No Greater Joy, a fundamentalist ministry that focuses primarily on telling wives to submit to their husbands, recently posted a piece titled “Did I seriously just question God’s Word?” by Beth Determan. In it, Beth details her frustrations with submitting to her husband.
Beth begins as follows:
I have been a Christian for 17 years. I have loved getting to know God, learning about his love for me and others, reading the Bible, and knowing what God has for women and wives. I love encouraging you all daily.
I will admit it has been hard sometimes understanding why HE (God) has authority set in place. I was raised a rebel. It didn’t seem fair that WE had to do what our husbands asked but they didn’t have to do what we wanted.
No, it’s not fair, but on some level that’s the least of my worries— this arrangement is also not healthy. This will become more important in a moment.
And in our culture today, it’s shoved down our throats to speak our mind and do what we feel is right. I mean, he should listen to me too, right? Marriage should be 50/50, right?
The phrasing here is actually really interesting. There’s a verse in Judges that I remember hearing growing up: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” This was, of course, supposed to be a bad thing (although it occurs to me that I don’t know how these passages have been interpreted within Judaism, only Christianity).
But let me ask you this. Is it a good idea to prevent someone from doing something they believe is right, particularly if it means forcing them do something they believe is wrong? Ah, but that’s a different phrasing, isn’t it! It’s easy to read “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” and see moral excess, but if “do what we feel is right” is a reference to our own moral compass that sounds quite a bit different. In that sense, we absolutely should “do what we feel is right.”
But I feel like I’m getting a bit afield, here. Back to Beth:
I’m going to get super personal.
I have an amazing marriage but we are not perfect. Shocker.
In an argument with my husband, I once said to him: “If I asked this of you, you would not do it, so why do I have to listen to you? I think this is nonsense, and I know God tells me this is the way it is, but it’s not fair!”
*Gasp* My dear, wise husband just looked at me and said in a calm voice, “That is between you and God. Sounds like you just called his Word nonsense.”
Does Beth think this makes her husband look good? Because it does not. It does not at all.
I froze. Did I seriously just question God’s Word? I was devastated. I went to the bathroom and cried out to God in apology, and Ephesians 5:22 popped into my head.
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
Would I dare question God to his face? If he asked anything of me, would I obey?
Of course I would. So what was I doing being prideful about submitting myself to my husband?
Lady, your husband is not God.
God never once said “if it’s fair” or “if you feel like it” or “if your husband would do it himself.” He said “submit yourselves” as unto the Lord. Ouch. I will humble myself and admit this was a recent event.
So with a deep breath and a repentant heart, I walked out and apologized to my husband. I realized that my emotions had rule over my mind, and my husband mostly rules with logic. He is the head that God knew I needed.
(Of course, I am not in any way speaking of abuse—just normal, everyday life here.)
Oh. No. No, no, no.
If a husband expects his wife to obey him because he’s the man and throws religion in her face when she disagrees with something he has ordered her to do, that is abuse. You can’t make it not abuse by asserting that you are not talking about abuse. Beth says she’s talking about “just normal, everyday life here” when she says she’s not talking about abuse, and that really is the problem—fundamentalist teachings about gender and women’s role normalize abuse.
Here, take a look athlete power and control wheel:
Many women who promote patriarchal teachings seem to think that abuse has to be physical to be abuse—or that it has to involve out of control rageful screaming. This is simply not the case. Reducing your wife to tears and making her feel that she has to apologize, all for saying that it’s not fair that she has to obey you, is big flashing neon warning sign territory.
Beth would likely defend her husband; she says later that her husband rarely speaks up and that “when he does I know it’s important.” But a man with a healthy approach to relationships who also believes in male headship is not going to put his wife in a situation like this; he’s not going to pull rank and make his wife do things she doesn’t want to do. Instead, he’ll listen to his wife, explain his own perspective in turn, and work with—and not against—her.
