17 November 2009

Further thoughts on biblical marriage

Wow, so apparently all I have to do to find out if I actually have anyone reading is to post on a REALLY controversial topic. Which means I must have gained a few readers since I put up my thoughts on the NRA. What, you couldn't all just drop a note to say I have cute children? :-)

I clearly touched on some sensitive issues with my last post. In particular commenter #6 shared some thoughts that I found troubling. I debated whether I should respond, and have decided that I will. I am not doing this so much in response to her, but because I know there are other women out there in the same situation. If what I have to say helps even one of them, I will feel it was worthwhile. (To sound terribly cliche) So, if I sound a bit more strident in this post than a simple response to this commenter seems to warrant, know that it is because I am trying to sound a wake-up call to other women who are still struggling with this. I don't mean to be harsh.

I will be posting the entire comment here, with my thoughts interspersed. To begin:
Anonymous said...

Marry an abusive man who believes in patriarchy and see what happens.
It is true that I have a wonderful, godly husband. I hesitate to address women in abusive marriages with a list of "you shoulds", because I've never been there. But I am able to address, as far as my understanding allows, what a God-honoring, biblical marriage is...and what it is not.
As for wives being doormats, it all depends on the man who is the leader. If he tells you you're not allowed to give your opinion, then you're not. If he tells you to jump, you jump. The way the man leads you is dependant on the man. Patriarchy provides very few caveats. No oversight. No accountability for the man, really, of any sort.
Now, I would like to make a few points in response to this paragraph. First, an abuser doesn't need biblical justification for his abuse...in fact, has none. There is no biblical justification for a man abusing his wife. That isn't leadership. It isn't biblical headship. It's just abuse. Even if it's never physical, if a man treats his wife like dirt, he is abusing her and is completely outside the biblical guidelines for marriage.
I said in my last post, that I have not read much literature from "The Patriarchy Movement". Careful readers will have noted that, throughout that post, I never capitalized "patriarch" while I was trying to define it. I wasn't trying to justify a "movement." I was trying to explain the roles of a husband and wife, as I understand them, in a biblical marriage. (I could perhaps have chosen a title that better expressed that. Sorry.) And my understanding is, that the man is called to be the head, the leader, the one who is ultimately responsible. The wife is called to be a help, a support. This is not the role of a doormat. It is a role of dignity and honor. A man is called to treat his wife with respect, as a co-heir, with him, of the grace of life. He is told to treat her with honor, and that if he does not, his prayers will be hindered. (See 1 Peter 3:7, the oft' unquoted verse at the end of all those "wifely submission" verses.) The Bible DOES NOT justify a man belittling his wife, or abusing her in any way.
As for oversight and accountability for the man, well, that is the role of the church. I'll get into that in a bit.
If you married a nice man, great. Good for you. Those of us who married abusers didn't know it until we were married. Most abusers don't show their true colors until they feel like they've "got" you. For most of us, that wasn't till the honeymoon.
As for the women being taught to be doormats, well, it's in the books. Martha Peace, a favorite of most patriarchal teachers and lauded for her "balanced" approach, teaches that wives are only allowed to have "one appeal." Don't like that your husband just told you that you're not allowed to go to bed until you've cleaned the kitchen spotlessly? You get one appeal. After that, you must submit cheerfully, trusting God. Other patriarchal teachers do much the same. It's in there.
I have never read Martha Peace, so what I have to say next is purely in response to the above paragraph. The Bible does not teach that a wife has only "one appeal." Where does that come from? It is not in Scripture!! Now, I might agree that, if your husband makes a decision you disagree with, and you share your concern (in a respectful way, of course) and he doesn't change his mind, to continue to "appeal" would really just be badgering. In that situation myself, I would let it go and follow my husband's leading. HOWEVER, this woman is not talking about reasonable decisions about which there may be a disagreement. She is talking about a husband who denigrates his wife and treats her like a servant. And there most certainly is an appeal process, set out in Matthew chapter 18, to deal with this:
15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
In a Christian marriage, is not your husband also your brother in Christ? And, since he is called to treat his wife with honor, then if he fails to do so is he not sinning against her? Then this applies. Just as you would go to the police (and you absolutely should) if your husband abused you physically, I see no problem at all, based on Scripture, with going to your pastor, and then to the church as a whole when he abuses you in every other way. What Martha Peace and other teachers of "The Patriarchy Movement" would say to this, I don't know, but I think that Scripture is quite clear. You have an appeal to a higher authority.
Again, if you have a kind and loving husband, you most likely just don't see it. But for women married to abusive men, we see it. We see it because we scour those books, looking for help, and all they do is tell us that as long as he's not commanding us to sin (murder someone, etc), we have to do exactly as he says or we are in rebellion to God.
Now, this is where I may sound a bit harsh, so please believe me that I do not intend this to come across in that way. But I have to say this: Why waste time scouring books that are only giving you someone's opinion? Spend that time reading your Bible, and you will find that your Bible doesn't agree! Read Mark 7, because this is a perfect example of the commandments of God being laid aside so people can cling to their own tradition, and the doctrine of men!
7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. 8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. 9 And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. (From Mark 7)
My commenter continued:

