A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

This Common Interpretation of Ephesians 5 is WRONG!

The following is a comment that one of our readers submitted and we thank her for it very much. (You can read the original comment here.) She accurately describes what she (and most of us) has been taught about the meaning of Paul’s words on marriage in Ephesians 5, and she is rightly realizing that something is greatly amiss with the company line. Notice that what she describes emphasizes authority and obedience to that authority. And this, in my opinion (JeffC), is where this interpretation goes wrong.

We believe Paul’s emphasis is not on authority and obedience, but on love and acceptance of that love. This lady rightly concludes that the company line we have been most often taught on Ephesians 5 is a fertile setup for the evil of abuse.

Here is what she wrote:

My church encourages wives to submit to husbands in everything except if the husbands ask them to sin. That means if there are decisions to be made, the wife can give her views but the husband has the right to make the final decision. Husbands are called to lead their wives. Wives who do not submit are called rebellious with the spirit of Jezebel.

I work outside the home and am financially independent. I love my family and work hard to support them. I will never do anything to harm my family. I will not divorce my husband for any reason. With this in mind, I am not sure why husband has to lead me. Lead me in what, apart from Bible knowledge and prayer? I am an adult and not a wayward, who needs to be brought back to the right path.

I have also found that this teaching can lead to abuse, as what I read on this site. Sometimes husbands are not overtly abusive or manipulative but when they are given the right and authority to make a decision in every matter, can this not lead to abuse? For example, I know of my close friend (also in my church) who has to ask permission to buy a handbag. If the husband says no, she does not get to buy one, even though she is working and has her own money. This same wife has to put up with inconsiderate in-laws in her home on a frequent basis as the in-laws drop in for a visit whenever they feel like it. Her husband obviously enjoys these visits but the wife feels overwhelmed as they encroach her privacy and rest time. She feels obliged to tolerate her in-laws but secretly dreads these visits. God knows her heart and how she despairs over the visits but does God expect her to put up with all this simply because the husband allows it? It may look trivial but my friend is considering a separation after years of resentment building up.

I know of another wife who wants to use savings for her children’s education. Her husband wants to use a substantial amount of savings on house renovations. Does the wife give in to the husband knowing that it will financially deplete their savings and may be detrimental to the children’s future? This is what is being taught in many churches today. It appears that a wife may give her opinions to her husband on a subject matter but the husband has the right to override every one of her opinions and make the final decision.  This is as good as not having an opinion as the end result is the same, ie the husband gets to do what he wants. I am confused. I always felt that the Bible taught us about fairness and equality and justice for men and women. If I say these things in church or within christian circles, I will be labelled a feminist, which I am not. I will appreciate what you think about this verse on submission. Thanks.

She nails it! I am sure all of you will have some good input for her. Many thanks to her once again.

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66 Comments

  1. Stronger Now

    As a popular radio preacher is currently airing a series on marriage, and he just said this very thing about Ephesians 5, my blood was boiling once again. In all decisions the husband has the final say. If there is a disagreement, he makes the call. In other words, the husband always, always, always gets his own way. If there is no disagreement, the wife agrees with him, he’s getting his own way. If she disagrees with him, he makes the final call, and he gets his own way. I lived with this situation for two decades and watched my husband drive the family into multiple evictions, utility shut-offs, and finally bankruptcy and foreclosure on our home, because he refused to listen to any counsel that would interfere with his selfishness.

    This preacher asserts that the husband is responsible to consider what is best for the family and not just his own whims and desires, but that is naive at best, and dangerous at worst. It presumes spiritual and moral maturity on the part of every husband. That is just not reality. When a man is told, as a new believer, that he’s “large and in charge” at home, and everybody in the house has to toe the line and do anything and everything he tells them to do, that is a very dangerous situation! Not just for the family members but indeed for the man himself.

    My husband was a brand new believer when we got married, and so was I. We unfortunately were given extremely bad counsel in these matters, which fed into his fleshly tendency to be abusive. I wanted more than anything to please the Lord. The counsel we were given said that there were no restrictions whatsoever on submission. We were told that if the husband required the wife to sin, the moral responsibility for that sin was on him – her only responsibility was to obey her husband, even to the point of sexual immorality.

    In regards to decision making, my husband actually told me, in so many words, “If I ever want your opinion, I will ask for it, but don’t hold your breath. It won’t happen.” So as your other reader said, “the husband has the right to override every one of her opinions and make the final decision. This is as good as not having an opinion as the end result is the same, ie the husband gets to do what he wants.” As my husband’s selfishness was fed and encouraged by this teaching, day after day, he became so entrenched that keeping my mouth shut when I disagreed was unacceptable. He required that I say that I agreed with even the most absurd things – I was not allowed to stay silent, or else he would explode. (Like in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.)

    This is not the assertion of the popular preacher on the radio, of course. He says that the wife is to stand up to her husband in a submissive way (??) if he requires her to sin, and she is to appeal to the church if he is emotionally abusive. We all know how well that works, don’t we?

    These preachers and churches are frighteningly naive in this teaching. Today’s message even repeated the lie that a wife’s submissiveness will change the heart of her evil husband (misusing 1 Peter 3:1-2). I wish these men could be a fly on the wall in the home of an abuser and see the real life fruit of this erroneous teaching.

    I beg of these teachers, PLEASE, please, use the WHOLE counsel of the Word of God. Don’t leave out I Corinthians 5:11 when you preach about “submission” in marriage. Don’t subscribe to the New Age teaching on the “innate goodness of man.” Read Jeremiah 17:9 and keep it in mind when you are telling wives what “submission” means.

    • Anonymous

      Your reply Stronger Now is exactly what happens when people childishly interpret scripture. Like a child who sees things in black or white, right or wrong without any wisdom and without the benefit of reality–we (women who belong to the Lord) have become like paper dolls–to dress up and move around with no say in the matter and with the added rape that we are supposed to AGREE with the abuser.

      If I weren’t already saved I would NEVER come near a church. And it’s what you stated in your post that keeps others from knowing the Lord. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that what you’ve described is not only a LIE, but abusive, STUPID, and if ALL men were like yours–the entire world would be ruined. But hey, who am I to judge (discern) after all I am only a woman and if it weren’t for my husband I would have no value. The sad thing is–I used to believe this.

    • Lea

      “In other words, the husband always, always, always gets his own way.”

      Just think about human nature for a half second and you can see what a terrible, horrible no good mentality this is for anyone!

      • bright sunshinin' day

        Agreed. It didn’t even take a half second to see what you mean!

    • Reader

      You make an excellent point !!!!
      And — isn’t it interesting how — IF ‘Abigail’ had submitted to the whims of her “son of belial’ husband, Nabal, rather than to ‘take a stand’ and ‘do the right thing’ (even if it also meant out-and-out ‘disobedience’ to her husband’s commands) THEN every single member of her household and her staff would have been ‘massacred’ all due to the utter ‘outrage’ caused by her completely ‘belial’-minded “head of household” husband?

      WHEN will ANY of these world-(in)famous “wives must submit-at-all-times” ministers EVER compare Ephesians 5 to I Samuel 25?

      Even IF every husband is NOT a ‘Nabal’ — there is STILL NO reason for anyone to ever assume that he should have some “god-like” authority to be seen / treated as “always right”.

      Such attitudes can lead to all sorts of abuse and other forms of destruction in the lives of people.

      • Hope

        Yes! This actually can enable any husband to become abusive, and it enables an abusive husband to become his own god, the ruler of his own heart. How is that right, how is that God’s way? Where, exactly, is it written?
        Exodus 20:3 and Deuteronomy 5:7 say that “You shall have no other gods before me.”
        – including the false god of marriage and of spouse.

      • This [teaching] actually can enable any husband to become abusive, and it enables an abusive husband to become his own god, the ruler of his own heart.

        Yes.

        How complementarianism can magnify the entitlement mentality of men, making them worse

  2. MarkQ

    I came to the conclusion that I can no longer support the Westminster Larger Catechism teaching on the 5th commandment, which I believe is the company line.

