Lotta stuff going around lately about the importance of Christian wives respectin’ their husbands. Pastor Mark Driscoll 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 wicked, contentious, 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.