Whatsoever things are true,
whatsoever things are honest,
whatsoever things are just
….think on these things.
With their story, the writers of Fireproof teach that when a man is saved and gives his heart to the Lord, he will stop being selfish and nasty to his wife and will genuinely love her instead. Yet many “saved” husbands, who make a profession of faith, are just as selfish and abusive as Caleb, the man in the movie. How Caleb responded after becoming a Christian is opposite of how real-life abusers usually react to becoming Christians or to rededicating their hearts to the Lord. And here is where the church is culpable.
If an abuser-turned-to-Jesus read Ephesians 5 on his own, it is possible the Holy Spirit would convict him to love his wife self-sacrificially. But both historically and currently church males have pulled one phrase out of Ephesians 5—“Wives submit to your own husbands as to the Lord”—and in their hearts deleted the rest of Ephesians 4 and 5 so they could emphasize wife submission.
On top of that they conclude that the Bible’s statement that the husband is the head of his wife, means he is her authority and leader or ruler, even though Ephesians 5 tells a husband he is to be his wife’s loving, self-sacrificial servant, like Christ is to the church. The abuser who dedicates his life to the Lord, therefore, by his association with the church, gains ammunition, which he considers to be the command of God, to use against his wife. In this way, he adds spiritual abuse to his arsenal of control tactics. And he does it with the church’s blessing.
Although the Love Dare works with abusive Caleb in a fiction (fantasy) movie, would it work with real life abusive husbands? I doubt it. A real-life Caleb is very unlikely to try the Love Dare unless he is desperate to keep his wife from divorcing him, so church folk push ABUSED WIVES to apply the Love Dare. This invariably gives the abusive husband more power to destroy his wife and requires the wife to yield more of herself and her wishes—including her dignity and what is reasonable, which further destroys the wife and children, and harms the husband.
When abusers do get desperate enough to use the Love Dare, they use it as a tool—a manipulation—to gain control of their wives. Most of them are so used to getting immediate gratification that they have no patience with the Love Dare, and give up in the first week or two, as Caleb wanted to do. Because Caleb was urged to keep at it, and also told he was at the hardest part and that he was doing just enough to get by, he stuck with it, more to prove himself to his dad, than because he loved his wife.
If they do stick with it, abusive husbands do it with the intent of appearing to change for awhile in order to manipulate others into giving them what they want. After they succeed, (in Caleb’s case, he wanted his wife to drop the divorce proceedings), they return to the previous demanding, selfish, nasty and abusive behavior—often within six months.
So what will happen with Caleb and his wife? Caleb will go to church and hear that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it. But for every time he hears that, he will hear that wives are to submit to their husbands at least twice if not thrice as often. He will hear church people condemn wives whose husbands are nasty to them, saying or implying "If she would submit, he wouldn't abuse."
Depending on which church he chooses, he will hear that he is to be his wife’s authority. With Caleb’s previous thinking that stemmed from his belief that the purpose of having a wife is to have someone who will set her own needs aside and focus her attention on helping him get what he wants, it would be the most natural thing in the world for Caleb to place emphasis on wife submission, and return to his previous nasty behavior. Except this time he has more ammunition, given to him by none other than the church. That would be the end of his self-sacrificial love for his wife.
He may stop beating up the garbage can and screaming in his wife’s face. Why? He would not need to. All he would have to do is take her to a church that emphasizes wife submission and husband authority, and he’d have the equivalent of the pastor and the whole congregation screaming in her face that she MUST submit.
Although the Love Dare may work in marriages where the couple has grown cold or grown apart, it is very unlikely to work in the long term in a marriage where the husband abuses his wife. Because the church does not emphasize “husbands submit to your wives,” it is possible the Love Dare would work in the long term if the WIFE was the abuser and gave her heart to the Lord.
Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel,"a story about a woman who grapples with her husband's demands that she submit--no matter what. Please visit www.wanetadawn.com