Is the problem a lack of listening or a lack of submitting?

In She Only Acted Crazy To Get Her Own Way, Dalrock asserted:

There is another point worth bringing up in this episode, and that is the meaning of the complementarian expression “listen to your wife”.  This is another case where the complementarian expression means something quite different than what the words would suggest on their face.  Just like “servant leader” doesn’t mean headship, and “submission” means rebellion, “listen to your wife” doesn’t mean simply listen to her.   When spoken by a complementarian, “listen to your wife” means do as she says”

In Just Shut Up and Listen, I tested the validity of Dalrock’s assertion by examining one of the most popular Christian marriage curricula of the present day, The Art of Marriage, and found that Dalrock’s assertion was confirmed.  I then reiterated how this listen to your wife=obey your wife teaching directly contradicts the Bible by inverting the Christian marital hierarchy of headship and submission.

Insanitybytes took exception and asserted that the problem isn’t wives throwing tantrums to get their own way but rather husbands who abuse their wives by not listening to them. She commented (highlighting mine):

Sometimes men don’t understand the seriousness of the situation and women need a way to get their attention. Men like Dalrock have no idea WTH they are talking about and “never listen to your wife” is so anti biblical it makes my blood boil. Men are to love their wives like Christ loves the church. Does God not hear our prayers? Does God not listen to us? Does God not preserve our mental health?

I’ve addressed this several times. Not listening to your wife is psychological abuse. Not being heard sent this woman into an emotional crisis, one in which she was destroying her wedding china.

So, we all agree that examples of wives wildly acting out are highlighted by the Christian media as worthy of emulation.  What we obviously don’t all agree on is what is causing this acting out.  Thus the question we need to answer is this: Are these out-of-control behaviors caused by (as Dalrock asserts) wives who want to get their own way or by (as IB asserts) husbands who won’t listen to their wives at all?

In other words, is this a lack of listening or a lack of submitting?

Let us find another example of a wife exhibiting multiple instances of acting out in a rather unhinged manner.  My example for this post comes from As For Me and My House: Crafting Your Marriage to Last by Pastor Walter Wangerin (you can click the title above to read the parts I quote from in this post via google books):

The first thing to note is that Pastor Wangerin is not part of the evangelical marriage industry.  He has been a Lutheran pastor for many years, serving for a number of years in an inner-city congregation.  He is also a fantasy author, well known for The Book of the Dun Cow, among others.  I’m very fond of Pastor Wangerin’s writings, and about five years ago I read his book on marriage.  There is some very good teaching in it, but one of the things that stood out to me even then, before I had really thought these things through, was a series of anecdotes about a troubled time in his marriage.

At the beginning of the story, Pastor Wangerin and his wife have been married for some years when he wakes one night to find his wife not in bed. He gets up to look for her and find her crying alone in the dark in the living room.  He is terribly worried and begs her to tell him what is wrong but she refuses even to speak to him. She gets up, runs to the bathroom, slams the door, still refusing to speak to him, and bursts into fresh, angry tears.  He continues the story on page 75:

How long can a silence last? Long. How long could Thanne continue not talking to me – not talking, at least, of matters crucial to our spirits and our relationship? Long. Thanne had a gift for silences. And after the night when I found her awake I suffered a bewildered misery.

Oh, I was such a fool in those days. But I was working blind. What could I do, if she wouldn’t talk to me?

No: I was a fool in those days. I did not see that even my efforts at healing hurt her. Well, I wasn’t looking at these present efforts, only at past actions to find the fault; but, in fact, the fault was consistently there, in me, in all that I was doing. Therefore, I kept making things worse for all my good intentions. I was a walking fault!

At night she always went to bed before I did. When I came to the bedroom, carefully shading the light from her eyes, doing everything possible to care for her, I always found her turned away, curled tightly on her side, at the very edge of the bed. Her cheek was the only flash I saw, and the corner of her eye – closed. Was she sleeping? I didn’t know.  I was scared to ask, scared to wake her if she was, and scared she wouldn’t answer if she wasn’t. I got under covers cursing creaky bed springs. And my heart broke to see the cheek I could not touch. Her skin was no longer mine.

“Did you sleep well?” I asked in the morning, as casually as I could.

Thanne was growing pale, gaunt in her thinness, drawn around the mouth parentheses (from so long, so pinched a silence).  Her hair broke at the ends, dry. She fixed breakfast for the children in her house coat. Her poor ankles were flour-white.

“Did you sleep well?”

Thanne flashed me a glance as sharp as a scalpel. “I didn’t sleep,” she said and slapped eggs on plates. Her tone said volumes, but left the interpretation to me: because of you.  Or, what’s it to you? Or, you asked me just to rub it in. Or why don’t you just go to work? I could take my pick. I left for work.

