Even as wives are commanded to submit to the authority of their husbands, the husband is called to a far higher standard of Christ-like love and devotion toward the wife.
— Dr. Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
There is a tendency to downplay the magnitude of what Christian wives are called to do compared with Christian husbands. Wives are merely called to submit, we are told, while husbands are called to something higher. This diminishment of the purpose and the difficulty of submission is both inaccurate and unfair to Christian wives. Scripture calls Christian husbands to actively lead their wives to Christ (Eph 5:25-27), but it also calls on Christian wives to use submission to inspire their husbands to follow Christ (1 Pet 3:1-2).
Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear.
Both husbands and wives are called to lead their spouse to Christ through love, but since the roles of husbands and wives are different the method is likewise different. However, the idea of a wife submitting to a failing husband is extremely unpopular in our modern era, and probably always has been. This is if we are honest not an easy thing for a wife to do, or for men or women to accept.
Replacing submission with the wake-up call narrative
Because submission to a failing husband is something we find difficult to accept, modern Christians have substituted the exact opposite in its place. In the new narrative what failing Christian husbands need is a wake-up call from their wives. In the wake-up call narrative, the husband is making his wife unhaaapy but is blissfully unaware of what he is doing to her. Founder of Focus on the Family Dr. James Dobson explained this over thirty years ago in his book Straight Talk to Men and Their Wives; What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women (H/T Ballista74). Dr. Dobson starts by describing an event where his father inadvertently tortured a cat while preaching:
During the course of his sermon, one large alley cat decided to take a nap on the platform. Inevitably, my father took a step backward and planted his heel squarely on the tail of the tom. The cat literally went crazy, scratching and clawing to free his tail from my father’s 6-foot 3-inch frame. But Dad could become very preoccupied while preaching, and he didn’t notice the disturbance. There at his feet was a panicky animal, digging holes in the carpet and screaming for mercy, yet the heel did not move.
Dad later said he thought the screech came from the brakes of automobiles at a nearby corner. When my father finally walked off the cat’s tail, still unaware of the commotion, the tom took off like a Saturn rocket.
He tells us the suffering cat and the unaware man causing the misery is a metaphor for the problems in modern Christian marriage:
This story typifies many twentieth-century marriages. The wife is screaming and clawing the air and writhing in pain, but the husband is oblivious to her panic. He is preoccupied with his own thoughts, not realizing that a single step to the right or left could alleviate the crisis. I never cease to be amazed at just how deaf a man can become under these circumstances.
In the new narrative (the one which replaces Scripture), what is required to fix the husband is for the wife not to submit but to give him a wake-up call. Joel and Kathy Davisson are the most overt with this message, going so far as to directly advocate that the wife first threaten and then if needed carry through with divorce to lower the boom on the unresponsive husband. However, the much more common narrative is more subtle. Whatever sinful action the wife takes to give her husband the wake-up call typically isn’t overtly sanctioned, but it is consistently presented as the required catalyst to change both the man and the marriage. Because of this, we end up with a celebration of the outcome of the wife’s sin while either ignoring, minimizing, or paying lip service to the sin itself.
The wake-up call sin from the wife can take many forms, but the sin is always designed to cause the husband discomfort and very typically it is something which directly or indirectly threatens to destroy the family. FamilyLife describes how this works in Cycle of Unresolved Issues:
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!
Dr. Albert Mohler offers instead that wives should get their husband’s attention via denial of sex:
The emotional aspect of sex cannot be divorced from the physical dimension of the sex act. Though men are often tempted to forget this, women possess more and less gentle means of making that need clear.
Consider the fact that a woman has every right to expect that her husband will earn access to the marriage bed.
In the Stepping Up™ advertisement the wake-up call to the husband came when his wife threatened to move out. As commenter Michael observed in the discussion of the video:
Why does the husband have to be “harangued by his ballbusting wife”?
Answer: Because he is not doing what he is supposed to do. He isn’t taking the initiative with his son. He isn’t being a man. He’s a fat slob parked on the couch watching T.V. eating Cheeto’s and drinking beer.
This guy, this fat Dad with a bad back, this guy isn’t a real man. He is a lazy ball-less slob.
Pastor Driscoll prayed for a wake-up call:
Lord God, as well, I pray for those men who are here that are cowards. They are silent passive impish worthless men. They are making a mess of everything in their life. And they are such sweet little boys that no one ever confronts them on that. I pray for the women who enable them, who permit them to continue in folly, those who are mothers, sisters, girlfriends and wives.
In Fireproof the wake-up call came in the form of the wife filing for divorce and starting an affair. In the advertisement for ReEngaged the wakeup-call came in the form of the wife having an affair. In the case of Bill and Vonette Bright, Vonette gave Bill a wake-up call by packing the kids in the car and threatening to leave him.
The wake-up call narrative by the numbers.
- A poor excuse for a man and husband does something (often something mysterious) to make his wife unhaaapy.
- As a result, the wife lashes out, very often in a way that threatens the family.
- Her sinful actions while of course not sanctioned (We swear! Really! No, I’m serious! Stop laughing!) turn out to be just the ticket required to shake her complacent husband into attention and get him to seek out God.
- His seeking out God (triggered by her lack of submission) fixes their marriage, makes him a better man, and brings them both to God.