Browsing Tag

biblical headship


"Real Marriage" review: 65-85, "The Respectful Wife"

With a chapter title like that, you just know how much I loved it. I probably should have expected this chapter to be more infuriating than the one devoted to men, but I didn’t. My marginalia has a lot more “WTF” and “BS” (which stands for both bullshit and benevolent sexism; nice how that one worked out) than the last chapter did– and I wish I could talk about a lot more than I have the space for.

But, today, we’re going to start of with Significant Problem #1:

Mark and Grace twist Scripture to the point of deceit. Or they proof text in order to mislead. Or they use footnotes as if the verses they’re referencing have anything at all to do with their argument. In short: Mark and Grace use the Bible to lie, and it pisses me off. What they’re doing isn’t at all unusual in complementarian circles, because the “biblical” argument for complementarianism is incredibly weak so they are forced to rely on manipulative tactics like these. Unfortunately, these deceptions work on far too many people.

The first time I threw the book today was when I got to page 71, and Grace quotes 1 Cor. 11:7-9 in order to support her argument that women need to be “companions” and “helpers” in the complementarian sense. I have actually written about this exact problem, in a post I’m particularly proud of.

Grace quotes this:

“Man is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.”

And then she stops. Because, if she kept going, she’d eventually run into this:

Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman, For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman.

Grace purposely omits this part of the passage, even though from a grammatical stand point the passage climaxes here. Stopping where she stops would be a bit like me stopping a sentence right before a but. After what she quotes is nevertheless. Nevertheless, (πλήν) as in, “in spite of what has just been said” or “but rather, except.” Quoting a passage in order to prove your point when the author himself says “but” right after the section you’re quoting is … well, I threw the book across the room. Now I just want to type out curse words. It’s wrong and misleading and dishonest and she’s doing this to the Bible, a book they both claim to live their lives by. This isn’t the only instance (she does something similar at least four times), but I have to keep going.

On to Significant Problem #2!

Grace and Mark put all of the responsibility for a healthy marriage and productive life onto wives. In the chapter Mark addressed to men, all he basically said was “don’t be a monster”; he never once uses the word “abuse” even though he describes emotional, verbal, and physical abuse. He didn’t even really take it beyond that into “here’s how to be a decent human being”– he just talks a lot about all the ways men can abuse their wives and then says “don’t be that guy.”

In this chapter, though, Grace has got a lot to say about all the things that a woman has to do.

  • She prays for her husband about every single thing he has to do all day long.
  • She touches him affectionately, romantically, and sexually.
  • She texts him through the day.
  • She makes sure the prepare healthful meals.
  • She takes up his interests.
  • She reads the Bible (71-75).

And while when she’s talking about learning to communicate she indicates this is something husbands and wives have to learn how to do together, “dudes, talk to your wife about what you think a problem is” is something Mark never tells husbands to do. Communication is a two-way street, but they’ve missed that.

And, lastly, Significant Problem #3:

Grace uses the “except if you’re being abused” line.

I wish I could tell you how much I hate that line. I hate it. I hate it more than any other single phrase I’ve ever heard come out of a spiritual leader’s mouth. I have gotten up and left church services because of it, and at this point if I hear it uttered in a sermon and I talk to the pastor afterward and their reaction is nonchalance, I’m never going back to that church. I am done with this phrase.

It is worse than useless. It is dangerous.

It is especially dangerous because of the context of this book. Chapter three spent a lot of time describing abusive behaviors– and not just verbal and emotional abuse, but physical coercion and violence as well. But, Mark never once says “this is what abuse looks like.” He spends the entire chapter minimizing it– personally, I think he has a vested interest in minimizing abuse, because he’s an abuser. There’s no way in hell Grace isn’t going through at home what Mark has been putting his church and staff through for years.

He gets away with it, though, because hardly anyone in our culture understands what abuse actually is. We have the vague thought that it’s black eyes, broken arms, women who “fall down stairs.” But the reality is that my abuser called me Goddamn fucking bitch every single day for almost three years and I never thought it was abuse because he wasn’t hitting me. He would pinch me and twist my fingers like he was playing “Uncle,” and I never thought it was abuse because there were never any bruises.

