CTBHHM: Don’t Take Your Husband to Church

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 110-114

In this passage, Debi turns to famous women of the Bible to illustrate women’s proper role. She starts by discussing Jezebel, rehashing some of the same points she made when she discussed Jezebel in her introductory section. Jezebel, if you remember, was a Phoenician noblewoman who worshiped Baal, and she converted her husband King Ahab of Israel to Baal worship as well, and had Jewish prophets killed. Here is what Debi has to say:

I went back to I Kings to see what the Bible had to say about this woman Jezebel. The first thing I noticed was that Jezebel was more religious than her husband. She was spiritually intense. The Bible says in 1 Cor 11:3, “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” Regardless of our circumstances, when we women take the spiritual lead, we step out from under our rightful head.

Once again Debi has a problem with women being more religious or spiritual than their husbands—”regardless of their circumstances.” Which leads me to wonder—what would Debi have women with unbelieving husbands do? Should they, too, cease to believe or risk stepping out from under their “rightful head”?

The second thing I observed was that Ahab was emotionally volatile—unstable. Is your husband prone to retreat? Is he bitter, angry, or depressed? When a woman takes the lead in marriage, her assuming of the masculine role makes a weak man weaker, to the point of “sending him to bed”—as did Jezebel to Ahab.

Notice that Debi’s response to a man who is bitter, angry, or depressed is that his wife better not grow a spine, because that would make things worse. After all, if a woman took the lead in such a marriage and urged her husband to get help, or did what she had to to care for herself and her children, she would be taking the “masculine role” and contributing to making her husband’s problems even worse. This is actually strikes me as rather the opposite of good advice for a troubled marriage—and as unhealthy advice for adults in general.

The third and most significant thing I noticed was that she used his emotional stress to endear herself to him—a strange way of lording over the husband. Jezebel manipulated and accused an innocent man, then had him murdered so that Ahab could obtain his vineyard. Ahab, in depression,  kept his “face to the wall” and let her do her dark deeds. Today, if a woman is willing to play her husband’s role in directing the family, he will lose his natural drive to bear responsibility. He will turn his face to the wall.

Two things to say here. First, some couples work well with the wife taking what Debi would call “the leadership role” and the husband being more laid back and easy going. This isn’t necessarily an inversion of Debi’s patriarchal relationship (although in some situations it can be), because it’s not about the husband submitting, it’s about the couple dividing responsibility and specializing in what they’re good at. Some women are very good at being organized go getters and some men would simply prefer to not have to worry about those things, and that’s fine so long as the couple is communicating and each party is happy. (Note: An actual inversion of Debi’s patriarchal version is just as wrong as her patriarchal version.)

Second, while a relationship in which the wife plays what Debi would call the “leadership role” is not a problem so long as it’s mutually agreed upon and both parties are happy with the division of responsibility, if the wife takes initiative and the husband is unhappy with that and responds by withdrawing and being sulky (which is something Debi seems to be implying happens), that’s a problem, but not for the reason Debi thinks it is. Put simply, it’s not mature to respond to something not going the way you like it by clamming up and sulking rather than communicating and dealing with the problem. If I were to, say, start laying preliminary plans for a family vacation without checking with Sean and he were to be upset, the proper response would be for him to talk to me about it, <i>not</i> for him to stop talking to me and sulk. But then, Debi doesn’t seem to have any idea of how a healthy relationship actually ought to work.

The fourth thing that jumped out at me was that Ahab could easily be manipulated by his wife to suit her purposes. She stirred his passive spirit, provoking him to react in anger. Jezebel used him to set up images and kill God’s prophets. Often, a man becomes involved in the Church, not because God has called him or because it is in his heart to do so, but because he is trying to please his wife by at least LOOKING spiritual. When a husband steps into a spiritual role at his wife’s beckoning, he becomes vulnerable to her “guidance” in that role. Jezebel took steps to help promote her spiritual leaders. In the process, she provoked her husband to destroy those in spiritual authority whom she did not like. Have you influenced your husband to think evil of those in authority because you did not like something about them?