So, we did...it was never enough for him, of course, but we did it all anyway (the more humiliated he made us, the better he felt about himself). The result wans't anything that glorified God though, even though we gave it our very best. The result was destruction. Because you can't submit to an abuser without creating an even worse abuser. Patriarchy taught us that by submitting, we would win our husbands. Patriarchy was a lie. One who was there
No, this is not something that glorifies God. Where was the church in all this? Where is oversight and accountability from the body of Christ? And yes, I am aware that some pastors perpetrate these teachings on their congregations. It is interesting to note that in the verses from Matthew 18 (quoted above) the conclusion is that a man who will not hear the church should be considered a heathen, an unbeliever. And when Paul, in 1 Corinthians chapter 7, discusses marriage between a believer and an unbeliever, he says

15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.

Paul also appears to make allowance, in that same passage, for a wife to leave her husband. He says not to, but then explains that, if she does, she should remain unmarried. He does not seem to make allowance for a husband to leave his wife:

10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:
11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.

I am not a Bible scholar. I am not qualified to say when a woman is justified in leaving. I have never had occasion to search the Scriptures, myself, for the answer to that. But I do know that biblical patriarchy does not condone or endorse what this woman went through. Biblical headship is about a shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. A woman is called to submit to her husband, yes. But (as one of my favourite authors said) this is a sacrifice she offers, in faith, to God. No man has the right to stand between his wife and her God and demand that of her. If he understands his own role, he wouldn't even imagine doing such a thing.

Further thoughts, anyone? You can read the initial post here.


  1. I was in a very mainstream and balanced complementarian church. Nothing outlandish and the word patriarchy never occurred. However, the submission of the wife was preached and there was no program or resources for abused wives.

    I think that your commenter is soft pedalling the terror of a life of submission to an abuser.

    You have no life. Every sense in your body is killed. You become a shell of a body, a living dead who walks around wondering when it will be her turn to get cancer and die. Perhaps a few weeks in the hospital before death, without the abuser having control of your life. That's the big hope of your life.

    Your husband hates you and tells you how sinful you are and that you are going to hell. The church tells you that you cannot divorce. Your family has no idea what is going on because you are too ashamed to admit it.

    I was too proud to go to a shelter for abused women.

    Somehow I did get out. My son ran away and disappeared for over a year. My daughter was in critical condition in the hospital. I thought she would die.

    In that moment, I realized that I might have nothing left to lose. Then I could walk out, get on the plane, and disappear. I would find a hole to crawl into somewhere.

    But my daughter recovered. I escaped with her from our home. I rented an apt. and set up home, and eventually my son came back.

    I am one of the lucky ones.

