Me? Obey Him?

Me? Obey Him? October 23, 2011

A review of “Me? Obey Him?” by Elizabeth Rice Handford. Trigger warning for former Quiverfull believers who actually read this book and tried to live according to the principles … this post is a disturbing trip down memory lane.

by Vyckie Garrison

Those fortunate enough to have never actually read “Me? Obey Him?” may be shocked and appalled by the teachings in support of “biblical patriarchy.”  This review is simply quotations of Handford’s own words (in italics), followed by comments from my personal experience as a former Quiverfull Believer.

God’s Perfect Creation Required Order

Jesus, the Creator of Heaven and earth, submitted Himself to God the Father.  He took His place in the chain of command. … It is no shame, no dishonor,  for a woman to be under authority, if the Lord Jesus — very God Himself — submitted to the authority of the Father. (p. 14)

The submission of the Lord Jesus is our example.  He submitted not just to the tender ministrations of the Father.  He submitted to revilings and curses, persecution and suffering.  He was our example, not just to obey a gentle and kind husband but a harsh and mean husband as well.

You may find that your obedience to your husband and your obedience to God are all tied together.  You may not want to obey your husband because you are in rebellion against God. (p. 51)

By intimately linking Christ’s willing subjection to God the Father with a woman’s submission to her husband in “the chain of command,” the teachings of patriarchy create such an intricate tangle of enmeshment that it’s nearly impossible for an abused woman to extricate herself from the bondage of her husband’s tyranny without also throwing off her spiritual bond with Christ.

Kristen Rosser, who writes the FAQs for No Longer Quivering, is currently working on an article which will address the popular Christian teachings on the absolute necessity of hierarchy – coming soon …

Woman’s Nature Requires Obedience

We’ve had the impression that women as a class are more spiritually minded than men, with sensibilities more refined, and purer thoughts. Scriptures say the opposite is true!  Women are more often led into spiritual error than men.  Perhaps it is caused by her intuitive, emotional thinking.  (Intuitive thinking is God’s gift, not to be despised, but it needs the balance of a man’s reason.)  I should add too, that a woman does not have to be led into error.  That is the reason God commanded her not to usurp authority over the man, so she can be protected from false doctrine. (p. 17)

Sexist generalizations are never useful in understanding human relationships.

In reality, I am no less rational than my (ex)husband.  He also is gifted with a strong intuition and emotional intelligence.  Convinced as we were that I was more susceptible to Satanic deception, our family was deprived of my reasonable input in decision making.  My intelligence was squelched, my intuition was distrusted and my feelings were denied.  My husband developed an artificially inflated sense of his own powers of logic.  I can’t count how many times he said to me, “What you are saying sounds reasonable, but how do I know that Satan is not using you to deceive me?”  I had no good defense.  According to the Scriptures, we had every reason to believe that I was indeed being used to lead my husband astray.

His authority and my obedience did not protect us from tragic deception which ripped apart our family.

What Do the Scriptures Say About a Wife’s Obedience?

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the Scriptures say a woman ought to obey her husband! … [Note, these ellipses represent page after page of scriptural support given by Handford to bolster her argument that God commands wives to obey their husbands.] If you are intellectually honest, you will have to admit that it is impossible to find a single loophole, a single exception, an “if” or “unless.”  The Scriptures say, without qualification, to the openminded reader, that a woman ought to obey her husband. (pp. 24, 25)

1) She Is to Obey Regardless of His Spiritual Condition

The wife who obeys her husband may win him by her meek and quiet spirit, her loving behavior. (p. 25)

2) She Need Not Fear Conflicting Authority

There is no hint that a woman may have to choose between conflicting authority. …  If it is needed in order to fulfill both obligations, God will do a miracle to make it possible. … It is safe to conclude that when God told a woman to obey her husband, He intended for her to be able to do it without risk of offending other authorities. (pp. 25, 28)

3) She Obeys Without Reference to Her Feelings About the Will of God

The Scriptures say a woman must ignore her “feelings” about the will of God, and do what her husband says.  She is to obey her husband as if he were God Himself. She can be as certain of God’s will, when her husband speaks, as if God had spoken audibly from Heaven! (p. 28 – emphasis added)

When a concerned friend reported our family to Child Protective Services, my ex-husband lost custody of the children due to his abuse.  The social worker told me that I was guilty of “failure to protect.”  The only thing that prevented me from having my parental rights terminated and my children placed in foster care was my willingness to submit to a full psychological evaluation, undergo individual and family counseling, and cooperate with random unannounced home visits by Social Services.

My older children rightfully blame me for not protecting them against their father’s abuse.  Even though they know that I was influenced by books such as “Me? Obey Him?” to believe that it was God’s will to submit to the abuse, my children cannot be fooled into thinking that I was not really responsible for their suffering.  I have apologized for my neglect.  Most of my children have forgiven me — still, the damage is done and some things can’t (and shouldn’t) be forgotten.

