A Radical New Way of Christian Marriage Counseling
Maybe we have had our heads screwed on exactly backwards on this!
You’ve heard that statement or used it yourself before I bet when you came to some new realization that your thinking on a subject was 180 degrees out of whack, right? Well, I am suggesting here, no, I am saying very confidently here that the conservative evangelical church has largely had its head screwed on backwards when it comes to marriage counseling, pre-marriage counseling, and related issues. As a result, just like when you go to fire a rifle but you’ve got the barrel pointed at YOU instead of the target, much of the “Christian” counseling that has been done has been destructive and has actually promoted marriage failure. Story after documented story told to us by abuse victims proves this and that doesn’t even include the myriad numbers of Christian marriages out there that do not involve an abuser-type spouse but are patterned after the joy-killing, personhood-dissolving teachings that have been laid on us for decades now.
What have Christian organizations been teaching about marriage?
What has been standard teaching about marriage? What has the conservative church and Christian ministries, organizations, and so on have been telling people who are engaged to be married, to husbands and wives, to… well, really to everyone in the church? What have we been telling people who come to us for marriage counseling? What kind of an atmosphere and culture has all of this produced in local churches? I will answer those questions.
1. As conservative Bible-believing Christians, we have been teaching people that the husband is “in charge” and the wife’s job is to “submit.” And by “submit,” we mean something that the Bible does not, namely, “do what he says.” This has been the real emphasis. Oh sure, there is the caveat (it has to be said because Scripture says it) that the husband must love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. But then we get back to this business of the wife needing to do what her husband says, and if she does then all will be well. The husband is told the same thing about how he needs to run the show.
2. The result of this has been the creation of an atmosphere in the home and in the church that assumes that women are inferior to men. “Oh, no, no, no!” I can hear these people say, “You are wrong. We strongly emphasize that men and women are equal before God.” But the fact is, that is not what the result of all this has been. Women are in general seen to be inferior in their very makeup and personhood to men. Those who deny this need to look not at their words about these issues, but to take a long hard look into their minds, examine their real attitudes, and take a look at their actual deeds in these matters.
And one grievous result of this is the widespread prevalence of his plague in the church called abuse. Let me propose a theory that is based on this fact:
The divorce rate among conservative Christians is higher than we would desire or expect. Or perhaps we could put it this way — the joy and fulfilment that Christian marriage is supposed to provide is (if we will be honest and admit it) eluding many, many Christian marriages. Oh yes, happy faces are put on, but behind closed doors, what do we find?
I propose that the standard company line in the conservative church that is taught about marriage, divorce, husbands and wives, is in fact what is fueling this bondage that characterizes so many marriages. And abusers? Well, of course they are going to take this kind of teaching and counseling and run with it to the land of entitlement and justification.
If there were not so many constraints on victims of abuse that prevent them from leaving, I maintain that the divorce rate among Christians would be even higher than it is.
What then is the remedy?
The remedy is to send to the garbage the widely embraced company line about marriage that we have been taught and which we have been teaching, and do a complete reboot. Teach the truth that,
1. God does sanction divorce for abuse, and that includes psychological and emotional abuse (coercive control).
2. The husband is not superior to the wife and in fact the emphasis of Scripture is that he is to nourish, love, protect, and care for his wife (that is what a “head” does).
3. Women are equal in Christ before God and are called to submit to their husband’s love.
4. Any notion that makes things like authority, obedience to authority and so forth the EMPHASIS of what the Bible supposedly teaches about marriage must be jettisoned entirely.
And as I have written elsewhere recently, take those unhelpful, even foolish labels of “complementarian” and “egalitarian” and throw them in the trash as well.
Q. “Jeff, what then do you believe about marriage and husbands and wives?”
A. “I believe Ephesians five.”
Q. “No, I am asking you if you are a complementarian or an egalitarian!”
A. “I am an Ephesians five-arian. Take your labels and go now.”
The church and “Christian” counseling ministries have been, I say again, harming marriage, promoting joylessness in marriage, fueling the evil desires of wicked men (and sometimes wicked women) who lust for power and control, and generally promoting the very divorce they claim they are out to prevent.
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