Evangelical Marriages: Where Fantasy and Reality Collide

Evangelical Marriages: Where Fantasy and Reality Collide November 18, 2020

Yesterday, I wrote about the various ways in which evangelical men seek to divorce-proof their marriages. It began with what I thought was a no-brainer, a simple statement of fact about evangelical men not trusting evangelical women — and, as a result, not trusting evangelical wives. It set my husband back on his heels. He’s never been evangelical or tangled all that much with evangelicals, you see. So I guess he’d never really thought about any relationship like that. The discussion that resulted sparked today’s post. Today, let me show you how evangelicals’ broken system poisons members’ minds and relationships — and sows the seeds for marriages that are destined to fail.

evangelical marriages be like
(Silvestri Matteo.)

The Wardens of Their Marriages.

Prison wardens remind me a lot of how evangelical men see themselves in marriage.

They don’t consider themselves the equals of their wives. Oh, sure, they’ll warble the usual blahblah about no male or female in Christ or we’re all sinners donchaknow, but they don’t believe it. All humans might be equal to Jesus, but men are far more equal than women on Earth.

Evangelical men tend to like being the most equal of all humans, too. Their broken system awards them unilateral power over half the human race — women — simply for being men. They never need to gain or display qualifications for this power; it’s assigned theirs at birth as their rightful due.

Once someone gains a level of power within evangelicalism, it’s almost impossible to remove it from them. And only someone above them on the ladder of power can rein them in. However, most of the men at higher levels won’t rein in men below them unless it seems absolutely necessary, because then the men above them might get the same idea.

Power in evangelicalism is a fragile thing, when one gets down to it. It must be guarded zealously, protected with all the strength of its holder, or someone will take it away. As Prince Humperdink said in one of the best stories ever written or filmed,

I always think everything could be a trap. That’s why I’m still alive.

Imagine having to be that watchful all the time of the person you swore to love, honor, and cherish for life. 

Welcome to evangelicalism.

Trust and Love, in the Broken System’s Marriages.

Evangelical men cannot afford to fully trust or love the women in their group. Remember, those women also inhabit the broken system. Their Dear Leaders also assign them levels of power, and they jockey for more — for as much as they can possibly achieve within their severe constraints.

However, power is a zero-sum game. If one person in a relationship has it, then the other person does not. If one person gains more, then the other person loses that much. Evangelicals learn that all relationships consist of endless power struggles. They try to short-circuit most of the marital power struggles by simply assigning all the power in marriages to the husbands, but nobody expects wives to allow that situation to stand, least of all the wives themselves.

Many women begin learning in childhood how to exert pressure on their future husbands to do as they wish. It must be done subtly, however. The less a husband suspects about his own manipulation, the better. As Maria tells her daughter in another very fine story,

The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.

And Maria does exactly that a few minutes later. Indeed, a major subplot in the movie is her constant but careful manipulation of her unwitting husband Gus.

In similar fashion, evangelical women might sing the virtues of women-only housework and household spheres and gender roles, but in practical lived reality, things often look different behind the scenes.

Making Men Slow and Women Swift.

Despite knowing the game’s rules with their heads, men know that if they’re not careful, they could fall too hard for a woman and put their power at risk.

In the broken system of evangelicalism, King Haggard’s dubious wisdom runs backward in, yes, another great story:

“You are quick for what you are,” he said, “but slow, I think, for what you were. It is said that love makes men swift and women slow. I will catch you at last if you love much more.”

Men learn never to get too slow — meaning complacent in their own power. Complacency leads to rebellion, and then to sharp and sudden loss.

To avoid that fate, men learn either through someone else’s example or through the school of hard knocks: Trusting women too much leads to misery, to being taken advantage of, to being used unfairly and shamefully, and most of all to losing power entirely to a woman, of all people.

This reversal is rare in evangelicalism, but it certainly happens. I’ve now heard of or personally known a fair dozen or so ex-evangelical men reporting that situation — they worked full-time, and then did almost all the family’s housework and childcare, while their wives were quite capable of doing their share but just didn’t wanna. However, such full reversals of power represent the most shameful of all defeats for most evangelical men.

To be male is the ultimate zero-sum game, after all. Their definition just reads: absolutely not woman-ish in any way whatsoever. I’m sure they’d sooner admit to not knowing how to drive a stickshift or not liking guns.

An Endless Power Struggle.

Here’s the wacky part.

Evangelical men know what they’ve got in store for them if and when they marry.

Their job (as husbands) centers around keeping their own power and growing it, while their wives’ goal becomes grabbing as much power for themselves as they can. Neither partner can really let their guard relax for even a moment.

