Wifely Submission and Honoring, Cherishing and Loving Your Wife as Your Own Body

Leaders of the Christian Patriarchy Movement and their disciples (minor pastors who covet their attention) will say a lot of things to sugarcoat wifely submission.

Complementarians say that true contentment comes from submitting to your God-given role as an obedient helper to your husband. That women who feel unfulfilled need only to submit to their husbands and bear children, and all that unhappiness will go away.

There are also the scriptural benefits: God’s plan for the family includes protections and guarantees for the wife. If she submits to her husband, and he is keeping up his end of the bargain, he will love and care for her as for his own body; he will lay down his life to sanctify her, loving her as Christ loved the Church; he will be a “servant” leader who puts her wellbeing ahead of his own desires; he will protect her  not only from sin but from physical, emotional and spiritual dangers; he will “honor” her “as the weaker vessel” – in other words, treat her as carefully as he would fine china.

All of this flowery language masks the hard reality of Christian patriarchy. If you’re in a complementarian or openly patriarchal marriage, your life is in the hands of your husband and your only hope is that he’ll follow through on all of the above.

I spent 12 years in the Christian patriarchy movement. How many men did I see deferring to their wives’ best interests? How often did I see them consult their wives before making a decision that might impact them?

Once.

My pastor got a vasectomy to protect his wife’s health after their seventh child. There were people who criticized this move, too, because birth control of any kind was “playing God.”

Another husband also got a vasectomy, despite his wife’s strenuous arguments against it, because he didn’t think they could handle more than five kids. I’m not sure if he even told her about it in advance.

Other husbands forbade their wives to work, decided to move house and take their wives along for an unexpected ride, ordered their wives to pack up the kids and get in the car after church when they were ready to leave (no matter whether or not the wife was in the middle of a conversation – she had to drop it and obey), and generally treated them as insignificant. And they had no idea they were doing this, because they believed that just being a Christian and trying to follow God meant they were fulfilling their end of the patriarchal bargain. They would apologize to their wives for publicly humiliating them and then brag about it from the pulpit, as though this earned them some kind of repentance points and wasn’t just what you do when you’re a good person who has screwed up.

For a graphic example of that the preachers of complementarianism and wifely submission actually practice, see this story about Kelly Bradrick:

Semper Eadem: Portrait of a Lady

[Kelly Bradrick] was a poster girl for Stay at Home Daughters and then for the large Vision Forum “conference wedding” with lengthy, manly monologues and a first kiss at the altar. Kelly is the daughter of Scott Brown … and she married Peter Bradrick in August of 2006. Who could forget? Doug Phillips featured the wedding in an e-mail newsletter and raved about getting a bird’s eye view of Peter and Kelly’s first kiss. He still talks about it to this day.

On May 15, 2011, Kelly had a baby girl, Geneva Constance; her fourth child in four and a half years. She already had an emergency c-section in January 2010 with her third baby so one would think that Peter would have been very protective and concerned about his wife. Even while Kelly was expecting this fourth child, Peter tromped off with Doug Phillips on an expedition “Into the Amazon” which isn’t exactly awful but isn’t very loving either.

But then, it gets worse. On May 26, 2011, Scott and Deborah Brown left for a tour of Europe with Doug Phillips’ “A Final Farewell” event. … Peter and Kelly Bradrick went along as well. Only 11 days after Kelly gave birth. Now, most doctors will tell you to wait 2 weeks after giving birth normally and 4 weeks after a c-section to travel. … As it was, she didn’t even wait two weeks and was highly at risk for hemorrhaging, infection, and thrombosis.

On June 11, 2011, Kelly Bradrick had to be life-flighted to a hospital…

  • http://jw-thoughts.blogspot.com JW

    I often wonder how prevalent this kind of behavior is in ‘regular’ fundamentalist churches. I think of independent Baptist church specifically. There is one locally about 30 minutes away in which they frown upon ladies who wear any kind of pants. They want them to wear long dressed and they should have long hair , not short hair. Guys should have short hair and not long hair. They only use an organ for their music, no cd players or other band people. Either an organ or it is accapella.

    Now, Sierra, I want to know from you what do you think about the the relationship between a husband and wife in light of whatever you base your own personal life own. Be it a more liberal view of the bible or atheism or something else.

