This subject is obviously too large for a web page! But I’ll attempt to put it in a nutshell.
Many Christian husbands understand the husband/wife directives to mean that the husbands and wives are to submit to one another.
These men choose to be loving and caring toward their wives and have a sense (correctly) that their wives are just as important as
they are, that they are equals. Couples who value the talents each brings to the marriage, and who honor one another and consider
the other more important then themselves have happy relationships.
But some men use those same bible passages to insist they have the God-given right to have things their way because they are male
and God gave them that authority. Other men tone it down and aren’t as nasty, but still think they are entitled to rule their wives. This
group is more prone to achieve rule by teachings in church where they reason husbands and wives are equal before God, but in role
division the husband has authority and the wife must drop her own interests and bend herself to fit in with her husband’s plans and
interests and to serve the husband and children. Often, when husband’s money-making work is done for the day, he takes it easy
while his wife must keep working and serving the family. In addition, this is so heavily taught that even women pick it up and teach and
pressure other women to abide by these rules, and will criticize and hold at arms length or totally reject any woman who attempts to
develop interests that are outside the traditional homemaking sphere, or who behaves in a way that suggests she thinks herself equal
to her husband. In this case, the woman would be seen as dominating her husband. It is because of these groups and teachings by
both men and women that I believe the biblical passages need to be reexamined and taught differently. In short, those marriage
passages need to be taught in such a way that it is impossible for men or women to use them to club wives into inequality.
The first step to change the teaching is to put the marriage passage back into its context. Ephesians 5:22-33, for example, should be
read with the rest of Ephesians. Ephesians chapters 4 and 5 especially deal with how to lovingly get along with one another in the
church. 4:1 & 2 “…I urge you to live a life worth of the calling you have received. Be completely gentle and humble, be patient,
bearing with one another in love…” This directive doesn’t leave room for any Christian to be demanding or demeaning toward
another. Wives and husbands are part of the church, so the directives given to church life also apply to home life. The passage on
marriage is like a map giving close up detail of a city. Just as the laws of the land don’t change to “all business owners have the right to
take advantage of non-business owners” as soon as you get into the city, so also the biblical laws don’t change into all husbands have
the right to take advantage of and be nasty to their wives when you get to the home. In addition if husbands are to love their wives as
Christ loved the church, that brings in Jesus’s example in the four gospels as context as well. Jesus sacrificed for His church, both in
life and in death.
The second step is to stop giving wives and husbands role names that can be taken the wrong way. Some people insist that when the
passage says the husband is the head of the wife, that means he is in a position of authority over her. This interpretation is completely
opposite of what is spelled out in Ephesians 5:21 “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The verses after verse 21 show
what the submitting to one another looks like. Further, if you read Gilbert Bilezikian’s book Beyond Sex Roles, you’ll see that head (“for
the husband is the head of the wife”) didn’t mean authority in the original Greek. Instead, it referred to Christ as the fountainhead of
life and pointed to his “servant role as provider and sustainer” (p. 161). To be a fountainhead of life is to be life-giving, which would
include encouragement and building her up, rather than demeaning and tearing her down. And the servant role as provider and
sustainer points to serving and providing resources for personal growth and development. So it’s a nurturing and serving role instead
of a boss role. I take it being a provider doesn’t just mean providing a roof over her head and food on the table. It’s also referring to
meeting her emotional needs, providing resources so she can develop to her fullest potential—whether it’s her career or other
interests, meeting her love needs which may include cuddling, going shopping with her, cleaning the house with her, or just plain
cleaning the house, and whatever else she needs from her husband to feel loved. Sex must be tempered according to her need and
desire, and not only to the husband’s desire.
Using the term “leader” instead of authority in reference to the husband is often just a nicer sounding word that means the same thing.
(Kind of like cemetery means grave yard, but is supposed to sound nicer.) Actually, if you think of children playing follow the leader,
this leader term could become more usable. I think of a boy leading a train of 5 children over a stream. I see their arms outstretched
as they try to balance on the stepping stones he has chosen. He is leader because the others want to follow, not because he is
insisting. When he starts making demands, the others will stop playing the game and he won’t be the leader anymore. If he chooses
stepping stones that are too far apart, his followers will step into the water and get their shoes wet, or even get a good dunking, also
likely to bring the game to a quick halt. Thus, a good leader will consider his followers wants, abilities and needs. This means a leader
can’t be a mind reader, he has to communicate with his follower(s) and do what they want, too. Which means why even use the term
leader? Here is where the leadership teaching gets in trouble, because the rule is the husband is the leader and the wife MUST follow,
even if he’s being a jerk, even if he’s a demander instead of a leader.
The third step is to give husbands and wives the over-view definition of marital roles. According to the Ephesians 5 passage, biblical
marriage is a relationship between equals. (Although Paul Hegstrom says more yielding and consideration is commanded from the
husband than what is commanded from the wife. See his book, Angry Men and the Women who Love Them. Hegstrom is a man who
stopped abusing and dominating his wife.) The wife yields to her husband because he genuinely wants her best interests above his
own. He is her servant-provider-nurturer. He, on the other hand, loves her so much he’ll sacrifice his own wants and needs for her. In
return, she sacrifices her wants and needs to make sure his best interests are realized, too.
This couple I have pictured reminds me of my sister when she was dating. She and her date took forever to finish a game because
neither wanted to win and make the other lose. Life is better than a game. Games require one to win and the other to lose, but life has
other options. A couple who works for the best interest of both self and the other, will brainstorm until they find solutions that address
the desires of both parties. The result will be two people who grow into beautiful maturity, both of them assertive and yielding, nurturing
and blossoming, all the while loving and caring for both self and the other.