by Libby Anne cross posted from her blog Love Joy Feminism
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.”
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Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Libby Anne blogs at Love, Joy, Feminism
Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the religious right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving fundamentalist and evangelical religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the problems with the “purity culture,” the intricacies of conservative and religious right politics, and the importance of feminism. Her blog is Love, Joy, Feminism
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce