Hi and welcome! As I mentioned last week, we’re diving into a Christian book offering marriage advice. As one might expect out of a group that experiences divorce rates in the nosebleed section, Christians sure enjoy this genre of books. But with advice like this, nobody ought to feel surprised about those rates. Over the next week, I’ll show you just why Christian marriage advice is so pathetically awful. Today, we kick off the slumber party with a look at the author of If Only He Knew, and get an overview of what this book offers.
Everyone, Meet Gary Smalley.
Gary Smalley wrote If Only He Knew.
In fact, he wrote many dozens of books before dying in 2016. Almost all of them offer relationship advice from an evangelical Christian perspective. Sometimes his books target men, other times women.
You’ll see nothing about his specific affiliations on his Amazon page. The book itself doesn’t even mention Christianity on the front or back covers. Nor will you find much information on Smalley’s official website.
Now, that might sound odd. Most Christians–especially the right-leaning ones–tend to be loud about exactly what flavor of Christianity they think is the one correct one out of the many thousands of competing flavors.
But clues abound.
For example, on his Amazon author page we discover that people who buy his books also buy books by James “Putting the SICK into Toxic” Dobson and Gary “Love Languages” Chapman.
Further, the Wikipedia page about him linked this 1997 writeup criticizing him. There, we discover that Smalley “worked with Bill Gothard for ten years.” So we can assume that Smalley was, at the least, a complementarian.
None of this looks good.
Er, DOCTOR Gary Smalley.
Returning to Gary Smalley’s book, we find one more interesting fact to start us off. Hilariously, the book blazons a big ol’ “Dr.” in front of his name.
This guy claimed to be a doctor.
But we can find nothing whatsoever anywhere on this book explaining why he used that honorific!
Hilariously, Gary Smalley turns out to be really shy about the source of his doctorate, when he received it, or what subject it represents. Even more hilariously, his huckster operation includes a school that offers to teach Christians how to present his preferred style of counseling, but even its page doesn’t reveal exactly what his educational credentials are.
Diploma, Diploma, Who’s Got the Diploma?
Eventually, I found one for-profit religious school called “Light University” that describes his education as “M.Div., Ed.D.” That’s hardly an auspicious educational path for someone holding himself out as a marriage therapist. We usually grant the term “doctor” to people who have degrees in medicine–or academics. However, in the context of this terrible marriage-advice book, Smalley qualifies as neither.
I also found a decent biography on a newspaper site. There, we learn he began working as a pastor in 1979. He traveled often, presenting seminars and speaking in front of crowds. The writer of that piece notes absolutely no higher education obtained. Thus, it’s entirely possible that at least one of those degrees is honorary, which is common in evangelical circles. If so, no wonder he kept the specifics about them on the down-low. And also if so, my goodness, that is outrageous of him to tout these credentials on a mass-market advice book.
I finally found the answers at a site for enlisted atheists fighting Christian overreach in the military. There, we learn that Gary Smalley (probably) earned his M.Div from Bethel Seminary–a noted fundagelical outfit. The education doctorate is, indeed, honorary–from Southwest Baptist University. He holds another honorary doctorate in literature from Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA).
Ultimately, an eight-year-old child is better qualified to offer marriage advice than “Dr.” Gary Smalley.
Another False Christian Expert.
Christianity finds itself infested with false experts. They’re everywhere. Here are the usual ways they manifest themselves:
- Pretending to have–but entirely lacking–any higher education or training at all in any field
- Having nowhere near the level of education or training they imply having
- Having some kind of higher education and training, just not in a relevant field
- Claiming that a qualified background was earned, when it was merely conferred
- Possessing higher education and training in a relevant field–but through garbage-quality sources
Usually, we find these liars-for-Jesus infesting the ranks of toxic Christianity. That’s where the most outrageous claims and most disgustingly abhorrent teachings live. The Christians who adopt these claims and teachings ache more than any others for legitimacy, but reality simply doesn’t play along.
Real scientists, real therapists, and real doctors don’t tend support nonsense like what Gary Smalley teaches. In fact, they regularly contradict and refute it. So to scratch their itch, toxic Christians turn to pseudoscientists. And thanks to their deep pockets and never-ending gullibility, they need fear no shortages of charlatans offering them exactly what they want.
Once a false expert has gotten lodged in Christianity’s skin like a tick, that person’s set for life. Christians have no idea how to weigh evidence or critically evaluate anything. Worse, their culture punishes them–not the conjobs–if they ask too many questions. So a false expert in Christianity almost never gets unmasked, let alone ejected from the sheepfold.
I really wish it bothered Christians more than it does that so many of these people exist in their religion.
Bill Gothard’s BFF.
For years Gothard has used Gary Smalley as a human shield, to bolster his own image through association with Smalley’s well known kindheartedness.
Recovering Grace, “Bill’s Cabin: Uncovering Sin.”
