If you consider yourself a feminist, you won’t like this post. Be warned! Heck, maybe I’ll offend you if you don’t consider yourself a feminist….
My husband and I are Christians and consider marriage to be between one man and one woman; divorce is not okay except in case of adultery, and the husband is the head of the wife and loves the wife, while the wife submits to, respects, and helps the husband. Marriage is a model of Christ and His church. A friend of ours is a chaplain who is in our denomination and holds to the same basic description of marriage. He is also a kind, intelligent, passionate evangelist for Christ, and he is married to a loving, diligent, intelligent wife and mother who supports him and also loves the Lord.
However, even our friends are susceptible to the error of elevating women’s emotions to an objective, infallible guide. My husband and I were bothered by a recent Facebook exchange in which our friend appeared to us to pedestalize women. I have reproduced the post and some of the comments on it, and added my own commentary in parentheses and italics:
Original Post by the Chaplain
Translations for Married Men (Important): (The problems with this post begin here. Married men should be able to figure out what their wives are saying–or rather, an individual husband should be able to figure out what the wife to whom he is married is saying.)
Wife: I’m not doing okay.
Translation: I’m not feeling okay. (Err…more of a restatement than a translation.)
Husbands, you may see her from the outside and the work she’s doing and think she’s doing a great job. She is, but that’s not what she’s saying. She’s referring to the condition of her heart. (She is most probably referring to physical, mental, or emotional problems. Her perspective may or may not be correct on these problems.) If she says this, stop what you’re doing and clear space for a deep conversation. (Or something else, heh heh….) She might need counseling. Don’t ignore or dismiss this! (I agree that she shouldn’t be ignored or dismissed, but unfortunately the rest of the post implies that what the husband should do is to elevate his wife’s emotions to a commandment of the Lord.)
Wife: We/you need to see a counselor.
Translation: There is an issue here that we can’t change. We need help asap or our marriage will be in trouble. (My translation: I’m unhaaappy. Do what I say or the marriage gets it. Mind you, I do NOT think that my friend’s wife is about to divorce him, but it seems to me that whether or not he intends this it is what he is communicating.)
Husbands, these are not polite recommendations from overly-sensitive wives. (No, they’re commands.) Our wives are generally more emotionally intelligent than we are and can read the temperature of the marriage better than we can. (I.e., we’re more discontented. Research shows that more women than men tend to be unhappy in their marriages; to me, this does not indicate greater emotional intelligence.) If they say it’s time to see a counselor, do it without questioning. (I don’t know about this. In theory, marital counseling sounds great; in practice, I never hear about couples who go to a counselor and then come out with a stronger marriage. I’m sure it happens, but overall counseling doesn’t seem to be that effective.) Prompt action will reflect the humility and commitment necessary to sustain a marriage. (But the wife may not be correct in her ascertaining of the problem or proposed solution, in which case you might be pouring oil on a fire.)
Over the years, I’ve learned these lessons the hard way. [My wife] knows that I’ll go see a counselor if she suggests it (and we do see our counselor-pastor about once a month). Our marriage is stronger than ever, by God’s grace. (I’m glad to hear it, because I am very fond of this couple.) At the same time, I watch countless marriages fail because husbands didn’t heed their wives until it was too late (or wives simply didn’t say anything until it was too late). (Women initiate most divorces, and mostly not for Biblical reasons. It seems to me that our chaplain friend is putting the blame for this on the man–he just made his wife so unhappy that she was forced to divorce him!)
My Husband, From My Facebook Account [T]his honestly sounds more like feminism than Christianity. I can’t imagine Jesus or Paul stating “If they say it’s time to see a counselor, do it without questioning.” Nor would I expect them to exalt women over men at every point in the marriage (“she’s doing a great job, more emotionally intelligent, read the temperature of the marriage better than we can”). My expectation would be that couples who believe in the inferiority of men are not going to have good marriages, with or without counseling, because it sets up a scenario where wives will perpetually and rightfully feel aggrieved.
Chaplain Hey brother, I appreciate your input and can see what you’re saying from a certain angle. I am addressing a pervasive problem within the culture at large in that men are far too passive in their care for their wives and their marriages. They must listen to their wives, not in order to obey them but to care for them. This is a call to proactive masculinity. (Proactive masculinity is a great idea, but I’m not sure that saying “how high” when she says “jump” is a good example of that.)
Female Friend of Chaplain Federal Husband by Doug Wilson is a great read on this. Yes, God has placed the husband over the wife. But the husband is also held 100% accountable for the state of his marriage and household. Part of a wife’s help to her husband is counsel. That doesn’t mean he’s obliged to take it at every turn. But it does mean that if God has given you a wife and you don’t heed her counsel, you are playing a fool. (Strawman–my husband did not make this argument.)
