I came across a rather useful proverb on Twitter recently: “Anytime someone makes a statement no one disagrees with, you immediately know they’re actually saying something else.” It certainly came to mind as I read a blog post on submission in marriage by Keith Gregoire (husband to popular teacher Sheila Gregoire.) In it, he makes quite a show of boldly defending ground that no one is contesting:
Allowing your spouse to influence you and sharing power with your wife clearly leads to healthy marriages, but a marriage based around a husband making all the decisions without allowing his wife to influence him has an 81% failure rate.
So in short, actually listening to your wife and caring about her input enough to be influenced as you go through life together is actually a good idea that makes your marriage healthier. Well, I think we can all agree on that one. As controversial statements go, that falls somewhere between “water is wet” and “Iowa winters can be pretty cold.” Is anyone saying otherwise? Sure, the world is a big place and through the power of the internet, you can find a person who believes just about anything, but is there any significant opposition? Gregoire seems to think so:
In many parts of the Christian church, however, there is this very unhealthy philosophy that the man needs to make ALL the decisions and that the wife’s entire role is just to go along with it. To hear them talk they make it sound like a husband making a unilateral decision which the wife instantly submits to unconditionally is a more godly approach than having a mutually respectful discussion about the issue.
And along with this teaching comes the concept that the wife has no right to question the husband’s decision or to confront him if he is taking the family in a dangerous or unhealthy direction! I have actually heard teaching that if a woman were to confront her husband about a sin issue in his life, she would be herself sinning by treating him disrespectfully, so she dare not do so.
So where exactly are the many parts of the Church in which I can find teachings like this? Who exactly is he contending against? I ask because I’ve written quite a bit about Biblical submission over the years, and I think it’s fair to say that most American Christians today would consider me an extremist on the issue. Nevertheless, I’ve plainly written in support of Gregoire’s (obvious) contention that husbands should seek their wives’ input and consider it well as they lead their households. Neither have I encountered objections to it in any of the other extremists I’ve read on the subject. To be sure, there are times when a husband must resist his wife’s influence–wives aren’t any more sinless than husbands are. Nevertheless, this parody of submission that Gregoire describes as a “100-percent husband controlled marriage” is completely alien to me.
The only source he specifically mentions is Emmerson Eggerichs’ book Love & Respect. And apparently Gregoire and his wife have made it their mission to make sure everyone knows it’s “toxic.” So perhaps this post is part of their feud with Eggerichs and he’s the one forbidding husbands from allowing their wives to influence them? I haven’t read the book, so I cannot comment on its contents. However, it only took a few minutes of browsing his website to find pretty clear evidence that he’s not proclaiming a “100-percent husband-controlled marriage.” This post, for example, pretty strongly echoes Gregoire’s own (thus far uncontested) view. Accordingly, I’m rather dubious that Eggerichs is actually teaching what Gregoire describes.
So what’s Gregoire really saying here with this contention that basically nobody disagrees with? The answer can be found by analyzing his deceptive rhetoric.
The first deception, of course, is the blatant straw man that we’ve already described: this curious view that’s supposedly in many parts of the church but of which he has not named a real example. Again, I haven’t read Eggerichs’ book, but it’s pretty clear he teaches some form of submission of wives to husbands that Gregoire opposes but which nevertheless doesn’t really fall into the absurd category he creates. It’s also pretty clear that the Gregoires are from the teaching-submission-primes-women-for-abuse school of thought. It’s hard not to conclude that he’s falsely painting those who hold to the Biblical teaching as promoting his no-influence, husband-dominated marriages in an attempt to scare people away from it.
The second deception is the old “that’s just your interpretation” canard. He writes:
The idea they put forward is that their position is “the Biblical position” and everyone else is a compromiser following the “way of the world” or “man’s teaching rather than God’s.” This is a complete misrepresentation of the facts. What they are espousing is an interpretation of God’s word, not God’s word itself, but they phrase their arguments to suggest that if you disagree with them you are disagreeing with God.
From there, he goes on to recount the mostly-false story of Galileo being persecuted by the Church for teaching heliocentrism–a fable he’s apparently swallowed hook, line, and sinker.
I’ve written about this kind of “interpretation” deceit before at length, but the gist is this: Interpretation is not some kind of barrier between us and a text; its simply part of the substance of reading it. You can speak about the grammatical ambiguity of a text. You can speak about the poor reading comprehension of an individual or a community. But once you begin speaking of “interpretation” as a thing distinct from both text and reader which prevents anyone from actually reaching the text itself, then you’ve missed the mark.
