“For your good”: Joshua Harris’s “Word to Wives,” pt. 4

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Harris argues that because everyone has to submit to authority in some context (at work, as a citizen), women shouldn’t feel “as though the word of God is picking on you.” Of course, this argument hinges on his audience joining him in the fantasy that “submit” and “authority” mean the same thing in the workplace, etc., as they do in a complementarian marriage.

He continues with an even weirder and more disturbing comparison:

We know from other parts of the bible, ephesians chapter 6, that male and female children are called to be subject to their parents.  Isn’t that right?  All the parents said “Amen!” [Laughing]  You know, I just was thinking about the fact that I’ve never heard of any scholar challenging the teaching in the NT that children are to obey their parents.  I’ve never heard that.  No one’s ever questioned those passages.  And you know why?  Because by the time you’re old enough to be a scholar, you’re probably a parent, and you want that to be true.  There’s no question that that’s the word of God speaking right there.  Well I mean, the ultimate example of authority as Christians is that we’re all under the authority of Jesus Christ.  We all call him Lord, we submit to his lordship.  So my point here is that authority is not a bad thing.

Once again, he’s arguing for analogies between relationships that are fundamentally not comparable. To compare a relationship of a minor child, dependent on parents and whom the parents have a responsibility to protect, to a marital relationship between two grown adults is all kinds of messed up. This is a particularly disturbing comparison given the very draconian and in many cases abusive approach to parenting that complementarians generally endorse. In SGM, which I don’t think is all that exceptional in this regard, one of the major goals for parents is to train children to obey immediately, completely, and cheerfully.* If any one of those factors is absent, it’s not true obedience. Practically all parents use corporal punishment from a very young age (as early as 1 year, or even earlier) and with high frequency: spankings using implements, as often as once or more a day.

So comparing a woman’s “duty” to submit to her husband with a childs “duty” to submit to parental authority is not only problematic by definition, it’s also quite alarming when you take into account that many complementarians define parental authority as having total, unquestioned control over their children’s behavior from infancy through adolescence and often beyond. What does it say about complementarianism that it presents this kind of relationship as analogous to a relationship between spouses? Bad news.

It does occur to Harris that authority can be abused, but his concept of “abuse” is a bit…strange:

Now it can be misused. It can be abused, and I just want to qualify all that I’m saying here today in saying that we are never called as Christians to obey authority when it calls us to disobey our ultimate authority, which is God and his word.  And so if the government commands us to disobey God, we obey God.  If our employer tells us to do something that violates God’s word, we obey God.  Even if our parents, the God given authority of parents, if they tell us to do something which violates God’s word, we are called to respectfully and humbly obey the Lord instead of them.  But in the majority of cases authority is something that is a blessing to our lives, and it’s something that God has given for our good, and without it there would be untold chaos, and misery in this world.

Joshua Harris thinks it’s very important that you understand you should never submit to authorities if they order you to sin. Because that would make God mad. That’s what “abuse of authority” means under this fucked up theology. As for abuses of authority that involve ill treatment or coercion of behavior that isn’t “sin,” well. Harris doesn’t seem terribly concerned about those. Priorities! The important thing is that GOD isn’t offended. Sound familiar?

If [a husband's abusive behavior is] not requiring her to sin, but simply hurting her, then I think she endures verbal abuse for a season, she endures perhaps being smacked one night, and then she seeks help from the church”. – John Piper

ALSO. It is very important that you understand that without authority there would be untold CHAOS and MISERY in the world. UNTOLD and unprecedented. You know, fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling! The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!

I mean what the hell. Does Joshua Harris remember he’s talking about MARRIAGE here? Does his audience remember that? Here he is talking about a relationship between two people, and suddenly the future of civilization and the fate of the whole world hangs in the balance. It’s not only an enormous leap in (il)logic, it’s incredibly manipulative of his audience. That such an absurd argument is accepted as literal gospel is a testament to the incredible level of thought control that exists in SGM and similar evangelical church cultures. Such “reasoning” suffices only in a context where people have been trained to completely ignore logical fallacies and to accept whatever their leaders say without question.


*If you can stomach it, here are some of SGM’s teachings on parenting. Each message has a PDF outline that accompanies it – spares you from having to listen to the whole thing, thankfully.

10 Comments

  1. Brilliant (your blog, not J. Harris).

    That quote from John Piper is the most absurd thing I’ve ever read. As someone who’s seen others get physically abused in a marital relationship, I detest ideas like that, which the church often generates. When I was witnessing domestic violence, my pastors wife told me something similar.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention “For your good”: Joshua Harris’s “Word to Wives,” pt. 4 « Are Women Human? -- Topsy.com

  3. You might find the following blogs of interest about C.J. Mahaney and the group he leads, Sovereign Grace Ministries:

    http://www.sgmsurvivors.com
    http://www.sgmrefuge.com

    They tell another side.

