Helping our Daughters Navigate Through a Sexually Aggressive Culture

Today please welcome Sarah Ball, aka The Virtuous Woman Exposed, as she shares about how to help protect and teach our daughters in a sexually aggressive culture.

Sexually Aggressive CultureMy husband was shocked to hear from me that from the age of 13 -19, I had never had a job where I wasn’t sexually harassed by a male boss or coworker.

It was to be expected as a young teenaged waitress, for my boss to ‘brush’ past me, pushing his crotch against me, as I stood collecting food from the back. It was the running joke for him to make a comment about how perky my breasts were, and if he could check out for himself if they were real. It was even more common for old male customers to invite me back to their place, or for a drunken man to try and put a tip down my shirt. I wasn’t a waitress at a strip club if that’s what you’re thinking; I was working at a small town golf course, midday, every Sunday afternoon, and I thought it was normal, so I giggled.

It was not uncommon in high school either, for me to receive sexually implied comments from male teachers, or for another male student to pinch, grab or whistle as I walked down the hall to class.

As a college student, my friends and I had to be extra cautious at parties, making vows to not let any of us go off alone with anyone we didn’t know. This caution was before the date rape drug was mainstream. It still didn’t prevent some young college girls from being raped, or if they drank too much, sexually assaulted while they were passed out, which in my opinion is rape. This was not shocking news to us. It didn’t set off alarms and cause us to storm the campus, because it was normal to us. It was an expected part of college culture in Canada.

I was sexually abused at the age of 12 by a friend of the family, and at the age of 19 I ran out of a room seconds away from being date raped.

I have never not known sexual exploitation, and it’s not my fault.

We think we are so progressive as a culture, and we think we are getting this female exploitation theme beaten, but we are not.  We live in a culture that is so twisted in their thinking. Posts go viral on social media of women of all colors; shapes and sizes posing in their underwear, in the attempts to say all women are sexy and of value. Then, the next viral video is a post blaring outrage that women aren’t being taken seriously by the universities they were raped in. We are a culture of mixed messages, trying desperate to find a solution to our sexually aggressive culture, and failing miserably.

Even Christian culture is making it worse.

We are told to shelter our kids from the world and shove purity messages at them.  So we avoid talking about sex with our daughters, instead we just shelter them from movies and stories that reveal any sexual theme, and we call it a great day in the parenting world.

These approaches will not protect your daughter from a culture that paints its walls with sexuality–walls your daughter is eventually going to live under without you.

What we need is a reality check and a never-ending conversation with our daughter about it.

Ask my teen-aged daughter, who works at a fast food restaurant. She has been raised to stay a virgin until she is married and to avoid watching shows that are above a PG rating. My husband annoys the heck out of her, as he frequently bursts out into song “be careful little eyes what you see.”

I send her back to her room to change several mornings a week, and Modesty is Hotesty is a song on our family playlist (yes, that is actually a song!) Yet, my daughter, at age 15, shows up to work in the most unattractive; button-upped, mustard yellow, starched, stained, short sleeved, burger attire, and she still receives countless offers for sex by creepy customers and comments on her looks. She’s not flirting and she is not dressed immodestly. She is merely being a young woman, with a beautiful smile in a sexually aggressive culture.

So what do I mean by a sexually aggressive culture?  These recent Canadian statistics should share some light. According to The Justice Institute of British Columbia, these statistics will have us hiding our daughters under a rock.

One out of every 17 Canadian women is raped at some point in her life

A woman is sexually assaulted by forced intercourse every 17 minutes in Canada

Girls and young women between the ages of 15-24 are the most likely victims

80% of assaults happen in the victim’s home

70% of rapes are committed by a perpetrator who knows the victims (relative, friend, neighbor, colleague, or other acquaintance)

Approximately one half of all rapes occur on dates

62% of victims are physically injured in the attack; 9% are beaten severely or disfigured

Statistics Canada has found that one in four girls and one in eight boys have been sexually abused by the time they are eighteen.

 Source : www.assultcare.ca

Pause for a sobering moment.

I am not writing this to be a dooms-day prophet, but I am writing this to say, it’s not enough to talk to our daughters about virginity and shelter them from the media. One day our daughters will be university students, professionals, and young mothers, and we need to prepare them for a sexually aggressive culture without shaming sex, scaring them, and making them prudes.

This is one tough topic parents, and we need God’s wisdom to navigate them through it and I am so thankful that we have voices like Sheila’s who are initiating this conversation.

So where do we begin? How do we teach our daughters to love sex, to embrace their sexiness for their husbands, feel no shame, guard their hearts, and protect themselves from assault or harassment?

Let your daughters have an attitude!

I want my daughter to walk around confident, knowing she is carrying a treasure inside of her, proud of who she is and sassy. I want her to spit in the face of a man who tries to exploit her, not giggle shyly in embarrassment like I did.  I want her to be street-wise, knowing she has to be smart, and cautious, because she has a treasure hidden. There are a lot of pirates out there who will sail any sea to get it.

I want her to think boys are cute, and smile and giggle at the one she REALLY thinks is cute, and I want her to experience love. I want her to be able to pick out a good man from a line up of rats. I want her to marry that good man, and be a sexual goddess for him.

I don’t want my daughter to be a man-hater, be mistrusting or paranoid. I want her to respect men in authority, but respect herself more. I recently asked my daughter what she thought of the biblical teaching that husband’s should have authority over their wives. She responded – “I think God meant that he wants husbands to protect their wives, and you can’t have someone protect you if they don’t have authority over you.”  I love her point of view!

This is a big, tall order I am asking God for–and this is not a “sit down” and have ‘the talk’ kind of teaching. This is a lifetime of discussion and relationship we have to continually have with our daughters and our sons!

This is you, Mom, having the courage to reach into the skeletons of your past and share them, at an appropriate age, with your daughter. This is about dads, stepping up to be the 1st example of a GOOD MAN, and setting her bar high. This is about us as parents, allowing our daughters to feel safe enough to talk to us about anything. You don’t overreact, and scramble to find the chastity belt, you talk to her, you love her and you walk with her.

If it’s too late, and your daughter has already fit into the statistics, I want to tell you that I am so sorry. I also want to tell you there is hope.

I stood, face to face with my sexual abuser, under oath, 15 years after I was victimized. My eyes were blurry with tears, my hands shaking in fear. I was in immense pain, but I had a loving husband, waiting in the gallery to console me, treasure me and pour purity back into my heart with his love and respect for me.

 I also have a God who puts his arm around me, drawing a line in the sand with his hand against a culture that wants to stone me.  Hagar, Sarah’s bondwoman, – which you can read more on here – was sexually exploited, the woman who washed Jesus’s feet with her tears who was labeled a slut, and even King David’s daughter was raped by her own brother. This is not a new issue.

God always defended these precious women, pursued them and pursued justice. Jesus came to pour hope, value and purity back into a shamed culture, and we must look to him for healing.

