CTBHHM: An Army of Two

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 117-118

Hold onto your hats, because this week is going to be an interesting one. In this section, Debi is heavy on the military metaphors, and it gets pretty intense.

Your husband, dud that he may “appear” to be, is appointed by God to be your immediate Superior Officer in the chain of command. Your position under him is where God put you for your own spiritual, emotional, and physical safety. It is the only position where you will find real fulfillment as a woman. Don’t worry about the quality of his leadership, for he is under the oversight of Jesus Christ. He must answer to God for how he leads his “troops.” You must answer to God for how you obey the one he placed over you. It takes faith in God to trust him when all you seem to see is one carnal man leading you—to “God only knows where.”

Debi’s using a lot of military language here. It just so happens that I have a friend who is in the military. I asked him if soldiers must always obey their commanding officers. He said no. He said that if your commanding officer commands you to break international law, you are bound to disobey. Debi suggests that a subordinate is required to obey his commanding officer no matter what, and that it is the commanding officer who is responsible for what happens while the subordinate is only responsible for obeying. This is simply not how the army works. Debi seems unaware of this.

But let’s step inside Debi’s world for a moment. The reasons a soldier isn’t supposed to obey his commander if he is ordered to violate international laws is that a soldier’s first loyalty is to be to his country and the army as a whole rather than to his commanding officer. In Debi’s world, this would be like saying that a woman’s first loyalty should be to God, not to her husband. Except that Debi argues that this isn’t true. Debi suggests that a woman is loyal to God by blindly obeying her husband in everything. Translated into military-speak again, this would be like saying that a soldier is loyal to his country and to the army as a whole by blindly obeying his commanding officer in everything, even if his commanding officer orders him to shoot a prisoner of war in cold blood, or massacre a village of innocents, or rape a fellow soldier. This seems all sorts of messed up.

Another thing about the army: Romantic relationships between commanding officers and their subordinates are not allowed. Not only does it compromise the cohesiveness of the unit, and the officer and his decision making, the power dynamics of a relationship like that quickly get rather twisted. After all, a commanding officer has a great deal of power over his subordinates, and in a situation where there’s a romantic relationship straddling that line, this power difference can quickly lend itself to abuse. But what Debi’s suggesting is that that power difference be enshrined and romantic relationships between commanding officers and their subordinates be made the norm.

Note also Debi’s threat—her insistence that complete subordination in the marital relationship is the only way a woman can ever feel fulfilled. Debi is telling her readers that if they leave, or (gasp!) become egalitarian Christians, they will live miserable and empty lives. I supposed Debi would probably say that that is what I am doing right now, and that I am lying to myself and to others if I state that I feel fulfilled and happy in my life as my husband’s equal partner. But enough of this, let’s move on:

In all this submit-to-your-superior talk, remember this: God is focusing our attention on the heavenly pattern. The emphasis is not on women submitting to men, but rather on women showing, here on earth, the heavenly pattern of the Son submitting to the father.

Husband = God, wife = Jesus. For all that I heard this repeatedly growing up, I’m still unclear on exactly how it works. After all, within Christianity God the Father and Jesus are one person, two equal parts in the godhead. How can a part of a person submit to another part of a person? This gets all mixed up in the (in my opinion) rather confusing nature of the trinity, something that’s never really spelled out all that clearly in scripture to begin with.

“He is not saved!” you say. God’s Word remains the final authority. Your husband is your knight in God’s protective armor. Even if his armor appears a bit rusty and dull, it is still the armor of God, your safe covering in everything.

It seems that some significant portion of Debi’s target audience must be married to unbelievers, or rather, as is more likely, to Christians who are less ideologically “pure” or less devout. Debi insists throughout, of course, that this is irrelevant. In thinking back to the military analogy, though, wouldn’t this be akin to a soldier saying that his superior officer was actually loyal to the Taliban? And we’re not even talking secretly loyal—we’re talking openly so. As a soldier, wouldn’t it be rather a big problem if your superior officer was on the side of the enemy? In what world would submission and obedience to that officer be seen as loyalty to your nation or to the army as a whole? More to the point, the U.S. military would never put a man loyal to China, or to North Korea, in command over American troops! And yet, that is just what Debi is suggesting God does.

