I’ll do several posts this week following up on my Reframing Christian marriage post, offering examples. Today I’ll share two different examples where Christian men and women are taught that husbands are responsible for making their wives want to follow the biblical command to submit. Both of the examples are high profile pages and came up prominently when I was searching for information on the Christian definition of marriage.
Example #1. What Every Husband Needs to Know from bible.org* (emphasis mine):
Headship involves the husband’s solemn obligation to establish an atmosphere of love in which the basic needs of his wife are fulfilled—an environment in which she is free to grow and develop into all that God wants her to be. Her submission will then be the voluntary response to his loving leadership.
He goes on to explain that women are natural responders:
If she receives irritability, criticism, disapproval, unkindness, indifference, lack of appreciation, or lack of affection, she will respond with a defense mechanism, such as bitterness, coolness, defiance, or nagging. Some women turn to drinking or submerge themselves in social activities.
However, he explains that if she receives love from her husband, she will respond in kind and “will blossom into the most beautiful creature under God’s heaven.” He offers no biblical backing for this bit of nonsense, nor for this even worse bit (emphasis mine):
When a man claims that his wife doesn’t love him anymore he is unwittingly admitting that he hasn’t loved her as he should have.
He closes the paragraph with:
Thus the responsibility for a successful marriage rests initially with the husband. He makes the first move—that of loving his wife with the totally unselfish love of Jesus Christ.
A bit further down he starts on a new branch of insanity, accusing Christian husbands of seeing themselves as pampered kings:
Sometimes a husband develops the strange notion that his home is a castle and he is the king. His wife’s task is to provide for his comfort and to protect him from all unpleasant circumstances.
He then proceeds to cut husbands off at the knees, instructing husbands to be their wives’ helpmeets:
Most wives work hard, maybe even harder than their husbands, and no husband ought to be above helping with the housework and the children. If the wife is really the weaker vessel, then wiping the dishes, sweeping the floor, supervising the children, cleaning the windows, or dozens of other little helpful acts are just other ways of saying, “I love you.”
I don’t have any objection to doing anything which needs to be done around the house. No work is beneath me, as I wrote in my very first (somewhat rambling) post on the blog. But what he is doing here is preemptively denying husbands the opportunity to decide how their household will divide labor, and he is doing so in perfect harmony with feminist instead of biblical sensibilities. There is no room left for husbands to lead on the question after this. If he doesn’t do what the wife thinks he should do (follow her leadership), he accuses the husband of not loving his wife sufficiently. At the same time, he is also playing into the tired feminist trope that wives work harder than husbands.
He continues on with this theme, accusing husbands of being unwilling to help around the house, fix things which are broken, or have a date night with their wives. He tells us this is like spraying herbicide on a flower:
But when the wife begins to wilt and reflect the same attitude toward her husband, he is usually quick to complain about it. Problems like this will be solved when the husband begins to show the love of Christ.
All of this is laden with encouragement to wives to see their own emotional state as the sole arbiter of whether her husband is loving her as he should. It formally invites all of the pop relationship psychobabble into biblical marriage.
Interestingly the corresponding piece for wives by the same author (Richard Strauss) What Every Wife Needs to Know stresses that they must submit even if their husband isn’t showing Christ’s love, indeed even if he isn’t a Christian. But by having the issue both ways in a time of outright rebellion by the vast majority of Christian wives he has planted the seeds for marital discord.
Example #2. About.com, What Does the Bible Say About Marriage?
After some statistics from our good friend Mr. Stanton on cherry picked Christian divorce rates, on page two she quotes Eph. 5:23-32. This is a promising turn, but she quickly rationalizes the scripture away:
Husbands are urged to lay down their lives in sacrificial love and protection. And in this safe and cherished embrace of a loving husband, what wife would not be willing to submit to his leadership?
As Mr. Strauss explains in his piece on the role of wives (but contrary to what he wrote to husbands), this simply isn’t the case. Wives are commanded to submit to and obey their husbands, and this isn’t predicated on the husband showing Christ’s love. In fact, 1 Peter 3:1 states that wives must submit to their husbands even if the husband isn’t a believer. What she writes has no more validity than if one were to say:
Wives are commanded to submit to their husbands. And given this submission, what husband wouldn’t be willing to love and sacrifice his life for his wife?
*The original link is now broken, but I found the same article at a different location. Update: I found the archived Bible.org version here.