Mercy Street Church of Christ
Abilene, TX
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Views on Wifely Obedience

by Al Maxey

Issue #368 ------- October 10, 2008
Only he who is sufficiently a man
will redeem the woman in woman.
Friedrich Nietzsche {1844-1900}

Reflections Objections
Addressing Reader Concerns On My
Views Regarding Wifely Obedience

Every now and then I write a Reflections article that rattles a cage or two (although some might argue they all do). Generally, if enough challenges are generated from those whom I consider responsible readers (and not the "nuts" who write almost daily to tell me that I'm the spawn of Satan and bound straight for hell), I'll try to do a follow-up article addressing the various questions and concerns of these men and women who took the time to share with me the various reasons for their uneasiness with what I had written. Such is the case with my last issue of these weekly Reflections -- Reporting for Marriage, Sir [Issue #367].

As I expected, there were indeed some from the "factional fringe" who wrote to denounce me. One such individual from the state of Indiana (who has been obsessed with me for close to 15 years now, and rarely misses a chance to try and destroy both me and my ministry) queried, "Did the Mrs. order you to write that one?! I expect she DOES rule YOUR roost." He then informed me (for the umpteenth time) that my biblical teachings are "false doctrine" and "blasphemy." Normally, I just ignore such people, but I felt his remark about the "Mrs." should be addressed, since my wife, Shelly, did indeed ask (not order) if I would address this subject in a future article. She did so because of a discussion that was taking place on a Christian women's Internet group of which she is a member -- a discussion in which a couple of the members were stating that wives should render absolute, unquestioning obedience to their husbands no matter what he might command them to do (even to the point of eating food off the floor like a dog). A number of the group members felt this to be tantamount to spousal abuse, and thus quite a dialogue ensued over the biblical parameters of "wifely obedience" to one's husband. I felt this would make an interesting, and certainly a timely, article, so I agreed to do one.

There are two readers specifically to whom I have chosen to make a public response through the medium of this current issue of Reflections, and I informed them both that I would do so, as I truly felt (given the overall context and tone of their emails) that their questions and challenges came from a genuine confusion over and concern for my teaching (as they understood it). A beloved professor of mine in graduate school once told me that if even one student within the class voiced some concern or confusion over one of his teachings, then it was very likely that ten others were probably silently thinking the same thing. Therefore, when I get several responses from readers on a particular article, and they each voice similar concerns, it is certainly not unreasonable to believe that a good many others are probably thinking the same.

One of these two readers seemed to believe that my article, in some way or another, reflected some deep inner trauma in my own life, and that I was lashing out in anger, via my words, at some past heartless abuser. He wrote, "It sounds like you are holding a lot of bitterness toward men with certain personalities who have and may still be hurting you. Forgive them, brother, just as Christ forgave you." I am forced to admit, this assertion from this reader floored me! I went back and looked once again at my previous Reflections to see if I could locate what it was I might have written that would leave such an impression. The following statement was the only thing I could find that I felt might have possibly triggered this conclusion in this person's mind -- "I have known, and known of, women who sincerely believed it was their duty as wives, as 'ordained by deity,' to be little more than puppets on a string in the hands of their puppet-masters (husbands). They would willingly 'dance to his dictates,' content to dwell under his constant control. Such misguided wives are operating under a devilish delusion, and the husbands who perpetuate such sick servitude, in my view, ought to be taken out behind the nearest barn and horse-whipped." Yes, it is very true that I have absolutely no use whatsoever for, and zero tolerance for, those who abuse either a spouse or a child. Such persons are beneath contempt, in my view. However, the intensity of this feeling is not due to any abuse that I myself ever experienced at the hands of another.