But there’s another point to be made here, while we’re using the military example: A hierarchical system makes sense in the military, but why would this mean it would also make sense in Christianity? Historically, we see a long history of pastors, deacons, bishops, abbots, and conclaves, but we also see a long history associated with ideas like the priesthood of all believers and brotherhood (and sisterhood) in Christ. Sure, there are those verses in the pastoral epistles that set up hierarchy of leadership in the church (i.e. things like bishops), but there are also verses that say things like “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3: 24). As an atheist, I generally stay out of conflicts over how to interpret the Bible—I figure that’s not really my place. I do feel that I’m merited in pointing out that there is more than one way to interpret the Bible, but in this situation what I’m really asking is why hierarchy would naturally be best.

Why couldn’t men and women both serve God, side by side, as equal partners in furthering his kingdom? And more than that, in a relationship where the wife is Christian and the husband is not, why couldn’t the wife serve God directly—teaching Sunday school or a Bible study, organizing drives to bring food to needy families, even serving as pastor if her denomination allows it—rather than being bound to ignore all of that and to instead serve her husband? After all, that’s what Debi is saying. You want to serve God? Stop trying to do so through giving others Biblical counsel or being involved in the church! That is the way of Jezebel! Instead, you are called to serve God by serving your husband! Doesn’t the long history of women serving as nuns, missionaries, Sunday school teachers, hymn writers, camp counselors, and today pastors suggest that women have something to contribute directly to God, and aren’t constrained to doing so through the medium of their husbands?

One last thing I want to mention: Debi is still misusing the “Armor of God” metaphor. This passage has nothing at all to do with husbands being the armor God designed for wives. On the contrary, really. The passage says that all Christians, male or female, slave or free, is to take up “the sword of the spirit” and the “breastplate of righteousness” and the “shield of faith.” It says nothing about how women are weaker and need to stand behind their husband’s armor—instead, it says that women themselves are to put on armor, armor that is totally irrespective of their marital status. The armor of God isn’t one’s husband, and it especially isn’t one’s unbelieving husband—it’s one’s faith, one’s prayers, one’s knowledge of the words of God. In other words, it’s the exact things Debi says makes a woman a “Jezebel.”

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

    What a charming view of Michael’s narcissism! I’m back to hearing his insecure, dictatorial voice loud and clear, telling Debi that he is god and she is nothing without him.

    Of course (at the risk of being called Godwinning), apparently the words “Neurenberg Trials” are just a collection of random syllables to the Pearls. The excuse “I was only obeying orders” didn’t erase the culpability of those who committed atrocities then, either.

    As an atheist, though, I can’t resist the comment that looking at what atrocities god commands in the Old Testament, it would naturally be hard for a dictatorial authoritarian (particularly one as judgmental and person-hating as both Pearls so proudly are) to know what an unlawful order looks like. Beating kids instead of feeding them to bears probably seems like a personal favor to the kids!

  • Christine

    A lot of doctrines that preach “priesthood of all believers” are also fine with saying that only men can lead churches. They never bothered to update what the idea means once it was realised that women are people too.

    And I found a loophole! Debi says that we can only be fulfilled “as a woman” if we submit. I’ll be fulfilled as a person instead, and it won’t matter that I don’t submit to my husband, right? (Don’t tell Debi that I think I’m a person, not just a woman. I’m sure she’d be sad to know I thought of myself that way.)

