Dr. Moore, I had the chance to hear you speak the other day, when you gave a guest sermon at a local church. It was providential in that it was exactly about my favorite topic, and one I am well steeped in. I’d like to tell you a story if you’d be kind enough to hear me out.
You have to imagine that what I am about to describe is an iteration in time, where the generations preceding this chronological parenthetic have cycled through it and their present behavior and frame, as a result of that iteration, is part of the life of the hypothetical girl I use as my protagonist. The iteration reference should make sense after you hear me out.
Before I begin describing the potential cumulative effect of sermons like the one you delivered, which despite claims that the message is unique and representing a tidal shift, are the ubiquitous gold standard in marriage preaching, I want to tell you who I am and why I care about this so deeply.
I came into faith in a large Baptist church in 1994. Let me digress a bit. Raised intermittently attending church, then going on to get a technical education and a better than average grasp of things math and science, I thought I had all stuff figured out, arrogantly, through my own self perceived Newtonian wisdom. Enough on that. I married one of those girls who were saved in Sunday school, and, why she married me, an unbeliever, I do not know but I’m glad she did. Attending church for years with her, I found myself compelled and dug in to gain a better understanding of what all these very credible and kind people were really on about. One day I responded to the traditional alter call and walked from the balcony, (where I hid) down the stairs, and up an aisle where I was met by a very large bear of a man who was on the pastoral staff. I reached for his hand, and he embraced me in his massive arms and torso and said, “is your name empath?” He used my full name. Never met him, never went to any small meetings, was not involved whatsoever in that church, impossible. It turned out that the staff would take names from the cards visitors filled out (we’d been there for months so we had no newly turned in card), and pray for those people. I was on his list. He had not ever seen me and had no idea about me aside from the name, but he had been praying for me for months. He could have asked any man approaching if they were me. But he didn’t. He asked me. OK that’s my swerve into testimony, and it was profound for me. (I’ve also given the doubters what they would want in seeking the rational explanation.)
Certain things need to be explained when I speak on this because they head off the most predictable objections, they offer my frame of reference, and the afford me some license. I was raised by (see if this makes sense) a single mother who was married many times, 9 to be specific. She was badly physically abused, as was I. We lived in a car, we lived in an abandoned house, we lived in poverty, we depended on a handful of people for existence for periods of time, and I was completely steeped in the woman as victim paradigm. Despite the parade of men, I had no father and virtually no guidance whatsoever. To say I went off the rails is an absurd understatement.
So as a married man who started having kids almost immediately, and recently come to faith, I was craving leadership, guidance, help, and teaching, whatever I could find. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that my new found faith had me soaking up Man Up messages eagerly. I’d look forward to each Father’s Day when I would be given some tools that would help me reach my potential as a man, husband, father. I’d then tuck right in and apply them with verve. I jumped from seminar to seminar on marriage and Biblical manhood, whatever was de rigueur at a given moment. Then moved to another state and started attending another church, smaller and growing, and we became a couple that was deeply involved, central even, in that church. We led couples studies and did missions trips and gave deeply of our resources, financial and otherwise. Over five or six years of that I cycled through enthusiasm, elation, and some sanctimony to be sure. I imagined myself extremely well equipped because I knew the entire lingo. I was skilled at pat answers to complicated questions. I stayed with the Baptist church for years, and looking back on all of that is what I draw from as I describe the realization that hit me when the red pill crossed the blood brain barrier. Like most, it was forced on me (a story for another time, but one I would tell the pastor). Things came together tectonically and my views congealed before my eyes.
Dr. Moore, when we discuss the women in church, today, we have to include those who have shown up as adults, where part of suburban yuppie culture suddenly included membership at the local mega church. You know these are present, along with their male counterparts, especially in large churches. The behavior of this subset of women is easier for us to process partly because of our bias, but importantly because we have to believe what we see with our own (sometimes lying) eyes. That this group will go forth and fornicate or frivorce is easier to know, and just as subject to the pastoral lack of leadership, or misguided leadership as any other. But we can imagine that if placed under better leadership, these women would simply choose to find another church where their choices can be supported, directly or indirectly. There will always be one. Though equally tragic, we need to set these aside momentarily because the proclivities they demonstrate could more readily be explained away by influences from culture that they are still working on shucking. They are an explainable femographic in other words.
(I necessarily sit them aside, not because they are less deserving of sound leadership, quite the opposite, but rather because if the pastor wants he can take this route around the problems I point out. He can point out that we are all works in progress, and he can point out that the male counterparts are in even worse shape which could account for the problem)
So, Dr. Moore, what about all the women who have been raised in the church, raised by solid traditional conservative Christian families, saved in Sunday school at 7 years old, rarely missed a Sunday, have a worn out highlighted Bible, read books on salvation and grace, volunteer, pray diligently and often speak about the promptings of the holy spirit, show massive displays of empathy for the down trodden, and yet they too participate in frivorce, or worse, the promiscuity of serial monogamy?
