Abigail and the Fool

Minolta DSCI think I’ve complained about some “Christian” marriage advice on this blog before (that’s four links). So the question is, do I ever come across a perspective of marriage that I like?

Funny you should ask that! Because I found a post recently that was an antidote both to the “stay silent and happy” brand of marital life, and redeems the twisted version of Abigail that I was subjected to as a teen and young adult.

Help, I’m Married to a Fool! really isn’t “advice” so much as a reflection on the author’s own married life. She is writing on her twenty-first wedding anniversary, so she and her husband have weathered a lot of years together. She writes that she became a Christian a few years after getting married, and found herself praying often for her marriage.

My husband and I seemed to be at odds on a regular basis, and although I would like to say it was his fault, in truth, we were young, selfish, and trying to adjust to life with many children in a short time frame.

But there was more than just kids and immaturity causing the divide. Something was wrong and she wasn’t sure what; she needed God to fix it! Pray, pray, pray.

Then she noticed the story of Abigail, and a light dawned.

I’ll pause here to remind you about the “complementarian” view of marriage, which is what most evangelicals claim. It’s different from patriarchy in that it considers men and women spiritually equal before God. The term comes from the idea that men and women are “equal but different” — their roles in life “complete” each other. But in marriage, the husband still has the final say in all decisions. The wife is expected to say her piece, then submit to whatever her husband decides. If it’s a bad decision — just like in patriarchy — the wife leaves the result up to God.

In both patriarchy and complementarianism, the story of Abigail is a problem. Her husband, Nabal, scorns and insults the warrior king-to-be, David, thereby inviting very real destruction on his entire household. A servant alerts Abigail, who goes behind Nabal’s back and approaches David with apologies, explaining that her husband is “a fool.” Her offers of peace saved the lives of everyone in the household — except Nabal, who died of a rage-induced stroke when he heard what she did.

The version of Abigail that I learned in patriarchy circles (see my link above) was that Abigail should have gone to her husband first, should have left everything up to God, and was responsible for Nabal’s death. Complementarianism doesn’t go that far, but it’s still uncomfortable with the way Abigail undermined her own husband’s wishes.

But the author of this blog post came to a different conclusion after really paying attention to the story.

In Scripture, fool is often used for a wicked or depraved person; one who acts contrary to sound wisdom in his moral deportment; one who follows his own inclinations, who prefers trifling and temporary pleasures to the service of God and eternal happiness.

That morning I realized that the deepening divide in our marriage was not something I could fix, but that it had to be wisely navigated. My relationship with my husband would not be better until he made the decision to acknowledge God above his own inclinations.

She goes on to explain how Abigail “navigated around” her foolish, dangerous husband. She didn’t passively pray and react and pretend everything was all right; she actively responded, was known as a safe and trustworthy person, and told the truth about her situation.

The post leaves some questions, like — What is a wife supposed to do if her husband is making a fool of himself? Not in a foot-in-mouth sort of way, but in an agonizing “Hey, let me launch into an insulting tirade without regard to my listeners, banking on the fact that they’re polite so I can say whatever I want to.” My first loyalty is to my husband, so I’d be loath to call him out right there in front of everybody. But if it’s a pattern, if he’s ignored my private conversations about it… well, then what? The post doesn’t really offer much guidance.

On the other hand, it gives a freedom that most marriage reflections don’t: it allows the wife to actually think about this situation and decide what her response will be. She can act, and be justified in doing so, without having to worry that she will “dishonor” her husband incur God’s wrath. If she’s reluctant to speak up because of how her husband will treat her at home, in private — well, I would think that’s definitely a signal that it’s time to take serious action, possibly behind his back, to save herself and her household.

But what if she uses this “freedom” to humiliate her husband? What if she cuts him down in public and undermines everything he tries to do for their family? Then guess what? She’s the fool, not him. He can look to the brave, trustworthy, truthful Abigail for guidance in navigating around her destructive habits until God changes her, or until he needs to act without her knowledge to “save the household.”

Marriage relationships are complicated. Sometimes it’s very hard for outsiders to know exactly who is the fool, and who is the Abigail. But trying to solve the problem by telling a wife that she must stay in her “God-given role” and honor her husband at all costs is ineffective at best, and dangerous at worst.

Instead, be smart, decisive, and ready to act on your own and others’ behalf. Don’t be a fool — be like Abigail.

Good Wives Are Happy

One of my favorite ranting topics is bad marriage advice.

Here, for instance, I discuss in a testy way the idea that “men need respect and women need love” as if you can separate the two in a marriage.

I also devoted an impressive wordcount to illustrating how God wants us to play mind games with each other. (Bonus: Blatant misuse of Scripture by an author who teaches women what “the Bible says” about marriage.)

A friend sent me a post she found (it’s from three years ago) that fits right in with the themes above. The major feature of this type of bad marriage advice–mostly to women–is this:

You don’t need to communicate with your husband. You just need to stay in your God-given role and follow the rules (whatever you perceive the rules to be). If you are unhappy, then make yourself happy.

Let’s roll out this blog post and I’ll show you what I mean.

My Husband Is Not My Helpmeet… I Am His. The title really takes care of the whole issue, but the author does unpack it a little.

