In Am I Sleeping with the Enemy?, Ron Clark offers a passionate and personally informed response to the issue of male-to-female violence. Drawing on his pastoral care efforts and experience of working with a variety of couples coming out of violent relationships, a reader can tell that he deeply cares about the issue at hand and that his personal reflections are well thought out. Overall, this book is easily accessible to a lay audience but may not be for those expecting rigorous theological exegesis or expansive social science research.
There are many important social issues raised in the book that will be important to egalitarians, such as the lackadaisical response of many clergy to male-to-female violence, problems with the arguments made by popular complementarian Christian authors, and the generational transmission of abuse. His anecdotal “mini-chapters” interjected into the more substantial sections may be a refreshing break for some, while others may find them jarring and tangential. Either way, the mini-chapters break up the book’s organization and offer the reader insight into the personal experiences of the author. It is clear that Clark has been profoundly and negatively impacted by male patriarchy and violence and that he cares fervently about changing the pattern for himself and others.
Clark adroitly deals with the pervasive issue of pornography and clearly understands its impact and damage to relationships. His analysis goes beyond arguing that “pornography is bad,” and he studiously avoids generalizations that sound like excuses, such as “men are more visual.” Rather, he writes about the negative impacts of pornography upon both men and women. He points out how some Christian authors, such as John Eldridge, facilitate excuse-making for males’ use of pornography, and calls the church to repentance and a deeper awareness of pornography’s effects upon women. Indeed, Clark does not leave women out of the issue of pornography. He recognizes them as victims and potential users of pornography, and also discusses the deliberate contribution of some women to the problem of male domination.
Clark’s argument weakens when he veers away from the topic of male violence in relationships. His early discussion of western religions and their formative influence on patriarchy lacks enough detail and research to be very persuasive. Western paganism’s influence has not been as universal or globally pervasive as the author implies, and he neglects to address the potential influences of Asian and Native American religions upon gender dynamics. Rather, we’d prefer that he more carefully address original sin as the basis of male dominance, violence, and misuse of power. Additionally, his oversimplification of military service and conflicts could be offensive or hurtful to military personnel and others with a sense of the historical magnitude of those events. For example, suggesting that Vietnam and other Cold War era conflicts stemmed merely from competing male egos or a male propensity for violence greatly oversimplifies the ethical and moral issues that motivated American participation in these conflicts. These conceptual weaknesses likely stem from the fact that Clark’s book is geared for lay audiences and his expertise lies outside of the discipline of history. The book offers under three pages of bibliography, yet attempts to address weighty topics such as ancient history, United States history, race relations, gender norms, family dynamics, and theology.
Overall, we agreed with the heart of this book; that God abhors violence, that Jesus was a compassionate man whose values are at odds with contemporary masculine culture, and that patriarchy is hurting relationships. The text has value in pointing out the need for evangelical Christians to develop a deeper perspective on gender issues.