  • tdd68

    I think this all muddled even further when you consider that, as an apocalyptic cult (ie, Jesus predicting the Kingdom of Heaven will arrive in the lifetimes of his followers), there are scriptures that suggest or outright state that the best way for members is to NOT be married at all. I don’t know exact scriptures, but I know there is at least one “quote” from Jesus and at least one passage from Paul on how it’s better to be single and focused on your faith(presumably both men and women would need to follow this edict).

    From that perspective, it is ridiculous to conclude that only men should have “the armor of God”! Of course, nothing in this book really makes any sense…

  • Mel

    I married a fellow Christian in a Catholic ceremony. Here’s what I promised:

    I, Melinda, take you, Nicholas, to be my husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.

    My husband’s vows were identical with the names reversed and the word “wife” instead of husband. These are the standard vows for the American English Catholic Liturgy and one of the options for the Reformed Church of America.

    According to Debi, leading theologian of crazy, my vows should have read:

    I, Melinda, recognize you, Nicholas, as my unquestioned leader. I will never think, act or feel in opposition to you ever again. I will follow you on any path, good or bad, sensible or dangerous.

    Nico wouldn’t have needed any vows. He’s a guy and therefore infallible to women and responsible only to God.


    • Christine

      Mel, I hate to have to remind you of this, but do you really think that Debi believes that you are/were a Christian? As Libby mentioned, Debi is probably including ‘ Christians who are less ideologically “pure”’ in the category of “unsaved”. (This probably goes far beyond the common Evangelical “Catholics aren’t Christian” belief). So of course you didn’t know any better, and didn’t make the vows that she would recommend.

      • Mel

        You’re right. And since my husband married someone as corrupted as me, he’s one of those dull armored guys Debi keeps yammering around.

        That gives me an idea for an anniversary present – armor!

      • Christine

        Depending on where on the making him happy/ever getting to talk to him again spectrum you want the gift to fall, may I suggest http://www.chainmailguy.com/rings&tools.htm

        My husband has had a lot of fun with the set I got him. (He’s also a perfectionistic designer, so you the amount of time he’s invested in it is a bit higher than average.)

      • aim2misbehave

        I make chainmail jewelry, and it’s soooo much fun! I’d make it even if I didn’t get to sell it to people! Personally, though, I recommend http://theringlord.com/cart/ – they’ve got a wide selection of colors, sizes, and materials!

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001411188910 Lucreza Borgia

        It’s pretty easy to make your own jump-rings, tho tedious.

      • phantomreader42

        Just be careful which anniversary you give armor for. You could get something workable in leather, or iron, or even cotton or wood (there are historical examples, I believe). But gold armor would be ridiculously expensive and heavy, and too soft to be actually useful. :P

    • Christine

      I have a vague recollection of including “obey” in the vows being one of the things that wouldn’t have been allowed at our wedding (some Catholic churches are less picky than others though – I believe that none of them allow “giving away” the bride, but some are ok with stuff like unity candles). Anyone else know anything about that?

      • alwr

        “Giving away” the bride is absolutely not allowed in a Catholic wedding as it implies that the woman does not give full consent herself or that she could have been coerced by a parent (or whoever does the “giving”). For a marriage to be sacramental, both parties must give full consent and not be coerced. A bride may have someone escort her down the aisle, but there is no “who gives this woman” nonsense allowed. I was very grateful that the church eliminated that for me so my mother (not my father interestingly enough) could not argue about that tradition. As for “obey”, we were told it is absolutely not allowed in Catholic vows as a marriage is intended to be between two equals who take the SAME vows.

      • Christine

        Actually I don’t know if I’ve been at a Catholic wedding where the bride got escorted to the front by her parents. At our wedding, my pastor understood that it’s the modern thing to do, and made sure that we could work it into the wedding, but my husband’s parents only walked him 2/3 of the way up, and then when I got there with my parents (I lost the coin toss), they walked on, and my husband and I walked the rest of the way up together. So we had 1/3 of a traditional processional. It’s considered inappropriate for the couple to not come forward together.

