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Christian Patriarchy: Should Wives Obey Their Husbands No Matter What?

husbands beat their wives

According to Evangelical complementarianism, husbands are their head of their homes. Wives are to submit to their husbands in all things. If husbands ask their wives to do something they think is wrong or they don’t want to do, wives should obey their masters’ commands anyway. Come judgment day, complementarians say, God will judge husbands and they will have to give an account for commanding their wives to do wrong. Most complementarians have two caveats of sorts: no, you don’t have to allow your husband to beat you, and no, you are not obligated to so anything that is “sin.” Outside of these two exceptions, wives are expected to woman-up and do exactly what their husbands tell them the to do. Take the issue of sex. Tired after caring for six children, cooking meals, cleaning the house, washing three million dirty cloth diapers, ironing your husband’s underwear, and making soap for your home-based business? Tough shit. When husbands want sex, wives are expected to give it to them — even during their periods — on demand. Simply put, wives are children with whom husbands can have sex. In every other way, there’s little difference between how wives are treated and how children are treated.

Today. Lori Alexander, defended the aforementioned belief this way:

What do women do who are completely against vaccinating their children but their husbands want their children to be vaccinated? They believe that vaccines contain aborted babies and can cause harm to their children. They are even afraid that their children could die from them since some have. Can they disobey their husbands’ will in this circumstance? Are the husbands asking their wives to sin? (Yes, some believe that vaccinating children is sinful.)


God commands that wives submit to their husbands in everything. No, they don’t submit to physical abuse or if their husbands ask them to do something evil but in everything else, yes, they submit. Some wives believe that injecting their children with vaccinations is evil but in this case, I believe they must submit. The Bible doesn’t say that vaccinating children is evil. Yes, abortion is evil and if, in fact, it is found out that most vaccinations are indeed filled with aborted fetuses, then they may have a case but as I stated, there is no way that they can prevent their husbands from vaccinating their children without causing much harm to their marriage. Children NEED a father and a mother. Children need their mothers loving their fathers. They don’t need conflict and chaos in their homes. They need a home filled with peace and love. This is much more likely to happen when the wife is obeying the Lord and her husband.

When a wife is living in loving submission to her husband on a continual basis, her husband will be much more willing to listen to her appeals. If she has researched vaccinations and feels strongly against them, she can share these with him after praying. Then she must give it to the Lord and live by faith instead of by fear.

Now, the husband in Alexander’s story wants to do what’s best for his children. Alexander, I believe, is an anti-vaxxer. What she is saying here is that wives should refrain from doing right by their children if their husbands ask them to do something that might harm them. And believe me, not getting vaccinations harms not only children, but society at large. The general principle is this: Wives are to do whatever their husbands command them to do as long they are not physically assaulting them or asking them to do something “evil.” Since the Bible doesn’t mention vaccinating children, wives should have their children vaccinated even if they think it may harm them. After all, God is in charge and he will protect them, right?

Anyone with an ounce of critical thinking can discern that this kind of thinking is psychologically and physically harmful, and could even cause death. Wives are turned into lemmings who can’t think for themselves. If I asked my wife what is the biggest “hangover” from our Evangelical days, she would say, “my hesitancy to make my own decisions.” We are more than a decade removed from our complementarian days, yet we still struggle with what I call the vestigial beliefs from our past. As much as we have tried to change our thinking, Polly and I still, at times, revert to our old ways. We are a long way from where we were, but fifty years of complementarian indoctrination will not be undone overnight. It takes time.

I have talked to my counselor many times about this — my frustration with our inability to move towards a more egalitarian marriage. “Well, Bruce, you like making decisions, and maybe Polly likes you making them,” he told me. I suspect he is right. I know I DO like making decisions. I am quite capable of making snap decisions, of being able to quickly size up a matter and decide accordingly. After forty years of marriage to me, Polly likes that I can do this, if for no other reason than that I am to blame if a decision has a bad outcome. Of course, I think it is important Polly think for herself and make her own decisions. This means that I often refrain from making decisions on her behalf, reminding her that she doesn’t need my permission to do something/buy something.

