CTBHHM: The (Proxy) Bride of (an Abusive) Christ

by Libby Anne cross posted from her blog Love Joy Feminism

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 124-127

A wise woman understands that her husband’s need to be honored is not based on his performance, but on his nature and his God-ordained position. She learns quickly to defer to his ideas or plans with enthusaism. She looks for ways to reverence him. She knows this is God’s will for her life.

A while back I wrote about the pernicious problems with the Christian theological idea that the relationship between husband and wife was to be a sort of mirror of the relationship between Christ and the Church, and some readers responded by saying that I’d misunderstood, that that idea was only a metaphor and not to be taken literally. I don’t believe I got into how that idea ought to be understood, though. My point was that the way that it is understood in evangelical and fundamentalist culture is toxic, and in this section Debi makes that clear. Make sure you’re prepared before delving into this post—writing this one made me more angry with Debi than I have been since my post on her Command Man section.

Debi starts by quoting from Ephesians: “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church . . . and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” Debi then goes on as follows:

Jesus wants us for a friend. He wants a companion, someone wth whom to discuss ideas. He wants a playmate, someone with whom to laugh and enjoy life. He wants a buddy with wfhom to spend time. He wants a lover, someone to care about and someone to care about him. He wants a help meet, someone to share in his work of creation management. He wants to be a groom and he wants the Church to be his bride. This is the great mystery. He seeks to create in me and my relationship to my husband a working scale model of his relationship to the Church throughout eternity.

Debi, you see, takes this metaphor literally—and very seriously.

Amazing as it sounds, marriage between a man and a woman is what God chose as the closest example of Christ’s relationship to his bride, the Church. You are part of eternity when you submit to your husband. Submission, reverence, and honor are preparing you for your marriage to Christ. You may say, “But it would be easy being married to Christ.” Then you don’t know your Bible. What if your husband required you to offer your son upon an alter as a burnt sacrifice? That is what God required of Abraham. What if your husband killed you for lying? That is what God did to Sapphira.

I don’t. I don’t even.

To start with the most obvious, in the examples Debi uses to argue that being married to Christ is no picnic, she leaves herself open for readers to come away believing that they would be bound to murder their children should their husbands command it, or to allow themselves to be killed by their husbands should their husbands so decide. After all, Debi has said both that such submission unto death is required of the Church and that wives are to submit to their husbands as the Church is to submit to Christ. If Debi offers women exceptions to this rule, she doesn’t do it here, and leaving this passage without a discussion of exceptions—of the differences between the Christ and the Church relationship and the husband and wife relationship, differences Debi doesn’t given any suggestion she actually thinks exist—seems to me both dangerous and highly irresponsible.

But there’s more here than just that, and it’s only worse. Debi describes the relationship between Christ and the Church as the ideal every married couple is to strive for, and then makes it clear that the relationship between Christ and the Church is abusive. In other words, the relationship Debi says women are to strive for is an abusive relationship. And after reading this passage, an abused wife can tell herself every time her husband asks something horrific of her that at least he isn’t asking her to kill one of her children, as Christ asked of the Church (and asked perfectly appropriately and rightly, too, within Debi’s frame of reasoning). All throughout her book, Debi normalizes and promotes relationship patterns that are textbook examples of abuse, but here she perhaps goes the very furthest. And immediately after this, she perhaps goes the farthest she has yet gone in warning women against doing anything to stand up to potential abuse:

For a woman to usurp authority over a man is an affront to God Almighty, like treason in the camp. It would be like a man taking authority over Christ, or like the Church becoming jealous of Jesus’ leadership and taking authority unto itself. It would be doing just what Lucifer did when he said in Isaiah 14:13-14, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north . . . I will be like the most High.”

Yes, that’s right, if a woman stands up to her husband—even if he is abusive—she is committing treason against God—she is being like Satan. Some may wonder why I am focusing so much on abusive husbands. After all, most of Debi’s followers are likely married to men who are not abusive. The problem, though, is that Debi’s teachings are absolutely toxic when read by women whose husbands are abusive, or who have the potential to become abuse, and set up such an unequal relationships that they in fact, I would argue, serve to foster the development of abuse. In other words, I would argue that Debi’s suggestions have the potential to make bad relationships worse, and turn good relationships sour.

