Modern conservative Christianity is obsessed with marriage, relationships, and sexuality to the point where these concerns crowd pretty much everything else out. Here are ten examples of evangelical advice that show how far adrift the Christian right advice industry is from the real world:
1) BE A BETTER HOUSEKEEPER to prevent cheating. Recently, Pat Robertson addressed a question that haunts many a woman who has a husband with a wandering eye: How to get past his cheating? Robertson all but told women not to worry their pretty little heads about their husband’s infidelities, suggesting that male infidelity in nigh-inevitable. He did, however, make some suggestions on how to minimize the straying: “What you want to do is make a home so wonderful that he doesn’t want to wander.”
2) WOMEN NEED TO SUBMIT to their husbands. Throughout fundamentalist Christianity, one piece of advice rings out above all others, which is that marriage only works if wives submit to their husbands. When speaking to outsiders, they often play it off like “submission” is just a bit of Biblical-language goofiness isn’t to be meant in the secular sense, but in practice “submit to your husbands” means exactly what it sounds like. Michelle Duggar, right wing Christian icon and reality TV star, summarized some of the points of practicing wifely submission. She specifically singled out financial independence as something women should never have, saying, “Love is killed by self-sufficiency.” Sheryl Sandberg’s loving husband would be surprised to hear that!
3) HOW TO MAKE SEX interesting in a Christian marriage. Conservative Christians are expected to abstain from sex until marriage, but for evangelicals, at least, as soon as you get married, you’re supposed to immediately drop years of prudish sexual avoidance and throw yourself completely into your intimate relationship. (Indeed, many proponents of wifely submission come down hard on women who are reluctant to have sex as often as their husbands want to.) In an attempt to overcome the obvious problems with these expectations, some Christians have created sex advice websites like Christian Nymphos, to get their readers in touch with those sexual desires they spent years repressing.
4) IF YOU’RE GAY, marry someone of the opposite sex and try not to think about it too much. While most people are familiar with the “ex-gay” movement that encourages people to try to turn straight, the new strategy is a bit more subtle: Encourage gay Christians to just live like they’re straight and ignore their real desires. Josh Weed, a gay Mormon married to a woman, is one of the most straightforward examples. He claims his marriage is better than ones where there’s sexual attraction, claiming that their sex life is “about more than just visual attraction and lust.”
5) MEN, DO NOT MASTURBATE. Women, either, I suppose, but most anti-masturbation materials on the Christian right focus on men and casually assume women don’t have the same urge toward hearty self-loving. To prevent themselves from masturbating, young men are encouraged to start “accountability groups” where they try to de-lust themselves, mostly by telling each other to think of Jesus when they’d rather think of boobs.
6) IF HUSBANDS WANT MORE sex, women should do everything they can to give it to them. Focus on the Family’s marriage counselor Juli Slattery is blunt about: Married men need sex, and so wives who aren’t providing enough need to step up.
7) HOWEVER, IF WIVES WANT more sex, they should learn to go without. Slattery has very different advice for wives whose problem is that they want to get laid more, but have unwilling husbands. While you should move heaven and earth to drum up more desire for a husband who wants more sex, if you’re the undersexed one, you’re instructed to tell yourself “friendship, seasoned love, and shared history are often enough to maintain a marriage in which sex is no longer possible.”
8) MEN SHOULD NOT BELIEVE their partners who say they want abortions. While the Christian right doesn’t like to talk about it, plenty of Christian women want abortions, at about the same rate as other women. Anti-abortion activists then turn to men in an effort to prevent these abortions. Luckily for women who, generally, aren’t playing mind games by choosing abortion, most clinics have enough security to stop men who have crazed Christian right-induced white knight fantasies.
9) HANDY TIPS TO KEEP from screwing. The Christian right loves to chastise and scold the unmarried for having sex, but beyond a purity ring and encouragement to just say no, there’s surprisingly little advice to those who want to be abstinent on how to do it.
10) BE EXTREMELY PARANOID about your teenager’s sexuality. Needless to say, parenting advice from conservative Christians is obsessed with the haunting fear that your kids are interested in sex; no amount of guilt tripping and shaming them for it will keep them away from it forever.
Amanda Marcotte writes for Alternet.org. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.