Thursday, March 24, 2011

Husband, father, shepherd--Wife, Nanny, Stupid Sheep

The Photo on the front of the March 2011 American Family Association Journal at first glance looks like a warm and loving husband and father who has his arms around his family. Upon closer study, though, something looks dreadfully wrong. The wife is standing there like a dutiful daughter; passive, obedient, and without parental authority herself.

I begin to wonder what her life is like. Does her husband override her authority when she tells her sons to pick up their things and put them away? Does she have any authority at all when she home schools them? Is her situation like that of an elder daughter—carrying heavy responsibility, but denied the authority to make sure her charges respect her?

And where does shepherd come in? Is her husband her pastor or priest? And she's expected to sleep with him?? If he's her shepherd, she's his fleeced ewe. So his relationship toward his wife is that he has all authority, he is her employer, her parent, and as her pastor/priest he has the right to speak for God, making any demands of her that he chooses--as long as he says God says so--which makes her a stupid sheep.

The stories of several women come to mind. Their husbands insisted on their right to undermine and over-ride what their wives asked of the children, and wanted for their homes. Their homes were chaotic as a result. Father was the all-powerful one. As soon as the wives found a way to be effective in spite of their husbands, the husbands would look for another way to undermine the wives. This picture looks like that. All powerful husband. Obedient daughter-wife, obedient sons. But since they are sons who will one day be the authority figures, they are not curbed as completely as their mother is, nor as any sisters would be.

Why doesn't the wife in the picture have her arm around the boys? Is it some lack in her? Do the boys allow Dad to hug them, but not Mom? Notice that they have their arms around each other. For a picture like this, wouldn't Mom automatically put her arms around her family, too? I'm guessing she would, but she's not allowed to. This agrees with complementarian teaching: wives are to receive and respond, not initiate or share authority with their husbands. Indeed, in this photo it looks like the sons have more authority than their mother does!

The picture should show both Mom and Dad as the adult parents with their arms around one another and around their children. Ephesians 6:1 says “Children obey your parents” not “children obey your fathers.” The Bible says wives and husbands, male and female are equal. Wives are not to be the obedient daughters of their husbands, nor are they to serve as child-like prostitutes. Nor are they the nannies, hired hands, or any other designation that requires them to hold less power and authority than their husbands do. I Timothy 5:14 when translated correctly, says wives are to be the heads of, rulers of their households.

Ephesians 5:21 tells everyone who is a part of Christ's bride to submit to one another. There is no exception clause for husbands. Nor is there an especially clause for wives.

Yet complementarians read Ephesians 5:21-22 as if it says “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God, especially wives to your own husbands. For the husband has authority over the wife, even as Christ has authority over the church.”

Because of this emphasis, they totally miss the deep message in those verses to husbands. Until they accept that Ephesians 5:21 is not a 90% to 10% with wives doing the majority of the submitting, nor a 80-20, 70-30, or 60-40 submission, they will never comprehend the depth of love and sacrifice taught to husbands in Ephesians 5:25-29. It is when husbands practice that total love and sacrifice for their wives, that Christ's love and sacrifice for humans is experienced and understood on a profoundly deep level. When the church "gets" the preciousness of what Christ did for his Bride, and what He continues to do for his Bride, the church becomes an effective living and loving testimony to the world.

But when husbands claim to have a God-decreed right to boss and take authority over their wives, the church loses her testimony, the prayers of husbands are hindered, the world is turned off to the message of Christ, and Christianity becomes as disdained as radical Islam.

Even if a husband puts on a show of love, as long as he sees himself as superior to his wife, as having more authority and/or importance than she does, his love is not the real thing. It is but a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. A person with real love does not vaunt himself nor puff himself up, nor does he claim he believes husbands and wives are equal, when he practices his authority and demands that she obey him. Indeed, the first item in the Philippians 4:8 list is truth. Until authority-hungry husbands acknowledge the truth, that they think male is superior to female, husband is superior to wife, the fulness of the gospel message will never reach their hearts.

When they acknowledge the truth and accept the role of love and sacrifice that God has commanded to them, then they will no longer think of their wives as Nanny, subject, and Ewe to fleece, but will instead think of their wives as loving companions, confidantes, advisors, best friends, and co-rulers over their households.

Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel" See A Mennonite woman fights to save her family yet keep her faith.