It is extraordinarily rare for a person in an abusive relationship to understand that’s what is happening. When someone says “oh, if you’re in an abusive relationship, none of this applies to you,” there is basically not a single fucking person who’s going to hear that and think “oh, that means me.”

If you’re about to say something that you think needs to have that disclaimer slapped onto it, then you need to think about it really, really hard. If you know that something you believe could be twisted by an abuser or a victim in order to trap them, then that belief must be re-evaluated, period. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit.

But, Real Marriage makes it so much more worse than that. She tells women that they are commanded to submit to their husbands, even if he makes an irresponsible decision that could be detrimental to both of them (80). She compares a woman submitting to her husband to a child obeying their parents (82). She says that “if your husband isn’t working on his part of loving, you are still called to work on your part of submitting” (84).

But, worst of all, she says this:

If your husband is verbally or physically abusing you, he is not loving or respecting you. If this is an ongoing issue, it should be addressed and stopped immediately by a pastor or trustworthy leader who will listen to you both.

There is so much wrong with this. First of all, if you realize that you are in an abusive situation, leaving should be your end goal. Not reconciliation. Not redemption. Not forgiveness. Getting yourself (and children if you have them) safe is your first and only priority, however you need to go about doing that.

Second, Grace’s idea that someone in an abusive marriage should go to a leader “who will listen to you both” is beyond wrong. It is worse than wrong. That “advice” can, has, and will kill people. Anyone who is willing to listen to both a victim and their abuser is an unwise person who should not be sought out or listened to. If they are willing to “listen” to the abuser, if they want to “hear both sides,” they will be used by the abuser to further ensnare their victim. A wise and properly trained counselor who hears “my husband hits me” will not be interested in hearing from the person willing to hit their spouse.

That Grace (and, presumably Mark), think this is a good idea is horrifying.


complementarianism and metaphors


This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

The Greek word μυστήριον, which is consistently translated as “mystery,” appears more in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians than it does anywhere else in the New Testament. The way that Paul uses μυστήριον is markedly different from the way that John The Revelator uses it– in the Book of Revelation, μυστήριον is used for its primary meaning: something hidden, something secret, something not understood or seen.

That is not the way Paul uses it in Ephesians, and his use of μυστήριον was startling to me. I’m used to thinking of mystery as being some sort of puzzle, or something to be figured out. Today, when we call something a mystery, it has the connotation of being unknowable. It’s something we don’t have answers for, and probably never will.

That’s not what it means in Ephesians. In fact, it means the exact opposite. He actually defines μυστήριον in two previous passages:

In love he predestined us for adoption as children through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Eph. 1:5-10

When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.

Eph. 3:4-6

This is how he consistently presents what the μυστήριον is: something that was not previously understood but has now been revealed; in the context of Ephesians, this mystery is intimately connected with a completely revolutionary concept of what it means to be children of God. Paul is revealing something incredibly, almost unbelievably subversive to the church in Ephesus. He’s telling these Gentile Christians that they are part of the Beloved, united in him, and are now fellow heirs to the promise.

He’s telling them what it means to be a part of the universal, catholic Church. They’re a part of a family now– daughters and sons of God, fellow heirs. He spends the first three chapters speaking to them of a sweeping tapestry– a pattern that their Father-Mother had in place from the very beginning, but was only now forming a picture they could see and understand. The last three chapters he devotes to explaining what this means for them in concrete, every day terms; Paul was nothing if not practical.

You’re a part of the family of God, he’s saying. Now, what does that actually look like?

The family is a metaphor, and he uses the pater familia, the sacred institute of Rome as the “family” that everyone in Ephesus is familiar with. And he continually subverts it. You are all aware of what Plato said about the pater familia, but you are not just Roman anymore– you are children of God as well as children of Caesar.