    Hope this helps.

  4. The quote from John Piper makes me absolutely livid. I was once part of a domestic relationship which quickly became abusive. When I sought “help” from my church, the leadership counselled me piously to remain in the relationship. “Learn to understand your man… live your life through him because that is your divine calling…endure suffering wrongfully to win him….” It’s obvious that those church leaders and John Piper have not experienced this type domestic abuse first-hand. That’s wonderful! I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But those of us who have experienced it have a completely different story to tell.

    • It’s all sadly predictable. It’s what happens when “leadership” is restricted to only one class of people, and that class gets to decide how everyone else should live. It’s really easy to minimize issues that don’t affect one personally. And yea, it’s infuriating to hear these jerks blithely romanticizing submission as this glorious thing that benefits women, or hand-waving about just “enduring” abuse. Please. Fuck that.

  5. There’s this glorification of suffering when it’s done to follow the Bible. Staying with someone who is abusive because you’re honoring God by submitting probably is at the top in terms of “true” obedience to God.

    I’ve always been keenly aware of what kinds of people I’m able to have in my life, and if I can’t remove someone, then I try to cut off my own emotional ties to them. And this has set me up as someone who is weak – both emotionally and spiritually. I remember when I was a teenager and I didn’t want to see my father anymore – I was sick of feeling emotionally vulnerable around him, and his hanging threat of “I’m your father I can do whatever I want to you” made it so I never wanted to be in his presence. And I was in the wrong in this – someone told my mother how her family had always had her grandmother over – even though she was an alcoholic and emotionally abusive, they’d still let her come over drunk and treating them horribly because that was her mother’s way of “honoring” her mother. That I was unwilling to do this was a sign of my hardened heart and unwillingness to obey God.

    My Christian community told stories of the abused just sticking through it and God healing marriages and families because the abused was “faithful” to God. I’m pretty sure I’ve read a few Christian novels with the same premise. Suffering to obey God is glorified far more than if it comes easily, and Christian culture feeds on those stories. So it’s not suprising that abuse is a-ok to them, when (if the victims are just perfect little submitters to God) they’ll become the ultimate story for how great and wonderful of a redeemer God is.

    • Exactly. And of course no one ever wants to deal seriously with the ugly details of abuse. Just abstract it to “suffering” and “enduring,” instead of “being called stupid and ugly every day” or “terrifying rages that come with no warning” or “being beaten until I’m black and blue and swollen.” No, it’s all wrapped up and shrouded in vague, sanitized language. And if you ever try to talk about the specifics, you’re not focusing on the Cross or being forgiving. It all adds up to glorifying enduring abuse while refusing to deal with the actual realities of abuse, and in fact punishing people who try to talk about it in real terms.

      • Absolutely. And I see it in so many things as well. There are these kinds of Christians within Christianity that are so far removed from experiencing a lot of pain and suffering, and they’ve glamorized it. I’ve had friends jealous of my “testimony” – because I had all these things in my life that didn’t make me talking about my Christian faith reduced to “My parents were Christians and I accepted Christ at 5.” A Christian on my facebook is a nurse, and she once wrote a note about a Christian patient of hers suffering from cancer and said, ” Sometimes, I look at my own life and wish for trials such as hers if only to develop the wisdom and heart knowledge she had of the Lord. ” That’s verbatim. Suffering becomes something to covet because they have no clue what the actual experience is like. It’s the equalvalent of the little kid who wants to be in the hospital because people bring you stuff. They don’t want to talk about it in real terms because that would require a level of empathy that their either not capable of, or refuse to possess, because that would require feeling darker emotions – maybe even start questioning the safe environment of moral absolutes. But moral absolutes work for them, because the absolutes are for things that don’t pertain to their life. One family that I knew took a hard and fast rule toward “if you lie you are in danger of hell fire” and I always think that of course they can believe that – they have the privilege where white lies are not necessary for them. They don’t have to lie to protect other people, or because telling the truth might cause them harm. There’s no risk to believe that. (Of course, the one that I was friends with lied through her teeth, and I’ve never figured out how she reconciled that to her sense of morality superiority over others).

        I’m rambling and getting off topic, but it’s beneificial to sanitize abuse when realizing that it’s not some ultimate suffering act for God would require the person to experience pain, anger, sadness, etc., and question how a loving God can not just let it happen – but create a moral absolute in which he condones it. Better then, to believe that faithfulness and obedience to absolutes will always warrant redemption and joy from God, and if it doesn’t, the blame of course always lies with the victim for not doing everything just right.