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.

 

 

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