But I was not a bad man, was I? I didn’t fool around with women – that’s worth something in this world, isn’t it? I didn’t fritter away our money, or beat her, or even talk back to her. I wasn’t a drunkard. What I was, was a pastor! I had given even my professional life to God. I was a good man! Then where was the problem between us?

All day I argued my defense in my own mind. All day I truly suffered a stomach pain which felt very much like homesickness and intolerable loneliness. It prickled my back to think how much I loved Thanne; but it drew my gut into a knot to remember that we were not talking. And the knot was guilt; but the knot was self-pity, too. For God’s sake, what did I do?

In the evening I planned to prove my goodness to her. I vacuumed the living room. With mighty snaps, I shook out all the rugs in our house. When the children had gone to bed (so quietly, so quietly, like mice sneaking beneath their parents’ silences) I noticed that Thanne hadn’t yet done the dishes. Good! I thought. My opportunity! And I rolled up my sleeves to help her out.

But when I was halfway through the pans I felt the hairs on my neck stand up – as though the Lantern had haunted our kitchen. I paused in the greasy water. I turned and saw Thanne standing in the doorway, glaring at me in silent fury, her thin arms folded at her chest.

She hissed, “You are just trying to make me feel guilty.”  She disappeared from the doorway and went to bed.

No – but I thought I was trying to help. The dirty pans beside me made me sad.

He continues on to describe several more stories in which his wife acted out crazily, including leaving home on a Sunday afternoon without telling her husband where she was going, or when/if she would return.  Because they had guests coming over for dinner and he did not know if she would return, he cancelled the get-together, only to have her return a few minutes before the dinner party was to begin and throw a massive tantrum about his having canceled it. Disturbingly, he writes of this event:

I knew for sure that Thanne was right.  I had sinned terribly against her, sins which I will name before this chapter is done so you will understand that it wasn’t a single act or a number of acts: it was I myself. I was sin.

 Finally it is revealed that she was upset about him being gone so much for work, attending to his pastoral duties, and not prioritizing her enough (this should look very familiar to you; it was also the reason for the tantrums of Mrs. Bright, Mrs. Keller, and Mrs.Wilson).  Furthermore, as a pastor’s wife she felt like she was losing her own identity. Part of the resolution involved Pastor Wangerin watching the children more often so she could pursue her desire to get a degree in computer programming.

Pastor Wangerin had repeatedly pleaded with his wife to talk to him and tell him what was wrong; not only was he NOT “abusing” her by refusing to listen to her, he was actually begging her to tell him the problem. yet she would not.  She not only threw tantrum after tantrum to get her own way – having her husband home more so she could pursue personal fulfillment – but she wouldn’t even tell him what was wrong.  She faulted him for not being observant enough to read the situation without her having to say anything.

Pastor Wangerin goes on to explain some of the little ways he treated his wife unkindly; he was not blameless.  Yet the overarching reason for Mrs. Wangerin’s tantrums clearly was not that he did not listen to her but rather that she wanted to have her own way and thus continued escalating her behavior until he finally got the message (and leaving without telling your spouse when or if you ever plan to return is clearly a message with an implicit threat to it).

Let us answer the question I posed at the beginning – is this a lack of listening or a lack of submitting?  We can see that listening was not the problem in the Wangerin home, which means the problem was primarily a lack of wifely submission.  And once again, a Christian pastor has held his wife’s lack of submission up as good and sound teaching for other Christian women.

Edit: I misidentified Mrs. Bright as Mrs. Rainey originally.

Just shut up and listen.

In Unhinged, Dalrock writes about an incident highlighted in Tim and Kathy Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage:

“In the section titled The Godly Tantrum, Tim explains that Kathy wanted Tim to work fewer hours, but he was focused on the goals of his ministry.  Tim offers this story as encouragement to readers “not to shrink from really telling the truth to one another.”

One day I came home from work.  It was a nice day outside and I noticed that the door to our apartment’s balcony was open.  Just as I was taking off my jacket I heard a smashing noise coming from the balcony.  In another couple of seconds I heard another one.  I walked out on to the balcony and to my surprise saw Kathy sitting on the floor.  She had a hammer, and next to her was a stack of our wedding china.  On the ground were the shards of two smashed saucers.

“What are you doing?  I asked.”

She looked up and said, “You aren’t listening to me.  You don’t realize that if you keep working these hours you are going to destroy this family.  I don’t know how to get through to you.  You aren’t seeing how serious this is.  This is what you are doing.”  And she brought the hammer down on the third saucer.  It splintered into pieces.

Tim explains that this was the wakeup call that he needed to decide to work fewer hours.”

