Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hedges for Monsters

In a recent post, Married, with Friends, blogger Libby Anne discusses a book called Hedges: Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It (by Jerry Jenkins), and what the so-called "hedges" show about evangelical Christianity's view of marriage, adultery, and men/women's roles.

Image source.

The "hedges" a man should use to protect his marriage (as presented in Jenkins's book) are the following rules:
  1. Not to dine or travel with a woman alone unless an unavoidable complication makes this impractical, and then to tell his wife first 
  2. To only ever hug another woman in front of others
  3. To never compliment another woman on her looks, only her clothes
  4. To avoid any kind of flirting except with his wife and to engage in as much flirtation as possible with his wife.
  5. To remind his wife often of his wedding vows orally and in writing
  6. To get home early and spend time with the children every day before bed
  7. To share his story often
In Libby Anne's post, she first talks about the obsessive focus on the rule "do not commit adultery"- as if the reason that cheating is wrong is that the bible has a rule that says it's sin- rather than because you love your spouse and would never do something terrible like that. She also says what really matters is that her husband actually wants to be with her, rather than just staying married because there's a rule that says "divorce is wrong." And she goes on to talk about how rigid gender roles lead to the idea that men and women can't be friends, and other women are seen as a threat to a man's marriage. Read the whole thing, it's good.

I want to elaborate on the observations she made about "protecting one's marriage" by avoiding other women, rather than by strengthening the relationship with one's wife. I think this reveals the way many Christians view temptation.

Take another look at that list of 7 "hedges." The focus is on avoiding contact with other women, rather than showing love to one's wife. It's almost like there's an assumption "I'll probably cheat on my wife if given the chance," so one must make sure to never get that chance.

Why?

Because temptation is strong, and people are weak. (At least that's the subtle message I get from a lot of Christian teaching.) We're all basically evil, with a sinful nature. No matter how strong a person's love toward their husband or wife, they must never think that they could resist temptation. First you happen to have lunch with a co-worker, and the next thing you know, you're sleeping with them. It's a slippery slope, man. No one wakes up one day and decides "I'm going to have an affair"- no, it's a ton of little steps, so you must prevent yourself from ever having an opportunity to take even one "little step."

Temptation is strong, and people are weak. Ha, how silly of you to think you'll be able to detect the warning signs. How silly of you to think that "love" will keep you from cheating. These things can just HAPPEN, so fast. Your "love" is no match for temptation- temptation is so strong, so powerful, no human can stand against it. The only solution is to religiously police all of your interactions with members of the opposite sex. Make it quite literally impossible to have an affair.

Temptation is strong, and people are weak. And we must live in fear of the monster inside us, in fear of what we might do, if given just a little freedom, fear of somehow, through some unknown but apparently incredibly probable turn of events, getting out of control, doing horrible things we would regret the next day.

Inescapable.

So just add more rules. Rules and rules and rules. Don't even let that monster get a glimpse of daylight- it's too strong for any human to resist, and who knows what it's capable of?

Scary monster... Image source.
But I don't believe that anymore.

I don't care how strong temptation is. God is stronger.

Don't Christians believe that the Holy Spirit lives in us? The power that created every quark in the universe, the power that raised Jesus back to life- this is the power God gives to his followers.

You are not meant to be a slave to temptation and sin. You are not meant to live in fear. Jesus gives freedom!

Be free!

To be paranoid of the possibility of temptation, to cover your life with rules and more rules, to push people away because you see them as threats rather than friends, to FEAR that you might be so evil and helpless that you miss all the warning signs and cheat on your wife by accident- this is NOT Christianity, and this is NOT the freedom that Jesus died to give us.

Yes, temptation exists. Yes, it's possible to be in a situation where it's hard to do the right thing. But you must not fear that. Trust in God's power and pour yourself into loving your spouse and loving God.

And if you do that, you will see the red flags if they come. Maybe one day you realize "oh my, I'm more interested in attention from this other person than from my husband/wife." And THAT'S when you change things and put up boundaries and address the problem. No, I don't believe you'll already be so deep in temptation that you'll be blind to what's happening or helpless to resist it. The power of the Holy Spirit is greater than that.

I don't believe for a moment that there exists someone who, after having an affair, looks back with regret on what he or she has done and concludes that the only point at which they could have chosen to stop it was that one time they happened to eat lunch together and chat. I don't believe for a moment that some innocent, friendly interaction can set off an unstoppable chain of events, dooming you to committing that affair which ruins your marriage.

Certainly temptation is real, and certainly boundaries and rules can be good, but they shouldn't be based in paranoia, in viewing every member of the opposite sex as a threat. They should be based in your own knowledge of yourself, your emotions, your weaknesses.

Trust yourself and trust God. The resurrection of Jesus Christ broke the power of that monster, and you are free.

7 comments:

  1. I'm starting to wonder if this breed of Christian believes in love at all. It's like they think there's only lust, and so to give that to their wives they need to avoid other women so that they don't have the chance to share it elsewhere. Men will want to have sex with anyone that comes along, so make sure no one else comes along.

    Not that secular culture is much better on this sometimes. See: rape apologism and victim blaming.

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  2. Definitely agree- in my experience, the fear of sin/temptation seems to be a subtle assumption behind a lot of Christian teaching (taken to the extreme, it IS like they "don't believe in love at all"). But thank goodness that's not what Christianity is supposed to be about. :)

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  3. I think you would like this recent thread from Captain Awkward on whether men and women can be friends. The consensus is basically "Even if I'm living with someone, I'm not going to 'accidentally' start sleeping with them."


    The One Extraordinary Marriage podcast talks about putting boundaries around your marriage, but I find them to be pretty realistic about that. For example, don't hide from your spouse that you've gotten back in contact with an ex. If you're sneaking around behind your spouse's back to spend time with someone, that's a red flag. If you find yourself spending all your time focused on how to get someone else's attention who's not your spouse, you have a problem.

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  4. Oh cool, I like that Captain Awkward post- thanks for sharing!



    Also, yes, boundaries! Boundaries are good, but they should be based in REALITY ("I kind of feel guilty for not telling my spouse that my ex contacted me") instead of fear ("if I say hi to this person, I might suddenly accidentally sleep with them!").

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  5. I have complicated feelings about this because - for the most part - I completely agree. That being said, after you see enough Christians leaders' marriages collapse (I've had it happen to 3 friends) you start realizing that 1) these people DID love their wives, 2) temptation IS very real and 3) no one is immune.

    So while you're not wrong, I at least understand where the other side is coming from. You build fences when you're tired of seeing people die from the lions outside of them.

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