Respect and Equality in Marriage

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

Are respect and equality in marriage a radical feminist idea of fairly recent origin? Are they against the plain teaching of the Word?

Ah, I hear the “buts” already. Why am I putting respect and equality on the same footing in that statement? Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians everywhere would say respect and equality are not intrinsically linked. “I can respect my wife in her position beneath me.” That’s what popular Christian marital role philosophy teaches.

True respect values another as being just as important as myself. Respect sees the other person as equal or greater in value. And respect doesn’t pick and choose, limiting respect to a theoretical concept, while still viewing the other as “less” in many ways. It isn’t respect if it isn’t respect.

The Word’s admonition for husbands to love their wives as their own bodies is a good example of this. Who among us is going to treat our own body abusively (deliberately – not through poor diet choices, etc.) Granted there are some people who do hurt themselves – but we can hardly say that is a good thing! We don’t like pain and we go out of our way to avoid it. That is respect for ourselves – I respect my own feelings enough not to deliberately violate them. We are fundamentally created to avoid hurting ourselves – that’s what nerve endings and pain receptors are for! I consider my leg to be just as important as the rest of me. Same with my eye or my foot. That is respect. There is NO element of choosing “less” or “greater.”

In a marriage relationship, respect cannot be one-sided. That will be a relationship destined for abuse on some level. The minute there is a heirarchy, there is some element of disrespect, because there is an expectation that some are “above” others. That means, by default, that those others are “less” or “lower” than those above them.

This is so simply logical, and yet, it is denied. You can put all the words on it you want like “equal but with different roles” – and it is still a higher-lower relationship – which is one of disrespect. Equal with different roles would be equal with different roles, not hierarchical with different roles.

It’s exactly like the prejudiced idea of racial “equality” popularly phrased “equal but separate” – that wasn’t equality of value or respect! I don’t care what words or fancy explanations you want to concoct – it is still disrespect. If one person is “lower” than the other in a heirarchy, that is disrespect at the most basic level – and therefore disrespectful throughout. You cannot have an uneven foundation and expect the building to be level – or secure.

This idea of disrespect in hierarchy is fundamentally in opposition of everything Jesus taught. He gave up His “rights” and put Himself in the lowest position – and instructed husbands to do the same. That doesn’t sound like the hierarchical system the church teaches at all. In fact, it would put husbands as EQUAL to their wives. What a novel concept.

We also have to remember the cultural paradigm of the time when Jesus spoke. In that culture men owned women – women had no rights. They were very little different than slaves – which makes it that much more interesting that the passages about wives and slaves are seen in close proximity in the Word.

Without attempting to directly attack the cultural reality of the day, Jesus effectively overturned it by telling husbands to put themselves in the position of servant to their wives. We interpret that through the lenses of our culture, which does not include slavery. So we think of “servant” as just someone who does nice things for someone else or helps out with the household tasks. We MUST understand it the way Jesus meant it when He said it.

Slaves had the least status of everyone. Jesus told men NOT to lord over their wives (that was His paradigm of leadership across the board, stated elsewhere) – but instead to be the servants in the relationship – to voluntarily take the lowest position in the culturally-expected hierarchical system of the time. That would make them equal to the women, slaves and children rather than being “over” them in a hierarchical system.

If we interpret the rest of the admonitions on marriage from this fundamental perspective, it changes everything.

On a side note — would that make Jesus the original radical feminist??? I think not. And it doesn’t make me one either. It just makes me a Biblical literalist – who believes that taking the Bible literally means taking the entire thing in context, rather than picking out bits and creating doctrines on verses here and there. Hmm – how strange and wicked – and radical – is that?

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Domestic Violence and Stockholm Syndrome

Dr. Joseph Carver, who has written some other great articles I have posted on my site, has another stellar addition called, Love and Stockholm Syndrome: The Mystery of Loving an Abuser. This article explores in detail some other reasons abuse victims do not leave, and will actually defend, their abusers. This one is a must-read!

Has Economic Downturn Caused Increase in Domestic Violence?

In the course of my on-going research on domestic violence I keep an eye on the news. Right now there are articles literally every day about how the economic downturn is sparking a rise in the rates of domestic violence. DV rates are usually up this time of year and with the additional stress of people losing jobs and the overall economic recession, marital abuse rates are even higher than usual.

It occurred to me, however, that for women walking in this situation it would be very easy to see the reality backward. I would have seen it that way — I did see it that way when I was in it.

