This past fall I participated in a Bible study with a couple of other women. The book we went through was God’s Design for Building your Marriage by Kay Daigle. I’ve never done a marriage bible study before so I was excited to jump in.
But first, a look back. I grew up in a church that emphasized a husband’s authority and wifely submission. All of the churches we’ve attended have done the same and have offered limited roles for women in ministry. Over the years this hasn’t set well with me, but it was just never something I felt compelled to dig into.
This past year, as I started digging more into peer counseling and trauma work I became increasingly uncomfortable with the position that is so tightly held by many in the church. Add to that a few situations I saw play out where an abusive husband was let off the hook and the wife was treated with derision and I was really beginning to chafe at all of this.
Daigle’s study came at just the right time. As we worked our way through the book I really took my time to search every scripture and read as much commentary as I could. I really dug in.
Now, I’m not arrogant enough to say that I’ve figured all of this out. After all, these things have been debated by people much more intelligent that I for many, many years. But I did learn enough to see that there are some very big problems with the ultra-conservative complementarian view.
I cannot tell you how many times Daigle would make a statement, toss out a scripture to support that statement, and then I would find, quite easily mind you, that that scripture was taken out of context or otherwise misused. After this happened a couple times I was really uncomfortable with her stance and the fact that she’s peddling this nonsense to unsuspecting women.
For instance, she says that we should suffer at the hands of other people because Jesus himself suffered at the hands of other people. She then quickly adds in that, of course, this doesn’t mean physical abuse. Of course this is confusing because the scripture she based all of this off of specifically talks about Jesus being mocked, beaten, and killed on the cross. So, just using logic here, if this scripture *is* telling us it’s okay to be verbally abused, how can she then turn around and say that we should not allow physical abuse? Complete and utter nonsense!
(This also shows a fundamental, wide-spread, misunderstanding of the severity of verbal abuse. People won’t tolerate physical abuse of the wife, physical or sexual abuse of children but verbal abuse is okay??? This position breaks my heart because, make no mistake, verbal abuse *is* abuse and is extremely damaging. )
The other issue I have is that she, like so many Christians, have a very warped perspective on suffering. Yes, Jesus suffered. But he suffered only when it would bring about his Father’s purpose and plan. And that is the salvation of all mankind. There are many times in scripture when Jesus escaped persecution or imprisonment. When there is no other way out, then we should bear up under persecution. But to allow or pursue persecution or abuse just for suffering’s sake is ridiculous.
And last but not least, telling women to pray harder and submit more when their husbands sin is putting the responsibility of the husband’s sin on the wife. That’s not scriptural. For instance, God hates pride. If a husband, who is called to love his wife as Christ loves the church, is making decisions purely based on pride, why would a wife not confront him? Why would any partner or “help meet” just smile and nod and go along with it? Pride is sin. And it’s not a little sin. At least God doesn’t think so!
I could go on an on, but this is just a sample of the thinking that is rife in this study.
So why does it matter? Well, for women who are in a healthy marriage I’m going to venture to say that it doesn’t matter much. I’m mean, not practically day-to-day. But what about when things get difficult? What about the “gray” areas?
For instance, I have a friend who’s husband was caught using pornography. It happened multiple times. The counselor told my friend that it was her fault because men are visual. Come to find out, years later, pornography was an ongoing issue in this man’s life leading back to his teen years – well before he met my friend.
Another example: A women we knew had a husband that was a jerk. He was verbally abusive, financially abusive, and was addicted to pornography. His wife went to the local church several times and the pastor himself, after meeting with the husband, said that there was nothing he could do because the husband was not willing to change. But then, years later, when the wife (after more than 20 years of living like this) finally filed for divorce, she received an avalanche of – not love, caring, and compassion – but criticism for having the audacity to leave this man. The pastor washed his hands of this man because he couldn’t make him change, but has no trouble insisting that the wife can somehow make him change. No, more than that, the wife is responsible for influencing him toward change.
There is a hyper-focus, in a vast majority of the Christian community, that believes this kind of thing! They believe that the spouse that files for divorce is the bad guy while ignoring the actions and words of the person who caused the rift in the first place. To these people, a person can do and say pretty much whatever they want, but as long as they don’t physically file for divorce then they aren’t at fault for divorce. The victim is at fault. The victim, who has been worn down, ground down, over and over and over and usually in a myriad of ways, is also the person we put the responsibility on. We don’t care for them. We don’t love them. We don’t ease their burden. We add to it. We tell them to pray longer and harder. We admonish them to “submit more.” And when they crack and break we abandon them in the dust, but only after we’ve hurled insults and insinuations at them.