She begins by remarking: “Often as a wife I’ve found myself sucked into a downward spiral of ugly thoughts. With all of the laundry, cooking, cleaning, dishes, and childcare, I at times make myself out to be a martyr.”

Note that this line of thought assumes that negative emotions are bad and must be gotten rid of. Tiredness and frustration aren’t signals to stop and ask “Why am I feeling like this? What needs to change?” They’re automatic indicators that you’re sinful and you need to stop that.

Her husband, the blogger says, is helpful with the house and the kids when he’s home. “But sometimes my selfish, greedy heart piles demands onto him that go far beyond the realms of his reasonable duty.”

She goes on to explain,

I’m angry when he doesn’t read my mind and vacuum the floor while I’m doing the dishes. I become disgruntled during final dinner preparations if he’s reading to our daughter but ignoring the baby’s screams. And if by chance he is sitting on the sofa watching t.v. while I’m still slaving away in the kitchen, you can bet a storm is brewing in my heart.

“Why doesn’t he help me more???” I stewed on one particularly grumpy evening. All I wanted to do was crash on the couch with him. I was tired and worn out, and it all seemed so unfair.

The thought dawned on me in that moment. A gentle, Holy Spirit guided hush-

Okay, so this is the turning point right here. The buildup is a situation that most of us have experienced in one form or another. We’re tired, we want help, we’re stewing and unhappy. Something has to change.

Here are a couple of good options of what the turning point could be.

Option 1: “I realized that I was piling greedy demands upon myself as well as my husband. Somewhere I made up a list of what a properly kept house should be like, and I’m killing myself to keep it up to that standard. The truth is, a lot of the work is unnecessary. I can let it go and have time to crash on the couch with my husband.”

Option 2: “I waited until I was not actively stewing and grumpy. Then I asked my husband if he could help out in specific ways. To my surprise, he said that some of these essential jobs really didn’t matter to him. So I told him which ones were most important to me, and we figured out a way to get them done together.”

As a matter of fact, I myself just wrote a blog post  with a different approach to the same problem. Adam and Eve and the Parable of the Balance

But in the Husband Isn’t My Helpmeet post… I hate to disappoint my readers, but the actual turning point is neither of the above options. This is what the Holy Spirit whispered to her in her moment of need:

–my husband wasn’t made to be my helpmeet. I was made to be his. 

These dishes, and the day-in, day-out, draining tasks that come with a house full of kids- they’re my opportunity to serve him well and fulfill my God given role of being “a helper suitable to him”.

The marriage that God is most interested in, according to this thinking, has nothing to do with mature, adult-to-adult interaction. It’s all about staying in your place and playing mind games to feel better about it.

She adds a general observation that’s hard to argue with:

But when my eyes are on my lofty expectations for what my husband ought to be doing for me, my perspective is way skewed.

True. That’s the problem you need to take care of. Your frustration, tiredness, and resentment toward your husband are merely symptoms. But thanks to the timely whisper of the Holy Spirit, reminding you to stuff all those bad emotions, you never actually get to addressing this issue with a real solution.

Instead, the blogger closes with this sentiment:

Peace and freedom come in embracing the work God has given with joy and a thankful heart. 

Peace (as long as you make yourself be happy) and freedom (but not to talk to your husband about your struggle) come in embracing the work God has given (assuming that everything you feel that you ought to do is straight from God) with joy and a thankful heart (make it so).

Whew. The Holy Spirit has a full-time job just keeping couples from talking to each other. Fortunately he’s got this kind of advice to help him out.

 

The Parable of the Hidden Figures

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie Hidden Figures. I thought I’d state that outright before I got into my detailed discussion of it. (Otherwise known as “SJ can’t watch a movie without completely picking it apart.”) (I’m a terrible movie date.) (But I don’t give spoilers.) (And DJ still loves me anyway.)

Hidden Figures is a parable for white people.

Granted, it’s based on black people’s experiences. Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary were all actual black women who achieved success in the halls of NASA, which in the 60s was simply clogged with white males. The reason I say it’s a parable — a fictionalized story meant to illuminate truth — is because the movie shows what ought to happen rather than a strict adherence to what probably really did.

The black community knows exactly what life was like in the early 60s. They don’t have to be reminded of segregation, demonstrations, violence against them, and the quiet but suffocating refusal to allow black professionals to advance in their careers. The white community is the one who needs to see it and feel the futility and injustice. This movie does that. By giving the viewers three good women to sympathize with, we “become” those women and understand the obstacles they faced. This is the power of fiction.

But, being a Hollywood parable, we get the advantage of seeing it play out before our eyes. The entire movie takes place over a period of about two years. In theater time, of course, that’s about two hours. So in two hours we get to see these women pursue their dreams, demonstrate their capabilities, and win the respect of those around them. I’m not saying it didn’t happen. Just that the results weren’t so gratifyingly immediate.

Another “parable” aspect was that the movie showed several white characters who saw their error and paid due respect to their black colleagues. It made the movie easier to watch for those of us who have a sneaking fear that we would have upheld that system had we lived then. The white community of that time, while definitely top-dog, was also under pressure. They lived under the regime of a segment of society that truly despised anyone who wasn’t white; for the ordinary, peace-loving person, it was a risk to cross racial lines.