So tonight, before your daughter goes to bed, give her a big hug, tell her how precious she is, show her how to drop kick a pirate and pray for her, a lot.

 

Sarah BallSarah Ball is the blogger behind Virtuous Woman Exposed, a columnist, freelance writer and mother of 5 children ages 4-15 and she’s exhausted just writing that. Her passion is to see women set free from shame, fear and bondage. She wants you to know that you can hold your head up high knowing they you are a precious daughter of God.  You can visit her blog at http://www.virtuouswomanexposed.com and you can follow her on FACEBOOK & TWITTER

 

 

On Ottawa, Terrorism, and the Family

On the Ottawa Shootings and Our Response

Just four days ago I was emailing with author Shaunti Feldhahn and her assistant (Shaunti’s part of my new Christian marriage author Pinterest board). Shaunti was going to be in Ottawa on Friday (today), to present her findings from her book The Good News About Marriage. She had some free time in the afternoon, though, and I suggested we get together.

She’s staying at a downtown hotel, so I said, “as long as it’s not raining, let’s go for a walk! It’s beautiful downtown. I’ll take you by the Parliament buildings and the War Memorial, and then we can go to the Byward Market and get some Menchie’s frozen yogurt.”

I’m still meeting her this afternoon. I hope to lay flowers at the War Memorial to honour Cpl Nathan Cirillo.

Wednesday was a horrible day for my country.

When the news of the shootings hit, my youngest daughter and I were glued online to the news. I started texting the news to my older daughter, who was on lockdown at the University of Ottawa, where she had been at work in the Writing Centre. (The University is right around the corner from the Rideau Centre, the shopping mall that was in the news. They were on lockdown for 5 1/2 hours.) The twelve people stuck in the Writing Centre only had their phones, and it was easier for me to watch the news on my computer. So we texted back and forth. Her biggest problem was that she got hungry. Luckily someone had some cheese and oatmeal that they shared.

However, we have many good friends in the military, and it is they and the police who bore the brunt of the attack and are still bearing it. This was the second lone wolf attack on soldiers in uniform this week. And that is so heartbreaking and so infuriating. I was supposed to get together with several military friends in Ottawa this weekend; now I can’t, for various reasons which I won’t put here. Our military serve and sacrifice so much, and now they are being targeted here at home. I can’t quite get my head around that.

My favorite article about that morning is this one–about the bystanders who stopped to give CPR to Nathan Cirillo. So heartbreaking, but I’m glad they were with him when he died.

This week’s events, though, leave us with a question: what can we do to prevent similar attacks? The chatter on the news is on greater surveillance, and different gun laws, and powers for interrogation, and more.

That discussion is definitely needed, and I hope they figure something out.

Nevertheless, I believe our focus right now is inadequate.

We are looking for a military/police solution: a military solution overseas; a police solution here. I don’t think either will work, because at heart this is not a military problem. This is an ideological one. We are fighting against an enemy that shoots teenage girls who want to go to school; that kidnaps Christian girls to use them as prostitutes; that thinks nothing of gang raping and mutilating girls if it serves their purpose. We are fighting against an evil.

Ephesians 6:12-13 says:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

We are fighting against spiritual forces, and we are fighting an ideological battle.

Until we start fighting in the realm of ideas, we won’t win.

Until we start saying, some ideas are not acceptable, and until we get rid of moral relativism, we will not win. Until we start defending freedom and defending human rights, we will not win.

But there is something even more fundamental going on, at least in the West with these lone wolf homegrown attacks. In fact, you can see it with all the terrorist attacks and mass murders that have occurred in recent memory–even those that are not Islamic in nature.

Every single one of those mass murderers came from a broken family.

Every single one of them–with the exception of the Littleton killers whose parents weren’t divorced, but were preoccupied and neglectful.

Timothy McVeigh. Paul Bernardo. Adam Lanza. Marc Lepine (another Canadian shooter). And now Michael Zehaf Bibeau.

What makes people susceptible to the ISIS ideology? What turns a kid into a mass murderer? Many, many factors, often including some mental illness. But there is always a common thread–it starts with the family.

People who grow up with two loving parents do not, in general, grow up to hate.

People who grow up where they are not given the love and safety they need may gravitate towards evil.

This is not a commentary on all kids who grow up in divorced families; after all, I did! But my mother overcame her own issues and heartbreak to focus on me. She made sure I went to church. She made sure I had a good peer group. She made sure I saw my extended family. She made me her priority, and she kept our family together.

Most single parents do this, but not all.

One of my friends who divorced and remarried often posts family photos on Facebook that do not include her oldest children (the ones from the first marriage). I know another woman who used to attend my church who recently remarried–and did not bother to invite several of her kids to the wedding. Her new life has become more important than her oldest children.

That angers me. A person can be a single parent and also be an excellent parent. And this is the hard part–I think for a single parent to be an excellent parent they have to actually do a BETTER job than most married parents would do. They have a huge road in front of them. But the single parents I know who have raised great kids have all stressed God in their family, and have made their kids a major priority in their lives, even if they’ve remarried. They have been wonderful.

Unfortunately, many parents just don’t take their job seriously, and then the kids grow up in chaos, trying to figure out their place in the world. When they can’t figure one out, a very small but dangerous minority decides to make a name for themselves doing something awful.

We simply need to stress healthy families and healthy parenting if we are going to win the culture war at home.

Maybe it’s too late for our culture, but it is never too late for the small spheres of influence in which you live.

Let’s support our friends’ marriages. If we see a problem starting–someone texting an old flame, people belittling each other, someone using porn–get involved. Do an intervention. Let’s take care of the marriages around us before they start to disintegrate..

Let’s support kids who feel lost in the shuffle. I know several around me, one in particular that we practically adopted for a three year period, who are lost. You can never make up for two parents who love a kid, but you can still make a tremendous difference, and show a kid that they are loved. The world is not an evil place.

Let’s raise our kids to make better decisions about who they marry–and who they have children with. Let’s protect them from dating too much when they’re really young. Let’s raise them to respect themselves so that they won’t be attracted to those who treat them badly. If you know a girl in your social circle with really low self-esteem who is getting involved with losers, befriend her.Show her the difference between a dangerous guy and one who will treat her well. Show her that she has gifts and talents and she’s worth something outside of a relationship.

Let’s put pressure on absent parents to get involved in their kids’ lives. This most recent shooter had a mom who loved him–and a dad who wasn’t there. So did Marc Lepine. So did Adam Lanza. If you know someone in your extended circle who rarely sees their kids, encourage them to pick up the phone. Don’t let it be socially acceptable to ignore your kids.

Maybe if we all got just a little more involved with our neighbours, and especially with struggling kids and teenagers, we could prevent some of these horrific things. Perhaps I’m being naive, but as one person I can’t affect military policy or Canada’s security rules. But I can care about my kids, my nieces and nephews, my kids’ friends, and those marriages in my church. I can do that. What about you?

