I see that Mark Driscoll has recycled his “Daddy Christmas Tips” for 2011. Since all the “tips” are identical to last year’s, it seemed right to re-post my comments on them. Enjoy!
Christmas is around the corner, which for Mark Driscoll, apparently means yet another opportunity to bully men into being just like him. Driscoll, an extra unique complementarian snowflake about who’s certain to come up more on this blog, is the senior pastor and bully-in-chief of Mars Hill Church, a Seattle megachurch (and the biggest church in the city). Driscoll’s confrontational and chauvinistic style of preaching has gotten him a lot of attention in the mainstream media, much more than most complementarian pastors, who usually fly under the radar.
So! Christmas in Driscoll-land. “Daddy” needs to have a holiday agenda for the family; godly leadership means telling people what to do and where to be all the time. At least, that’s what leadership means for Driscoll, and funny enough, it turns out to be what God means by leadership, too! Clearly that’s what it has to mean for everyone else. Hence Driscoll’s “Daddy Christmas Tips” – some interesting ideas on how fathers should be running the show during the holidays:
Tip #1: Dad needs a plan for the holidays to ensure his family is loved and memories are made. Dad, what’s your plan?
Right off the bat we’re in weirdo land. How do you “plan” for people to be loved?
Tip #6: Dad needs to manage the extended family and friends during the holidays. Dad, who or what do you need to say “no” to?
Apparently mom doesn’t need to be a part of this decision. Or maybe she just doesn’t have an opinion? Thinking something different from her husband might be a sin, after all.
Tip #7: Dad needs to schedule a big Christmas date with his daughter(s). Dad, what’s your big plan for the fancy Daddy-daughter date?
Tip #8: Dad needs to schedule guy time with his son(s). Dad, what are you and your son(s) going to do that is active, outdoors, and fun?
We can’t call a dad’s special time with his son a “date” – clearly that would be inappropriately sexualizing. Men don’t go on dates with each other, gross! But dads can totally take their daughters on dates – there’s nothing inappropriate or creepy about that. (Hint: if a parent can only go on a “date” with a child of the “opposite” sex, um, you are sexualizing the relationship between that parent and child, not to mention being super heteronormative). Also, there’s no way a real girl would ever want to do something “active, outdoors, and fun” with her dad. Girls just want to be fancy – and real boys, obviously, don’t. Because the activities you share with your children are entirely dependent on their genitalia, not on, you know, their actual opinions or interests.
Tip #9: Dad needs to help get the house decorated. Dad, are you really a big help to Mom with getting things ready?
Because decorating the house is really mom’s job.
Tip #10: Dad needs to ensure there are some holiday smells and sounds. Dad, is Christmas music on the iPod, is the tree up, can you smell cookies and cider?
If you can’t smell cookies and cider, your wife is doing something wrong. That kind of laziness cannot stand. Better get on that, dad.
Whew. Dad has a lot of things and people to stay on top of during the holidays! But remember tip #4: Dad needs to not let the stress of the holidays, including money, cause him to be grumpy with Mom or the kids. Dad, how’s your joy?
I’m sure it’s really easy to both be constantly obsessing over whether or not you’re micromanaging the holidays and your family appropriately, and actually enjoy the holidays with your family. Yea.
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Traditional Marriage includes…
1691: Whites only
1724: Blacks with permission of slave owner
1769: The wife is property
1900: The wife can own property
1965: Contraception legal
1967: Interracial couples
1975: Wife can have credit in her name
Husband owns all property
Legal marital rape
20??: Same-sex marriage
Makes one wonder what makes the anti marriage equality crowd think they have “traditional marriage” figured out this time around…
Notice how only the husbands are interviewed about the retreat, while the wives say not a word? And that none of the women even have microphones on, kind of like it never even occurred to the powers that be that wives might have opinions on a marriage retreat, and/or that they might be interesting or relevant? And that every single married woman just stands by as smiling support? It’s a little creepy.
Of course, we can’t know what these couples’ marriages are like just from a few seconds of video. But I think this clip – with the each husband speaking exclusively for each couple, each wife standing in silent agreement with and adoration of her husband – illustrates attitudes and expectations about gender roles in marriage that I’ve seen so often in evangelical complementarian marriages.