In She Only Acted Crazy To Get Her Own Way, Dalrock continues discussing this incident (highlighting in the first paragraph is mine):

“There is another point worth bringing up in this episode, and that is the meaning of the complementarian expression “listen to your wife”.  This is another case where the complementarian expression means something quite different than what the words would suggest on their face.  Just like “servant leader” doesn’t mean headship, and “submission” means rebellion, “listen to your wife” doesn’t mean simply listen to her.   When spoken by a complementarian, “listen to your wife” means do as she says (emphasis mine):

I sat down trembling. I thought she had snapped. “I’m listening. I’m listening,” I said. As we talked it became clear that she was intense and laser focused, but she was not in a rage or out of control emotionally.  She spoke calmly but forcefully.  Her arguments were the same as they had been for months, but I realized how deluded I had been.  There would never be a convenient time to cut back.  I was addicted to the level of productivity I had achieved.  I had to do something.  She saw me listening for the first time and we hugged.

Note that they had been discussing this for months.  He had heard her arguments but didn’t agree with her on the correct decision.  This is what complementarians call “not listening”.  “Listening” means agreeing with her.”

 

Is it true that what complementarians mean by “listening to your wife” is agreeing with your wife and doing what she says?  This is actually a very serious accusation, and therefore all of us who take biblical marriage seriously should be concerned about this charge because if it is true, what complementarians are teaching is directly counter to what the Bible says about the marital hierarchy of headship and submission:

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:22-24)

The Bible says the husband is to be the head of the wife.  He should listen to her and then make a decision about what course of action is best to pursue.  However, if what complementarians mean by “listening” is agreeing with your wife and doing what she says, then this is teaching that the wife is to be the head of the husband, a direct inversion of what is taught in the Bible.

Is Dalrock’s charge true?  After all, it is seemingly based only on Pastor Tim Keller’s story.

A couple years ago, my husband and I participated in a couple’s Bible study, The Art of Marriage, at our church.  The featured pastors for this series are like a Who’s Who of the complementarian evangelical world−Voddie Baucham, Bryan L. Carter, Michael Easley, Dr. Wayne Grudem (President of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood), Dave Harvey, Mary Kassian, Albert Mohler, Russell D. Moore, Dennis and Barbara Rainey, Paul Tripp, Dave and Ann Wilson, and others.  The Art of Marriage is essentially evangelical complementarianism in its pure, distilled form and thus can serve to either prove or refute Dalrock’s charge.

During one of the video teaching segments, Pastor Dave Wilson and his wife Ann discussed a difficult time in their marriage.  He was growing a new church while also serving as team chaplain for the Detroit Lions, and he was very busy and away from home more than his wife wanted him to be.

She had tried discussing her unhappiness with him, she said, but he was not cutting back enough in her estimation.  On their tenth wedding anniversary, he planned a nice date and took her out to dinner.  He arranged for individual roses to be delivered periodically to their table while he lovingly reminisced about each year of their marriage.  She grew increasingly angry with him, and later when they left and went to park at the site where their new church would be built, he leaned over to kiss her and she turned away.

When he asked her what was wrong, she told him that she had lost her feelings for him (i.e. no longer loved him) because he was gone too much for work.  He was devastated and started to disagree with her, reaching for his calendar to show her all the times he’d been home when, he says, he suddenly felt the Holy Spirit telling him,

Don’t say a word. Listen.  Just shut up and listen.

So he listened to her and then prayed and repented and asked God to help him be a better father and husband who was home more, as his wife wanted him to be.  He said their marriage improved after that.

You can watch the video segments here:

At the time we viewed this, it really bothered me.  Although I can’t fault her for missing her husband and wanting more of his time and attention, it seemed to me that Mrs. Wilson had behaved very ungraciously on their anniversary evening out.  Surely, I thought, she could have continued to discuss her feelings with him in a more respectful way and then committed to praying about the situation while abiding by his decision, whatever it was.  After all, he was very busy with work, not only building a ministry he was (presumably) called by God to start, but also providing for his family.  And many women in the world have to take care of matters at home on their own more than they would like because their husbands are gone long hours for work – just ask a military wife about deployment.  Or ask my sister, whose husband’s work schedule since leaving the army is six weeks on an oil rig in the ocean and then one week home, followed by six weeks away again, maybe in the oil fields in Wyoming this time.

Viewed from that lens, Mrs. Wilson’s story begins to look a bit self-centered, frankly.

But even if he was truly in error in how he was dividing his time, it seemed to me that it would have been best to speak with him respectfully about it and then pray often, asking God to handle the situation.  Delivering an I no longer love you because you are gone for work too much type of speech on their tenth anniversary doesn’t really square with what the Bible says in Ephesians 5.  As we sat in church that evening in 2014 watching this video, I felt a strong sense of unease about what we wives were being taught.