Female Friend of Chaplain My pastor put it this way one time: The husband is the ship’s captain, and he steers the ship. He’s responsible for its condition and where it goes. The wife keeps an eye out for leaks and lets him know when there is one.
Wife of Chaplain Female Friend of Chaplain I love this!
My Husband I agree that men should do a better job caring for their wives and marriages, and that sometimes this will involve showing humility by doing what their wives advise; however, sometimes it will involve showing courage by lovingly correcting or admonishing their wives. The latter is often harder to do because it is countercultural. God’s commandment in Deuteronomy 5:32 “You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left” could apply here—in exhorting husbands to listen to their wives, it is all too easy to push them to commit the opposite error of pedestalizing their wives.
Chaplain Brother, most men in the broader culture are not at risk of pedestalizing their wives, (Really?) but of letting their marriages fail by passive neglect. (Neglect is a bad thing, but marriages aren’t like machines that can break with neglect. They’re like pottery–they last forever unless one spouse breaks them.) How can these men ever begin to lead if they don’t even know how to love? First things first. (Since when did Christ go to counseling at the behest of the church?)
Us Chaplain, that isn’t our experience, but your social circle in the military may face different challenges.
My Husband Female Friend of Chaplain, I agree that a man who never heeds his wife’s counsel is mistaken, but my disagreement is with [Chaplain’s] exhortation to unquestioningly follow the wife’s advice—which is unbiblical because it denies that the fallen nature of women extends to their wisdom in relationship matters. Although 100% accountability for the man is a popular belief among Christians, I strongly disagree. My wife and I have a great marriage, and it would be unfair for me to take all of the credit.
I think your pastor is holding the man to way too low of a standard. Men can notice and proactively fix problems in the household, and it would be exasperating for the woman to believe otherwise and have to point out every single problem. I have showed love for my wife by telling her the right thing to do rather than deferring to her emotions. For example, she was once very short-tempered with the children at a meal after not getting enough sleep. Rather than deferring to my wife’s “steering” or “leak detection,” I recognized the problem lay primarily with [her] sleep deprivation rather than the children’s behavior and told her to go to bed immediately. I could not have done that following your pastor’s division of roles. After her nap, everything was fine—both she and the children were happier.
Chaplain —I agree with some of what you’re saying. I just don’t think it’s intelligible to our present culture. To talk of headship in a culture that implicitly holds to a radical egalitarianism and where most men grew up with absent fathers is like speaking a foreign language. Baby steps, brother. (I agree totally with presenting foreign concepts in simple language–like making a children’s book on astronomy. You don’t want to get too complicated. However, you also don’t put astrology into your astronomy book, just because your audience likes horoscopes.)
Chaplain Ps: you’re also reading far too much into the prior comments and post. You’re assuming a feminist bias behind comments by people who are decidedly traditional in these matters. (We’re just reading what you wrote.)
Female Friend of Chaplain [W]hen I say that the husband is 100% accountable, I mean that he is 100% responsible. This does not mean that he is to blame for the sins of his wife or that she holds no moral agency with regard to the marriage. But because of Adam, our federal head, a husband is to his wife as Christ is to The Church. (Is Christ then responsible when his Church behaves badly, as it so often does?) I’m also not saying that a husband is to immediately go along with every prescription that his wife comes up with regarding the marriage. What I am saying is that he would be a fool, given that his wife is his helper, to at least not consider what she is concerned about. If the attitude is, “Well, I’M the man and I’LL determine if we need help or not,” he is acting as a stubborn donkey and clinging to his headship rather than owning it. (She isn’t responding to an actual argument that my husband made; indeed, my husband stated that husbands should hear what their wives are saying and sometimes take their advice.) Christ, although The King, did not cling to His royalty as such, but laid it aside for the salvation of His bride, The Church. (He also had no problem telling his apostles what to do, and he did this because He loved them and wanted the best for them.) I would encourage you to read Wilson, if you haven’t already. And if you know anything of him, he is about as far from feminism as you can get. (That might be a bit of an exaggeration. I have read some Doug Wilson, and while I enjoy his writing I don’t always agree with him.)
Female Friend of Chaplain PS. The illustration my pastor gave was not the exclusion of the man’s ability to notice problems or “leaks.” The context of that was with regard to leadership in the home and how a wife can help her husband instead of trying to steer the ship herself, which is a common temptation into sin that women have. (If we’re going to go with that analogy, the first mate doesn’t “look for leaks”– he assists the captain to carry out his duties.)
What do you think? Do you agree with our friend or with us about the roles of husband and wife in keeping the marriage healthy?