And the Moral of the Article Is…

And the Moral of the Article Is… July 9, 2011

In today’s New York Times, Mark Oppenheimer has a story about an evangelical couple who, in their early 20s, wrote a book advocating natural family planning (that’s a euphemism for abstaining from intercourse, or pulling out early, when the woman is ovulating — or simply having a bunch of kids).

Now, a few years later, the couple is divorced with shared custody.  They’ve left evangelicalism — they each attend prog-liberal churches — and they have publicly repudiated their book.  They’ve asked Eerdmans to take it out of print (oddly, the article notes that it will never be available as a Kindle book, but it already is).

It’s a short article, so there’s not much nuance.  But the moral of the story seems to be: Christians in their 20s shouldn’t write books.  (At least not books that advocate theological or moral positions — if you wanna write a book about, say, how to get better gas mileage, I guess that’d be okay.)

For a while now, I’ve had a semi-rule-of-thumb that I will not endorse books by authors under the age of 30.  I realize that means I may miss the opportunity to endorse the next Lauren Winner, but that’s a chance I’m willing to take.  That’s because I think the world needs another I-went-to-Moody-Bible-Institute-but-now-I’m-progressive memoir like I need another hole in my head.

Meanwhile, in the Washington Post, Jane Smiley (author of the haunting, Shakespearian, Pulitzer Prize-winner, A Thousand Acres) gives Frank Schaeffer’s new book, Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible’s Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics–and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway a great review.  Frank, whom I recently met at Wild Goose, did some stuff as an evangelical in his 20s that he now regrets.  He wrote about that powerfully and humorously in Crazy for God, and now he’s taken a different tack on the same story:

Frank Schaeffer

Frank seems to have been born irreverent, but his memoirs have a serious purpose, and that is to expose the insanity and the corruption of what has become a powerful and frightening force in American politics. He considers himself an eyewitness to the insanity during his childhood, and an eyewitness to the corruption during his early adulthood. The root of both, according to this book, is the perverse and destructive view that the “God-of-the-Bible” takes of women and sexuality — that women are inherently corrupt and that their sexuality must be controlled by men. Frank’s point in “Sex, Mom, and God” is that female sexuality is at the heart of the abortion debate that energized the religious right, and he asserts, from his experience of both his very troubled father and himself, that profound anxiety about women and hypocrisy about the sex drive shape the evangelical  bid for power in the United States. [READ THE REST]

Courtney is currently reading Frank’s book, and repeatedly laughing out loud.  I get it next.

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  • Lol! I turn 30 in less than a month. Will you endorse my first book? 😉

  • LLL

    Well, crap. I had a wise and winsome idea I was sure you would return to often. Guess I have to wait a few more years…

  • Jason

    I might add that Christians in their 20’s shouldn’t be put in a leadership position for the same reason. My wife and I were college pastors in the 90’s without any kind of seminary or leadership training whatsoever. Almost twenty years later, I regret a lot of the positions I taught then. And when I see former students espousing those same teachings today on Facebook, I can’t help but cringe.

  • The 30 thing is so true. Reading that would have enraged me in my early twenties. Not, in my mid-thirties, it seems very wise.

  • … where arroq should be arrow … proof of the first name, Random …

  • Here …

    “…But the moral of the story seems to be: Christians in their 20s shouldn’t write books …”

    You mean that gays in their mid 20s who write gay books and who are editors of gay magazines – and who turn ex-gay – should not write books?

    A little more revenge on all our cognitive theology …

    “To Supernova Dust You Shall Return – The Remnant Lights Up! “

    … a little perspective on all our stupid cognitive …

    … meme wars.



  • Cara

    Is the idealism of youth more dangerous to our souls than the cynicism of experience? I remember “Open Embrace” as a beautiful book (which I read in my twenties and still value in my thirties) with worthy meditations on sexuality.

    Is it possible that the pressure in our society to contracept/abort (laid disproportionately on women) is a form of rejecting women? Mechanisms to modify our authentic selves, conform to unhealthy relationships, separate body and soul?

    No doubt Frank S. has witnessed hypocrisy and anxiety about sex from religious men, BUT could these technologies (which often bring hurts of their own) belie another form of anxiety and control over feminine procreative power?

    So there’s my attempt at nuance…and faith like a child.

    p.s.–Hi, to Courtney! She won’t be surprised I wrote this 😉 Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Tony. Check out, a secular organization, for more of this perspective, though they don’t take a position on birth control.

  • Kenton

    Great post, Tony!

    A couple of thoughts:

    1. I’m sure in your 60’s you’ll regret a lot of the things you’re saying and writing today. But that’s OK. You should still say and write them and accept the fact that you may not always own everything you say now as part of life.

    2. I haven’t read FS’s book, and I’d like to (based on this post alone). But I’m sure that his view is greatly clouded by being so close. So while I’m willing to read it as a personal memoir, I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that his experience was universal in the evangelical world of the 1970’s. There were a lot of good things that happened in those days, and while we tend to remember the things we regret (or should if we don’t) and forget the good things, God is big enough to make something beautiful out of it all.

  • John Edmond

    I read Frank’s book Crazy For God. I have problems with my own family, but right out of the gate Frank is attacking his close family members with very little restraint. Laughter at the book doesn’t seem the right reaction to what is written in its pages.

  • Patrick O

    “Now, a few years later, the couple is divorced with shared custody. They’ve left evangelicalism — they each attend prog-liberal churches —”

    Tony, this is an interesting statement.

    You are divorced (with shared custody it sounds like), remarried, and participate in prog-liberal theology events.

    I’m curious how you see you own books in light of these similarities?

    Now, I’ll add the fact that I very much agree with what you write, am not connected to your personal life so don’t see it as my business to know what goes on in your personal life, don’t agree with the premise of their book and otherwise agree with your statement that people in their 20s shouldn’t publish books on theology/etc.

    I’m, in a friendly as possible way and as a continued supporter of your work, curious about your judgment about others in this regard. This isn’t a ‘gotcha’. I very much respect your theology and ethics (and heartily applaud your influence in Moltmania), so I’m more curious about hearing more details about how you’re processing this ethical stance.

    • Patrick, it’s a good question. I know this: I’m glad I haven’t written any books about marriage and/or sex. Yet.

  • Kristen

    Doesn’t every writer see their thinking evolve over time?

    (Oh yes. I just used “they” with a singular antecedent. Deal.)

    Well, I suppose some people might stay static. But generally not the interesting ones.

    One thing I’ve realized recently is that writing is supposed to be about participating in a conversation, and if we wait until we have it all “right” we’ll never write anything and the conversation will not occur.

  • DanS

    So the couple who is young and idealistic should not be listened to because of their youth. Now that they are older, divorced, attending liberal churches and expressing serious doubts about their faith, you find them credible. Likewise, now that Frank Schaeffer has made a bit of a name for himself trashing evangelicals, painting his parents in the worst possible light and writing profanity laced columns for HuffPo, he is of interest and maybe a kindred spirit. Tells me a lot.

  • I’m 26 and I really glad I never wrote a book while still in the Charimangelical mangle

    I sometimes catch random clips of God TV and cringe at things that I used to teach, lead, be involved in

    Saying that all those positions or ideas were being written and taught by people over 30 thou.

    I also like many books by people under 30