Good Girls Never Change The World: Part 2

Featured — By on March 1, 2012 at 8:00 am

Lotta stuff going around lately about the importance of Christian wives respectin’ their husbands. Pastor Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill thinks it’s just so important, he and his wife have even made a few helpful instructional videos for us sassy, contentious-type women-folk, just in case we had thought our apparently overwhelming and innate dispensation toward dismissing our husbands as complete idiots and telling them so all the time was in any way okay.

Women have an amazing opportunity,” says Mrs. Driscoll, to be strong and godly by respecting their husbands. It’s not a lesser thing, but it is a responsibility, and that’s why it’s hard.”

Speak for yourself. I guess respecting one’s husband is probably harder for some than it is for others.

Here’s one of the Driscolls videos, for yer contentious, frypan throwin’, viewin’ pleasure.

I note that many pastors and Bible teachers like Mr. and Mrs. Driscoll consistently hold up Esther as an example of a woman who respected her husband all proper-like. Esther’s so awesome at good, Christian wifey-hood, she even got a whole Old Testament book to herself. Lucky her.

We all know about Esther. Physically beautiful, plucked from obscurity and elevated to concubine, later becoming a rescuer of her people. Oh, and long-suffering wife of a misunderstood, misogynist leader. No wonder so many pastors just love her.

Myself, I can’t find any woman in the Bible who had a tougher time respecting her husband than Abigail, as retold in 1 Samuel 25. If Esther’s King Xerxes was a bully, Abigail’s husband was not only that, but was also an embarrassing fool.

Abigail was married to a rich, pompous buffoon named Nabal who liked to throw his weight around.  He was also given to holding a lot of feasts, so the Bible says, and thus was probably intemperate in appetite as well as in personality. Scripture also says he was mean and surly. Let me hear all the sisters say *groan*. Nabal was a vain disrespecter of persons, even the widely revered and loved King David, whom Nabal greviously insulted by refusing to reciprocate a generous gesture the King had previously extended towards members of his household.

I think we all know a Nabal.

I just know that if Abigail been attending a contemporary charismatic church these days,  their advice to her on how to manage the situation would most likely have been to advise her to stay at home and bake and clean, and wear a french maids outfit, and go to women’s Bible study and learn how to check her bad attitude and pray for her husband properly. She’d be told to quietly obey his requests and never speak ill of him in public, because she must at all costs protect and defend him. If she complained that he was acting in a manner likely to bring him disrepute from his peers, she’s be told she must counteract that by being sweet and subservient as an act of service unto the Lord – she will receive an *eternal* reward, starting sometime very soon after she dies in her old age after having lived several lifetimes over of shame and indignity. She’d be told that no matter how vile his speech toward her or how abject his disregard for her, she must only ever talk about the abuse with others of his ilk within their church, and if it’s just a bit of yelling, or the occasional smack, she ought to just take the good with the bad, like a good, submissive wife.

However, when Abigail found herself confronted with the consequences of her husbands idiotic behaviour, she actually didn’t do any of these things.

First, when she found out how badly her husband had offended the king, she rode out in person and met said King on the road, and made an effusive apology. But she didn’t flower up her speech with flattering defences of her husbands poor manners.

“Lord, let me accept responsibility. Please hear what I have to say. Please pay no mind to that stupid, wicked man I’m unlucky enough to be married to. I assure you, he’s just like his name suggests - a fool. I had no idea what he did and said to you, and I’m here to sort the thing out.”

You check it out. This is pretty much exactly what she said. Respectin’ be damned, she says, I am *so* not with him.

And after Abigail finishes apologising, she proceeds to sort the thing out good and proper. With no further mention of her husband, she implores the King to spare her home and family his wrath, makes him a lavish gift of the spoils of her household, and asks to be *remembered* one day. Nudge, nudge. Then she goes home, and rather than hiding in a closet and repenting of her wicked, contentious behaviour, she waits until her husband is sober and tells him right to his fat face exactly what she did.

At which he promptly has a heart attack, and dies ten days later.


King David remembered Abigail all right. As you would. He came back for her and married her, because he thought she was about eighty different kinds of awesome.

