I’d like to talk to you today about how I’m feeling, and a bit about what’s going on behind the scenes.
So grab a coffee and get comfy, because this is going to be a long one!
To begin, let me tell you a story.
Imagine you have a crazy Uncle Joe. Uncle Joe is a pastor, and everybody knows it. He is very opinionated and very loud, and quite the bully. He makes offensive jokes constantly, and likes to roll his eyes at his neighbors and generally judge the heck out of them.
Uncle Joe has a timid wife whom he has beaten down and two teenage kids. One is sullen and angry at his parents and wants nothing to do with the church and is counting the days until he can leave home. One is beaten down and depressed and seems to have little drive, and gets picked on by his dad all the time.
Every July 4, you have to go to a barbecue with your extended family at Uncle Joe’s house. The barbecue takes place in his small backyard in a subdivision, and all of Uncle Joe’s neighbors are out in their backyards doing similar things. All the neighbors know three things about Uncle Joe:
- He’s a pastor who says he loves Jesus;
- he’s a bully and super offensive;
- and his family looks scared.
At the barbecue, Uncle Joe starts railing against some group that he thinks is responsible for all the evil in the world. You can see, over the fenceline, that the neighbors can hear. His wife looks awkward. His kids look away.
You know if you speak up, you will become the target for Uncle Joe’s anger, and he will erupt into a big fight that all the neighbours will see.
So here’s the question: what do you think will give the neighbors a better, more accurate view of God? If you say nothing and listen to the tirade and go home and don’t cause a scene, or if you cause a scene and tell Uncle Joe that what he is saying does not sound like Christ? What do you think will help the wife and teenage kids see that they don’t have to put up with his bullying? If you say something, or if you try to keep the peace?
Sometimes people need to be challenged–not so that you change that person’s mind (because that person’s mind is unlikely to be changed), but so that those around you will see that this person does not speak for Jesus. And so that those around you will also feel emboldened to speak up.
Okay, that was story 1. Now for some stats.
Among Millennials, the “Dones” now outnumber those sitting in the pews
I think this is likely true for Generation Z as well, I’m just not sure how old the youngest Generation Z people are yet. But those who have left the church among millennials is a higher number than those who are going.
I saw a meme last week that said something like this:
We often think those leaving the church are doing so because they’re leaving Jesus. To the contrary. Many are leaving the church because it’s the only way to hold on to Him.
This is what we were talking about in our feeling spiritually homeless podcast last December. So many churches have become spiritually dangerous places because of their attitudes towards women, towards power, towards different racial groups, towards those who may think a little differently than they do. So many churches are about control rather than love.
This week on the podcast we’ll be talking with Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer, authors of A Church Called Tov, about how to create churches with goodness cultures. But many churches don’t have that. And so people are leaving not because they’re giving up on Jesus but because sitting in the pews, and seeing people misuse the name of Jesus, hurts their spiritual life more than leaving does.
I’m not saying that’s true of all churches; that’s why I’ve been endlessly encouraging people who feel lost to look outside their denomination; look for a smaller community church; try something different if you can. But some people are so burnt out they genuinely need a break.
You may not see this phenomenon going on. You may be in a great church, and think everyone’s missing the point. You may assume that the younger generation just doesn’t love God.
But stats show that’s not true. The younger generations do love God. They just want a church that is about justice and love, not just about being right–with “right” defined very narrowly. They can’t take all the scandals and the bullying and what they see as hypocrisy.
Really, they are that sullen teenager leaving Uncle Joe.
Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost.
Jesus said that it is not the healthy that need a physician, but the sick. Jesus is concerned with those who are lost.
And that means that these people need to matter to us.
And the people who have never been part of the fold need to matter to us as well.
Jesus left the 99 to go after the 1. People matter to Jesus; people who feel marginalized, left out, excluded. They matter to Him.
Okay, we’ve had Story #1 and Stats #1. Now let’s have Exhibit #1.
There is no universe in which it is acceptable for a pastor to post this on social media
This is misogynistic. It just is. And for a pastor to have his social media filled with memes like this is just plain unChristlike.
Jesus would not talk about Mary Magdalene like this. Paul called women his fellow co-workers in Christ. He did not demean them and say that they were untrainable.
