Commenter Warthog wrote that I have missed Pastor Doug Wilson’s point when he claimed that a husband is like a captain of a ship, and therefore “the man is completely responsible for all the problems [in the marriage]”:
Not defending Wilson here, but you have failed to comprehend what he meant in the military analogy. There is a difference between being at fault and being responsible. To take the example of a ship captain, the USS Stark was hit by an Iraqi missile in 1986 or so. Due to a mistake by the gunnery sergeant, the Phalanx missile defense system had not been turned back on after the last maintenance. Due to this error, the ship was defenseless against the missile, resulting as I recall in the deaths of about 17 men.
The captain was held responsible, as was the gunnery sergeant. It ended both of their careers. The captain was indeed responsible, even though it was the gunnery sergeant’s fault. Simply said, when you have command you are responsible for both the good and bad that happens under your command.
In marriage this would mean that if the wife starts misbehaving, the husband is responsible for the marriage, and should take corrective action on the wife. If the misbehavior metastasizes it is usually because it wasn’t nipped in the bud, just like cancer…
However, I did understand Wilson’s point here. The problem is twofold:
- Wilson’s theology of the family as a military unit is deeply flawed.
- Wilson himself doesn’t actually believe in this model.
Problem #2 is what I was focused on in Headship tomorrow and headship yesterday, but never headship today.. Wilson is merely using headship as a handy club to beat husbands with. That club appears in an instant when it is needed, and disappears the moment it is no longer needed. In Reforming Marriage Wilson writes (emphasis mine):
…men, whether through tyranny or abdication, are responsible for any problems in the home. If Christian men had loved their wives as Christ loved the Church, if they had given direction to their wives, if husbands had accepted their wives’ necessary help with their God-ordained vocation, there never would have been room for any kind of feminist thinking within the Church.
But in the same book Wilson explains that headship doesn’t mean the husband tells the wife what to do (that is after all the house despot’s role). Husbands aren’t to tell their wives what to do. They are merely to love and cherish their wives so much the wife will naturally do the right thing:
Not only is he responsible before God to do his job, he is responsible before God to see that she does hers. And of course, this is not done by bossing her around. It is done through nourishing and cherishing her.
Having established that Wilson doesn’t believe this model himself, there is still the question of the bad theology he trotted out in the process of blaming men for women’s sins. The problem is that not only is there no biblical backing for this theology, there is plenty of Scripture that contradicts it.
As I referenced the other day, the Israelites were ungrateful when God had Moses lead them out of Egypt. If Wilson and Warthog’s theology is correct, Moses (as the captain of the metaphorical ship) would be to blame for not nipping the issue in the bud. But God doesn’t blame Moses. He tells Moses he is going to wipe the unworthy people out and give Moses a more deserving “crew” for his “ship”:
I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.
–Numbers 14:12, KJV
Likewise see the story of Job. Job’s wife urged him to curse God and die when he was suffering. Yet Job is presented as the most godly man alive in the whole world. There is incredible hubris in men thinking that the reason their wives are submissive and obedient is that they are better than other men. Clearly they see themselves as better than Job!
We can see another example of how God views the authority of husbands and fathers in Numbers 30. There we learn that a man is responsible for his own vows. A woman is responsible for her own vows too, unless she is under the authority of her husband or father and he nullifies the vow as soon as he first learns of it. Note that the husband/father isn’t responsible for making sure she doesn’t utter foolish vows. Nor is he required to nullify the vow once he hears of it. Where a husband would become culpable is if he failed to nullify the vow once he heard of it and later tried to intervene (Numbers 30:13-15, KJV):
13 Every vow, and every binding oath to afflict the soul, her husband may establish it, or her husband may make it void.
14 But if her husband altogether hold his peace at her from day to day; then he establisheth all her vows, or all her bonds, which are upon her: he confirmeth them, because he held his peace at her in the day that he heard them.
15 But if he shall any ways make them void after that he hath heard them; then he shall bear her iniquity.
One Scriptural backing often given for the false marriage is a military unit theology is the qualification for a bishop (elder) in 1 Tim 3:2-5 (KJV):
2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;
3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;
4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;
5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)
This is the strongest case for the argument. But if we are to take this passage so far as to declare husbands will be judged as the captain of a ship we have made a grave error. A naval captain’s mission is different than the mission of a husband and father. As Wilson and other complementarians repeatedly remind us, a husband can’t make his wife submit. This is technically true, even though it is being used to create the false impression that husbands don’t have authority. Yet if you assume that 1 Tim 3 means that Christian husbands are like naval captains, you will find that in your zeal to twist 1 Tim 3:4 into your service you have to disregard 1 Tim 3:3, as Warthog does in a separate comment:
@Dalrock you’ve stated the problem, but not the solution. What sanctions do husbands biblically have when their wives rebel?
When children or slaves rebel, the head of the house clearly has the biblical sanction of the rod. Non-destructive spanking/beating.
Does the patriarch’s power of the rod also apply to his wife?
For if we are foolish enough to look for biblical instruction from the navy, there is plenty to back Warthog’s beat them into submission theology. See for example Brief History of Punishment by Flogging in the US Navy.
Contrast this with 1 Tim 3:3. The KJV says the man shall not be a “striker”. The ESV translates this to “not violent but gentle”:
not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
Not only does the marriage as military unit model not fit with Scripture as a whole, it goes against the very passage that would best support it. For a practical look at this, consider Hmm’s enlightening comment about the history of the movement Pastor Wilson comes out of:
Theonomy went off the rails in the early 90’s, and Wilson began backing off from it, especially the hard patriarchy. This was about the time he started publishing books. As nearly as I can understand, he also began to find truly cruel patriarchal homes among the families of his church, and this has shaped some of his subsequent screeds about wife-beating men and “prairie muffin” women. So when he writes about some men being hard-hearted husbands, he knows whereof he speaks, and it is not a trivial number. In my gentler area of the Midwest, I have seen only a couple such in my twenty years as an elder.
The irony here is that if Hmm is right, Wilson refuses to teach the plain meaning of Scripture on headship and submission because his false teaching that families are a military unit resulted in abuse. That Wilson himself twisted Scripture in a way that predictably will lead to abuse isn’t a defense of his other twisting of Scripture to deny the authority of husbands. Take away one false teaching and the other is no longer required.