Remember the pop-Christian phase of the early 2000’s? Christianity sought, as it always does, to relate to younger populations. This era’s strategy was a turn toward a pop-Christian aesthetic: urban God apparel donned with “Jesus is my homeboy”, hip-hop gospel, Christian fiction marketed to teenage audiences, even performance poetry- all meant to instill in budding millennials that you could be a Christian and still be “cool.” The next step in the pop-ification of God was a strategy for grooming young Christians for marriage.
Because this trend came with no examination of patriarchy and sexism, Christian teenage behavior grooming quickly became a how-to guide for Christian women to prepare themselves to be wives.I went to the teen zone workshops for young women at church, and for much of my college career.
I remember carrying “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” in my backpack, and signing an abstinence pledge. To give you an idea of the toxicity of this book, after readers reported 20 years of failed marriages and messed up sex lives the author Joshua Harris recently apologized for it and asked his publisher to stop printing it!
Christian popular culture has spent the better part of a decade using Proverbs 31 to instill Christian values in young women who were soon to become wives. I’m not sure what was done to groom young men in the same way, because as many have noted, almost all of the church’s approach to relationships and marriage is focused on what potential wives should do to attract and keep a faithful Christian husband.
Enter this weeks viral comments made by pastor John Gray. John Gray in an attempt to praise his wife, made comments that have been the subject of viral conversation..
“I married a woman two sizes too big. I have to grow into Aventer. She’s a coat. I still can’t fit her. She’s bigger than me and she’s had to cover me while I grow up. I gotta grow into her”
He goes on to say:
“Let me tell you something, my wife has endured more pain birthing me than both of our children. She has sacrificed these last eight years, uncovering the painful areas of my manhood and covering the areas that could have exposed me.”
John Gray’s comments are part of a larger theme of women expected to endure the struggle of broken men. There are several problems with this recurring approach to relationships, my most important issue?
The idea that women are supposed to suffer pain to birth the vision of her partner is inconsistent with the teachings of the last decade. Yall are changing the rules. What happened?
None of this is reflected in the teachings presented to me as a young girl. My job was to abstain from sex and compromising behaviors, dress modestly, and pray for my “Boaz” to choose me as a wife. What happened? Men were never presented as projects to be nurtured. In fact, young women were taught that a husband is “respected at the city gate” (Proverbs 31” ).
We were told that a man, when HE was complete, would choose to be a husband. We were told to wait until he was already whole. Now, the narrative shifts to one of potential and patience. Men have the potential for greatness, and now, part of our responsibility as (potential) life partners is to nurture this greatness from whatever level it presents itself.
What happened to “equally yoked”?
Entire conference rooms of young women were told not to settle, to pray away their loneliness until a man equal to them was presented by God. Apparently, we have shifted to a negotiable definition of equally yoked relationships when it’s the man that is looking for a life partner.
Now, if a man is “too small” for us but still wants to be married, we are supposed to be coverings until he moves past unresolved feelings and trauma.
What happened? I have a few ideas.
Maybe millennial Christian men are finding out that they are imperfect, but still want the reward of the wife they were promised.
They are not the husband at the city gate, but still want the Proverbs 31 wife. So women are expected to compromise.
Maybe church has spent so much time developing young women into wives that it has failed to not only develop men into husbands, but into emotionally healthy human beings. Wives then, are expected to be the therapists their husbands were never told they needed.
Maybe men realize they want more than a Proverbs 31 woman who cooks, cleans, and wears long skirts. Men want emotional and social support that was not emphasized in Christian wife classes. Because men cannot reconcile the wife they want and the wife they are supposed to want, they bend rules that are immovable for their wives.
Millennial Christian women are moving away from antiquated notions of marriage, and are naming the inconsistencies in teachings of the church.
We are not settling for the imcomplete men that incomplete spiritual teachings have produced, leaving some men and their “traditional” family images behind.
Christian men are adding to the list of wifely duties rather than admit that marriage and relationships are more complex than they thought.
Rather than interrogate their behaviors and encourage other men to be better, responsibility still ends up at the feet of women, and what more we should do to be good wives to husbands who are new to processing feelings. I wish preachers, and the church as a whole, would admit that the way they approach relationships, is at best, biased and unstable.
There is a better way to approach relationships in the church, one that holds men accountable, and gives grace to women for following “rules” that rarely bend in their favor.