That time of year again: Mark Driscoll’s “Daddy Christmas Tips”

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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“For your good”: Joshua Harris’s “Word to Wives,” pt. 4

Part 1Part 2Part 3

Harris argues that because everyone has to submit to authority in some context (at work, as a citizen), women shouldn’t feel “as though the word of God is picking on you.” Of course, this argument hinges on his audience joining him in the fantasy that “submit” and “authority” mean the same thing in the workplace, etc., as they do in a complementarian marriage.

He continues with an even weirder and more disturbing comparison:

We know from other parts of the bible, ephesians chapter 6, that male and female children are called to be subject to their parents.  Isn’t that right?  All the parents said “Amen!” [Laughing]  You know, I just was thinking about the fact that I’ve never heard of any scholar challenging the teaching in the NT that children are to obey their parents.  I’ve never heard that.  No one’s ever questioned those passages.  And you know why?  Because by the time you’re old enough to be a scholar, you’re probably a parent, and you want that to be true.  There’s no question that that’s the word of God speaking right there.  Well I mean, the ultimate example of authority as Christians is that we’re all under the authority of Jesus Christ.  We all call him Lord, we submit to his lordship.  So my point here is that authority is not a bad thing.

Once again, he’s arguing for analogies between relationships that are fundamentally not comparable. To compare a relationship of a minor child, dependent on parents and whom the parents have a responsibility to protect, to a marital relationship between two grown adults is all kinds of messed up. This is a particularly disturbing comparison given the very draconian and in many cases abusive approach to parenting that complementarians generally endorse. In SGM, which I don’t think is all that exceptional in this regard, one of the major goals for parents is to train children to obey immediately, completely, and cheerfully.* If any one of those factors is absent, it’s not true obedience. Practically all parents use corporal punishment from a very young age (as early as 1 year, or even earlier) and with high frequency: spankings using implements, as often as once or more a day.

So comparing a woman’s “duty” to submit to her husband with a childs “duty” to submit to parental authority is not only problematic by definition, it’s also quite alarming when you take into account that many complementarians define parental authority as having total, unquestioned control over their children’s behavior from infancy through adolescence and often beyond. What does it say about complementarianism that it presents this kind of relationship as analogous to a relationship between spouses? Bad news.

It does occur to Harris that authority can be abused, but his concept of “abuse” is a bit…strange:

Now it can be misused. It can be abused, and I just want to qualify all that I’m saying here today in saying that we are never called as Christians to obey authority when it calls us to disobey our ultimate authority, which is God and his word.  And so if the government commands us to disobey God, we obey God.  If our employer tells us to do something that violates God’s word, we obey God.  Even if our parents, the God given authority of parents, if they tell us to do something which violates God’s word, we are called to respectfully and humbly obey the Lord instead of them.  But in the majority of cases authority is something that is a blessing to our lives, and it’s something that God has given for our good, and without it there would be untold chaos, and misery in this world.

Joshua Harris thinks it’s very important that you understand you should never submit to authorities if they order you to sin. Because that would make God mad. That’s what “abuse of authority” means under this fucked up theology. As for abuses of authority that involve ill treatment or coercion of behavior that isn’t “sin,” well. Harris doesn’t seem terribly concerned about those. Priorities! The important thing is that GOD isn’t offended. Sound familiar?

If [a husband’s abusive behavior is] not requiring her to sin, but simply hurting her, then I think she endures verbal abuse for a season, she endures perhaps being smacked one night, and then she seeks help from the church”. – John Piper

ALSO. It is very important that you understand that without authority there would be untold CHAOS and MISERY in the world. UNTOLD and unprecedented. You know, fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling! The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!

I mean what the hell. Does Joshua Harris remember he’s talking about MARRIAGE here? Does his audience remember that? Here he is talking about a relationship between two people, and suddenly the future of civilization and the fate of the whole world hangs in the balance. It’s not only an enormous leap in (il)logic, it’s incredibly manipulative of his audience. That such an absurd argument is accepted as literal gospel is a testament to the incredible level of thought control that exists in SGM and similar evangelical church cultures. Such “reasoning” suffices only in a context where people have been trained to completely ignore logical fallacies and to accept whatever their leaders say without question.


*If you can stomach it, here are some of SGM’s teachings on parenting. Each message has a PDF outline that accompanies it – spares you from having to listen to the whole thing, thankfully.