People use this deception because it allows them to cast doubt on someone presenting the substance of a text without doing the hard work of actually making an argument against him. Inasmuch as a teacher’s reading comprehension of the Bible is accurate, then he is indeed teaching God’s Word. If you want to contend that it’s not accurate, then you actually have to explain from the text where his errors lie. And to be sure, we frequently need to do just that because, as Christ warned us, false teachers abound and lead many astray. Nevertheless, intellectually honest people don’t just label a view they disagree with as an “interpretation” and use that to casually dismiss it. Neither do intellectually honest people present a fable about some other time Christians have been wrong as though that somehow seals the deal. Merely presenting the possibility of error does not mean an error therefore must exist.
The third and final deception is a ubiquitous one when feminism intersects with Scripture: the conflation of power with authority. Like the critical theory which spawned it, feminism has no room in its worldview for things like ordinance or authority. Instead, it reduces all such things to disparities in power between men and women. As Gloria Steinem once put it, “Feminism starts out being very simple. It starts out being the instinct of a little child who says ‘it’s not fair’ and ‘you are not the boss of me,’ and it ends up being a worldview that questions hierarchy altogether.”
You can see this one at work in all the times Gregoire speaks of the importance of “power sharing.” You see, in the feminist mindset, all abuse must proceed from a power differential. After all, while it’s far more sensible to characterize abuse as the misuse of authority against its inherent responsibilities, feminists are effectively color-blind to authority and only see power in its place. Therefore, the feminist solution to any abuse must be to rebalance power between men and women in some manner. Accordingly, when this faulty reasoning is applied to Biblical submission in marriage, it can only conclude that wives should be wary about submitting too much lest they invite abuse by relinquishing power in the relationship. After all, relative power between two people is always a zero-sum game–one person’s gain must be another person’s loss.
This is why every feminist representation of Biblical submission is ultimately a misrepresentation. Rather than the stark black-and-white world of power, God gives a husband authority over his wife, which is a far richer and more colorful concept to work with. Unlike power, authority is always accompanied by responsibility and entitlement (and you can see that right in Ephesians 5 where husbands are instructed to self-sacrificially love their wives alongside wives’ instruction to submit.) So while any authority can be abused, every God-given authority is ordained for the good of those in its care. So teaching Biblical submission is categorically not teaching abuse because that Biblical teaching always includes the loving responsibilities for which the authority is ordained. Can the authority be misused? Of course. But if you intend to take away everything good that might be abused, your only recourse is to reduce creation to dust. After all, in our sinfulness, we can abuse every good gift that God provides.
Another key difference is that unlike power, authority is not a zero-sum game. Husbands absolutely do share authority with their wives in healthy marriages, but they do so by means of delegation. Again, this is inherent in God’s design of marriage in the first place. He created Eve to be a helpmeet for Adam as he reigned over creation. It would be awfully hard for Eve to help Adam without being given any kind of responsibilities, and she could not have been given any responsibilities without also being given the authority to carry them out. Neither could she be of much help if Adam never cared about her insights into those responsibilities. But Eve’s authority would have remained Adam’s, just as Adam’s would have remained God’s, for God is the one who told them to have dominion over the Earth. God does not lose his authority when he delegates to parents, to husbands, to civil government, and so forth. Neither do husbands lose authority when they delegate to their wives. Neither do wives lose their authority when it comes from God through their husbands.
Understanding submission in terms of authority rather than power actually defuses the selfish contention for power that characterizes so many marriages. Indeed, this is precisely what God warns Eve of when he tells her that her desire shall be for her husband but that he shall rule over him (the language for Eve desiring her husband there is the same used later on when God warns Cain that sin desires him). Whereas feminism breeds nothing but resentment because every gift by which her family gains is necessarily a woman’s loss, Biblical submission makes marital love and unity possible.
Submission is a tremendous blessing and a glorious picture of Christ and his Church. Shame on those who obscure God’s beneficence and portray it as evil–a group that includes both those abusers who do so by example and those teachers who deceitfully characterize Biblical submission as a curse. Trading Biblical marriage for a feminist counterfeit is truly selling one’s birthright for a bowl of pottage.