Sunshine Thiry decided to test to see if it is true that when complementarians say “listen to your wife” what they mean is “do what she says”.
Is it true that what complementarians mean by “listening to your wife” is agreeing with your wife and doing what she says? This is actually a very serious accusation, and therefore all of us who take biblical marriage seriously should be concerned about this charge because if it is true, what complementarians are teaching is directly counter to what the Bible says about the marital hierarchy of headship and submission
This caused Sunshine to think back to the video series The Art of Marriage, and specifically the message from Pastor Dave Wilson and his wife Ann (clip 1, clip 2). In the video segments we learn about the time Ann gave Dave a wake-up call in order to get him to spend more time with the family. In modern Christian theology wives are closer to God than husbands are, and therefore need to periodically do or say things to threaten and/or hurt their husbands in order to bring them to heel. In this case the wake-up call was Ann telling Dave she didn’t love him anymore:
Dave: So, I leaned over to kiss Ann. As I leaned over to kiss her in the passenger seat, she sort of pulls away.
Ann: “Ugggghh!” I was just like, “Honey, I can’t even!” In my head, I was thinking, “I cannot even go there.”
Dave: So I pulled back, and look at her, and said, “Is something wrong?” She looks at me—and I’ll never forget this—she goes, “Well, yes, there is something wrong.” I am like, “What’s wrong?” And she says, “Well, to be honest with you, I’ve lost my feelings for you.”
In the second clip Dave explains that God spoke to him then and there, telling him to “shut up and listen” to his wife. Dave followed this command and started working less and spending more time with his wife and family. As Sunshine Thiry points out, this is yet another example of complementarians meaning do as your wife says when they say “listen to your wife”:
Looking at their story now, two years later, it clearly seems to support Dalrock’s charge. The Wilsons’ story is eerily similar to the Kellers’ except that Mrs. Wilson doesn’t violently smash anything. But there is still a veiled threat implicit in telling your husband that you no longer love him on your tenth anniversary date night. Pastor Wilson even talks about getting the sense that he was supposed to “just shut up and listen” to his wife, as Pastor Keller had with Mrs. Keller, while she told him what she had told him repeatedly before.
From wake-up call to divine tingle.
The Wilsons take this a step further in a two part series* they did for FamilyLife. They use this same story to teach that a wife’s attraction to her husband is determined by how godly he is. Here is how FamilyLife explains the message when selling the series (all further emphasis mine):
Pastor Dave Wilson and his wife, Ann, explore the complex and wonderful dance of martial intimacy as they share their own unique dance experience. According to Pastor Dave Wilson and his wife, Ann, a man’s relationship with God is key to unlocking the mystery of marital intimacy.
In the FamilyLife series the Wilsons explain that Ann’s wake-up call to Dave that night was even harsher than presented in the Art of Marriage clips.
Ann: I basically said, “I have been so angry, and you haven’t heard me.” And even when I thought I was going to bring this up, I thought he would get angry again because he would say, “I am home!”
Dave: Yes, I usually fought loud.
Ann: Yes. So, I told him that: “I was angry, and then my anger turned to bitterness, and then my bitterness turned to numbness, and now I don’t even care. I’m not even mad at you anymore because I’m not going to divorce you, but I feel like I don’t have anything for you.”
They explain that when she said this, God was speaking to Dave through Ann:
Dave: Yes. Here’s all you need to know about that night—the thing that changed our marriage is when Ann was sharing with me what she felt—I had a pretty unique encounter with God. I sensed God was speaking to me, through Ann;
This is when he realized that a wife’s attraction toward her husband (or lack thereof) is a barometer of the man’s godliness:
and the word I heard from God was only one word: “Repent.” I knew, when I heard that word, what it meant—it wasn’t “Repent of being a bad husband,” or “…being gone too much.” It was: “Repent of your relationship with Me,”—God / vertical. See, I had been so busy that my walk with God was sort of on the fly—I wasn’t sitting with Him / I wasn’t studying His Word. I got into His Word—why? So I would have something to preach. I hadn’t been intimate with God in months.
At that moment, Dave started praying and dedicated himself to God. This is what turned around Ann’s long time revulsion at the thought of having sex with Dave:
Ann: I think God was saying: “When we are okay, I can get you through anything. I will catch you.” And I knew it, too, because our sex was terrible. I was so resentful when he touched me—it didn’t take a crockpot / it took for eternity. I could never, ever get used to Dave’s touch. It was a red signal going off, like: “We need help! We need counseling. Something needs to happen.”
