Are you “single?… Seeing someone and contemplating marriage?… Newly married and still filled with wedded bliss?… A parent or grandparent concerned for the marriage of your child or grandchild? Divorced…?”
Are you any of those things and in need of some new reading material come January 3rd? If so, I have the perfect thing for you to not purchase: Mark and Grace Driscoll’s new book, Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life Together. (A preview of the first chapter of the book is available here.)
At the outset, the endeavor seems noble: A book, written by folks who want to share the wisdom they have gleaned through a long marriage filled with some difficult moments. At the heart of it, the problem I have with Real Marriage is the same problem I have with much of Driscoll’s theology — lies are much more difficult to pinpoint when they are mixed with truth. While it is good to have the desire to help others achieve healthy relationships, the belief system that lies quietly beneath the book is fundamentally misogynistic and damaging.
Like any good Christian book, this one starts with a redemption story. (No self-respecting Christian will attempt to sell you Jesus without telling you how sorry a person they were before Him.) With that in mind, the worse your “before” is, the better, since it will demonstrate such a stunning contrast to your current, “Godly” lifestyle. The Driscolls are no exception; the first chapter is devoted to the muddy mess of a marriage that they nursed before entering restructuring it “God’s way” (page 8).
Of course, having a struggling relationship is not a criticism of the couple; every relationship has its challenges, and I don’t think for a minute that any reality-based individual would conflate lack of conflict or difficulty in a relationship with success. However, I’m not about to write a marital advice book, either. Simply being a married person does not qualify you to give advice about marriage and relationships. I don’t perform tonsillectomies, even though I’ve experienced one. I’ll leave the delicate work of hacking out body parts to the people qualified to wield the scalpel.
Even though Mark Driscoll attests that the key to marriage lies within a Biblical framework, he fails to see that his own religion caused many of his marital issues.
Driscoll explains that neither he nor his wife were virgins before meeting in high school. The book is suspiciously quiet on the early part of the their relationship, with only a few sentences devoted to the admission, leaving a bit of room to speculate as to the lack of negative effects felt early on. Though premarital sex is a sticking point for many Christians, there is no mention of any negative effects felt or their relationship suffering at the time. It’s almost like the premarital sex didn’t impact their relationship until they tried to rationalize problems later on.
Ironically, things take a turn for the worse once Mark finds Jesus. Or, rather, began attending a church of his own volition for the first time (emphases mine):
“It was there I began learning about sex and marriage from the Bible. The pastor seemed to really love his wife, and they had a faithful and fun marriage. The previous church I had attended was Catholic, with a priest who seemed to be a gay alcoholic. He was the last person on earth I wanted to be like. To a young man, a life of poverty, celibacy, living at the church, and wearing a dress was more frightful than going to hell, so I stopped going to church somewhere around junior high. But this pastor was different. He had been in the military, had earned a few advanced degrees, and was smart. He was humble. He bow hunted. He had sex with his wife. He knew the Bible. He was not religious.
In that church I met other men who were very godly and masculine. There were farmers who loved Jesus, hunters who loved Jesus, and even one guy who was on his way to having eleven daughters and two sons with one wife. They had a beautiful family and sometimes invited Grace and me over for dinner. I had never seen a family pray the way they did, sing together, and pretty much just laugh and have fun. Watching that family, I learned about the importance of a dad praying and playing with his kids, reading the Bible to them, and teaching them to repent of their sin to one another and forgive others when sinned against. It was incredible. Before long, Grace and I were volunteering our Friday nights to babysit for free so they could get a date night.” (p. 8-9)
After learning from this humble, bow-hunting, sex-having, Bible-knowing-yet-not-religious pastor, Mark and Grace decided to stop having sex. But not having sex was no fun, so they got married between their junior and senior year of college.
Unfortunately, Mark assumed that the doctrine of fornication as a sin would have no impact on their relationship:
“I assumed that once we were married we would simply pick up where we left off sexually and make up for lost time. After all, we were committed Christians with a relationship done God’s way.
But God’s way was a total bummer. My previously free and fun girlfriend was suddenly my frigid and fearful wife. She did not undress in front of me, required the lights to be off on the rare occasions we were intimate, checked out during sex, and experienced a lot of physical discomfort because she was tense.” (p. 9)
Instead of realizing that perhaps there may be — just an outside chance! -– that “God’s way” might not be as solid a plan as they had imagined, they instead persisted for a decade, elaborately erecting the perfect-marriage façade in order to save face in the ministry.
Grace has this to say about that time:
Did you see anything about any supernatural causes to their marital problems in that paragraph? No? Neither did I. Again, the issue here has nothing to do with anything “spiritual” in nature, even if that word had any meaning. These are human problems that were solved -– or are being solved -– by human actions. Nothing more, nothing less.