We remain a work in progress. Polly now has a supervisory position at her place of employment. Having this job has forced her to make decisions and be accountable for them. I remember her coming home filled with grief, telling about someone getting upset with her over a decision she made. I laughed, and said, “Welcome to making decisions. Every decision you make has the possibility of pissing someone off.”

The Lori Alexanders of the world want to keep women enslaved. “As long as your husbands don’t beat your ass or ask you to rob a bank, shut the fuck up and do what they say!” Crude? Yes, but this is exactly what Alexander is saying. Worse yet, some Evangelical preachers believe that wives should stay with their husbands even if they beat them — especially if they are unsaved. Why? The Bible says:

Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. (1 Peter 3:1-4)

In the 1980s, the church I was pastoring at the time joined together with other Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) and Bible churches to hold a crusade (revival) in Newark, Ohio. Jim Dennis, my wife’s uncle and the pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple in Heath, Ohio, was the chairman of the crusade. Pete (or it might have been Bill) Rice of Sword of the Lord/Bill Rice Ranch fame was brought in to be the speaker for the crusade. Several days into the meeting, Rice preached on marriage. Now, I knew he held to a “no divorce” position, so I knew we would disagree on that point. However, I was shocked when he said that Christian wives who were being beaten by their unsaved husbands should consider staying in their homes. Since being beaten by your husband is NOT, according to Rice, grounds for divorce, might it not be better for wives to endure the beatings and, through their godly testimonies win their husbands to Christ? Granted, Rice believed it was okay for wives to separate from their abusive husbands. He had to make such a grudging allowance due to what the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7:

But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife? (1 Corinthians 7:9-16)

Now, there are all sorts of ways to interpret this passage of Scripture, but Evangelicals who believe there are NO grounds for divorce say wives can separate from an abusive spouse, but then can never divorce and remarry. In their minds, remarriage is the same as committing adultery. Rice’s words so incensed me that I withdrew our church from participating in the crusade. That decision made for a bit of family controversy, but I didn’t care. I may have been a complementarian at the time, but I thought wrong to suggest wives couldn’t file for divorce even if their husbands were beating them or abusing them in other ways.

Regular commenter Brian is right when he asserts religion is harmful — especially Evangelical Christianity. Complementarianism is foundational to Evangelical beliefs about marriage and the family. As long as this is so, wives will be considered inferior to their husbands, best suited for bearing children, cooking meals, doing domestic work, and putting out when their husbands ask. Husbands will continue to rule their kingdoms, thinking that doing so is what God commands. And children, seeing this sort of dysfunctional, harmful marriage modeled to them, will follow in their parents’ steps. Until the cycle is broken, complementarianism will live on.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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    I would love to know how many evangelical Christians take complementarianism seriously. I knew of some who did, and overall the churches don’t allow women to hold positions of authority, but in marriages I wonder how much it’s really practiced.

    From the viewpoint of a woman, I can tell you firsthand that being told that I was designed by God with inferior thinking skills yet outpeeformung all my male peers in school really screwed with my view of God and our brand of religion. It was extremely confusing for a teenager to handle.

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    “…They believe that vaccines contain aborted babies…”

    WHAT THE FUCK? Is this seriously an ultra-fundamentalist belief? God forbid this gets to President Orangutan through his religious advisors.

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    Susan Barackman

    i am so glad i started reading yours and other atheists’ views on christianity. It caused me to dlve deeper into scripture, what it really said in context and meaning, Because i read your writings with an open mind, it led me on a path to finding out that even though patriarchy is in the bible (as a record of what life was like at that time) it is not God’s actual plan for christians.

    I have also experienced the hatred and vitriol from legalist patriarchists towards christians who use their freedom in god to make choices that do not line up with what patriarchal legalists think the bible says— such as in woman going to college, wearing pants, limiting family size or not having children at all and the big NO NO—–woman preachers!!!!

    I am so sorry you experienced the kind of crap that caused you to turn from god but you may be doing more good for christians in your honest approach to “this is what happens when christians follow legalism instead of that personal walk where god tells them something different from what all the other sheep are doing.”