Rethinking sex ed, pt. 2

Part 1

Most of the things I was taught about sex were lies, many of them deliberate.  Withholding information about sex and sexuality was seen as a virtue.  It was unquestioned orthodoxy that good Christians stay as far away from sexual expression as possible before marriage (after all, “purity is a direction, not a line”).  I had no framework for even beginning to process the idea that someone could be a “real” Christian but not see premarital sex as necessarily and completely evil.  I had no accurate information with which to make a reasoned choice, and lots of deliberate misinformation that made it impossible for me to examine my options impartially.  Sorting through all the falsehoods, half-truths, and omissions has been long and difficult process.

I had it drilled into my head that “staying pure” before marriage was a sign of self-control, and respect for the institution of marriage, and I believed this completely.  Of course, this was an incredibly judgmental view of the sex lives and marriages of people who didn’t believe as I did, and a pretty smug and self-righteous view of myself.  I at least had the good sense to mostly keep this aspect of my beliefs on sexuality to myself.  And as I got to know more people who had different views on sexuality, the more unsure I became about the supposed superiority of my beliefs.  I became friends with quite a lot of people who challenged my associations of premarital abstinence with self-restraint and being able to commit.

With time I realized that my sexual status when I got married isn’t, as I was taught, anything to be proud of, or anything to be ashamed of.  It just is.  And I no longer consider it to be a sign of my self-control so much as a sign of how completely brainwashed I was by my upbringing.  It’s not that I think there’s anything wrong with reserving sex for marriage (that would be pretty hypocritical of me).  I believe in choice, and if someone makes a free choice to abstain from sex until marriage, I respect that.  It’s just that I don’t see that choice as inherently more respectable than choosing to be sexually active before marriage.

I also don’t feel that being abstinent was really my choice.  Had I been better informed, I may still have made the decision to wait until I was engaged or married – I doubt it, but it’s not impossible.  As it is, there wasn’t much of a decision to make.  Premarital sex was equated with being dirty and evil, “defiling the marriage bed,” “defrauding” my future husband (because it was a given that I’d get married, and marry a dude, naturally), and choosing STDs, unwed pregnancy, lifelong unhappiness, loneliness, and poverty (seriously).  Abstinence was presented as staying pure, respecting God’s plan for marriage, and giving my future husband a beautiful gift by “saving” myself for him.  And I had plenty of examples of the intense judgment and ostracism people often faced if they were “caught” being sexually active before marriage – with some literally losing their entire family and church support network overnight.

No real choice is possible in such an environment.  The decks are completely and arbitrarily stacked in favor of abstinence.  Having premarital sex was literally not an option for me.

Joshua Harris was a homegrown celebrity in SGM, and his books on relationships and marriage were literally treated like scripture.  He taught that obeying God meant restricting not just sex, but also emotional intimacy to marriage alone; any serious emotional entanglement with someone we didn’t ultimately end up marrying was “giving away a piece of your heart,” something that rightfully belonged to your future spouse.  By “guarding our hearts,” we could avoid all the pain that a “worldly” approach to relationships brings.  We wouldn’t have to go through difficult breakups or divorces; we wouldn’t struggle to get over exes, or feel jealousy over a partner’s sexual past.

I understand why people would want to believe all this is true, but frankly, it’s a crock of shit.   There’s no approach that can guarantee a marriage won’t end in divorce.  It’s dangerous and deceptive to teach people that marriage is some sort of magical protection from deep pain, betrayal, or psychological trauma (especially in a context where spousal abuse isn’t taken seriously).  While it can be the case that minimizing romantic or sexual entanglements before marriage lowers the chances of getting hurt, it also also preemptively shuts the door on opportunities to love more, enjoy more, to learn more about ourselves and others.  Sometimes it’s worth taking the risk of getting hurt to experience more joy and intimacy.  Sometimes the pleasure and fulfillment you get out of something in the here and now is worth the risk that it might not last forever.

Evangelical teachings about sex, love, and marriage are based on the myth that only guaranteed lifelong commitment is worth investing in.  They insist that sexual activity before marriage is purely self-indulgent and meaningless (a loaded word if ever there was one), and that having a sexual history with someone other than a spouse necessarily undermines the strength and value of marital commitment.  None of this is true.  Most of our married friends lived together beforehand and had other romantic and sexual relationships before they met each other.  Contrary to everything I was taught to expect from a “worldly” relationship, marriage is deeply meaningful to them.  They’re committed to each other.  They don’t take their vows lightly.  And while marriage is generally a black box experience – you can’t really know what it will be like until you’re in it – I think most of our friends understood better than my husband and I did what they were signing up for when they got married, in part because they had more relationship and more sexual experience than we did.

