#Comptradictions is my blog series with Ezer Rising, where we examine the promises of complementarian theology, and then examine the fruit that it actually produces.
One of the hardest, most humbling lessons for me to learn, is that Christian authors are not in authority over me.
A book that I see in Lifeway, or advertised at Biblegateway.com, or in the pages of Christianity Today, is not authoritative.
It’s not scripture.
It’s not stamped with the approval of the Holy Spirit, even if it made the New York Times Bestseller list.
If I choose to follow the advice of a Christian marriage book, my family experiences the consequences of that choice.
Not the author.
For example, Gary Thomas is a writer that I once lauded and followed, until I saw his teachings used to keep an abused woman in submission to her husband.
Last December, Thomas wrote a blog post called “Enough is Enough,” encouraging women to leave domestic violence. It was a good article, a truthful article, and I was yelling, “Yes! Yes!” at the top of my lungs as I read it!
He even pointed out a systemic problem with the complementarian lifestyle that most churches don’t acknowledge:
“Christians are more likely to have one-income families, making some Christian wives feel even more vulnerable.”
I wanted to stand up and applaud when I read this. It was so wonderful to see people waking up to the reality of how trapped abuse victims are. I prayed this message would resonate through the church.
There was only one problem: women came out of the woodwork in the comments section to tell him, “Wait a minute—you wrote Sacred Marriage, right? Your book kept me in a marriage that nearly killed me!”
I expected Thomas’s response to be something like, “I’m sorry, let me fix this. I’m going to make this right.”
However, his replies astonished me. He told them that it wasn’t his book, but a misunderstanding of his book, that kept them in bondage.
I wanted to post my own reply to him on this blog. Sadly, as I went to his comments section today, I found my comments deleted.
I had asked him to publicly retract his ambiguous statements, or publish a new edition that clarified it. I even went page-by-page through a randomly chosen section of my copy of Sacred Marriage, to show how his words encouraged women to stay with abusers.
However, his reply to my best friend (a man), who defended me, is still there.
“… perhaps I was a bit sensitive when it appeared to me that some readers want to assume that one truth–God can use a difficult marriage–applied in an erroneous way (“therefore stay in an abusive marriage”) calls me to renounce prior work. I have gone out of my way to confront this–thus this blog post! And I’m caught off-guard when accusations seem to say I’ve been part of the problem. More than I’m zealous for me, I’m zealous for the way God has used Sacred Marriage in so many positive ways. I hear stories almost daily, still, fifteen years after the book came out.” (emphasis mine)
I was…confused at best.
You wrote a book that tells people to stay in difficult marriages, but when they stay in REALLY difficult marriages…that’s not on you?
Let’s say he’s right, and it really was a misunderstanding. If I were in his shoes, and had written something that was so deeply “misunderstood,” I STILL would have said, “OH MY GOSH, I’M SO SORRY! I NEVER MEANT TO SAY THAT—I MEANT TO SAY THIS OTHER THING! LET ME FIX THAT SO NO ONE ELSE EVER HAS TO ENDURE WHAT YOU ENDURED.”
I would say it in all caps too, probably. I’d also probably call them on the phone. I’d write them special letters, with gift cards and cash from the book sales stuffed inside. I’d want to make sure they were safe, and had everything they needed.
I would be broken, crying out to God, asking WHY did God allow my words to keep someone in bondage? I would re-evaluate every choice I made in life, and examine my heart to see if God was really speaking to me.
His follow-up blog post shocked me even more. The first paragraph:
“My last post “Enough is Enough” crashed our website several times. We’ve had to upgrade our website platform and pay for the frantic efforts to keep the blog up in the midst of the overload. We’re so sorry for the frustration you’ve had and the ensuing issues that followed (like earlier blog posts not being immediately available).”
He then uses the “Enough is Enough” post as a launching point to discuss how “not abusing is not enough. We have to Cherish.” That’s the title of his next book, Cherish.
Some of his points were nice, some were true…but the focus now seemed to shift from “women are abused, & this is wrong,” to “let’s use this new web traffic to promote my book.”
Was he interested in the real damage that he’d inflicted on the women who had commented? I hope so. He claims he’s doing a revision of at least one of the books, and that he’s working with domestic violence experts on follow-up material.
However, he’s not the one dealing with the fallout from following his advice. I am.
I cannot allow an author to direct the choices that I make. The author will go on collecting royalty checks, speaking engagements, and living life, without dealing with the consequences that I have to deal with every day.
So, friends, please remember–if you are thinking about making changes to your marriage based on a book, get outside opinions FIRST. Google the author for testimonials. Talk to friends who actually used the author’s work. Evaluate carefully: “Do I want my marriage or family to look like this?”
Jesus told us to count the cost of following Him. We must be so much more careful to count the cost in following a human being who claims to be an authority.
UPDATE: Avid Reader, the pseudonym of a long-time friend of the Spiritual Abuse Survivor community, actually copied/pasted several parts of my reply in an Amazon Review of Sacred Marriage! Since I don’t have the original, I can’t reliably tell where my comments ended and Avid Reader’s begin, but I’m SO THANKFUL for the work AR does in exposing spiritual abuse. <3