“Communication was at an all-time low, as was our intimacy, and we became unable to serve each other without demanding something in return. We dealt with conflict very differently: he chose harsh words, and I chose silence. We both chose bitterness. As you can imagine, nothing really got resolved. Fear, lies, busyness, and discontentment all kept us from intimacy.” (p. 14)
Maybe you’re wondering if there was more to the sudden change in Grace Driscoll’s sexual behavior. Turns out there is. (Moreover, you have significantly more observational powers than the man who spent ten years whining about his sexual dissatisfaction with her.) Bear in mind that, in addition to having the message drilled in her that sex was bad and must be approached with deliberation and “purity” of heart and mind, there was the added pressure of performance in Christian culture to “look the part” of the healthy, holy husband and wife. I cannot imagine the guilt and shame she must have carried that decade.
Finally, things reached a boiling point.
Mark Driscoll recounts the scenario:
“One night, as we approached the birth of our first child, Ashley, and the launch of our church, I had a dream in which I saw some things that shook me to my core. [Mark Driscoll claims to be a recipient of the “gift of discernment”, where God literally provides him with seedy visions of other Christian’s sin. See also: “charismatic authority”.] I saw in painful detail Grace sinning sexually during a senior trip she took after high school when we had just started dating. It was so clear it was like watching a film — something I cannot really explain but the kind of revelation I sometimes receive. I awoke, threw up, and spent the rest of the night sitting on our couch, praying, hoping it was untrue, and waiting for her to wake up so I could ask her. I asked her if it was true, fearing the answer. Yes, she confessed, it was. Grace started weeping and trying to apologize for lying to me, but I honestly don’t remember the details of the conversation, as I was shell-shocked. Had I known about this sin, I would not have married her.” (p. 11-12)
This is the part of the blog post that I have been having trouble writing. In short, Mark Driscoll shamed and guilted his pregnant wife for “crimes” that happened in high school.
Ponder that, for a moment, and consider her version of the story:
“A bomb had just dropped, and shrapnel was everywhere! Dear Lord, how could I have done this to You and my husband? How could I have acted like such a good person with such darkness in my heart? How can I ever make up for what I have done? Mark wished he hadn’t married me; I wished I hadn’t ever lied. I was pregnant and he felt trapped. I begged forgiveness but told him he had every right to leave. He felt completely stuck; I felt total shame.” (p.12)
There is something deeply morally incoherent about an individual who professes to adhere to a higher moral authority while feeling that he has a right to leave his pregnant wife. Moreover, she has also bought in to the same garbage –- her worth lies in her purity, and not disclosing sexual “crimes” is worthy of punishment and abandonment.
Of course, the problem lies in the fact that there is nothing that you can do when your lack of purity is exposed; there is no apology great enough to satisfy a Christian man who demands both submission and purity, as a lie of omission is a flagrant violation of both.
Additionally, there is a greater burden on her to “repent,” if the assumption is that she has violated his rights as a husband.
The book, in a final attempt to exhaust the reader and make them abandon all hope for mankind — and we’re still in Chapter 1 — releases the final gem on the Driscoll’s marital shit-crown:
“Then, after more than a decade of marriage, a root issue was finally revealed. Grace’s problem was that she was an assault victim who had never told me or anyone else of the physical, spiritual, emotional, and sexual abuse she had suffered. Hearing the details of her abuse broke me. Reliving her pain with her as we worked things through was healing. Yes, it hurt deeply. But at least the hurt was from a surgery that would cut out the cancer. In forgiving and walking with Grace, I realized that I was so overbearing and boorish, so angry and harsh, that I had not been the kind of husband whom she could trust and confide in with the most painful and shameful parts of her past. I was world-class at truth telling, but my words would tear her down rather than build her up. I spoke to her more as I would to a sinful guy, but where men stood up to my challenges, she fell down. My bitterness had continued to condemn Grace, and she kept shutting down more.” (p. 16)
(I know, I know. I’m sure the incorrect usage of “whom” in that sentence deeply troubled you as well.)
Perhaps — just maybe — if either person had approached the other as equals, as partners, instead of cogs in the Jesus machine…
And, finally, if you haven’t already been convinced as to the effectiveness of Biblical marriage, we arrive at the conclusion. Mark explains what happened after Grace’s admission that she was assaulted:
“I refused to die from stress or destroy my marriage and family for the sake of “religious” people and outgrown organizational systems. I found a good doctor and did what I was told to rebuild my health. Grace and I pulled back from many commitments, got some help, including someone to help her one day a week and someone else to clean the house every other week, and carved out some time to intentionally work on our relationship with Jesus and each other.” (p. 17)
Surprisingly, Mark Driscoll and I agree on something. I, too, refuse to destroy my marriage for the sake of “religious” people who insist that marital problems are spiritual problems, “religious” people who insist that gender roles must be so strictly enforced that they prevent communication, “religious” people who feel they have a right to punish each other according to how well they think they are conforming to some imaginary set of marital rules inspired by an unmarried itinerant preacher, “religious” people who ensure that women bear guilt for something called “sexual sin” while men are exempted.
No indeed — I will not be destroying my marriage for the sake of religious people. After reading this trash… would you?