**********

And now, a thank you to Kevin Vickers, a real man, who shot the shooter on Parliament Hill before he could hurt anyone else. We should all raise our kids to be like him–and to be like Barbara Winters, who valiantly tried to save the life of a soldier.

Kevin Vickers

RIP Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent (who was killed earlier this week in another terrorist attack) . Your country appreciates your service.

A Little Higher Than the Squirrels

character of humanitySquirrels are nature’s little speedbumps, my daughter likes to say.

This time of year it’s a pretty apt description, with all the plump squirrels scampering to and fro fervently collecting food for the winter. They’re bulking up, so they’re a tad slower when cars rush by.

A few farmers have told me recently that we should be paying closer attention to these hyperactive rodents. They seem to be gathering more than usual, signalling that we’re in for a bad winter. Animals, you see, operate on instinct. They know when it’s time to gather, and when it’s time to sleep, or mate, or fight. It’s all hardwired.

That’s why animals are mostly concerned with the here and now.

Their goal in life—in as much as they’re able to make goals—is to get all their physical needs met. And by and large, they instinctually know how to do that.

People, on the other hand, have to be taught. Then, even when we are taught, we have the capacity to refuse. We can act in ways diametrically opposed to our well-being. We can be stupid. We can be selfish. We can even be noble, something most animals, with the exception of a few dogs, aren’t able to do. That’s what makes us essentially human: we have a choice. And because of that, we have the capacity to actually be good and to choose to do what’s right.

So let’s do a thought experiment. When you sit with your mother who has Alzheimer’s, even when she can’t recognize you, are you closer to a human or a reptile? On the other hand, when you leave your baby with a baby-sitter you hardly know so you can party at the bar, are you closer to a chimp or to Mother Teresa? When you stick with your marriage vows, even during the rocky times, I think you’re being human. When you have an affair because you feel like it, and betray your kids and your spouse in the process, you’re being a lizard, a rhino, or a baboon.

When we decide that our lives are all about our appetites—eating more and better food, getting more and better sex, having more and more fun—are we not becoming mere animals?

There’s nothing wrong with the fun things in life, of course, but if we deliberately ignore our responsibilities, or betray our commitments, in order to get those appetites filled, then the character of humanity isn’t advancing. We’re regressing.

A few centuries ago people had to work hard in order to survive. The rock fences that dot the countryside in my native Ontario hometown are standing monuments to the effort that farmers of old had to put in to clear their fields just to be able to plant. You worked, or you did not eat.

Today we have the freedom to be far lazier and far more self-centred than people did when work was a necessity to life. Our basic needs are much more easily met. And yet that also means that we have the opportunity to be even more human. When we choose to do what is right, to work with integrity, or to honour our commitments, even when we don’t have to, then we grow as people.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure those kinds of decisions are really honoured. Our society celebrates lavish lifestyles and the baser instincts rather than integrity, responsibility, and generosity. Too often we’re just living for the moment and doing what makes us feel good, rather than thinking about our character. In so doing, I think we’re losing what makes us human. We are, after all, a little higher than the squirrels. It’s time we remembered that, before life runs us over.

Top 10 Things I Want to Teach My Teens About Sex

Top Ten

Yesterday we talked about how to talk to your younger kids about sex. Today’s guest post from J at Hot, Holy & Humorous  offers some great advice for parents of older kids–how to begin, KEEP the conversation going and how to teach your teens about sex.

“Hey kids, gather around and let’s talk about sex!” No, of course, I don’t approach my teens that way. Instead, we have an ongoing conversation about sexuality in my home, because I want my kids to be well-informed, well-armed, and also well-excited about sex when done the right way.

As we raise our teens, here are ten things I want them to learn about sex:

Top 10 Things to Teach Your Teens About Sex

1. God created sex, so it’s good.

Sometimes in our quest to get across the message that sex before marriage is bad, we communicate that sex itself is bad. But it’s not. Sex according to God’s design is a wonderful thing—a beautiful gift—and I want my kids to have that foundational belief.

2. You can always talk to me about this topic.

One of my kids asked me a question about something mentioned at school, but prefaced that friends had warned him not to ask a parent because he might get in trouble. Thankfully, I’ve made it clear my kids can ask me anything about this topic. It’s not taboo. God created sex, He talked about it (the good and the bad), and He put parents in charge of instructing kids. I tailor my answers to age and context and so on, but my door is open for tough topics. It’s part of the parent job.

(By the way, that question was about condoms. The friends had erroneous information, and because he asked, I got to provide better information, along with our biblical values.

3. Pregnancy and STDs aren’t the only consequences for premarital sex or promiscuity.

These concerns get drilled into teens’ heads so much. Many believe the worst, or only, consequences of having sex before marriage or having multiple partners is unwanted pregnancy or contracting an STD.

Yes, kids, those things could happen, but the scars left on your heart, the disruption to your future marital happiness, the disobedience to God—these matter so much. They may be intangibles right now, but in time poor choices can wreak havoc on your life. So make the right choice.

4. Birth control is not 100% effective.

Speaking of which, many expect to dodge an undesired pregnancy with birth control. Sure, we have some great contraceptive methods that couples have used successfully. But I could also sit down and make you a list of couples I know who got pregnant while using contraception. If a birth control method is 99% effective, that means that 1 time out of 100, you’re on your own. So don’t rely on it, and only make love in the context that could properly support a child (aka marriage).

5. Sex is more than intercourse.

What constitutes sex? Is it merely intercourse? Is foreplay fair game? When I was a teen, the phrase “technical virgin” meant you’d done just about everything else, yet considered yourself a virgin because you hadn’t done “the deed.”

I look back and think how utterly stupid that perspective was! Sex is the whole kit-and-caboodle. If you’re getting the least bit naked to do something with someone, welcome to the world of sex. Even purveyors of porn and erotica know this, so we really have no excuse. I want my kids to understand sex isn’t everything but, and that sex encompasses far more than intercourse.

(By the way, this is good news for their future marriage. There could be times when intercourse is unavailable, but they won’t have to give up being intimate with their spouse!)

6. “How far is too far?” is the wrong question.

However, that’s the question youth workers hear again and again when the topic of sex is brought up with teens. Teens want to know where the line is—how far can they go without sinning or risking consequences. It’s basically, “What can I get away with?” Which is not the attitude God wants us to have toward Him or His gift of sexual intimacy.

Rather, we should ask, “How can I honor God when it comes to sexual intimacy?” Framing it that way, some of our nitpicking questions simply go away, and it becomes clearer what we should and shouldn’t do.

7. If you mess up, it’s not over.

Activities such as dabbling in online pornography, chatting promiscuously in a chat room, going much too far on a date, engaging in premarital sex—yes, they are bad, but they definitely don’t make the unforgiveable list.