    Q. 124. Who are meant by father and mother in the fifth commandment?
    A. By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant, not only natural parents, but all superiors in age and gifts; and especially such as, by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church, or commonwealth.

    Q. 127. What is the honour that inferiors owe to their superiors?
    A. The honour which inferiors owe to their superiors is, all due reverence in heart, word, and behaviour; prayer and thanksgiving for them; imitation of their virtues and graces; willing obedience to their lawful commands and counsels; due submission to their corrections; fidelity to, defence, and maintenance of their persons and authority, according to their several ranks, and the nature of their places; bearing with their infirmities, and covering them in love, that so they may be an honour to them and to their government.

    There are some things that are not defined. For example, “lawful commands” – the company line on lawful commands is any command that does not require us to sin. But, that creates a problem, because superior includes not only those with specific authority over us, but also includes people who are generally recognized as wiser (by age or gifts).

    So, either way, it’s logically flawed. If we take “lawful commands” to be the company line, than I MUST OBEY!! any person who is older or more gifted in any command. Like, “Hey sonny, give me a five dollar bill.” There is nothing sinful in me complying, therefore it’s a lawful command, and Westminster says I must give “willing obedience”.

    If we take “lawful commands” narrowly to mean only those commands that are within the sphere of authority, then “superior” CANNOT be defined as “all superiors in age and gifts”, because the old lady who commands me to give her $5 has no authority over me, and cannot, by definition, lawfully command me.

    I’m also becoming convicted about the “epistles”. The epistles were letters to churches or people, either in response to a letter, or in response to knowledge of situations in the church that needed correction. As such, the epistles must be understood as “specific instruction to a specific situation” and not “general instruction to general situations”. We may derive general understanding, but we must be careful not to hastily generalize instruction.

    We do this exact thing with meat sacrificed to idols. In Acts and Corinthians, believers are instructed to “abstain from meat sacrificed to idols.” Do we do that today? NO! Because we also understand that “the idol is nothing”. This was specific instruction to specific people (Gentile pagans) who would have struggled with their past religious practices, so in concern for their souls, the believers are instructed not to be a stumbling block. Today, we eat at Middle Eastern restaurants, where their meat is sacrificed facing towards Mecca to Allah, an idol. Yet, because that is not, apparently, a stumbling block for those around us, we can partake without concern.

    So, we read one part of Corinthians as specific instruction for a specific situation, but when Paul starts talking about women in the church, it somehow must be interpreted generally. What if, the same Gentile pagans had a stumbling block about women in authority. For example, the “Oracle at Delphi” was a very powerful woman who had a lot of influence due to pagan religion, and there was significant cult prostitution. In public life during that time, women were considered property and not worthy of education, so it makes sense that pagans converting to Christianity could have a stumbling block around the meaning of women in positions of church leadership. So, Paul could have instructed the churches, specifically the churches in pagan centers like Corinth and Ephesus to operate differently because of the connection between authoritative women and pagan religion.

    • IamMyBeloved's

      This was the commandment I was excommunicated for because they translated its meaning all the way down to “thou shalt honor thy board of elders” and “thou shalt honor thy husband” or your days shall be few. They were all abusers of the worst kind.

      • For Too Long

        Ditto, ditto, ditto! I have come to see that the board of elders at the church from which I was ex-communicated is nothing more than a boys’ club. The one elder, whom I think everyone in the church knows to be the one REALLY in charge, is an abuser of the worst kind. When we first started attending the church there were some red flags about him — wish I had taken heed of them!

  3. Free

    Thanks COFJ for bring this topic up. Seriously Ephesians 5 is the last thing I want to hear about marriage anymore. It’s ALL I’ve ever heard about.

    Pastors, abusers, enablers, know-it-alls, etc:
    DROP IT! You’re bogus and I know it. Don’t talk to me about submission because you don’t know what you’re saying and that leaves every abusive man to his own wishes as to how to define it! Bravo! Idiots. Thanks for contributing to the hell on earth I and my children have endured. Have fun when you’re face to face with God Himself.

  4. hope

    I remember hearing a pastor preach on Ephesians 5 and give an example of submission. He said if the wife wanted to paint her fingernails a certain color and her husband said no, she had to submit. He went on to give other trivial examples. After church I was talking to a lady and she shared that she was just getting out of an abusive marriage. She said that the sermon was very painful to hear and I agreed.

  5. Annie

    I’ve always struggled with this submission idea because quite frankly I’m not very good at it. And I think there was good reason for me not to always submit. I have a brain. I see my husband’s behavior and it worries me. My husband’s ability to make good decisions are hampered by his ego. He’s been fired numerous times and almost every group he’s ever been involved with has tried to get rid of him. I’ve caught him in lies many times.

    Then there’s things like this–
    One of the kids had a rash which he dismissed and turned out she was having an allergic reaction to a prescription. What if I’d submitted to his decision on it and continued the med and not called the doctor?

    • Anonymous

      The rash incident reminded me of a story one preacher told. He was saying that he knew a woman who had been married to a wicked man. This man never thought of his family’s needs or desires and expected total compliance (submission) from all its members. The wife was feeling sick for a longer time than usual and she was finally allowed (by her husband) to see a doctor. When the test results came back the doctor told the husband what the results meant but the wife was never told.

      Not long after this, the husband died and the woman went back to the doctor. She then found out that the results had been ominous and that she had needed surgery IMMEDIATELY back then but now it was too late–she was dying and would in fact soon die. She had gone to this pastor and asked him how this could be? That her evil husband had been allowed to do this to her? He had been “allowed” by evil teaching to kill his wife!

      The preacher who was telling this story said NOTHING about how evil this was or why this evil man was allowed to do this — but we here know why and how this happens and you had better believe that GOD knows how evil this is as well. Quite frankly, hell is TOO GOOD for these people!

      • M&M

        And it sounds like the doctor broke the law by not telling the wife in private……at least if that happened in the US after 1996……I see why people think that “head” means “authority” because my head controls my body, but even the authority view doesn’t justify abuse because of all the verses around the submission verse. Our pastor says that the man’s job to love like Christ is harder than the woman’s job of submission, which I understand as long as both parties are doing their part. It’s not presented like we should feel sorry for men, but that men shouldn’t be demanding of submission. I appreciate the emphasis on men not demanding, but I realize that that isn’t going to stop an abusive person. If head doesn’t mean authority, why is the most controlling body part chosen for the analogy? I don’t have an answer……

    • Not Too Late

      What would have happened if you had not called the doctor? Your child would have suffered and you would have been blamed for it, and because you are “submissive”, “respectful” and protective of your husband’s reputation, you would not have been able to tell any medical staff of the backstory. That’s what’s happened to me a few times.

  6. Herjourney

    Without the Holy Spirit’s help, direction and guidance… the devil will use his deceptive tools to derail God’s word.
    I have lived this!
    How destructive is seeking God without the Holy Spirit??
    Hell is good example.

  7. Better Equipped

    The fact alone that Christian divorce rates are on the ever-increase should put all that marriage theology to dust. Since they can’t blame their misguided belief system on bad theology then blame must fall to the feministic, worldly mindset that women are too weak to protect themselves from – you know, after all, we are daughters of easily-deceived Eve!

    The bigger problem is that our churches are filled with church-people and not Kingdom people. Satan wins many battles by keeping true warriors of the Kingdom hostage to abusers, which are of course satan’s pawns and workers of iniquity. Isn’t it seemingly impossible to serve the Lord when your spirit is constantly crushed?!

    • Misti

      Yeah, blaming the world for the divorce rate in the church doesn’t make sense—because if the world were influencing the church, then the divorce rate would at most be equivalent.

      But the last several times I looked at the figures, the divorce rate in the church was higher than outside it. That doesn’t fit the “The sinful world’s ideology is influencing us!” argument.

