Sunday, May 06, 2012

Being Controversial

I'm feeling even more controversial than I thought, so instead of starting with courtship, I'll start with critiquing this statement:

“A man should be the spiritual leader in the home.”

This is one of those phrases, like “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” or “God helps those who help themselves” that many people think is in the Bible, but actually isn’t.

It seems like people are taking this from the end of Ephesians 5. Only there’s no command there for men to be spiritual leaders. There’s a command for men to love their wives—but the example given is quite practical: “as their own bodies.” Nothing profoundly spiritual about making sure your wife is fed and clothed. 

There's the example given of Christ's love and care for the church, but unless you actually believe that husbands somehow are able to save and sanctify their wives (and I'm afraid that's heresy), it's clear that this is given in the way of inspirational example, not practical scope of activity. Paul quickly ties it back down to earth with the analogy to the body again. The passage as a whole reads like this: See how Christ cares for the church spiritually, as part of his spiritual body? That's how you should care for your wife physically, as if she were your own physical body.

There’s also a description of the husband as being the “head” of the wife, but, first of all, a description is not a command. It’s the way things are, not the way they should be. Second, there’s nothing about being a “spiritual” head. Obviously a man is not physically the head of his wife, but there’s a vast logical gulf between being the “head in a metaphorical sense” and being the “leader in spiritual matters.”

And that’s before we even get to the question of what “head” means, which is a theological and linguistic question above my pay-grade, so I’ll just point to the problem with the common “leader/decision maker” interpretation that is obvious from a general familiarity with the Bible and other ancient books: in ancient times, the heart, not the head, was spoken of as the seat of decision making, faith, and spiritual power.

Well, but so what? Is it bad for men to take the lead in spiritual things? Shouldn’t we encourage them all we can?

The trouble is, once you say “the man should be the spiritual leader,” you’re implying that there is something fundamentally wrong in a house where the wife is (or thinks she is) currently more interested in spiritual things than the husband. This often has more to do with perception than reality—since many women are more verbal, more duty-driven, more sociable, or simply have more flexible schedules than many men, they will often act more in ways that fit the public perception of “spiritual” than their husbands will.

So then what? Does she try to curtail her own spiritual growth so that she can let her husband be the leader? Does she suffer in silence? Does she try to maneuver him into spiritual leadership? Whatever happens, you’ve created a lot of discontent and tension in a situation where, quite often, the husband was doing just fine at loving his wife as his own body, but now is judged inadequate because he doesn’t like to get up early for family devotions, or whatever it is that currently counts as “spiritual leadership.”

Over time, people grow and change. At times one spouse may have greater spiritual interest, at times the other. This is not a problem. We should all be following Jesus. We should all be considering how we can encourage each other to good works. We should all be seeking to be a servant, which is God’s standard of spiritual leadership.

And by the way, I have never met a man who did something more eagerly because he got a good guilt trip over it.

(Another passage this idea could come from is I Corinthians 14:34-35, and while that’s another can of worms—here’s a good discussion—it doesn’t contain a command to men either.)


Diary of an Autodidact said...

Keep it coming! Maybe you and I can collaborate on how scripture is twisted to define gender roles. (Woman have the primary responsibility for the raising of children - also not in the Bible!)

Again, a great post. Stay controversial, my friend.

Diary of an Autodidact said...

I like the link too. I got into an argument about the interpretation of the "women should remain silent" thing when I was in my salad days. I wish I had seen this before - not that it would have made any difference to those I was arguing with at the time.

I'm still thinking over the point that we today are causing the gospel to be blasphemed by our rigid adherence to cultural standards, rather than actually looking at the context.

Final point: you were far too nice about what the point of "spiritual leadership" is. I'll say it in my own harsh way. The point is that women are able to manipulate and even bludgeon men into fulfilling their view of what men should be. It's nagging on steroids, because there is no reply to, "You need to do this because it is God's way."

the Joneses said...

Good stuff.

That particular verse, applied that particular way, works for a particular set of personalities: the hard-driving, visionary man and the behind-the-scenes, serving woman. (By "serving," I don't mean "oppressed," I mean a woman whose joy is doing things for other people.) Everybody else, it seems, has to spend a lot of time reading books and listening to seminars to figure out how to make it work.

Like "submission," this idea of "leadership" can go both ways. And it's best when it does, and when both parties act out of love, not a fear that their household is going to rot in sin.

I would be interested for you to expand on the line, "There’s also a description of the husband as being the “head” of the wife, but, first of all, a description is not a command. It’s the way things are, not the way they should be."

I came across that link recently, and have been mulling on it since.

-- SJ

Melisa Sithole said...

Wow... I literally only came across the idea that that statement may be incorrect this week.
I'm 26 years old in a new relationship and have been so anxious about how I am more spiritually vocal and maybe even a bit "mature" than my person. I am so glad posts like this exist to challenge our thinking...
I'm really encouraged to seek God for MYSELF even more fervently and not seek a person to pull me towards God through their spiritual leadership...