In point of fact, I had about as perfect an upbringing as one could ever hope for, and our God has richly blessed me in my almost 60 years on this earth far beyond anything I ever expected, and certainly beyond anything I ever deserved. My parents were, and still are, some of the finest Christians I've ever known. My dad (Al Maxey, Sr.) still serves as one of the elders in Cortez, Colorado. My wife is precious beyond words, and we celebrated 35 years of marriage this past July 21. We have super kids and grandkids. I have been preaching now for almost 33 years, and have never been fired or asked to leave a congregation. God is good ... that is all I can say!! Have there been some difficult times in my life? Absolutely. I served two tours in Vietnam (1969-1971), where I was in combat on many occasions (not knowing if I would live through the night), had a roof blown off over my head by an incoming rocket, and watched the tracers coming up from the ground at my helicopter during night operations. I converted a man who had raped, murdered and dismembered a 9-year-old girl, and I stood at his side in the death chamber as he was executed seven years ago next month. These events certainly have a bearing on who I am today, but I don't consider any of them "abuse." My experiences were not that different from countless others who have also served during time of war or who have looked into the face of evil as they sought to preach the gospel. God saw me through it, and for that I thank Him.

I have, however, witnessed man's inhumanity to man firsthand and up close ... and it has affected me deeply and dramatically. I saw cruelties in Vietnam of which, to this very day, I rarely, if ever, speak. It is almost beyond human comprehension what one man can do to another when all moral restraints have been abandoned. Some time later I served 4 years as Executive Director of a 26 acre, state funded facility here in New Mexico that housed and provided 24-hour care for abused, abandoned and neglected children who had been removed from the family home by the courts. We also did extensive counseling with families in crisis. Thus, I had daily interaction with a good many wives, as well as children, who had been victimized by men who were little more than brute beasts. I still remember the night a woman and her young son knocked on our door and asked for help. She had been beaten badly by her husband. Shelly and I worked with them as best we could. A few days later she returned to her husband. I still remember the horror I felt a few days later when we saw on the news that both their bullet-riddled bodies had been found. I have counseled with children who were literally covered with bite marks from where the parents had allowed the dogs to maul their child "for sport." Yes, I can readily declare that I have nothing but utter loathing for any person who would do something like that to another. Thus, I do indeed speak out against such abusiveness, and when I see a woman or child victimized ... and, even worse, when I see them willingly submitting to such, because they believe it's "God's will" ... I take a stand against it. And I do so without apology.

Let me give you a singular example from my eight years as the minister for the Church of Christ in Santa Fe, New Mexico (1984-92). There was a couple who were members of the congregation (actually, the husband was, but the wife was Catholic; nevertheless, she came with him). One day the wife came to me and said her husband was abusing her physically and emotionally. I talked with her, and later with him. Over time things did not improve, however, and the husband became more and more mentally and spiritually unstable. He would actually shoot a rifle at her within the house to terrify and intimidate her. The police were called on numerous occasions. I finally informed this woman that she needed to leave this man before he murdered her, however she was later told by the wife of my associate minister that if she divorced him it would be a "sin." She was told that she must endure whatever he did to her ... even if he killed her ... because as a wife she was commanded by God to submit to him "in all things." Thank God this woman listened to me and not to my associate's wife!! She finally left her abusive husband, and he ended up in prison. To this day I still get angry when I think of the "godly advice" that minister's wife gave to this woman. All of which, most likely, contributed to my "horse-whipping" comment that caught the attention of the reader of my last Reflections.
The above mentioned reader further wrote, within his email to me, "Sounds like you are encouraging divorce." He went on to say that if a wife, who claims to be a Christian, is being mistreated by her husband, she must still submit unconditionally. "It's an honor to stand up under unjust suffering." Is it also an honor for a wife to sit there submissively and respectfully while her husband repeatedly rapes their 8-year-old daughter, and then turns on the wife and blows her brains out?! Wake up, brother!! There's a real world out there, and it gets ugly!! Those who genuinely believe our God intended for women to submit to such abusive treatment from men clearly have no understanding of the Word of God!! Frankly, it is such thinking that is helping to perpetuate such godless behavior of these sick, self-centered sadists masquerading as "husbands" and "fathers." Should these women divorce these men? In a heartbeat! Should they be quiet and submissive in the face of such tyranny? Never! For those interested readers who would like to examine in much greater depth the entirety of the OT and NT evidence for our Creator's Ideal for the marriage partnership, may I suggest a very careful, prayerful reading of my book Down, But Not Out. The Lord never designed the covenant of marriage to be a master/slave or parent/child relationship. Husbands don't give their wives an allowance, or send them to their rooms, or stand them in a corner whenever they "misbehave." They do not snap their fingers at them and order them about. Such an arrangement is not a marriage; instead, it is nothing more than a pathological pairing. Such people need psychiatric intervention.

