Close up of the hands of two people (one male, one female) sitting opposite each other at a desk. The woman holds a mug, the man holds an open Bible as if flicking through it. Text over the top: Gregoire, Grudem and grounds for divorce: why didn't Jesus mention abuse?

Gregoire, Grudem and grounds for divorce: why didn’t Jesus mention abuse?

For people who suffer marital abuse, divorce is a significant and important way for them to escape harm (or at least reduce it) and rebuild their lives.

Despite this, the church has long held that divorce is moral only when a spouse has committed adultery or desertion. Remarriage after divorce has also been widely prohibited.[1] These teachings have been largely based on the gospel passages where Jesus discusses divorce, as well as one of Paul’s letters.

Views have certainly diversified amongst Christians, but even today, I read statements like ‘the marriage bond cannot be dissolved.’ Or that while divorce is ‘sometimes necessary due to abuse, it is neither required nor encouraged.’ (Which seems a bit contradictory.) Or, ‘in pastoral counseling, restoration of marriage must always be first [sic] goal.’

My personal view would largely align with Sheila Gregoire (emphasis mine):

I’m having to delete a lot of comments on the blog today from people saying that divorce is never a biblical option. I find that sad. I know God hates divorce–but He hates people being wounded and abused and betrayed, too. And Jesus gave us some reasons for divorce. Anyone who reads my blog knows that I am very pro-marriage and anti-divorce, but more importantly I’m pro-truth and pro-healing.

In that post, which she wrote in 2015, Sheila observed that the Bible appears to be silent about whether abuse is a reason for divorce—because it’s not explicitly mentioned in Jesus’s teachings or 1 Corinthians 7:12–15. However, she argued that we can still deduce that spousal abuse is a legitimate reason, given what the rest of the Bible reveals about God. 

Fast-forward to March 2020, Sheila wrote another post commenting on conservative theological heavyweight Wayne Grudem. In late 2019, Grudem made a public u-turn, saying that the 1 Corinthians 7 verses were applicable to more than just adultery and desertion. 

Grudem now believes that the biblical text supports the idea that abuse, even in its non-physical forms, is legitimate grounds for divorce. He bases his argument on an analysis of how other ancient Greek sources used the phrase ‘in such cases’. He found that the phrase ‘referred to more kinds of situations than the original example that was being discussed.’

Then we get to today and why I’m writing this post. 

Continue reading Gregoire, Grudem and grounds for divorce: why didn’t Jesus mention abuse?
Close up of a pair of purple crocuses in bloom. Text over the top: Some thoughts on being an asexual Christian married woman. Light in Grey Places

Some thoughts on being an asexual Christian married woman

This is a long-overdue post in response to those who’ve asked me to write something about asexuality and theology. I wasn’t sure where to begin, so I figured I’d share some observations from my own experience.

Obviously, my experiences won’t be shared by everyone on the ace spectrum, but I’m hoping they’ll provide some conversation starters. 

Continue reading Some thoughts on being an asexual Christian married woman
Picture of someone's hands holding a copy of Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs. Text over the top: Why Love & Respect's CHAIRS acronym isn't about genuine respect

Why Love & Respect’s CHAIRS acronym isn’t about genuine respect

So, I have a theory about this whole idea that women want love, but men want respect. 

In short: the people who promote this notion use the word ‘respect’ to mean something different to what I think it means. 

If you’re new to this whole ‘love vs respect’ controversy, it’s easy to find in Christian circles, thanks to a popular marriage book by Emerson Eggerichs. The title? Love and Respect

Continue reading Why Love & Respect’s CHAIRS acronym isn’t about genuine respect

Everything wrong with the Nashville Statement: Article 01: the meaning of marriage

You remember the Nashville Statement, right? No? OK… 

Imagine Martin Luther in 1517 when he nailed his 95 theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg, inviting a public debate on the church’s flagrant injustices. 

The Nashville Statement was nothing like that. 

Though it was published in a year ending with the number 17. 

Fourteen articles, from conservative evangelical Christian leaders (some of which were prominent Trump supporters), the Nashville Statement was an overtly sexist, homophobic and transphobic exercise in ideological line-drawing, dressed in theological language. 

CONTENT WARNING: This post reproduces some of its sexist, homophobic and transphobic language and arguments. 

Continue reading Everything wrong with the Nashville Statement: Article 01: the meaning of marriage
Picture of a bride's right hand against the skirt of her white wedding dress, wearing a silver bracelet with a heart locket attached. Over the picture are the words: I'm happily married, but I don't wear my wedding ring. And I have all kinds of feels. workthegreymatter.com

I’m happily married, but I don’t wear my wedding ring. (And I have all kinds of feels.)

