The Unequally Yoked Club meets here! Today, I wanted to elaborate on a point that came up in comments a few times yesterday. In toxic Christianity, couples determine compatibility in a totally different way than most other folks do. Those standards simply don’t work to produce long-lasting marriages. But toxic Christians gotta toxic. I’ll show you what those standards are today, and why they prove so disastrous for Christians. Today, Lord Snow Presides over the worst advice EVER about marriage.
Building a Better Spouse–NOT.
When they’re young, people often draw up extensive lists of requirements in what they want in a future mate. We’ve covered some of those lists in the past. In “Building a Better Husband,” we looked through the 12 requirements that its creator felt were “non-negotiable” in her husband. He, meanwhile, had a very similar list.
Of course, nothing on those lists is new. I saw markedly similar requirements in a dating seminar I attended in 1984! But as Christianity became more polarized over the years, the religion’s leaders only drilled down harder on their teachings about dating and marriage. (I’m just glad I escaped before I Kissed Dating Goodbye and hardcore complementarianism infected most of right-wing Christianity.)
All that said, Christian lists of requirements for marriage boil down to two basic requirements. I learned these same requirements as a teenybopper. Christians learn them still today.
The Two TRUE CHRISTIAN™ Requirements for Marriage.
First, a person’s future spouse must Jesus just as hard as they do, however the spouse-seeker defines that idea.
Almost all of that 12-point list we examined in 2014 boils down to that one requirement. Christians want a spouse who displays about the same level of fervor they have, and who believes the same doctrinal points that they do.
Second, the spouse-seeker must think “Jesus” told them to marry that person.
This requirement handles all the rest. Obviously “Jesus” won’t tell bigoted Christians to marry someone of the same sex. Nor will “Jesus” usually tell Christians to marry someone they do not already passionately love. Usually.
That said, Christians trapped in extremely toxic flavors of Christianity might well think they’ve been told to marry someone they don’t love. Rick Warren’s wife Kay relates exactly that point in a heartbreaking glurge testimony that relays a horrifying message. I know the feel, though, because I had much the same experience when Biff proposed. If a woman in that culture thinks that “Jesus” commanded a marriage, then her feelings and opinions–even her consent–really don’t matter at all.
The Irrelevant Stuff.
When I was a Christian, I sincerely believed that any two human beings of opposite genders could sustain a marriage. All they needed were those two requirements. That was it. Anything else was pure gravy.
We looked down on people who focused on stuff like common life goals, sexual compatibility, and personality matches. We considered such considerations worldly (that’s Christianese for “not 100% focused on Jesus”). Worldly stuff, of course, was always doomed to fail. The world told people all kinds of dumb things, and without Jesus Power people believed those things. But we had the real knowledge.
By contrast, TRUE CHRISTIANS™ focused on a person’s inward heart (that’s Christianese for “personality,” basically) and earnestly sought (and this is Christianese for “talking to the ceiling extra-fervently”) our god’s will in determining who we ought to marry. Our god always knew who was best for us. Thus, all we had to do was accurately discern his will. If we did that, then we could look forward to a lifelong, harmonious, happy marriage.
Problem 1: Faking It.
The first and major problem with Christian requirements for marriage is how easy it is for predators and abusers to game their system.
Let’s consider the “Building A Better Wife/Husband” posts we looked at in 2014. Not only are this couple’s “non-negotiable” requirements largely irrelevant in real life, but they could easily lead a person of any gender to marry a stone-cold abuser. Narcissists, for example, can easily fake anything on this couple’s lists for a short while–long enough to reel in a fresh supply of the attention they need.
It takes experience to see through such fakery–experience that Christians in toxic flavors of Christianity usually won’t have thanks to their culture’s insistence on them marrying young and after only a brief dating period. Then it takes a firm sense of boundaries, self-respect, and dignity to end the relationship before disaster inevitably strikes–and those are all strengths that Christians consider largely demonic.
The further right we move along the Christian spectrum of flavors, the more Christians we discover who lack the life experience and the personal skills necessary to identify and jettison potentially-disastrous life choices.
Somehow, “Jesus” doesn’t protect his children from these matches.
If Christians Would Only Jesus Harder!
Unfortunately, a Christian can Jesus as hard as they possibly can and still end up in a really bad marriage. And when–not if–that happens, they can expect no sympathy from the tribe.
