3 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
— 1 Peter 3:1-6, ESV
On the surface it would seem that modern conservative Christians (eg complementarians) are on the same page as feminists/egalitarians on the issue of headship and submission in marriage. Both are deeply troubled by headship and submission as they are defined in the Bible. However, there is an important distinction. Feminists/egalitarians want to abolish biblical headship and submission and replace it with a gender neutral model where husbands and wives have the same roles. Conservative Christians on the other hand want to abolish biblical headship and submission while keeping distinct sex based roles in marriage. Conservative Christians manage this contradiction by substituting cartoonish chivalry in place of biblical teaching, and by reversing the roles of husband and wife.
Thus, the difference between conservative Christians and egalitarians is very much like the difference between traditional feminists and Caitlyn Jenner. Traditional feminists want to minimize if not abolish the distinction between the sexes, whereas Caitlyn is obsessed with the differences between the sexes; (s)he merely wants to switch places.
What is fascinating is this new crossdressing version of Christianity is so common, no one even notices it! Imagine a world where no one even understood that Caitlyn was doing something unusual, and you will understand the complete transformation that has occurred within conservative Christianity. The Bible tells us that husbands are to actively lead their wives, washing them with the water of the word (Eph 5:22-27). Wives on the other hand are to submit to their husband, and win their husband over without a word (1 Pet 3:1-6). In the new crossdressing version of Christian marriage, wives are to lead their husbands, and husbands are to win their wives over without a word.
The most popular example of the new crossdressing view of Christian marriage is the movie Fireproof from 2008. In Fireproof, the wife files for divorce and starts an affair with a colleague at work. The husband learns that his response as a Christian husband is to remain silent and try to win his wife over through his submission. This leads to a triumphant scene where the husband confronts the man his wife is having an affair with and announces that he is going to fight for his wife’s heart:
Caleb Holt: I know what you’re doing. And I have no intention of stepping aside as you try to steal my wife’s heart. I’ve made some mistakes, but I still love her. So just know that I am going after her too. And since I’m married to her, I’d say I’ve got a head start. By the way,
[closes his hand to form a fist]
Again, Fireproof* shows the husband living out the biblical role of the wife, and presents it as the Christian model for marriage. To the film’s credit, in a surprise plot twist at the end we learn that originally it was a wife that had to win her husband over without a word (imagine that!). However, this is mentioned as a reference to one specific woman, not to the fact that the movie has reversed scriptural teaching.
But Fireproof is just the most widely praised example of this ubiquitous modern Christian teaching. Last month I wrote about a post by pastor and Christian life coach Dr. Raymond Force, titled Where Men Blow It. In my previous post I covered Force’s absurd claim that Scripture teaches us that God doesn’t mind it when we complain, and therefore Christian husbands must encourage their wives to complain as much as they like. As I showed in my previous post, the very Scripture Force quotes to back his claim that God doesn’t mind when we grumble is actually all about God’s wrath when the Israelites were grumbling! Force took a chapter of Numbers that featured God consuming the Israelites with fire and putting a plague on them for complaining, and claimed this showed that God wants us to feel free to complain.
This is pure nonsense, but his message is what modern Christians love so Force can write these things without fear of being challenged. But this was only the first part of Force’s twisted teaching. In the rest of the post Force goes on to teach that husbands need to win their wives over without a word. Force does this in two parts. The first message is that husbands need to give their wives the “Freedom to Learn Gracefully”:
Christ supplies an environment that allows men to learn gracefully. In other words, He allows us to trip up over ourselves, rethink our approach to life, and even blow it at times yet all in an atmosphere of grace. (I John 1:9, Romans 5:20, Matthew 11:28-29, I Peter 5:7, and Matthew 12:20) If a man is going to love his wife as Christ loved the church, then I believe he should provide the same atmosphere for his wife.
On many occasions, however, a man will see the shortcomings of his wife, her emotional vulnerabilities, or mood swings and offer criticism rather than grace. If this occurs, then it must be understood that he is failing to love his wife as Christ loved the church in that he is allowing the atmosphere in his marriage to be that of criticism rather than grace and understanding.
So while the job of a wife is to constantly complain, the job of a husband is to win her over without a word. Force reinforces this in the next section titled “Freedom to Respond on Her Own Volition”, explaining that a husband’s job is to (just like Fireproof) win his wife’s heart (emphasis mine):
Men that are trying to win back the heart of their wife can come across as controlling, even while using good Biblical behavior. Whereas they formerly used anger and selfish behavior to secure their selfish desires, even their good behavior can have a string of expectation attached.
A man in this situation will do well to do what we teach in chapter 6 of our marriage book and love his wife because it is right not because it may secure a desired result.
It must be noted that just as Christ loves and then allows us to respond, a man must enter that vacuum of sorts where he does not know how his wife is going to respond. He may be waiting a while, but if I remember, Christ patiently waited for us.
*And the accompanying book The Love Dare.