BALTIMORE—For more than a week, Ria Ramkissoon watched passively as her 1-year-old son wasted away, denied food and water because the older woman she lived with said it was God's will.
Javon Thompson was possessed by an evil spirit, Ramkissoon was told, because he didn't say "Amen" during a mealtime prayer. Javon didn't talk much, given his age, but he had said "Amen" before, Ramkissoon testified.
~From Monterey County, CA, The Herald 2-24-2010
Although Ria Ramkissoon in the story above was submitting to and obeying a cult leader, marriages where both spouses belong to the same church, and the entire denomination pushes husband authority, and when both husband and wife repeatedly hear teaching that not only grants authority to the husband, but also demands that he wield that authority (some say by force if necessary,) they could easily wind up in the same tragedy that the Ramkissoon family did.
Submission Tyranny kills. When anyone is told they have the right to absolute rule, except for orders that are “clearly sin,” (From John Piper's answer session on “How to submit to your husband when he is abusive,") the stage is set for tragedy. Those teaching this rule apparently have little to no understanding of how domestic violence works, or of its effect on the one(s) who are ruled.
First, the ruler starts with a belief that he has the right to control his wife, and the wife, also believing he has that right, bows herself to that rule and tries her best to subject herself to her husband—no matter what.
Next the ruler-husband imposes rules that are just at the edge of nonsensical, and his partner yields to him, even though those rules do not seem right to her. After all, she has been commanded from the pulpit to submit to her husband in everything, whether or not she agrees with him.
After he has gained that ground, the ruler-husband revels in his power for a time, but soon his sense of supreme power wears off and he goes for another fix. He tries something reasonable, and his wife doesn't protest at that. So he increases the demand to something more ridiculous than his previous nonsensical demand. His wife reasons with him, and he tells her she must submit. She again insists that what he is demanding is over the top, and he tells her if she does not do as he says, she is rebelling against God, which is as the sin of witchcraft, and it is clear that all witches go to hell. So the humiliated wife yields to a demand that feels totally wrong to her, but which she is unable to categorize as sin.
This pattern continues, with the ruler-husband's demands increasingly becoming more and more absurd, and the wife feeling she has no recourse but to do as he says. After all, is sending their son to bed without supper, because he left a sock on the floor, sin? Is it sin to yield to her ruler-husband's demand that she act out the porn he has been watching? It isn't adultery—exactly--so it must be ok, even if she cries herself to sleep afterward, and continues to feel awful days later. Is it sin to throw out a complete setting of dishes for eight because her ruler-husband declares she must because a plate got a chip? The Bible doesn't address that directly, but it feels so wrong she asks their pastor about it. He tells her to submit to her husband, so she puts the whole set in the garbage, even though she really likes the design and it feels all wrong to her.
One day their son leaves his tricycle outside overnight, and her ruler-husband commands that the son is to go without food all day. The wife doesn't feel right about this, but she has already asked the pastor about things she feels are wrong, and the pastor supported her husband. She doesn't want to embarrass herself again. So she obediently keeps food from her son for that day. She gets more and more uneasy as her husband continues to demand that their son be punished for his neglect of his tricycle, but she is so deep into subjection, that she is unable to discern at what point her ruler-husband's demands become sin. Is there anything in the Bible about it being sin to make a child skip meals? She doesn't know, and she can't think straight; the issue is so worrisome. She cannot ask their pastor, and by now she is afraid the state would charge her with child neglect. But she cannot see her way clear to disobeying her husband, either. She knows from earlier times how he will rant, throw things at her, and possibly beat her. And their pastor will say it was her fault for not submitting. So she looks on in horror as her son fades to skin and bones and then dies. Later, as she looks back, she still cannot determine at what point she should have stood up to her ruler-husband and risked the lives of the whole family when that provoked him to rage.
Complementarians seem to think that this scenario is impossible in Christian settings. I want to go on record telling them it is very possible. I, personally, did many things I should never have done, because I was taught that is what a wife is required to do. I, personally, was unable to think straight, went to the pastor for help, and was advised to submit to my ruler-husband.
I am not proud of these things. Although the Bible is not specific about those individual demands, they violated scriptural principles. It wasn't until I separated from my ruler-husband and his over-powering ways that I began to be able to reason correctly, and to know for certain that the feeling that those things were wrong, was correct.
Wives submit to your own husbands is not a command that overrides all other biblical commands. We are also commanded to be good stewards, to behave in loving ways toward others, to bind up the broken-hearted (rather than help a ruler-husband oppress the broken-hearted), to obey the laws of our land (as long as we are not disobeying God).
Frankly, John Piper is wrong. Wives must obey God rather than man. And the demands of the ruler-husband does not need to be “clearly sin” for them to be wrong in the eyes of God. Sin is not limited to sexual sin, nor to what Piper thinks are obvious and gross sin. “Little” sins, like “verbal unkindness” are just as much sin as things that are “clearly sin.” In fact, the “verbal unkindness” of abusive ruler-husbands is aimed at getting the wife to agree she is worthless and inferior. If the wife agrees with that, she is also sinning. Indeed, the belief that they are inferior and worthless is a hallmark of abused wives.
Not only is husband authority a sin that leads to death, it is also a sin that FORCES the wife to sin in spite of her best intentions and efforts to remain righteousness. It is sin that is CAUSED by subjection to her ruler-husband.
Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge," a novel about a wife who discovers traditional marriage advice doesn't always work. See www.wanetadawn.com