There are men who believe in male headship but in practice have healthy relationship skills. It happens, especially when married couples realize that egalitarianism just works better, but aren’t in a position where they feel they can question that particular piece of evangelical teaching.
Beth’s backstory made me profoundly sad:
Pride and selfishness will ruin you.
I had a root hidden away, planted by feminism and growing up watching my mama be abused and “told what to do.” It was not in a biblical sense for her own protection or good, but in a controlling atmosphere permeated by fear. There is a CLEAR difference.
Nonetheless, it was there, a thorn in my side that I didn’t realize was so deep. My husband is a Steady/Command man who rarely “speaks up,” so when he does I know it’s important. But this time, my true heart showed. How awful.
I didn’t want to do what he asked. I wanted my own way. I could see that I only submitted when it suited me.
No more! I learned a good lesson, ladies. I had a hard look at my own heart. Yes, I have past trauma. Yes, I have a deep need to control and protect my circumstances to feel safe. Anyone who has suffered abuse knows this.
But, I CHOOSE TO TRUST GOD.
I will never again question his Word. No matter my past or my circumstances, I will submit myself to my husband as unto the Lord God himself standing before me face to face.
What Beth is describing is triggers. After watching her abusive father tell her mother what to do and rule over her in an atmosphere of fear, she was triggered when her husband insisted that he had the right to order her to do something she did not want to do.
Here’s how I see it: if you grew up with an abusive father who told your mother what to do and ruled her in an atmosphere of fear, your husband should keep your past trauma in mind and avoid saying anything that would make you think he’s telling you what to do.
Early on in our marriage, my husband had to learn not to use certain phrases that my parents used to use, because of the reaction they would create in me. Beth’s husband has every reason in the world not to pull rank on her and order her to obey him—both because doing so is unhealthy and because it triggers her childhood traumas—and yet still he does it.
Beth’s takeaway is that she needs to swallow her trauma and obey her husband as though he’s God—she literally says this—and also that wanting something different is just feminism lying to her, or her own insecurities resulting from past trauma speaking, and thus invalid.
I wonder how many women with horrifically abusive fathers end up in patriarchal marriages that they justify by telling themselves that their husband is not what their father was.
Beth describes one conflict as follows:
I recently had a disagreement with my daughter. She felt she was right, I demanded that I was right, and she walked away with hurt feelings. My husband told me to go get her and restore fellowship. I didn’t like being told what to do, not the tiniest bit. Ugh, pride is an ugly thing . . . But fellowship restored is sweet, and my husband knew it was what both my daughter and I needed.
This just feels … off. Did her husband actually order her to make up with her kid, or did he say that he thought maybe she’d been a bit hard on her, and she just took that as an order?
There have been times when my husband and my daughter have fought where I’ve told my husband, afterwards, that I thought he should go make things right with her. This has never been an order. How would that even work? Anyone who has ever tried ordering two children to make up knows that you can’t order people to make up. You can’t command the heart.
In cases like this, “don’t you think you were a bit hard on her?” is plenty. It is not an order. It’s a second opinion. Marriages are full of second opinions—and that’s good! We need second opinions. We need people to bounce ideas off of, people to ask for feedback from, people to support us and encourage us and hold us up when we fall. That’s what marriage is supposed to be about, not this nonsense where one partner treats the other as though he’s literally God.
Perhaps part of the problem is that we never educate people on how to do relationships. No, think about it—we don’t! We take math, biology, and government, but do we take human behavior? Not usually! We each grow up with our parents as models, and that model is often shit. Then when we’re grown we try to muck through things on our own. We repeat some of our parents’ mistakes, avoid others, and make mistakes of our own. But nobody ever sits everyone down and says “okay, this is what a healthy relationship looks like.”
Now that I think about it, it’s wild that we don’t teach this. We teach kids not to do drugs and how to have safe sex (well, sometimes), but we don’t teach them how to do relationships.
And that’s a problem.
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