Because they are thoroughly trapped in these false teachings about marriage, the United Church of God can declare that divorces happen because Christians are simply too worldly. They live in a state of “extended adolescence” and bear an unseemly attachment to the world’s standards for mates. Their expectations of marriage are unacceptably high and entirely too self-focused. People just aren’t Jesus-y enough! If they were Jesus-y enough, they’d never divorce.
A post from a woman on Church.org sanctimoniously polices total strangers’ life choices regarding divorce. Number One on her list: People aren’t Jesus-ing hard enough. Then she runs through the rest: “sexual immorality,” being too proud to ask for help from other Christians to solve problems (incidentally, that same idea turned up as advice on one of the TGC posts I listed last time), and “buying into the cultural lies about marriage,” which here means desiring happiness or fulfillment from one’s marriage. She ends by shaking her finger to remind Christians that marriage exists solely to “glorify God.”
What Christians Want to Know, in its tireless quest to become my go-to source of Christian wackadoodlery, turns up with a surprisingly more-detailed list of reasons why Christians divorce. Their “the top reasons for divorce” sounds like Kirk Cameron wrote it after a meth binge. They blame porn (lumped in with adultery, because to toxic Christians, the two are literally indistinguishable), partner and child abuse (including pedophilia), and substance abuse. They sprinkle among these shocking accusations “lack of communication” and “financial problems.”
The Divorce Narrative.
All of these sources buy into a particular narrative Christians believe about divorce within their tribe. They hold much the same narrative for people outside the tribe, yes. But their narrative shifts slightly when accounting for Christians who divorce.
That narrative hasn’t changed much at all in the past 40 years. In it, a couple doesn’t pray hard enough to figure out if their god wants them married. They hear wrong. Or they allow lust to overrule that still small voice that is the very best an omnipotent, omniscient god of the entire universe can possibly manage in response to his children’s entreaties.
As a result, couples marry in haste, only to repent at leisure. After a long period of conflict, the wife (it is almost always the wife in this narrative) throws in the towel by initiating divorce.
Divorce, Christians learn, happens because of a couple’s lack of divine discernment OR their inability to follow their god’s orders. See, their god only creates successful marriages. He literally hates divorce–the Bible itself tells Christians this, or at least seems to. It’s totally fine if “Jesus” puts together a couple that is fundamentally incompatible. They can fight like cats in a sack, if they like–at least at first, as long as Jesus Power motors them through those difficulties. But if they break up, then only one of two things can possibly have happened to cause that breakup:
- Either their god didn’t actually command their union; and/or
- Their human sinfulness somehow overcame the wishes of the omnipotent, omniscient god of the entire universe.
Problem 2: Discernment.
The second and possibly even bigger problem with Christians’ two requirements about marriage partners is how incredibly difficult it is for Christians to accurately discern their god’s will.
I’ve already touched on the primary criticism of Christian marriage requirements: the Christian god himself is remarkably coy about something as important as his followers’ choices of life partners.
What is worse, their god has a really sick sense of humor. He constantly tells his followers totally contradictory things! When I was Christian myself, I never once heard my god tell me to marry Biff. But Biff heard that in answer to his prayers. Our church leaders said they heard the same thing. It was like a weird real-life version of Everybody Says I Love You.
Even weirder, a few times in my life I’ve had Christian men tell me that their god totally wanted them to marry me. One of these men was a mutual friend of ours who made that announcement very shortly before I married Biff. He told me to dump Biff because “Jesus” had already earmarked me for him.1
I didn’t deconvert exactly because of these situations, but you can bet it all bothered me. Finally, I felt overwhelmed by what all these episodes definitively revealed about my religion:
Either we were all really horrible at discerning our god’s will, or he was really awful at sending messages, or he wasn’t sending messages at all.
As a Christian, I’d have had a tough time telling you which of those three options was the most difficult for me to contemplate.
Here’s the mind-blower, though: we don’t actually need to know for sure if any gods are involved in Christian beliefs and teachings.
Christianity itself provides Christians–and us–with the perfect way to gauge the divinity level of any Christian teaching.
That gauge is fruit.
Christians like to talk about the fruits of a thing. That term is super-basic, intro-level Christianese 101. It means that anybody–Christian, non-Christian, animated Japanese music-software avatar with a fondness for leeks–can look to the results of a teaching–or to how a person behaves–to evaluate whether or not that teaching or person is really as Jesus-y as claimed.
Someone who is very Jesus-y, or a teaching that is truly divinely-inspired, will sprout the fruits of the spirit, which the Bible tells us (in Galatians 5:22) is “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.” By contrast, the opposite traits and features indicate a teaching or person who is not divinely-inspired. Whether we believe in the same nonsense or not, we can certainly gauge those attributes.