    • MarkQ

      @BE, you would think so, but that is not my experience. In my former circles, the only justified divorce was adultery, and even then, generally only if the adulterer was unrepentant. So, in some other circumstance, the guilty party is always the one who files for divorce, and that is seen as spiritual weakness.

      So, the modern evangelical church would say that with the bogeyman of no-fault divorce, it’s not that their interpretation of Ephesians 5 is incorrect in light of overwhelming evidence, it’s that Christians have been too swept up into the secular culture’s belief that a difficult marriage isn’t worth saving.

      It’s a variation of the us vs. them mentality so prevalent in today’s churches. For example, our church is growing because of our solid preaching, but their church is growing because they are telling people what they want to hear. People are leaving our church for other churches because they are unwilling to accept the truth, but people are leaving other churches for ours because they became convinced of the truth.

      • Lea

        “@BE, you would think so, but that is not my experience. In my former circles, the only justified divorce was adultery, and even then, generally only if the adulterer was unrepentant.”

        Mark, we recently had a case locally of a (‘former’ as in they let him resign when he got caught) pastor who was busted for child porn…I went to their website to investigate their views and they said only adultery and even then, they would strongly push reconciliation. No mention of anything like abuse.

      • Sounds like your church would be an interesting place to be!

  8. Misti

    For the sake of argument, let’s assume that folks are right when they say “submit” means “obey”. Then, according to Ephesians 5:21, that means we should be “[obeying] one to another in the fear of God”…period.

    And that verse, which applies to everyone, gets ignored, or twisted into “I am submitting to my wife and kids by practicing my God-ordained authority,” with the resultant equivocation fallacy outright ignored while they simultaneously claim to love logic and the Word. (I seriously can’t make this illogic up.)

    Moreover, their definition ignores “appropriate” or “fitting” or even “pertinent” (or defines them in ultimately arbitrary ways). So… Your dad or husband asks you for (or outright demands) all your money? By their own logic, you have no right to refuse him. Your parents demand you share information that is illegal to tell them? You’re rebellious and disrespectful for refusing—never mind what you are for signing that contract without their permission.

    Many of them will call those applications ridiculous—will insist that they’re extremes that don’t generally happen—but that ignores the point that those applications are consistent applications of their own definitions and logic.

    So if something’s wrong with with those examples I just gave, something’s wrong with their definitions and/or logic—which should be clear just from the aforementioned Ephesians 5:21, but y’all know how that gets ignored.

    But even the basic example of Ephesians 5:21 should be sufficient to show that the definition of “obedience” doesn’t work.

    • MarkQ

      Hi Misti,

      Great point. I’ve gotten a lot of pastors furious with me by pointing out hermeneutical errors in their arguments, like what you said above. They line up all their ducks on a passage like that and it looks really well defended. Then I approach them and say, if you interpret this other passage (like your example of Eph 5:21) with your ducks lined up like that, then it says you should obey me. It doesn’t take long before the “pastor” card comes out. They’re the pastor and since I’m not ordained, how dare I try and tell them that they’re wrong. I’ve gotten that from pastors highly revered within the denomination for their kindness and gentleness.

      We can’t logically interpret the Bible in a vacuum. We can’t say that Jesus’s divorce exception for adultery and Paul’s divorce exception for desertion are exclusive. If Jesus’s exception is meant to be exclusive, then Paul’s exception is unbiblical. If Paul’s exception is meant to be exclusive, then Jesus’s is unbiblical. It’s a simple logical argument. If I say, it only rained on Tuesday last week, and someone else says, it only rained on Wednesday last week, then we can’t both be telling the truth. One or both of us are wrong.

      That is why I believe that Jesus’s “exception” isn’t an exception at all. It’s not meant to be an answer to appropriate reasons for divorce at all. It was meant to point to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who wanted to be justify themselves in following the Mosaic requirements for divorce – giving their wives a certificate. Jesus is saying (by Mosaic law) these men were causing their wives to commit adultery by divorcing them (unless they had already committed adultery), and by natural law, there was never such a thing as divorce in the first place. So, those men had no claim to righteousness, either under Mosaic law or under natural law.

      • Oooh I like the way you used Ephesians 5:21, to push back against the Pharisaic pastor!

        Ephesians 5 [15] Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, [16] making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. [17] Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. [18] And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, [19] addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, [20] giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, [21] submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

        The pastors and Pharisees who pull the authority card ought to submit to being justly admonished by those they have been oppressing and dismissing.

        And they hate that idea. So they don’t allow comments on their blogs, they don’t respond to invitations to debate, and they malign us with straw-man arguments.

      • Misti

        I’ve gotten a lot of pastors furious with me by pointing out hermeneutical errors in their arguments, like what you said above.

        [grimaces]

        Thanks for the reminder that the folks who blamed my age and gender as much as my lack of seminary training would have outright found something to attack even if I’d met all their criteria.

  9. Anonymous

    So glad to hear that there are good people out there questioning and challenging the hegemonic rubbish of this kind of exegesis. Also, though, I just want to add something that I am very passionate about—something I feel men, women, churches, etc. often distort.

    If you value “fairness and equality and justice for men and women” (to quote from this piece) . . . congrats! You’re faithful, *and* you’re a feminist.

    At the end, when things got really rough, my abuser called me out on being a feminist not only as it the word were some sort of smear but as if I had transformed right before his eyes. Turned green. Sprouted a tail. Grown an extra five rows of teeth. I remember the blunt force of the clarity that hit me in that moment. A feminist? Of course I’m a feminist. How was this a novel development? Could it be that all that time I’d spent drowning in his rage, struggling to make sense of the gaslit realities he’d engineered in the dark, losing myself and feeling my spirit die out . . . could it be a perverted sense of patriarchal supremacy lay beneath it all? If feminism was an anchor for his wrath, then maybe it could be the foundation for my strength. That moment, in that confrontation, I stood up a little taller from where I usually cowered on the floor.

    Because that’s what feminism allows us to do.

    Finally, here was a word that resonated with me—and one that seemed to fuel his abuse. Finally, I had a moment of crisp understanding in an otherwise anarchic vortex of pain and confusion. I grasped that word like a lifeline.

    He meant it as a label of disgrace. From that day on, it’s become a badge of honor.

    • Just Me

      YES! One day my abusive ex told me I was just like So-and-So (naming her would identify me), who happens to be a well-respected author and researcher in my field. She’s also quite outspoken, and I think my ex was trying to use that to criticize me, but it was actually quite empowering 🙂

    • Hi Anonymous, welcome to the blog! 🙂 and thanks for your comment 🙂

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  10. GothardSurvivor

    [NOTE: Moderators changed this commenter’s name to protect anonymity].

    Ahh…Ephesians Chapter 5 — the chapter of the Bible I tried to live by since my conversion at age 10, and the chapter that has made life SO hard to understand.

    It was what I heard as a child — between the beatings and horrible names our parents called my sister and I. It was what I heard as a teenage when I saved my money and sought Bible teaching and ended up at Bill Gothard’s Basic Youth. I didn’t have an opinion at all — wasn’t even allowed to choose my hairstyle as a high school student, but I thought that I needed to live that way because my parents wanted 100 percent allegiance. In youth group I learned that we needed to give thanks for our parents no matter what type of parents they were. So although they wouldn’t give me appropriate medical care and I had been a slave from about age 6 (and suffered horrible fevers that could only be traced to stress), I tried…and tried. In keeping with the Gothard information, my parents decided that I would marry a man I had known for three month. From the first night, it has been terrible.

    Ephesians 5 was what I heard from the time I married my self-centered autistic husband. He has been unwilling to form a relationship with me and treats me more like a favorite appliance. I could cite so many instances of abuse and total neglect toward me and our two daughters (grown now because we are in our 30th year of marriage), but it all comes down to what [he] says, I have a job and I have been taught that I will be the one at fault if I leave.

    And then the church…I try to forget that the picture of body life isn’t there and ignore the wrong teaching (love–respect conferences, etc.), but I struggle. I struggle to love those who judged me for keeping the family going when my husband considers his only job “ministry.” I struggle to love those who indoctrinated my daughter with the same information. I struggle to love like I want to.