      • alwr

        My dad walked me to the front of the church. My husband and I walked up the altar steps together. It is the going up to the altar that is supposed to be done together. If your parish church had a newer design without steps up to the altar (or only one step as one new church we’ve been to several weddings at), then it would be done that way to ensure that you went to the altar together to confer the sacrament on each other–the priest or deacon does not confer the sacrament of marriage the couple does it themselves.

      • Christine

        It’s a newer design – post Vatican II – but there is more than one step. They’re about the same height, but more discrete than some of the older churches I’ve been at.

      • Mel

        I don’t know if we hit all of the liturgical marks, but I think we were cut some slack on the actual ceremony since my best friend was killed in a car accident the day before and Nico, I and my immediate family were all shocky and grieving. I remember Dad walking me down the aisle. He hugged me and then double-hand shook Nico’s hands. I realized Nico was crying and I gave him an “unauthorized” but very sincere bear-hug since we both needed it. I figure that showed my consent as clearly as anything else I did that day. And the priest, who was shook-up too, forgot to use Nico’s baptismal name of Nicholas… but that was actually very nice since no one calls him Nicholas.

        Unrelated note: We spent a lot of time messing with the priest that we wanted to do the fertility goddess sacrifice (bringing flowers to the statue of Mary) correctly. We wanted to sacrifice a cow or heifer or llama or guinea pig etc for Mary. The priest got his revenge when he showed up for the sermon with a brown paper bag. I nearly stopped breathing before I realized it was a stuffed camel that was a prop in the sermon.

      • Christine

        I think I like that priest. You deserved it entirely, but that’s wickedly clever. I think a lot of priests have about your level of tolerance for the “flowers for Mary” schtick, so it’s a safe thing to mock, but…

      • Jayn

        That would match our wedding. My father walked me down the aisle, but no the priest didn’t imply that he was ‘giving me away’*. And while we got to choose what form our vows would take (we went for the ‘I do’ variant) there was no difference between mine and his.

        *Which would have been silly anyways, since we were already legally married.

      • Christine

        You got to do a full wedding even after you were married? Was this back when the church still read banns? The Catholic Church doesn’t do that anymore. Wedding-advice forums are full of warnings for people who want to get married and then have a “real” wedding later, in a church. Apparently some people expected that their convalidation would look like a wedding.

      • Jayn

        This was back in 2008, and yes. And we had to go through the hierarchy to get everything squared away (since we were living in one place and having our wedding in another), so it wasn’t a local quirk. The priest we were working with mentioned there was a shorter version of the pre-marital stuff available for already-married couples, but we hadn’t been together that long so we went through the same process as any other engaged couple.

        ETA: I recently got a copy of the wedding certificate from the church, and it notes the dates of both the civil ceremony and the church wedding.

      • Mary C

        I got married in a catholic church first in 2002, with only a maid of honor and best man present for our witnesses – and then in 2004, the same priest “married” us again in a big public ceremony. It was the exact same ceremony, vows and everything, that any couple would have had getting married for the first time. No one knew the difference except our original witnesses. Maybe our priest just shirked the rules for us, but for him it was no big deal, a matter of routine. I think he was happier that we had actually gotten married back in 2002 prior to living together ;) We haven’t been to church in years (consider ourselves atheists now) so I don’t know if things have changed, but I’m glad we were able to do it like that back then.

  • BobaFuct

    I guess Debi has never heard of that little town in Germany called Nuremberg…

    • Anima

      Nürnberg, renowned for their Bratwurst, Lebkuchen, Christkindlmarkt and the Nazi trials.

      Though she’d probably say that those people didn’t get their orders from god. And you’ll go to hell for even thinking about comparing the two. Some people are unfortunately immune to cognitive dissonance.