We had some very bad financial reverses. And the violence and verbal abuse always escalated during those times. The holidays were a nightmare every year – both because the rages increased and because my ex had to control every single moment and breath in his own special way. My ex lost his job in 1996 and his resultant violence led to our first separation. He retrained in the computer tech field — just in time for the bottom to completely drop out of that industry. While he, fortunately, did not lose his job, he did not get a raise for seven years up through the time of our divorce. He stayed at entry-level even though he had some promotions. This, of course, led to significant financial stress, since the cost of living didn’t remain stable but increased by approximately 1/3 in our area during that time (I’m trying to remember what I figured out at the time; that’s not an exact number).

My perspective of it from the inside at the time was that his anger was because of his stress, issues at work, because he lost his job, because he couldn’t provide for his family like he wanted to, etc. But here’s the nugget — I excused, or made excuses for, his rages and actions, based on the circumstances. This is the same thing he always did. His rage was always because I did…, the kids did…, if you would only….

Rage and other personal emotions and actions are always a personal choice. They are not something that happens to a person against their will. They choose to behave that way — even if they genuinely believe otherwise. They can choose NOT to behave that way — even if they genuinely believe otherwise.

There is no medical condition* and no circumstances that excuse anger, rage, violence, verbal abuse, name calling, etc. You may doubt me, but this is a fact. It took me a very, very, very long time to learn this myself. Somehow a whole lot of other people in the world, even people with bi-polar disorder (a common excuse) or other medical conditions, manage to learn to be responsible for their behavior under even worse circumstances, without abusing those around them. Somehow other marriages, comprised of two imperfect people, manage to exist for entirely lifetimes without rage, anger, disrespect, violence, etc.

There is no excuse, EVER. Grasping this fact is the very first step to getting free of marital abuse. Once you know with absolute certainty that no circumstances are bad enough to excuse this behavior you can see past it and stand for truth. That gives you options and it gives you strength.

No matter how much the holidays may bring additional stress or how much additional stress the economic recession may cause, these are not an excuse for marital abuse. All these circumstances do is provide an opportunity to reveal a person’s choices to be an abuser. The abuser is an abuser because that is their choice – the circumstances just give them another chance to show it.

[*Let me state, it is possible for a person to experience brain damage or defect which results in the loss of ability to control impulses, leading to uncontrollable violence. However, this is medically diagnosable and these individuals must be medicated and/or institutionalized. They are not free to hurt people at random because they have a medical excuse. This is an entirely different situation than domestic abuse. I rather doubt that a domestic abuser would be willing to undergo medical testing and receive a diagnosis of brain damage and then accept the medical treatment for it. That ought to be a good enough litmus test right there. Another key to this – the violence is random for an abuser. A person with brain damage or defect is not able to miraculously control outbursts so they are targeted toward certain people and able to be contained at times when it would not be advantageous – such as before the new boss who is considering bestowing a raise.]

Is Domestic Abuse Just a Satanic Deception?

This came up in a comments conversation yesterday, and it is, unfortunately, a commonly-held idea. So I thought it would be worth expanding a bit and giving a spotlight of its own. Thanks for sharing, Hannah!

HANNAH:

I came across another [person who doesn’t understand. She said wives] are easily deceived just like Eve. [She] almost hinted that women THINK they are being abused, but generally they are just manipulating to make sure they get their way.

MY RESPONSE:

Why would this woman be under the impression wives are “easily deceived” “like Eve?” I do not see a single thing in Gen. 3 that says Eve was particularly vulnerable to deception, as opposed to Adam.

Nothing at all was said to Eve regarding her “weakness” or sin, other than being given her consequences for disobedience. God held her responsible for her choice but did not offer any additional comment or chastisement. It was simple consequences for action, as is always the case for sin.

But in Gen. 3 Adam was rebuked for listening to Eve – instead of obeying God. In his case, this was a sin of idolatry. He chose to obey his wife over God, when God had personally given Him instructions and he had a direct relationship with God on the subject. I believe this rebuke is clearly because of his idolatry, not because of the gender of the person to whom he listened! God takes idolatry very seriously.

At the same time, there is nothing in this passage to support the idea (extrapolated from the text by some preachers) that men who listen to their wives are panty-waists.

Adam was the person to whom God had given the instruction about what to eat and what to avoid – not Eve. We are left completely in the dark as to what Eve did or did not know about what God told Adam, other than that God said she wasn’t supposed to eat of that tree. So we really cannot make guesses as to her guilt or innocence of motive beyond the text. All we have is what is in the text. She knew better, she chose to do it anyway, and she was given consequences as a result of that choice.