    In mainstream Christianity, this horror goes on. Why is it worse than suffering abuse in an egalitarian situation. Because the abuse I suffered was physical, psychic, and spiritual. It was violence on earth and the threat of hell for eternity. It was being told that I was spiritually unacceptable in the fibre of my being because I had a will of my own.

    I read about the woman who told John Piper that her husband made her ask permission for everything, even to go the bathroom. She said that it was his teaching that made her husband that way.

    The teaching of the submission of women is evil and shoud be made illegal.

  2. I'm very sorry for what you went through, but I have to ask you: Did you ever go to the church elders and tell them what was going on? You said your church was "balanced", but if they knew what was going on and, in fact, advocated it, they were condoning something that is completely insupportable by Scripture. If you are being abused, you have recourse to the law. If your husband is just being overbearing and emotionally oppressive, you have recourse to the church. My point remains, which is that the Bible does in fact teach separate roles for the husband and wife, and that it never in any way makes allowance for a man to abuse his wife.

  3. The commentor above left another comment, but accidentally used her Google ID to post it. She did not want her name included, and asked me not to publish the comment. I hope she will not mind that I copied and pasted the text below, so she could be anonymous but still have her comment posted. Here it is:

    No I never told the elders. I watched as the new m... No I never told the elders. I watched as the new ministry team made sure that no women ever mounted the pulpit again. I watched them demote women.

    But it is a mainstream church, large, with famous theologians and all that.

    I once went and asked the minister's wife for resources on abuse - for a friend - and she said that she had none because there was no spousal abuse in our church.

    How did she know that? There are a thousand members in this church. After that I did not see her as very much help. These people deny abuse, because if you admit that men are capable of such evil, why on earth would you put them in charge of goldfish, let alone a woman.

    The minister preached the submission of the wife, but he did not offer a safety valve. He did not post a unit of armed men at the front of the church ready to rescue, to scoop up, the families that needed physical protection.

    It was irresponsible. I lived in violence for 30 years.

    It is so disgusting for me to hear the words "submission of women." It is like viewing women in chains on porn sites. It is so dirty and all of Christianity is like that to me now. For many years I have avoided shaking hands or touching a headship male for fear of contamination from their dominant maleness.

    I think Christians need to know how completely dirty all this is to some people.

    I am sorry for spreading my pain on your blog, but you seem open to knowing about it.

    For some women, they want their husbands to take responsibility and not act like children. But you cannot make a man an adult if he isn't one. So some families will be lead by a 200 pound toddler who does not accept not getting his own way all the time.

    Eventually I came up with a plan of escape and I got two neighbours, women who were not Christians, to help me escape.

    But most of all, it was in my mind. I had to realize that I was not born for submission, and I did not deserve to be mistreated because having normal desires and normal opinions was not sinful and leading me to hell.

    The biggest change had to come in my head, when I realized that modern complementarian Christianity had duped me completely.

  4. In response I can only repeat what I have been saying: That this is inexcusable, and nothing in the Bible justifies or promotes it. Christianity is not responsible for what you went through. I would go so far as to say that those who claim this is what Christianity teaches, are blaspheming the name of Christ. I think your second-to-last paragraph is key, and that is why I especially wanted to post the comment. When you take the teachings of the Bible as a whole, you realize that women are not to be treated as doormats, automatons, or servants. There is no excuse, within orthodox Christianity, for treating women as you were treated.

    Thank-you for being willing to engage in an open discussion of this issue, and for sharing your story. I understand why you have such strong feelings against Christianity now, but I hope that you will consider what I have been saying.

  5. Thank you for posting the comment this way. I would like to see all women stand against the subordination of women completely, so as to protect those women who marry men who want to control their spouses and families.

    I realize that some women are not damaged by this teaching, but some are. I think ALL Christians have a responsibility to take a stand against the subordination of women.


  6. I hope you feel that is what I have done here.


I love to hear from my readers! Thank-you for taking the time to comment.