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?
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:
[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…