Have you ever stopped to ponder that in many Christian circles men and women are told in premarital counseling that they are entering an adversarial relationship? They are. It is very common and I believe it causes many problems down the road.
In Christian premarital counseling, a woman is instructed that part of the curse is that she will want to usurp her husband’s authority. She is told she will instinctively want to take over and that’s just wrong if she wants to be a godly wife who pleases God and her husband. She must be very careful to not overstep her bounds and infringe on the man’s leadership. She must submit in all things. Because she is a wicked woman bearing the curse of Eve, she must expect that she will be a usurper. She won’t be able to help herself.
The man is told his wife will try to “take over” and dominate him. He has to be on his guard that he doesn’t abdicate his leadership or let his wife lead. He must be vigilant that he’s in charge and she is properly submitting. If she isn’t submitting, it is his job to make sure she does. She is, in one sense, his potential enemy. The man must always be aware that his wife, his adversary, will be instinctively trying to take his place because women basically can’t help themselves.
So we see a woman going into marriage who has been made thoroughly afraid that she will try to take over. And we have a man going into marriage who has been told his wife is his adversary and that she’ll try to take over his role.
Is there any other relationship in the Bible where believers are told to expect to become adversaries? Even more than that, they are encouraged that this adversarial relationship is proof of biblical teaching.
Would you join a church that promoted adversarial relationships among its members? Of course not! We are called to live at peace with one another, encourage one another, build each other up, serve each other, etc.
Why in the world do we tell engaged couples that they can expect to be adversaries?
How can this possibly be promoted as biblical?
“Is there any other relationship in the Bible where believers are told to expect to become adversaries? Even more than that, they are encouraged that this adversarial relationship is proof of biblical teaching!”
I would argue that not only are men and women told to expect power struggles in their marriages, they are also told to expect adversarial relationships with their children. Books like “To Train up a Child”, “Shepherding a Child’s Heart”, and “Babywise” have all been promoted in christendom. They all teach (in one way or another) that children are tiny dictators, manipulative little sinners whose very cries are attempts to control their parents. Coupled with doctrines like total depravity, which teaches that babies are born wicked and in need of pain to drive the wickedness out of them, it’s a recipe for destructive parenting absolutely lacking in grace or mercy.
Searching – Yes, you are exactly right. There is quite a bit of Christian parenting literature that paints the child as a nasty little manipulator who must be conquered and made to obey no matter what.
It breaks my heart.
I think the teaching and has great potential for making each other suspicious of otherwise benign motives and for causing doubt about or complete disregard for natural gifts and predispositions, informed perspectives, and/or experiences which do not promote an emotionally, spiritually healthy relationship.
I think there are parellels between the two schools of thought – women must submit, and children must obey, no matter what – that left unchecked, easily devolve into situations of terrible abuses of all kinds.
I believe that such thinking can turn otherwise normal and good-natured people into evil, heartless dictators. The reason? A blatant lack of love, grace, or mercy.
“Woman, you must submit!” Even if your husband is an adulterous, abusive monster.
“Child, you must obey!” Even if your parents are abusive, manipulative, evil people.
I have seen this played out over and over in my lifetime, in the lives of people near and dear to me, and also people I was not very close to but who were still part of the circle of family and friends I grew up in.
Full disclosure: My husband and I are egalitarian. We didn’t even know that word when we were first married, it was just how our relationship was. During our marriage counselling, I was told that I “Must” submit to my husband, or our marriage would be in jeopardy for the rest of our days. My wants, needs, desires were irrelevant next to my obligation to submit “entirely” to my husband’s will. It is humourous to me now, looking back on my pre-marital counselling.. the pastor didn’t even attempt to get to know us and how our relationship worked, he just preached what our relationship was “supposed” to be in order to “honour God”.
My relationship with my husband began as a solid friendship, and was rooted in a mutually supportive and respecting co-working relationship (we met at our workplace). We have always worked with each other, both literally and figuratively. It would go against my husband’s gentle nature to lord his will over me, just because he is the male. There have been times where we have disagreed, sometimes over important issues, but instead of ending it with the “I’m the man” trump card, my husband strove to understand my side of things and at times, let me ‘win’ the fight. Some of the time, I have ended up changing my mind about an issue, other times, he changes his mind. It’s never due to a “you must submit” trump card.
I also can’t understand the teaching that is preached and pounded over and over and over, that men “need” respect and women “need” love. Perhaps I am the only one, but as a woman, I want to be respected and loved, not either or. My husband wants me to love him, and respect him. It’s never either/or for us, but for many people who teach and preach complementarian theory, it is. Black-and-white, either/or, cookie cutter… all men the same, all women the same, all the time. How dreadfully boring, how terribly stifling.
Good thoughts here Sallie. My spouse and I have what we consider an egalitarian marriage. We are a team. Who “leads” depends on our gifts, talents, and expertise. We actually agree on most things most of the time. But if there is a disagreement, it is usually pretty easy for one of us to concede to the other because we value and trust each others strengths. We’ve been married over 20 yrs and this approach has served us well.
Laura M said:
I completely agree. I never understand the “final say” or “trump card” argument. You’re telling me that two adults who loved and respected each other enough to commit to each other before God for life can’t figure out how to make a decision together? Value and trust should really make the “final say” argument a moot point.