So, for me, I got down on my knees too. Dave and I grabbed hands together, and we both repented and re-surrendered our lives to Jesus and our marriage to Jesus.
Dave: I’m telling you—it changed. I’m not saying we’re perfect and the last 25 years haven’t been without difficulty…
If you want a better sex life—and that’s just one part of your marriage—you’re not going to get it by taking three points from us. The only thing that’s going to change your marriage or your sex life is bringing God into your bedroom /bringing God into your marriage.
Part of their message is good; surrendering to God, repenting, and praying are extremely important. But this is only part of their message, and it conceals a very harmful theology. They aren’t just advising to pray for improved sex/marriage, and this isn’t even just a sort of sexual prosperity Gospel. They are teaching that women are designed to respond sexually to godly husbands. This is unfortunately a fairly common modern teaching, but even here they are taking the error to the next level:
- Ann knew Dave wasn’t right with God because she was repulsed by the idea of having sex with him.
- God spoke to Dave about his lack of Christian obedience through Ann’s lack of desire to have sex with him.
Moreover, a generic focus on prayer is being used to avoid complying with the clear instructions in the Bible to husbands and wives. The most relevant instruction is in 1 Cor 7, which tells husbands and wives not to deprive one another of sex. They cover this in part one of the series, but the stress is on rationalizing Ann’s failure to follow this command. They turn it into a yuk yuk moment where Ann chastises Dave for having “used this against her” in the past:
Ann: Here’s what it says in 1 Corinthians 7: “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband.” You used to use that against me a little bit too: “It’s not just your body; it’s mine.” Do you remember that?
Dave: I never did that.
Ann: Yes, you did.
Dave: Hey, you’re supposed to just read the Word of God. [Laughter]
Then together they gloss over the command by focusing solely on the unifying properties of sex in marriage:
Ann: “In the same way the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time so that you may devote yourselves to prayer and then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
You know, I read that and here’s what I think: “Before we’re married, Satan will do everything in his power to try to get us to have sex; and after we’re married, Satan—who wants to destroy our marriages—tries to do everything in his power for us not to have sex. Isn’t that true? Yes! Here’s what the promise is—that I think that God is saying for us to come together—it unites us, spiritually/emotionally. It’s what makes it so special and, yet, it’s so hard; but I love that the Scripture talks about this.
Dave: Yes; and the Scripture isn’t giving you a number of how many times a week that you’ve got to make love—it doesn’t do that—but it does give us a pattern that says it should be somewhat regular.
Scripture isn’t giving a number because it is saying to have sex whenever either of you wants. This is very clear, but it is extremely unpalatable in our feminist age. In tossing aside this very clear instruction and instead focusing on the wife’s arousal, Dave and Ann are effectively arguing that couples should only have sex when the wife is in the mood. This then is connected to their claim that wives will want to have sex if their husbands are godly. Where Scripture tells us Ann was sinning by defrauding her husband, Dave and Ann turn this around so that Dave was sinning (even in a yuk yuk way) by washing his wife in the water of the word. Then they explain that the reason Ann wasn’t aroused was because Dave wasn’t godly enough. Pointing out sin becomes the real sin, and what the Bible tells us is the sin of the wife (in the case of a defrauding wife) is turned around to indicate a sin of the husband. This is especially toxic because the target audience of the series is married couples where the wife is either denying sex or strongly tempted to do so.
The other relevant instructions in Scripture are the repeated command to wives to submit to their husbands (Eph 5-22:24, 1 Pet 3:1&5, Col 3:18, 1 Tim 2:11 & Tit 2:5). Dave and Ann have turned this relationship around, and their cross-dressing theology is at least part of the reason Ann was repulsed by the thought of having sex with Dave. They present it as being the opposite, that Ann is turned on by Dave doing as she says (which ends up being God’s will since He speaks to Dave through her). Yet this is both of them following her rationalizations.
*I have quoted from the transcripts, but if you listen to the audio you will find that at times the transcript left small parts out. Here are the detailed links: Part 1 mp3, part 1 transcript. Part 2 mp3, part 2 transcript.