Ready or Not: Reading “Real Marriage”

I’ve mentioned before that lately I’m feeling increasingly out of step with my church. It’s complicated — on the one hand, this is a church that loves Jesus, and that works hard to do Good Things to help people in the world around us.* On the other hand, my church believes that homosexuality is a sin, and holds to complementarian gender roles for both marriage and church leadership, and I believe these positions to be oppressive and contrary to the trajectory of the Gospel. There are other areas where I sometimes find myself disagreeing with statements made from the pulpit or ways of interpreting the Bible, but these are usually unimportant and don’t detract from their focus on living out God’s mercy towards others.

But I am frustrated by the lack — the intentional lack — of women in leadership positions in my church. I long to hear a female voice from the stage on Sunday morning who isn’t relegated only to singing with the worship band. I am heartbroken that all of our trustees (which is Evangelical for “elders”), all of our pastors, the heads of every department, and the second-in-command people who report to the department heads, are all men; not only are the church leaders missing out on hearing from the gender that makes up at least half of our congregation, but they’re also contributing to our country’s ongoing income inequality between men and women.

Furthermore, I believe that a complementarian doctrine of marriage (that is, one that teaches that the man is to be the loving head of the marriage, and the wife is to respectfully submit to his leadership) can, when taken to its logical extreme, lead to abuse; and even when implemented lovingly, has the effect of suppressing the uniqueness and individual gifts of the husband and wife, depriving both the couple and the world around them of the full potential of their partnership.

And this makes me — a woman who loves Jesus and wants to serve Him fully, a fifteen-year member of my church, a wife who was married there, a mother who is raising her sons there — really, really sad.

Real MarriageThen, a few weeks ago, my church announced that we’ll be hosting a video simulcast of Mark Driscoll’s Real Marriage Conference.

I haven’t followed Driscoll and Mars Hill Church closely, but what I know of them sent up some serious red flags. The snippets I’ve seen of his teachings and excerpts of his book Real Marriage, on which the conference is based, have given me the impression that he is not only a deeply authoritarian complementarian, but also has some very unhealthy views about sexuality. I sat on my feelings for a few days, unsure of whether this was another concern I needed to file away under Nope, I Don’t Always Agree With My Church; but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was really, really worried about this conference and what Pastor Driscoll might tell our members about marriage and sex — streaming live to our auditorium, with no way to pre-screen the video for problematic content.

So I emailed my pastor with my concerns. I shared with him some of the things I was aware of Pastor Driscoll teaching that are troubling to me, and I asked him to please be watchful for parts of Driscoll’s message at the conference that may be contrary to our church’s beliefs, things that may reflect a warped view of marriage and sex.

To my pastor’s credit, he replied my email, thanking me for voicing my concerns to him and asking me to attend the conference and participate in being vigilant for things Pastor Driscoll teaches that could be misunderstood or misinterpreted, so that he (my church’s pastor) can address them on the spot. I’m gratified that he’s taking my fears seriously, and that he’s committed to watching out for problematic content at the conference, and…I wish I could help, but I’m already engaged to be out of town that weekend. Rats.

So instead of participating in the conference, I’m going to read Real Marriage and give it a thorough review here, on the blog. My understanding is that the bulk of the Real Marriage Conference’s content is coming from the Driscolls’ book anyway, so I’m hoping it will give me a good sense of what he will be teaching. And because my pastor said that he believes that Pastor Driscoll “aligns well with [my church] on doctrine and theology”**, I’m going to try to set aside my preconceptions of Driscoll and give the book an honest, thoughtful reading and do my best to engage the content humbly and optimistically. I’ll do my best to set aside whatever objections I have that are based out of disagreements with complementarianism (and there have been plenty of things written by other writers addressing the fundamental problems of complementarian doctrine, so I don’t have too much guilt over not engaging those parts of his teaching; on the other hand, I’ve seen very few reviews from complementarians who are critical of the book) and review the book through “complementarian eyes,” framing my response based on what my church teaches on marriage. Perhaps I’ll find that some of my preconceived opinions about Pastor Driscoll are unfairly negative; or perhaps I’ll find that what he has to say about marriage and sex are still problematic even in the context of complementarianism. Either way, I’ll be able to weigh whether this is someone I’m comfortable having teach at my church, even via simulcast, or whether his virtual presence there adds to my growing feeling of unease.

Wish me luck; I’m going in.


*For instance: We have longstanding supportive relationships with a few villages in Mozambique — we’ve worked with them to establish permanent supplies of clean drinking water and to create a healthy long-term economic system for the villages. A few weeks ago a different village nearby flooded, destroying homes and farmland and the limited water supply, and in the space of two weeks our congregation raised nearly $100,000 for disaster relief. That’s a Good Thing.

**I find this statement pretty disconcerting, and a big part of why I’m trying to get a more thorough understanding of what Driscoll teaches is that I’m really hoping I’m wrong about how awful he is. The possible outcomes of this experiment, as far as I can see, are: (a.) I’ll find that his positions are not as problematic as I’d thought, and I’m comfortable with my pastor identifying him as someone aligned with our church’s beliefs; (b.) I’ll find that his positions are truly problematic, take these concerns to my pastor, and he’ll say, You’re right, this does disagree with what we believe; or (c.) I’ll find that his positions are truly problematic, take these concerns to my pastor, and he’ll say, Yep, we agree with those things, and then I’ll know that my church is not a good place for me to stay. I’m really hoping for (a.) or (b.).