Wow, what a lot to unpack here. First, apparently it’s bad for a Christian woman to try to get her husband to go to church. Because apparently, if a man becomes involved in a church at his wife’s urging, because he wants to make her happy, the result is that he’s somehow under her spiritual headship. One wonders what a wife who wants her unbelieving husband to go to church with her should do. Submit and obey, I suppose, and hope that he’ll figure it out himself? I actually think that might be Debi’s answer, given that she elsewhere talks about how women can witness to their unsaved husbands by simply being the best most biblical perfectly submissive and cheerful obedient wife possible.

Second, Debi seems to suggest that it’s wrong for a woman to ever talk bad about those in spiritual authority “whom she does not like.” Somehow, that is once again exercising spiritual leadership over her husband. And this makes me think of all the discussions of spiritual abuse and the huge sexual abuse scandals that have been rocking Sovereign Grace Ministries. Apparently Debi’s idea of male spiritual headship extends so far that it even applies to women who simply want to talk with their husbands about concerns they have or problems they see—that would be exercising spiritual headship over their husbands. So, Debi’s conclusion from Jezebel: Don’t ever try to exercise any form of leadership in your marriage, including trying to get your husband to go to church or trying to get him to believe that yes, you really did see Deacon Smith being inappropriate with that Hunt girl.

Okay, here’s the thing. I’m pretty sure scripture doesn’t hate on Jezebel because she was more religious or spiritual than her husband. I’m pretty sure scripture hates on Jezebel because she was on the wrong side. As I said before, Jezebel was a Phoenician who worshiped Baal, and she converted her husband Ahab to Baal worship as well, and she had Jewish prophets killed. Her sin wasn’t being spiritual or religious or a leader over her husband, it was worshiping the wrong God. And I think I can demonstrate that.

I’ve noticed that Debi has yet to mention Abigail. There’s probably good reason for that. Her story only takes up one chapter of the Bible, go read it. Abigail, who is described as an intelligent and beautiful woman, is the wife of Nabal, who is described as “surly and mean.” When David sends men to ask Nabal for food and water, Nabal spurns his men and sends them away with harsh words. David decides to make war against Nabal, but Abigail finds out what happens and acts quickly—taking a leadership role and going behind her husband’s back. She goes to David personally, takes his men food and water and apologizes for her husband, calling him “wicked” and a “fool”—which definitely meets the definition of disrespecting your husband in public. David relents and does no harm to Nabal or his people, and when Nabal is struck down by God ten days later (note that it’s Nabal who is struck down, not his rebellious wife who has shamed him by taking a leadership role), David takes Abigail as his wife. Abigail is never punished for disrespecting her husband, and is instead rewarded. Why? Because he was on the wrong side and she was on the right side.

Finally, Debi gives brief profiles of both Ruth and Esther. She explains that Ruth “maintained a thankful and submissive attitude” and that we should note “her humility and the deference she paid to all in authority.” Esther, she says, “rose above her circumstances and her natural fear to honor her husband, even as she made an appeal to save her own life, along with the lives of her people.” It’s funny, I guess I thought Ruth was the story of two women using their female wiles and knowledge of inheritance laws to put a roof over their heads (come on, Naomi is quite the conniving woman!), and that Esther was the story of a brave woman pushing the boundaries of the rules to save her people (she wasn’t supposed to come to her husband without being summoned, remember?). Apparently I read those wrong.

Next week we learn about the Proverbs 31 Woman, and also about what it actually should look like for a woman to be “spiritual.” Let me put it this way: This isn’t something you’re going to want to miss.

CTBHHM: A Young Wife Should Be “Bored and Lonely”
The Radical Notion that Children Can Have Anxiety Too
CTBHHM: Why Was Marian’s Husband So Loving?
I Co-sleep, But: Some Thoughts on Attachment Parenting
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.