What If a Husband Expressly Commands Something Explicitly Wrong?

When women ask me this question, I counter with two of my own:

1) “Have you been living in daily obedience to your husband as part of your wholehearted, loving submission to God?”

(This is an essential part of the problem. If a woman has not been submissive, God has no responsibility for her situation and cannot be blamed if her husband requires something wrong.)

2) “Has your husband ever actually commanded you to do something wrong?”

In the hundreds of times I have asked these questions, not once, if my memory is right, has a woman answered, “Yes, I am always obedient, and yet my husband has required me to break one of God’s laws.”

Never! Why?

Because, when a woman takes God at His word, submits to her husband without reservation, fears God and loves Him, then God takes upon Himself the responsibility to see that a woman does not have to sin! (pp. 37, 38)

Many non-Christians can at least appreciate Jesus as a good moral teacher, but I have come to think of my 25+ year walk with God as the perfect example of a codependent relationship.  To me, having “the mind of Christ” means thinking like a battered woman:  It’s really all my fault that He treats me so poorly.  If only I were a better person, He wouldn’t have to make me suffer.  He only does it when I disobey — to test my love for Him or to teach me a much-needed lesson. I don’t deserve His love.  I am so thankful that He puts up with me! Without Him, I am nothing.

Even if a woman can honestly claim to have been perfectly submissive, if her husband nevertheless commands her to do wrong, God still gets off the hook.  But, “Me? Obey Him?” gives the godly woman a promise so that she is not without hope: perhaps the Lord will kill her evil husband!!

A man always has the choice of saying yes or no to God.  He can reject the pleadings of the Spirit, the pleas of his loving wife.  If he does, and he goes on his wicked way, then I have seen God reach down and take that man’s life, rather than make his wife choose between two wrongs. (p. 40)

The Lord did not rescue us from abuse by killing my husband — even though, I’m embarrassed and ashamed now to say, I did pray He would do so after reading this passage in Handford’s book.  No — it was up to me to put a stop to the abuse.  My only regret in seeking divorce is that I didn’t do it sooner.

Don’t I Have Any Rights?

Can you find a Kleenex somewhere and mop up the tears, just for a minute, long enough to talk to me about what your rights really are?

You don’t have any rights, no rights at all.  You lost them on the day you rebelled against God.  You lost them, not because you are a woman, but because you are a sinner, just as I am.  (p. 49)

Handford goes on to argue that, having been purchased by Christ’s blood, we become His bondservants (slaves) who ought to be glad to do anything He tells us to do.  This teaching that I was a slave to Christ translated into me also being a slave to my husband.  I had no right to expect decent treatment for myself and our children.  My husband owned me and was perfectly within his rights to demand that I comply with his every whim.  If his desires seemed selfish, petty, or abusive, who was I to protest?  If I would have rebelled against his wishes, then I would be guilty of witchcraft (1 Samuel 15:23) and subject to demonic control.  I was told that either God was in control of my life (in the guise of my husband), or else Satan was in control of my life.  The only power I had was to choose which one would control me.

You Have the Freedom From the Consequences of Decisions

When you give back to your husband the responsibility for the direction of the home and the making of the decisions, you also give him the responsibility for the consequences of his decisions. … Fortunately, that’s the way a man likes it.  God made a man to be aggressive, to respond to challenge, to glory in his manhood, to rejoice in draining his strength, to risk great hazards for the one he loves.  It is his very aggressiveness that a woman sometimes finds frightening, simply because she is a woman.  She doesn’t have confidence in her physical strength, in her ability to cope with danger, in her decision-making ability.  It is a privilege, a gift unearned, for a woman to have a man take upon himself her welfare. (p 56)

What Handford fails to mention here is that the wife and children have to live with the consequences of the husband’s decisions.  Reality persists.  In actual fact, if a woman turns over all authority to her husband, and he blows it, she is nevertheless responsible by abdication for the resultant predicament in which the family finds itself.  Perhaps God will not hold the submissive woman responsible for her husband’s squandering of the household funds, but her children’s hollow eyes will haunt her all the same.

The male aggressiveness which I feared was, in fact, strengthened when I catered to my husband — much as a bully becomes increasingly malevolent until his targeted prey dares to stand up to him.  My insecurities regarding decision-making and my ability to cope worsened as I was never permitted an opportunity to prove to myself that I could deal with challenging situations.

God has a wonderful way of working it out for the comfort of the whole family when a woman leaves the decision making to her husband. (p. 57)

Wishful thinking much?

Don’t I Ever Get to Express an Opinion?