    Ephesians 5. If we pair it with the verses in Peter that credit Sarah for calling her husband Master and the one in Corinthians that says our body is not our own we can have a life that is seriously hell on earth.

    I really believe that instead we should pair it with the verses that teach how Jesus handled leadership — he got out the towel to wash the feet — and the verses in John 15 where he prayed that we would be one. If we treated each other that way, we wouldn’t dream of asking who was the most important. And if we did, we would get Jesus’ answer — the one who is the least of these!

    • Jeff Crippen

      GothardSurvivor – This is painful and heart-wrenching, and yet it is beautiful because of the way you have told the story, pointing us all to Jesus. You have a true take on Scripture and you have correctly identified numbers of Scriptures that have been and continue to be taught wrongly because the real spirit of the passages has been cut out. That which leads to bondage and oppression instead of freedom is not of Christ. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Thank you.

      • bright sunshinin' day

        THIS:

        “That which leads to bondage and oppression instead of freedom is not of Christ. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

    • Dear GothardSurvivor — thank you for sharing your story, your pain, and your obvious heart for Christ.

      Many people do not realise it, but 1 Corinthians 7:4 is probably the clearest verse in the whole Bible that says a woman can say no to sex!

      For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. (1 Cor 7:4)

      The husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. This means she can tell his body to not do things to her body. She has the authority to tell his body what it can and cannot to do her body.

      So if a husband says “You must let me do this to your body because I have authority over your body”, the wife can say back to him “No; I have just as much authority over your body as you have over mine, so if I say you can’t do that to me, you must not do it. Our authority over each other’s bodies is equal and reciprocal, so neither of us can force the other do to anything they don’t want to do!”

      Sexual is supposed to be engaged in by mutual agreement and for mutual enjoyment. If one party does not feel comfortable with something, that thing shouldn’t be done. Sex is supposed to be about BOTH people loving and giving pleasure to each other, and never forcing one person’s will on the other or making them feel uncomfortable. There is no other way of understanding verse four.

      Many Christian women have been taught that they have no authority in the marital bed and that men have all the rights. But women have just as many rights and just as much authority as men in the marital bed.

      Whether or not the Bible teaches egalitarianism in marriage overall, I think it is beyond question that Corinthian 7:4 teaches egalitarianism in regards to the sexual-intimacy aspect of marriage.

      Here are some posts that relate to various things in your comment:

      1 Corinthians 7 — Whose body is trump? (by Dr Phil Monroe)

      1 Peter 3:6 — Sarah’s children do what is right and do not give way to fear

      The Unique Nature of Sexual Intimacy Makes its Abuse Uniquely Destructive

      The True Story of the Damaged Daughters of Patriarchy – a memoir

      • Anonymous

        Excellent reply Barb! So GOOD!

        And think about this….sex–as everything–is meant to glorify GOD! That’s right–and we can PRAY for our partner during the act as well as thank God while it is taking place. Being right-minded should be in every aspect of our lives–including sex. I have never experienced sex like this–inviting God in–because these things didn’t occur to me until after there were no longer sexual relations between me and my husband. God was able to then reach my heart (when i wasn’t being bombarded with the rape my husband forced on me).

        I was trained to submit sexually which meant shut up and do whatever the husband wanted. In my case the husband wanted power and control and to humiliate me. His humiliation extended to being one of the most flagrante users of prostitutes and perverse sexual acts outside the marriage in full knowledge of his fellow employees. He was always saying people he worked with wanted to meet me and I didn’t understand why until he had retired. (Blessedly, I never had time to meet these people as they were just like my husband.) But i now know it was because these people wanted to see what a naïve woman looked like–one who had no idea what a monster her husband was. And, I WAS THAT NAIVE. I thought my husband was proud of me when in fact he hated me and my loving heart and tried to destroy it. God had other plans.

        Thanks for talking about sex at all as most of us had no idea what sexual relations within the framework of God looked like–and most of us still don’t, sadly.

      • Gothard Survivor

        Thank you so much for all of those links.

        I wish I could understand the role of sex in a relationship. Could it be that we never became one because of sexual abuse–even sexual abuse on the first night?

        Thanking the Lord for it didn’t seem to help. In fact, after a while I began to wonder why He would expect me to be taken advantage of. I think sex damaged both my relationship with the Lord and my husband.

      • Anonymous

        Gothard Survivor, when I was talking about sex glorifying God, I was referring to sex in a marriage between two believers. There can not be that connection if one of the two is not a believer and is an abuser. What you said about sex hurting your relationship with God is true. People who are abusive will harm you in every part of your relationship especially regarding sex. As Jeff points out often, abusers want control and they believe they are god and as such desire to be worshiped. They are against God and they are basically stealing from Him when they marry us because we FIRST belong to Him.

  11. Debbie

    I enjoy reading all the posts and comments on this blog very much, including the varying perspectives that make us think outside of our own limited perceptions at times.
    Upon reading the comment reposted here from Anonymous, something she said struck me and I’d like to share my thoughts on it.
    I quote,

    “If I say these things in church or within christian circles, I will be labelled a feminist, which I am not.”

    The church isn’t the only entity that gets things wrong in the areas of abuse, social justice and life in general. As a journalist I am constantly aware of how words are misused in our society. It appears that if someone speaks publicly, or writes, or teaches and uses a word incorrectly or as slang, it becomes the “accepted” meaning of that particular word-whether it’s correct or not.
    The word I am referring to is “feminist.” Decades ago this word was given a negative connotation by a few misogynists, and it became a terrible thing – and accepted as such by the public at large. Add in a patriarchal christian church body, and being labeled a feminist was likened to being a witch or devil!

    I include the definition below, so readers can decide for themselves whether or not they’ve led astray and deceived by those that may have an ulterior motive for propagating hate and oppression toward anyone that believes in the true meaning of the word feminist.
    According to dictionary.com “feminist” means:
    adjective
    1. advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.
    noun
    2. an advocate of such rights.

    I personally do not see anything contrary to scripture in this definition. I understand that there are “radical” feminists, or what some might call “militant” feminists, but please don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
    Our early American history, as well as early Hebrew and Christian history according to the holy bible, is rich with activism on behalf of the fight for equality and fairness for all people. The early feminists in the U.S. were called Suffragettes or Suffragists, and were participating in activities as described in #1 of the above definition!

    This comment is not meant to be anything but enlightening, and a sharing of what has been laid on my heart. I mean no offense, but only to encourage all here.

    Blessings.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Debbie J – you are right. Thank you. And as you say, those who throw the “feminist” label at anyone who, for example, questions the teachings of so many who label their teachings as “complementarian,” mean this label as something akin to “you are an atheist, you have thrown out the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, you are a heretic”. But we are in fact, feminist if we are for women as much as we are for the rights of men and every human being. In that sense we are humanists, though that word has been widely re-defined to mean something close to “a person who places human rationality above God’s Word” and thus, once again, a person who rejects God’s Word.

      I wrote a year or so ago a series of articles rejecting a book written by another Reformed Baptist which claimed that the husband/father is the priest of the home. It is a terrible book, unbiblical, patriarchal, and loaded with potential for abuser justification. In fact sure enough suddenly the author started being invited to speak at some very patriarchal “christian” conferences. Anyway, his immediate response to my critique of his book was, “you can’t reject what I am saying, well, unless you are an egalitarian.” By that label, egalitarian, he did not mean simply “someone who believes in a husband/wife partnership of equality in marriage.” Oh no, what he meant was “it sounds to me like you have now rejected the authority and inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, you heretic.”

    • Here is a reblog of Ps Michael Jensen’s article Perhaps feminism is not the enemy which we published a while ago.

      It is significant that Michael Jensen wrote this, as he comes from the Sydney Anglican Diocese which is an island of strong complementarianism in the sea of Anglican dioceses in Australia which are mostly egalitarian.

