Be afraid, be very afraid.
This is the advice to husbands from modern Christian leaders. Where the Bible stresses headship and that our marriage vows bind us for life, the modern Christian leader has fully embraced the threatpoint feminists have implemented to overturn headship. These two changes go hand in hand, as the threatpoint is essential in order to effectively destroy biblical headship. The threatpoint also is an effective marketing tool for an entire industry of Christian marriage counseling, reading from the Book of Oprah. Dennis Rainey of FamilyLife captured the essence of this pitch in his followup on a sermon on submission he aired by Kathy Keller*:
I have to believe, Bob, this weekend conference really is the finest marriage insurance that you could ever buy to be able to, not guarantee your marriage is going to go the distance, but certainly to equip it to go the distance.
Not surprisingly, Rainey also teaches that a Christian husband’s job is to give in when his wife threatens to blow up the family (see also: Fireproof). As you may recall, Rainey is not just the president and CEO of FamilyLife, but he also wrote the book-turned-video-series Stepping Up™, which is a modern Christian call to “godly” manhood. In Scripture, husbands are called to be the spiritual leader of the family, and wash their wives in the water of the word. In the modern Christian frame wives are light years closer to God and are called to lead and instruct their husbands. Rainey’s own wife explains how a modern Christian wife can lead her husband to manhood in her article 5 Ways to Help Your Husband Step Up to Manhood. Mrs. Rainey’s post is overall quite good by modern Christian standards, but it starts from the flawed premise that the wife’s job is to lead her husband, to get him to “Step Up” and become a man:
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Behind every successful man is a strong woman.” Though the statement has been ridiculed as anti-woman, it is, in fact, very true. When you married your husband, he was unsure of himself as a man and was unskilled as a husband. It’s true of all boys who have grown up and gotten married. What males need—what your husband needs—is a wife who believes in him, encourages him, and helps him step up to become the man God created him to be.
2. Speak the truth in love. In our marriage, I’ve come to Dennis many times to speak the truth about what’s going on in our family or what I feel is missing in our relationship. There have been seasons when he was traveling too much.
Wives “speaking the truth” to their husbands about what they feel is missing is a very common theme in modern Christian advice on marriage. Mrs. Rainey’s article doesn’t frame this as an ultimatum, but most often it is framed this way. Another FamilyLife article titled Cycle of Unresolved Issues offers an example from Rainey favorites Tim and Kathy Keller:
The cycle goes something like this: a problem surfaces in your relationship, and one of you says, “We have a problem…” but the other person does not take it seriously so the problem is not really addressed. This happens again, then again and again! Despair takes over. One day the one that has been saying, “I need help” gives up and says, “We’re done!” or leaves a note that says, “I’m gone!” This finally gets the other person’s attention, but it may be too late.
“What will it take to get your attention?” In the book The Meaning of Marriage, authors Tim and Kathy Keller relate how Kathy got Tim’s attention by lining up some of her good china, and as soon as Tim walked in the door, breaking it with a hammer. She got his attention!
The author suggests a “less dramatic” way for a wife to do the same thing would be to say to her husband:
I’m starting to feel so discouraged, that unless we address this issue, I don’t think I can continue like this.
I feel really alone. I don’t want to go on like this.
I have this feeling that we are drifting apart. I do not want to live this way.
Note how in a very short article the topic has moved from threats of divorce, to violently breaking valuables, and back to threats of divorce. Rainey’s marriage weekend sales pitch and the message of the Unresolved article remind me of an old Monty Python skit where the mafia tries to extort protection money from an army base commander:
Luigi: (looking round office casually) You’ve … you’ve got a nice army base here, Colonel.
Luigi: We wouldn’t want anything to happen to it.
Dino: No, what my brother means is it would be a shame if… (smashes a piece of china he picked up off the mantel)
It makes me wonder if Kathy Kelley got her idea to break the china on the mantel from the same skit. In the modern Christian version of this old skit, the punchline goes:
It’s a nice family you got here, you wouldn’t want something to happen to it…
The answer of course is to buy marriage insurance (or if you prefer protection) in the form of books, movies, marriage counseling, etc. All of these protection schemes include the same basic advice to husbands:
Grovel hard enough and long enough so she won’t decide to frivolously divorce you.
Grovel like your marriage and family depend on it, because they do.
This advice is not only unbiblical; this anti scriptural message also happens to be disastrous in practice. Groveling won’t make your wife happy, and in all likelihood it will make her even more frustrated.
The latest installment in the grovel like your marriage depends on it message comes from motivational speaker Gerald Rogers**. Rogers found himself on the receiving end of a frivolous divorce a while back:
I was married for about 16 years to an amazing, remarkable woman. I think for most of our marriage, I was under the illusion that everything was perfect. I felt like I was a good husband…
What I didn’t realize was how much of a mask I was living under and how I really didn’t understand how to fill her deepest needs as a woman. And so it was about a year ago that she first let me know she wanted a divorce.
His wife’s brave decision not to honor her marriage vow inspired Rogers to write a list of advice to husbands which has spread like wildfire. Christian marriage author James Russell Lingerfelt was so delighted with the message that he republished the advice as a “love story” under the title Beautiful advice from a divorced man after 16 years of marriage. Piece of advice #1 is Never stop courting… NEVER GET LAZY in your love, while item number three warns that marriage vows aren’t intended to be for life:
Change will come, and in that you have to re-choose each other everyday. SHE DOESN’T HAVE TO STAY WITH YOU, and if you don’t take care of her heart, she may give that heart to someone else or seal you out completely, and you may never be able to get it back. Always fight to win her love just as you did when you were courting her.
While constantly reacting to her changing, we are taught that a husband must be careful never to try to lead his wife. In the modern Christian view washing her in the water of the Word has been replaced by:
5. It’s not your job to change or fix her… your job is to love her as she is with no expectation of her ever changing.
*I linked to the Kathy Keller sermon from my post Brilliant Advertising several weeks ago, but I see now that the page is gone. I don’t know if they pulled it entirely or it simply moved. Fortunately I saved a PDF copy of the January 17th 2012 transcript for my own records so I could still quote from it.
Edit: The Wayback Machine was down for maintenance when I first posted this, but now it is back up. They have the main page, but not the mp3 and the pdf cached. However, Marcus D found the link to the pdf which still appears to be on the FamilyLife site (for the time being at least).
**Roissy listed Gerald Rogers as candidate number 3 in a recent (crass site warning) Beta Of the Month post.