Knowing that my role as a wife typifies the Church’s relationship to Christ has molded my life. As I reverence my husband, I am creating a picture of how we, the Church, should reverence Christ. You have wondered why God would tell us to do such a think as to reverence our husbands. Now you know.

Yes, you read that right. The reason women are to submit to their husbands is that the husband wife relationship is a type of the relationship between Christ and the Church, and the Church is to submit to Christ. How that makes any sense at all I have no idea.

Reverence: to revere, to be in awe; fear mingled with respect and esteem.

Fear. Yes, fear. Debi tells women that they must fear their husbands—that fearing their husbands is right and good. How Debi’s books got to be so very popular in fundamentalist and Christian homeschooling circles I have absolutely no idea.

1. Obedience is doing what you know the other person wants you to do.

2. Submission is your heart giving over to the other person’s will.

3. Reverence is more than just doing what a man expects or demands. It is an act of the woman’s will to treat him with a high degree of regard and awe.

Do you know what is really baffling? That Debi can say that women are to obey, submit to, and reference their husbands and define the terms like this and then claim that she is not telling women to be doormats. Again and again she assures women that she is no mousy pushover! And then she says—well, this. There is no way a woman can do what Debi is laying out here without being a doormat. I mean, this is sort of the definition of doormat.

Obedience, submission, and reverence are all acts of the will and are not based on feelings. Showing deference toward one’s husband is an act of reverence toward the God who placed you in that role.

One of Debi’s common lines is that by serving their husbands they are serving God, and she is merely repeating that again here by saying that showing reverence to your husband is showing reverence to God. Interestingly, we see this slippage again in the letter Debi quotes in total immediately following this. I’m not going to quote the full letter for you, but it is signed like this:

Loving him,

Judy

It is very common for evangelicals or fundamentalists to sign letters or emails or what have you with things like “In Christ” or “With Christ’s Love,” but that’s not what’s going on in this letter. The context makes it very clear that she is talking about loving her husband, not about loving Christ.

In brief, Judy’s letter—which may or may not have actually been written by someone named Judy rather than by Debi herself—outlines the story of a young wife who learns that her husband is regularly going to strip clubs and seeing prostitutes, and yet decides against all odds to stay with him rather than to divorce him, and focuses on showing him love rather than disappointment and on teaching her son to love his father and see him as the best man in the world. In her response, Debi offers this:

She is reverencing God by reverencing her husband, not because her husband is a fit representative of Christ, and not because he is a worthy substitute, but because God placed her in subjection to her husband. . . . This woman is obeying and reverencing God, and no one else. THat creep of a husband is the fortunate recipient of honor being given to God.

Remember when Debi insisted that women are not “under” men? I’m not sure just what Debi thinks “in subjection to” actually means . . . Also, again, I want to point out well all this works out for the men in the equation: How convenient for them that God has decreed that women are to serve and honor God by serving and honoring men!

If her faithfulness is never rewarded with a new-birth change in her husband, her commitment will not be wasted, for the grace that God is working in her heart is making her supremely fitted to be the bride of Christ. It is an eternal work taking place in her soul.

And here is where I have a question: Aren’t men, too, supposed to be the bride of Christ? The bride of Christ is supposed to be the Church, comprised of a multitude of individuals of both genders. But here Debi suggests that Judy’s submission to her husband is making her especially fit to be the bride of Christ. What of the men? If wives learn by submitting how to be a good future bride of Christ, well, don’t husbands need to learn that too? If both men and women are preparing in this world to be the bride of Christ in the world to come, shouldn’t they be practicing mutual submission? Otherwise, aren’t we going to end up with lots of women in the Church ready to be the bride of Christ and lots of men in the Church thinking that they are to be Christ? But of course, Debi never answers this question—she doens’t even ask it.

When someone tells me in the future that I got that bride of Christ thing wrong—that Christians only believe it’s a metaphor, not that it should at all be taken literally or actually applied to husband wife relationships—I’m going to send them here. Are there Christians who do only see this as a metaphor and don’t ever try to take it further? Almost certainly. But that there are multitudes of evangelicals and fundamentalists who do take this idea literally and seek to apply it in very real ways is something that cannot be denied—or ignored.

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Read everything by Libby Anne!

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

 

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