    May life be kind to you as you continue to shed light on the craptology of religion.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

      You said:

      [My story/writing shows] “this is what happens when christians follow legalism instead of that personal walk where god tells them something different from what all the other sheep are doing.”

      I want to challenge several assumptions you make in this statement.

      First, all Evangelicals and many Christians (including mainline believers) have legalistic beliefs to some degree or the other. The Bible is a legalistic book written by legalistic men in the name of a legalistic God. Both the OT and NT have hundreds and hundreds of laws, commands, and precepts. Thus, if you believe and practice the Bible, you are a legalist.

      Second, I was a deeply committed follower of Jesus. I daily read the Bible, prayed, witnessed to others, helped the needy, and did my best to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. That my religious sect had more rules than yours may be true, but far as “walking” by faith, I met more such people in the IFB church than any other sect.

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        Susan Barackman

        thanks for your kind response even if it is different from what i might believe ( which is always open to change)….i have experienced much anger and vitriol and been called feminist satanist for telling other “christians” that i think women can be anything they want or god leads them to be and they can have many choices in life.

        –i will take what you have said about legalist bible/ et al and give it some thought. your statement might be leading me to further tweaking of what i believe even though jesus gave only 2 rules when he went back to heaven, love god, love others which leaves a whole lot of variation on how one lives their life. unfortunately most christians take many scriptures as a command from god when it may have been dealing with something at that time and place.

        p.s. i have learned more about god from an atheistic view points than from traditional religious views which tend to be narrow. that is why i first read the 1 star reviews on products to find out what is really wrong with a product even though the majority may give it 5 stars.

        • Avatar
          Bruce Gerencser

          Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-18:

          Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

          Have heaven and earth passed away? Then the law of God — all of it — is still valid, binding, and in force.

          You quoted part of Matthew 22:36-40. Notice what the text says in context:

          Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

          Notice what verse 40 says: the law and the prophets hinge (stand upon, have a foundation) on these two commands — not that there are only two commands. Besides, what does it mean to love God and love your neighbor as yourself? What is the objective standard by which you judge whether you are keeping these two commands?

          I am not a Christian, so this is just an intellectual exercise for me. That said, you are taking a reductionist approach to the laws, commands, and precepts of the Bible. If the Bible is the word of God, how do you decide which laws to obey and which laws to ignore (or explain away)?

          • Avatar
            Susan Barackman

            deciding which laws to follow and which to obey comes from my seeking god’s will in my life and also educating myselft as to knowing what the bible says about certain issues. the OT laws were for the jews, with only the moral laws carrying over into the NT.–yes i know some christians want to follow sabbath or dietary laws–that is totally up to them and god do duke it out—

            . christ showed people how to live by the spirit of the law not the letter.

            god has given me a brain and ability to think and make decisions for myself, like i decide what color socks to put on for the day or when to feed the dog and what dog food to buy or some instances, like that happen so fast that one reacts by reflex (no time to ask god what to do) or in other cases seeking god’s will for bigger decisions in my life that may take time and research.

            so far everything i have learned about god and church has been turned on its head and upside down and inside out—from attending church to what certain verses really say. as in deconstructing to build back better or different–your writings have been very helpful in some of that.

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    As an Asian who grew up in Shanghai (you know, the city where kids get the world’s highest math scores), I’m pretty used to families where the wife is the head and their husbands obey them. Even Christian families are like that. The mom would direct the entire family to focus on ensuring the child’s top grades and sending them to the best school: Mom manages all the finances, spends like 60-70% on tutoring and extracurriculars, even decides whether buy an extra house in the best school district. The “better trained” moms would manage how every family member should talk and act within the home according to professionals’ advice, to create “the best atmosphere for raising an excellent child”. The dad is basically an assistant and financial contributor to the child-rearing process, has to obey the mom on every major family decision. We all believe that, since dads tend to care less about the home and the kids than moms, the mom should naturally be a more qualified leader of the household.

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