Saturday, January 26, 2013

Does Patriarchy Glorify God?

Note:  This post was originally written for No Longer Quivering, which is a website dedicated to helping women who have been harmed by the patriarchy/Quiverfull movement.   The issues discussed here may not apply to complementarianism, which generally differs from the Christian patriarchy movement in the amount of emphasis it puts on men's responsibility to treat their wives with Christlike humility and service.  In question-and-answer format, this discusses why the stated goal of the patriarchy/Quiverfull movement-- to glorify God in portraying His plan and design for marriage and family-- so frequently fails in practice.  

But this essay also deals with the potential for spiritual abuse in any family where enabling and formulaic thinking are practiced.  The piece is addressed to women who might question or consider leaving Quiverfull, but I thought it might be of interest to readers here as well.    

Q: As a Quiverfull couple, we practice headship and submission to strengthen our marriage and bring glory to God. But you are saying that patriarchy hurts the husband and belittles God. Please explain.

What does “glorify” mean when we’re talking about God? A simple definition can be found in what we commonly mean when we say a person is “seeking glory.” It means that person wants the credit for good things that have happened, and to be honored for those things. To glorify God is to seek glory not for ourselves, but for God– to act in ways that point to God, that give God the credit for good things in our lives and the honor that comes from that.

God receives glory when there are good things in our moral character that give Him credit. Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John 13:35. 1 Peter 2:12 says, “Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles, that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

Ways of life that glorify God should result in honor and credit to Him, both in our lives with others, and in our relationship with Him.

When it comes to our lives with others, it seems clear that if the Bible really teaches and promotes patriarchy– rather than patriarchy simply being an assumption of the cultures of Bible times, reflected but not promoted in the Bible– then following patriarchal roles of male authority and female submission ought to result in the growth of love and moral character in the lives of men and women and in their relationships to one another. And a patriarchal marriage relationship ought to be the prime place where this takes place.

But is it?

Here is No Longer Quivering founder Vyckie Garrison's testimony about what happened in her patriarchal marriage:

Looking back, I can plainly see that the “assistance” which I rendered to Warren as his “suitable helper” served only to reinforce in his mind the idea of his superior– and divinely sanctioned– importance. My daily submission to his every demand– no matter how petty or self-serving– was about as helpful as giving in to a tantrum-throwing, breath-holding toddler– it’s a very effective way to create a tyrant. That’s unfortunate– because in many ways, Warren is a nice enough guy. I believe that patriarchy legitimized his weakest tendencies and the strict gender-roles which we followed arrested his ability to adapt and capitalize on his strengths. In the end, our pursuit of the perfect, godly family with Warren as “head” and me as “helper” resulted in . . . an extremely unhealthy and seriously dysfunctional way of relating.

Why did this happen? Was Vyckie’s marriage just an anomaly? Or is it that patriarchy itself really isn’t good for the growth of moral character and good works in fallible human beings?

Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works.” And Ephesians 4:15 says, “Speaking the truth in love, (we) may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” Wives and husbands are both part of Christ’s church, and as such are not exempt from these exhortations to the whole church, regarding how to relate to one another in ways that glorify God.

But Christians often misunderstand 1 Peter 3:1 (which is a passage meant to be read as a continuation of 1 Peter 2:12-13– that Christians should submit themselves to every human institution in order to be good witnesses to the culture they found themselves in — in this case, the ancient pagan cultures of Greece and Rome), thinking it is referring to Christian marriages instead of to women married to non-believing Greek or Roman husbands who “obey not the word.” That passage was never intended as a command to Christian women to let their Christian husbands get away with any and all selfish and ungodly conduct “without a word”! In fact, in light of Galatians 3:14 (“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”), Peter’s words should be read not as laws or commands, but as advice on how to live out the law of love. “Without a word” was helpful for believing women when their non-believing husbands really didn’t want to hear any more about this new religion. But how is it helpful in a Christian marriage? Does it not contradict Hebrews 10:24 and Ephesians 4:15?

Wives and husbands are equally followers of Christ. Ephesians 5:21 says that all Christians are to be “submitting yourselves to one another in the fear of God.” Ephesians 5:22-32 goes on from there, comparing the relationship of husbands and wives to that of Christ and the church. But this does not mean husbands are “as Christ” to their wives– this takes the analogy way too far and turns husbands into idols in the home, and wives into idolaters. Wives are not “as the church” to their husbands, are they? Husbands are not the saviors of their wives, as Christ is of the church– and wives are not to make husbands their gods, as the church does Christ. Wives, as equal followers of Christ with their husbands, are to “speak the truth in love” to their husbands and to “provoke them to love and good deeds.”

