Many mysteries are revealed in human marriage.
I sort of knew that in theory even before my own, and of course have seen it even more in person. There’s that whole mystery of showing-Christ-and-His-Church, on which marriage is based (Ephesians 5). And of course, there’s the oft-discussed re-discovery of your own flaws.
But then came an even more stunning discernment: that many who’ve claimed to be meek and submissive wives, and who inform others of this in books and blogs, might be just the opposite.
It was while reading these kinds of blogs that my wife noticed this, and summoned me to see.
“Isn’t it strange,” she remarked, “that in all these websites about Keepers At This-and-Such and Titus 2 That-and-All, it’s the women who do most of the talking?”
And together we began to wonder: is this movement truly about “submission” anyway?
More recently, none other than Bill Gothard, who is in many respects the godfather of today’s “patriarchy,” seems to have given voice to a previously unvoiced rule. Asked via phone whether Gothard teaches a wife’s submission to their husband’s authority, the elderly organization leader laughed and insisted he doesn’t. But what he said next is stunning to those who wish to seek the truly Biblical concept of submission, which should point not to ourselves but to Christ Jesus:
“[Jesus said] he who is the greatest among you be the servant of all. That makes the woman the greatest of all because she has served every single person in the world by being in her womb.”
— from “Taliban Dan’s” Teacher: Inside Bill Gothard’s Authoritarian Subculture, Sarah Posner, ReligionDispatches.org, Feb. 16, 2011
Gothard’s corruption of Biblical texts is legendary among those who’ve rejected his jargon-intensive, computer-programming-esque approach to following God’s rules for a better, more spiritual Christian life. Yet this is one of the worst exploitations of Scripture he’s had thus far.
And it seems to prove my wife’s and my discovery: that for those oblivious to Biblical grace, who see Jesus mainly as a means to moral advancement, sin can infest even their “submission.”
Both my wife and I grew up in homeschooling households, in which our parents did not follow the patriarchy paradigm. Yet naturally we heard about it in these circles. Some of us (cringes while raising my hand) might have even once suspected this would be the most Spiritual way to live. But further research, and especially reading Scripture in the ways God meant it to be read, has shown us that these notions are wrong about God Himself, and hurtful to Christ’s people.
For years we’ve enjoyed keeping up with divergent views marketed as “Christian.” This includes beliefs that add to the Gospel of God’s-Son-sacrificed-for-sinners, as if bonus values are equally as vital as the truth that only God can raise rebels from the death we’d have under the Law.
Thus we’ve read from the patriarchy bloggers who write reams about how a wife must support her husband, do everything for him, and lovingly put up with all his comical incompetence and idiosyncrasies — as if the man can’t do much if anything without her help.
And slowly we came to realize: for whatever reason, the amount of women activists promoting what they see as “Biblical patriarchy” seems to far surpass the male bloggers who’d encourage the same.
This led to a new suspicion that at first may sound absurd: is this “patriarchy” primarily a female-led movement? Surely that is self-contradictory! Why would a woman want to put herself under a system of notions that violate Scripture’s plain meanings and emphasis on what Christ has done (not first on what men and women should do) and also result in women being suppressed in a family? Why would she intentionally subject herself to such control?
That’s why, since our initial thought, we’ve modified our premise. Whether men or women are the loudest voices among patriarchy-pushers isn’t the point. Rather I contend this: “patriarchy,” as defined by many professing followers, does not even include truly Biblical submission. Instead, this system at its core, from the start, is based in re-routed feminism.
Feminism, of course, is a patriarchalist’s prime bogey. Our world is feminized, they say, and we must strive to oppose such ideas. Here I need not even touch on that issue; it is beside the point. Instead I point to a patriarchy activist’s prime directive. What is his/her basis for belief and action? Instead of be like the Christ Who died to save you, it’s do all you can to be unlike The World. Not delight in God’s ways. Not come to Me and I will give you rest. Not work out your salvation, knowing it’s God Who works in you for His good pleasure (Philippians 2: 12-13). Instead they build on an innately flawed, anti-Biblical foundation: avoid, react, strike back.