The second reader was rather concerned over the fact that I had indicated in my previous article that I believed submission (of one human to another, regardless of the relationship) was conditional in nature, rather than absolute. The only submission, in my view, that is truly absolute and unconditional is that of man to God. In all lesser relationships, however, my obligation to be submissive is conditional upon the godliness and rightness of the dictates handed down. This reader, however, stated that "if every command is subjected to that kind of analysis before we obey, the result" will be the destruction of every segment of society (military, church, family, etc.). One could make the same argument for blind loyalty and unquestioning obedience to mere men. Look where it got the people of Germany back in the 1930's and 40's. Most didn't dare question those above them, so they blindly "followed orders" ... and millions perished. I'm not suggesting anarchy. I'm not saying that we should rise up against every law in the land and stubbornly resist all authority. I'm simply stating that if we are determined to place God first in all things, then our lives must reflect that commitment, and when men (regardless of their place in this world or in our lives) seek to compel us to act in a way that we believe to be blatantly opposed to God's will, then we should refuse to comply.

For example: King Darius signed a document declaring that if any man in the kingdom "makes a petition to any god or man" other than himself, "he shall be cast into the lions' den" [Daniel 6:7-9]. This was the law of the land. Did Daniel obey it? Was he submissive to King Darius? Notice what Scripture says: "Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house ... and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously" [vs. 10]. Didn't Daniel realize that his "lack of submission" would be the "destruction" of society?! No. What Daniel did realize is that his first obligation was to GOD, not any man ... regardless of that man's position in society. Here's yet another example: Vashti was commanded by her husband, the king, to come and "display her beauty" before his assembled guests. "But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command" [Esther 1:12]. Here we see a double lack of submissiveness: wife disobeying husband, and subject disobeying king. Sure enough this worried "the men" of the land, for these brutes feared their wives might be emboldened to shed their shackles! "This day the ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen's conduct will speak in the same way to all the king's princes, and there will be no end of disrespect and discord" [vs. 18]. Can't have that! We've got to keep them "in their place." Thus, make an example of Vashti, "then all the women will respect their husbands" [vs. 20]. I suppose that was the only way such "men" would ever get respect -- impose it.

In the book of Acts we find the apostles of our Lord summoned before the Jewish Sanhedrin, "and they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus" [Acts 4:18]. Were these devoted followers of Jesus submissive? Did they obey? No. Peter summed it up well when he said, "We must obey God rather than men" [Acts 5:29; cf. 4:19-20]. Again, we are not talking about general laws designed to maintain order in society (such as speed limits, watering restrictions during times of drought, and the like). If laws are reasonable and designed for the ultimate good of society, church, military, family, etc., then there is no just cause for men to refuse obedience. However, when those entrusted with leadership seek to impose their own selfish whims on others (whether that be in society, military, church or home), to passively submit to such, and to render blind obedience, is equally destructive to those institutions, in the long run, as opposition to legitimate laws. In point of fact, one's righteous resistance to such ungodly, unreasonable dictates may actually prove, in the long run, to be the salvation of such institutions, although such resistance may well require the courage of a Vashti or a Daniel.

This second reader further wrote, "I can see how your conclusions could spread a spirit of rebellion." Yes, they could ... as per the examples of Daniel, Vashti and the apostles. Did they rebel against authority? Yes, they most certainly did. Were they wrong for doing so? No, they were not. My "conclusions" are not designed to promote rebellion and anarchy in all areas of society, but rather to promote the primacy of man's submission to GOD in all areas of society. When any aspect of society, or any institution or individual therein, seeks to steer us away from obedience and devotion to our Creator, then, frankly, a bit of "rebellion" is in order!! If this makes me a "radical" and a "subversive," then I suppose I have to plead guilty as charged. I tend to think, however, that it merely makes me submissive to the will of my Lord God, who takes a backseat to no man. I pray that these thoughts have helped to clarify some of my statements in my previous issue of Reflections. I thank these two readers for writing, and I hope that I have adequately addressed their concerns.


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