2 Cor 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.
Recently, I spoke with a woman who said the man she married changed radically after the wedding ceremony. Before the ceremony he was kind, courteous, respectful. But after the wedding, he became someone she didn’t know: he became her boss. Other women have also complained of the same phenomenon. One woman said it is as if a man goes through brain surgery during the wedding. His kind, loving, personality is exchanged for a nasty, domineering one. He is a “new creature” alright, but not one that matches any “new creature” list in the Bible. Instead, his behavior can be found in the “old man” list.
Season 7, episode 20 of The Waltons, entitled “The Outsider” shows what happens. Ben is dating Cindy, and is such a kind and loving gentleman that she wants to marry him. Within 24 hours after the wedding, Cindy is crying because Ben has chewed her out and told her how things shall be. A conversation between Ben and his dad tells us what is going on.
Dad: I’m not sure you know what a serious business marriage is.
Ben: Cindy and I are going to work at it same as you and Mama.
Dad: It’s not easy.
Ben: It’s worked for over 25 years for you, hasn’t it? You’ve made the final decisions around here; that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
Ben has just described what so many men believe when they marry. They are confident the marriage will work because they are THE MAN, and they will make the final decisions. They will have the authority, and their wife will both listen to them and obey them. There! All they have to do is follow the husband-is-the-authority formula and all will be well. They will be ecstatically happy, and their wife will be, too.
But it doesn’t work that way. For some reason their wife cries--especially if she yields to her domineering husband--or she shuts him out of the bedroom or even out of the house, and stops listening and obeying. The husband doesn't have a clue why HIS marriage is not working.
Ben’s dad gives us a clue, though. He says to his daughter Mary Ellen:
“Ben’s not the easiest person to live with. He seems to think that being a man means being the boss.”
Husband authority is the very thing complementarians teach. Have you ever noticed how many complementarian marriage books are on the market claiming to be the solution for marriages? Yet wives are miserable. (Jocelyn Anderson in “Woman this is War” notes in chapter 2 that both Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Betty Friedan have said that women are miserable and frustrated.) Complementarian marriage books tell wives it is their rebellion that makes them miserable. So Christian wives dutifully try to submit even though they know their husbands are wrong, and it makes them even more miserable. Some wives cry themselves to sleep most nights and read more complementarian marriage books, looking for that elusive solution. And wouldn't you know it, complementarian authors came up with the answer. Manuals now tell wives the solution is to submit JOYFULLY. YES! If a wife doesn’t JUST submit, but submits JOYFULLY, her misery will be gone. But is it? Or is she just trying to fool herself? Trying to deceive herself? Woman after woman wakes up after years of allowing herself to be deceived into “joyful submission,” and finds herself more miserable and more down-trodden than she was before.
Take another peek into the Walton household. Ben tells Cindy he’s going to take her out for supper and a movie, so Cindy goes to clean herself up. She hasn’t put it together that the Waltons have only one bathroom, and that family members must keep their time in the bathroom short. While she leisurely bathes, four siblings are waiting their turn for the bathroom. Her new husband shows up and orders her to hurry up. She protests that she had to wait to use the bathroom, too, and he increases the volume and the pressure. She quickly ends her bath, and Ben keeps shouting at her while she dries herself. She tells him to stop yelling at her, but he just yells even more. When she opens the door, she apologizes to the family, saying she didn’t realize the situation. Ben then scolds her in front of his siblings, even though she has already apologized. She hurries away, and Ben tells his siblings it won’t happen again.
Ben’s siblings tell him he was being too harsh, that Cindy is trying her best. Ben yells:
“Will you keep out of it? She’s MY wife. What goes on between us is my business, not yours.”
Like Ben demonstrates, these are the typical beliefs of controlling husbands: 1. that their wives are their property, 2.) that they can treat their wives however they choose, and 3.) that how they treat their wives is nobody else’s business.
All three of these beliefs are false. We are all accountable to God and to one another, we cannot treat others however shabbily we choose, and no one is our property. Children are given to us on loan from God, to be prepared for life in a responsible and loving way, and spouses are also on loan from God, to be companions for the ups and downs of life. But those spouses are not ours to mistreat, to take advantage of, or to dominate. They are ours to respect as joint heirs with Christ, with value that is higher than ours, (In lowliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves." Phil 2:3) and with specific calling to serve as the Spirit of God calls, not according to our desires or beliefs. The calling of God doesn’t give anyone permission to ride roughshod over their mate. It doesn’t require the mate to do anything they don’t feel right doing, not even in the name of submission.