Messing up doesn’t mean it’s all over… and you might as well give in, and God’s already mad at you so what’s the point, and you have to hide your ugly stuff or people will know how bad you really are, etc. No, no, no! If you fail at some point, God’s grace and healing can cover our sins and both He and your parents are here to help you get back on track.

8. The Bible has a lot to say about sexuality.

It’s easy for kids and teens, and plenty of us adults, to feel that a book written thousands of years ago has little bearing on our modern-day challenges. After all, where are the verses about sexting and 50 Shades of Grey and the hookup culture?

But the Bible is relevant. There are direct stories of sexual sin and sexual love, as well as many verses about guarding our hearts, measuring our actions, and honoring others. If God’s Word is true, it permeates every aspect of our life, including the bedroom. You can’t compartmentalize, believing that “loving your neighbor” has nothing to do with treating that girl or boy in your arms with respect. So if you want to know the real deal about how we should approach sexuality, read the Bible.

9. More sex happens in marriage than outside it.

One might think it’s the opposite based on media, entertainment, and conversations. But studies show that married couples are getting more, and more satisfying, sex. If kids think the sex well is going to dry up the second they say “I do,” they’ll buy into the sow my wild oats theory before marriage, or put off marriage for fear of their sex drive going unheeded.

But I love what one newlywed man told our youth group: “I’m having lots of sex now, and I never, ever think, ‘Man, I wish I’d had sex back in high school.'” It’s kind of like Christmas, kids: It takes a while to get here, but the gift you receive is worth the wait.

10. Your parents love each other—yes, even in the bedroom.

My kids are well aware that marriage includes sexual intimacy, because they see it hinted at with their parents. Of course, they don’t have details, because that aspect of our relationship is private. But they see us flirt and display appropriate affection in front of them, and they know the bedroom door gets closed and locked at times.

They might roll their eyes at our hugs or kisses, but they also smile. It’s reassuring to know their parents love each other and that marriage, even as long as we’ve been married, includes true passion.

What do you want your teens to know about sex? Which tip speaks most to you (for me it’s #6!)? Let me know in the comments!

Sex Savvy WifeJ. Parker is the author of Sex Savvy: A Lovemaking Guide for Christian Wives and writes the Hot, Holy & Humorous blog, where she uses a biblical perspective and a blunt sense of humor to foster Christian sexuality in marriage.

 

Do We Need to Stop Using the Term Virgin?

Do We Need to Stop Using the Term Virgin“If you get raped, does that mean you’re not a virgin anymore?”

That was one of the anonymous questions asked at a small group my 17-year-old daughter was a part of this summer. The adults leading the discussion hemmed and hawed, saying technically, they guessed, you weren’t a virgin.

My daughter, worried that one of the girls in this group had actually gone through this and was in agony, piped up. “It’s not the physical that’s important to God. It’s the heart. And God looks at the heart, and He can heal you and still give you a wonderful pure marriage.”

She’s heard me talk about this a lot around the table, and she’s quite passionate about it.

But this was one of a string of things that I’ve heard of lately that make me think that we need to change the way we talk about sex. This is the last of a 3-part series I’ve written on how I wish Christians could reframe the way we talk about modesty and purity. Today I want to talk about purity, the word “virgin”, and how we’re emphasizing the wrong thing. Unfortunately, for this conundrum I don’t have a clear answer; I just see the problem. I hope, after reading this, that you all can help brainstorm with me and find a new way to talk about purity instead of emphasizing virginity.

So let’s start with first principles:

God made sex to be a beautiful, wonderful thing.

It is also meant to be experienced within marriage. It’s also only in marriage that sex can reach its full potential, because sex is supposed to be intimate not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. You can’t feel “like one” if there is no commitment. So sex is supposed to be beautiful and passionate, and marriage was created to be the environment for that passion.

I hope that’s clear–God does want us to wait for marriage for sex. Absolutely no doubt about that. And He wants us to do so for very good reasons. That’s why we say that God wants us to stay virgins until we’re married. However, I’m not sure that saying “God wants you to be a virgin when you’re married” always gives the right message. Here’s why:

1. You Can Be “Impure” and Still Be a Virgin

When we stress virginity as the sign of acceptance by God and the church and obedience to God, then we inadvertently say that “anything up to that point goes”. Of course, no youth pastor or parent would say that’s their message, but it is one some young people hear. One friend of mine, now 45, told me that he was 22 years old before he realized that heavy petting was actually not okay.

We need to talk not only about sex but about everything sexual. If all we ever say about sex is “don’t have sex until you’re married”, then you haven’t explained why purity isn’t about making sure that you’re a technical virgin; purity is an attitude of the heart. And you haven’t talked about the fact that other things can be sexual as well, and should be saved until marriage. We simply need to open lines of communication.

2. You Can Be Pure and Not Be a Virgin

In the surveys that I did leading up to the launch of my book The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, I asked people about their sexual experience before marriage. Then I left a box where people could write anything they wanted to say. I didn’t prompt them, but over 35% of women who weren’t virgins when they were married volunteered that they wished that they had waited. It really wore on them.

I so want to say to these women that God’s healing is available to them. You are not the sum of what you have done with your body; your identity is about what Jesus did with His body for you. And God takes our filthy rags and makes them new. He restores!

If you look back at the Gentile New Testament church, it was filled with people who were mostly NOT virgins when they were married. The Jewish culture protected chastity, but the Roman culture did not. When Paul was saying things like this, in Ephesians 2:1-5:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesha and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

When he said that the people in Ephesus had “gratified the cravings of our flesh and followed its desires and thoughts” he meant it. Ephesus was a haven for temple prostitution. We think we live in a sexual culture, but so did they! These early Christians had quite the background, but they also were so grateful that Jesus had made them pure.

Because everyone in those days came to Christ as an adult, after they had messed up earlier, they could celebrate Jesus’ forgiveness perhaps easier than we do because most of  us were raised in the church and then messed up. And so we carry great shame. Maybe we need to identify more with these Ephesian Christians and stop beating ourselves up, but be grateful for what Christ has done for us!

3. Stressing virginity makes it sound like once you’ve failed, there’s no point in even trying anymore.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine in the military, who had been transferred to another base, crashed at my house for a few days with his wife and 21-year-old daughter as they were moving across Canada. During one of our conversations (don’t you love catching up with old friends?), my friend told me about one of her daughter’s friends who wasn’t a Christian. That girl had decided that she wanted to be a virgin when she was married all on her own, which is great.

But then one day she and her boyfriend got carried away and her virginity was gone.

She realized that she had lost her dream–to wait until her wedding–and so now there was no point. The horse has left the gate. You can’t close that door now.

I wonder how many people, both inside and outside the church, feel that same way. They want sex to be special and to be saved, but then if they mess up, they figure there’s no point in trying to reclaim any kind of boundaries, because you’ve already completely blown it.

When we stress virginity, then once it’s gone, it’s gone.