  • BobaFuct

    “Your husband, dud that he may “appear” to be”

    Is there additional context to this statement, or is she basically just assuming that all women think their husbands are terrible?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Good question! No, there’s no additional context. It’s the start of a new chapter, coming after the focus on women of the Bible and turning to the authority of husbands. Throughout the book, Debi seems to think that women in general think very badly of their husbands and that men are either crummy leaders or their wives just think they are.

      • BobaFuct

        Yeah, she strongly implies it all the time, but this seemed to be the most direct statement of that sort. I mean, “your husband, dud” is pretty bold…and she doesn’t even follow it with a positive or a qualifier like “might be a dud.” Nope, just “dud, but God put him in charge, so deal.”

        Other problems aside, I wonder how she squares this with all the other biblical teachings about honoring your husband, not gossiping, etc…she seems to have this mentality that it’s okay to think your husband is a piece of shit and talk shit about him to other women, so long as you act the good wife. Doesn’t seem particularly Godly to me…but I’m just a pathetic husband trapped in an egalitarian marriage and my Jezebel wife clearly has clouded my mind, so what do I know…

      • http://lanahobbs.wordpress.com/ lana hobbs

        i feel that Debi thinks very lowly of people in general.

      • sylvia_rachel

        I wonder if she reckons that women who don’t think very badly of their husbands don’t need this advice because, well, if you think your husband’s great you will of course naturally want to be his abject slave for life … ? o_O

      • Jayn

        It’s probably more that she assumes her audience will be comprised of women who don’t like their husbands that much, because those who do won’t be looking for advice on how to have better marriages.

      • sylvia_rachel

        That’s kind of what I meant, I guess, except nicer ;)

  • Flora

    I would put forward that ANY relationship which begins with an imbalance of power is inherently exploitative – teacher/student, doctor/patient, officer/soldier, boss/employee, pastor/parishioner. One individual has all the control, and it is difficult to establish what someone is doing out of their own choice, and what they’re doing because they’ve been told to do so. There’s a reason that pretty much every professional organization bans these sorts of relationships, because even with the best intentions, holding what someone wants – prescriptions, good grades, promotions, salvation – is already consciously or unconsciously driving them to please you. Even if they enter into the relationship willingly and enthusiastically, there is significant pressure to prevent them from leaving equally willingly.

    The idea that Debi advocates that not only is this not exploitive but that is the natural order of things is terrifying. “Love me because you have to” is neither romantic or just.

    • phantomreader42

      “Love me because you have to” might be slightly more just than “love me or I’ll torture you forever”. Maybe. Slightly.

    • Leigha7

      I wouldn’t say they’re inherently exploitative, so much as they’re inherently prone to being exploitative. If you have a mild-mannered person with more power and a very strong-willed person with less, it’s probably sufficient to offset the power imbalance in a lot of cases (depending on how big the power differential is). That said, it’s not even just in direct relationships where the power issue is a problem. My boyfriend works with a woman whose fiance is the boss’s son, and it’s an issue on occasion because she can’t be as vocal about her opinions as the other employees.

      With things like doctor/patient or officer/soldier, however, I’d be less concerned about power and more concerned about the lives that are at stake. Caring about someone in a relationship sense can cloud your judgment and affect your decision-making, and in those settings (especially the latter) that could get people killed.

  • Fina

    Note: Obviously a soldier also has to disobey if his or her commanding officer orders something thats illegal under national law, too.
    If your officer orders you to raid the bakery next door because he’s hungry, it’d actually be illegal to obey that order. Or, more seriously, break into someones house without a warrant or such (of course the military isnt generally allowed to do police work anyways).

    Of course that only reinforces your point: Modern soldiers are NOT mindless, unquestioning machines.

    Oh, and: What about the claim that men and women are “different but equal”? Because you certainly can’t argue that while comparing them to officers and soldiers – because those are definitely unequal.
    Sure, an army does need normal soldiers – but they aren’t as valuable as an officer. So there goes that silly argument.