So really, the white response in that movie was much more mid-21st century than mid-20th. And while it’s not exact history, I think it was a good way to show how we today ought to respond.

(Another 2010s vs 1960s aspect of the movie was that nobody smoked. In reality, you probably couldn’t walk into any of those offices, men’s or women’s or white or colored, without forcing your way through the smog of cigarette smoke.)

All that said, I truly enjoyed the movie.

It follows the storylines of the three women, all with different ambitions. Dorothy wants the title and pay that comes with the supervisor job she’s already doing. Mary wants to become an engineer, a near-impossibility for a negro woman in segregated Virginia. Katherine — who is really the focal character — is a brilliant mathematician assigned to calculate the numbers that will get John Glenn into space.

Apart from the story, the movie is visually fun to watch. They recreated the 60s in good Hollywood style. The dresses, hair, decor (all that ugly dark paneling!), and technology looks just right. Which probably just means that it looks like what I vaguely remember of “old lady houses” and other Hollywood sets, but anyway.

The family life is portrayed as warm, with young black men who want the very best for their wives and children. Religion is present, acknowledged but not overdone. The pale colors of the surrounding set often highlighted the brown skin of the women. A few camera shots managed to communicate, “Look at aaalll these men! White men! It doesn’t look quite right, does it?”

It’s easy to see the frustrations these women faced at work, from Dorothy’s sweet but chilly white superior, to Mary’s sassy fashionista facade covering her stifled ambition, to Katherine’s half-mile hike to the Colored Bathroom every day. (The director is furious when he finds out her plight. “At NASA, we all pee the same color!” is one of the best declarations of equality in the movie.)

The story touches only lightly on the oppression, violence, and injustice of the era. And I think that some people were happy to ignore that reality yet again. I saw one comment about the movie that said,

“Those women were facing real issues. But they were faithful and stayed on task, and presto! It all worked out.”

No, honey. The “presto” part is because this movie isn’t history, it’s a parable. If you come away thinking that they had it “kind of bad,” then you need to do a little research. Ever browsed photos of of riots, attacks, and black men hanging from trees? They had it “kind of bad” in the same way that cancer makes you “a little sick.”

These women were extraordinary, and it leaves me wondering how many more black men, black women, and simply women in general, didn’t manage to break through with their gifts and abilities. It was a time of smothering injustice, and it’s not all resolved yet. I hope this movie, with its funny moments and gentle indictment of white superiority, can inspire the white community to understand and acknowledge the wrongs of the past, and show them a way to amend the wrongs of the present.

Good Excuses (T or F?)

So it appears that it’s been nearly two months since I’ve updated this blog. Since there haven’t been any crises of health or happiness in my life lately, what excuse could I possibly have?

Fortunately, I’ve got lots. I just hope you’re not picky about all of them being, you know, “true.”

Just in case, though, I’ve made a helpful True-False notation after each one.

Reasons For My Absence from The Blog:

  1. Everybody has finally realized the dangers of a rule-based, authoritarian system with no built-in accountability. I have nothing more to write about. (F)
  2. I realized I need to “get under authority” and am shutting down this blog in repentance. All further posts will be submitted (haha) by my husband. (F)
  3. I’m working on a new project, this one a collection of short stories that range in topic from a redneck wife harassed by her ex-husband, to six different versions of a pizza recipe. (T)
  4. I spent three weeks on a cross-country drive through sixteen states with my husband and four kids for no reason other than “we always said we would.” (T)
  5. We spent the first four days of our trip taking turns throwing up into a plastic bucket in the van. (T)
  6. Oh, in connection with #2, I’m dropping my maiden name because of how feminist it looks. Even though I got both names from men. (F, except where I got the names, which is T)
  7. I discovered my new life ambition in Wal-Mart yesterday, when I found an adult coloring book based on novels by Debbie Macomber. One page would feature a quote from one of her dozens of novels, and the facing page was an illustration to color. I’ve never read any Macomber, but I’m inspired. (Haha, obviously F. Totally joking. I mean, unless somebody really wanted to illustrate my quotes. I’ve got some good ones.)
  8. And the Lord might not delight in the legs of a man, according to Psalm Twenty-Seven, but Bekah certainly did. That’s one of my favorite quotes from my novel. (T)
  9. Also, The life-sized cardboard Queen Esther leaned against a nearby tree. Somebody had taped a paper cup to her hand. I’d enjoy coloring that. (T)
  10. I’ve been living a busy life as a woman free of anxiety about authority, God’s wrath, or how clean my home is. I’m also working hard to have a new book to offer by the end of the year. So that’s why the blog took a little pause. Thanks for dropping in to say hello again. (T)

Marriage Mind Games

ball-1418250-1279x850A godly wife is submissive. A godly husband is a leader. This is the ideal model of marriage, as laid down by a God who likes making his children play mind games.

It’s not news that I’m no fan of the patriarchal/complementarian view of marriage. I sat through hours of the instruction as a teen. I even tried it when I first got married, with pretty terrible results. It causes more harm than good most of the time. But don’t take my word for it—here’s an article from one of the bastions of submissive womanhood, Above Rubies, with a rundown of how the game goes.

I found the article when someone shared it on my newsfeed, after Above Rubies posted it on their Facebook page. Considering that the working title of my novel was Somewhere Below Rubies, I’m obviously not the target audience. But it’s exactly the kind of stuff I was taught, and obviously still going strong.

