Monday, February 15, 2016

Valentine's Day Lies in Church

Today I was lied to in church.  By the man behind the pulpit. On Valentine’s Day.

I really didn’t want to go to church today at all.  I woke up at three AM with a horrible stuffy nose and after spending over two hours trying to get relief from everything from rubbing tiger balm on my chest, to sticking lavender oil up my nose with a Q-tip, to taking allergy medicine, to finally resorting to the magic cold medicine purchased in India, I finally fell asleep propped up on tons of pillows.  

Getting up on Sunday morning after all that wasn’t easy.  Making breakfast for my family wasn’t easy.  Getting my Valentine’s Day mood on for my teens wasn’t easy.  And following through on the regular plans to go to church sure wasn’t easy.  But hey, I’m trying.

It did occur to me – briefly- that Valentine’s Day coinciding with church might be a problem. But I pushed that thought away, get thee behind me Satan.  I shouldn’t be over sensitive to Valentine’s Day anyway.  I’m so over my abusive marriage and excruciating divorce. It couldn’t be the Holy Spirit trying to tell me to stay home in my robe and drink coffee, no way, that has to be the devil.  Church is where I go to get healed from my past and move forward and Lord knows I need to do that, and I’m sure there will be an encouraging sermon, so go I shall.

And so I went.  And all the drugs kicked in and my worship time was rather hazy.  I think I was sitting down for most of it.  I think Jesus and I had a conversation in there somewhere.  We were good. 

And then I find out that we are not going to have a message from the senior pastor, but rather hear from an apostolic elder who has been teaching in the XO marriage conference the church has been having for the past two days, and this is a continuation.  Yep.  Sunday morning, Valentine’s Day, and the sermon is coming straight from Ephesians 5. 

Shoot. Me. Now. Okay I need to hold it together for the teens.  I don’t need them to pick up my issues about marriage.  They need to hear good solid Bible teaching on marriage. I need to pretend I’m cool with this so they can do better in life than I did.

Then I get this text on my phone from teenager #2:  “Ahem, this is single awareness day. He needs to get it right.”

I text back (because I have to try to be the adult) “Good actually for him to preach this.  For the peeps that didn’t come to the marriage conference.”

But she is too quick for me and shoots back another text: “Too bad it’s totally irrelevant to 97% of the church.”

I sit up straight and look down the row at her, and give her the eye, the mama look that says more clearly than words, “Young lady that is not true and besides you need to stop texting.”

She texts back: “Yes, 100% true and you know it.”

Sigh.  I’m beaten and I know it.  But still maybe something good will come of this. 

But nothing good did.

First of all there was not one disclaimer of any kind that a sermon entitled “God’s Perfect Plan for Marriage” would not apply to everyone listening whether they were married or not.  On the contrary, he actually said it was for everyone whether they were married or single. No clarifications or exceptions mentioned.

And this is how he started, stating the three things he wanted to make sure all the thousands of people in all the campuses and online listening heard – including all the single people, separated because of addiction or abuse people, divorced people, children of divorced people, widows and widowers, as well as actual married people-  had straight right off the bat:

 1. God has a perfect plan for marriage

 2. You have a 100% chance of success in marriage. (This was repeated many times).

     3. The reason marriage is failing in our society is because we have rejected the Word of God.

The only allusion to divorce was (word for word quote), “If you failed in marriage, if this is maybe your second or third marriage, I hope this is your last marriage, but I want you to know you have a 100% chance of success in marriage. God made you for marriage.”  No mention of special circumstances of abuse or addiction requiring separation or divorce.  No mentioning that someone might have failed you in a marriage even though you did your part.  No mention of currently divorced people or single parents existing in the world at all.
No mention that some people are called to be single and that is a good thing. In fact, quite the opposite, we were told it wasn’t good that man should be alone and statistics showed married men lived longer… because their wives make them eat salad and vitamins.

About this time I get one more text from my irreverent child:

Over and over again we were told God’s word has a 100% success rate for marriages.  There was not one clarification or exception given.  We were told that if we didn’t like Ephesians 5 it was because of our flesh reacting.  “There is no plan B because this is God’s perfect plan. This works for everyone that does it, and it’s not complicated and it’s not hard.”