There are many excellent analyses of the Greco-Roman household codes, but that’s not really the purpose of my post today. I’m talking about the metaphor he’s using– which is one metaphor among dozens. In Ephesians, the metaphor for the church is the family– the pater familia. Today, many would argue that Ephesians 5:22-33 is an instruction to the church regarding marriage that must be acted out literally. The part of this passage that receives an undo amount of attention is the description as Christ and the husband as the “head.” This has resulted in the complementarian term headship, which has come to mean something entirely different than how the people of Ephesus would have received it.

The argument centers on what κεφαλή (a feminine noun, just thought I’d mention that) means– does it really mean authority?

Reading hierarchy, authority, and power struggles into Ephesians 5:22-32, from a literary criticism and theory standpoint, is actually a Marxist reading. I imagine complementarians don’t realize that, but identifying passages like this one primarily as conflicts between weak and strong is, from a literary standpoint, not sound exegesis. It’s eisegeses, or reading your presuppositions into the text. It can only be sound hermeneutics if the power struggle is actually there– some say it is, but the first three chapters of this book belie that. This letter is all about unity– in this passage, it’s about becoming one flesh, the same term God used to describe the union between Adam and Eve before the Fall.

By using this terminology, Paul is evoking the imagery of Genesis and paradise– this is what the Church is supposed to be. This is what it’s supposed to look like. This is what it means to be man and wife– so united that you become one flesh as God originally intended.

And, if there is really supposed to be hierarchy in the Church, if the modern concept of headship-leader-authority is really a part of how Christians are supposed to relate to each other; how we, as the universal catholic Church is supposed to relate to Christ– as a top-down hierarchy, then it should show up in the other metaphors for the Church.

But it doesn’t.

Oh, sometimes it does. The Church is described as soldiers, as subjects in a kingdom, as part of a priesthood with Christ as the chief priest. It wouldn’t be fair or honest to remove any semblance of hierarchy from those descriptions.

But, there are many metaphors where this hierarchy is non-existent. Most of these have to do with specifically giving us an image of inter-dependence and unity. We are the body– joined and held together, building each other in love. We are the temple, a building– with Christ as the lynch pin, as the cornerstone, as the beginning.

We are the Vine and the Branches. The vine cannot survive without the branches, and the branches cannot survive without the vine. We need each other in order to live, thrive, and function. We can’t be separated, and we are one.

That is the over-riding image of the Church and Christ: as one flesh— as something so deeply connected, interwoven, that it would be impossible to think of them as separate. To do so would be borderline ridiculous. These metaphors aren’t about building an idea of the Church where there must be determined authorities that enforce their will onto everyone else: that is is the antithesis of what it means to be the Church. Hierarchy isn’t what this metaphor in Ephesians is about. Interpreting head here, as “divinely authorized power” isn’t a fair reading of Ephesians, and it doesn’t accurately represent how head is presented in every other place it appears.

The only way Ephesians 5:22-33 works as an instruction for wives to submit to the power and control of their husbands is if you rip it out of context and isolate it– you have to insulate the meanings of these words even from the letter it’s a part of, much less the Pauline Corpus or the New Testament. You have to remove the beauty of the mystery that Paul is speaking of in such glowing terms. We could no longer be Beloved, the fellow heirs, the daughters and sons. If hierarchy is the principle in Ephesians 5, than it obliterates Paradise. Forcing hierarchy into this passage leads to seeing hierarchy and power struggles everywhere else– in all those passages where we are called to love like no one else, to esteem everyone as equals.

If there’s hierarchy, than there is no bond nor free cannot be true.

If there’s hierarchy, then all those verses that ask us to be one, to be in unity, to ignore all of the boundaries and rules and cultural constructs about who is allowed to socialize with who, who is allowed to speak to who– all those times that Jesus stepped outside those limitations . . . it all evaporates.

What Jesus did was radical, and what the early church did was just as radical– they threw away hierarchy.

Bringing it back, claiming that all of our human relationships are determined by our obedience to husbands, to pastors, to parents . . . it mars the beauty of the Church, the love of the saints. It damages the message and purpose of the Gospel and the act of the Cross.