Our book The Great Sex Rescue shows what teachings prevalent in the evangelical church have harmed women’s marital and sexual satisfaction–and harmed men, too!
And I know that many of you have seen me and my team call out specific authors for harmful teachings we found in their books, and it’s uncomfortable. Maybe these authors wrote books that really helped you, maybe these authors were a part of a turning point in your life, or maybe you know them personally and you feel uncomfortable seeing a friend held accountable for what they have taught. Seeing these books called out may make you feel angry, attacked, or even anxious.
I get it. I really, really do. But I hope you can take a few minutes and read through this post to get a better understanding of why it’s so important that we talk about this stuff–even if it feels uncomfortable or unfair.
As I’m sure pretty much all of my regular readers know, last year we surveyed over 20,000 women, asking about their marital & sexual satisfaction, and then asking whether they had ben taught, and whether they believe or had believed, many different evangelical teachings about sex and marriage. By doing comparisons, we were able to measure which beliefs were the most toxic. (You can see our full methods here).
Once we did that, we took a look at our evangelical marriage & sex bestsellers to identify which ones contained these harmful teachings. And in our book, we do quote liberally from these bestsellers and show where a lot of this harm started–or at least which resources fanned the flames.
In doing so, we’ve often been accused of doing things the wrong way, and attacking these authors in an unChristian way.
Invariably, whenever I talk about this on social media or on this blog, someone will say, “but did you go to the authors first?” They say that we’re not supposed to be critiquing these authors in public, because it can cause division. Instead, we should have approached the authors individually and privately, abiding by Matthew 18:15-17.
I try to respond to those comments as they come in, but what I’d like to do today is write my definitive response, so that instead of having to write this out each and every time, I can point back here.
First, let’s look first at those verses:
Matthew 18:15-17 is about a personal dispute between two parties who know each other.
Jesus is talking about offences between two people where personal sin is involved.
Even if we tried to apply Matthew 18, I am not the injured party.
In the case of harmful marriage or sex teaching, I am not the person who has been hurt. I have no personal grievance with any of these authors; indeed, with the exception of one, I have had no personal contact. They have not personally hurt me.
The people who have been hurt (and it is plural, not singular) in this case is not me; it is the people who heard their teaching and tried to live it out, and were harmed in the process.
Many of these authors have already had people they injured come to them personally
Emerson Eggerichs in Love & Respect, Steve Arterburn (and the other authors) in Every Man’s Battle, and Shaunti Feldhahn in Through a Man’s Eyes all have admitted in their very books that they have had women and readers come to them, after hearing their messages, and saying that this message made their marriage worse. In Eggerichs’ case, a woman said it caused her husband to treat her much worse and demand respect for bad behaviour. In Arterburn’s case, they recount several women saying they would never have married if they had known that this was how men are. In Feldhahn’s case, she says “more than a few devastated husbands have told us that their wives stopped being intimate with them altogether once they learned the truth about how men are wired.”
We also had women in interviews telling us that they emailed various authors begging them to clarify their teachings (especially about the fact that all men lust) or telling Eggerichs that his advice made the abuse in their marriage worse. In no case did these authors apologize or change their teaching.
Thus, even if Matthew 18 applies here (which I don’t believe it does), people have already come to these authors personally, and often in groups.
That means that even if we are in Matthew 18, we have already moved on to verse 17.
In verse 17, Jesus says that if the person ignores you, and ignores 2-3 others, you bring the issue before the church. Thus, even if Matthew 18 applied, we would be correctly acting in verse 17–bringing in the whole church to deal with it.
There are New Testament passages that better apply to issues of public teaching
The Great Sex Rescue is not addressing personal offences. This is an issue of false teaching which has been done in public.
And the New Testament model is that when the teaching is done in public, it is corrected in public.
The harm has been done to the church as a whole, and thus it must be corrected as loudly as possible so that those who may have heard the false teaching will also hear it corrected.
Paul confronted Peter in public when he was hurting the gospel
When Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?”
Peter was setting an example in public, and Paul saw this and noticed that many were being led astray–including Barnabas.
Did he go to Peter quietly, in person? No. He “opposed him to his face” (he was quite adamant and belligerent in public) and went up to Peter “in front of them all.”
Matthew 18:15-17 is only one New Testament model of how to handle disputes, and it applies to interpersonal disputes, not false teaching. When it comes to false teaching, Galatians 2:11-14 is a more appropriate model.
When harm is done in public, it must be corrected in public.
After all, what would happen if we went to these authors in private, and they admitted that some of what they said was harmful? If that conversation took place in private, the people who had been harmed would not hear about it. It must be in public so those who have been harmed are also able to hear the correct message.
But don’t we still have an obligation to be nice?
We have an obligation to speak the truth in love. I like how one of my commenters answered this question:
But you’re hurting the authors!
Again, we must remember that the authors are not the victims here. Though they may feel beaten up on, and they may feel attacked, the real victims are the people who have been harmed. The Bible tells us that teachers will be judged more strictly. And Jesus’ heart is always for the sheep. When we put ourselves in a leadership position, then we open ourselves up to scrutiny and accountability. It’s easy to feel sympathy for an author you know and love, rather than faceless readers who say they are hurt. But Jesus’ concern is for the sheep, and He judges how well a shepherd does by how well they care for the sheep.