Imagine that little girl saved in Sunday school. Her father is quintessential, a servant leader, her mother quietly rules the roost passive aggressively, yet by all appearances, even to the girl, it is the portrait of the Christian home. That’s her view as a child, not understood deeply, but warm and comforting as an environment, especially for a little girl. I realize you will likely disagree with my assumption that the mother quietly runs things. It’s not that important.
The girl attends children’s church where she learns about Jesus. She and the boys are shown the gentle Jesus, taught usually by women, couched in, at this age, the image of the tender father. Little girls and boys go through a precious phase of prayer life to this wonderful Jesus. Make no mistake; I have no complaints about that image of Jesus whatsoever with the exception that it is incomplete. That is also ok, but there never comes a point where these children are introduced, as children, to any other aspects of the Savior than the thoroughly feminine one. I read, and perhaps you have to, the story of a man who worked in a company where they produced those color animations that hang on the walls of Sunday school rooms. He was the only man on staff, and regularly found himself wanting to include a couple of images where Jesus was aggressively corrective in his rebuke of something. He asserted that as the kids were getting older, 10 plus, they would be ready for the realization that, well, Jesus is not Santa. The council, he and the women, never reached an accord. They claimed that the pictures of David with his sling, and Goliath standing in the distance, were sufficiently aggressive to convey the potential violence of a just God. The man quit. The feminine Jesus is a recurring theme.
She grows and enters the teen ministry. In the teen groups it’s all about purity, purity framed from the standpoint of girls as the gatekeeper, girls as the ones who would acquiesce to the advances of boys, and girls who must reject said advances because they must wait for the right one, the perfect prince. Her expectations are built to cast suspicion on boys, and to just know that there is a pure and perfect young man out there. At this point these notions are simple and romanticized. The teen ministries are largely focused, for boys and girls, on self-esteem. The pour through resources and how and why they are special just as God created them, they hear stories of overcomers who were outcasts then found themselves with God’s help. The first overwhelming disconnect between what the church is ostensibly trying to do, and the effect that is manifest in the group they do it for, begins at this point. I will use cutting and suicide as examples of manifestations but you know there are many others. Things we never imagined when we were young are the monsters under every bed now, and somehow the harder the church works to fumigate them away, the more the infestation grows in presence and power. We could stop at this point and discuss just this and do a fair job of explaining the same dynamic I will get to a later. Did any of us learn that pandering to a wailing child does not stop the wailing? It often helps them find more things to wail about.
Finally she gets to late high school or college age and is a regular member of the congregation. Let’s assume she has remained pure (define that as you see fit) because assuming otherwise offers another workaround. She has issues now that can fall into the relational category in adult terms, along with still dragging all the teen angst around. The messages are back to back sets of series with titles like “How to manage your anger”, “How happiness Can be had no matter what”, or even if the titles are more biblical sounding, the theme is Jesus as problem solver in this life. Amidst all this, the notions planted as a teen persist and are magnified. The boys are about sex, porn, anger, workaholism, and poor communication skills with women. The women are about spiritual growth and becoming God’s precious daughter, or worse, Jesus wife (in terms of imagery and metaphor of song and word) despite the world that comes against them daily.
Let’s break down the world that comes against women daily per the amalgam of these messages. Being a mother is the single most difficult job in the whole wide world and no one appreciates mothers the way they need to be appreciated and, chuckle chuckle, and husbands out there could use a lesson in just what they have at home with a good wife and mother. Ladies, you can persevere even while we men can make it much more difficult, chuckle. Let Jesus draw you into His arms because He ALWAYS understands (key word).
She naturally gets great comfort from these promises. Meanwhile she hears messages aimed at men too. These messages are wrapped in ribbons of encouraging men to grow and be what we are called to be as well. There is no mention of any kind of roadblock any woman is capable of throwing before a man. Well, that’s not entirely true. Men are frequently subject to roadblocks made up of women, just not wives. The women that create roadblocks for men are digital mainly, or in the person of an affair. Dead silence on wives potential to be detrimental. There is lots of talk to men about women and how wonderful wives are at supporting men’s spiritual growth. In fact men, you’d do well to learn more about your wives because it will benefit you greatly. They are the barometer of relationship, did you know that X% of relational books and calls to counselors and other signs of reaching for help are done by women? See? They know where your relationship stands. And men, hear me on this….learn to listen to your wives. Heck I got so I have my wife list off not just my weekend honey dos but also the order and manner in which I do them! It just works better that way….don’t believe me? Turn and ask her. Yuk yuk chuckle yuk.
Wow, she must be thinking. All those idiots who are so convinced that the church is harsh on women must not realize all this…this seems like a pretty good place for women to her.