You can read the whole thing here. Here on the blog, I’ll provide excerpts. With commentary, naturally.*

The author leaps into motion with the starting gun:

… God spoke to me and said, “Val, you cannot teach this message… Because you don’t understand submission!” Now I don’t mind admitting that I was shocked.

“Lord, do you realize that I’m Val Stares from Above Rubies? I’ve always encouraged submission.” “Yes,” was the reply, “but you still don’t know how to submit.” By now I was on the defensive. “But. Lord, you know that every time I want something, or desire to go somewhere, I always ask my husband first.”

“And what is his reply?”

“He says for me to please myself. Oh yes, he always adds, ‘You usually do.’ I don’t know why he says that because he’s already given me permission to do what I think best.”

Her husband’s reply is an interesting detail. Does he mean it casually, as a lighthearted way to say, “Yes!” or as an unstated resentful way to remind her that she doesn’t really care about his opinion? I’d think that God, who surely has as much basic education as a first-year marriage counselor, would suggest that she ask her husband what he’s really thinking.

But no. The patriarchal God rarely goes in for direct, heart-to-heart talks. That spoils the game.

“If you are serious about learning submission, Val, I want you to go to your husband and tell him that from now on he needs to answer you, “Yes” or “No.” If he says that you can please yourself, then you will take that as his disapproval and will stay home or go without. There is to be no pouting, no banging doors, no attitude of annoyance or hurt when this happens.”

So “God” has laid down the ground rules. Val runs out to the shed where her husband spends a lot of his time, and tells him her new revelation. He laughed—“You’ll never be able to do it!”

About three weeks later, a visiting speaker came to town.
Note the passage of time. Three weeks later.

Finally it was time to ask my husband if I could go. Out to the shed I went, told him what was happening and asked if I could go. As usual, I left everything until the last minute!
That little drop of self-blame is essential to the truly submissive woman’s worldview.

“Please yourself, you usually do.”
That’s how he answered. He didn’t say the magic words. Remember what he was supposed to say? “Yes” or “No.” Anything else meant he didn’t actually approve and she had to stay home. Because God said so.

I raced into the bedroom and pleaded with God, “He’s forgotten he has to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Can’t I just remind him?” “No” came the answer to my heart…
Because if you did that, it would totally ruin God’s fun.

Around the time I should have left for the meeting, my husband walked in to find me cleaning. “I thought you were going out to a meeting,” he said.
This is a major play right here. She explained how he had really forbidden her from going because he didn’t use the right words. And her husband got mad. He yelled at her that if she wanted to be so stupid and stay home, then fine, stay home!

It was then that the full revelation of what God was teaching me became clear.
I don’t know about you, but I’m revelating all over the place here.

I’m getting the impression that Val is an energetic, take-charge kind of person. Women who run ministries usually are. And she married a low-key, easygoing man. This is a perfectly normal and acceptable personality pairing—except in patriarchal/complementarian circles. In those circles, a take-charge woman has to force herself to be indecisive and subservient, but in order to do so, she’s got to compel her easygoing husband to order her around. However, according to God’s fun little game, she can’t say that.

So Val decided for some reason that her husband’s dismissive “Please yourself, you usually do” wasn’t up to par. She made up a code that he had to follow to show he was really leading her. Meanwhile, her husband thought he’d given her permission to do something she wanted to do, only to discover that she’d denied herself and blamed him. No wonder he was mad.

Oh, hang on. That’s not at all what Val concludes. Instead, she chalks up a major score in the mind game.

I had overridden my husband’s decision so many times that he was now robbed of any desire to lead. He must have felt so cheated. Now, by God’s hand, he was responsible for me staying home, but what hurt me most was the realization that it was me, the Christian wife, who had robbed him!
It’s a homerun, folks!

 My husband is a cautious man and rather slow at making decisions. My impatience at waiting for an answer caused me to make more and more decisions myself and he would go along with me for the sake of peace.
Or maybe he figured out a long time ago that you manipulate the situation to get what you really want, so his actual opinion didn’t really matter.

 I stayed home for several weeks after that, while we both learned our respective roles.
While he learned your official change in the rules, you mean.

So that’s the story part. Now she’s got to get into the doctrine part to justify why they dodge and block instead of talking things out like responsible adults. She quotes some usual verses on submission (Ephesians 5:22, Colossians 3:18) and adds all the usual explanations:

God is not telling husbands to make us obey or make us come under their authority. We do it because we love God and our husbands, and because He has asked us to. It is our choice.
Even though in her own story, she had no choice once “God” told her to do it.

In my mind I saw my broom raised to a horizontal position above my head. The handle was labeled, “My husband’s Authority.” I could see that if he were in his rightful position, I would be able to walk beneath it in an upright position. This upright position was one of honor, security, love–and a surprise I didn’t expect or notice until much later–power!

This is one of their favorite plays. They insist that a woman who doesn’t make any decisions on her own, but lets her husband dictate everything, is in fact very powerful. They point to Esther, who had enormous influence over the king. That’s the kind of influence a truly submissive wife has! All she has to do is go into every situation thinking, as Esther did, “I’ll ask him about this. If I die, I die.” What’s so hard about that?