Looking at their story now, two years later, it clearly seems to support Dalrock’s charge.  The Wilsons’ story is eerily similar to the Kellers’ except that Mrs. Wilson doesn’t violently smash anything.  But there is still a veiled threat implicit in telling your husband that you no longer love him on your tenth anniversary date night.  Pastor Wilson even talks about getting the sense that he was supposed to “just shut up and listen” to his wife, as Pastor Keller had with Mrs. Keller, while she told him what she had told him repeatedly before,.

Again, Pastor Wilson may very well have been in error in how he was choosing to use his time.  But whose job is it to make that decision – his wife’s or God’s?

The creators of The Art of Marriage included this anecdote as an example of the correct way to solve what may have been an error in Pastor Wilson’s decision-making.  The only way he could demonstrate that he was finally really “listening” to his wife was by agreeing with her and doing what she said.

In other words, she became the head of the marriage and his spiritual leader, and he submitted to her as unto the Lord.

And all the complementarian evangelicals said, “Amen!”

This is profoundly disturbing.

 

 

Do pastors tear down men on Father’s Day?

This past Friday, I read the following quote from the blogger Dalrock:

Father’s Day predictably brings out diverse sentiments in our post marriage world.  For Christian leaders it brings out contempt for husbands and fathers, including the now traditional (if not obligatory) sermon tearing down men in front of their families.

 

I’ve heard men’s issues bloggers express this before, that Father’s Day is a time when churches express contempt for fathers, and I thought that was so odd because I’ve never heard a Father’s Day sermon preached in the 12 years I’ve attended and been a member of our church.  So when I read this quote from Dalrock, I sort of rolled my eyes a little and thought that maybe there was a bit of exaggeration there or something.

On Saturday, Insanity Bytes disagreed with Dalrock, writing:

Complete poppycock, Dalrock. Even here in the 9th circuit of hell, in liberal utopia, our Christian leaders don’t tear down men in front of their families nor do they mock fathers. That is no more a true representation of what is really going in the world  than the Westboro Baptist church is actually a church.

And I thought, “Yeah, what she said!  Poppycock, Dalrock.  I’ve certainly never heard a sermon about Father’s Day at all, let alone one bashing men!”  I felt happy about this because I don’t want there to be such a thing as sermons that bash men on Father’s Day.  I also don’t want there to be such a thing as ticks, yet I just removed one of those bloodsuckers from my ankle after walking our puppies in our meadow, so apparently what I want doesn’t dictate reality.

Anyway, who is right?  Dalrock or Insanity Bytes? I wanted IB to be right, and even felt like she must be right and not Dalrock who was probably just being a sour-grapes whiner, but from whom could I find out for sure?

I know, how about a pastor!  How about even my own pastor?

My husband and I went to church shortly after I read IB’s post, where I was shocked to hear my first ever Father’s Day sermon.  You can watch the video of the sermon here:

http://northridgechurch.com/talks/unlikely-heroes/abraham/

Start watching at the 6:00 minute mark, where my pastor says:

“Like us, Abraham was far from perfect and yet he became a hero of the faith.  Here’s actually the truth that I want to share with you on this Father’s Day weekend.  This is the truth from Abraham’s story: a life of a faith, a life where you experience a relationship with God that’s so intimate, that’s so close that God Himself would call you His friend, that kind of life does not demand perfection.  A life that God ultimately honors and celebrates and holds up like he did Abraham’s doesn’t demand perfection.  And if that’s true – and it is – then there’s a lot of encouragement and motivation for us in that truth for those of us who are dads, for all of us.

I have to tell you, it’s our goal on this Father’s Day weekend to lift you up and encourage you.  And I have to tell you from history I’ve learned that often Father’s Day is one of the worst days that dads can ever choose to go to church.  Because often it’s the only time churches feel like they’re going to have the ears of dads and so what they do is they plan to beat them up royally for all they’re not doing right.  Ever been to one of those Father’s Day services?  Oh man, I have.  In fact, here in the early days of my ministry here, you know what we’d do?  Oh man, we planned.  We planned for you guys.  And then what we did is we’d sing “Cats in the Cradle and the Silver Spoon”.  And we’d talk about how you have so royally blown it, the world has gone to hell in a hand basket, and then we’d try and help you recover.  And we wondered why dads didn’t like Fathers Day at our church.

We don’t do that anymore.  What we want this to be is an encouragement to you, we want this to lift you up, and I can’t think of a better story than Abraham’s because he’s like us – far from perfect.  And yet he was used significantly from God.”

My Pastor straight up confesses that our church used to do exactly what Dalrock says and that he had heard it at other churches as well.  Therefore, I am chastened and sad to report that IB and I are wrong and Dalrock is right, according to my pastor.

Edited to add: The quote from the video begins at the 6:00 minute mark, not the 26 minute mark as I originally wrote.