Now, back to Esther. Those who use Esther as an example of a woman who behaved like an ideal Christian wife ought to remember her relationship to Xerxes in no way acts as a facsimile for the institution we would consider to be Christian marriage today. Esther was in essence the favoured sexual partner amongst a virtual harem of virgins sequestered for the Kings private use based on their merit as the most beautiful his servants could scout out. Esther was given the Queens crown only because the former candidate wouldn’t parade herself in front of the Kings friends, and his advisors told him he ought to depose her and promptly pick one more likely to comply. Pardon my crudeness, but let’s face it, Esther more closely resembles the monarchs favourite prostitute than she does his married-in-a-church-before-God-and-all-our-friends-in-a-white-dress wife.

And let’s face this too. Politically, Esther more closely resembles a woman who not only understands her strengths – her inherent beauty, her fierce loyalty to her people, her privileged position in the court – but also fully appreciates the abject weaknesses of her King. And she plays on both. Xerxes was no respectful, generous husband. Esther’s King was a man accustomed to having his friends gawp at his wife’s sexy body, and to granting all his favourite concubines their petty, frivolous requests in their turn. Xerxes certainly didn’t bank on pretty little Esther’s determination to become both a strong politician, and a courageous advocate for the Jews – a dual mission she had every intention of accomplishing one way or another right from the start.

Your baby-soft submissive wife - my hard-nosed political advocate. It’s all about perspective, I guess.

While some may choose to see both Esther and Abigail as examples of wives who “respected” their husbands in a submissive or even passive sense, I see both of them as examples of strong, wise women who knew how to manage difficult and seemingly impassable situations to theirs and others advantages. Neither woman was the slightest bit interested in appeasing the tender emotions of their husbands, nor in pandering to his arbitrary power-mongering or self-centredness. Their “respect” was seemingly quite self-serving in fact, and given only to protect their loved ones and all they valued from the worst of the buffoons they were partnered with. It was not for the sake of obedience to God and the sanctity of their marriages they deferred to these men – it was for the sake of the things they held dearest – their households, and their people. Their respect was not about love, loyalty or devotion – it was about rebalancing an arbitrary inequality of power.

Esther, in the first instance, did everything she did – and let’s face it, what she did was manipulate the situation to her own advantage, using her feminine wiles and complimenting the King by pandering to his ego – only ever to advocate for her people, who were under threat of genocide from his very hand. She “respected” her husband not because she wanted her marriage to survive, but because she wanted to ensure the survival of the Jewish people.

Abigail, in the second instance, apparently didn’t respect her husband one little bit, however, she did behave honourably and gave great respect where it was due – directed toward her lord and king – precisely where it would do her household the most good. She was proactive, shrewd and wise, and certainly didn’t put up with any crap.

Any respect they did convey, advertant or otherwise, certainly would have diminished their pride, but they did not ever willingly relinquish their dignity. They were not submissive, churchy little wives. They were survivors.

All this is so easy for me to say. I have a wonderful, kind and generous husband who deserves nothing but my respect. When I was a young wife, I did not always give it to him even when he deserved it, and that always said more about me than it did about him. But he also has had times when he did not deserve my respect, and frankly, when that happened, I acted more like Abigail than Esther. I am not sorry I did. My strength in the face of my husbands alcoholism was not a flaw that needed correcting, and my unwillingness to cover for his flaws was not a weakness or indiscretion that needed addressing. I had to pull out the best of myself to help him face up to the worst in himself. I was willing to be the perpetrator, because I did not want to be a victim. And this is how I see Esther and Abigail, as women who were willing to stand up and risk being seen as manipulative and contentious, disrespectful, and as a perpetrator –  if it meant she saved the whole household in the attempt. And by any standards, their courage was rewarded.

As was mine. My husband came back, whole and healed. But when I threw him out, I was fully prepared to spend my life alone rather than be subject to the consequences of those actions, even if it meant the church condemned me as a rebellious, unGodly disrespectful wife. And they did. But that was a price I was prepared to pay to see myself liberated from the consequences I could bear no longer, not could I see my family suffer any more.

When it comes to Christian women respecting their husbands, it’s my belief that the woman indeed has a mandate from God to be respectful both as a wife and as a woman. However, I also believe that same woman is obliged only to respect and defer to the aspects of her husbands character that are respectable and Godly, and is obliged also to do what she has to do to survive the aspects that are not. Many Christians still teach that a woman must defer to not just the best and most Godly parts of not just her husband, but also to men generally as well – to all their misogyny, abuse and mean-spiritedness – because it’s ladylike and Biblical to submit and defer, and God will think you’re a good girl if you do. However, the Biblical examples they often present of Abigail and Ether, rather than providing fodder for complimentarianism, actually support the actions of women who contrive to save their households and forward their political intentions through blatant manipulation and subversion. You go, girls.