Giving husbands unilateral authority in the home does not help their Christian character of humility and forbearance. Instead, it feeds husbands’ normal, fleshly human nature with power and privilege that may be beyond their ability to handle. Vyckie again:

Though at first glance the hierarchical family structure. . . may appear to be an inviting setup for the men– the day to day reality, and the long-term effect of being indiscriminately catered to– the perpetual indulgence of power and control– turns out not to be such a sweet deal for Daddy after all.

The fact is that though Ephesians 5 and similar passages exhort husbands to self-sacrificially “love their wives,” the indulgence of their “headship” (a term never found in the New Testament– the head-body metaphor in the original Greek does not convey authority-subordination as it does in English) gives them no incentive to do so. There are indeed Christian patriarchal-type marriages where the man doeshumble himself and lay down his own desires on a daily basis for the wife, as the Bible says he should– but this example of Christian character usually displays itself if there is strong outside pressure (such as from other church members) to do so, or if it was character the husband already had. Within the patriarchal marriage structure on its own, wifely indulgence of his husbandly whims in the name of “submission” won’t teach him character. Nor will he feel any obligation to listen to her if he believes he is entitled to always have his own way. Power corrupts, and absolute power in the home can corrupt absolutely.

Wives, self-sacrificially giving in to your husbands in ways that exalt them in power and control over you, does not help your husbands! At best, it acts as a temptation they must resist, in order to continue in the humility they know they should walk in as Christians. And at worst, it inflates their pride, feeds their selfishness, and gives them no incentive to walk in love towards you.

And then there is the vital question of our relationship with God. If patriarchy glorifies God, then living in patriarchal roles ought to increase our love relationship with God and our dependence on His grace and mercy.

Does it?

Teachers of patriarchal roles often set forth patriarchy as “God’s way,” the one right way to live in marriage. Vyckie remembers,

I had to be such a devout, godly woman that my husband couldn’t find any fault in me . . . All I had to do was be the perfect wife and the perfect Christian and God would honor that and save my marriage. [And] when I did it, God would have no choice but to come through for me. . . Everything I did in that respect during that time was my attempt to attach strings of obligation to God so that I could make Him dance like Pinocchio at my bidding. I was the ultimate manipulator– I no longer needed to control Warren directly, because I could influence God to do that work for me.

Another No Longer Quivering woman (who wished to remain anonymous) tried hard to make a patriarchal marriage work. Here is what she says she learned:

If they say, do _____, and your husband will be transformed, spare yourself some agony and don’t waste your time. . . . Because life and relationships and communities aren’t appropriate grounds for formulas. . . . It’s tempting [to follow formulas], because it takes away the fear factor. It takes away the “What if?“ It takes away the realization that, ultimately, we don’t have a lot of control over other people and their choices. . . .

The land of formulas [is] the land where you can rest assured that everything will go as you want it. . . if only you perform properly (or try to make other people perform properly). Even though it puts all the work back on your own shoulders . . . it still gives a sense of peace, a sense of control– and therein lies the seductive lure. . . We/I can keep you safe. We/I can keep things under control. We/I know what we’re doing. We’ve/I’ve got an answer. We’ve/I’ve got the Right Way to Do It, guaranteed to keep you secure and free of pain. [But] the formula plan is a lie. It is a beautiful sweet juicy. . .lie.

The problem with patriarchal roles is that they set out formulaic boxes within which Christians are to perform. All husbands are to always act one particular way, and all wives are to always act another. The individual dynamics of interpersonal relationships can be lost as we fit ourselves into cookie-cutter lifestyles and live within strict boxes. And this also puts God in a box– a box where God is expected to perform in a certain way based on our own performance. Our relationship with God becomes a thing of duty– our duty and performance of the formula for Him, and His duty and performance of the blessing in response.

Except that God doesn’t fit very well into boxes. And when our expectations of what should happen in our lives falls short of what we feel He has promised– then we fall back on Scriptures such as “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him (Job 13:15).” We don’t understand why God isn’t coming through for us, but we hold onto the hope that if we just keep performing, then He eventually will.

The problem is that our once simple love for God, our once peaceful rest in God’s grace, has turned into a matter of works. In Galatians 3:1-3, Paul asks of a church that has fallen into just such a mentality, “O foolish Galatians. . . This only would I learn of you. Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?”

Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-29, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

If you are finding very little rest for your soul– if your yoke feels heavy and hard– it is probably not a yoke that comes from Jesus. And it doesn’t glorify God for you to carry it. It doesn’t help you or your spouse grow in love and Christian character. It doesn’t increase the grace of God in your life, or your dependence on His mercy rather than your performance. And it’s not something that God can bless.

Patriarchy, its roles and rules, does not glorify God. Isn’t it time to turn away from it and seek God to guide your own individual life and your own individual marriage, not according to formulas, but as He sees fit?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know that I'm a little late to comment on this post but I thought this was wonderful. I plan on sharing it with some soft complementarian family members; I think it will clarify some things for them. Thank you for laying this out so clearly. -Ashley