Um, excuse me?  Anyone who has ever been married or who is currently married out there agree that marriage isn’t hard?  No?  I didn’t think so.

But according to this speaker the take away comes down to: if you are divorced you didn’t obey the Bible.  If you are a woman it means you didn’t submit and respect your husband.  If you are a man you didn’t nurture and cherish your wife as your own body enough, or lay down your life enough.

He read Ephesians chapter 5.  And then he said, “The roles in Ephesians 5 make us attractive to our spouse and cause them to open their hearts to us. They will not open their hearts to you until you do what this says right here. If you do these things it is incredible the change it makes in a marriage.”

And I lost it, right there in church and the tears came.  With that one statement this man reopened the wound caused by that evil lie that had been repeated to me over and over again, from the pulpit, from marriage books, from marriage counselors and from my abuser.  If I would submit and have a gentle quiet spirit my husband would find me attractive and he would treat me well and love me.  Based on this premise, the obvious reason he didn’t love me and stay faithful to me was because I hadn’t honored him, respected him, and submitted to him properly. 

I really thought I had completely replaced that lie with the actual Biblical truth that God gives us all free will and nothing I do can make anyone else do anything.  But this apostolic elder found that old wound under my well healed skin and stabbed it open again, right there in church in front of my kids and everything. He rubbed in a little I Peter 3:2 salt in it just for good measure with this personal application (his exact quote): “You can change your husband without a word as he observes your chaste and respectful behavior.”

He even repeated it, just to be sure we all got it: “You are your husband’s equal in every way, but without a word you can change him.”

We were told to be gentle in person but violent in prayer.  Hmm, I wonder if praying three copies of “Power of a Praying Wife” to pieces counts for that.  Apparently not. I must not have prayed enough, because the Word of God has a 100% success rate.

I’m thinking about the message my kids are getting, sitting there next to me.  The Word of God has a 100% success rate, but their parents are divorced.  That equals, wish Mom had just respected Dad and prayed more and we wouldn’t be in this mess.

The speaker did say he believed that men and women were equal, more than once.  But then he proceeded to unsay that by almost every example he gave.  I was shocked to hear things so outdated that I have no idea how this person is preaching them in 2016 in the fourth largest church in America.  The speaker actually recounted the eight cow wife story, made famous by everyone in the 1980s from Readers Digest to Bill Gothard- after giving the disclaimer-  “I don’t know if this is true or not.” 

We were also told at one point how women react positively to men’s sweat.  Not as in sexual pheromones, but as in, men sweating as they perform housework.  He described a test done at the University of Pennsylvania where men’s sweat was put on women’s upper lip and found that under the influence of male sweat women “relax, get happy and feel romantic.”  “So men, (the speaker declared) you are a clean house away from the night of your dreams.” 

I tried desperately not to let my mind go certain places and began to wonder if I was in church or listening to a 50 Shades of Gray promo or in the Twilight Zone.

But hey, I do wish I had known all those years that all I needed to do is submit and all my husband needed to do was clean the house to fix those deep issues of dysfunction, abuse, addiction, unfaithfulness, and living lies. Come to think of it, I did submit, and he actually did clean the house regularly... and that didn’t fix things. At all.  It actually made them worse. 

FYI and totally TMI, his sweat did NOT turn me on.

Then there was this little gem: “If we could reach our potential on our own God wouldn’t have created marriage.”

Excuse me?  We reach our full potential in MARRIAGE?  Not through Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit?   Seriously?  

That really sucks for singles, since I guess they will never reach their full potential.

Yes apparently he really meant that. We were told the role of every husband is to be God’s partner to bring his wife to her full potential.  He has stewardship over her, like a piece of land.  One day every man will stand before God and give account for the most precious thing God gave him, his wife.

Um, I’m no theologian but I’m pretty sure we all stand before God individually and give account for our individual lives.  I actually think that according to the teachings of Jesus, He is the vine and His Father is the husbandman, or the “farmer” and I am to abide in Him for growth. (John 15) Jesus is the only one who is my high priest or who stands before God for me. (I Timothy 2:5) Under the new covenant I can’t use my husband (or now my ex) as an excuse for anything I did or didn’t do in this life.

And here’s where we got the eight cow wife story.  If there was any way to plant a seed of doubt in the minds of his audience that a preacher really doesn’t believe what he said earlier about men and women being equal it’s by telling a story about a man buying a wife with cows.