    • Lea

      > I understand that there are “radical” feminists, or what some might call “militant” feminists, but please don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

      There have been several “waves” of feminist activism…I think that colors the word for people. I identify with the early feminist goals and not so much the modern ones (with some exceptions). I don’t know how I feel about labels being misused, except that language is about accurate communication and at times if I were to call myself a ‘feminist’ I would be communicating something different from what I mean. So it’s complicated.

      That is different from this use of feminist as a clobber word to apply to people who haven’t bought into being lesser, simply because they are women. I do love Anonymous’s comment on this.

  12. Kay

    I served a civil protective order on my husband a few years ago. (He assaulted me on several occasions and threatened my life.) He went through some intensive therapy that seemed to help, that is until my pastor preached on wifely submission. I very nearly walked out of church that day to never come back, because I knew that I would have to deal with the consequences of that sermon. My husband now had permission from God Himself to control me. It started out as subtle attempts at control, but within a couple of weeks, he was trying to control everything I did. I called my pastor and tried to talk to him about it, but he wouldn’t allow me to talk. The weeks that followed took all my energy and all my courage, but I finally confronted my husband. For the first time in years, I was physically threatened. That was a year ago. My husband has made regular attempts at controlling me since then.

    A week or two ago, the pastor and his wife suggested that I might leave the church. I had no idea why they would say such a thing. At that time, my husband’s attempts at control and his aggression had increased so much that I had to spend several nights in a motel and a night sleeping on the couch in our church nursery. My husband threatened to talk to everyone about me (which he has done on countless occasions), so the next Sunday, I saw him talking to my pastor in the parking lot. I went up to them to find out what was going on. I knew I would have to protect myself. My husband was making crazy accusations about me. He told the pastor that I had this terrible past and that I had been raped (not true). The pastor was telling him that he disagrees with my stance on submission and that he would be supportive of my husband. (The pastor’s own daughter has fled two separate abusive husbands.) At that moment, the only thought that I had was that I would have to disappear for good. I was having a panic attack, so the pastor’s wife took me inside and let me tell my story. The pastor came in and I talked with him as well, but his main concern seemed to be that I agree with him that the husband has the final say in the marriage. He, apparently has no problem with a man hitting his wife. Apparently he thinks that an unsubmissive wife might provoke such a thing.

    • Kay, thank you for documenting this here.

      I am not a lawyer, but I would think that if your husband assaults you again or commits any of the things that are defined as domestic abuse crimes in your jurisdiction, you would have grounds for suing that pastor for complicity before the fact: complicity with the criminal which encouraged and supported the criminal in committing his crimes.

      You may like to call the DV hotline in your country, and/or your local DV support service. They might offer to help you go into hiding in a high-security refuge/shelter. And you might also want to look at the links on our Safety Planning page.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Is it possible this evil wolf parading as a pastor is also criminally guilty of failure to report to the police? Cut him no slack, do not give him any benefit of doubt. This is pure evil.

  13. The Wary Witness

    Great article! I really appreciate hearing someone speak out against oppression.

    I believe this unhealthy misinterpretation of Ephesians 5 is not only harmful to women who find themselves in abusive marriages, but to all women and men who are exposed to it, even those in healthy marriages who have kind loving spouses.

    My husband is my best friend. He has never treated me as anything less than an equal. The only time that he has ever told me to “be submissive” was half jokingly when he was encouraging me to buy a sweater that I wanted, because he knew that my abusive father had drummed it into my head to feel guilty for spending money on myself.

    This thing about the husband making the “final decision” doesn’t make sense. We’ve been married for over half a decade and have been through some really tough circumstances together, and having one person make a “final decision” that trumps the other person’s best judgment has never been necessary. We can always come to a consensus — a mutual decision that works for both of us. We both have veto power when it comes to major decisions.

    But this warped unhealthy teaching about Ephesians 5 still harmed me and harmed our marriage. Until a few months ago, I felt ashamed of working outside the home, of having valuable job skills, of being the main “breadwinner.” I felt ashamed that I enjoyed my job. I felt ashamed of relating to my husband as an equal and voicing my opinion without hesitation. I felt ashamed that I was not somehow more subservient. I was so self-conscious about it that I found myself trying to pretend to be subservient to him whenever we were around people from church. I felt inferior to other women at church who were stay-at-home wives and always seemed so pious (not that there’s anything wrong with staying at home).

    My husband had no idea that I felt that way, because I never really verbalized it except to ask him if I was a good enough wife, and he would say that of course I was. Now that I’ve explained it to him, he feels really bad that I felt that way. A few months ago I finally came out of the fog and flushed the bad teachings down the toilet. I no longer feel ashamed of being a strong Christian woman who supports her family, uses her job skills to contribute to the community, and has a great marriage that is built on kindness and mutual respect. As a bonus, I am free to respect and appreciate my husband for the person and the man that he is, rather than feeling that it is my duty to respect him. I’m so glad I came out of the fog at a relatively young age, because over time these false beliefs about female inferiority and subservience could have caused me to become resentful toward God and toward my husband. Instead my anger is at the false teachers and most of all at the devil, who loves to crush and oppress God’s people and snatch away our freedom.

    This morning I had an epiphany of sorts. All of these “c”histrian teachings on marriage that start with scriptures like Ephesians 5 and 1st Peter have it completely backwards. Before two people are husband and wife, they are two human beings, both made in the image of God and worthy of being treated with dignity and respect by their fellow humans. So if we want to know what the Bible teaches about how a husband and wife are to treat one another, we need to look at what the Bible says overall about how human beings are to treat one another. Besides both being human beings, in a Christian marriage, presumably both spouses are born again followers of Christ. So we need to look at what the Bible says about how brothers and sisters in Christ are to treat one another. Jesus words about serving one another and not exercising lordship over one another come to mind.

    When we come to scriptures such as Ephesians 5, we need to look at the rest of the Bible to interpret these scriptures, and we especially need to look at the four gospels. Ephesians 5 says that husbands are to be Christ-like in how they treat their wives. If Christian husbands want to be Christ-like, they need to be studying and emulating Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John! How did Jesus act? How did Jesus live? How did Jesus treat people, particularly women and children? What did Jesus teach? Go study the Sermon on the Mount, the parable of the Good Samaritan, the story of Jesus blessing the little children and discussing theology with the woman at the well. Go and weep with Him for a while at the tomb of Lazarus, along with Mary and Martha. He understands when our hearts are broken.

    If the Christian wife is to be like the Church — the “Bride of Christ” — we need to look at what Jesus says about the Church. What does Jesus Himself say about the Church? Jesus says “THE GATES OF HELL SHALL NOT PREVAIL AGAINST IT”! I don’t see a cowering wife who is afraid to express her opinion and needs her husband’s permission to buy groceries. I see a husband who sends his wife to karate classes and teaches her to use a handgun (our battle is not against flesh and blood, but I think you get my point). I see a woman who contributes to her community and stands up for peace, justice, and mercy. When I read Jesus’ words about His Church storming the gates of Hell, I think of Nancy Ward, a “Beloved Woman” of the Cherokee tribe who lived in the late 1700s. At the age of 18, when her husband was killed in battle, she picked up his rifle and led her people to victory. Not exactly the kind of woman who has had an inferiority complex beaten into her head her entire life.

    Sorry for the long post folks. I really needed to vent.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Good stuff, Wary. Good stuff!

    • Anonymous

      TWW, it’s so awesome to have a good example of a healthy marriage! This verse kept coming to my mind when I first started to read your comment: John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;” In your life, two Christians found each other and were married and had all the right ingredients to have a fulfilling life in Christ but the evil one had sown seeds, that if they’d been properly watered by these evil churches, could have destroyed it or at the very least, stolen your joy and happiness. But God said NO! He showed you what was good and what was right and now you have the chance to truly enjoy each other! I’m so grateful that you’ve shared your testimony–many of us here need to know that there are Godly men out there as we’ve had so many examples of wolves in sheep’s clothing that we wonder if there are any real male sheep left out there Thank you!