    I know for me each gender has specific strengths which help the marriage to balance but when those strengths are taken to the extreme then it causes problems. My wife and I balance those strengths with each other and sometimes we give each other que’s when the other is needing help with something and the other holds more ‘strength’ to be able to do it. I do think fundamentalist Christians take it overboard and use a very unbalanced approach to the whole marriage ideal and thus arises the feminist movement to counteract the abuse of the whole thing. But I really would like to know from you about what I wrote in the above paragraph…

    JW

    • http://nonprophetmessage.wordpress.com Sierra

      I believe that each relationship is individual, and works best when we acknowledge each other’s specific strengths and weaknesses. In my own relationship with my fiance, we tend to alternate “traditional” roles and interests. I take care of our cars, and he often cooks dinner. I also really hate “smelly work” like cleaning the bathroom and he doesn’t mind, so I do things like wash dishes and laundry instead to make sure we’re carrying an equal load. I am also complete rubbish with babies and he’s a pro, so if we reproduce he will be the one doing the majority of baby care while I get more involved with the child as it gets older. He runs and rows for exercise; I lift heavy weights. He doesn’t hunt or fish, and I don’t like shoe shopping. Yet, sometimes we do totally stereotypical things: he watches sports and I bake for fun. He’s into math/science and I’m a writer.
      My fiance looks the part of the macho man (tall, strong, manly features) but hates that society (in the form of coworkers and family, usually) assumes he won’t prioritize child care or he will be interested in strip clubs. He’s told me that he would love to be a stay at home parent, a lifestyle that has always filled me with terror.
      Short answer: gender roles would cut off enormous parts of who we are. They just aren’t helpful in describing what we like or what we’re good at. When we have conflicts, we usually decide who is more invested in the problem or just agree to alternate the decision making (he decides once, I decide the next time).

    • ScottInOH

      JW, for me, each partner has specific strengths which help the marriage to balance. To presume which partner will have which strengths based on that partner’s gender is to be wrong in most specific instances. Allowing individual couples (or other groups) to determine their own balance is much more sensible. And it is precisely what complementarians and patriarchs–a.k.a. sexists–fear.

  • http://www.justamysblog.blogspot.com amyelizabeth

    This just makes me cringe.
    “And they had no idea they were doing this.”
    That is the worst part.
    Evangelical America is becoming more and more radical, and these things becoming more and more sugar coated.
    My mother had a discussion with a Presbyterian pastor, who I really respect and admire and is a very kind man. He’s a complementarian, and my mother, for the first time in her life, has become egalitarian after wholeheartedly subjecting herself to the doctrines of submission. I loved what she said to him as he tried to explain to her that the man will take the wife’s concerns into account when there’s a big decision. (She shook her head and said, “They don’t realize that I would have been sitting on his side of the table, talking to someone like me now, saying those exact same things a few years ago.”) She replied, “The man is always holding the ace card. Why should anyone automatically get the ace card?”
    And that’s how it is. No matter what, in the end, it goes how the man wants it to.
    “You don’t want to move? I’m truly sorry. But you’ll see, it’ll be great. So we’re doing it.”

  • http://jw-thoughts.blogspot.com JW

    Sierra, reading your comments reminds me of a couple of things myself. Atypical of guys I have never been into cars. I keep our cars up but only because I have to to keep them going. If another guy engages in conversation with me over cars he loses me because I simply don’t care – no interest at all over certain motors and horsepower. Hence, I don’t have many guy friends and yet I really don’t care either, lol. Never went to strip clubs and I have been to Hooters twice simply because my wife wanted to go once and I warned her about my eyes.

    Lastly, though this is off the major topic here, do you see all of Christianity as one of the same when it comes to all of these little radical movements such as what you were brought up in? Judging from your blog it sounds to me that you were exposed to a bunch of nonsense rules under the guise of ‘This is of God and you must obey’ type of thing which does much to drive people off to any notion of belief of whether God exists apart of all that nonsense. Does that make sense?

    JW

    • http://nonprophetmessage.wordpress.com Sierra

      I believe that there are other kinds of Christianity. For instance, I’m intrigued by medieval religion (studying it in grad school) and modern Christian feminists. For me, Christianity + feminism doesn’t emotionally compute. I don’t understand it on a gut level. But I don’t doubt that it’s possible to be a Christian and a feminist.

      What exposure to all of these wacked out little groups has ultimately taught me is that there’s enough varied material in the Bible to produce basically any kind of Christianity that someone can dream up.

    • http://www.fromtwotoone.com from two to one

      As someone who does identify as both a Christian and a feminist, I can attest to the fact that there are “other” types of Christianity out there. And as Sierra noted below, it is possible to be Christian and progress/feminist/etc., but certainly at times it seems like a balancing act. I would add, though, that I am a feminist BECAUSE I am a Christian who believes in social justice, women’s rights, and egalitarianism.

  • http://revarant.wordpress.com revarant

    I always said that I wanted a partner in marriage and life, but realized after I was married that I had no idea how to be a partner. I grew up with the only example being a patriarchal view of Christianity. Albeit, one where the women were strong and listened to. After twenty years of marriage I am still learning to be a partner to and with my wife, as is she for me. I am a pastor who opposes and discourages a patriarchal view of Christianity every chance I get. Blogs like this really help me become a better husband, father and person. thanks.


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