I can see why Smalley seriously downplayed his past association with Bill Gothard. After all, this perverted degenerate’s “ministry” still causes waves in the media occasionally. His name deservedly remains quite tainted in popular culture. This year, some new Quiverfull-type reality family (very closely linked with the Duggars, as you’d guess) publicly distanced itself from Gothard last month after news about their own close relationship with this predator emerged. Meanwhile, the abuse lawsuit against Gothard got withdrawn last year. Since then, he’s been radio silent.
But my oh my, Smalley and Gothard were once thick as thieves.
That one critical Christian site informs us that Smalley actually worked for Gothard for ten years. Another critical Christian writeup alleges that while working there, he half-assed some immorality investigations against Gothard in the 1970s and 1980s. Worse, that second writeup alleges that Smalley personally witnessed Gothard’s debaucheries, and even includes a letter allegedly written by Smalley to Gothard in response to what was clearly Gothard’s request to him for help clearing his name. (This implied request comes into sharper focus here.)
Even considering that Smalley’s departure from Gothard’s group didn’t happen on friendly terms, and even knowing how much Smalley knew about Gothard’s predations, he still protected Gothard for a while. He kept his mouth shut and didn’t investigate abuse claims too carefully. When Smalley died, Gothard repaid that generosity by offering a heartfelt tribute to his Best Friend Forever (BFF) over on Facebook:
(Don’t you just love it when Christians act like they are 100% sure about exactly who’s going or not going to Heaven? It’s amazing how seldom they’re wrong about anything at all in their cosmology. Just amazing. (/s))
His Eyes Stayed on the Prize.
Gary Smalley protected Bill Gothard because he had his eyes firmly fixed upon the prize: the proliferation and widespread adoption of his version of Christianity. This version allows predators in right through its front door. It carefully grooms women and children in the flocks to accept degrading and dehumanizing treatment at those predators’ hands. And it succeeds because it is pure authoritarianism from top to bottom.
And Gary Smalley simply couldn’t deal with the facts: the guy who’d popularized and championed this flavor was, in fact, exactly what we should expect to see out of this flavor of Christianity. Gothard created this flavor to serve his interests. It allowed him to gain vast power and indulge his desires. It appeals greatly to men who desire unearned and unilateral power–and to the occasional woman with misplaced trust in the many promises this flavor makes.
What a mess.
So yeah, I can absolutely understand why Gary Smalley kept his denominational affiliations on the down-low. I’m guessing a lot of regular Christians wouldn’t touch his books with a ten-meter cattle prod if they knew about Smalley’s relationship with Gothard or what his specific ideology is. This way, he reaches a much wider potential audience for his goods.
If Only He Knew.
I’ve had this book for a few weeks now. However, it got on my last nerve every time I tried to read it. And it took some time to figure out why:
This book is pure complementarian trash. However, its author does everything he can to hide that fact. He pulls out the stops to make his sexist, demeaning vision of marriage sound like the most glorious and perfect way to conduct a marriage that could ever possibly exist. By now, though, authoritarian Christian men know that they can no longer count on their womenfolk to put up with complementarian mistreatment infinitely. Eventually, many of them will take advantage of all them dad-gum Satanic no-fault divorce laws.
So Smalley’s main goal in If Only He Knew is teaching authoritarian married men how to sorta-kinda manage their wives’ simmering resentment and hostility long enough to keep their marriages alive and obtain at least some of the perks their leaders assured them would come to them through marriage. It’s a manual for callous, cynical emotional manipulation.
Once I understood the subterfuge going on here, this book became much easier to read–and even interesting in what it reveals.
The book If Only He Knew was written by an authoritarian, complementarian Christian man. He aimed his book at men just like himself. By hiding his ideological leanings and affiliations, he clearly hopes to suck in a few unwary customers–and perhaps make them into complementarian converts.
Gary Smalley himself is the very last person that anyone–authoritarian or not, Christian or not–should consult for marital advice. Not only does he possess not one shred of advanced education or training in this topic, he himself has no idea what he’s doing in his own personal life. As we’ll see as we go along, Smalley’s own marriage was steadily crumbling for decades–all while he was giving his stupid seminars about How to Marriage the Jesus Way.
But between the lines, we can easily see the cracks in the complementarian facade. Smalley himself accidentally highlights them–and gang, they are hideous and constantly revealed. When we take up next time, it’ll be with Smalley humbly placing himself at the service of a downright vicious emotional abuser–and then trampling the boundaries of that man’s victim.
NEXT UP: On Tuesday, we look at who the target audience for this book is, and the promises Gary Smalley makes to them. See you soon!
Please Support What I Do!
Come join us on Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter, and our forum at rolltodisbelieve.com! (Also Instagram, where I mostly just post cat pictures.)
If you like what you see, I would love to have your support. My PayPal is firstname.lastname@example.org (that’s an underscore in there) for one-time tips. I also welcome monthly patrons via Patreon with Roll to Disbelieve. You can also support the blog through my Amazon Affiliate link! Thanks!