I just checked the photos from our 10th anniversary celebration last summer (that is, in 2019) and it turns out I was still wearing them then. But somewhere in the months since, I zipped my wedding and engagement rings into a pocket amongst my toiletries — and I haven’t worn them since.

As for what prompted this change in habit, I guess I just gave up waiting for my husband to wear his wedding ring.

You see, a few years ago the knuckles in his left hand flared up and it became painful for him to wear it. He’d had the issue in his right hand and after a few years that hand recovered. But with his left hand, the problem seemed to be worse and lasting longer. So, not through any lack of love for me or from me, he stopped wearing it.

And I guess I just got to the point where I thought, “Maybe he’ll never wear it again.” At which point, me wearing mine acquired an odd mixture of meanings. Continue reading I’m happily married, but I don’t wear my wedding ring. (And I have all kinds of feels.)

Close up picture of red and yellow flowers against a dark blue background with the words: ‘Be self-giving, not self-seeking’ — but what if that’s the wrong marriage advice?

“Be self-giving, not self-seeking” — but what if that’s the wrong marriage advice

I see the same essential marriage advice given time and time again: “be self-giving, not self-seeking”. Depending on who you listen to, and in what context, the message ranges from the quite helpful to the incredibly toxic.

It can push for balance and mutuality — if both spouses seek the other’s wellbeing, then both will also be on the receiving end and good things tend to happen. But it can also give the impression that marriage is about work or indeed ‘sanctifying’ your spouse. Throw in false assumptions about what men and women need for their well-being (e.g. women need security, men need sex) and it’s a recipe for abuse.

That said, it’s hard for Christians to shake the feeling that marriage is about more than one individual and that marriage shouldn’t come at the expense of one spouse. So, you can see why Christians might encourage self-giving rather than self-seeking for good marital relations.

But I think this approach is fundamentally flawed.

Let me explain. Continue reading “Be self-giving, not self-seeking” — but what if that’s the wrong marriage advice

Picture of a branch with a bright red rope around it, tying a double coin knot, with the words: Why submission in the comp/egal debate is actually about boundaries (and warrants comparison with kink) workthegreymatter.com

Why submission in the comp/egal debate is actually about boundaries (and warrants comparison with kink)

Complementarians, egalitarians and kinksters are three groups of people who all frequently talk about submission in the context of a sexual relationship but using different words with different meanings.

  • The kink community (sex positives who are into BDSM) talk about D/s, a shorthand for domination and submission. (Click here for why I write about BDSM.)
  • Complementarian Christians talk about the servant-leadership of husbands and the wifely submission of—well, wives.
  • Egalitarian Christians, on the other hand, talk about mutual submission.

Each group explicitly says that it doesn’t support abuse, but each one also says that either or both of the other two groups normalise abuse. So how did that happen? Continue reading Why submission in the comp/egal debate is actually about boundaries (and warrants comparison with kink)

Picture of the book "Shameless: A sexual reformation" by Nadia Bolz-Weber, with a card sticking out saying "I'm ready to be SHAMELESS about ...." Text over the top: On hearing Nadia Bolz-Weber at Southwark Cathedral workthegreymatter.com

Shameless about…? On hearing Nadia Bolz-Weber at Southwark Cathedral

“Breathe in the good s***, breathe out the bulls***.”

As I told a friend I was going to hear Nadia Bolz-Weber speak, he said she was the only person he’d ever heard swear in St Paul’s Cathedral. She’s probably also the only person people have heard swear in Southwark Cathedral too – which is where I heard her speak about her recent book “Shameless.” Trust me, when I use asterisks in this post, you can be sure that she didn’t.

For those who don’t know, Nadia is a rather unconventional Lutheran pastor. She was the founding pastor of a congregation called “House for All Sinners and Saints” and she’s gone on record saying that ethically-sourced porn is OK. Her Twitter handle is @sarcasticluther and she puts “SHAMELESS af” after her name.

Well that’s one way to make a statement.

She’s also authentic in what she says and a lot of people appreciate her honesty. I personally think she preached sensationally at Rachel Held Evans’ funeral. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch it here. Continue reading Shameless about…? On hearing Nadia Bolz-Weber at Southwark Cathedral

Picture of chess board with a king piece and pawns visible with the words: Law not patriarchy: why submission isn't the issue in Esther and Vashti's stories workthegreymatter.com

Law not patriarchy: why submission isn’t the issue in Esther and Vashti’s stories

The story of Esther, a Jewish orphan who became queen of Persia and saved her people from annihilation, is loaded with intrigue and drama. But that doesn’t necessarily make it comfortable reading.