So, to sum it up, this topic matters
I’ve found my way to multiple blogs and resources that have helped me shift through some of this. I’ll include some links at the bottom, but for now I want to focus on this book, Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian: A Kingdom Corrective to the Evangelical Gender Debate.
Of course, again, one book is not going to settle this debate once-and-for-all, but, I do like the approach that’s taken here and feel it’s a good way to understand this topic a bit more without leaning heavily to one side or another.
She starts out talking about how our ideas on womanhood and ministry roles have changed over the years. I think that we Christians like to believe that we cling to scripture and that the outside world has no influence, but you start to see that that really isn’t true. The values and ideas that shape the world at large do end up infiltrating the church (and vise versa, thankfully), at least to some degree. Now the examples she provides here, to me, show that there really is a lot of leeway in women’s roles at home and in the public sphere. Even under patriarchal rule! Very insightful and interesting.
She then goes on to look at what the Bible says both in the creation account and in the New Testament. Since her goal isn’t to offer pat answers, she doesn’t really give a concrete conclusion. She’s not trying to sway readers to one position or another, but she offers more information to help us round out our view.
Personally, I found some of the information very detailed and well-thought-out while other information wasn’t, so that threw me for a loop. For instance, she does say that Adam being created first seems to indicate that he was given authority. But she doesn’t substantiate that position very well. She offers a weak example of how first-born children were given preference and authority throughout the Old Testament. Oookay, but that was *after* the fall. Also, she devotes so much time throughout her book reminding us of “kingdom reversals” (the first will become last,etc) that using the argument of “First!” as a symbol of authority doesn’t make sense to me, personally.
At any rate, this book was informative and intriguing and a good read for anyone who is interested in this topic.
As for what I believe on this topic all I can say is:
I believe that hyper-focusing on male authority/female submission or individual rights are both going to lead to trouble. Especially when we are narrowly focused on templates and black-and-white checklists that we can apply universally to all people/couples/ministries.
When I read the Bible I see so much about how we Christians are supposed to love one another. I read about how we don’t cling to our individual rights. I read about love, but I read about speaking the truth. Iron sharpening iron. Confrontation.
I read that Christians are supposed to love sacrificially, but that abuse and mistreatment isn’t to be tolerated. I read about how those of us that dare call ourselves followers of Christ are held to a higher standard not given a license to hurt others. I read about how we are all responsible for our choices. I read about how Christ is the only one who can save us and the Holy Spirit is the one who changes hearts. I read about how Jesus wasn’t fooled or impressed by the way things look on the outside, but by our hearts.
I feel like Jesus cared about the church, but that he cared more about the individuals that made up the church than the church as an institution that must be protected at all cost. He calls us to repentance. He calls us to take responsibility. He calls us to humble ourselves before him.
I believe that in situations where there is mistreatment we have to stop looking at the surface and stop trying to determine who has what rights and drill down to the heart of the matter.
In the examples I provided above, no actual help was offered. No restoration was achieved. That’s because, in part, there was too much focus on who was responsible for what went wrong – the husband or the wife. Instead, I think we’d do better to hold people responsible for their sins. And to go further than that and help those people understand why they were drawn into sin in the first place – what need were they trying to fill in their own strength apart from God – and get them back on track by whatever means necessary.
We need to stop look at actions as separate and distinct from the heart. The Bible tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. If our actions or words are wrong then our heart is wrong. That has to be address or no real change will occur.
We need to change our perspective on how “helping” differs from “enabling.”
We need to realize that allowing a person to continue in sin or abuse isn’t only detrimental to the people around them but also to the sinner themselves! Our sin separates us from God. Period. For a church to allow someone to float along, in unchecked sin, is unconscionable. We must call errant Believers to repentance. And we must protect and care for the people they are harming until restoration has occurred.
So how did a review of a couple of books on women’s roles turn into a post about abuse? Well, quite easily unfortunately.
Here’s where a wrong view of women’s roles takes us:
Here’s another one by Patrick Doyle. The letter he reads at the beginning is heartbreaking and is, unfortunately, a prime example of the fact that when churches have a wrong view of women’s roles they end up floundering when abuse and neglect is present.
And this is why I’ve been spending a lot of time on trying to learn more about these issues and see if I can get some kind of a grasp on them. If I want to be able to offer help to women who have suffered or are suffering, I need to be able to have a clear-ish view on some of these things. I don’t know that I will ever get it all figured out or if anyone will, but I do believe that this is a wake-up call to the church and am committed to doing my part to make that change happen.
If this topic interests you I’d encourage you to browse the links below. My personal favorites are Patrick Doyle’s videos on Youtube and the blog A Cry for Justice.