Just because the things I wanted to do were good things, didn’t necessarily mean they were what my husband wanted to do. He could have other plans.
Not that she asked if he had other plans. Not that he told her he had other plans. They are very careful not to mess up God’s favorite sport.

But God wanted me to measure myself by the attitude of Jesus.

We read about Jesus’ example in 1 Peter 2:18-23, “For what glory is it, if when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? But if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps…Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judges righteously….Likewise, (with the same spirit of Jesus) ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the Word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation (the manner of life) of the wives.”

This is actually what 1 Peter 2:18-23 says. It’s written to servants (slaves, as translated in the New International Version).

“18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.

19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.

20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:

22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:

23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:”

It looks a whole lot like she tacked on 1 Peter 3:1, the verse about wives, without saying so. Not only is she quoting Scripture out of context, she just created her very own Frankensteinian context! Slam dunk!

What happened to that feared and dreaded “door mat,” the so-called intimidated mousy wife who gets no say? It was a lie. It had no substance or power. I can now stand up straight, and walk upright, secure and loved under his protection. On this side of submission, I have more say because my opinion is of greater value than before.
In a spectacular leap of logic, she concludes that by not expressing her opinion on anything, it has greater value. Touchdown, baby! GOOOAAALLL!

One word of warning– submission is a daily practice, not a one-time act. I have to daily check my attitude and the humility of my heart.
But it’s even harder to work every day at communicating with each other, balancing each other’s desires with your own needs, taking care of misunderstandings as they happen. No guarantees, no formula to fall back on—just love, effort, and God’s grace.

But in the long run, your marriage grows stronger when you don’t depend on formulas, but take the risk to meet as equals and face issues together.

We serve a God of grace.

Not a God of mind games.

Game, set, match.

 

*Should I apologize for the unholy mixing of sports references? That would suggest that I’m sorry for it.

Deborah: When Men are Weak

king-and-queen-1179013-639x462Apparently in some of the back streets of the internet, there’s a fight about whether movies should star “strong female characters.” The whole question makes me nearly sprain something rolling my eyes, so I don’t actually know much about it.

I did read a post on the subject, though. The author, a woman, wrote it in response to a man who objected to “strong females” in stories. He claimed that they usurped a man’s rightful, God-given place as the protector of the weak.

Among other points in her post, the author of the rebuttal mentioned the Biblical example of Deborah. And I thought, “You think you won a point. But you really lost it.”

The thing about Christian patriarchalists is that they know their Bible. They know it like Westley and Inigo knew their fencing forms. It’s kind of like a game, sparring with them. First they lay down the rules—you must argue from the Bible. Nothing else is authoritative. Then they show up with all their Bible knowledge and interpretation and demolish you. They know what you’ll say, and they’ve developed a reflexive response for it. Maybe, if you’re really good at holding your own, they might acknowledge—as Westley did to Inigo—that you’re an artist of stained glass window caliber.

But how is bringing up Deborah in a debate about female leadership an automatic loss?

Yes, we’re talking about the same Deborah, the Old Testament judge, whose story is found in Judges 4-5. She lived during the time before Israel had kings. The people listened to her for God’s words and judgements, especially during this time when a nearby king oppressed them.

Deborah sent for Barak, obviously a warrior of renown. She informed him that God wanted him to gather troops and go against the enemy general, Sisera, in battle. Barak kind of blanched at the thought and said, “I’ll go if you go with me.”

“Fine, I’ll go,” Deborah said. “But just so you know—you’re not going to get any glory from this. Sisera will die by a woman.”

So they went up together and Barak mustered his troops. They met Sisera in battle; it didn’t go well for Sisera. God routed his army, and he himself escaped on foot. He found the tent of an ally, whose wife—Jael—invited him in to rest.

(Jael is the stuff of nightmares to patriarchal men. She pretended to be friendly, waited till Sisera collapsed from exhaustion, and then drove a tent peg through his head.)

Israel won a definitive victory, and the entire next chapter is “the Song of Deborah and Barak.”

If you read the account straight through, you might not see where Deborah went wrong. That’s because you’re probably forgetting the most important principle for interpreting a Bible story about a woman: authority.

Who was in authority? It’s hard to get around the fact that it’s Deborah. She was even married but still looked to as the judge. But women aren’t ever supposed to be in authority over men, therefore Deborah’s judgeship was somehow not God’s best. Even though God doesn’t seem to have realized that.

The teachers I sat under pointed to the fact that Barak was so reluctant. If this warrior was too uncertain to go into battle without Deborah, what did that say about the men of the time? Exactly. They were all weak. That’s why there was a woman in charge—because there weren’t any good men to step up and do it.

So the story isn’t about Deborah’s strength, but Barak’s weakness. It’s not Deborah’s honor, but Barak’s shame. It’s not about a woman, it’s about a man.

And there’s obviously an element of that, since it’s such a point that the victory went to “a woman.” But without the Authority filter over it, the story in general kind of shrugs at the fact that Deborah’s in charge. The point is not woman or man, but God.

But if you find yourself locked in combat with a patriachalist over female empowerment, and the twisty logic, leaps to conclusions, and sheer vigor of his arguments have forced you to the wall—don’t bring up Deborah. He’s already got her properly boxed up and out of the way. All you will do is reinforce his point (to himself) that a strong woman is merely compensating for a weak man. A woman who is trying to be “strong” is therefore trying to “weaken” a man.

