How Traditional Christian Marriage Can Fail Us
How Traditional Christian Marriage Can Fail Us

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Let me channel my inner Iyanla Vanzant for a moment. My dear sisters, beloveds, just because a brother has an R-E-V before his name does not mean he is for your highest good.

Pastors and preachers are called by God to serve God’s people. We are often guilty of equating the role of pastor with God’s Own Self…particularly when pastors are called upon as marriage counselors who also join people in marriage. And when someone who is viewed as God’s agent professes suffering as part of the cost of being a Christian wife, or that extra work on the wife’s part is a reasonable expectation for being a Christian wife, that’s a problem. I’m using Pastor John Gray’s comments about his wife to undergird a necessary conversation about mutuality. Because be clear, this is not an indictment of John and Aventer Gray’s relationship. If it works for them, let them work it. I am identifying the notion that potential wives must prepare themselves to grow up their husbands without a discussion of mutuality as a problem. When Gray described his wife as a ‘covering’ and not a ‘lid’ because,  “a lid stops your dream but a covering pushes you toward your destiny,” I didn’t hear anything about him pushing her to her destiny. Maybe that part of the clip wasn’t shared. I’m just saying…marriage is far more complicated than this, obviously. And I have issues with making wives responsible for their husbands, period. When a church leader says something like this, it comes across as more prescriptive for marriage in general than it comes across as ‘hey, this is what works for me and my wife.’ It suggests women who want to be wives should be satisfied with husbands that don’t fit perfectly, or that marriage is something husbands need “to grow into, ” or be broken in like new shoes. It’s not a problem for a husband to appreciate his wife. I have no issue at all that Aventer created a space of healing for her husband and that he chose to applaud her for it on national television—at least that is what I deduce from the clip from “Sister Circle” making the rounds on social media. The problem, as I see it, is not with John Gray giving his wife praise for his success. The problem is this can also place a needless burden on wives to be blamed when their husbands fail. Enter Jacob Greenleaf.

Jacob is a fictitious pastor on the show “Greenleaf” and is portrayed by actor Lamman Rucker. Jacob is the ultimate embodiment of the problems with this trajectory of thinking. That he cheats on his wife, Kerissa, mother of his two children, was established in the first season of “Greenleaf.” This season, Kerissa (played by Kim Hawthorne) found out Jacob kissed another woman, Tasha (played by Asia’h Epperson), after she drunkenly admitted it to her. All over the Twitterverse, posts blamed Kerissa for this. Posts saying her natural hair was too short, and Jacob cheated because men like long hair. Posts saying she is too mouthy and that is why Jacob cheated. Notice a theme here? That Jacob cheated on Kerissa because of something she did? No. Jacob cheated because he chose to. And keeps choosing to.

Jacob blames Kerissa for his failings as a man. A spouse does not cheat because his significant other is:
Hard to get along with

Has gained weight

Doesn’t cook every day

Is too tired for sex

Wears her hair naturally

Speaks her mind

Spouses cheat because they choose to. Spouses cheat because they want to. Period.

But Jacob’s sense of entitlement, disappointed that he didn’t get a cookie for NOT sleeping with Tasha, does not give proper illumination to the toll his behavior has on Kerissa. She said she couldn’t trust him, and that she couldn’t live with the question of why Jacob would pick her to be his wife if he didn’t want to be with her…seamlessly shifting the conversation from Jacob blaming Kerissa to Kerissa blaming herself.

Jacob and Kerissa remind us that being ‘churched’ is no guarantee of a happy family life. They are falling apart at the seams. Their family dynamics are crumbling.

These two scenarios remind us why it is necessary for Christian marriage to be redefined in ways that don’t make wives responsible for their husbands.

When I think of the number of Black women in positions like Kerissa, wives who outearn their husbands, have husbands that cheat with reckless abandon, placing their health at risk, women who work full-time and are expected to raise their children, cook, and keep a clean house, while simultaneously fully supporting their church leader husbands by assuming the often unpaid duties of the “pastor’s administrative assistant,” my head spins. Maybe it’s time to ask who traditional Christian marriage is really working for other than the “How To Be a Wife” branding so many Black Christian leaders—men and women—are making a fortune from. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be married. But marriage is hard enough without the extra burden of wives being responsible for their husbands. Let the church be more mutuality-oriented and tear down the single vs. married dynamics in the church. Let’s keep the focus on how to be in and how to maintain mutually satisfying relationships.