When Mr. G and I were engaged, we had premarital counseling with a couple from my family’s SGM church. And by “counseling with a couple,” I mean counseling with a guy whose wife would say nothing until the very end of our meetings, when the husband would turn to her and ask if she had anything to add. She never did. Her husband had said it all, apparently. At our first meeting, she deliberately avoided shaking Mr. G’s hand until he had shaken her husband’s hand first.
At the time I was totally oblivious to what was going on – her husband was closest to me, so I naturally I shook his hand first, unaware of the maneuverings going on behind me. This was one of her ways, I guess, of respecting her husband’s authority over her; the chain of command had to be upheld by having our male leaders acknowledge each other first, before the ladies could be involved or acknowledged. I realized later that she probably considered me to be wildly insubordinate, or some such nonsense, because I had the audacity to shake her husband’s hand without waiting for my fiancé’s go-ahead, without acknowledging him as my “head” and above me.
And then there’s the fact that I’m much more talkative than my husband in unfamiliar company, which meant that I did the vast majority of the talking during our counseling meetings. We both noticed that counselor dude was irritated and offended by the fact that Mr. G wasn’t more forthcoming. I eventually pieced together that our counselor’s problem wasn’t simply that Mr. G didn’t say very much, it was also that I said so much more than he did. I wasn’t being properly submissive and letting my future husband take the lead that was rightfully his.
It perhaps doesn’t need to be said that our counseling meetings weren’t terribly useful or pleasant for anyone involved.
Bizarre as her behavior was, our counselor’s wife was just trying to show respect to her husband (whose behavior, it must be added, was no less strange – a story for another day). And of course, respect between partners is a vital part of a healthy relationship. But in complementarianism, respect is understood as being primarily the wife’s responsibility. This is based on gender essentialist assumptions that men need respect while women need love, and that women find it easy to love but difficult to show respect, especially to men, while men have an easy time treating people with respect but a hard time showing love, especially in the way women need (this is code for “men should treat women as delicate, hyper-emotional creatures incapable of logic and reason”). The complementarian notion of respect is perverted at its root by an insistence that only one gender needs respect in a relationship.
What respect is supposed to look like for a married woman is also quite strange. As our counselor told us, being a respectful, properly submissive wife means “affirming” the husband’s leadership in every. single. aspect. of the marriage. Naturally that includes conversations in public. For a lot of married women I knew at church, that meant they were expected to never contradict their husbands in public, much less argue with them; to never interrupt; to let them “take the lead” in mixed conversation, which meant speaking a good deal less than their husbands, often not until their husbands spoke to them first.
It also meant that women were expected to never complain about their husbands – and more than that, to constantly talk up their husbands as the best and most considerate spouses ever, no matter what. I can begin to count how many times I’ve heard women from church effusively praising their husbands for doing things that should have just been routine. For “releasing” them to go on a trip with friends. For maybe making one measly meal every few months, when their wives are expected to have homemade food on the table for their husbands and many children every night. For “letting” them sleep in or giving them the “morning off” from domestic and childcare duties (even when the reason for this is that the wife is laid up with an illness, or dealing with pregnancy nausea, or has a small infant).
I’ve seen women berate themselves for being justifiably angry with their husbands – for example, for putting their family in danger by repeatedly delaying getting a failing car checked out – because well, nothing serious happened and a wife should focus on their husbands’ strengths and her own sin, not his failings. And if there are few or no good things they can think of, it’s because they, the wives, have a sinful attitude, never because the husband might have any real failings. They are the ones who need adjustment; it could never be that a husband is neglecting or mistreating his wife so much that little positive can be said about his behavior or attributes.
Watching the clip above gave me same tight, sinking feeling I always get when I think about the girls I grew up with in church who are now married. It’s so emblematic of how so many complementarian women experience marriage: as cheerleaders expected to hang on their husband’s arms and words, silencing themselves and suppressing all authentic expression of emotions. When I think of people I used to be friends with living a life like that, so completely muzzled, I feel sick with worry and despair for them.
Harris continues to lay out his interpretation of the connection between the verses on female submission in 1 Peter 3, and the verses on other kinds of submission and authority in the preceding chapter. Peter’s point in these passages is to teach Christians what “honorable conduct” is so that non-Christians will be able to see how holy they are:
When an unbelieving word looks at [Christians] and slanders them and calls them evildoers, they will see that it’s not true, and on the final day they will glorify God. On the final day they’ll be able to say, you followed Jesus, you represented this holy god.