It’s right there in the Bible. Remember Deborah?

 

The Good Patriarchy

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Patriarchists aren’t all bad.

Statements like that sound charitable, but they’re usually not. For one thing, as soon as I start thinking of people as a generic group– “Fundamentalists” “Liberals” “Right-Wingers” “The Gays” “Rednecks” — I stop seeing them as real people. They (plural) become a faceless figure (singular) imbued with everything I dislike about their particular set of ideas.

So to say that Patriarchists aren’t all bad, I’m basically conceding that they might have some actual human qualities.

My point here is much more generous, I hope.

People embrace a Christian patriarchal worldview for real reasons. The world has problems, and everyone is looking for solutions. As I once heard it said, “I like the questions they ask. I just don’t like all their answers.”

Here are some good reasons why people are “Patriarchists”:

Men need respect. (Yes, and also love.)  This is especially true for that almost invisible population of men who aren’t particularly handsome or flashy, nor are they violent and oppressive. They’re devoted to those they love. They work hard, worry a lot, do the best they can to provide and protect. You will find these men all through the ranks of the patriarchy camp. They’re sincere and faithful. They deserve respect. In a patriarchal system, they get it.

Women should plan their futures with motherhood in mind. Obviously I’ve got strong opinions about women’s education and future. But if a woman has any desire at all to have children, she needs to factor that into her plans. She has no idea beforehand how pregnancy will affect her. She could be on bedrest for six months, throwing up for nine, or simply too sleepy to function after 5pm. And it’s simple fact that mothers usually take on most of the work during the baby and toddler years.It’s smart to learn time management, childcare, and cooking. It’s also smart to look for a man who will be able to provide for the family if motherhood knocks her off her feet for a while. Patriarchy has this foresight built into its system.

Structure provides security. Life is scary and unpredictable. If you’ve already got a framework for handling decisions and expectations, it gives you something to fall back on. My dad died when I was three, leaving my mother with five children. But in that small Southern society thirty years ago, it was understood that the men of the family would do all they could to take care of the women. My grandfather and uncle stepped in and filled up a huge, gaping hole in our lives until my mom got back on her feet. In patriarchy, the men are accustomed to stepping up.

Men and Women (in general) are different and need one another for balance. I know, I know, not all women are highly emotional, and some men stop and ask for directions. Male/female stereotypes cease to be helpful very quickly. Still, there are obvious biological differences, and as a group, women and men approach life differently. A world with both masculine and feminine influence is a rich one. Patriarchy recognizes these differences in a positive light.

God pervades everything. In Christian patriarchy, there is no real distinction between secular and sacred. Everything you do is in service to God. You eventually go through everyday life in a constant awareness and communion with God.

I sincerely believe these things are good. So why don’t we want to return to the world of patriarchy?

Because it is not a self-correcting system.

As long as you get good people who are willing to compromise, be flexible, and understand other points of view — patriarchy can function very well for the people involved.

But if things go bad, the people under authority have no way to check or challenge the people in control. And it’s not really an “if”– when humans are involved, things will go wrong.

So Patriarchists aren’t all bad. I fight against the error of villainizing those who don’t see things my way. But I can look at a system that allows bad people to stay in control, and I can say: That is not good.

 

Abigail, A Dangerous Woman

The Bible doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to exposing dangerous women. The first one who comes to your mind, just like mine, is Abigail.

Lest you think we’re talking about two different Old Testament characters, I’ll give a rundown of her story. It’s found in 1 Samuel 25.

In the years before David became king of Israel, he was on the run from Saul–the current king–and building up his own following. They happened upon the fields of Nabal during shearing time. David sent ten men to Nabal saying, “Hey, we didn’t mess with your shepherds or steal any of your sheep or goats. So could you give me food for my men?”

It was a big request. But Nabal was a rich man. More to the point, he was still rich thanks to David’s honorable treatment of his property. Also, David’s men had weapons. Like any reasonable man, Nabal saw that it was to his advantage to pay up his part of the bargain.

Oh, wait. Nabal’s name means “fool.” He did not pay up. He insulted David and told him to get lost.

David got mad and began mobilizing his men for wholesale slaughter of every male in Nabal’s household.

(See, class? We sure do need for men to be in charge all the time because it always goes so much better that way.)

Abigail was Nabal’s wife. When a servant came to her in a panic, telling her what was going on, she swung into action. She gathered up food, freshened up, saddled a donkey, and went out to meet David herself. She apologized for her husband’s foolishness and begged him to spare the household.

David, hotheaded though he was, was actually a reasonable man, especially by ancient warlord standards. He agreed to call off the attack. In fact, he was relieved that Abigail had kept him from unnecessary bloodshed.

Abigail went back and told Nabal what she’d done. Nabal was furious. So absolutely, intensely furious that he had a stroke and then died.

So the household was saved, Nabal disposed of, and David took Abigail to be his wife. Which really was the best a woman could hope for in that time.

Okay, so I admit that at first glance, it actually looks like Abigail is the hero of this story. But one of the tricks of a patriarchal worldview is that it can use one or two details to twist the whole perspective into the proper shape.