Comes the teaching on Ephesians.
The topic is men love your wives as Christ the church. Now guys, this is a tall order and we cannot ever take it too seriously. How many of you men can honestly say that you actually and consistently reach this level of loving your wives? Note, I ain’t raisin’ my hand. Men, the church has been teaching this all wrong about how you are to be a leader. Dr. Moore, where does this notion come from? Every church I have ever attended and heard Ephesians preaching in, every sermon I have downloaded from church sites across the country, and all anecdotal commentary I’ve read over 8 years, I have yet to find this church that you guys are referring to that is teaching men to lead like ogres. Not only are these messages prefaced with this problem being widespread, but they are universally framed in language that suggests the preacher talking has finally manned up and is breaking with the pack….headed out alone into a church full of men who will blow back strongly at him but he is going to take it for the cause.
He will go on. The preacher will use foot washing as an illustration and he will share lots of anecdotes that show how a man is to be a servant leader. In the context of the messages he gives to men and then sometime later to women, it is obvious that some large share of his effort when preaching to men is not even about men, it’s about what the women are hearing. He is verbally describing a leader in a way that, for those hearing it emotionally, neuters and renders said leader harmless. Like the feminine Jesus from Sunday school, like the Jesus from the regular preaching that is not about marriage, where He is her emotional indulger and he is her spiritual lover and he understands her like Peter wrote that men must do. He will build to the crescendo of, “now ladies, who would not want to follow a man like that?” Answer? None…of course they would follow a man like that. Is it too much to imagine the thought, “but I would not therefore follow a man less than that, a man like those you are talkin’ to about porn and neglect and stuff, men like these I’m surrounded by”.
Once the preacher has followed his template to men, and make no mistake he follows the same template to men regardless the message be it Father’s Day, veterans day, or another, wrapped in encouragement language he tells me what they CAN be (inference clear…what they are not even close to) and lists off the steps to get there, followed by “we have a group of men here who meet on Tuesdays, its confidential and these men are hooked on porn”…like that. After these messages she sees men weeping after the messages that call men out, men responding to alter calls and having hands laid on them, men leaning forward as pleased looking wives encourage them by rubbing circles on their backs. She sees videos of couples where men lay out how horrible they were while wife nods then she adds how finally her husband is the servant leader he was called to be. She gets the message. Men are fallen but they CAN be better and a good wife is needed to help them…poor dears.
He dares to walk into the realm of submission. This is dangerous, I know, because a friend of mine, Baptist preacher, told me so. He told me in his experience the other preachers he knew well enough to be open with one another would even speak together about how to tread where their own wives may lay ready to pounce. Not a good situation to be sure. But he wades in. He ducks and bobs and weaves, obfuscates and dissembles usually by omission, and leaves two overarching themes standing as practical advice. Those are A. submit to one another and B. You don’t have to submit into sin. She would never marry that, and if she did, she’d either sort it, or she would not be submitting, because after all, she was told not to follow IN sin, which she assumes includes following a sinFUL man. The rest of the sermon is a kind of paraphrase of the one given to the men! It even includes some stern tones and finger wagging, even accusatory language like yours Dr, Moore when you said submission is not “go get me some chips”. You also gave an example of a young couple with the man in graduate school, remember? Maybe you don’t realize it but the idea that came through was her dreams trump other things. I doubt you intended that. You lectured men again on porn, and on how we collectively are ruining women’s self-esteem and that that’s exactly opposite of our calling.
Dr. Moore, can you tell me the part of the message that held any women to account for anything where she is a unilateral agent committing sin?
Our young woman is married now, for five years. The preacher often talks of marriage being for life. But several of your church friends have divorced their husbands. One man had an affair, the others were emotionally abusive or neglectful and probably used porn. She has heard lots of marriage teaching and read lots of books, especially after her friends marriages started falling apart. She recalls how the preacher said a man who takes too much interest in the superficiality of appearance was missing the beauty of the inner woman, and her husband seems overly compelled by her anytime he sees her naked. She was taught, too, that sex is a beautiful gift from God and that a man who wants a warm over at night must tend the flame all day. She knows that the flame is her heart because Peter wrote that men should live with their wives in an understanding way, something a book she read once described as the man must necessarily know exactly what it feels like to be her. Her husband clearly does not get her; otherwise she would not feel the way she does. And yet he wants sex. And, he is not doing all those tasks that the preacher said were the things that spiritual leaders do in the home. When he did those things, it made her feel wonderful, when he doesn’t do them, she feels less wonderful.
She read and has heard versions of Ken Nair’s words,
that means that her husband is willing to be held answerable even to his wife as the Holy Spirit alerts her to his character flaws. (from : Discovering the Mind of a Woman)
These resonated, they fit easily amidst the whole of the learning she has done since she was a child.