When you are talking over a problem, if it isn’t asking too much, try to think reasonably. … Men think women talk too much about how they feel, rather than considering facts.  Sure it’s important how you feel.  Can you tell him why you feel that way? (p. 61)

There is a word for this contemptuous insult: Misogyny.  It means, hatred of women.  Anyone who thinks so little of women should be afforded zero credibility when it comes to handing out marital advice.

Why Do I Have to Make All the Concessions?

Why doesn’t the husband have to do his part first? Why?  Because you are the one burdened for a Christian home.  Having a home where Christ is the head is cheap enough at whatever price you have to pay!  Think how long the rewards of a good Christian home will last.  Then ask yourself if it is worth the trifling mortifications of obedience.  Of course it is!  All valuable things cost something.  Certainly you will have to pay a price. (p. 69)

A relationship in which one party must make all the concessions has nothing to do with love and everything to do with power and control.  It is unhealthy, dysfunctional, unsustainable, and perverse. It is not good for the wife and it is not good for the husband either.

The “mortifications of obedience” in my marriage were not trifling.  I was not the only one who had to pay the price.  Patriarchy took a terrible toll on my children: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  We are still paying the price to this day.  Sadly, the promised rewards of a good Christian home never actually materialized for us.

But What If His Influence on the Children Is Bad?

Then make sure your influence on the children is good.  Let them see a mother who loves God and keeps His commandments by obeying her husband!  Your influence, by God’s grace, can counteract the bad influences a father can have.  … Obey God. Obey your husband.  God will see to it that bad influences on the children are countered. (pp. 72, 74)

My children will tell you that this simply is not true.  Day after day, week after week, year after year, my husband’s anger and control wore the children down.  They learned his bad habits.  His hatred and criticism destroyed their enthusiasm for life.

  • I submitted, he dominated.  The children learned that in all relationships there is an imbalance of power — better to be the person in power.

Over and over, I prayed for the Lord to help me counteract my husband’s negative influence.  Despite my desperate pleadings, the reality was that he had way more energy, he could lecture for hours and hours without a break, he spent more time with the children while I was on continual bedrest either pregnant or recovering from pregnancies/deliveries.  Plus, he had all the power — so which of us would the children want to emulate?  Certainly not me and my martyrdom.

I Want to Do Right, But I Can’t Help How I Feel

Have you noticed how many Scriptures there are that command a wife to obey her husband, and how few Scriptures there are that command her to love her husband?  There is only one Scripture, to my knowledge, that tells a wife to love him, and that is Titus 2:4.  Why?  Because, I think, in a marvelous, supernatural way, submission brings love.  If you obey him, you will love him, love him more than you ever dreamed possible.  (p. 75)

The principle which Handford is describing here actually has a name.  It’s called Stockholm syndrome.  As defined by Wikipedia, Stockholm syndrome is a term used to describe a paradoxical psychological phenomenon wherein hostages express adulation and have positive feelings towards their captors that appear irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, essentially mistaking a lack of abuse from their captors as an act of kindness.

I learned this coping mechanism well in my own abusive marriage.  Whenever I felt the natural repulsion and lack of love engendered by my husband’s poor treatment of me and the children, I forced myself to become even more submissive to him.  I was following Jesus’ admonition to turn the other cheek and to repay evil with good.  Guess what?  It worked!!  In no time, the good, positive feelings returned and I was once again feeling incredible love for my husband.

But this trick of my mind was not a good thing as it enabled me to endure the abuse — to rationalize and justify my husband’s behavior even when the children and I were clearly suffering harm.

Does It Work? Does It Really Work?

God has made a promise to the woman who will obey her husband.  He keeps His promises.  He will not honor disobedience, no matter what excuse is given for it.  A woman wins her husband, draws him to a higher spiritual plane, by a submissive, quiet spirit.  … Yes, it really works.  God will bless your home if you are obedient. (p. 77)

It really works! … Unless it doesn’t work, in which case, it’s all the woman’s fault.  This guaranteed recipe for success cannot be proven false because the “no liability” clause is inseparable from the key ingredient: perfect obedience.  Not blessed?  Not His/his fault.  The woman is solely responsible for every failure.

For the Sake of the Children, Submit

In any unresolved conflict between husband and wife, there is always great danger to the marriage, however trivial its beginning.  Children instinctively know the sanctity of the home itself is endangered when there is conflict over who is boss. Not only will children suffer from fear, they will also learn from a rebellious mother her rebellion against authority. … The children will learn rebellion and rebel against you and your husband.  Then they will resent all authority: the school, the boss, the policeman, the structure of life itself. (p. 86)

Conflict in marriage is normal.  The absence of conflict is a sign that one (or both) of the partners has been demoralized and dehumanized.  Holding an opinion and caring about it is a big part of what it means to be alive.  Working through conflict, listening to each others’ differing perspectives and learning to compromise is the way mature couples learn and grow. Marriage does not have to be a power struggle.  Nobody has to be “the boss.”  Mutuality makes a happy, satisfying relationship for both husband and wife.