And someone who makes their living primarily as a marriage speaker, and who speaks at large marriage events throughout the United States, should not be filling their social media with memes that demean women.
Even if you think this is overreacting, think of Uncle Joe’s neighbors.
They are watching. And as these memes get published on Uncle Joe’s Facebook Page, it solidifies everything they think they already know about Christians. It makes Uncle Joe’s kids even more likely to leave the church when they get older.
Even if you don’t think it is a big deal, if Jesus’ concern is for the lost, then what should our attitude be?
Okay, now we have Story #1, Stats #1, and Exhibit #1. Now for Story #2.
Last week a famous marriage pastor said he was sad I was real and that I was disgusting.
He also said I was arrogant; crazy; that he had no respect for me as a person. He laughed when people called me a pig and narcissistic, and he laughed at a joke that called me sexually unfulfilled, saying no one would touch me with a ten foot pole.
What was my crime? When he put up a post about how sexless marriages should be grounds for divorce, I made a comment saying that we needed a more nuanced conversation, because our survey of 20,000 women showed that sexless marriages don’t happen out of the blue, for no reason. And talking about the problem of sexlessness without also addressing the 47 point orgasm gap between men and women is missing a large part of the story.
The conversation moved to Twitter where he got very insulting. I don’t want to tell the whole story here; I may in a podcast one day, although I’d rather focus on what I think is problematic about not seeing sexlessness in a nuanced way. But if you want to see the saga, I wrote a Twitter thread about it here; you can click through and read. (click the little blue bird and then hit “show this thread” at the bottom of the last tweet).
Some say that I shouldn’t be so argumentative, and that they liked me better before I started speaking up about these issues.
This blog was nicer when I just gave advice.
And I get it. That was seriously much more emotionally healthy for me, too!
But it also ignored what was happening on the ground.
Over the last few months I have gained so many new followers. My podcast listeners have doubled since September. My Instagram has doubled. My social media reach and newsletter reach is now about 200,000 people. And quite a few are here because they finally feel heard. They finally feel like they can see Jesus again!
Most of my followers now are here because they desperately want to see this bad teaching taken down and to see a more life-giving picture of what it is to follow Jesus.
But then there are those who have been following me for longer who think that I’m giving the church a bad name because I’m speaking up.
We would do better not to air our disagreements in public. We would do better to keep everything quiet so we don’t fight before unbelievers. When you engage in these fights publicly, you hurt the body.
I understand the sentiment, but I don’t agree. I think Uncle Joe’s neighbors need to hear people pushing back against Uncle Joe, and telling him his views do not represent Jesus. If we take it all inside where they don’t see, how does that help them change their view of who Jesus is?
Let’s keep our eyes on the prize–on who really needs to be protected; on who Jesus is pursuing.
Please remember who the victim is when bad teaching is confronted.
In everything with Mark Gungor last week, I was not the victim. Yes, I was called names and he said he wished I didn’t exist. But I wasn’t standing up for myself. I spoke on that post because several women sent it to me and were disturbed by it and asked me to (that’s how I see everyone else’s social media stuff; I don’t follow them. My followers send me the disturbing stuff hoping I’ll say something).
I was speaking up for those who were being hurt by that post, because they are the real victims.
And then, once things got ugly, I was speaking up because it must not be acceptable for evangelical pastors to be insulting and misogynistic like that. It simply must not. I care about millennials. I care about people leaving the church. And this stuff poisons the church. If we want to have any witness at all, we simply have to root it out. And that means that sometimes we must get loud–and that means that I make myself a target.
But just as I am not the victim, they are not the victim, either, when I push back.
Mark Gungor shared a statement that Shaunti Feldhahn wrote after The Great Sex Rescue was published, because our book showed how her book, For Women Only, contained some problematic teachings. In her statement, she portrays herself as the victim of my actions. I wrote a statement in response a month ago, but I never shared it publicly because I didn’t want to inflame the situation, and Shaunti’s going through a difficult health time. But now that he has shared hers to the world, and hers is circulating, I must defend The Great Sex Rescue.
See our Statement about The Great Sex Recue
Shaunti Feldhahn’s statement is linked within mine so you can read it and judge for yourself. Please note that in her statement, she makes many accusations about me, but never links to mine. In my statement, I have tried to provide full context and quote her completely, to be fair.