4. Stressing virginity makes purity legalistic

And that’s essentially my problem. Talking about virginity makes the issue a physical one, not a heart one.

God cares about the heart, not the hymen.

Of course, for our own sakes and for the sake of righteousness He wants us to wait until we’re married. But what He wants even more than that is people coming to Him with a pure and eager heart for a real relationship with Him. He looks to the heart (purity) not to outward appearances (the hymen). And you can have purity when you come back to God.

Listen, I still want my girls to be virgins when they’re married. Absolutely. But I just wonder if by using that word we’re stressing the wrong thing.

I really and truly don’t have an answer for this one. I would prefer to stress purity over virginity, but I’m not sure that’s a good answer, because “purity” has a bad ring to it in the wider culture, too. It sounds judgmental (though I don’t mean it that way. Our purity, after all, is not from our behaviour. It’s from what Christ has done for us).

I know this has been a heavy week. I’ve talked about how the modesty message can mess up women’s body image, and how the purity culture (the one that says that you can’t do anything other than hold hands before you’re married) can mess up our view of sex. And now I’m talking about how perhaps the word virgin is being used wrongly. I don’t mean to criticize the church, and I also don’t mean to demean modesty, purity, or virginity–all of which are important.

I just want to make sure that we’re stressing heart things and we’re pointing to sex the way that God intended. I think the time has come to have this discussion–with your youth pastor, with teens you know, with engaged couples–and start to reframe things.

As part of that discussion, then, let me ask you: how would you handle the virginity/purity issue? How would you frame it? Let’s talk! Just leave a comment below.

Good Girls Guide My SiteIf you’re struggling with understanding sex and not being ashamed of it, please take a look at my book, The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex. It’s a fun book, and it explains in detail how God made sex to be intimate emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I think you’ll find it really helpful in dispelling some of the negative things you were taught!

 

Other Posts in The Healthy Sexuality Series:

Does the Modesty Culture Make Women Ashamed of Their Bodies?
Does the Christian Purity Message Make Women Ashamed of Sex?

How Our Culture of Sex Got So Messed Up

How Our Culture Gets Sex Wrong--and what we in the church need to do to combat the message

Today is the beginning of a 4-part series I’m running on this blog about the culture of sex, and how we in the church talk about sex. I’ll be discussing how we inadvertently make women ashamed of their bodies and ashamed of sex, and then I’ll wind up talking about how we need to reframe our discussions around purity. God meant sex to be something beautiful and wonderful in marriage; too often, as we try to keep people from sin we end up making it seem like sex–and our bodies–are bad.

I asked Michael Rittenhouse to set the stage for our discussion by sharing a little bit of his journey. He’s the author of Sex: What Your Parents Didn’t Tell You, which is a great book about how our culture gets sex wrong. Here’s Michael:

As a five-year-old, I didn’t get why Goldie Hawn danced on TV in a swimsuit and graffiti. But I knew it had something to do with “sex,” and even though they rarely said “sex” on TV, they did say “making whoopee,” so I figured that’s what we called dancing in a swimsuit and graffiti.

Miss Hawn’s outlandish show disguised the fact that there was a war on. Not Vietnam, not the Cold War, but a cultural war, rolling out on our TV screen every night.

On one side, we had hippies, streakers, sitcom characters, and various others who seemed to have it in for the established order. They waged a guerrilla war for what they called “free love,” by which they meant “sex” in a very specific sense.

Their side had at least one legitimate gripe: a stifling, predominant culture that pushed matters of sexuality not just behind closed doors, but so far away from normal discourse that many people felt uncomfortable even talking about it with a doctor.

In writing about this conflict in “Sex: What Your Parents Didn’t Tell You,” I needed a name for each side. For the hippie-streaker-sitcom axis, I borrowed “Liberators” from a James Thurber parable called “The Last Flower.” His liberators would “set fire to the discontent.”

Sex: What Your Parents Didn't Tell YouThe late 20th Century’s sexual Liberators set fire to every social more they saw as constraining their base impulses. Many of those fires continue to burn, in the forms of hookup culture, abortion on demand, 40 percent unwed maternity (U.S.), and a high divorce rate. The Liberators knew what they opposed, but didn’t seem to care much about what their rebellion unleashed.

But what to call the other side, the focus of all the Liberators’ anger? Whose sensibilities meant that children’s dolls could not have genitals under their clothing, or that “The Tonight Show” must not air with the phrase “W.C.” (water closet, an oblique British term for bathroom)?

I dubbed them Prudes. On TV they looked uptight, dressed for church 24/7, and old. In real life they were just ordinary people reared in a Victorian-influenced culture, where respectable folk tried to shun their base impulses. They extrapolated the privacy that humans instinctively feel about sex into a taboo on any talk of it. As a result, in their growing up, nobody had spoken to them much about sexuality, and they, in turn, said little to their offspring.

As a child, I noticed the way adults’ voices grew hushed over matters of sexuality; how everyone watching TV in the family room pretended not to notice the feminine-hygiene commercials; how my innocent questions about what I saw in public—XXX theater ads, Playboy magazine, even a Great Dane’s testicles—earned an abrupt change of subject, or a promise to discuss it later. (That promise was not kept.)

I would find my answers elsewhere. This usually meant going to the Liberators in some form or other because, unlike the Prudes, they were always reaching out to young people, whether through books, movies, magazines, or even the schools.

I knew I didn’t want to be a Prude, because they didn’t look like fun. But the Liberators seemed untrustworthy, like salesmen hawking goods certain to disappoint.

For all their differences, the Liberators and the Prudes shared one core belief: God was on their side. Both of them were badly mistaken.

Liberators rationalized that whatever we’re inclined to do is OK with our Creator, because, well, he created us. Adam and Eve, man, they had everything right before the fig leaves, and if we would just roll up these parking lots we could have paradise right here. Of the Trinity, they seemed to identify with Jesus most because he was young and always in trouble with the Man.

Prudes deduce from the Ten Commandments that God takes a pretty dim view of anything like a vice. Because sex appeal can overrun our defenses, we should just lump all those nasty carnal desires together and push them out somewhere else … like Nevada, along with the nuclear waste. Doesn’t God want to keep us safe from sin and self-destruction? We should follow his lead on that, starting with fig leaves and any notion that sex and gender underlie every human interaction.

What both sides missed is that God invented sex.

Doors are never closed to him. He’s present in every encounter, hoping we will welcome him just like we say grace before a meal. He’s put a little glimpse of immortality at the height of sexual intercourse, and the degree to which we experience it hinges on how much of ourselves we are willing to surrender.

Ideas like that didn’t originate with me. I would owe them to a courageous parish priest; to C.S. Lewis and Peter Kreeft; to a little-known but influential therapist and author, Alexander Lowen; and—although I’m not a Roman Catholic—to Pope John Paul II, whose “Theology of the Body” would reassert the connection between sexuality and spirituality via popular writers like Christopher West and Mary Healy. And, of course, I owe our host on this blog.

