The Witness

Divorcing White Evangelicalism, Remarrying My Wife — Part 1

Timothy Thomas

My wife and I were on the edge. The last time I wrote about our relationship for The Witness, I was blissfully unaware of how close I was to dismantling our marriage. My sin is my sin and I blame nobody else for it but me. But with the provision of hindsight, I now see what I allowed to influence the devaluing of my wife: evangelical culture, more specifically the white kind of evangelicalism.

Providentially, God also used the white evangelical church to support us through counseling and help me see how their culture was damaging our marriage. As a result of this and some gray areas regarding racial justice, we knew it was time for us to divorce white evangelical culture and rediscover marriage outside of its purview.

Before We Begin…

I feel it’s important to note that my intention is not to paint with broad brushstrokes of white evangelical cultures. I also do not unfairly assume everyone who identifies with said cultures are intentionally harming marriages, although that should go without saying.

There are people in my life who know that I don’t use the term descriptively of skin color as I do categorically of a way of thinking and an ideal of life. Black and white aren’t terms that I made up. They are codes of caste that unnecessarily divide us (which is why CRT is an important discipline to study, but I digress). I know no matter what I say and no matter how I try to explain what “white evangelical culture” is, some will be offended. If that is the case, there may be a shoe in this narrative that fits for you.

My best advice is to sit with it, repent, and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is me and my wife’s experience with white evangelical culture, not a specific skin tone nor any specific church. For those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

Through Her Eyes

My wife has a very strong gift of discernment that I for too long tried to stifle in the name of “male headship.” She can see things and people for what and who they are, and what and who they will become. She perceived things that needed to be addressed in our church culture that I muffled her from saying in the false humility of not trying to stoke division. There were things we both felt were problematic about the white evangelical culture. But I didn’t feel equipped to call out because I felt we didn’t have the right or power to say because of who we represented as minorities in the midst of a predominantly white social structure.

Even prior to that, in college I was heavily influenced by leaders who highly discouraged any sort of female leadership. I remember listening to a sermon that insisted that any time women led in the Bible, it was God’s curse on that nation or community. From what I gathered, women were encouraged to stay home and raise children while men alone provided financially for the family. So when we were engaged, I tried to convince my wife to drop out of college and just be my stay-at-home wife.

My wife (God bless her) wasn’t hearing any of that. At this point, you’re probably asking why she stayed with me. It’s a question both of us are still scratching our heads trying to figure out. Eventually, I relented on my insistence that she drop out of school, but when she felt called to go to nursing school and pursue her calling to care for the vulnerable, I caused unnecessary contention in our second year of marriage and onward.

Gospel Rights

At this time, I attempted to lead us both deeper into white evangelical culture, and she was by my side prophetically calling out everything problematic with our surroundings. I grew frustrated that she was not like most other women in our evangelical social circles—calm, quiet, and deferentially submissive. She was the opposite—authentic, expressive, and vociferously forthright. “It’s like a boys’ club,” she would tell me whenever leaders in the church would address me before her or would skip over her to pass me information about family activities. The subtleties that she picked up were not merely trivial annoyances, but leaks of toxicity that would only become more clear to me later when issues of racial justice and reconciliation would affect me emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

Our sex life also suffered because of how I allowed white evangelical culture to influence me. The strictest sects of the subculture taught me that my wife was to remain submissive to me, even if she felt devalued by me. The more “liberal” complementarian views taught me that I should love and do things for her so that she would feel okay submitting sex to me on my terms. Either way, I learned marital sex was my right, whether I demanded it or manipulated it.

I never wondered why when the married men in our home groups would gather together to confess our sins, “lust” and “pride” were always the two main topics we struggled with. Now I see the pervasive feeling of failure was prominent when our wives wouldn’t allow themselves to be objectified by us. As a result, we felt like we were not walking in “the will of God” as leaders of our homes, which left us wanting to find other ways to master the perceived control we were called to have.

But thank God for a wife who wasn’t putting up with my bull. With help from counseling, we were both able to see and confess our struggles with control. My boyish desires and selfish rationalization pushed us both to the edge of destruction. My wife doesn’t owe me anything simply because I am a man and she is a woman, nor does she need me to validate her. She is strong, capable, intelligent, and spiritually gifted in her own right. God made her this way, for this time, place, and generation, for his glory. I’m convinced he will not allow any subcultural influence, nor I to stand in the way for how he is going to use her. Just as Jesus has freely given us himself, we likewise give ourselves—our time, talents, energy, bodies, and unique giftedness—freely to one another.

Read Part 2 Here!


13 thoughts on “Divorcing White Evangelicalism, Remarrying My Wife — Part 1

  1. M&M

    It’s hard for me to understand how it could feel like a failure when you’re not objectifying your wife, but I sortof understand that you were searching for your role in the marriage.

