Editorial and commentary on the dark, hyper-fundamentalist side of the Christian faith, including movements such as Patriarchy, Quiverfull, Courtship, neo-conservative Christian Homeschooling, Family Integrated Churches, the Religious Right, and more.
(I've spoken before about the lack of contingencies for the many failures of "biblical patriarchy". Recently I asked someone with firsthand experience of these failures if she would be willing to contribute a piece here. She very graciously agreed and authored the following, very compelling article.)
What You Don't Know...
From my earliest visits to Christian fundamentalist churches and Bible study groups, I remember it being taught as doctrine that women must submit to men. Many of the women in my mother’s Bible study group were reading Maribel Morgan’s The Total Woman, which advocated submission to man and promised great marital security in exchange. Over the years, as I became engaged and attended Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, this basic message stayed very much the same: submit, and receive security in return.
The patriarchal movement has advanced a great deal since the 1970s, but that core message, that women are exchanging their ability to make choices for themselves and in their own best interest for security and love, has not changed much. If you look at patriarchalist literature aimed at women, it’s easy to see that there are implicit promises that if you do submit perfectly and completely subsume your wants, needs, personality, and being into your husband's you'll always have that husband there to support you.
That implicit promise of security in exchange for submission is a lie.
How do I know? I lived in submission, and I believed what I was told. I believed that my husband might not be perfect, or perfectly loving, but that wasn’t what was important. My submission was what was important, and God would bless me for it. I would have the security of a home, a lasting and stable marriage, and a safe family in which to raise our young daughter and her future siblings. I learned in the cruelest way that my trust in the promises of men, and in the promises men made on God’s behalf, was not to be rewarded with love and security.
One of the selling points often made about submission is that a man who is getting everything he wants at home will have no reason to stray. That may be true. But, it is also true that people often appear to have no real reason to stray, and they do it anyway. It is also true that people stray from their marriages for reasons that are their own, that don’t really have to do with another person and that are not the consequences of another person’s actions.
I lived in submission, and my husband kicked me and our three-year-old daughter out of the house so he could move in the woman he believed would give him a son. You know, like how in the Bible it says you can just tell the wife who doesn't please you, "I divorce you" and kick her out of the tent? My husband had a submissive wife, he had everything he wanted, and he decided it wasn't what he wanted. I’m not implying in any way that I was a perfect person, a perfect spouse, or a perfect Christian, because no one is. But, I didn’t do anything that warranted being tossed out of the house with a three-year-old and no job, no money, and no means of support. My husband started a new bank account on his own, moved all our money from our joint account, and began insisting that my daughter and I move out of the house, or live with the new woman he was bringing in. He didn’t file for divorce legally, and I couldn’t afford to do it, so my daughter and I scraped by on little bits of money I was able to earn doing temporary office work and working as a nurse’s assistant at a hospital, the only things I was really qualified to do. Until some family members helped me with the money to file for divorce a couple of years later, I had no child support, or any financial help from my husband. The day after my daughter and I were able to move out of our house into a tiny, rundown apartment in a bad part of town, my husband bought a new car for himself, and one for his girlfriend.
There is nothing magical about headship or patriarchy that gives a woman any protection against abandonment. Nothing. In fact, following some of the demands of headship can place you, and your children, in a very precarious position. If you have avoided education and job training, and have never worked outside the home, you could find yourself in a position in which you are very much like the women in Jesus’ day who were similarly abandoned—no money, no means of supporting yourself and your children, no prospects. You know what does protect you? Laws. Legal rights. The local child support authority. The judge who orders that you and your child can stay in the house.
One of the things that hurt most during this ordeal was the response of my church in particular and the greater Church in general. My church chose to make my husband the leader of their new singles’ ministry. There was a lot of stigma, and it was humiliating. People wondered (sometimes aloud) what I had done to make my husband reject our beautiful little girl. People didn’t buy the story of a headship/submission relationship that wasn’t destroyed by some sin on the part of the wife. I learned that people preaching headship and submission are not, as Paul directed, looking out for the best interests of those they hold in submission, and putting the women’s needs first. Doug Phillips, Voddie Beauchamp, James Dobson, Bill Gothard, and all the other men preaching patriarchy don't care about you, or me, or any other woman. They care about their own power and control, because that’s what the doctrine of headship is really about.
The thing is, patriarchalists don't want you to know about women like me, because that promise of security is their major bargaining chip in their campaign to transfer all power away from women and onto men. I never met any woman who had a story similar to mine while I was living the headship life. It was only afterward that I started meeting women for whom this doctrine had been a source of misery. You’re not meant to hear about any drawbacks when you’re in the lifestyle, and what you don’t know can hurt you. It's a lot easier to sacrifice women to male supremacy if you can convince them to jump on the altar themselves and slit their own throats, which is what these men are trying so hard to do. And what so many women are falling for. You wouldn’t get into a pool without wearing something to help you float, and knowing how to swim. If you believe that headship/submission is the way to live, do it, but also do something to keep yourself and your children safe and healthy. Have some job skills, a bank account of your own, a credit card in your own name. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for your children.