If such voices existed during the war, I didn’t hear them. Even now, they have to shout over the censorious Prudes and the cynical Liberators, neither of whom wants to admit leading a lost cause.

But I’m optimistic. The Web has opened new, lateral forms of communication—blogs, podcasts, self-publishing. Now all that’s left is for parents (like me) to shake off our inherited Prudery, get a handle on the sexuality God’s given us, and communicate that appropriately to our offspring.

God invented sexuality to bring us out of ourselves.

Without it, we’d be like the amoeba: self-serving, isolated, incapable of anything greater than the sum of our parts.

So I hope to spur more parents to get out of themselves and talk with their children about how they came to be. After all, we (pro-)created our kids through the gift of natural sexuality. And to distinguish this from a spectrum of contrived “-sexualities” claiming legitimacy, I use the term “orthosexuality”—sex as nature intended. Uniquely capable of creating whole new human beings, orthosexuality is worthy of celebration, reverence, and respect. The privacy naturally associated with it must never be confused with shame.

A culture that panders to our innate, selfish tendencies cannot and will not do this for us.

Plus, the one gift I can’t give my kids is mates who understand all this. That’s up to you.

Sex What Your Parents Didnt Tell YouMichael RittenhouseMichael Rittenhouse is passionate about bringing God’s message of sex back into the discussion. He travels around the nation in his RV, talking to MOPS groups and churches about how we can reclaim real sexuality.

Michael’s book, Sex: What Your Parents Didn’t Tell You, is available now! It goes into the historical reasons why we got sex wrong, and then talks about how we can figure out a healthy view of sex ourselves, and how we can pass that on to our kids. It’s a great read! It’s available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle, and it’s available in .pdf in Sheila’s store!

Guard Their Hearts

Next Tuesday I’m starting a series on this blog that I’m so excited about–how we need to start reframing how we teach kids about sex, and how we need to watch the messages we’re inadvertently giving about sex. To get ready for that series, I thought I’d rerun this column from a few years ago on why we need to teach kids to guard their hearts. Too often sex ed is just about guarding their bodies, but it’s the heart that can really hurt.

Guard their heartsThis column was originally written for a secular audience.

When parents contemplate their teens having sex, pregnancy and disease aren’t the first things that come to mind. Instead, it’s panic, the mere thought causing us to jump into bed and pull the covers over our heads. In more rational moments we may work through these feelings so we can talk to our kids, but our first response doesn’t tend to be terror at the possibility of disease—it’s terror at the possibility of the act itself.

Most parents would prefer, to put it mildly, that their teens not have sex.

If they do, then somebody is going to know them in certain ways even more intimately than we do. But that intimacy, in the context of what is probably a fleeting teenage relationship, seems just plain wrong. After all, sex is so much more than just a physical act; it’s intrinsically connected with our psyches. Whether we intend it to or not, it forms a bond between two people, and using it cavalierly can be damaging.

The Redbook survey of 100,000 women showed this dramatically. It found that women who had been sexually active at 15 were far less likely to have happy marriages and satisfying sex lives later in life than those who had waited. In the wrong context, then, sex can shatter our spirits, and give us sexual baggage that will affect future relationships.

As columnist Rebecca Hagelin has said, there is no condom for your heart.

There is no way to protect yourself when you’ve given your body and your soul to someone and they’ve rejected you. It’s little wonder that up to two-thirds of sexually active teens regret not waiting for this very reason. These same teens are also more likely to be depressed and suicidal that their inexperienced peers.

Yet we have a difficult time articulating this to our children in part, I think, because we’ve been told that sexual experimentation cannot and should not be interfered with. If we tell our teens to say no, we may inadvertently teach them there’s something shameful about sex.

This reminds me of a story a male teacher friend once relayed to me. A 14-year-old girl asked him privately if she should have sex with her boyfriend. The teacher asked, “what did your parents say?”. She replied, “that I should do what I think is best.” He quickly extricated himself from this compromising situation, but here’s what he was thinking. If she had wanted to have sex, she would have done so. She would not have asked her parents, and she would not have asked him. She was looking for a responsible adult to tell her it was okay to say no. Instead, everyone was telling her they expected her to say yes, even though deep inside she didn’t want to.

When we give kids the “safe sex” message, we’re essentially saying, “we know you’re going to do it anyway, so use a condom”.

We give kids the impression that the pull for sex can’t be resisted, so everybody must be doing it.

Even adults I respect expect me to say yes! I’d have to be a freak to say no.

Yet it’s a myth that teenagers aren’t able to wait. Our grandparents’ generation largely waited until the wedding night. We may believe that older people never fought these hormonal urges, but I bet the senior citizens out there could tell us a different story.

Counselling teens to wait isn’t teaching them to be ashamed of sex; it’s teaching them to give it the honour and importance that it deserves.

It’s elevating making love, not maligning it. After all, little in life will have more long-term physical, emotional and spiritual consequences than what you do with your body. It may be uncomfortable to talk about such things with teens, but we need to try. We can’t control our children, but we can make it more likely that they’ll choose a certain path. Remember, that path is better. It is more fulfilling. And our kids deserve to have us point the way.

Best of Reality Check

Enjoy this column?

Every Friday I send out my weekly blog roundup--with my Friday opinion piece--and lots that happened on Facebook and Pinterest, too. Don't have time to read the blog everyday? Get the Roundup!

And when you sign up, you'll also receive my FREE ebook The Best of Reality Check, with my 20 favourite columns from my 12 years of writing.

Sign up here!

 

What’s the Real Divorce Rate?

I write the “Messy Faith” column for Faith Today, Canada’s Christian magazine, and here’s a recent one about the real divorce rate. You’ll be surprised (and pleased!)

Real Divorce Rate

My salt-of-the-earth family values friend was dating a friend of mine, but after four years was still hesitating to pop the question. “I’ve seen so many friends divorce,” he explained. “I don’t want to do that to us.”

Divorce, in his mind, was like a virus.

If you’re not careful, it will sneak up on you, and soon you’ll find yourself kicked out, broke, and crying into your coffee.

Our society treats divorce like it’s a contagion, and it’s not hard to see why. After all, the divorce rate is close to 50%, isn’t it? And the even sadder part: Christians divorce at the same rate as everyone else–and some say even higher.

As a marriage author and blogger, I hear these stats everyday, and they’ve always confused me. Do they even pass the smell test? In the late 80s and early 90s I was involved with the Queen’s University Christian Fellowship group. Of the dozens of friends I remember from those days, as far as I know, only three have divorced. The other marriages have so far made it, even twenty years later.

If divorce is really 50%, then we must have either been incredibly lucky or part of a bizarre subgroup with the ability to withstand Kryptonite.