Naturally this leads to overcorrection. If the world is 95 percent feminist, and the church almost as bad, we need not bother about opposite errors. This also means sin is surely easier to avoid, based on external factors: wearing pants, not wearing head coverings, sending your children to public school, having only two children or less, enjoying pre-marriage dating.
But insidious sins, the same I’ve seen accepted in patriarchy blogs and books, are not noticed.
- Claiming your husband can’t fulfill his family “vision” without your help: arrogance.
- Laughing at his dopey antics in your be-a-Titus-2-wife book, while claiming to honor and “submit” to him anyway because of the greatest humility you can muster: arrogance.
- Writing an entire essay praising your husband’s achievements in ministry work, in order to win him secular recognition for being the manliest manly-man, and not only failing to mention Christ at all (?!) but ultimately drawing equal attention to one’s self: arrogance.
In these, patriarchalist activists reveal their re-routed feminism — something whose arrogance and male-bashing they outwardly disavow, but inwardly believe and even promote to others. This is self-contradictory and self-deceiving, but it’s the natural result of basing one’s beliefs on an anti-this-or-that instead of on Christ’s grace.
Thus sin sneaks in, deviously, coming not from exterior Things but interior heart-sourced sludge (as Jesus warned the Pharisees in Mark 7). While some may beware the Devil in a bra-burning, corporate-climbing short-haired Something Out There, he instead takes the form of an angel, perhaps not of light, but wearing denim skirts and hair coverings, keeping long hair and keeping children at home, passive-aggressively “submissive,” and even subversively feminist.
And even worse: Christ is dishonored. By venerating a human man, a passive-aggressive “submitter” is not giving glory to the God-Man. She’s taking it for herself, and missing the whole point of Christ’s teaching that the truly great will be the servant of all: only Christ was the servant of all, making Himself nothing, so that now only He is the greatest (Philippians 2: 1-11).
Gothard’s worldly ‘greatness’
In his quote, Gothard completely ignored that. Perhaps he said more, which isn’t shown, about Christ being the greatest Servant, Whom both men and women honor in the ways they serve one another. But if not, he rejected a prime opportunity to point to the Savior his organization claims to follow. Instead he pointed to humans, and to women in particular as in effect the world’s secret rulers — something Christ never meant whenever He taught on true servanthood.
Three passages in Scripture contain Jesus’ reminder that if one wishes to be truly great, he must become the servant of all: Matthew 18: 1-4, Mark 9:33-37 and Luke 9: 46-48.
In each account, of apparently the same dialogue about seeking servanthood as true greatness, Christ was speaking to His disciples. They were men. Women aren’t mentioned. He used a trusting child’s conduct as an example of true humility. Mark 9:37: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” And in Luke 9:48 He adds, “For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”
What are the contexts here? Not gender roles. Not family. Not which gender should serve the most in a human way and thus be greatest. Jesus is pointing to Himself. These passages are about Him. And later, from the minor gift of washing His followers’ dirty feet to His earth-shaking, epic death on a cross for the salvation of His people, to be the ultimate sacrifice for our sin — He proved Himself the One Who saves us, changes us, the Servant of all.
Some Christians downplay Jesus’ appeal to the reward in verses like these. That’s not what I’m saying here. He was not so “spiritual” that He expected people not to seek a reward, but He never said your search is wrong. Instead He said, You’re looking in the wrong place for your reward. You must give all you have to seek the greatest reward, everlasting joy in Myself alone.
This is epic, religious-game-changing truth.
Therefore, for professing Christians like Gothard to shunt it off, and instead appropriate the servant-of-all phrase to be about women supposedly being the greatest in the world because of their greatest service, is outrageous.
Again, I do assume here that he is being quoted accurately, and didn’t amend that statement or proclaim Christ elsewhere. But sadly this fits with Gothard’s Christian-ized humanism, making Christ and His salvation a means to moral improvement, rather than believing we’re changed to be like Christ for His sake and glory. It’s false teaching, and close to blasphemy.
