What do you do to overcome your pain? Trauma? Abuse? For my wife and I the most recent answer to those questions was – fire. I’m not sure what our therapists would say to it; but fuck, it sure felt like a helpful release at the time.
We went through the pictures of our past lives, and decided on which memories we would keep and which ones we would burn. And the keepsakes that brought us pain – those too we cast into the fire.
Why would we need to burn our past away? Memories are suppose to be good. And pictures are “worth a thousand words.” Right?
Well, unfortunately pictures can also sting with the bite of trauma and past pain. Ever present reminders of our past selves and the trauma we endured. And the pain caused to us.
My wife grew up in an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church. There she heard of God, Jesus, and Salvation. But also so very much more.
There she heard of a God that hated “fagots”, “sinners”, “harlots”, “drunkards”, and also women. She was told that she was to be subservient to her father and then unto her husband. Forced into a model of modesty from birth onward. Forced to wear a dress and act “womanly” at all times because of literal interpretations on verses like the following.
“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.“Deuteronomy 22:5
“9 In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; 10. But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 12. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.1 timothy 2: 9-12
“Third, women are commanded to shut up concerning the Apparel of the Church. 11 Timothy 2:9 commands the woman to dress in modest apparel. I have personally seen that in a large percentage of churches, the long tongued, rebellious, bobbed-haired, preacher-hating, pants-wearing, liberal-minded women have determined the standard of dress for the church. The cowardly preacher is afraid to cross this group. He knows if he does, these loud-mouthed women will take their weak husbands and go to another church. Sadly, most woman pull their hair, grit their teeth, and even yell back when the preacher deals with modest dress. Some will even get mad just reading this article. I say to you, SHUT UP!“Pastor Phil Kidd
Her father pastored her church. But Phil Kidd would make frequent trips to her hometown to preach “revival meetings” at her church. He also had other sermons with fascinating titles like: “The Effects Of Interracial Marriage”, The Strategy Of The Sodomitis”, and “A Hitler Named Hillary.”
There she suffered at the hands of others. “Christians” were what they called themselves. But they didn’t act like “followers of Christ.” They tore her apart and abused her (it’s her story to tell – not mine) and then abandoned her when she needed them the most.
Enough on that though. I guess one of the big things we wanted to burn away was our views on marriage. “Traditional” marriage roles were the normal in both of our childhoods.
Well what is even “Traditional” marriage in an evangelical setting? I have a few quotes from the college I attended that I’ll post. Then I will explain how it was shown in our lives.
“What are the wife’s responsibilities. 1. to obey husband, 2. to love husband, 3. to be chaste, 4. to be a keeper at home, 5. to reverence her husband, 6. to trust husband, 7. to be in agreement with her husband, 8. to learn from her husband.”Pensacola Christian College – Marriage and Family
What are the roles of the husband – taking initiative and leadership, provider, and protector”Pensacola Christian College – Marriage and Family
For me that was explained in a hyper-masculine way. A man must be strong and a protector of the home. He must be the breadwinner. Any man that deviates from that, well he’s just a “pansy” and isn’t worthy of the term “man.”
“Simply stated, that principle is this—the groom dies for the bride, the strong suffer for the weak, and the highest expression of love is to give your life for another”Doug Phillips
Biblical patriarchy was a term that would have also fit. God is over the husband. Then over the wife is both God and her husband. She stays under the “safety” of her husband’s protection. She then is the “umbrella” over her children. Teaching them in the safety of home.
That was what was taught, but I really wasn’t even modeled well in my own home. My dad was emotionally distant and authoritarian, and expected my mom to follow his plans and words. She tried to have her own voice, but it was heavily suppressed.
Mom raised and homeschooled all six of us kids. She tried to become that perfect housewife and mother. But I know she struggled with depression throughout our childhood. Our house became cluttered, and I would even call my mother a moderate hoarder.
I know she did her best, but the culture we were immersed in didn’t believe in talking about mental health issues. Or really even discussing your struggles with others. Mental health was suppose to be something that could be fixed through prayer and study of scripture. Your “walk with God” was suppose to yield a healthy mental state.