I guess when it comes to the Bible and the respect of a Christian wife toward her husband, it’s all just a matter of how you look at it.


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  • Jo, there’s so much here I like, but I am going to contend with you about a couple of things.

    I love Abigail. In fact, I named my only daughter Abigail.

    Now, as for this:
    “if Abigail been attending a contemporary charismatic church these days, their advice…would most likely have been to advise her to stay at home and bake and clean, and wear a french maids outfit,… be told to quietly obey his requests… be told she must counteract that by being sweet and subservient …She’d be told that no matter how vile his speech toward her or how abject his disregard for her, she must only ever talk about the abuse with others of his ilk within their church, and if it’s just a bit of yelling, or the occasional smack, she ought to just take the good with the bad, like a good, submissive wife.”

    Jo, this is profoundly insulting to the millions of us who hold to the (non-feminist) idea of the husband and wife having different roles in a marriage. We simply read Ephesians 5 to say what it says:

    “Ephesians 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.
    v. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. ”

    You may not like those verses; take it up with God. But when you say what you said above, you are making a blanket (and false) accusation against those of us who take the verse to mean what it says. As one who falls into that category, I read your post to say that you are accusing ME of smacking my wife around, and such accusations are unacceptable and groundless. Moreover, they are divisive, and that’s seemingly at odds with a core value at Burnside: tolerance of varying viewpoints.

    You can certainly choose to not believe that Ephesians 5 applies today. I respect that. But in turn, you owe it to those of us who do believe it applies to us also respect our right to do so. And certainly, you owe it to us to not accuse us of treating our wives the horrible ways you list above.

    By the way, I know that domestic abuse, of both physical and emotional varieties, exists. Like you, I think it’s reprehensible. But I am also convinced that the majority of Christians who believe as I believe do not engage in such abuse. Your post would lead an uninformed reader to think otherwise.

    • Matt Miles says:

      James, did you click on the link and watch the video? That’s what she was referring to, not the teaching of Ephesians 5 so much as interpretations like the one in the link. It comes disturbingly close to dismissing or at least downplaying abusive behavior. This happens to a shameful degree, and no one says you’re a part of it for taking Ephesians 5 literally, but if you downplay abusive behavior like the video seems to, guess what, you are part of it.

    • Matt, which video? The John Piper one?
      I gave it a quick listen, and it seems like the headline is very different from what Piper says. Sounds to me like he says around the 3:10 mark that if a woman is being abused by her husband, she needs to get out of there, get to a safe place, and seek the help of others if needed.

      I was responding specifically to her statement, which I quoted above, and which seems to me to be an accusation that all or most “contemporary charismatic” churches advocate something very different from what, as I understand it, they typically advocate.

      Just to be clear: I like Jo. I have a great respect for her, have lots of chats on Facebook with her, and am sure we’d be friends if we lived in the same town. As I read this piece, I was expecting her usual greatness, and if she had focused on the core message (that Esther and Abigail are very misunderstood by many modern Christians), it would have been great. But she had to throw complimentarians under the bus for no good reason, and that saddens me. I’m a fan of good writing, but also a fan of the truth. And my understanding of what Jo wrote here is that it is not fair to many of us who manage to take the bible seriously, and somehow manage to not abuse our spouses.

    • Matt Miles says:

      Sorry, I just saw your reply. I had to think about it for a while after I saw it, but the video was disturbingly vague. He did not say “Get out of there” at any point but said the church can help. He refuses to say how, or how the church will”deal” with the abuse. I’ve heard this type of language from church leaders, the type that lacks the courage to say “Wrong is wrong. Get out of there.”

  • Jo hilder says:

    James, I am confused as to what assumptions you have jumped to. This part does not refer to differing roles of men and women in marriage, but refers to the charismatic solution a delicate woman with a boorish husband is offered in terms of altering her husbands personality. I assure you, a Christian woman with a crude or unsaved husband – and this example of Anigail is frequently used to support this example – is told she will supernaturally change a mean husband into a sweet husband by deferring to him in the manner I have described. It’s another form of control and manipulation, in fact. You are right to be indignant, but it’s for the wrong reason. Many pastors have told women that stupid, abusive men- or even just husbands that don’t go to church – can be bewitched into change if she uses her feminine wiles for the Kingdom. I could be lynched for telling you this. It’s supposed to be secret pentecostal women’s business.