My friends who have had more than one partner often understand things about themselves as sexual and emotional beings that I’m just starting to figure out about myself.  They didn’t rush serious decisions because they believed it’s wrong to stay in a relationship not clearly headed for marriage, or that you give someone a piece of your heart when you kiss them (which means that if you break up with them, you’ve given a piece of your heart to someone who isn’t going to be your spouse).  Unlike a lot of young evangelical couples, they didn’t get married because they were desperate to have sex; they got married because they knew they were compatible and wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.  From where I stand now, there’s a lot of respect for marriage as an institution in this approach.  It’s just not built on the assumption that the value of marriage is based on confining all legitimate sexual expression to marriage (or on the ability or desire of a couple to procreate, I might add).

A constant mantra of abstinence-only sex ed is that nobody ever regrets waiting to have sex; no one ever regrets saving themselves for just one person.  That’s completely false.  I regret it.  I regret that it was something imposed on me.  I regret that I’ll never know what I would have chosen for myself, what I might have learned about myself, or what I could have experienced, if I had approached things differently.  I regret that my transition into becoming sexually active after getting married was full of awkwardness and shame, and that we had no one to talk to about it.  It put a lot of unnecessary strain on our new and vulnerable marriage.

I regret that I was taught that an arbitrary compilation of ancient literature, shot through with errors and contradictions and open to all sorts of different interpretations, was the word of God and had to be interpreted in a particular, narrow fashion if I didn’t want to go to hell.  My “decision” to be abstinent before marriage was based entirely on ridiculous and faulty assumptions, apart from which I’m pretty sure I would have had sex well before getting married (and also probably married at a later age, if at all).

So yes, I regret that I’ve only had sex with one person.  I regret that I went through all of college without ever having sex.  Sex is great.  I don’t feel any shame in admitting that I regret all the years I spent not having it for no good reason.  Ok, that’s not strictly true.  I feel some shame in admitting it.  I’m working on that.  Writing about this is awkward, and difficult.  But I think it’s important for people raised like I was to understand that life is a lot messier and complicated than we were led to believe.  And let me tell you, it sucks royally to realize all this after you’re married and have kids, to try and make the best of the decisions you’ve made and not get caught up in wishing you had a chance to do things differently.


Rethinking sex ed, pt. 1

As a parent, I believe it’s my primary responsibility to teach my kid about sex and sexuality, and I often wonder about how we’ll approach the topic.  What I believe now about sex and sexuality is completely different from what I was raised to believe, and my personal experience of becoming sexually active is not one I would want for anyone.  I would like to pass on a feminist, sex-positive ethic of sexuality that prioritizes making informed choices, being comfortable with one’s body and sexuality, and seeing them as one’s own, not belonging to anyone else.  The problem is, I have no personal experience with such an approach to sex and am still working through the effects of a sex-negative religious upbringing that made me feel ashamed of my body and my sexuality.  I have no model for how to raise a child like this.  I think in a lot of ways I still have hangups about sex as something shameful and dirty, and I don’t know how I’m going to teach my child that sex, if one wants to have it, can be a healthy, normal part of adult life (and yes, teen life too, though preferably later in adolescence than sooner!) when I myself don’t quite believe it.

My husband and I were both raised to believe sex before marriage is a sin, and a really serious one.  Same with masturbation (always, always a sin).  Anything you did with someone you might not end up married to was considered robbing your future spouse and the future spouse of the person you were doing it with.  No pressure!  And there was no sex ed whatsoever for most people; I had some sex ed because, unlike most kids at our church, I was in public school.  In most families, any information about anything related to sex was considered an invitation for kids to “fall into temptation.”  Dating wasn’t allowed – you had to have a parent-approved courtship.  The philosophy was: don’t even think about sex until marriage, get married young, have kids young, and then everything will be fine with your marriage and sex lives.  Wonderful advice.

We did kiss before marriage, and you know, made out some, but that was it – and that made us rebels in our circles!  And we’ve only ever kissed each other, which I only recently realized is just very weird.