  • NeaDods

    “it’s not mature to respond to something not going the way you like it by clamming up and sulking rather than communicating and dealing with the problem”

    Yes, but we know that this is *precisely* how Michael behaves when he’s crossed; Debi has said so. Michael is also a church leader… an exerciser of spiritual authority… who is very controversial. Of course he can’t bear it when someone he can’t literally whip into shape thinks he’s wrong or calls him evil!

    This whole bit is Debi (in a very unsubmissive manner) howling “DON’T YOU DARE QUESTION MY MAN!” with the subtext of “because he takes it out on me and the kids.”

    • j.lup

      I was just about to say the same thing, but you’ve said it better and far more succinctly than I would have.

  • Free Durian

    Reading this, all I could think of was Asimov’s take on Jezebel – namely that she was “a faithful wife and a good one according to her lights. She took no lovers that we know of, cut no high jinks, and took no moral liberties at all… In her pride and courage, she painted her face and dressed herself in her best clothes so she could meet [Jehu] as a haughty and defiant queen. He had her thrown from the battlements and killed, but She made a good end, according to my notions… She was the model of a faithful wife.”

    Personally, I prefer Asimov’s requirements for being a good wife.

    • Free Durian

      I suppose I should mention that the Asimov quote is from The Caves of Steel.

    • David S.

      I’ve always found Jezebel’s end in the bible interesting because Jezebel gets all the good lines. You could interpret it as Jehu not believing she was worth a reply, but that reflects worse on him then her.

  • Christine

    Ruth herself actually doesn’t take a lot of initiative. I agree that Debi logically would hate the book, but Naomi seems to do most of the planning and thinking. I suspect that, since I believe Debi and Michael have some sons, that Debi approves of the idea of a woman just doing whatever her mother-in-law says. (What she would do if her daughters did that I don’t know).

    • Leigha7

      At the church I went to, the primary reason we were supposed to like/admire Ruth is because she was compassionate and loyal. The focus was almost entirely on her relationship to Naomi, which she gets “rewarded” for in the end (because that’s how those things work, of course).

  • Gillianren

    Heck, according to some interpretations, Ruth slept with Boaz before they were married! (As I recall, she “uncovers his feet” or some other common Biblical euphemism.) I read a claim yesterday that Dinah was the only woman in the Bible who ever went around not under her father’s authority (and we all know what happened to her, right?), and I mentally started listing others–including Ruth, Naomi, and Esther.

    • Deborah

      Genesis’s Tamar (who is in the right by the author’s lights)?

  • Alice

    It still astonishes me that Debi thinks it is bad for women to be more spiritual than men. Growing up, I was surrounded by fundie culture and fundie propaganda all the time, and I never once heard that.

    It’s also ridiculous to say that Ahab’s weakness and unhappiness was all Jezebel’s fault.

  • http://twitter.com/Don_Gwinn Don_Gwinn

    Thanks for covering this. I did not know the story of Abigail!

  • sylvia_rachel

    You know, I love the story of Ruth, but it’s not because of her submissive attitude. And Esther, are you FREAKING KIDDING ME? (Okay, she’s obedient and submissive relative to poor old Vashti, who got canned for refusing to come and dance naked at a party, but that’s setting the submissiveness bar pretty low IMO.)

    It is interesting that she doesn’t talk about Avigayil. Or Yael, who helped the Israelite army win a war by killing the enemy general with a tent stake. Or Devorah and Huldah, judges/prophets whom people listened to and respected (Huldah even has a set of steps on the Temple Mount named after her!). Or Miriam, who was a leader of the Israelites and who, as a child / young woman, took the initiative to keep tabs on her baby brother and to volunteer her mother as a wet-nurse when Pharaoh’s daughter needed one (all, IIRC, totally without reference to her father, Amram). Or Shifrah and Puah, the midwives who broke the law by not killing all those baby boys, again without reference to any men that I know of. Or (going in the other direction) Leah, who was a perfectly OK wife as far as I know, but had to play second fiddle to her sister throughout their marriage because Yaakov thought Rachel was prettier.

    • Alexis

      Or Yocheved, Moses’ mother, who had the courage to try and save her son when getting caught probably meant the death of her entire family. Or how when the they were wandering in the desert, Miriam was followed by a sacred well which provided water to the entire Children of Israel.