Oh and now comes the one tiny part of his message directed to the single women, “Don’t sell yourself short to any man who is looking for a discount wife.  You are worth eight cows. Oh just kidding, you are worth a lot more than that… haha.”

Yes, ladies and gentlemen this is exactly why I wanted to raise my half Indian daughters in America instead of elsewhere- so someday when they were 17 and 18 they could sit in an American mega church in 2016 and be told they were worth 8 cows.  Thank you for that.

Then he mentions Proverbs 31 and concludes that the wife gets all the credit for her husband being an elder because her respect created an atmosphere that allowed her husband to excel. “Her behavior produced an elder in the city.”  Oh joy.  Now promotion – or lack thereof – can be attributed to how much respect a husband is getting or not getting at home.

Pressure much?  And isn’t that a dis on both husband and wife?

And then he talked about the merit of cheerleaders in men’s sports.  Yes, he actually went there.  And said the role of wives is to be cheerleaders and husband will be inspired to live up to his full potential.

Cheerleaders and eight cow wives.

And finally, the icing on the cake.  Our greatest sins in marriage: Women are too independent and men are too apathetic. Uh oh.  Shades of Jezebel and Ahab stuff for sure.  I’m having flashbacks to cultish deliverance sessions.

“This has a 100% success rate, it isn’t complicated it just takes a respect for the Word of God and a commitment to do what it says.”

So… if your marriage failed you didn’t respect the Word of God?

His prayer at closing: For the single people- for God to bring them a spouse.  For marriages- open our eyes to the reality and brilliance of your Word, and the perfect plan that will work for us.

Happy Valentine’s Day to me.

I’m sorry, my friends, I may be a divorcee without a degree and this man may be an apostolic elder who heads a marriage ministry and has a TV show on marriage and has written books on marriage- but I’m calling out this sermon today as inappropriate application of scripture: overly simplistic, misleading, hurtful and damaging.  (Not to mention totally insensitive timing.) This is legalism, pure and simple, for it puts all the responsibility for a marriage on what one person can do, and how well they can do it. This kind of message leads to ignorance and minimizing of deeper problems of addiction and abuse among Christians, which actually makes them worse.

Furthermore this kind of simplistic “marriage teaching” in the Church hurts both men and women.  Why?  It condemns them and dismisses all their real life  and very complex personal and marriage issues that cannot be "fixed" by simply submitting or nurturing. 

These complex issues can include family of origin dysfunction, spouses coming from different backgrounds, a history of physical or emotional abuse, sexual trauma or dysfunction, infertility, the death of a child, PTSD, sexual and substance addictions, depression, codependency, chronic pain, and verbal, emotional or physical abuse, just to name a few real life situations that are affecting people and their marriages every day.

And when none of these problems are acknowledged in church, everyone who is experiencing them feels shamed and isolated. They wonder if they are only one who struggles among this church full of seemingly normal people.  This leads to people not being able to be honest about their problems, to faking it to look like their marriage is fine when it isn't. When you are told from the pulpit that all you have to do is follow Ephesians 5 and every problem in your marriage will be fixed, it doesn't make you feel safe to open up when that doesn't happen.

And if that isn’t what the speaker meant to convey, he should have stated that.  Because hundreds of both men and women in all these situations were sitting in church listening to that sermon today, on Valentine’s Day, and feeling condemned, depressed, beat up and hopeless because they’ve tried, and it wasn’t easy and didn’t work perfectly.

It rarely does.  Because the truth is, marriage isn’t simple.  It’s hard.  Because life itself isn’t simple.  It’s hard.  Please pastors, don’t lie to us like that in church.  And don’t tell us our marriages have 100% chance of success if we follow the Christian formula (any more than you should tell us if we raise their kids a certain way they are guaranteed not to rebel- after all, the Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it- 100% guarantee.)

Very little is 100% in this life – apart from God’s unfailing love for us- and that’s 100% because that depends 100% on God and 0% on people.

Tell people instead that life is hard, marriage is hard, singleness is hard, being divorced is hard… but no matter which hard you have, God’s love is powerful to carry us through, 365 days of the year.

Maybe, just maybe, not on Valentine’s Day.