To start with, you’ve got to keep the most important principle in mind at all time. That principle is: Authority. Every situation, even a story told for centuries around campfires, must be filtered through the grid of Authority.

Who was in authority in this story? Well, David, because he’d been anointed the next king of Israel. Who else had authority here? Nabal, the husband and owner of the property.

Who did not have the authority to make any decisions or take any action? Abigail. Because she was married, she was bound to obey her husband no matter what.

There are two telling details in the passage of Scripture. One, the servant came to Abigail behind Nabal’s back, and even said he was wicked and foolish. Abigail did not rebuke the servant for speaking against their authority. Two, Abigail made her plans and headed out to see David, but as the story notes, She did not tell her husband.

But… but… she spared every  male in the household! Including Nabal’s worthless hindquarters!

Yet you see what her rebellion–yes, she was rebellious–led to. Her husband died. David might feel like God had vindicated him, but Abigail had to live with the knowledge that her actions killed her own husband.

But… but… Abigail became David’s wife…

Pfft. She became one of his wives. Who wants that? (What woman had a choice back then? Hush, you’re cluttering up the narrative.) And she did have at least one son who should have become king after David, but we never hear anything about him. That’s the third devastating detail in this story: God punished Abigail by not letting her son become the next king.

I’m not exaggerating this interpretation. This is what I was taught as a student of Bill Gothard. He embroidered a lot of the details*, but there’s a long tradition among hardcore patriarchalists to demonize Abigail. She usurped her husband’s place and was the cause of his death.

Girls, do not grow up to be like Abigail!

You should instead hope to be like… well… how about you just don’t read ahead in your Bibles until we have time to explain how Ruth, Esther, Deborah, Jael, etc. are also cautionary tales. Here, instead we’ve rewritten history and also these stories with passive obedient heroines. We’ll get back to God’s Word when you’re ready to understand the truths hidden within it.

Good thing you’ve got men to illuminate it for you.

*Gothard claimed that if Abigail hadn’t intervened, then David would have had the guilt of unnecessary bloodshed on his conscience; years later, when he got Bathsheba pregnant, he wouldn’t have sent Uriah into battle to be killed because he’d already know how wrong that was. I didn’t make that up.

** I hope it’s clear that I’m not claiming all Christian men believe this way. But there’s a slice of Christianity that does. If you’ve never encountered teachings like this, you might not realize the enormous effort it takes to re-read the Bible in its own words, not the twisted interpretation we were given.

Orderly Umbrellas

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“So pastors are under God’s authority,” Bekah explained. “Families are under the pastors.” She held her hand in the air and moved it down levels as she spoke. “Husbands are in authority over wives. Wives are in authority over children.”

When Ty didn’t respond, Bekah added, “It’s all very orderly, anyway.” But of course Ty didn’t give “orderly” as much weight as she did. In the Fellowship, orderliness was nearly one of the Ten Commandments.

The FellowshipChapter 5.

The “umbrella of authority” is a concept that’s been around for many years. I was taught this very “order” as a teenager, although the charts I saw weren’t illustrated with patio umbrellas. It gives it kind of  an easy-living vibe.

It’s a clean, logical graphic that makes its point with a single glance: The Umbrella of Authority concept effectively protects Jesus from getting cooties from women!

Haha, not really. We all know that in Christ, men and women can approach God as equals. So this chart isn’t saying that a woman can’t get to Jesus except through her husband.

Of course, if you look at the husband’s share of life responsibilities, you’ll see that he’s supposed to be the spiritual leader. And underneath the woman’s cute little umbrella, you see “Submit to husband’s authority.” So a woman could approach God on her own, but to be honest, that really does mess up the Natural Order of the Family, doesn’t it? And God is a God of order, so he actually prefers you to go through the proper channels.

So… just go through your husband, okay?

There’s certainly nothing here that a man could object to. Shouldn’t a man lead his family spiritually? Shouldn’t he provide for his family? Shouldn’t he love his wife?  Well, then, what’s the problem?

What do you mean, these responsibilities don’t have to be limited only to husbands?

Oh. Hold on. We need to get something clear here.

You can’t shift these categories around. The umbrellas are impermeable when it comes to proper roles and responsibilities. You let a woman provide for the family or exert spiritual leadership, and the next thing you know, the husband will submit to her authority on some issues, and that’s it. The umbrellas disintegrate in a fiery, bloody, toxic meltdown.

This catastrophe completely incapacitates men. They won’t read their Bibles, won’t hold a job, won’t take out the garbage, nothing.* But they probably will look at porn and run away with another woman (probably some woman who usurped her husband’s authority, destroyed her home, and is now going to destroy yours). Why would you even want to mess with that?

No, this is the Natural Order of the Family. It looks great and worked really well in Victorian times, assuming you happened to be white and middle- to upper-class.

Just go with it.

Just hush.

Just obey.

It’s the Natural Order of the Family.

*Very recently, I read an admonition written by a man to younger women, advising them on how to find good answers to their questions. He explained that they were, first of all, to read their Bibles. Then they were to ask their husbands any questions they had. Don’t worry if you, the wife, knew more about the Bible than your husband did; your questions would motivate him to study! But the flipside is that he won’t read his Bible at all if you bypass his authority and seek out answers on your own.