Ah. Problem: people who aren’t already invested in patriarchal assumptions see demands for female submission as dehumanizing and oppressive, not as “honorable conduct.” Good luck getting us to believe you’re being holy by telling women and girls they have to obey men if they really love God. Harris does actually teach in this message that “submission” means obedience and subordination:
Peter gives a very specific way that we as God’s people can be honorable in our conduct . . . He says, “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” That phrase “be subject” is the same word used to tell wives to be submissive to their husbands. It means to obey. Be subject, to be submissive, to submit, means to place yourself in a secondary category, and to receive the leadership of someone else. It means to obey. [bold my emphasis; italics are his]
I’m somewhat surprised that he’s so candid. My experience in SGM was that the words “obey” and “obedience” were very deliberately avoided when discussing female submission. The pastor who did our engagement interview (yes, really) advised us not to choose the traditional vows that include the word “obey” in them, because it could “give the wrong idea” to wedding guests from outside our church – not that we would have chosen that set anyway! It was particularly strange given that this set of vows was included in the materials they gave to engaged couples with ideas for the wedding ceremony.
This is yet another example of the hypocrisy and cynicism of complementarian leaders. They distance themselves from the clear meaning of their beliefs in mixed company because they know it’s bad PR. The only explanations I can think of for Harris’ candidness in this sermon are that SGM has gotten more extreme in its beliefs on gender in the years since I left, and/or that Harris feels comfortable using such language because he’s preaching to the home crowd.
Harris continues with the argument that male authority in marriage isn’t a misogynistic singling out of women, but rather is just one kind of authority set up by God :
What’s being communicated is that God, in other words God, has ordained institutions of authority. And so because you are a Christian who is submitted to the Lord, be submitted to every institution of authority that your Lord has set in place in this world for your good [my emphasis].
And then Peter lists three examples: government leaders, who are set in place by God to determine and enforce laws; masters or employers in the workforce, and then husbands in the home who are called to be the head of the family.
I discussed in an earlier post one big reason why the comparison of “authority” in marriage to “authority” in the workplace is problematic: 1 Peter 2 doesn’t actually say anything about “employers.” It calls on slaves to submit to their masters, and states that a slave owner’s authority is God-ordained. It calls on slaves to submit even when they are unjustly beaten (as opposed to justly beaten, I guess?). This is the real parallel to female submission, not workplace chain of command. The real meaning of this passage, using Harris’ philosophy of biblical interpretation, is that wives are their husbands’ property, and they are obligated to obey them even in cases of horrible abuse.
Again, Harris tries to have things both ways, preaching an oppressive message while being dishonest about it’s implications. He lies by equating slave masters with modern day employers, and goes on at length about the importance of authority in the workplace and in the government, as though either has anything to do with the very different kind of submission Peter preached – a philosophy of ownership that saw women, slaves, and children as literally belonging to the male head of the household. He lies by equating patriarchal marriage with an employer-employee relationship, or the relationship between a citizen and the government. Neither employees nor citizens are expected in our society to “obey” or be “subject” to employers or the government in the way complementarian wives are expected to – total and complete submission to their husbands in every little detail of their lives.
And he uses this false equivalence to argue that just like there would be chaos in society and in workplaces if there were no one to lead, or set the agenda, there would be chaos in the home and family if no one was the leader:
Go spend a week in Somalia [ah, the classic look how bad things are in Africa example – Grace], and you will realize what a blessing it is to have just laws and a government that enforces it [sic]. Authority is a good thing. Authority is all around us.
If you go to the workplace, uh, you want there to be leadership. You know? Th-this idea that you know what, we should just all be equal, let’s just all show up and do what we think is right, and – have you ever worked in a place like that? That’s not a good place to work! . . . The same is true when it comes to the home. Someone has to lead. And God has set authority and roles of leadership in these different contexts, and this is not a bad thing, it’s an expression of his care for his creation to establish authority in human institutions. [emphasis his]
Funny, somehow my husband and I and the vast majority of couples we know manage to run our households just fine without one spouse telling the other what to do and think all the time. Maybe we just got lucky?