And it is re-routed feminism. Gothard takes the whole intent of Christ’s greatest-of-all truth, however you believe that affects men’s and women’s roles, and twists it into a parody. Men are not respected, women are actually exalted, and Christ Himself isn’t given His rightful due.
Basic life control
It’s not surprising to see “submission” being twisted like that, based on a Biblical worldview of sin and humans’ natural instincts to glorify themselves, and even God’s good gifts, above God Himself. Even for Biblical Christians mindful of grace, any good thing can be so warped: church involvement, Godly parenting, ambition in work, even studying and teaching the Bible. That’s why we need Christ Himself, changing our minds and motives (Romans 12: 1-2).
But some sins at least make sense. That leaves the question: why would a woman knowingly, willingly buy into even passive-aggressive “submission,” with all of its self-risking dangers?
My conjecture: because despite the dangers, the perks of succeeding are even higher:
- Comfort — you get to follow Rules and Traditions. And striving to follow rules has always been easier if you define rules as applying to the Externals rather than what’s happening in one’s heart. As for the spiritual heavy lifting, that falls to the husband, leaving you time for other tasks to accomplish.
- Changing others — man-made religion is a pyramid scheme. Those at the top get there because they’re best at spreading the scheme to others. Those who accept the scheme do so because they’re also hoping to reach the top someday, so they in turn spread it to others, who of course catch that same motivation, and so on. So what other purpose is there in accepting the scheme? Only to pass it on. But if you, by chance, wind up near the top, you’ll always have the assurance of people following you, buying your books, seeing your success and affirming you: You are such a godly wife, so accepting of your place, so submissive; I want to be like you.
- Control — even for a non-passive-aggressive woman, a chauvinistic man has such “strength.” Supposed “nice guys” don’t have that. Ruler-husbands may be bad, even abusive, but at least they are powerful. So the kickbacks come from being exposed to that power, despite those trifling side effects of having little or no love. And a strange kind of comfort is in that — a “comfort” that, sadly, leads to so many faux “relationships” and enabling of evil abuses by men against women. When this happens, again and again, there’s always a sure way of managing it in your own mind: It’s something I did. At least he’s strong. I can do this, or that, and be better next time, and surely he’ll change. I don’t need anyone else’s help. Changing him, civilizing him next time, is all up to me. There’s a control in being controlled.
That last proves soberingly true for those trapped in anti-Biblical patriarchy practices. My own mother knew a patriarchy-leaning mother who did not know her child’s whereabouts, in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Naturally my mom asked her what she was doing to search for him. The woman’s reflexive response? I’ve asked my dear husband what to do.
“I think no force in heaven or hell could keep me from picking up the phone to try to find my kid under those conditions and I wouldn’t need [him] to tell me what to do,” my mom said.
Would that be rebellion against God, a display of arrogance, a refusal to respect a husband? By no means. Arrogance, rather, would sit back and wait for a husband to “control” everything — the control in being controlled. But true humility, through a personal relationship with both Christ and one’s husband, would remind this mother she knows what both Christ and her “dear husband” would decide: get on the phone, the internet, anything, to find your child!
Thus it’s through action, not passive-aggression, that Christ is best glorified, a husband truly respected, and a family loved. And it’s through true humility, looking not to one’s self but to Christ as the exalted Servant of all, that helps us take our eyes off ourselves and reject re-routed chauvinism, feminism, or any infesting sins in between.
About the author
E. Stephen Burnett is an aspiring visionary novelist, community newspaper journalist and online columnist, who hopes God’s grace and glory will help him honor Christ in all his callings. That includes SpeculativeFaith.com, which explores God-exalting visionary fiction such as fantasy and sci-fi, and YeHaveHeard.com, with its debunking of common Christian myths about the Bible. He also enjoys reading and spending time with his wife, Lacy, in their central Kentucky home.
Images provided by the author.
Images provided by the author.