Me? Obey Him? Wifely Submission Laid on Strong

I grew up in the era before Debi Pearl’s Created to be His Helpmeet came out. This means that even though my mother now keeps her copy of Created by her Bible, this wasn’t a book she read while I was growing up. Instead, the book on wifely submission that I saw her reading most frequently – and crying over – was Elizabeth Rice Hanford’s “Me? Obey Him?” Until yesterday, I had hoped that Handford’s work was, well, a less extreme version of wifely submission than Pearl’s work was. Yesterday I came upon a review of the book and found out that I was wrong.
 

Before I move into quotations from this book, I want to say two things. First, what is it with women advising other women to submit? In addition to Elizabeth Handford’s work and now Debi Pearl’s work, my mother also read a book by Elisabeth Elliot on femininity and wifely submission (not sure which). I don’t get this on two levels. For one thing, if women are supposed to be homemakers I’m not sure how that fits with them being bestselling authors and writing authoritative books filled with scripture and theological reasoning. For another thing, what possesses these women to tell other women to lead lives of female submission? It’s like the slave telling other slaves to be happy and obey their masters. Wha…?

Second, even as she poured over books like these and did her best to emulate them my entire childhood, and continuing into the present, my mother has since wanted to assure me that she’s not a doormat. And it’s true, she was always a very strong woman who made her voice heard. But regardless of whether she has ever practiced wifely submission to the extreme that Handford and others urged her too, there’s a serious inconsistency between (a) praising books telling women to be doormats and doing her best to follow what their authors say and (b) insisting that she is not a doormat and shouldn’t be seen as such. She may have never allowed herself to be a doormat, but if she really believed what was said in books like Handford’s, she was trying to be one all the same.

Rather than offering step by step analysis, I’m simply going to offer some quotes provided in the review I found. The quotes speak for themselves.