Her family, well they were even more dysfunctional. Her dad grew up independent fundamental baptist (IFB), and with that came all the dysfunction of the IFB. Her mom didn’t grow up in the IFB, but after she married she adopted her husband’s views.
Her father read this book and applied the teachings of it to his own marriage.
- Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers by John R. Rice
- “Oh, women, what you have lost when you lost your femininity! When you bobbed your hair, your bobbed your character, too. Your rebellion against God’s authority as exercised by husband and father, has a tendency, at least, to lose you all the things that women value most. If you want reverence and respect from good men, if you want protection and a good home and love and steadfast devotion, then I beg you to take a woman’s place! Dress like a woman, not like a man. Have habits like a woman.”
- ” ‘Thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee.’ Wives must be subject to the rule of their husbands if they fit into God’s order of things. Does some wife who reads this find her heart rebellious against her husband? You do not want him to rule you? You do not want to obey? Then you feel just like all the criminals in the penitentiaries and jails feel. They, too, are rebels against God-given authority.”
- “Servants should obey their masters even if they are sometimes unkind. Citizens should obey the laws of their country even though they be administered by wicked and corrupt men. Likewise, God expects women to feel their duty to obey their husbands, good, or bad, saved or unsaved. Nowhere in the Bible is a wife’s duty to her husband conditioned on the kind of character he has or the way he treats her.”
- “There are women doctors, and any woman who can pass the medical course is permitted to be a doctor; yet how few men will call a woman doctor! How few businessmen on a board of directors would elect a woman as general manager of a big company. How few men would hire a women boss over other men. The truth is that men know that which is so plain in all nature, that God did not intend a woman to be in authority over men. It is unnatural and inefficient. Then do you wonder that in the modern sissyfied churches the average he-man will have no part?”
Her mom was expected to be in total submission to her father. Supportive of him emotionally and always there to meet his sexual desires. Enduring any emotional abuse without any complaint.
Echoing my experience with hers -Mental health, trauma, and abuse were expected to be handled by the Church. God was the way to heal your relationship. And if you were having any troubles in your marriage or with your mental health it must be because of your lack of faith.
Going into our marriage we both expected to have the same roles. But we were going to do better. Right? She was to stay at home, raise our kids, and then as the kids grew up she would homeschool them. I would be working to provide for our household and be the “spiritual leader” of the home. We decided to have kids right away and we were ready to be a good Christian family.
However, that quickly fell apart. She hated housework and struggled to try to maintain her vision of what a “perfect housewife” would look like. She desperately wanted to get out and go do new things, but she had to rely on me to do so, because of not having a driver’s license. Having a kid was suppose to be that all fulfilling thing that would give her purpose. But instead it left her depressed and feeling even more trapped.
And I was no “spiritual leader” and dreaded trying to lead our nightly devotional sessions. I hid my emotions (as my father before me) and refused to civilly discuss anything. As her depression grew my anxiety skyrocketed, but I couldn’t tell anyone in my faith community or reach out for support. Because the only advice I would get would be to pray, read my bible, and to have faith that God would be there for me.
We clearly needed to change. And we did, but I can say that process wasn’t easy. At every turn we struggled to branch out further from our expected pattern. It also didn’t help that both of our parents tried to push us back into those roles. “You won’t have any time to have an impact on your daughter’s life.” “You know your daughter needs a loving mother at home right?” – Said after my wife took a part time job.
For us, the only way to change was to let go of our faith. Or at least the evangelical traditions we had been taught especially those regarding marriage. They brought harm to our relationship and drove a wedge between my wife and I.
A woman and a man are equal and any religious teachings that teach you anything else are pure bullshit.
My wife overcame her fears, learned to drive, and eventually started a part-time job. And I stopped pushing to “lead” and started listening. Listening instead of just bull-dozing through or pushing down every emotion that came to the surface.
As for those painful memories and marriage roles we were taught – burn them – burn the pain and those memories away. Burn away the hatred, bigotry, sexism, and pain. Let it all turn to ash. And when they are all ash, then we can start anew.
If you are looking for a good book on the history of American Christian patriarchy pick up. “Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation” by Kristin Kobes Du Mez
Jesus Feminist by Sarah Besey was also a good book. But it’s more of a personal memoir style of book. Don’t expect a blow for blow defense of feminism in the bible.