    • BobaFuct

      “Sure, an army does need normal soldiers – but they aren’t as valuable as an officer. So there goes that silly argument.”

      As the husband of a former NCO, I’d advise against saying this in front of an enlisted soldier ;)

    • Leigha7

      I second BobaFuct (as a 2nd generation Army brat, though, not as a spouse). Most enlisted would beg to differ.

      Depending on how you define “valuable,” officers could be considered more, equally, or even less valuable. It is, after all, enlisted personnel who do the majority of the jobs essential to the functionality of the military.

      Oh, and that reminds me–not only are soldiers obligated to disobey their CO if they’re ordered to do something unlawful, but NCOs are also allowed to ignore officers if they try to interfere with their primary duties, at least under certain circumstances (certain jobs have serious consequences if interrupted, and no officer is important enough to risk causing global thermonuclear war).

  • Alice

    “Your position under him is where God put you for your own spiritual, emotional, and physical safety. It is the only position where you will find real fulfillment as a woman.”

    *Snort* Clearly Debi knows nothing about sex.

    “It takes faith in God to trust him when all you seem to see is one carnal man leading you—to “God only knows where.”

    Actually, I take it back, maybe she does know a little bit about fundamentalist bedrooms. “Oh God!” has an entirely different meaning there. LOL

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

    We do occasionally put American soldiers under others’ commands! When working for a greater good, such as a UN peacekeeping mission, the US sometimes places soldiers under the command of officers from other countries. They’re still American soldiers and expected to be representatives of their country and training, but they’re taking orders from non-Americans.

    I don’t know how that would translate into CTBHHM talk. Maybe a woman obeying her pastor instead of her husband for donating to a charity drive?

    • Stev84

      It’s not just during peacekeeping missions, but also combat. Happens every day in Afghanistan. But they distinguish between tactical and operational control. Placing troops under the tactical command of other nations happens all the time, but the US still retains operational control.

      • Whirlwitch

        And it all requires negotiation and communication so that everyone knows where they stand, which is anathema to Debi.

  • http://bramboniusinenglish.wordpress.com Brambonius

    They must have good schrooms in fundamentalistan. Dafuq did I just read?

    (Yes I write this as an Evangelical Christian who has seen a lot in an aout of my own tradition. I knew you had weirdos in America but this is way over the top. )

  • sylvia_rachel

    This is so many kinds of messed up that I’m not even sure which aspects of it make my head explode the most o_O

    In the military, sh!tty officers can get fired. (I gather it doesn’t happen as often as it should, esp. at higher ranks, but the infrastructure is there.) In the military, you can ask to be transferred. In the military, you can blow the whistle on an officer whose conduct is bad or dangerous. In the military, you are, as you point out, NOT supposed to obey an illegal order, and the guy who gave it is not supposed to get to keep his job. In the military, the possibility exists to go over your commanding officer’s head if circumstances require it. In the military, the possibility of resigning your commission exists, and you have to actively re-enlist at the end of your hitch if you want to stay — you’re not stuck for life. In the military, checks and balances and policies and reporting structures exist; your commanding officer is not an all-powerful despot.

    Of course, a lot can go wrong in a military command structure, but when it does, there will not be all that many people staunchly arguing that, say, the guys in charge at Abu Ghraib prison were behaving as G-d intended. :P (There will be a few. There are always a few.)

    I feel like at some point Debi (or, more likely, Michael) heard “Onward, Christian Soldiers” and instead of thinking “Hmm, interesting metaphor” thought “Aha! Instructions for marriage!” :P :P :P

  • aletha

    Libby Anne, I’m curious. After you finish with CTBHHM, are you going to tackle Created to Need a Help Meet?

    • wanderer

      omg no…tell me that’s not a real book!?

      • sylvia_rachel

        Not only is it a real book, there’s also Preparing to Be a Help Meet, for teenage/preteen girls :(

      • aletha

        seriously. check out amazon and read the first chapter. it’s crazy.