God’s Perfect Creation Required Order
Jesus, the Creator of Heaven and earth, submitted Himself to God the Father.  He took His place in the chain of command. … It is no shame, no dishonor,  for a woman to be under authority, if the Lord Jesus — very God Himself — submitted to the authority of the Father. (p. 14)
The submission of the Lord Jesus is our example.  He submitted not just to the tender ministrations of the Father.  He submitted to revilings and curses, persecution and suffering.  He was our example, not just to obey a gentle and kind husband but a harsh and mean husband as well.
You may find that your obedience to your husband and your obedience to God are all tied together.  You may not want to obey your husband because you are in rebellion against God. (p. 51)
Woman’s Nature Requires Obedience
We’ve had the impression that women as a class are more spiritually minded than men, with sensibilities more refined, and purer thoughts. Scriptures say the opposite is true!  Women are more often led into spiritual error than men.  Perhaps it is caused by her intuitive, emotional thinking.  (Intuitive thinking is God’s gift, not to be despised, but it needs the balance of a man’s reason.)  I should add too, that a woman does not have to be led into error.  That is the reason God commanded her not to usurp authority over the man, so she can be protected from false doctrine. (p. 17)
What Do the Scriptures Say About a Wife’s Obedience?
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the Scriptures say a woman ought to obey her husband! … [Note, these ellipses represent page after page of scriptural support given by Handford to bolster her argument that God commands wives to obey their husbands.] If you are intellectually honest, you will have to admit that it is impossible to find a single loophole, a single exception, an “if” or “unless.”  The Scriptures say, without qualification, to the openminded reader, that a woman ought to obey her husband. (pp. 24, 25)
1) She Is to Obey Regardless of His Spiritual Condition
The wife who obeys her husband may win him by her meek and quiet spirit, her loving behavior. (p. 25)
2) She Need Not Fear Conflicting Authority
There is no hint that a woman may have to choose between conflicting authority. …  If it is needed in order to fulfill both obligations, God will do a miracle to make it possible. … It is safe to conclude that when God told a woman to obey her husband, He intended for her to be able to do it without risk of offending other authorities. (pp. 25, 28)
3) She Obeys Without Reference to Her Feelings About the Will of God
The Scriptures say a woman must ignore her “feelings” about the will of God, and do what her husband says.  She is to obey her husband as if he were God Himself. She can be as certain of God’s will, when her husband speaks, as if God had spoken audibly from Heaven! (p. 28 – emphasis added)
What If a Husband Expressly Commands Something Explicitly Wrong?
When women ask me this question, I counter with two of my own:
1) “Have you been living in daily obedience to your husband as part of your wholehearted, loving submission to God?”
(This is an essential part of the problem. If a woman has not been submissive, God has no responsibility for her situation and cannot be blamed if her husband requires something wrong.)
2) “Has your husband ever actually commanded you to do something wrong?”
In the hundreds of times I have asked these questions, not once, if my memory is right, has a woman answered, “Yes, I am always obedient, and yet my husband has required me to break one of God’s laws.”
Never! Why?
Because, when a woman takes God at His word, submits to her husband without reservation, fears God and loves Him, then God takes upon Himself the responsibility to see that a woman does not have to sin! (pp. 37, 38)
A man always has the choice of saying yes or no to God.  He can reject the pleadings of the Spirit, the pleas of his loving wife.  If he does, and he goes on his wicked way, then I have seen God reach down and take that man’s life, rather than make his wife choose between two wrongs. (p. 40)
Don’t I Have Any Rights?
Can you find a Kleenex somewhere and mop up the tears, just for a minute, long enough to talk to me about what your rights really are?
You don’t have any rights, no rights at all.  You lost them on the day you rebelled against God.  You lost them, not because you are a woman, but because you are a sinner, just as I am.  (p. 49)
You Have the Freedom From the Consequences of Decisions
When you give back to your husband the responsibility for the direction of the home and the making of the decisions, you also give him the responsibility for the consequences of his decisions. … Fortunately, that’s the way a man likes it.  God made a man to be aggressive, to respond to challenge, to glory in his manhood, to rejoice in draining his strength, to risk great hazards for the one he loves.  It is his very aggressiveness that a woman sometimes finds frightening, simply because she is a woman.  She doesn’t have confidence in her physical strength, in her ability to cope with danger, in her decision-making ability.  It is a privilege, a gift unearned, for a woman to have a man take upon himself her welfare. (p 56)
God has a wonderful way of working it out for the comfort of the whole family when a woman leaves the decision making to her husband. (p. 57)
Don’t I Ever Get to Express an Opinion?
When you are talking over a problem, if it isn’t asking too much, try to think reasonably. … Men think women talk too much about how they feel, rather than considering facts.  Sure it’s important how you feel.  Can you tell him why you feel that way? (p. 61)
Why Do I Have to Make All the Concessions?
Why doesn’t the husband have to do his part first? Why?  Because you are the one burdened for a Christian home.  Having a home where Christ is the head is cheap enough at whatever price you have to pay!  Think how long the rewards of a good Christian home will last.  Then ask yourself if it is worth the trifling mortifications of obedience.  Of course it is!  All valuable things cost something.  Certainly you will have to pay a price. (p. 69)
I Want to Do Right, But I Can’t Help How I Feel
Have you noticed how many Scriptures there are that command a wife to obey her husband, and how few Scriptures there are that command her to love her husband?  There is only one Scripture, to my knowledge, that tells a wife to love him, and that is Titus 2:4.  Why?  Because, I think, in a marvelous, supernatural way, submission brings love.  If you obey him, you will love him, love him more than you ever dreamed possible.  (p. 75)
Does It Work? Does It Really Work?
God has made a promise to the woman who will obey her husband.  He keeps His promises.  He will not honor disobedience, no matter what excuse is given for it.  A woman wins her husband, draws him to a higher spiritual plane, by a submissive, quiet spirit.  … Yes, it really works.  God will bless your home if you are obedient. (p. 77)
So there you have it. I had no idea just how twisted this book was!

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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