But forget anecdotes–what about just plain logic? If, as Christians, we believe that God helps us forgive, God helps us through grief, and God helps us withstand temptation, then why do we not believe that God also would make a difference in marriage? Why are we so quick to accept these stats at face value?

Perhaps this “divorce virus” is much weaker than we think.

The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and DivorceThat’s what Shaunti Feldhahn found when she analyzed the studies for her new book, The Good News About Marriage. Back in 2006 she was trying to dig up the current divorce rate for an article. She asked her assistant to check on it, so her assistant delved into footnotes from other articles. She sought out the original sources. And nothing could justify the rate of 50%–in fact, there didn’t seem to be a credible source at all. And so the two of them started a six-year project to uncover the real divorce rate.

What they found was revolutionary.

The divorce rate for first marriages is actually around 30%–and likely closer to 28%. Christians have between a 30% and 50% lower divorce rate than the general population–which puts us at around 14%-20%. Since these are American figures, we Canucks can likely shave a few points off of even that. Of course, a 15% divorce rate in the church still represents a lot of heartbreak and many hurting families, but it also means that the vast majority of marriages are happy.

The Real Divorce Rate: Good news about marriage! It's not 50%

So where did that “50% of marriages end in divorce” stat come from? In the 1970s, when divorce rates were skyrocketing, researchers were asked to estimate the divorce rate. They said, “If divorce rates continue to rise as they are now, we would expect the divorce rate to be 50%”. But divorce rates didn’t rise; they fell. And so that stat–which was never actually a statistical snapshot, but only ever a projection–never came true.

What about the idea that Christians have just as high a divorce rate? That came from a study from the Barna group, where respondents were asked to identify their religion. George Barna himself has disavowed this common interpretation of his study, since if you really want to know the Christian divorce rate, you don’t just ask what religion people claim; you ask about key things, like if they read their Bible, if they pray, or if they attend church. Do that, and the divorce rate plummets.

Feldhahn’s book is filled with all the analysis that a stats geek will love even more than Star Trek reruns, but here’s what it means for the rest of us, and here’s why Shaunti wrote it: What if the biggest threat to marriage isn’t divorce, but discouragement? If we believe that 50% of marriages end in divorce, then marriage looks really risky. People will choose to cohabit rather than take the plunge. Or, once they are married, if problems crop up, they think, “this is why marriages end. We’re one of the couples who won’t make it.”

On the other hand, if people realize that most couples do make it, then more people will tie the knot. When troubles come, they can say to themselves, “most people have problems, but most people get over those problems, and we will, too.”

Those who are married live longer. As the Institute for Marriage and the Family pointed out in a recent study, they tend to be wealthier and have a much easier time getting out of poverty. Their kids do better in school, are less likely to take drugs or alcohol, and are more likely to delay sexual activity. And, of course, they’re happier.

There’s Good News About Marriage out there, and we need to listen and spread the word.

Most marriages make it. Over 90% of married people would marry the same person again. Marriage is still a wonderful thing. Pass it on.

The Good News About Marriage: The real divorce rate

Will you help to spread the good news about marriage? Pin the pictures in this post, or share it on Facebook! Just use the buttons below. Let’s not let anyone ls flee marriage or rush to divorce because they think marriages can’t last.

31 Days to Great Sex
31 Days to Great Sex is here (only $4.99!) It's the best $5 you'll ever spend on your marriage!

Learn to talk more, flirt more, and even explore more! You'll work on how to connect emotionally, spiritually, AND physically.

Find out more here.


Where Have All The Men Gone?

men opting out of collegeThis week many of our teenagers headed on to higher education. And as they entered those hallowed halls of learning, they may have noticed that one thing seemed to be in short supply: men.

Why are men opting out of college?

A friend of mine attended the University of Guelph for a semester before returning home to start a successful agricultural business. It wasn’t that he couldn’t handle the academics; it was that he hated the environment. He was a hunter, an outdoorsman, a man’s man. He didn’t fit in well with what he called the “politically correct” atmosphere, so he left.

He’s not alone.

A recent survey in the United States found that for every 100 males on university campuses there are now 135 females. In Canada the story is virtually the same, as females constitute 60% of the undergraduate population, and two thirds of medical students. Of course, women aren’t overrepresented in all areas. In maths and sciences men still rule, as they do in most graduate programs. But the trends are certainly tilting towards female dominance.

Perhaps one reason fewer men are at university is because they don’t need to be.

Many trades that attract mostly men—like plumbing, contracting, or electrical work—pay more than many degree-required jobs, and come with the added bonus of no student loans. Perhaps university just isn’t very attractive for many men when other options, which aren’t as readily available to women, do exist. After all, my friend has just sold his second business, becoming a very successful man while he’s barely in his thirties.

Our universities, though, have not woken up to the new demographic reality. Much of campus life is still geared to helping women. Most universities have women’s studies departments, women’s health units, women’s clubs, women’s awareness sessions, women’s support groups, and women’s hotlines. What they don’t seem to have is anything to help men. In fact, if men started a “men’s support group” that didn’t have to do with teaching men not to rape women, it would be the subject of student editorials for months. It’s just not done.

This seems to be a strange aberration in Canadian society. Usually, whenever groups are underrepresented, we try to reach out to them. We start scholarships, mentorships, or special programs. The only thing I can conclude from the lack of pro-male initiatives is that to the universities, it really doesn’t matter that men are missing.

In the long run, though, is male underrepresentation best for the country? And is it best for the universities? Will they prove themselves relevant if 50% of the population is no longer interested in pursuing their degrees?

And what about women? Even in our more rural communities, many of our girls still aspire to university education. Since most women choose as spouses those who have as much education as they do, what will their options be as this pool shrinks? Does going to university mean putting oneself in a romantic black hole?

We need to start treating this as a serious problem and asking why men are opting out.

A lot of it has to do with the way we are teaching—or failing to teach—our boys. But I think university culture is also a large part of it. I spent seven years at Queen’s, and I cringe to remember it now. It took me years after graduation to come back to the real world and realize that, despite what I was taught—and indeed, what I taught undergraduates during my last three years—all sex is not rape, marriage is not an oppressive institution, and children actually do need their parents. These are basic values that most Canadians, and especially those who live outside the big cities, share. But they are not the values that are found on our campuses.

I think it’s time for the university, and the education establishment, to get its head out of the sand and realize that it is not women who are on the losing end of the education game, but men who are instead opting out. When women were on the losing end, we demanded that we balance the scales. Will we give men the same courtesy?

This column first appeared September 1, 2006.

If you appreciate these Reality Check columns, be sure to check out Reality Check, the book!

What the Mark Driscoll Mess Tells Us About Marriage

On the Mark Driscoll Mess and what we learn about power in marriage and ministryI am angry today.

I am angry that lately so many high profile leaders in the Christian church have had to step down in disgrace. I’m angry that it is giving our world, which desperately needs Christ, a negative view of the church–and of God.

