Science often makes leaps and bounds by disproving previous assumptions and hypotheses.
Galileo turned the world upside down (literally) by positing that the world wasn’t flat; that it was round and revolved around the sun.
For centuries Newton’s theories were the backbone of physics until Einstein came along with his theory of relativity, allowing scientific discoveries to accelerate.
In academia, someone makes a hypothesis, and then everyone else tests that hypothesis, looking to either prove it or disprove it. It’s not personal; it’s the quest for knowledge.
Sure, in academic circles different professors can have petty jealousies and academic politics can take over in terms of who gets funding, etc. But on the whole, it’s understood that this is not personal. This is about knowledge. If two academics disagree about what theory best explains how the economy recovered after The Great Depression, they can hash it out and then go for a drink afterwards.
And if someone did prove it definitively, then we all could move on to the next question, knowing that we had greater knowledge.
I wish the evangelical world could operate like academia.
When someone says, “Hey, that interpretation has had these negative effects,” I wish people could say, “Oh, that’s interesting, let me look more closely at it,” instead of, “Why are you so hateful?”
Let me take a step back and fill in the picture a little bit more.
First, Context A: Keith and I are in our RV this week camping near where Katie, our youngest, lives. Rebecca and Connor and the kids are on their way up to visit for a few days too, and we’re going to go to the beach and just relax a bit. Because we’re away, I’ve had more time to process and reflect.
I’ve been dealing with so many extra hard and heartbreaking emails over the last few weeks, more than normal, for two main reasons: Our Bare Marriage podcasts with Alyssa Wakefield opened the door for so many used and abused in Gothard circles to share their stories, and so many are unbelievably heartbreaking.
I also opened the floodgates last week by talking about the sexual effects of spanking on children. So many have been struggling with unwanted sexual fantasies and compulsive masturbation that they can trace back to being spanked as a child–even “spanked in love.” So many said they never understood until my articles were up, and many are so grateful for now finding therapists to talk to about it.
The emails and DMs I get are really, really heavy–but I appreciate so much the trust that you all have shown me.
In the middle of all this, I’ve also seen on some authors’ online platforms, and from some comments behind the scenes, that many are really, really angry and think that our whole community is hateful and just out to ruin their lives. Honestly, I am actually worried about a few of them, because they don’t sound emotionally well right now.
Okay, now Context B: It was five years ago almost exactly that I started naming names for the first time on this blog–though even then I did it in a backhanded way. I wrote my series on the problem with the “every man’s battle” philosophy that all men struggle with lust.
When that series first ran, I was contacted by one of the authors that we’ve been critiquing lately (though I didn’t then), because he was concerned that I was making men feel guilty for lust. He thought I should take it down, and I was going too far (interestingly, he’s had the same critiques of me lately, and he’s doubled down in his own writing). That threw me through a loop. I really struggled and couldn’t sleep that week because this very well-known author felt I was doing something wrong. But I knew that what I was saying was true. Jesus saves. To say that men have a sin struggle they can never get rid of, and that men aren’t capable of looking at women as whole people, is theologically wrong.
Men may have more of a struggle, but it is not inevitable, and it’s okay for wives to expect that men will stay mentally faithful. And women are not responsible for stopping lust by having more sex and dressing more modestly. The Bible lays the blame for lust at the feet of the person who lusts.
It’s just wild to me that I spent nine years on this blog without really calling anyone out, and then when I did, that’s when authors started getting concerned about me. And today, it does look like some are having an emotionally difficult time at what I’ve been saying.
What would happen if Christians were more like academics?
In academia, we know that it’s not about personal reputation; it’s about the pursuit of knowledge.
Well, in Christianity, we should know that the focus shouldn’t be on the author’s reputation or platform, but instead on the well-being of the sheep.
We need to keep the main thing the main thing, or else it all becomes about protecting platforms. And Jesus was never about that.
The good thing about that is if your focus is on the well-being of the sheep, then if you find out that you’ve been teaching something wrong, it’s honestly not a big deal to apologize. Your ego has not been tied up in your platform, but instead your focus has been on making sure that people are safe and hear truth.
When someone discovers that a way that you’ve been seeing something is off, then, you rejoice, because your goal is actually to help people, not to build your own platform.
And you realize that someone else critiquing what you wrote, if it was harmful, was not them being hateful. It was them having integrity and caring for the sheep.
What I want to say when I retire
One day, I’m going to stop doing what I’m doing, and retire. On the last post I ever write, on the last podcast I ever do, I hope I say something like this:
Thank you for giving me your ears. I hope what I have said over the years has helped you in your relationships with others and with how you see and know God.
I hope and pray that I’ve gotten more right than wrong. Where I was right, I hope that others build on that and keep showing an even clearer picture of Jesus. Where I was wrong, I hope that this will inspire others to write more in that area, so that we can grow healthier.
I am a product of my time and my generation, and I know I have blindspots. I pray that history may have grace with me. Know that my heart was always to help, and also know that if, in the future, it’s found that some of what I said didn’t ring true, I’ll be the first to celebrate that it’s been discarded in favour of something more Jesus-centred.
We’re all learning. Thanks for walking this journey with me. I pray that so many others will rise up to continue this work, and make it even better. And know that I’ll be watching, cheering you on.
And no, I am not retiring any time soon! But I hope, when I do, that that is what I will say.
I don’t think that’s hard to say. That’s my heart cry right now.
For some reason, others are calling me hateful because of that (I can’t link to it because they didn’t publicly say it was me they were referring to, but I know enough of our interactions to think that it definitely is).
But I am genuinely concerned. I think because of my work some authors are feeling as if they’re losing everything.
Please hear me on this:
If you simply displayed the attitude we’re talking about, where you rejoice in learning more about the fruit of different teachings, people would not think badly of you. People would respect you. You could continue to build on what you’ve written so far, just take it in a new direction. You would gain so much. You would gain your integrity. You would gain new followers. You would gain the trust of so many readers, because they see where your treasure is. They see it’s not in your platform, but in truth.
Einstein could not have gotten where he was without Newton. Newton may have been wrong about some things, but he advanced science, and gave Einstein directions for his own research.
Sometimes when we’re wrong, we actually make things advance faster. And just because you were wrong in the past doesn’t mean you have to be wrong in the future.
This is what academics understand. As Christians, focusing on Jesus, who is The Truth, can we not do this as well?
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It’s raining gently on the roof of our RV right now. It’s a lovely sound.
And I want you all to know, I’m at peace.
If one of the authors I’ve been critiquing said something like that, what would you think of them? Many pay attention to this space, so here’s your chance to tell them! Leave a comment.
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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