      • sylvia_rachel


    • Leigha7

      The bible that I used (True Images) highlighted women who did interesting or important things, though admittedly some of those things were “survived being raped and didn’t spend the rest of her life being miserable.” At any rate, there were 52 of them–some good, some bad (Jezebel was one of them, in fact), but I think there were more positive ones.

      I can only imagine how scandalized Debi would be to learn that there are at least 52 significant, named women in the bible (well, I seem to recall one was unnamed), and that some of them weren’t 1. submissive or 2. scorned by God (like, um, Deborah). Of course, it was NIV, so it’s obviously full of false nonsense, even aside from the non-biblical-text aspects.

  • Niemand

    Ok. I promise not to take my husband to church*. I’ll take him to the Saunaparadies or the AMNH to see the exhibit on evolution instead.

    *Well, maybe to one of the really cool cathedrals, but we’ll just admire the architecture and move on, not stay for the ceremonies.

  • Whirlwitch

    Speaking of Biblical precedent on women giving advice, what about the little Israelite slave girl in service to Naaman’s wife? She’s in a very submissive position – female, a child, a slave, and a foreigner. yet she speaks up with advice for her master, and he not only listens to her, but quotes her when asking his king permission to go off and do as she said. (2 Kings 5:2-4) Amazingly, the rest of the story does not include any bad end for the little girl who dared speak up to her master.

  • tatortotcassie

    I still have the paper I wrote at college about Jezebel and I think you hit it on the nose — if she had been playing for Team Yahweh instead of Team Ba’al, she would have been one of the best-known heroines of the Bible instead of the one of the most reviled.

    As for Jezebel taking on her husband’s role — I know what Debi would say to this but I don’t care. Ahab didn’t become a weak husband because Jezebel started domineering him; she stepped up because he was a weak husband from the get-go. For example: He was sulking because he wanted land he couldn’t take because the law forbid even the king from taking a man’s land from his family. Jezebel didn’t know the law and went about getting the land for him since (in her view) he was being a big whiny baby over the whole thing. (And really, he kinda was!)

  • persephone

    Debi’s whole book is just a lot of words that boil down to: you are a woman and you must always be less than a man, any and every man.

  • http://expreacherskid.wordpress.com/ Nathan

    I have been listening to some History of Christianity I lectures from iTunesU


    and the speaker spends some time on women in the early church. He mentions Philip’s four prophetess daughters, among others. He concludes by saying that he personally doesn’t think there is *probably* anything wrong with women being leaders, but since it has been the tradition for men to lead since the beginning he doesn’t feel comfortable with women in leadership roles.

    Heck, as early as the third century Origen was downplaying the contributions of Miriam, Deborah, Huldah and Philip’s daughters by saying, in effect, that they may have been prophetesses and but they didn’t address assemblies of mixed men and women.

    I can’t even express how ridiculous this hair splitting is to me.

    On a somewhat-related note: I remember my mother-in-law telling me when we first met that she didn’t want to be involved in church leadership or teaching anyway. She said she already works so hard as a wife and mother and small business owner that it’s nice to be able to hand the reins to the men. Never mind that they left two churches they couldn’t agree with and now are part of a congregation so small that she is a de-facto church leader anyway.

    • The Other Weirdo

      Why wait for Origen? Didn’t Paul counsel women to be quiet and not teach men?

  • Barbara

    “If your husband becomes an atheist and declares that you must also be an atheist, then you must obey him and be an atheist. This is how you become a good Christian woman,” quoth Debi.

    • Noelle

      Sure does make marrying an atheist look like a nice option.

    • j.lup

      That Debi quote is the funniest thing I’ve read in days.

    • Leigha7

      What are you supposed to do if your husband tells you to stop obeying him all the time?

  • Justina

    This reminds me of an ex-boss. He is a fundy christian & felt that it was “wrong” that my mother was the more religious one in my household because she was the one who nagged my dad to take us to church, led the family prayers my dad didnt want to etc