Children who witness healthy parents dealing constructively with the inevitable disagreements of daily life are learning valuable conflict resolution skills.

I thought that I was providing much-needed security for my children when I continually assured them that their father and I would never divorce.  They told me later that to them, my unwavering committment sounded like a death sentence.

It was not until I began standing up for myself and the children against their father’s unreasonable demands that he quit acting like a two-year-old and began to take responsibility for his own actions.  Witnessing me challenge their father’s authority did not turn my children into rebels — it was living with a bully which made them revolt.  When I took a stand, the children learned healthy boundaries: both to insist on their own boundaries and to respect the boundaries of others.

For Your Husband’s Sake, Obey

Imagine how quickly a man would turn his steps homeward in the evening, after a day of grappling with the world, if the woman who waited for him met him with words of tenderness on her lips instead of a set of ultimatums. … If it matters at all to you about the man you have promised to love until parted by death, for his well-being and joy, for his usefulness to God, obey him! (pp. 87, 88)

When I indiscriminately submitted to my husband’s every whim, I was not treating him like a grown-up man. I was treating him like a spoiled child.  Taking on the responsibility for his “well-being and joy” stripped him of self-respect and enabled him to avoid the consequences of his own poor choices.  Filing for divorce was, in fact, the first time I showed true respect to my husband since before we learned about and accepted the teachings of patriarchy.  Finally I was saying to him, “You are an intelligent, sane adult and therefore, you must live with the consequences of your behavior.”

A man whose wife is a spineless doormat is actually more likely to stray from home as he seeks a companion who challenges and engages him on an adult level.

For Your Own Welfare and Happiness, Yield

There’s a strange paradox in Scripture, echoed in many places: If you would live, you must die (John 12:24).  If you would keep your life, you must lose it (Matt. 10:39).  If you would be free, you must submit yourself a slave to Christ (Rom. 6:18).  And there is one more paradox which must be taken by faith as well: if you would know true freedom, you must submit to your husband’s authority.  Obedience certainly has its great and final reward in Heaven, but it also has the present tangible reward. … Obedience brings happiness! (p. 88)

Again, wifely submission is intimately linked to one of the central messages of Christianity.

What Elizabeth Rice Handford doesn’t want you to know is that this same argument, these same verses, in fact, were used by Christian slaveholders to justify their ownership of fellow human beings.

Stop for a moment and actually read the following verses:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. (Eph. 6:5-8 — the same section of Ephesians in which Paul commands wives to submit to their husbands.)

To sweeten the deal, proponents of biblical slavery would remind slaves that serving the Lord meant serving their masters — but this is not burdensome because the Bible also commands masters to treat their slaves kindly:

And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. (Eph. 6:9 — with such a Christ-like master, why wouldn’t a slave willingly submit?)

Sound familiar?  Teachers of wifely submission are always quick to point out that while God insists that women obey their husbands, we must remember that husbands are likewise instructed to love their wives as Christ loved the church.  So that makes the subjection and subordination of women okay … just like slavery, right?  After all, the bible commands both women and slaves to submit and obey.

Virtually no Christians today advocate slavery.  The verses commanding slaves to obey their masters have not been removed from the bible or discredited, yet we have laws against people owning people. Ask Christians why they believe that slavery is evil when the bible does not condemn slave owners and, in fact, commands slaves to obey their masters, and you will receive a myriad of responses: You have to consider the context and the culture; God was not condoning slavery, only acknowledging its common practice and providing guidelines to make it more humane, etc.  What you will not hear — ever — is a Christian who replies, “The bible commands slaves to obey their masters.  Therefore, slavery is God’s will and faithful Christians must practice slavery to be in the will of God. Obedient slaves are happy slaves.”

Think about it.  Why don’t we still practice slavery?  Why?

Slavery is wrong.  It is dehumanizing, unjust,  inequitable, immoral and inconsistent with the Golden Rule.  It does not matter that the bible commands slaves to obey their masters — we all know that slavery is wrong, wrong, wrong.

How do we know that slavery is wrong when the bible does not tell us so?  Answer that question and you will also understand that it doesn’t matter how many times the bible commands women to obey and submit to their husbands — we know instinctively that the subordination of women is just plain wrong. For the same reasons that we dismiss and ignore the bible commands for slaves to obey their masters, we should also feel free to disregard the bible commands for wives to obey their husbands.

Comments are also open below.

Read all posts by Vyckie Garrison.

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


Browse Our Archives