      • The Wary Witness

        Thank you, Anonymous. I’m glad my testimony could be a blessing. I hesitated to post my comment here because I know that so many people on this blog are suffering (or have suffered) so deeply in their marriages. I really appreciate the testimonies of the spousal abuse survivors on this blog, because they have helped me to understand and come to terms with my own abusive childhood, and have also helped me to be more empathetic and supportive of women I meet who have gone through these types of experiences.

        There really are some good men out there! I have a dear friend who’s ex literally almost killed her, but today she is married to a gentle giant who is very supportive.

        Besides that, all of us who have young sons have the opportunity to raise up a generation of men who value and respect women. All of us who have young children have the opportunity to raise up a generation of women and men who speak out for justice. A verse that I frequently pray for my children is Proverbs 31:8: “Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.” My hope and prayer is that they will grow up to be individuals who speak up for the voiceless and fight against oppression and injustice.

        Blessings!

  14. Un-Tangled

    My husband and I started our marriage as best friends. Church teaching about submission almost ruined our marriage. My husband sincerely wanted to follow God (as did I) and he thought complementarism as taught in the church was truth. As he followed it, he began to accuse me of undermining his authority whenever I disagreed with him. I began to feel voiceless and powerless. Our emotional intimacy shut down. Fortunately, we both decided to throw out this false teaching and to become equal partners who supported and helped each other. We are once again best friends. He has apologized to me for hurting me in those years.

    I’ve observed that when complementarianism is taught, the husband’s “authority” and the wife’s submission seems to overshadow every other Biblical truth as if it’s the core message of the Bible.

    I think it’s interesting that the church tends to teach that woman must be submission because Eve was deceived by Satan so women can’t be trusted with Scripture. Yet, the Bible clearly states in verses such as Romans 5:12: “When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.” Eve might have been deceived (tricked), but Adam deliberately chose to disobey God. Why isn’t THAT inconvenient truth ever mentioned by the church?

    • Anonymous

      Your last paragraph about blaming the woman for all sin but the bible actually telling us it was Adam who did this reminded me of what someone else pointed out. That when Eve was asked by God what had happened she told him the truth and put the blame where it belonged (The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”). Adam basically accused GOD by blaming the woman that GOD had given him ( “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”) and in blaming the woman — covered for Satan. Matthew 18:7 “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” Satan is behind many of the reasons people are tempted SINCE THE BEGINNING OF TIME, so how HEAVY will be his burden in hell?

      • Adam basically accused GOD by blaming the woman that GOD had given him ( “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”) and in blaming the woman — covered for Satan

        Thanks for pointing out that by blaming the woman, Adam covered for Satan. I hadn’t seen that before.

    • Un-Tangled

      I should perhaps clarify that I see complementarianism as a false teaching, but many treat it as if it’s a core Biblical truth that overshadows everything else.

  15. healinginhim

    A good comment to share with everyone. Thank you ACFJ … it certainly has caught our attention! Praise God for the truth of His Word … it’s man that corrupts and twists Scripture for his pleasure.

  16. Jason Jones

    As someone who identifies as complementarian, it grieves me to hear of so much damage being done due to a false understanding of Scripture. I just do not know how anyone can say they are following Ephesians 5 and commit the kinds of abuses I’m reading on this thread. It’s crazy to think that God meant for husbands to rule over their wives like a king in his kingdom. It’s crazy to think that women should go along with everything a man says because that’s her duty. It’s difficult for me to ascertain just how big of a problem this is because I’ve never heard of such things, and I’ve been in some very conservative churches in my lifetime. If a pastor had ever said any of the things I’m hearing here, he would have been run out of the church. I never had a conversation with another male that even hinted these types of behaviors on behalf of men were acceptable. I don’t doubt at all that the accounts being told here are true, but I do wonder how widespread it is. But whether it is rare or more prominent, I’m in complete agreement that complementarians need to do a better job teaching what headship and submission DOES NOT mean.

    Maybe I’m just one of those few enlightened complementarians, but I see quite clearly in Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3, that marriage is a partnership that should be filled with mutual love and respect. I see marriage as a team where problems are resolved through consensus building and not “This is what I say so that’s the way it will be done.” I see the leadership of the husband as being characterized by servant leadership as demonstrated by Jesus. I see the submission of the wife as being reflected by her desire to help the team that she is a part of by supporting the one (her husband) who has the role of being accountable and responsible. (Quick note: I don’t agree with the teaching that men are the priests of their home, but I do think they are held accountable for leading in a way that looks out for the best of all the members of the family.)

    Nothing I’ve written here seems all that controversial to me. In fact it seems like common sense. Most of the complementarians I know would readily agree with what I’ve said and try to practice it. I do understand that many of you have suffered great harm due to erroneous teaching, and I’m truly sorry for that. Even one person suffering due to incorrect teaching is one too many.

    One thing that concerns me is that on some blogs (not on this one so far) which lean egalitarian, there is a view that any teaching whatsoever that differentiates between the roles of men and women in marriage, NECESSARILY leads to abuse. In support of this are numerous stories of instances of abuse. But what about all the relationships where the husband and wife are trying to follow a complementarian understanding of marriage and both of them feel fulfilled and happy? I also wonder if the terms patriarchy and complementarianism are being conflated. I understand that many national complementarians don’t do a good job on the subjects of abuse and divorce, but I don’t know of any who would support the kinds of thinking that is being described here.

    • Hi Jason, I am glad you are grieved about the damage being done due to false understandings of Scripture.

      You said:

      I just do not know how anyone can say they are following Ephesians 5 and commit the kinds of abuses I’m reading on this thread. It’s crazy to think that God meant for husbands to rule over their wives like a king in his kingdom. It’s crazy to think that women should go along with everything a man says because that’s her duty. It’s difficult for me to ascertain just how big of a problem this is because I’ve never heard of such things, and I’ve been in some very conservative churches in my lifetime. If a pastor had ever said any of the things I’m hearing here, he would have been run out of the church. I never had a conversation with another male that even hinted these types of behaviors on behalf of men were acceptable. I don’t doubt at all that the accounts being told here are true, but I do wonder how widespread it is. But whether it is rare or more prominent, I’m in complete agreement that complementarians need to do a better job teaching what headship and submission DOES NOT mean.

      The accounts at this blog from women who have suffered domestic abuse and then secondary church abuse are indeed true. We couldn’t (and wouldn’t) make those accounts up! Those accounts do indeed show that ‘Something is wrong in the State of Denmark’ as Shakespeare put it. Something is indeed SERIOUSLY wrong in the church that all this emphasis on gender roles is not being articulated in a way the protects victims of abuse and penalises men who abuse women.

      Please understand this:
      You would not not hear these things articulated blatantly from pulpits or discussed overtly between Christian men. So what you have heard is not a good indicator of the reality that many women are experiencing (suffering) in churches and marriages.

      I suggest to you that you are not adept at reading between the lines of the discourse and seeing the holes in the fabric because you have not suffered gender bias yourself. You have suffered abuse from your wife. But as a man, you have not suffered the systemic sidelining and de-voicing that women experience.

      I suggest to you that (like the majority of men) you have not been conscious of how much privilege you enjoy in society and in church settings simply because you are a man. The privileged classes (whether we are talking about gender or wealth or skin colour) are rarely aware of how much privilege they enjoy. But the under-privileged groups are VERY aware of how much their voices, rights and personhood are disregarded, and how much they have to quietly and creatively do ‘work-arounds’ in their lives because they have little choice but to adapt to the system/status quo.

      I’m really glad you don’t agree with the teaching that men are the priests of their home.

      You say you are an enlightened complementarian, one who sees quite clearly in Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 that marriage is a partnership that should be filled with mutual love and respect — one who sees marriage as a team where problems are resolved through consensus building.

      Great! Then let me ask you this: If marriage is a partnership that should be filled with mutual love and respect, and if the husband and wife are a team where problems are resolved through consensus building, how is that different from an egalitarian marriage?

