Modern Christians have radically reframed marriage from the way the Bible does. Where the Bible shows the husband in headship and the wife as submissive, modern Christians have turned this upside down. The re-framing is so pervasive that most Christians have no idea that it has even occurred. I’ve charted out the details below, but there are three fundamental changes which are at the core of the radical reframing of Christian marriage:
- The command to husbands to love their wives has been transformed into a command that he make his wife feel loved. This subtle transformation turns a straightforward biblical command into a Sisyphean task. After all, the wife herself is the only one who can pronounce whether she feels sufficiently loved. Additionally only she can define the very meaning of the word love in this context. As a result, Christian husbands are now held hostage to the emotions of their wives. They must forever jump through whatever hoops their wives hold up in an impossible effort to gain her approval. For example, if he watches a football game instead of doing what she wants him to do he isn’t making her feel sufficiently loved and is in violation of the biblical command. There is no escape from this rule once you accept the subtle change, as logically only she can tell us how she feels.
- The command that neither should deny sex to the other is now seen as only applying to husbands denying sex to their wives. Wives aren’t to be expected to follow this command unless they feel sufficiently loved and are “in the mood”. Even if this were to apply, there is the added exception that the wife shouldn’t follow this command if it makes her uncomfortable. This gives the wife a powerful trump card to hold over her husband. If he doesn’t follow her leadership she can and will deny him sex for as long as it takes to bring him to submission.
- A wife holding her husband hostage to her emotions and employing denial of sex will eventually wear down the will of even the most determined Christian husband. An additional threatpoint is needed to further enhance the wife’s undisputed authority and if needed provide an exit strategy. This is the threat of unilateral divorce, with the accompanying expulsion of the husband from the home of his children and the appropriation of the majority of his wealth and income. However, for this to be effective Christianity had to be morphed from a force standing in the way of divorce to one which provides moral justification for divorce.
These three changes put wives in the position of absolute headship in modern Christian marriage, in an inversion of the biblical concept of headship. Moreover, while claiming to fear the ever threatened tyranny of husbandly headship, the new model puts the husband in a far more subservient position to his wife than a mere inversion would accomplish. After all, no sane reading of the Bible would make the husband’s emotional state the final arbiter of wifely submission and obedience. She isn’t commanded to ensure that he never feels any sort of dissatisfaction. A husband who berated his wife simply because he wasn’t happy would be seen by all as abusing his position. The same goes for a husband who denied his wife sex and/or threatened her with divorce for the same reason. Yet armies of Christian “relationship experts” now make their living writing books and articles and holding workshops advising Christian wives on the proper way to do exactly this. In fact, these books, articles, and workshops are packaged as “supporting Christian marriage”.
The modern Christian reframing of marriage:
Note: I have included at least one citation for each row in the table above, but this is not intended to be an exhaustive list. If I’ve left off your favorite reference for any of these please share it in the comments.
- Reframing Christian marriage part 2: rebelling wives aren’t to blame for their own rebellion.
- Reframing Christian marriage part 3: husbands as helpmeets.
- Reframing Christian marriage part 4: judging the performance.
- Reframing Christian marriage part 5: sex as a weapon.
- The Book of Oprah