Even in its earliest days, it had mixed reception. The Jews at Qumran ignored it; the Alexandrian Jews added extra passages to make the story more normative to Jewish ideology; and whoever translated the Hebrew into Greek “corrected” the original by (for example) pervasively inserting references to God.[1]

Likewise today, the book’s reception amongst Christian audiences faces tension. However, the topics now seem less concerned with whether Esther kept Torah, and more concerned with the justice (or otherwise) of patriarchy and warfare. Even so, the story remains immensely popular, with commentaries and Bible studies vying to interpret how Esther and Mordecai’s actions are exemplary for the modern Christian.

And in the middle of this, every now and then I see someone drawing attention to Vashti, who was queen before Esther, and they commend Vashti for her thoroughly feminist refusal to be a spectacle for the drunken king.

But is women’s equality what the author of the book had in mind, and if not, how much are we helped when we look at her through a feminist or egalitarian lens? These are the questions I want to explore in this post. Continue reading Law not patriarchy: why submission isn’t the issue in Esther and Vashti’s stories

Text on purple, white and black swirly background: Why do Methodist evangelicals insist all sex outside marriage is 'sexual immorality'? Because that's not in the Bible. workthegreymatter.com

Why do Methodist evangelicals insist that all sex outside marriage is ‘sexual immorality’? Because it’s not in the Bible.

The Methodist Conference in Great Britain recently commended a report about marriage and relationships, God In Love Unites Us, by 247 votes to 48. The headlines have focussed on how this report commends same-sex marriage, but it’s actually much broader than this. For example, it also discusses cohabitation, developing resources for married people, and even developing liturgies for when relationships end.

Meanwhile, Methodist Evangelicals Together have issued a statement and article in Premier Christianity saying that the report was one-sided, ignored testimony, and biblically unsound.  They’re calling on evangelicals to “make the case for a biblical view of marriage and relationships” rather than echo society’s views. [Edited to add: I should probably caveat here that that not all Methodist Evangelicals agree with the stance that MET has taken. Certainly, I saw tweets to the contrary as the report and article came out.]

Now, I might have my own problems with the report (the section on good sexual relating doesn’t mention consent), but I also recognise that it’s attempting to tackle and contextualise big and very sensitive issues, whilst still being accessible to read. And on the whole, I reckon does very well at this. What’s more, far from being unbiblical, I think the report is conceptually groundbreaking in how it de-couples sexual ethics from marriage.

Make no mistake, the report doesn’t give a free-for-all. For all my talk of ‘groundbreaking’, much of what the report says about sex is still well within the bounds of Methodist evangelical sexual ethics. It explicitly says “promiscuous, exploitative or demeaning” sex is unacceptable and emphasises exclusivity (albeit, not marriage) as a pre-requisite for sexual flourishing.

As such, the report places itself outside of much sex-positive thought, including any discussion of, for example, BDSM or polyamory. I’m not going to debate that in this post. In fact, right now, I’m not interested in going over same-sex marriage (though you’ll probably be able to guess where I stand).

What I want to ask is simply this:

Why do evangelicals insist on directly linking extra-marital sex to sexual immorality?  Continue reading Why do Methodist evangelicals insist that all sex outside marriage is ‘sexual immorality’? Because it’s not in the Bible.

How the word ‘proxy’ helps me talk about equality

Photo credit: Martin Jernberg https://unsplash.com/@martinjernberg

Over the last few years I’ve found that there are some words that I’ve started to use or think about more frequently. They’re little tools, like an adjustable wrench or an alum key, that I never much needed when I was growing up, but are now really handy. Probably because I’m more purposeful and aware when it comes to theological deconstruction and reconstruction.

‘Proxy’ is one of those words and it’s particularly helped me as I’ve thought about, and talked about, equality. Continue reading How the word ‘proxy’ helps me talk about equality

Word cloud in red and blue about David and Bathsheba with the post’s title

David’s story is no defence for male impunity (and Kavanaugh apologists need to know this)

With all that has been written about Dr Christine Ford and US Supreme Court judge Brett Kavanaugh over the last few weeks, I’ve asked myself what I might be able to contribute that wasn’t already being said.

One of the best pieces I read was a post on Slate.com titled ‘Men are more afraid than ever.’

It lays out how one argument in defence of Kavanaugh is essentially the idea that if a man sexually assaults a woman then he should have impunity. Perhaps he might be taken out of the public eye for a few months, but if so, then his time out should not be long:

They grew up in a world that taught them they “get to” do the things they did. They feel, accordingly, that they have been unjustly penalized. They believe they’re suffering greatly.