It’d Be Weird. Except It Isn’t Happening.
So ultimately, if these two Christian teachings produced marriages that were superior to anything the world could create, that’d be one hell of an attention-getter. If Christian marriages very obviously lasted longer, were happier, freer of conflict, and generally more admirable than worldly marriages, then we’d notice.
We might not understand how these counter-intuitive rules worked for Christians, but we’d have to admit that they did somehow work. We might not attribute that success to supernatural powers, but we’d sure have some real questions about how these marriages functioned.
But that ain’t what happens when Christians try to make their rules work in the real world. Not by a longshot.
Christians can’t even keep their divorce rates steady with those in the world. The more fundagelical the Christians, the higher their divorce rate is. The more fundagelical-controlled a state is, the higher its incidence of domestic violence. Hardcore Christianity appears to sprout conflict and abuse, not safety and happiness.
Somewhere, somehow, those teachings are not materializing into stronger, happier marriages anywhere.
The Happy Christian Marriage Illusion.
As we’ve seen, TRUE CHRISTIANS™ regard marriage as a glorification of their god. Their marriages represent their god’s love for humanity. People are supposed to see Christian marriages and be awed and inspired by how beautiful the vision is.
And if Christians’ marriages don’t present that image naturally, then adherents must pretend that it does.
A long time ago, I called this show of pretense The Happy Christian Marriage Illusion. When I was a married Christian, I felt like I labored under a ginormous burden to keep my deep unhappiness and resentment of Biff under wraps. If someone suspected what I dealt with at home every day, they might be turned away from Christianity! I’d be responsible for them going to Hell!
Plus, if I claimed happiness in prayer, then acted as if “Jesus” had already magically made me happy, then maybe one day “Jesus” would look down at me, be impressed with my sincere obedience and struggles, and I’d finally be happy in reality.
The higher up in a church hierarchy a couple is, the more pressure they’re under to keep that pretense alive. And, too, the higher up that couple is, the fewer supportive friends they’ll have anyway.
As a result, when I encounter Christians in toxic flavors of Christianity who brag about how happy their marriages are, I automatically assume they are exaggerating–if not lying outright. The product they sell depends 100% on how potential customers perceive these salespeople. They are simply under too much pressure to make sales for me to take any of their testimonies seriously.
Real Talk: When you can’t be honest about how you feel without fear of retaliation and punishment, that’s a big sign of a broken system.
In such a group, members serve the system rather than it serving them. These groups’ recruitment or success depends in great part upon salespeople’s presentation and performance. Thus, the people in these groups will be completely untrustworthy and undependable friends and support networks for anybody who can’t conform. They may even turn abusive in such cases.
Aww, Poor Puddies.
Ultimately, Christian teachings about marriage are a complete, unmitigated, total failure.
You can almost hear Christians’ hands wringing, though, can’t you? That sound you hear is growing panic. They can demand their followers and peers take a dive for Team Jesus all they want. Christians increasingly decide to do what they think is best for themselves rather than following the party line.
And there is nothing whatsoever that their leaders and peers can really do about this massive shift in power. The harder they push for control over members’ personal lives, the more often those members decide to withdraw from the group. They’d rather leave than submit to overreach.
Right now, that shift is occurring inconsistently–and largely without Christians examining their leaders’ teachings before they clamber into marriages. Until they start questioning the teachings first, Christians’ divorce rates will continue to float above those of their hated tribal enemies.
They need to build their marriages on safe foundations. If they don’t, storms and strong winds might knock it down. It’s a real pity that Christians’ sourcebook doesn’t cover that topic, or, really, any way to objectively evaluate a person’s behavior in a relationship. Ah well!
Today, then, Lord Snow Presides over Christians who mistakenly think that their marriage advice creates marriages that impress anybody with their religious claims.
NEXT UP: We’re lookin’ at another full week around here. Next we’ll dive into some of the worst advice my first ex Biff got about marriage, and then we’ve got a book review, a look at a possible reason why so many evangelists are so combative and aggressive, and a gaming retrospective. See you soon!
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Lord Snow Presides… is our weekly off-topic chat series. I’ve started us off with a topic, but feel free to chime in with whatever’s on your mind! I named this series after Lord Snow, my sweet, elderly white cat. He shows us his love every single day, unless we have claw-trimming in mind. Then it is ON.