    • Jo, the reason I felt you were making a broad generalization is because of the phrase “I just know that if Abigail been attending a contemporary charismatic church these days…” Everything I had a problem with came after that phrase. It appeared to me that you were talking about a large group of Christians. If not, I am glad to hear, but surely you can see why such a phrase sounds to me like an indictment of a whole lot of believers.

  • jo hilder says:

    It is an indictment of a whole lot of believers James. It absolutely is that. But if you’re not one of them, I fail to understand why you’d want to defend the rest.

  • jo hilder says:

    Do I say that? Or do I use the example of Abigail to refer to the wives of the ones who are?

  • Leah says:

    I wish I could say something brilliant in response to this article, but I can only say I really appreciated it. I know too many women who are told to put up with the very things you’ve said, particularly what the reader above referenced, or told they just need to surrender more or serve more or submit more, and this was just really spot on in response.

  • STL says:

    I think there are some strong points to this post, and I agree with it to a certain degree. However, I think there are, as James said, some overly-sweeping generalizations. I’ve been in major charismatic churches, and the message about such things has always been that no woman belongs in the home of an abuser. To me, it seems like it would only be at a pretty backward, fringe type of church where they would give such advice, but maybe I’m wrong. Moreover, most of the men I’ve ever known in churches have been nothing like what you describe above–I would also say that it’s a small minority. Yes, we all have faults and weaknesses, but abuse is a gigantic step from being a flawed human. I guess it just seems as if you are very angry about something and blaming it on many men and churches when that may be misplaced or unfair toward the many decent churches who care about women, men, and children, and the many decent men, flawed as we all are, trying to be what they should be before God. Sometimes doing it poorly, as we all do, but heading in the direction of sanctification.

  • Laura WL says:

    Such a great article Jo. This part of the traditional evangelical church bugs me to no end. Also, your response to James was great. Here’s the thing, there are a lot of Christian, bible-believing women married to mean, boorish men who are told misguided things by the church. It happens all.the.time. I grew up with a dad who was a pastor & was privy to MANY of the congregants personal lives and I would say that in smaller churches this is the case for probably 10%+ of the female married members of the congregation. There are MANY women who come to church BECAUSE they are looking for solace being in abusive relationships. I don’t think 6 months of my life has not gone by where my parents didn’t have to intervene in an abusive relationship and in some cases provide housing for women & their children. Luckily, after many years of pastoring & his own fall from grace, my father no longer takes the hardline Piper approach that he might have 15 years ago. Abuse is abuse. Yes, divorce shouldn’t be the first way of recourse, but if you are being verbally abused you need to step out of the relationship. Sadly many women wait until it escalates into physical abuse or don’t tell counselors the full extent of the verbal abuse when it happens. I have seen this with my own eyes and if you don’t think that scars you as a kid & makes you a Christian feminist… I am PROUD of women like my mother who has been a listening ear and a safe refuge for these abused women. My mother was a shining example of a STRONG woman, who respects her husband, but will stand up for what is right. One of my proudest moments is when she told my father, in the midst of his darkest moment, that if he didn’t start acting like a Godly man, she was going to take us kids and leave. That is a Godly woman. And, for what it’s worth, God used my mother’s words to change my father’s heart.

    • Jo hilder says:

      Thank you Laura for sharing your story. I agree, and think it is naive to take the “nothing to see here” approach to abuse and inequity. It doesn’t surprise me that that a lot of men fail to acknowledge there are problems that need addressing. The ministry experience of your dad is common I think for any pastor who decides to get their hands dirty and address the real issues of the congregants. As far as marital conflict is concerned, it’s a pressing social issue and the church is not immune. Thanks again for your comment.

  • STL says:

    I’ve thought about this article, and in particular the Piper video over and over since I read this post and viewed the video a week or so ago. I have not followed him a lot, but what I have seen up until this video, has been fairly positive. However, I can’t get the way he sort of sheepishly smiles and talks about enduring one “smack” out of my mind. It makes me feel sick inside to think about it. I don’t think he is a bad man or a bad pastor, but if this is his view of it, the way it seems in this video, I’m wholeheartedly in agreement with Jo Hilder and very very troubled by his response.

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