I heard this same idea very often growing up. Men in patriarchal circles are badly prone to wind down to complete nothingness if their wives aren’t there to motivate, bolster, and reassure them that they are big strong leaders.

**By the way, why doesn’t Jesus have to do anything in this umbrella system?

***Seriously, it’s like its all dependent on our own works or something.

 

The Patriarchy Shop

The smiling man, dressed in a tailored dark suit, leaned over the polished oak and marble counter. “Welcome to the Christian Patriarchy Market! How can I help you?”

His new customer, a young woman, smiled tentatively back. “Hi. I’m looking for a new one of these, and I was told I had to get it here.”

She laid a large purse on the counter top. It was dark leather with “life” stamped on it in faded yellow letters. “I just turned twenty-two. I feel like I’m ready for a bigger one.”

His smile broadened. “I’ve got exactly what you need!” He opened a cabinet and withdrew another bag. It was much larger, and engraved into its smooth leather surface in flowing silver letters was Life.

“This is ideal for a woman in your situation,” he explained. “See how much bigger it is. You’ve got a lot more space to serve others. There’s a special pocket here to store your heart — I assume you’ve got it locked away in a box and you’ve given the key to your father?”

“Well…” she said hesitantly.

“Because you’re ready for a lot more responsibility, you’ll see that this one has lots of different sections. Here’s where you put your church ministry, here’s where you add your advanced homemaking skills, and don’t forget to fill up this baby pocket with lots and lots of longing! You’d be surprised at how many women in your stage of life don’t give any thought to wanting babies, but you can’t start too soon.”

She examined the bag with interest. “It’s really lovely, but I’m not sure it’s everything I need. I really, really love working in the yard…”

“You can put that with homemaking skills!”

“… and I’m really good at organizing events…”

“Church ministry! But you’ll need to tuck it way down so it doesn’t spill over into all the rest of the bag.”

“And… to be honest, I really want to learn to fly a plane. I’ve kind of looked into being a private pilot.”

The man paused. Then he cleared his throat. “I don’t think there’s really room for something like that. You could get your father to authorize an add-on for missions, but I’ll be honest with you, it’s bulky and doesn’t really fit.”

“But my brother’s accommodates all of that!”

“The men’s line is designed a little differently, of course.”

She fingered the soft leather. “I’d noticed that. Well, anyway, this won’t really work for me, because I’m getting married this summer.”

The clerk’s face lit up with excitement. “Really? Oh, you should have told me that to start with! You don’t need this old thing.” He swept the bag off the counter. Opening another cabinet door, he withdrew a leather bag so large that it took two arms to lift it onto the counter top.

It was made of leather, dyed deep red and purple, and fastened with brass. Surrounded by intricate scrollwork were real gold letters spelling out LIFE.

“This is everything you need!” the clerk exclaimed. “Look at this capacity–you’ll never run out of space for your desires! Lots of room for serving, huge section here for children, just look at your household work space! And right here–almost the entire middle section–is dedicated to your husband. You’ll have a lifetime job just filling this up!”

He looked at her expectantly, but she didn’t seem to share his enthusiasm. “There’s no room here for piloting a plane. Or organizing events. What about knowing God? I was hoping that my new bag would have a lot of space for that.”

“That’s the great thing about the patriarchy design,” the salesman said. “Watch this.”

He walked around to the front of the counter and opened two large double doors on the front. Using both hands, he extracted a rolling leather bag, reinforced with steel and decorated with images of swords. “This is the married man’s bag. It’s extra-double capacity because once a man is married, he’s basically responsible for everything relating to his wife and family. Pretty hefty weight to carry. Aren’t you glad you don’t have to worry about all this?”

“Well, I could help carry it.”

“Oh, no! This isn’t designed for a woman! But let me show you the best feature here.” He opened the man’s bag. Then he picked up the woman’s bag and tucked it inside. “See? It fits right there in the section for ‘spiritual maturity.’ As long as you keep all your things there, you’ll know everything you need to about God.”

She pointed to a small zip pocket on the side of the woman’s leather bag. “What’s that for?”

The salesman’s smile was bright. “You just stuff all your bad feelings in there and zip it up. That’s the feature that makes our design workable.”

The woman stood silently, taking it all in. Then she burst out, “But I don’t want to put all my stuff in there! And that’s way too heavy for my fiance! What happens if I have too much to fit? Or if his bag tears open?”

The clerk was no longer smiling. “I thought you were a serious customer.”

“I am! There’s just some serious flaws in your design.”

“Excuse me. It’s not my design. It’s God’s design. This is the way it works. You can go shopping at some other bag shop, but I warn you, those are badly-made and will rip open at a moment when you’re least expecting it. You’ll lose everything.”

She cleared her throat. “Just curious… have you ever used the woman’s bag to see how it really works?”

The salesman gave a short, derisive laugh. “Well, no. I don’t think God even uses it. He’s male too, you know. So, can I ring you up?”

“I… think I need to think about it.”

“I warn you, if you walk out of here, you walk away from this exclusively-designed line and away from the God who designed it!”

The woman shouldered her small bag again. “I think I saw God in some other places. He really seems too big to fit in here, actually. And so am I.” She turned and walked out of the shop.