      In my observation, when there are successful and happy marriages in which the spouses subscribe to complementarianism, their marriages are, in practice, pretty egalitarian.

      Just something for you to chew over 🙂

      Allow me to come at this from another direction. In your view, men are held accountable for leading in a way that looks out for the best of all the members of the family. So let me ask you this: Are not women also just as much held accountable for the way they look out for what is best for all members of the family?

      • Anonymous

        Lovely Barb!

      • Debbie

        Bravo Barb!

  17. I’m not sure if this is on topic. So delete away if it isn’t 😀

    Every week that there is a Bible Study it is at the same time. I’m never sure if all of us will be going. If my h doesn’t go most stay behind. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern of yes or no other than it is always a possibility and I want to go. Since starting a little job it can be a bit crazy that day. Making it more of a challenge for dinner etc.

    This last time I was definitely running late. I kept calling home to say when and where I was so it wasn’t a surprise. I had already called to put someone in charge of cooking etc. When I walked through the door dinner was on the table 🙂 and nobody eating 😦 I had decided to skip dinner for myself. It was obvious dinner had been out for a while since the meat was cold and other items cooled down. Everyone started coming out of their places. All saying they wouldn’t be going. It was already time to leave. Once my h appeared from doing a job outdoors he didn’t seem to be in a hurry so I thought it was one of those nights where he was staying home. I waited a few min until the study start time and he was still busy. I said from the other side of a locked door I was going to be heading out to the study. He barked back. Who made you the independent thinker! I was planning on going too! So….I waited and waited. Then he was upset he hadn’t eaten yet.

    I feel like he’s an adult and can keep track of time just as I am able. Why this waiting for me to actually be home before he or anyone can eat knowing its that day and time? Then he wanted to know why certain children weren’t going. Ugh. Do I dare say because it seemed obvious to them just as it did to me that he wasn’t going because of the time and actions and that he allows them to make that choice when he doesn’t feel like it so they do the same? Just seems like a fight brewing.

    I went with him and left most children home showing up close to an hour late but still in time to hear the best part. I wanted to leave and just get there. He could drive separate? Just seemed like I only had one choice. Wait. He was home a couple hours before all of this. And a good hour before that there was someone in charge of cooking. Seems super conflicting and controlling of him. If I had said I was too tired I really don’t think he would have batted an eye. We would have all eaten and just carried on as usual at home that evening.

  18. Jason Jones

    Hi Barbara,

    In response, let me start out by saying that I do agree that the stories being told here are authentic. I spent some time in the counseling field, and after a number of years you develop a sense of being able to tell when people are telling the truth. So in no way would I want to give the impression that I don’t believe the accounts being described here. What I don’t know for sure is how widespread this is among complimentarians. Much of what I’m hearing sounds like what I was involved in as a teenager that I would label extreme fundamentalism. The complimentarians I know would definitely distinguish themselves from patriarchal teaching that has been taught in extreme fundamentalist settings and by groups that are similar to Bill Gothard. This is why I’m wondering if terms aren’t being conflated, and I’m wondering if ALL teaching that has to do with the husband being the head of the home is being lumped in all together and being called, “complimentarian.” There are vast differences in how I and most complimentarians I know view marriage as opposed to a more patriarchal viewpoint.

    As to my being “unaware of male privilege” I think you’re making a lot of assumptions about me. I think if you met me, you’d discover in a hurry that I’m quite aware and pick up on things rather quickly. I think it’s great that victims of abuse have a place to come and receive help, and if they’ve been harmed by incorrect teaching on marital roles, then I grieve with them. I just think that a note of caution is in order when we start to generalize across the entire population based on the experiences of some. I know of far too many complimentarian relationships that are NOT abusive to believe that abuse is happening in the majority of them. I absolutely hate that Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 have been used to hurt women. I think a correct understanding of these Scriptures leads to fulfillment and not harm.

    I think you ask a really good question when you say, “Let me ask you this: If marriage is a partnership that should be filled with mutual love and respect, and if the husband and wife are a team where problems are resolved through consensus building, how is that different from an egalitarian marriage?”

    Let me give you an honest answer. I think there is very little difference between a complimentarian marriage that seeks to follow Scripture and puts God first in the home, and an egalitarian marriage that seeks to follow Scripture and puts God first in the home. Now you’ll probably not like why I believe that, but here it goes. I think an egalitarian marriage that seeks to follow Scripture and puts God first is going to have Biblical roles where the husband is a servant leader and the wife follows that leadership EVEN if they would deny it. I think there is this incorrect stereotype that a husband is only being a leader if he is visibly imposing his will on the family, and the wife is only in submission if she is mindlessly following her husband like some kind of slave-girl. Because human personalities are so different, marriages are going to reflect those differences. A smart husband understands that God gave him a partner in his wife, and she is going to be better at some things than he is. He’s not any less of a man or any less of a leader by relying on her in these areas.

    As I’ve gotten older, I’m much less dogmatic on these issues. I don’t think the church should be micro-managing marriages or telling husbands and wives how they should be relating. I think the church should teach the principles of Ephesians 5, but we should let individual husbands and wives work out between them just how those principles are going to work in a practical way in their own marriage. And as long as they’re happy, I really don’t care what they call it. But I do get concerned when I start to hear things that suggest that any type of teaching that casts the husband in the role of being the leader of his home necessarily leads to abuse. I’m not suggesting that you or anyone else here believes this, but I’ve definitely felt this attitude coming from some egalitarian circles.

    • Hi Jason,

      you said

      I just think that a note of caution is in order when we start to generalize across the entire population based on the experiences of some. I know of far too many complimentarian relationships that are NOT abusive to believe that abuse is happening in the majority of them.

      I’m not sure where you think you have seen us “generalizing across the entire population based on the experiences of some.” I don’t think we have been doing that. Regarding how prevalent domestic abuse is in Christian circles, in comp circles, or in egal circles, we do not pretend to have done research on that. Nor do we cite statistics on this blog. So please don’t hear what we are saying here or what our readers might be saying as implying any particular statistics about prevalence. But the number of stories we hear from victim/survivors and their supporters does indicate that the complementarian church in particular has been failing to deal with this elephant in the room. And whether the elephant takes up most of the room or just a small part of the room, it is still an elephant in the room!

      And this needs to change!

      You raise the question of whether we are conflating the terms complementarianism and patriarchy. We have never attempted to lay down ‘house-rules’ about how those two terms are used on this blog. That would be nigh impossible. Most Christians who are familiar with the debate understand that ‘patriarchy’ means a hard or harder version of complementarianism. But some mainstream complementarian leaders are very happy to use the term ‘patriarchal’ when referring to their beliefs. So if you have a bone to pick about how those terms are being conflated, please remember we are not the only place where that bone could be picked! 🙂 🙂

      Our main point still stands, and I think I’ve expressed this to you in different words before:
      If there is a difference between complementarianism and patriarchy, then the complementarian leaders need to be articulating their teaching in ways that clearly CONDEMN patriarchal notions and practices. And IMO they are abysmally failing to do that. So my concern about complementarianism is in what it is failing to do more than what it is doing. And until complementarian leaders wake up to their failures and repent, I will still keep criticising and admonishing them.

      I appreciate you giving me your honest answer to my question. And forgive me if my assumptions about your being relatively unaware of male privilege was incorrect. However, even though you are aware of male privilege, there is still the possibility that you are less aware of the prevalence and effects of male privilege than if you were a woman.

      As you have rightly observed, at this blog we do not say that any kind of teaching that casts the husband in the role of being the leader of his home necessarily leads to abuse. And I agree with you that this attitude is sometimes found from some egalitarian circles.

      As I see it, the issue of evil is more fundamental than the issue of gender (and its subsidiary issue of egal vv comp). And in my observation, both egal and comp streams of christianity are pretty ignorant of evil. They have been bypassing, discounting or misunderstanding the many many Scriptures which teach us about the mentality and tactics of evil and evildoers and how important it is that believers be as wise as serpents.

