends with benefits” ideal that makes me squirm) — but for the most part, it appears to be a very blatant and male-centric sex manual for today’s Evangelical couple.
Also, anything quoted from his book in bold is my emphasis.[/DISCLAIMER]
At first, the book appears to be a decent peek into marital life filled with its own shares of ups and downs. You can tell that the authors (Driscoll and his wife, aptly named Grace) have a desire to help others achieve healthy, even Godly or spiritual, relationships… but the quiet underlying message in the book is fundamentally damaging due to its misogynistic nature. Lemme tell you… if my husband wrote a book like this and cast me in this kind of light, I would be livid. Forever and ever, amen.
The book starts out with a “redemption story” of sorts, slogging through the Driscolls’ marriage in its infancy and arriving at a place restructured in “God’s way”. Neither one of them was a virgin* before meeting in high school, and while the book is particularly quiet on the beginning of their relationship, one may infer that they were okay with that.
*The merits of the word “virgin” or “virginity” won’t be discussed here, but trust me when I say I have huge misgivings with this word. More for a future post, perhaps?
But things take a turn down a very different road when Driscoll finds Jesus, starts poring through the Bible for advice on sex and women, and gleans from other Christians:
“It was there I began learning about sex and marriage from the Bible. The pastor seemed to really love his wife, and they had a faithful and fun marriage. The previous church I had attended was Catholic, with a priest who seemed to be a gay alcoholic. He was the last person on earth I wanted to be like. To a young man, a life of poverty, celibacy, living at the church, and wearing a dress was more frightful than going to hell, so I stopped going to church somewhere around junior high. But this pastor was different. He had been in the military, had earned a few advanced degrees, and was smart. He was humble. He bow hunted. He had sex with his wife. He knew the Bible. He was not religious.
In that church I met other men who were very godly and masculine. There were farmers who loved Jesus, hunters who loved Jesus, and even one guy who was on his way to having eleven daughters and two sons with one wife. They had a beautiful family and sometimes invited Grace and me over for dinner. I had never seen a family pray the way they did, sing together, and pretty much just laugh and have fun. Watching that family, I learned about the importance of a dad praying and playing with his kids, reading the Bible to them, and teaching them to repent of their sin to one another and forgive others when sinned against. It was incredible. Before long, Grace and I were volunteering our Friday nights to babysit for free so they could get a date night.” (p. 8-9)
(It might help to give a little perspective here about just the guy we’re talking about: A bullying, misogynistic, chest-thumping “man” who is absolutely sex-crazed. (His sheep may say that he’s just responding to a society that is, itself, sex-crazed… but at least in my opinion, he takes it about twenty steps too far.))
After that experience and learning about the f-word (hold your horses there! He means “fornication”, obvs!), he and Grace stopped sleeping together. And got engaged and married quickly after that because, after all, “fornicating was fun. I liked fornicating. To stop fornicating was not fun.”
But fornication after marriage wasn’t fun, apparently. Oh no, instead, he soon “was bitter against God and Grace” as “God’s way was a total bummer” and his “previously free and fun girlfriend was suddenly [his] frigid and fearful wife. She did not undress in front of [him], required the lights to be off on the rare occasions [they] were intimate, checked out during sex, and experienced a lot of physical discomfort because she was tense.” But of course, he pushed on, calling himself the victim the entire time.
In fact, his victimization is a common thread throughout the book, beginning with the very first chapter where Grace is cast as the damaged and sinful wife and Driscoll is cast as the deserving husband from whom sex was withheld and who is justified in leaving his wife but instead comes to her rescue (and don’t even get me started on his bizarre “seeing things”):
One night, as we approached the birth of our first child, Ashley, and the launch of our church, I had a dream in which I saw some things that shook me to my core. I saw in painful detail Grace sinning sexually during a senior trip she took after high school when we had just started dating. It was so clear it was like watching a film — something I cannot really explain but the kind of revelation I sometimes receive. I awoke, threw up, and spent the rest of the night sitting on our couch, praying, hoping it was untrue, and waiting for her to wake up so I could ask her. I asked her if it was true, fearing the answer. Yes, she confessed, it was. Grace started weeping and trying to apologize for lying to me, but I honestly don’t remember the details of the conversation, as I was shell-shocked. Had I known about this sin, I would not have married her. (p. 11-12)
And of course, she’s “rightfully” the bad one, made to feel shamed and as less of a person… for a mistake made at eighteen! (This part is told from Grace’s perspective.)