I know some of my readers attend Mars Hill churches around the nation, and I know you are likely hurting much more than me. I understand that many of you still stand completely behind Mark Driscoll, and that is fine. This post is not about bashing Mark, because I do not know him. But as I have looked at various scandals over the last few years, it seems as if they have several commonalities that we need to be aware of–and those commonalities affect how we see marriage.

To sum up for those of you who aren’t aware, Mark Driscoll is the young pastor of the megachurch Mars Hill in Seattle. His vision was to create the kind of church that the liberal, non-religious Seattle would flock to, and so he made a church with super-conservative doctrine have a super liberal culture, if that makes any sense. They talked about sex. They joked around a lot. Church was fun.

But in the process, Mark apparently isolated himself at the top and silenced all critics, and it’s that behaviour that has put him in hot water. Mark Driscoll himself admitted to this when he stepped down, so I do believe the criticism was warranted. I also believe that when Mark preached thousands were saved, and that’s why this all seems like such a waste. A work was being done; and somehow ego got in the way.

And it’s that ego that I want to address.

Servanthood, Not Power, is the Focus of Jesus’ Ministry

In all Christian scandals that I can recall, and in all cults, the common denominator is a charismatic leader at the top who has consolidated power and does not tolerate dissent.

That’s why, when I hear people focusing so much on who should have power in the marriage, I know that we have lost the point of what Jesus wanted for relationship.

The very last lesson He gave His disciples about how to exercise leadership was to wash their feet (John 13). Leadership must be exercised with humility and servanthood. Indeed, if you were to look through the New Testament, servanthood is likely the key relational model that Jesus left us with.

How anyone can look at the marriage passage in Ephesians 5:21-33 and think that the main message that Paul is giving is that “men should lead and women should obey” is beyond me. Ephesians 5:21-33 is about servanthood–how the wife should serve the husband, and how the husband should serve the wife. Indeed, the very first verse in that section sets the tone for the section:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Each spouse should be asking, “how can I best serve my spouse?” That should be our goal. When we focus so much on the fact that the husband has all the power to make decisions, and the wife must obey without question, we lose the beauty of what marriage was supposed to be.

A husband leads by setting the tone and by bearing ultimate responsibility for the family. But he does this while serving the family. It is never a question of power, and yet too often when we talk about marriage, we frame it as if God wants men to have power and women to be powerless. No, God wants each of us to serve. When you’re both serving and you’re both loving, all of these other debates seem not to matter (which is what I’ve found in my marriage). We just try to love each other, and isn’t that better?

(To show what I mean about serving one’s husband, we had a bit of a to-do on the blog last week over these posts about prioritizing sex. It’s such a simple thing–a way we can serve–and I think we need to do it more).

Power Without Accountability is Dangerous–Even in Marriage

The leaders who have fallen in the last few years have primarily been leaders of super-conservative movements–the very ones that preach that men should have full power in their families, and that pastors should have full power in their churches. And yet we have seen, time and again, that this simply doesn’t work.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The governments that don’t work in the world are ones in which absolute power is congregated at the top, and people have no recourse.

When I hear women teach other women that they must not question their husbands, no matter what their husbands do, because that is not God’s role for them, quite frankly I wonder if they understand human behaviour.  When people have free reign and no accountability, very little good comes of it.

Throughout Scripture we are given specific ways to deal with someone when we disagree–and those methods are relevant in marriage, too. But let’s just think about this logically. How does it glorify God if a man plays video games six hours a day, and he is able to say to his wife, “this is what I want to do and you have to obey me”? How does it glorify God if a man can hit his wife and then say, “you’re my wife and you must stay with me”? How does it glorify God if a man can work 12 hours a day, never talk to his family, text and flirt with women at work, and then tell his wife, “I am providing and you can’t question me”? It doesn’t glorify God. Not at all.

Now, I have heard some Christian writers say, “if he’s really sinning, you aren’t to follow him into sin, but otherwise you must obey him.” Yet Scripture is filled with people confronting others when they are starting to go off course. Paul stood up to Peter and told him he was wrong about refusing to eat with Gentiles. Peter didn’t say, “Well, I’m the one Jesus called The Rock, so get in line.” Peter took Paul’s admonition seriously and changed.

Moses’ father-in-law came to him and said, “what you are doing is not good” when Moses was overburdening himself. Moses didn’t say, “well, I’m the one whom God appointed to lead the people, so go away”. No, he listened to Jethro.

God has set us up in Christian community so that we should have accountability, and yet too often it’s treated as if marriage is the one place where none of this applies. You can confront a pastor, an elder, a friend, or a parent, but you can’t confront your spouse, and you can’t talk to others about a problem. He should have absolute power.

This is one reason why marriages fall apart or die on the inside! We can’t have real intimacy without authenticity, and you can’t have authenticity when there is major disrespect or problems between you. Let’s stop treating marriage like he has all the power, because I have never seen that work out well in any other sphere of human interaction.

Women Deserve Respect, Too

I was quite open-minded about the Mark Driscoll mess for a long time. I figured the man was bringing thousands into the church, and he was preaching on marriage (though I haven’t read his book), so he must be doing something right. Then I saw the comments he made about women on the discussion board several years ago, and I was absolutely appalled.

He called men who didn’t take power in their marriages a derogatory term for women I can’t even print here. In fact, he used so many derogatory terms for women I felt my skin crawl. Would Jesus ever have said anything like that?

Men need respect, and women need love. I completely agree with that, in general. But women deserve respect, too. And one of the precursors for people to behave badly is that they stop respecting those under their leadership. When pastors don’t respect women, it’s awfully easy to get involved in an affair or to sexually abuse others (Mark Driscoll has not been accused of any sexual sin, as far as I know). The Bill Gothard scandal that broke earlier this year showed this perfectly. Gothard built a ministry with a very specific and narrow vision of men’s ultimate authority and women’s ultimate subservience, and then proceeded to sexually harass dozens of young women who were interning with him.

Why were slaveowners able to treat their slaves so badly? Because they dehumanized them. They said they weren’t even real people; they were animals. Why was Hitler able to convince the Germans to kill the Jews (and the Gypsies, and the Poles)? Because he told Germans these races were inferior.

When we make a whole people group into something inferior, it becomes very easy to mistreat them.

Jesus gave respect and honor to all–to women, to children, to different races. We should, too. That protects others from being mistreated, and it protects our hearts from becoming so proud that we would mistreat others.

I do not believe that Mark Driscoll started out as a very angry, authoritarian man, or that Bill Gothard necessarily started out to abuse women. But when you are given absolute power, you start to believe that there is something special about you. And when that happens, it’s easy to start dismissing your own sins. Power changes you. And so, as a church, we must stop this urge to give people power, and we must come back to the biblical model of servanthood and respect.

If we all simply respected each other, held each other accountable, and concentrated on how to serve each other, fewer of these scandals would happen, and far more people would be discipled into healthy, whole relationships.