Marriage and Patriarchy: A Critical Analysis
This isn’t a normal blog post, but rather a response this article, which I saw shared on Facebook. The tone of what I wrote is a little bit different from a regular blog post because I originally started writing it as a comment on the Facebook link. But then it got longer and longer, and it also started to get fairly personal. So I thought it would be a better idea to share it on my blog.
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When I started reading this article I found it to be interesting and thought-provoking and I generally received it positively. I think that chastity is a good thing to pursue as an unmarried Christian, and I think it teaches you a lot about self control and to value sex as a physical expression of lifelong unity. The blogger, Dan Phillips, also had a good deal of positive things to say in his second point. It is very easy to succumb to the pressure to marry if it’s something your partner really wants. But if you’re not sure that you are ready to marry, you shouldn’t be getting married.
Then I got to Phillips’ third point, and it kinda crashed and burned from there.
Evangelicals have got to get over this notion that verses such as the ones he mentioned are universally prescriptive on marriage today. Paul’s letters were written in a time when misogyny and patriarchy reigned, and women were considered the “weaker partners” (1 Peter 3:7). They had precious few rights, and even Paul’s admonition to men to love and serve their wives was considered remarkably revolutionary for that day.
Phillips takes these cultural norms regarding women and applies the principle to a culture where the role and status of women is drastically different from Bible times. He writes about the ideal husband:
“You see, this man is going to be making the decisions for your family. If he’s wise and godly, you’ll get truckloads of input — but the final call will be his. You will need not only to accept his final decision, but to dive in and do your best to make it work.”
Let me state this once, for the record: I cannot, would not ever, be happy in a marriage like that. A marriage like that requires a compliant wife, and some women would thrive in that role. In fact my mother is one of those women. But I am not. I want to be able to work in sync with the man I am married to, and make decisions together without one of us having a trump card to hold over the other in cases of disagreement. And in some cases, where my talent and abilities exceed that of my husband’s, I want to know that he will trust me to take the lead.
We live in a different time today. I think it is a sign of the unfolding of God’s plan for the world that many Christians are beginning to realize that marriages based on mutuality – not patriarchy as this blogger advocates – are a truer reflection of a godly marriage.
Because let’s not kid ourselves. Any kind of marriage where the woman is obligated to submit to the man’s headship, where he makes all the major decisions and she is merely allowed input – even if it is “truckloads of input” – IS patriarchal.
I also found the second paragraph in his third point to be intensely patriarchal and oppressive of women. I cannot believe that God would mandate a woman to be subservient to a husband who turns out to be a “a fickle, surly, selfish, childish, uncaring, hypocritical jerk”. That is only one small step below believing that a woman is required to stay in an abusive marriage! Furthermore, I’m not sure I believe that God would bind me to a chronically destructive marriage, even if verbal or physical abuse were not a factor.
I know this was a really heavy-handed response to the article. And I understand that the blogger’s intentions are to convince single Christian women like me to raise our standards when choosing who to marry. But I believe the principles he discusses are destructive. If I were to marry a man like the one he describes: intent on assuming leadership of our marriage and family, extremely involved in his church, and committed to hyper-literal and universally prescriptive interpretations of the Bible passages on marriage, I would probably be miserable.
After criticizing patriarchal marriage for an entire blog post, I thought it might be helpful to share a lovely post written by Sarah Bessey, a blogger I follow occasionally whose gentle words are so often inspiring. She is married, and the way she describes marriage based on mutuality gives me so much hope that one day, when I have met a man who truly loves God, we can build a marriage together that is based on mutual respect, mutual sacrifice, mutual trust. No man leading the woman. No woman submitting to the man. But rather, both submitting to each other in a manner that glorifies God.