    As a white woman, I first had a phase of guilt about the white part and now am in a phase of noticing how the church disadvantages the woman part more than the world does. I didn’t even think about my gender when I applied for a secular law school, but at church, I better not teach men about scripture, although I can teach them on secular subjects. I’m sure some churches would discourage females from higher education, but mine doesn’t. And I didn’t notice how inconsistent that is until recently. Whenever I questioned whether God really accepted my “unsubmissive” career choice, I was encouraged by the story of Deborah. She practiced law before going to war 🙂

    I find Ephesians 2:14 and Acts 17:26-27 most comforting about race because God’s ultimate goal is unity, but not erasing culture. The Acts verse is less famous, but it basically says God choose your ethnicity and geography, so you would seek him. What it said to me is God wants me to seek him as a white person and not to be ashamed of how he made me white, but that does NOT mean superiority or segregation. It means I acknowledge both the beautiful parts and sinful parts of my culture and others. It means God wants you to seek him as you are and not be ashamed that he made you black, brown, golden, etc, and to see the beauty in the culture he gave you.

    So, I welcome the fact that you divorced white evangelicalism because you stayed with Jesus, who reconciles all nations.

  2. Petrina

    So glad to hear of your testimony! God is not mysoginist and does not authorize spiritual abuse. God does not think less of women than men. Authority does not mean greater value or worth. Satan has used men to represent God in this false way and to present a perverted gospel in this way. I’m glad to see true men of God standing up for what is right and glorifying God by telling the truth. The truth sets us free indeed.

  3. Portia

    Nah….you call out specific sins by names.
    It’s called religion. It’s called misogyny. It’s called objectification. And white evangelicals have upheld this sin…and made it a standard.
    Be accountable for these sins…and stop canceling others that call it out.

  4. Bill Johnson

    Almost every time someone has to make a preface or paragraph explaining how they are not trying to stereotype a group of people negatively , I know that is exactly what they are doing.

    This would have been a great article on how SIN messes up marriages , families, and churches.

    All of this is a sin problem … I know that because You could have changed all your white evangelical references to asian evangelical or black evangelical, and found the exact same sin problems… the difference is you would have been labeled a racist.

    The jacked up treatment of women is sinful and you find it in every Christian denomination, Islam , Hindu, Buddhism, atheism , all over the world, and has been going on for thousands of years .

    Call it what it really is – a SIN problem.

  5. Estelle

    Re your comment about God cursing the Israelites for women leaders, I’d be quite happy to be ‘cursed’ with 40 years peace under a leader of Deborah’s calibre.

  6. Kristin

    Timothy, you are absolutely right and have a much needed voice into this issue. I am thankful that your wife recognized and stood against complementarian pseudo-holy culture and teaching. It took me years to come out of and recognize the negative issues it facilitated in my own life.
    Some people may be distracted that this is a race issue, but as a white woman, I (think I) see your point about the “white Christian culture” and agree 100% – It is a patriarchal structure that uses the word “complementarian” to attempt to soften the blow (though many freely use “patriarchal” as well), that IS dominated by white men. I am not Southern Baptist, but their influence seeps outward. Based on their eisegesis of Scripture, Southern Baptists fought abolition of slavery; today they fight to keep women down, with ever softening ways of defining this, as you say. In the end, it is rotten at the base no matter how many flowers are planted inside.
    Keep sharing your voice! Thank you.

  7. marianna

    Wonderful, absolutely wonderful. It’s definitely time, too … we need this to go viral.

  8. Petrina

    This is just a follow up with the correct email address!

  9. Petrina

    I read and believe the Bible. The problem is, many men through out history have abused, twisted and used the Bible out of context to oppress, abuse, and belittle women. That said, this is a main reason why so many people have so many problems in their marriages. Women are often naive and have been fed lies throughout our lives and believe them and go along with the culture.

    However, I understand if I’m to glorify God, I must marry a man who does not try to stunt what the Holy Spirit is doing in me and through me. An insecure chauvinist man wants to believe that all a woman does is have babies and cook. God uses women in many ways and this is something the insecure man cannot quite accept it seems. Godly headship does not mean stunting a woman’s godly wisdom and spiritual gifts. It means encouraging her to flourish in them and loving her as Christ loved the church and being an all around provider for her. What the chauvinist sometimes seems to forget is that his godly wife is God’s daughter before she is his wife. He will answer one day to God for how he treated God’s daughter. I am glad to see that the truth brought healing to your marriage.

  10. Raelene

    Finally someone is talking about this. Cant wait for part two and your conclusions and new approaches to all and your sex life.

  11. Sabrina

    This is sooooo friggin encouraging. I’d love to read your wife’s perspective on this journey.

  12. Arlene

    Hmmm…looking forward to part 2

  13. Daniel Henderson

    Great article! Can’t wait by part 2!

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