      • Anonymous

        Thank you Barb for your studied and thoughtful reply. Is JJ familiar with Dr. Robert Hare? When JJ stated, ” I spent some time in the counseling field, and after a number of years you develop a sense of being able to tell when people are telling the truth” it reminded me that even Dr. Robert Hare and his assistants could be fooled by people without a conscience. The one case where his assistant — KNOWING the person she was interviewing was a psychopath — still got caught up in the lies. Dr. Hervey Cleckley wrote “The Mask of Sanity” which is available on-line in PDF for free. Dr. Cleckley was highly alarmed by the number of psychopaths he witnessed in society and Dr. Hare corresponded with him before his death. The thing that was most disconcerting to him were that these evil people (men and women) appeared to be SO NORMAL!

        This website often points out that the abuse victim seems “insane” because they are often coming out of horrific abuse and when they turn for help they find people like JJ who say the things that JJ says (that he doesn’t know ANY people like the abuser we described but he’ll be generous and give us the benefit of the doubt).This adds to our abuse and it’s the equivalent of “Calm down Madam!” which does nothing to calm anyone down but incites one instead. The bible states in 2 Tim 3 that the end times will be so perilous because of abusive people who don’t love others, so what we are witnessing is all biblical and God wrote this so we would find solace in his word and to assure us that HE knew the truth of the matter.

        Maybe if we dropped the debate over egalitarian and complementarianism for awhile and instead looked at fools, mockers, the wicked etc. in God’s word and how these evil people harm their victims we may actually be able to start working towards healing and helping instead of dividing and battling. I’m with Jeff in saying I will not identify myself in this manner as it often pigeonholes us to others in their minds and we are in effect, shut out and categorized. Thank you Barb for your beautifully worded and thought-out reply!

    • The Wary Witness

      Hi Jason,

      Thanks for being part of the conversation. You said,

      “I think there is very little difference between a complimentarian marriage that seeks to follow Scripture and puts God first in the home, and an egalitarian marriage that seeks to follow Scripture and puts God first in the home.”

      I agree with this statement. However, I disagree with your next statement,

      “I think an egalitarian marriage that seeks to follow Scripture and puts God first is going to have Biblical roles where the husband is a servant leader and the wife follows that leadership EVEN if they would deny it.”

      Actually I believe the opposite is true. My husband and I started our marriage professing complementarian beliefs (although we had never heard of the term) and my former pastor even said things during our wedding ceremony that leaned heavily toward patriarchy. My wonderful husband nevertheless has always treated me as an equal, and a “tie-breaking vote” has never been necessary when we make major decisions, because our major decisions are always mutual and we are always able to come to a consensus. However, warped teachings about wives being subservient were still harmful to me and our marriage because I basically felt guilty for having a normal, healthy relationship with my husband and for just being myself (a strong Christian woman who doesn’t fit the female stereotype that my former denomination promoted). Call these harmful teachings “patriarchy” or “complementarianism run a-muck” or whatever you like, but they were warped and harmful. And my husband was unaware of the my internal struggle even though we attended the same church as a married couple, and were part of the same denomination for several years even before we met. I think that he was not paying much attention to these warped teachings about women when they were taught in mixed-gender settings because they didn’t apply directly to him; also a lot of these teachings were promoted during women’s-only sessions with the pastor’s wife.

      I’ve shared more details about my testimony above (for some reason my avatar looks different now, but it’s the same person).

      I think that a complementarian marriage that seeks to follow Scriptute and puts God first is going to be characterized by mutual respect and appreciation for one another, and mutual love and service for one another, even if the husband and wife profess to have different roles based on gender.

      You also said, “Because human personalities are so different, marriages are going to reflect those differences. A smart husband understands that God gave him a partner in his wife, and she is going to be better at some things than he is.”

      I absolutely agree with this statement. My problem is when other people start telling my husband and me (whether individually or from the pulpit) what our marriage ought to look like and what our individual responsibilities within the home ought to be. I think we can all agree that men and women are different, both physically and psychologically. Babies come out of the womb knowing this. None of kids my ever tried to breastfeed from my husband! Besides plumbing, there are other physical differences that are variable. For example, men in general are taller than women. But there are plenty of women out there who are taller than most men.

      In the same way, men and women may have different personality traits and different skill sets, but these traits and skills vary more between individuals than they do between the genders. For example, most marriages have an introvert and an extrovert, a risk-taker and a cautious one, a person who plans ahead and a person who is spontaneous, an organized neat-freak and a chaotic multi-tasker, etc. One spouse may have a more lucrative career and therefore be the bread-winner, and the other spouse may be better at managing finances (or have more time to do so) and therefore makes most of the financial decisions. These traits are not dependent on gender. But authors of complementarian marriage books and speakers at complementarian marriage conferences often wrongly assign various roles and tasks within the home/marriage based on supposed gender differences, when in fact the differences they are referring to may only apply to them and their spouse, or their parents, or other couples who they perceive as having the “right” kind of marriage, or it may be based on a certain cultural model. That’s one of my main objections to a lot of the complementarian teachings that are being circulated out there.

    • Sunflower

      I have found in my readings that often the comp people who are ‘so happy’ in their marriages are the men speaking, and when I read their description of their ‘happy’ marriages, I see that their wives are happy because hubby tells them they are. And, when a wife is desperate to make her marriage work, she often says she’s happy because she is supposed to be and wants to be, and/or she has learned to be a peace keeper. Note, I said often, not always. But the blogs on comp do often make me queasy. The ones written by the women often go on and on about how to manipulate your husband to be nice, by being super submissive…….in a nice way, of course. Just my thoughts. And , I’ve been there.

  19. Jason Jones

    In reply to Anonymous, I wanted to clarify a few things. First I would not want to give the impression that I’m simply “giving the benefit of the doubt” to the brave victims here that are talking about their experiences. I believe their stories because they have the ring of truth to them. Also, I’m not suggesting that I haven’t run into abusers before because I have. What I was trying to convey in my earlier post was that I did not know anyone who believed like I do with respect to complimentarianism who has had the attitudes or displayed the behavior that I’m reading here. On the other hand I have definitely known men who represented a patriarchal view of marriage that I did suspect of being abusive. I’ve also been around men who had no particular view of Scripture because they weren’t Christian at all, and they displayed abusive behaviors. And when I suggested that my counseling background helps me to discern the truthfulness of someone’s story I was talking about victims. True victims don’t lie or exaggerate because they don’t need to. In fact, a lot of victims will understate just how bad things were.

    And I’m very aware that a lot of abusers can appear normal and even charming to the public at large, causing many to doubt a victim’s story or conclude that the victim must be doing something to trigger the abuse. I have personal experience with that kind of person, and I know they’re real.

    I also like the emphasis on evil. I think we’re far too willing to accept someone’s testimony as being a Christian just because they go to church and say they said the sinner’s prayer at some point. The New Testament I read is filled with verses which state that we know people by their fruits and not their words. I do not believe we are saved by our works, or that we maintain our salvation through works, but I do believe that if we are truly saved then our conduct and behavior over the course of our lives will bear this out.

  20. M&M

    Even though I like the idea of “head” not meaning “authority”, I’m not sure how to deal with 1 Cor 11:9-10. Not my favorite verses, but I can’t ignore them……

    • M&M, because we see this blog’s mission as educating the church about domestic abuse, there are some passages of scripture, like the one you cited, which we don’t see it as our role to grapple with deeply. There are many other authors, books and websites which grapple with that one, so I encourage you to research them.

      • M&M

        Hi Barb, I intended those verses to be on topic because they have to do with male authority or roles, but I also understand if your time is needed elsewhere.

        I’d like to share a verse that I hope will be encouraging. In Genesis 21:12, God tells Abraham to listen to Sarah. We’ve all heard that Sarah obeyed Abraham and I know she did at times, but how often do we hear that Abraham also obeyed Sarah?

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