I have read a lot of Christian dating books.
You may have already read about some of these in my “You Are Not Your Own” series here on the blog (and now you can read about them in my academically published, peer-reviewed research article!). I still read them because they’re fun to mock (I know, I know, that’s so professional and academic of me), and because it’s interesting to see how many Christian dating books have similar characteristics to the books I have officially researched.
But every now and then these books will surprise me with a new level of terribleness that I never could have imagined. This happened the other day as I was reading through the book Who Moved the Goalpost?, by Bob Gresh. This is a Christian dating book written by the husband of the more well-known Dannah Gresh (author of And The Bride Wore White), and oh boy.
People sometimes ask me what the worst Christian dating book I’ve ever read has been. So far, that undisputed title goes to Dateable, by Hayley DiMarco and the now infamous Justin Lookadoo. I mean, we’re talking about a book aimed at Christian teens that features a doodle of women’s torsos hanging from meat hooks in the window of a market. You’d really have to try hard to beat that.
Who Moved the Goalpost? does give Dateable a run for its money, though, with a lovely little section on the purpose of hymens.
Most Christian dating books, ahem, beat around the bush, and use language like “protecting your pearl of purity” (that one’s from When God Writes Your Love Story) or “saving yourself for marriage” to cover the fact that they’re really just telling young women not to “pop their cherries” (not that “cherry popping” is even a real thing) before their wedding night.
Who Moved the Goalpost? wastes no time with that. It gets right to the point…
In chapter seven, Gresh explains that marriage is a covenant, and that, like the covenants God made with the patriarchs of Israel, it is “sealed in blood.” I think you can figure out where Bob is going with this.
Bob Gresh explains that in God’s covenant with Noah, an animal sacrifice took place. With Abraham? A bloody circumcision. With all of creation through Christ? Jesus’s death on the cross. With marriage?
Lovely. Just lovely.
When the virgin bride has intercourse for the very first time, there is a small issue of blood. This occurs when the hymen…is stretched or torn. The hymen is the one tissue in the human body that medical science cannot quite figure out. Every other tissue or hair has a specific biological function. I believe that God was checking off His list of requirements for covenants when He sealed the act of sexuality with blood through the hymen. (p. 75)
It’s been years since I’ve read Bob Gresh’s wife, Dannah Gresh’s, most popular book And The Bride Wore White, but apparently it teaches something similar. Dannah claims in this book that though blood sacrifices were almost done away with in the New Testament, God still requires one more of us vagina-owners: the spilling of our blood through the breaking of our hymen.
But wait, before you think “Whew! I’m glad I don’t live in Bible times and have to practice animal sacrifice!” there is one left that God still asks us to practice. …
When [the hymen] breaks, a woman’s blood spills over her husband.
Your sexual union is a blood covenant between you, your husband, and God. (pg. 129)
I’m not sure where Bob and Dannah Gresh are getting this idea, theologically–that blood covenants are completely done away with….except, you know, hymen breaking. And though they are drawing from many different old mythologies, their ideas don’t really hold up against what we now know about hymens today.
But regardless, the idea that sexual union for a person who owns a vagina involves a blood sacrifice comparable to animal sacrifice or Jesus’s death on the cross definitely doesn’t make sexuality sound appealing to me.
Like the other dating books I’ve researched, both Who Moved The Goalpost? and And The Bride Wore White blur the lines between consensual sex and sexual violence, by using metaphors of violence around sex. In these metaphors, women usually get to play the role of a dead animal.
There’s no exception here…
Dateable talked about sex as cavemen hunting and clubbing animals for food. Bob and Dannah Gresh’s books talk about sex as men spilling women’s blood in order to form a covenant with God.
These are old books, thankfully, and probably not read as often as they used to be (Bob Gresh’s book was written way back in 2001). But the Gresh family still plays a pretty significant role in evangelical purity culture. Dannah Gresh currently tours the country to put on an event for pre-teen girls called “Secret Keeper Girl.” (Dianna Anderson recently covered one of these events for RH Reality Check)
Bob and Dannah Gresh’s books might be over a decade old, but their ideas are still out there, and purity culture is still sending these harmful messages to young girls and women.