“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”
Let’s suppose, for a moment, that Paul’s statement here is universally applicable, straight from the Holy Spirit, and unaffected by any culturally-dependent standards or sensibilities. Let’s suppose, just for the sake of argument, that this passage prescribes the literal, underlying relationship dynamic divinely ordained for all marriages in all societies for all time.
Let’s even suppose that “to submit” here means the complete, loss-of-self servility espoused by Vision Forum, Doug Wilson, Above Rubies, and others. In other words, God requires nothing less than total subjection for wives. Finally, let’s suppose that this was God’s Command because it was the Natural Order of things, painfully obvious to any unbiased observer.
Even if all this was true, the “biblical patriarchy” movement would still be dangerous, unchristian, and decidedly unbiblical.
Even if it was right and good and positive for wives to live in total abject submission to their husbands, patriarchy would still be dangerous because patriarchy rubs off. It rubs off because it’s rooted in the notion that the physical differences between genders places one over the other.
I’ve heard the arguments over and over. I’ve even made them myself, back in the day. Women are the “weaker vessel” and so there’s a duty to “protect” her….which somehow means a duty to dictate what she does and believes. Women are “more emotional” and so good, strong, logical men are better suited to tackling challenging questions and making difficult decisions. Etc, etc.
But all these reasons used to explain why patriarchy ought to be the standard for marriage are terribly contagious.
This teaching conditions people in the church to think that men in authority over women is natural. Humans are quite good at extrapolating, so that’s exactly what we do. A husband should be in absolute authority over his wife….so the same thing extends to dating relationships. It’s the husband’s job to “lead spiritually” in the home, so that’s the role that the guy should begin to fill as he dutifully courts his intended. This, of course, means that he can speak for God in the relationship. If he decides “God told me to marry you”….well, he’s the source of God’s will, so is that the path she needs to follow?
It’s a conditioned response, not an explicit one. Few church leaders would approve of a guy telling a girl that they “need” to sleep together….but that’s what they’re conditioning the girl to accept when they try to explain all the reasons why “biblical patriarchy” just works so well. Of course, it doesn’t always go by that name; it’s often “biblical womanhood” or “scriptural responsibilities” or any number of other catchy phrases.
And it gets worse. It sets both guys and girls up to see “tough love” as an essential part of interactions between men and women. God the Father relates to us as an adoptive father to his children and Jesus relates to us as a husband to his bride….but patriarchy conflates the two, giving the relationship between a husband and wife the command-obedience elements of a parent-child relationship. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” Yeah, that’s not an applicable passage for the Young Marrieds class.
Sorry, but I didn’t adopt my wife. I married her. ‘Kay?
It goes on and on. Love stops being a mutual desire for the other individual’s happiness and starts being justification for selfishness and abuse. It stops being selflessness and starts being control and power.
It helped me feel justified when, years ago, I told my then-girlfriend, “I just love you too much to respect your wishes.” “I just love you too much to be honest with you.” Well, not in so many words, but that was the theme of my song. “She’s a woman, so she doesn’t really know what she wants, much less what she needs. And I love her, so that gives me the inside track in both those areas.”
(Thankfully, she wasn’t so steeped in this kind of thinking; she very wisely broke up with me until I got my head on straight. Which took a while, but was definitely worth it.)
Patriarchy in marriage depends on the mentality that women are intrinsically lacking in something only male “headship” or “leadership” (let’s face it: we’re talking about control here) can provide. And church leaders are foolishly naive to think that mentality won’t seep out into other areas. “You don’t need a man to be fulfilled and have a good self-image….but when you do get into a relationship, he’ll be the one guiding you and giving value to your existence.” No girl is going to listen to the first statement if she’s conditioned to think in terms of the second.
In the end, the church ends up just playing into the larger cultural trope that says women are damsels in distress who need to be rescued by men. Patriarchy isn’t “biblical” or “refreshingly counter-cultural”; it’s just the same lie pop culture preaches, repackaged into something that looks enticingly spiritual.
On a planet in a binary star system, both suns would rise and set together, but would alternately appear brighter or dimmer in turn. Drawing courtesy NASA.