Mark had righteous anger and felt totally betrayed. He wondered who I really was and felt trapped, confused, and at a loss to know what in the world he would do now. A bomb had just dropped, and shrapnel was everywhere! Dear Lord, how could I have done this to You and my husband? How could I have acted like such a good person with such darkness in my heart? How can I ever make up for what I have done? Mark wished he hadn’t married me; I wished I hadn’t ever lied. I was pregnant and he felt trapped. I begged forgiveness but told him he had every right to leave. He felt completely stuck; I felt total shame. How could we ever get through this? Mark tried to get counsel from other men, but they didn’t know what to say or do. I didn’t think we should tell anyone since we were just planting the church, but that decision only made the pain go on longer for both of us. (p. 12)
It comes out later that Grace was an abuse victim – we’re not sure if the incident at eighteen was the source of the abuse or another instance, but point is that it happened – and of course, he’s the martyr yet again in a situation in which Grace is the true victim:
Then, after more than a decade of marriage, a root issue was finally revealed. Grace’s problem was that she was an assault victim who had never told me or anyone else of the physical, spiritual, emotional, and sexual abuse she had suffered. Hearing the details of her abuse broke me. Reliving her pain with her as we worked things through was healing. Yes, it hurt deeply. But at least the hurt was from a surgery that would cut out the cancer. In forgiving and walking with Grace, I realized that I was so overbearing and boorish, so angry and harsh, that I had not been the kind of husband whom she could trust and confide in with the most painful and shameful parts of her past. I was world-class at truth telling, but my words would tear her down rather than build her up. I spoke to her more as I would to a sinful guy, but where men stood up to my challenges, she fell down. My bitterness had continued to condemn Grace, and she kept shutting down more. (p. 16)
And this is just the first chapter.
As I was reading through this, I couldn’t help but think back to the time I first told Matt about my own sexual abuse experience. He wasn’t the first person I had told, but he was the closest to me when I did decide to share that incident, and he felt the same feelings of pain, remorse, and utter helplessness, but he didn’t see it as a “cancer” that could be “cut out” and that was the root of any “problem” that had to be “forgiven” by him.
No… the problem, instead, is Driscoll himself and men like him, who see those incidences as things either perpetrated by or the responsibility of the abuse victim, blame them even in part for the devastating events, and even go as far as to say they need to forgive the victim for the abuse. The fact that she didn’t feel safe telling him her story was his fault, not hers, and while he acknowledges that his actions were “overbearing and boorish, so angry and harsh”, he does very little to correct it or even to learn from it.
I mean, tap-dancing Jesus on a whole-wheat cracker, this man is so dense, seeing opportunities to cut down his wife’s self-esteem and sense of worth every chance he gets while failing to see his own misgivings (of which he has a LOT):
Although I loved our people and my wife, [spending hours meeting with people untangling the sexual knots in their lives] only added to my bitterness. I had a church filled with single young women who were asking me how they could stop being sexually ravenous and wait for a Christian husband; then I’d go home to a wife whom I was not sexually enjoying. [...] We did have mediocre sex that eventually resulted in five children and one miscarriage.
The entire book seems to be based on the idea that a marriage is suited for male sexual satisfaction, and all other things – including the feelings of his own wife – come secondary. Certainly never first. It goes back to the idea that women are to be submissive to their husbands, they are called to do so by God, and they are to remain subservient even at the expense of their own desires and needs.
As with many things in marriage, communication is key. When I came to the conclusion that the cure for a lot of my moodiness was having more frequent sex with my wife, I simply told her. Yes, it’s that simple. [...] The truth was I needed to have more frequent sex with my wife, and we needed to discuss how that could happen. [...] To make matters worse, seemingly every book I read by Christians on sex and marriage sounded unfair. Nearly every one said the husband had to work very hard to understand his wife, to relate to her and when he did that to her satisfaction then, maybe, she would have sex with him as a sort of reward.
Unfair… to try to understand your wife’s needs and to relate to her on a personal level. To make her more than just a sex doll that you can call whenever your dick is hard. To try to make her appear, I don’t know… human.
There’s so much more I could say about how disgusting this book and he is — including his “blow-job evangelism” — but I’ve gone on long enough.
Let me tell you something straight up: I think it’s rather obvious at this point that I believe Driscoll’s point of view to be misogynistic, crass, troubled, and dangerous, to name only a few. But to think that this man – who admits to his own shortcomings but does very little to learn from them and, instead, finds his wife and other women to blame for them – has absolutely anything to do with the counseling of other people, young or old, single or married, celibate or not, is terrifying.
By and large, pastors are not experts on sex. Or money, relationships, or marriage, for that matter. They may marry, they may handle finances, they may have been in several relationships and may even have a terrific marriage. But they are spiritual counselors (some of whom are not quite qualified for that job, either, but I digress) and only that. Those who are experiencing struggles in their relationships or in other parts of their lives that are not strictly of a spiritual nature (and even then, simply one point of view on spiritual matters can be harmful) should seek professional counseling. Especially when it comes to sex therapy.
And even more especially if anything Driscoll has to say is ever considered as serious.
Further, men – both Christian and otherwise – need to respect their wives for who they are, seek to understand their desires and their hopes and their dreams and their needs, stop telling them who they should be or who they are, stop forcing them into roles dictated either by scripture or by social norms, and allow their wives to be who they are both in their spiritual environments and everywhere else: As the intelligent, caring, passionate women they are.
Oh, and for something especially LOL-worthy, check out his retort to all the controversy. Obviously, we’re all prudes. Nothing at all to do with the fact that he’s a complete asswipe.
ETA: At some point, I may borrow the book from the library (provided they have it) and go through easily the most controversial chapter, Chapter 10: “Can We ______?”. Apparently, Driscoll goes into disgusting detail about different sex acts and uses biblical passages (apparently often out of context or using translations that fit his own desires) to justify them. This should be interesting.