Trigger warning: rape/sexual assault.
You know, sometimes I feel like I’m exaggerating the awfulness of what I was taught about sex, like it couldn’t possibly be as bad as I feel it was. After all, in addition to all the warnings about premarital sex, I did also hear a lot about how sex is a beautiful gift from God to married couples, and how married people have the best sex (in retrospect, this is kind of a weird thing for married adults to be discussing with teenagers y/y?).
Maybe the fact that I had trouble with sex when I got married has more to do with personal and family hangups than it did with anything I learned at church. Maybe I’m assigning blame unfairly. Then again . . .
h/t Jesus Needs New PR (warning for some potentially fatphobic language).
Then I watch clips like this, and remember that this bullshit is EXACTLY what I was taught. That I’d be dirty and used up and unwanted if I had sex. I remember, and I start to think it’s a fucking miracle that I ever managed to have sex with my husband at all.
Small bloody wonder so many evangelical couples find the transition into marital sexuality awkward and even traumatic. How are you supposed to literally change your perspective on sex overnight? Sex one night before your wedding makes you like a germy piece of candy or a cup of spit, but one night after your wedding is a beautiful and glorious gift from God? What about the couples who buy into Joshua Harris’s ridiculous standard of saving their first kiss for their wedding day (seriously!)? How can a couple entering marriage with virtually no experience with being physically affectionate possibly be expected to navigate such a transition without major issues?
These kinds of teachings set couples up for lousy sex lives, which make for not so great marriages. Cis women in particular bear the brunt of teachings that they are being used and besmirched if they have sex, and many can’t magically shut off the effects of years of indoctrination. They aren’t going to feel any less used just because they’re married to the person they’re having sex with. They aren’t suddenly going to feel like their sexual desire or their husband’s sexual desire is any more legitimate than it was before they got married.
Abstinence advocates will say that they aren’t talking about married sex, of course. Just premarital sex – oh, and all non-hetero sex, and masturbation, and any sex involving trans or genderqueer people. Kids just need to remember that only hetero cis married sex is clean and safe, and everything else is dirty and perverted. Well. The problem there – apart from the big, hopefully obvious one of treating something almost all humans do as shameful and wrong in all of its forms but one – is that it’s very difficult to make such a statement not come across as a blanket condemnation of sexual activity (perhaps because, um, it basically is). The message people hear is that any sexual contact or activity is polluting and degrading, and the intense emphasis on maintaining virginity reinforces this powerfully. A few words here and there about how beautiful marital sex is doesn’t dilute the impact of that message. If virginity is a state of purity and self-control, then sexual activity – whether in marriage or not – is implicitly coded as impure and indulgent.
And as many survivors have attested, these teachings are incredibly damaging to people who have been raped or sexually assaulted. The abstinence movement’s concept of virginity is framed entirely around the notion of “purity” or “impurity” of the body and the mind. A virgin body is one that is untouched and unsullied: an unwrapped piece of candy, a rose with all its petals. A virgin mind is “innocent” – which often is a euphemism for “ignorant” – of sexuality. Whether sexual contact or knowledge is freely chosen or imposed on someone is immaterial in such a framework. Coerced sexual contact doesn’t make one any less of a chewed up piece of gum. Survivors of sexual abuse from evangelical or fundamentalist families often feel used, guilty, and worthless because they are no longer “virgins” or “pure” – and they are often treated that way by Christian loved ones and fellow church members. For example:
I had a good friend in college who had to gather a lot of courage to tell her serious boyfriend that she was not a virgin because she had been raped as a teenager. Her boyfriend then went on a tirade about how he thought he was getting something new but it turns out she was “used merchandise” and thus she cheated him. She went on to marry this guy. I still hate him.
I hope it’s been clear that my point isn’t to belittle people who choose not to have sex before marriage. That’s a legitimate choice to make. The point is that the way the professional abstinence movement frames virginity, premarital sex, and sexuality in general is deceitful and dangerous. It relies on shaming tactics and misinformation, and promotes an unhealthy, negative attitude about sexualities and bodies. And it’s not just wrong in the abstract; it’s not just a movement with terrible ideas. It has far-reaching, negative consequences for basically everyone who’s exposed to it unarmed with accurate information.