Funny enough, a lot of couples raised like we were have trouble transitioning into being sexually active once they’re married. It took us several months to be able to have PIV sex.  It sucked (not the sex, that was good – the wait) – and it still took years after that to really get to a comfortable place with sex.  And of course we never told anyone about the trouble we were having; thanks to being raised to think of sex as a completely taboo topic, the idea of talking about our sex lives with anyone was beyond mortifying.

I strongly suspect our difficulties were far from atypical.  It’s an unspoken problem in a lot of churches that women in particular have a very tough time switching, overnight, from “sex is dirty and must be avoided at all costs” to “sex is good and normal and awesome and we should do it all the time.”  For example, in the book Real Sex, Lauren Winner gives the example of a friend of hers who was still a virgin after a year of marriage, because his wife couldn’t adjust psychologically to suddenly being sexually active.  It can take years for some women to become comfortable with being sexual and to have satisfying sex lives, and some never really do.  Men in these communities are also negatively affected by teachings that treat sex as shameful and dirty, and have trouble accepting and expressing their sexuality before and after marriage, though the effects often take different forms than they do for women – for example, intense shame over being unable to refrain indefinitely from masturbating or viewing porn, and hangups that encourage the sexual objectification, coercion, assault, and even rape of female sexual partners.

Of course, this isn’t just an issue between men and women in straight marriages.  When you try to control people’s sexuality by purposefully denying them information about sex and suppressing any honest discussion of sex, it can cause problems for people of any gender, and any sexual orientation.  Even for those of us who have abandoned the sex-negative ideas and churches we were raised in, the damaging effects of this kind of upbringing can last a lifetime.


Mark Driscoll’s “Daddy Christmas Tips”

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.


Focus on the homophobic family

I’ve been trying to figure out what to say about Focus on the Family’s launch of a new site called, hilariously and awfully, “True Tolerance.” See, the main message of, ahem, True Tolerance, is that homophobic parents’ rights are being violated when kids are taught they shouldn’t bully or beat up other kids for being perceived as gay or trans.  And apparently, anti-bullying programs are just a way for gay activists to sneak in gay propaganda into schools.

Obviously this is total fail – and incredibly dangerous, misleading, and callous – on many counts.  The blatant lying is pretty amazing.  They act as though they don’t know perfectly well that gay children and children taunted for being gay or trans have died – have either been killed or have committed suicide – because of this kind of bullying.  I’ve yet to hear a story of anything like that happening to a child because they were perceived to be straight or cisgendered.  LGBT and gender non-conforming children aren’t more “worthy” of protection from bullying – they’re more in need of it because of their perceived gender or sexuality.  Try to keep it straight, everyone: homophobic bullying is perfectly compatible with childlike “innocence and purity,” but teaching kids that homophobic bullying is wrong is gay propaganda.  Someone has to think of the children . . . but only the children being taught at home that it’s ok to hate LGBT people.  Not, you know, the children actually being bullied.

More evidence that Focus on the Family only cares about white, straight, narrow-minded Christian families.  Leave it to Bryan Safi to find some humor in this nastiness.


Sunday round up (late night version)

Some of this week’s religion and gender news, short and sweet this time!

Sign a petition asking CA Gov. Schwarzenegger to end the shackling of pregnant inmates. (CA residents only)

Presbyterian (PCUSA) clergy and elders can sign the Minneapolis Declaration of Conscience, a petition supporting marriage equality in the church.

Catholics for Equality, an LGBT rights Catholic group, just launched.  Some non-Catholic LGBT activists are skeptical.

An ad campaign urging the Catholic Church to ordain women will run during the Pope’s visit to London next month. (ht TheSliverParty).

A columnist at the Catholic Exchange “advises” a trans woman: “It is better to die than to offend God.” What happened to sanctity of life? (ht knitmeapony)

The National Organization for Marriage’s Rhode Island Director compares gay parents to dead parents.  Very Classy.  Also super Christ-like.

Like the debate over gender roles, the debate over gay marriage has parallels to the 19th-century debat e in the States over slavery. (ht KidCharlemgn/Outside of Eden).

Ecclesia de Lange, a South African Methodist Minister, has been suspended for performing a same sex marriage.

This series of articles by Juliet Jacques on her gender reassignment journey is very worth reading.

GLAAD has their weekly LGBT religion news roundup here.