Loving and Respecting My Church

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Open space in the church – where there is room for each other. photo via @darlingmagazine

Our church is a Love & Respect church. I love our church and I really do believe that the book, video series, workbooks, follow-up studies, and retreats have truly helped many families in our church. And I’m really glad that they were able to find a safe place to talk about some conflicts in their marriage and work on ways to resolve them. Satan hates happy marriages, and a place where the church can support them is a very positive thing.

However, I have struggled for years with this book and some of it’s dedicated following. A whole book based on a single verse in the New Testament? A wide-reaching, money-making campaign with THE SECRET to a long and happy marriage, based on two words and a 7,000-person survey – what could be wrong with that?

The website for Love and Respect proudly states that the founders realized the key to marital bliss when they asked 7,000 people at their marriage seminars one question, and then they found the universal truth! 7,000 people?! That’s like asking 8 people in New York City where the best pizza is, and if 6 of them agree, you’ve found the unquestionable answer. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Also take a look around their website and you’ll notice something: a lack of diversity. I wonder why a book written by two white, 50-something, middle-class American’s doesn’t translate to all other cultures if it’s supposed to the universal truth? (Who, by the way, had revenue to the tune of $1.8 million in 2010 for their “secret”.) That seems to be a problem.

I haven’t read it. I have had at least a dozen people tell me to do so. I have read their blog and their daughter’s blog. I have watched their videos and interviews. I have read the testimonials and the critics. I probably know about as much as I can about this book without actually opening the front cover. And I don’t want to.

Why? Because I’ve been hurt by sexism in the church before, and every time it rears its ugly head these days it brings back painful memories. I’ve been treated with disrespect by pastors, Christian camp counselors, authoritative voices in the church and online, and I’ve even been hurt by people very close to me, whom I love. It’s the book, it’s the idea, and it complementarianism in general.

It sucks when someone tells me my husband has to make more money and have a more impressive job than I do to feel good about himself. No he doesn’t; please don’t treat my husband like a bank account. He’s really not.

It find it downright disrespectful when someone tells me I, as a women, tend to act with my heart, and not my head. It is a basic principal in negotiations that you cannot let your emotions rule. If I’m not good at that, then I can’t negotiate. If I can’t negotiate, then the last four years of my life leading up to and studying in law school have been a waste and I need a new career.

I really don’t like it when Dr. Eggerichs uses an analogy that women see, hear, and say everything through a pink filter, and men through a blue filter. No, actually. I see, hear, and say everything through a Deborah filter, and Massimo through a Massimo filter. Get to know me and I’ll get to know you. Then we can understand each other.

I cannot understand it when the founders assume that men do not listen and they only want to fix things. Actually, my husband happens to be a top-notch listener, but we both tend to want to fix things for the other person. That’s what happens when you love someone: you want to make their world better.

I’m insulted when people make jokes about men being the head, but the woman “can move the head any way she wants.” Apparently the only way I have a voice in my relationship is through manipulation and guilt? That’s just being plain rude to me and my husband.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. Basically, every premise that this Marriage-Saving conglomerate puts forth hits us like slaps in the face, telling me once again that I am in the wrong career, so is my husband, and we are nothing more than our defined sexes.

And I’m not the only one. I was so relieved to see that Elizabeth Esther also did not find the book’s old-school misogynistic tone very female-friendly. The thing is that it’s not just insulting to women, it’s also rude to men. They are supposedly the “stronger” sex, but at the same time, they act like a crazy child when their gender trump-card is declined.

My stomach churns when someone brings it up. I know they mean well – it helped them, so they want to pass it on. But it hurts. And it makes me angry.

Anger. That’s not the way I should feel on a Sunday morning. But Satan knows my weaknesses and he grabs a hold of those moments. My mind starts spinning, going faster than I can even form words. I start writing, furiously. Massimo and I vent to each other in the car. “Why? Why is this message still out there? And why do I fall victim to these scars every time this book is brought up?”

The thing is that I know in my head that this is what some people believe, and how they’ve modeled their marriages. Personally, Massimo and I prefer more of a co-leadership model. We respect each other’s hearts and minds, and use them together to make decisions as a team. We don’t worry so much about who’s in charge and who has the last word. In fact, if those thoughts do present themselves in our relationship, it is a sign of a conflict that needs to be sorted out.

But that’s what works for us. And it may not work for you, or your friends, or your kids. I don’t know! But I do know that my past is having a bad influence on my present, and it’s causing internal and sometimes external conflict. And for I while I’ve been stuck: what can I do about it? I’ve been praying and praying for relief from this battle.

And finally, I read this: “Fighting Words.” It’s about the battle between complementarians and egalitarians, and how we are too often either defending our stand or attacking the other. It’s about how we need to lay our weapons down, especially if we truly believe in equality. Since both views are biblically-based, we don’t need to fight about it. If we truly believe in equality, then that should also hold true in our respect for interpretations of scripture contrary to our own.

The message came through even more when I read this, about what feminists and complementarians have in common. It’s not a war, not even a battle. There is grace and there is love and I can stop worrying about defending my views or my decisions. That doesn’t mean we have to stop the conversation, but it does mean that I can show respect for the other side. And that truly, at the end of it all, we’re on the same side: that of defending Christ-centered marriages.

I will continue to have to work on healing the scars from sexist Christians in the past, and I will defend my husband from the same kind of mistreatment. But that is a battle that God and I can work through together. And in the mean time, I can be loving towards couples who find helpful advice in Love & Respect, I can have respect for the leaders who advocate for it’s message, and I don’t want the church to stop talking about marriage. After all, we ought to be submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (see Ephesians 5:21).

-debarbibee

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