God did not offer any additional rebuke to Eve. However, God did rebuke Adam. That rebuke was not because Adam failed to be a good leader to his family (as some pastors like to say). It was not because he failed to be a “big enough man” (as some pastors like to say). It was because Adam committed idolatry – plain and simple. He obeyed man rather than God. God Himself had given Adam a direct command and Adam chose to follow someone else.

Elsewhere in Scripture it says Eve was deceived and Paul expressed concern that Satan could deceive the Corinthian believers in the same way (II Cor. 11:3). Again, there is no implication here that this was a “woman” problem, as opposed to a “man” problem. In fact, Paul was addressing Christians of both sexes — he obviously didn’t think this was a “wives” or “woman” problem!

THE reason this woman has the idea women are easily deceived is because preachers preach that garbage from the pulpit as if it were from the Bible. They support it with passages like the “weaker vessel” verse, etc. and say women are morally weaker than men. This is utterly unsupportable by the Word and takes verses out of context to create a new doctrine out of whole cloth.

However, preachers today do not come by this idea out of their own heads. This is a long-standing, unbroken tradition from at least as far back as St. Augustine in the Catholic church. St. Augustine stamped large on the theology of the church regarding the roles of men and women.

Unfortunately, Augustine’s beliefs on the subject of marriage were colored by two utterly unreliable – and extra-biblical – sources. He viewed his own parents’ dysfunctional marriage as an ideal. His mother absolutely submitted to his father’s rages and taught other women to blindly and unquestioningly do that same. He also thought highly of the philosophy of Aristotle, who espoused the idea that women must be subjugated to men for the sake of the function of community. Aristotle lived before Christ and certainly did not acquire any of his ideas from any Judeo-Christian text.

But these two sources — the marriage of Augustine’s parents and the philosophy of Aristotle — were the unspoken mold that held the hand that wrote the theology of marital roles still being taught in Protestant churches today. (As time allows I will eventually write more extensively on this subject later.)

The person who said “women who think they are being abused are just deceived” is merely regurgitation the male domination/female subjugation doctrine she has been fed from the pulpit as if God said it, and she completely believes it. Unfortunately, she is far from alone in her deception.

Is “Fireproof” Helpful for Abusive Marriages?

The movie Fireproof is all the rage these days, and I have seen it being strongly recommended to people in abusive marriages by churches and Christians. I don’t just cringe; the mama bear in me comes out.

While I understand that people are well-meaning and largely ignorant, churches and pastors have a duty to become better educated. The movie Fireproof is completely inappropriate and utterly ineffective in an abusive marriage situation, and will actually do more harm than good.

First of all, we need to inject some common sense into the situation. The 40-day love dare is not a magic bullet! Every new marriage program that comes along is hailed as the thing that will fix it. The 40-day love dare would add a spark and revitalize an otherwise godly marriage, or one that has simply grown cold or stale. It brings a great perspective that easily gets lost in the daily-ness of life – God calls us to sacrificial love for our spouses.

In fact, the Biblical model calls husbands to sacrificially love their wives, and does not make the same demand of wives. In the normal way of things, I don’t know of many women who would not love to be in relationship with a godly man who truly followed the Biblical model.

But the 40-day love dare is not a magic bullet. Thinking or acting like the program is a magic marriage cure is actually treating it as a manipulative tool. And that is exactly the way an abuser would use it. So when the 40-day love dare is presented as a magic cure to a couple in an abusive relationship, churches are speaking the abuser’s language and playing right into his hands. Churches are literally giving abusers a tool to abuse their spouse, and not only permission, but pressure, to hurry up and use it!

This attitude that the 40-day love dare is a magic marriage potion also exalts a program to the status of being on the same plane of God and His Word. It’s practically magical! But somehow God left that part out of the Bible. I wonder why He forgot it? Oh, maybe it was because it wasn’t His idea. Meaning, it’s just a good idea, nifty, even God ordained for it’s purpose — but not a magic marriage potion that’s sure to save this abusive marriage, so you just have to do this program! I would dare to say having an attitude that the 40-day love dare is all that fantastic is, in fact, idolatry. Yes, that’s what I said – I didn’t stutter.