But all books do some harm, don’t they?
Actually, this is not empirically true, and it’s sad that we would expect so little from books. On our survey, we had an open-ended question where we asked people if there were any resources, ministries, or organizations that they felt had helped their marriages, and any that they felt had harmed. We did not name any throughout our survey, and we had no drop down menu.
Our survey found that many books did NOT harm. Boundaries in Marriage, for instance, scored very well on our rubric of healthy sexuality (42/48), and it was never mentioned once in the survey as a book that harmed. The Gift of Sex scored amazingly well on our rubric (47/48), and it also was never mentioned once as a book that harmed. Both books present emotionally healthy information.
On the other hand, there were many books that some people said harmed, but some people said helped. Not surprisingly, these books tended to be the ones that scored very poorly on our rubric. Love & Respect, for instance, scored 0/48 on our rubric, and was also the most commonly named harmful book. For every 2 people who said it helped them, 3 said it harmed them.
Jesus leaves the 99 to go after the 1. If a book harms, that matters to Jesus.
But these authors did so much good–you can’t discount a whole ministry just because some people were hurt!
We talked about this at length in our Thalidomide podcast, but let me summarize.
The vast majority of marriage books teach something quite basic: work on communication; remember that you both may see the world differently; try to think of the other person first and try to let things go and be as loving and giving as possible. In general, that’s pretty good advice.
Then what authors do is add their own unique take on marriage on top of this general, generic, good advice.
Now, ask a fundamental question: what makes someone read a marriage book, attend a marriage event, or go to a marriage book study? Likely they want to make their marriage better, right? They’re prepared to dedicate time and brain power to think about how to make marriage better, so they are exactly in the right frame of mind to help change their marriage for the better. So you have someone who already wants to work on their marriage. If that person reads a book–almost any book on making marriage better–chances are their marriage will get better, because they already want to work on their marriage, and the generic advice is good.
Some marriage books, though, contain things other than just “think of the other person first.” Some marriage books also contain teachings that we know can cause harm because they work directly against what we know is emotionally healthy. For instance, if a marriage book does any of the following, we know it’s going to cause harm to some:
- Presents gender stereotypes as if they are written in stone, and asks people to behave in very gendered ways
- Treats one person’s opinions or feelings as more valid than the other person’s
- Tells one person that the things they may consider to be fundamental needs are not as important as the other person’s needs; or tells someone to suppress their needs in order to keep someone else from doing something bad
- Tells one person that they should not speak up about what they are really thinking or feeling, or tells that person that they should not confront bad behaviour
- Tells people that setting boundaries is unChristian, or not permitted because of their gender
- Gives people an easy way to blame a spouse for their own continued bad behaviour (ie. she’s not respecting me enough; she’s not having sex enough so I’m watching porn again).
Unfortunately, many of the evangelical books that we measured contained teachings like these that do cause harm. They don’t cause harm to everyone who reads them, because most people are in healthy relationships and they wouldn’t dream of hurting their partner. But not everyone is in a healthy relationship.
If people are helped by your book because of the generic advice that you spread (consider the other, etc.), but harmed because of the specific advice that you gave that differentiated your books from others, then your book is not a helpful one.
People could have read any other book and still gotten the generic advice that was helpful. If the unique information that distinguishes your book from the rest does harm and is not emotionally healthy, then your book is not emotionally healthy, even if many people say it helped them.
For example, anybody who read Every Man’s Battle was already prepared to do battle with lust. If their lust battle improved after reading the book, is it because the book in particular helped them, or is it because the fact that they dedicated time to thinking about fighting lust and taking it seriously was what it took to put them on a new trajectory?
But you’re just trying to get famous by hurting others!
I’ve spoken about my attitude towards cancel culture here. But I’ve been accused of stirring up strife and trying to get women to see themselves as victims in order to sell books for myself and claim everyone else’s platform.
You can think that if you want–but I’ll let this commenter come to my defence:
Church: Can we please let the sheep matter more than the reputation of authors?
Can we put the emphasis back where it belongs?
I am simply asking to have a debate. I am asking people to listen to 20,000 women, and to re-evaluate and to talk about the issues. I’m more than willing to admit when I am wrong, too.
This should not be about me, and it should not be about these authors. It should be about the readers, and it should be about Jesus. And we will know that our emphasis is in the right place when we are more concerned with the effects on the people who read our books than we are with the platforms and paychecks of the authors who wrote them.
Other Posts that Look at this from Different Perspectives:
- Why it’s not okay for Christian marriage books to be a little bit harmful
- On False Teachers, Calling People to Account, and Compassion
- Why 20,000 Women Matter
- An Open Letter to Evangelical Influencers
- Why I’m Not Trying to Cancel Anybody (But I am trying to cancel harmful teaching)
- The Thalidomide Test Podcast Episode
- My statement in response to Shaunti Feldhahn (her statement is linked within mine so you can see them both)
- My Open Letter to Focus on the Family about Love & Respect
The Great Sex Rescue
Changing the conversation about sex & marriage in the evangelical church.
What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?
What if the things that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these messages?
Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.
What do you think? Have you heard these arguments about how we should have gone to the authors first? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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