Over the last week, the support I have received from my readers has been humbling.
I have had hundreds upon hundreds of you try to leave comments on Mark Gungor’s page defending me, and he has deleted and blocked almost every one of you, no matter how kind your comments were. I have received hundreds of messages of support. Thank you. I’m still working through replying to all of the messages on Instagram! (I’m sorry if I haven’t gotten to yours yet; I tried to take yesterday off).
But I have also received about 6 messages like this:
I have been a follower of your blog for several years. I have learned so many wonderful things in that time. Unfortunately, lately I almost cringe when I see the posts. The underlying tone has turned bitter and the posts have changed their purpose. I whole heartedly believe you see sex and marriage in the true biblical sense. Unfortunately, for a long time follower, the blog has taken a new turn that I don’t like. I don’t feel like the blog is doing what your original purpose was. It has become a defensive battle ground. I pray that the blog gets back to encouraging, educating, and lifting people up like many of these posts.
And I guess that is the point of why I’m writing this post.
I know that it was nicer when my blog was only about advice.
It was nicer for me, too. Right now big name authors are debating suing us, and we are dealing with that, because we dared to ask 20,000 women about what teachings hurt their sex lives.
But again, I am not the victim. The people being hurt by the teachings are the victims. The people leaving the church over teachings like these are the victims. And we have to stand up if our priorities are going to be in the right place.
When we wrote that post two weeks ago about Emerson Eggerichs’ sermons gaslighting abuse victims, we weren’t planning on it. We only did that when he started sending copyright notices against us. We had other posts planned.
I didn’t plan on my week being taken up by Mark Gungor last week; that only happened because rather than dialogue with me, he started insulting people and banning people, and then I noticed how misogynistic his social media feed was.
I had other plans for this week (and still do), and we’ll be moving on to weird stuff about sex in medieval times and Victorian times tomorrow and Wednesday!
But when I speak up, I do so because I need these authors who keep threatening to sue me to know that they can’t bully me. I have an army of people who just want healthy stuff out there, and we will be loud, and we will persevere, because the sheep matter.
The well-being of the sheep matter more than the reputations of those who have led them.
The well-being of the sheep matter more than the platforms of those who have led them.
Finally, one more thing, that I shared on Facebook last night:
I do not want to cancel other authors.
Do I want to cancel authors who don’t agree with me? Do I want to steal their platforms?
NO! Not at all.
What I’ve been praying for is that those who will point people to Jesus-centred, healthy marriages and sex lives will see their platforms enlarge, and those who are pointing people away from health and away from Jesus will see their platforms shrink.
In my ideal world, those who currently have big platforms but teach things that we now know are harmful would simply repent and start teaching that which is healthy! Imagine how powerful that would be! To have someone admit they’re wrong and teach what’s right, who has access to so many people already who likely believe harmful things? That would be incredible!
As for me, I will continue to do what I feel God has called me to do, which is spread healthy teaching about marriage and sexuality, and point people to Jesus.
But if, one day, others are doing it better and have bigger platforms, I will gladly (GLADLY) step away. I have a whole basement full of yarn and so many patterns I want to knit. I have a grandson (and will likely have more grandkids over the next few years). Keith and I would LOVE to do some work in Africa. We’d love to do more birdwatching.
So I am not out to cancel ANYONE. I am simply out to cancel harmful teaching. And if any authors who we have found teach harmful things change their minds? I will be the FIRST to praise them to the skies!
Sometimes, for the sake of Jesus, we need to get uncomfortable.
I would love–LOVE–if I could just write this blog the way I want to, and work on more courses, and just give great advice.
But when others are hurting the church, we need to speak up. For the sake of Uncle Joe’s neighbors. For the sake of Uncle Joe’s kids. For the sake of Uncle Joe’s wife.
And hopefully one day, so many others will take on this task, so that I can go and knit in peace!
UPDATE: And because we spoke up on social media, a sexual assault survivor who left the church 6 years ago because she says Mark Gungor mishandled her sexual abuse disclosure felt free to go public. And Christians surrounded her with validation and comfort. For the first time in a long time, Christians have reached out to her with something other than judgment. She matters.
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.
I’m hesitant to ask for your thoughts, because I’m a little emotionally worn down right now and I have to do some major writing today! But, as always, I welcome your comments and feedback!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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