Oh, you say, it’s not really a magic marriage potion? (Because, really, we wouldn’t idolize a man-made program. Horrors!) Then why are Christians and churches pressuring people in abusive marriages to do the program to save their marriages, and why are victims who resist this idea being treated with contempt? Because that is what is happening.

When the church pressures the victim in an abusive marriage to complete programs such as the 40-day love dare (and there are others), what they do not realize is they are not only giving the abuser a weapon to further abuse his spouse. The church or pastor or Christian friend has become an abuser, too.

If you can, visualize the life of this victim. For the sake of simplicity I’ll use the feminine gender, though we know it can be either gender. Her daily life is one where she is being lashed constantly by the words and actions of her spouse. Then when she reaches out to her church for help, her church says, “Oh we are sooooo sorry you are going through this! We care so much! Here, let me hand your abuser another whip. Now, here’s how you use it… Reach up really high like this, and swing…”

And the church thinks it is helping.

Please, please, please hear me say – this is not helpful.

An abuser must stop looking at his marriage. The problem is within himself. It is not his marriage. It is only within himself.

While the 40-day love dare does place the burden on the one spouse to unconditionally love his spouse, the greater purpose is to save his marriage. An abuser perceives that entirely within the context of a manipulation tool. It is a recipe. He follows the formula and he gets a big payoff. He manipulates his wife into believing he has changed. He manipulates the church into believing he has changed. He manipulates his wife into staying in the marriage. He manipulates the church onto his “side” in any further disagreement – look at how hard he has tried!

As long as the church will help him achieve his ends, the abuser will use the church as one of his tools to abuse his wife. The church must decide to take itself out of the abuser’s toolbox. One of the ways the church is being used as a manipulative tool by abusers is through marriage programs like this, and through Christian marriage counseling – when abusers need to be held to the fire of individual counseling.

What Would Your Church Do?

If you’re a Christian in trouble, who do you reach out to for help? Your church, of course.

Reporter Liz Hayes recently shared the story of “Elizabeth” who did just that after her husband attacked her, throwing her onto the bed so hard her head hit the wall and then proceeding to beat her with his fists. When she screamed for her daughter to call 911, her husband ran to the base and unplugged the phone. She persisted in contacting the authorities and her husband was arrested.

Do you think your church would have reached out to “Elizabeth” with help and encouragement?

Really?

Elizabeth’s church has asked her, “Are you sure he hit you?” (Well, let me think, maybe those weren’t his fists after all. Exactly how can one make a mistake about that?) They have, in fact, persisted in not believing her in spite of the fact that her husband has pleaded guilty to battery and been sentenced to one year of probation and counseling. They have persisted in their disbelief in spite of the fact that she has to have on-going physical therapy as a result of the severity of her injuries (are you sure he hit you?)

Elizabeth has lost her friends, her church and her position. Because she reached out to her church for help in her time of trouble. And because her husband – was a deacon.

Do you think your church would do better? It might be interesting to see if there is a way you can actually find out – for real, not by asking a transparently hypothetical question to which any pastor will give you the answer you want to hear.

Ironically, churches will have hearts of gold when they are focused on “the lost” or the poor and needy outside their doors, but when it comes to people they know inside their doors, they shut down if they have to see one of their own as a perpetrator. They just can’t make that leap, so they leave the poor and needy inside their doors wounded, battered and dying -passing by on the other side, leaving her half dead (Luke 10:30-32).

Not Under Bondage – THE BOOK on Divorce and Abuse

Finally, there is a book which takes an in-depth look at what the Bible says about divorce and remarriage, especially asking the question, “what about abuse?” Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery & Desertion is the book I desperately wanted to find during 13 years on my face with God in my own marriage and would have written myself – but, thank God, He had someone else do it faster!

Barbara Roberts has written a very readable text for those who are facing their own troubled situation. She writes from a position of understanding, having walked through an abusive marriage herself. However, she also writes from a position of uncompromising scholarly detail, which the analyst in me demands. This is exactly what I wanted in a book on this subject – both understanding of the real issues of abuse and exacting theological and historical examination of Scripture.

Not Under Bondage, by Barbara Roberts, is a must-read for everyone who is in an abusive marriage, has a family member in a troubled marriage, is a Christian counselor, or a pastor. It should be in every church library.

As I can, I will be incorporating information from Barbara’s book into this site with links back to her ordering page (with her permission, of course). She has written so much about which I had already jotted pages of notes to write “some day” when I had time! Now it’s done, printed and available for everyone, courtesy of Barbara. I’m so grateful!