In the Walton house, Ben doesn’t follow these rules, and Cindy stops listening to him, kicks him out of the house, and tells him she’s leaving him. She refuses to consider giving him another chance.
Ben yells at her: Cindy! You’re my WIFE!
Cindy hollers back: No I’m not. I’m just somebody for you to order around.
Has Cindy hit the nail on the head? When a husband dominates his wife, are they really two who have become one flesh? If her half of the input is cut off, do they have a marriage? Doesn’t marriage require TWO people melding together into one, instead of one person taking over the other and erasing her as if he were a victor of war? Is the woman really a wife when her personhood has been erased, or when the husband has attempted to erase her? If a wife has been erased by her husband and she is a non-person by reason of stolen influence, can anyone claim God has joined them together? Is it possible to join together 1 person and a nobody, a ruler & a person who is usually overruled, making her a person of no significance? This is the definition of a hostile take-over, not a marriage. And what if the wife "rebels" or refuses to become a prisoner of war, a piece of chattel?
Ben confides to his dad: She won’t listen…Aren’t I supposed to (be the boss)? Aren’t I the man of the family, just like you are?
Dad replies: There are all kinds of ways to be a man. Listening to others is one of them.
Here Ben reveals that he has seen a pattern in his parent’s marriage. Dad usually tells Mom how things shall be, and Mom usually yields. Nothing is said about this doctrine being taught in church, but since Mom and the children are Baptists, (while Dad doesn’t go to church) it is likely they do hear that doctrine from the pulpit. Ben seems not to have noticed that Dad listens to Mom and to the children and frequently respects their wishes. Dad usually gets all the facts from the children and/or from Mom before he issues an order. Ben seems not to have noticed that at times Mom does the opposite of what Dad said, or that Dad highly respects Mom.
Why did Ben miss all these details? Could it be the church’s doctrinal emphasis, that every dad he knows orders his wife around and every wife he knows obeys, and that the most usual pattern in his parents’ marriage is that Mom mostly does what Dad says, while Dad seldom does what Mom says, with the exception of coming to eat? These are the very reasons young men begin their marriages expecting to be the “loving” bosses of their wives. They scold and chew out their wives for minor imperfections. Like Ben, they associate manliness with bossiness and with being in charge and in control of their wives.
Dad tells Ben of the thing he hasn’t noticed: that Dad does listen to and respect his wife. (perhaps because he doesn't go to church?) He urges Ben to listen to his grandma. Ben acts taken down a few notches as he follows his grandma back to his wife.
Cindy lets Grandma in the house and tells her:
"He won’t listen to me. He’s just like my father, loud and bossy."
Grandma hands Cindy a broom and tells Cindy to do the talking, implying Ben should do the listening. Cindy pokes Ben with the bristle end of the broom and says:
“‘God bless OUR house,’ that’s what Grandma’s sampler says. It can’t be ours unless you let me make it mine, too.”
Those words finally hit home with Ben. He realizes that he has been making it HIS house, instead of both of theirs. He also realizes he has been hurting his wife by excluding her from the decision-making. He does apologize, the two make up, and thereafter they have a respectful and loving marriage where Ben values Cindy for who she is, and stops forcing her into being an extension of himself.
That broom helped Ben become a “new creature.” The narrator says that broom always had a place in a corner of the kitchen, implying that from time to time Ben may have needed help from Cindy and her broom to return to his “new creature” status and shed the “old man.”
Isn't it time complementarians stop urging husbands to put on "old man" behavior and to instead put on "new creature" behavior of love, respect, not-lording-it-over, treating their wives as they would like to be treated? This means wives should be allowed to define who they really are and behave accordingly, instead of acting out some role prescribed for them by their husbands and the church hierarchy.
It is time to teach husbands to be "new creatures" instead of acting like the "old man" Adam, who ruled over his wife.
Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel" See www.wanetadawn.com A Mennonite woman fights to save her family yet keep her faith.