How can anyone not see that she subconsciously will consider herself the more spiritual person? How can anyone miss that she will perceive men with suspicion regarding certain proclivities, and view men as works in progress….always….with regard to their spiritual growth as it relates to resisting temptation? How can one not see that she would see steeling herself against low self-image as her main accountability impetus? Can we agree that as men, if we were placed under the converse of this teaching we would end up similarly warped? Its incentive based cause and effect. Its amoebic, wallowing away from the poking thing. Its Pavlovian, salivating over the good.
Divorce enters the mind. It may not grow, but it indeed takes root. And if it does not grow, it is not for lack of food and water coming straight from the pulpit. They do not cut down the tree, they prune and shape it. They do not point out the tree is ugly, nor do they mention that the fruit of the tree, children, rot around the edges a little with some going all the way to putrid. They miss the fact that all the outreach designed to address social pathology, addictions, depression, suicide, whatever share a common root cause in the main…..divorce. But they ignore it, because if they don’t, the women will feel put upon. Her friends would feel put upon. She has attended DivorceCare with them, just to be supportive, and found it to be a group where she can be herself and people understand her. How could a church offer up such unconditional support, and then condemn those in the pews who have suffered so much from divorce?
Dr. Moore, do you agree that the culture has encroached on the church? Of course you do. Why then would anyone suggest that one of the main aspects of culture over the last 50 years has NOT had any effect on church. You (the church) spend lots of time on abortion, porn, and gay marriage because they have been loosed upon the church and grown commonplace outside. What of feminism then? How can you suggest that the church is backwards and moving in reverse on gender relations when the culture has shifted exponentially the other way? Why suggest that this is something requiring a fix because we have it wrong, when its exactly the opposite, that culture has also invaded in this arena as well? Essentially, why are the women of the church suffering under low self-esteem as their most profound sin and men suffering under the real scourges as evidenced by the offerings of support, topically, at any large church? The fact is the church has swung towards feminism too, with the requisite lag. But the actions of the church, seeking to tamp out some ephemeral patriarchy with the goal being healing the genders and saving marriages is an epic fail. Check the numbers. Why? Are men stupid? Are we so fallen we are not redeemable in this? Or…..are you on the wrong track by 180 degrees?
Finally, there is a parallel story with a male protagonist. His story would show him subject to the same set of inputs, but taking on a very different conviction to act. It is actually the boys who remain steadfastly devoted to this skewed message set that try mightily to walk out these false expectations and avoid the temptations men are prone to. They will actually compete with one another in who can supplicate the lowest and emphasize servant over leader the most. That story would end with that man being the divorced husband because he was emotionally neglectful or some other nebulous emotional deficit indicator.
Dr. Moore or whatever preacher has listened is either intrigued, or he is fallen to something he himself pointed out in his message. He called the Godly marriage a true image of Christ, and said that that image invited powers and principalities to come against it because they hate it. I would ask humbly that he consider my words in that context as insidious as that implication may be.
Stepping away from the church some, I would then add some information like that which can be found in one of Dalrocks best summations, Threatpoint, and ask that he consider the power balance along with the expectations built as I have described and look down from 30,000 feet on a people and culture like ours and see if you can connect any dots from which a picture emerges that helps explain what is happening in churches regarding divorce…..and why.
Finally I’d challenge you to look over the statistics that are available on divorce in the church, and divorce in society at large and try to explain them. Based on your words, and the words of countless others, one would conclude that if we could just get the men fixed up we could turn this whole thing around. Its a specious thing because it is correct, technically. The men do need to be turned around, but not just in the ways that you and others repeat, stop the porn, be attentive, etc., but with an emphasis on the part of leadership that is difficult, the part where rubber meets road and the man has to gently but steadfastly lead when the direction is not popular….and here is the action point…..because women do not always make the right choices. Again, women do not always choose wisely, and they will wrap their emotions up in those choices and conflate happiness with righteousness. A man will not serve his way around that. The fallout of this is writ large. The divorce court of the American church is not a parade of cheaters, beaters, and users. Its mostly men who want to stay married, and it would do you well to truly grasp that, without someone filing, divorce never happens.
I more/less said all that to the pastor who actually listened. And I found it worked better than any approach I’d tried before. I use the personal stuff for a couple of reasons, one to shrug off the “bitter divorced man” or “woman hater” or “lacking real personal experience” or “doesn’t understand the Bible” and many other objections. Its cred, simply put. I add lots more detail on the personal stuff when I do this and I think it’s important. We red pill Christian men have to not just lay out facts and figures. We have to not only describe what could be seen as silly pop psych analysis of interpersonal dynamics. We have to explain, personally, why we believe what we do in addition to laying out the facts, and yes even use sympathy or empathy as a tool to open the mind of the listener.