Look at the advice evangelical men get. They’re told how to maintain the status quo of their power, given endless tips about date night, about occasionally doing housework to help out, and then when all of that advice fails they’re offered pablum and blahblah about how to cajole sex (the main benefit these men expect to gain from marriage) from their ever-resentful wives.

None of it works.

As for evangelical women, they’ve been taught since toddlerhood (if not infancy) that marrying outside the tribe will greatly upset baby Jesus. Indeed, author A.J. Kiesling erroneously declared non-Christian men “dangerous” to TRUE CHRISTIAN™ women!

But how are TRUE CHRISTIAN™ men any better? Hang out with married evangelical women, and sooner or later you’ll hear them lobbing shocking complaints against their husbands.

These men are not any better than “worldly” men. They’re almost always considerably worse, actually.

But evangelical women have absorbed the false belief that they’re the only option for marriage. Either evangelical women must accept husbands who cannot be trusted to treat them decently, or they’ll have no husbands at all.

The Problem: The Model Doesn’t Work.

As a character tells his race’s former masters in yet another very good story,

“It’s a slave’s right to rebel!”

Indeed, the human spirit (or troll’s, I guess, as above) is a flame that is very hard to extinguish.

Alas for the evangelical men hoping to become the lords and tyrants of their own castles, conducting relationships via crushing partners’ spirits categorically doesn’t work. Nobody gets what they want or need out of marriages rooted in broken systems. Evangelical marriages can last if a given couple just happens to work together well within the tight constraints of the system. Such a situation is rare, but it happens. Otherwise, evangelical men must achieve their dreams at last of closing every single possible avenue their unhappy wives could take to escape their odious company or even rein in their mistreatment.

(Becoming better human beings was and is never on the table for these men.)

Men seem to know that the system itself doesn’t work, too. I hear them talk a lot about making absolutely, positively sure they’re picking the right woman to marry. They cling hard to the general outlines of evangelical-style marriage because it’s the only way to get the power and benefits they crave. Even if the system doesn’t deliver their desired results, maybe they can blunder through to the goal anyway through callous manipulation.

Thus, they think if they can just get the right woman, one who takes the tribe’s dumb rules very seriously and is totally untouched by ickie straw feminism, they’ll still get all the rewards they were promised by the masters of their broken system.

A Surreal World.

Just imagine what this kind of marriage must look like to someone who’s never really tangled with evangelicalism, and has never imagined relationships along these lines.

Such a relationship must look beyond surreal to those far outside of evangelicalism — like a universe where angles and curves and mathematics just don’t work the same way.

I guess I just take for granted how these marriages function: the constant distrust, the power struggles, the endless manipulation and coercion, the battles, oh the battles that just never end, and ye gods, the dramas that erupt on a nonstop basis as both partners blame and punish each other for their respective fantasies not working in lived reality.

But Mr. Captain, my husband of many blissful years, really hasn’t ever tangled with any actual evangelical relationships.

So when I mentioned early in that recent post that evangelical men don’t trust evangelical women or marriage to evangelical women, it blew his mind. He’d known evangelical marriages suck rocks, but the full and complete reason for that suckage just hadn’t quite occurred to him.

Now he’s amazed that any of these Christians’ marriages last at all, not that so many end.

The Utter Failure of Evangelical Marketing.

Evangelical marriage fascinates me so much. It’s the ultimate contradiction between fantasy beliefs and lived reality. Out of everywhere else that we can see evangelical claims failing in realtime, this is the one place where their claims fail the hardest.

Nothing about evangelicalism works the way evangelicals say it should, especially not their marriages.

And if I ever try to tell these men that there’s a much better way to conduct a marriage, that they might be happy if they could just let go of their authoritarian need to control even love, they don’t believe me. They never do. Often, they sneer at me in response about how miserable they think my husband totally must be.

Can’t ya just feel the Christian love wafting out of these failed ambassadors? Oh yes.

Sure, within their broken system they sure would be miserable with egalitarianism and fairness. Don’t ever forget their zero-sum thinking.

Unfortunately for them, they’re too narcissistic and indeed solipsistic to understand any outside viewpoints anyway — even those of their wives. But their willful ignorance and vigorous antiprocess defenses don’t change anything.

Especially not the reality of these marriages’ obvious misery and dysfunction. Their marriages function as an anti-witness: a refutation of evangelicals’ claims about everything.

And yet evangelical men wouldn’t have marriage any other way. 

NEXT UP: How evangelical husbands try to repair their disintegrating marriages the JESUS way. Bonus Fireproof-in-Real-Life claim! It’s a wild ride. See you soon!


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. She lives with an adored and adoring husband named Mr. Captain and a sweet, squawky orange tabby cat named Princess Bother Pretty Toes. At any given time, she's running out of bookcase space. You can read more about the author here.

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