As I reflected on the article, it struck me that one of the biggest drivers behind this toxic mentality might be a modern Christian (mis)understanding of David and Bathsheba. If so, then perhaps what people need to hear, is something that undercuts poor interpretation of this story.  Continue reading David’s story is no defence for male impunity (and Kavanaugh apologists need to know this)

Evangelicals can’t sanitise Vicky Beeching’s conversion exorcism as badly worded prayers

When I first read the interview in which Christian singer-songwriter Vicky Beeching came out as a lesbian (after a substantial performing career in the USA’s Bible Belt), I found myself faced with a number of challenges. Perhaps surprisingly, the biggest one for me related to how she had undergone an attempted exorcism. It had been aimed at converting her sexual orientation from gay to straight and she had been traumatised by this experience.

I wanted to understand why this was the case. (In all honesty, this wasn’t obvious to me.)

Now, reading her recent memoir-cross-apologetic Undivided, where she defends both her gay identity and LGBTQ+ identities in general, I still have questions, but I also have more answers.

And one thing above all is clear to me: this attempted exorcism ought not be described as merely ‘spontaneous prayers that could have undoubtedly been worded better’. This is what Peter Lynas said whilst writing for (and on behalf of?) the UK Evangelical Alliance. There is much that can be said about his review, but for this post I’ll focus on just these words. I expect many LGBTQ+ advocates would say these words demonstrate a lack of understanding regarding the nature of the offence that conversion therapy presents to them. I think there is something to that, but what I want to show here is how these words fail to take responsibility for beliefs and practices around healing ministries.

I’ll try to explain my reasons as gently as I can.

CONTENT NOTE: This post describes Vicky’s experience of attempted conversion prayer (using details from her book) as well as some anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric.

Continue reading Evangelicals can’t sanitise Vicky Beeching’s conversion exorcism as badly worded prayers

Book The Meaning of Marriage Tim and Kathy Keller

When we don’t explain the Trinity, the gospel gets ugly (especially for wives)

Last week, I met up with a good friend, also a blogger, whose areas of interest overlap with mine particularly in regard to consent and feminism. Though she’s not a Christian, a few months ago I had asked if she would read chapter 6 of Tim and Kathy Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2013). For those less familiar, this is where Kathy Keller squarely sets out her complementarian theology and how she found joy accepting the ‘divinely assigned’ role of her gender by submitting to her husband Tim.

I asked my friend Amy to read it because I wanted a second opinion. I felt Kathy sounded eerily like a woman who’d been conditioned to believe she was a ‘submissive’ in the BDSM sense, even though she wasn’t one – much like Ana in Fifty Shades of Grey (click here for what I mean by ‘BDSM’ and ‘submissive’).

Amy had been through an abusive 24/7 dominant/submissive relationship and she blogs regularly about BDSM, so I was interested to know her thoughts. Also, as someone who isn’t in the church, and who hasn’t exited the church, she didn’t have any theological axes to grind.

I got a flavour of her reaction when she messaged me the day before we met up:

So… it’s okay that my notes on this book contain a lot of RAGE CAPS, right? 😀

When we met she read her comments to me a little hesitantly, in case she was being too scathing in her criticisms. She needn’t have worried. From my perspective it was satisfying to hear her name several of my key complaints against this chapter and complementarianism in general.

But what surprised me was her take on the Trinity.

Continue reading When we don’t explain the Trinity, the gospel gets ugly (especially for wives)
Piano sheet music from a Cadiz by Isaac Albeniz

To stay or to go? On church, LGBT+ affirmation, and uncomfortable places

(Sheet music from a Cadiz by Isaac Albeniz – complete with notes from my piano teacher)

Imagine being in the following situations:

  • Having a job where the boss of the adjacent department is someone who discriminated against you (and you’ve never received an apology).
  • Being amongst extended family members who habitually crack jokes that demean an aspect of your identity (and you’re never sure how serious the jokes are).
  • Attending a church where the pastor has systematically tried to silence your voice.
  • Being in an online forum where its leader states repeatedly and categorically that an experience of yours did not, and does not, happen.

They’re pretty uncomfortable scenarios. The question is: what do you do with them?

At work, my boss is someone who is streets ahead of me in terms of professional experience, organisational nous and interpersonal savvy. I can barely begin to go into how much I’ve learned from him. When it comes to music though, it’s the other way round. Aged in his fifties, he’s struggling through his grade 3 guitar exam, whereas I had grade 8 piano when I was fourteen. It makes for some interesting conversations.

Recently he described how his teacher had been telling him that part of the art of being a performer is learning how to handle an uncomfortable environment. What do you achieve if you go into the room and the lighting is a bit off and someone’s looking at you awkwardly and you say you just can’t play?

Of course you want the environment that welcomes you. Continue reading To stay or to go? On church, LGBT+ affirmation, and uncomfortable places