Lies About Husbands: Unraveling Spiritual Abuse and Lies Abused Christian Women Struggle With– Part Six
“The man is the head of the household and your covering.”
“You need to respect your husband no matter what.”
“We are all sinners.”
“He’s a Christian.”
If all you have known is complementarian theology, which is one backbone of conservative Christianity, I encourage you to read about other interpretations of the scriptures, such as egalitarianism. You might find it healing to expose yourself to what the original language means, and the cultural context.
You may find a new perspective and freedom by seeing the true heart of God for women. You may decide that you still believe complementarian doctrine, but I want you to be able to think for yourself and not just believe what you’ve been taught in church.
As I went through this process myself, I discovered (among other things) that:
Jesus’ heart and character show him as a lover of equality, and freedom from all bondage, including the law.
Many passages about wives and women are mistranslated with a bias of sexism because of the beliefs of the original translators of the bible.
The doctrines of “head of household” and “wifely submission” have been used to oppress women and hold them to roles that do not allow them to be all that God has created them for.
When both spouses truly have the Spirit in them, they can hear from God individually, and conflict in marriage can be solved when they both listen to God.
As I learned who Jesus is, and God’s character and heart became more and more real to me, I found that I could understand life by knowing God’s character and heart.
Instead of trying to discover the meaning of every word in the Bible, I found peace and clarity in knowing the Word Himself, Jesus, and battle over the meanings of individual words became less important.
Certain doctrines fell away because I saw that they contradicted God’s character and heart.
Realizing that complementarianism was not “the truth” allowed me to be able to stop blaming God for the spousal and spiritual abuse I had experienced. This helped heal so much of the damage that had been done to me through this abuse. How wonderful it was to trust God again and to feel free to become the person He created me to be!
There’s no doubt that complementarianism is a doctrine that abusers love to hide behind, and use to justify their abuse. I’m grateful that there are those who believe in complementarianism who are trying to stop the spousal abuse that happens so widely under that doctrine even though it’s a nearly impossible task.
But the theology is based in patriarchy and can be damaging even to women who are not being abused.
I believe that God’s plan for men, women, and marriage goes way beyond “roles.”
In addition, I believe that because women tend to be more relational and more in touch with their emotions, if we were allowed a stronger voice of leadership in the church, our churches would better reflect the loving, compassionate, tender heart of God.
God created men to be compassionate and loving. That wonderful part of their character has been buried under sexist socialization; men’s expression of that part of God is seen as weak by our culture that exalts power as a male attribute.
This is part six of the series: Unraveling Spiritual Abuse and Lies Abused Christian Women Struggle With
Part One: Our Broken Church
Part Two: Lies About God
Part Three: Lies About What Godliness Is
Part Four: Lies about Forgiveness
Part Five: Lies About Wives
Part Six: Lies About Husbands
Part Seven: Lies About Marriage
Part Eight: Lies About Feelings and Faith
My purpose in writing this series is help abuse survivors see the spiritual abuse they’ve experienced– and begin to heal from it– by getting clarity about the lies used to abuse them. My focus is on the result of this theology rather than specifically discussing the scriptures behind the theology that is used to abuse. Examining what the words mean in the original language is beyond the scope of this series.
There are good resources to research the specific scriptures, translations, and the meaning of the words for yourself. I’ve included links in the relevant sections below.
So let’s look at the common teachings about husbands that create an atmosphere that promotes and justifies abuse.
As we go through the following lies, remember to compare them against the 4 Cs:
The Character of God
The Consistency of what the rest of the Word says
The Context of the scripture in the book it’s in
The man is the head of the household, the wife, (and the whole, wide world)
I was told I must have his permission.
I was told the man is the head of the house.
I was told that man is the head of the woman and I am being rebellious, disobedient and not submissive.
I was told that the husband is to be obeyed.
I was told that what he says goes.
I was told that I needed to be more obedient, less rebellious, and to let him lead.
My abuse was explained by saying that he's a ‘command man,’ compliments of Debi Pearl.
~ Covert Abuse Survivors
As we can see in these quotes, the way this doctrine plays out in abusive marriages, and in the controlling churches that blame the wife, is appalling.
Marriage is not a slave and master relationship. The husband has no authority to control his wife in any way.
Do not be called leaders; for One is your leader, that is, Christ. (Matt 23:10)
Any man who requires obedience is not looking for a marriage partner, but a slave to control. He is focused on power, not love. This is not God’s way. In fact, He hates it!
God does not REQUIRE us to submit to Him. He offers us the choice to do so out of love for Him. He asks us to submit to EACH OTHER out of love.
In marriage, we are meant to give way to one another’s preferences, by choice, out of love, not obligation. Abusers will never do this.
You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead whoever wants to become a great among you must be your servant. (Mk 10: 42 – 44)
Wives are worthy of respect, autonomy, and the freedom to follow God as she hears Him for herself.
There is neither Jew or Gentile, either slave or free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28)
This “headship” doctrine is used to force abused women to submit to the whims and desires of her abuser.
Never, ever was this the desire of God for a wife.
In churches that teach complementarian doctrine, here are two very troubling double standards that promote abuse:
The abusive husband is rarely reprimanded for not loving his wife as Christ loves the church, although the wife is constantly told to be more submissive.
If they believe the husband is the leader, then he should be held responsible for problems in the home, not the wife. That’s the way a hierarchical model works everywhere except in complementarianism.
There’s a lot of controversy over the meaning of the word that is translated “head,” and there is no clear indication that it has any sense of authority in the original language.
Your husband is your covering
The doctrine that says that the man is the covering over the wife is part of patriarchy, not the Bible. The Bible is clear that there is no mediator between a woman and God.
For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus. (1 Tim 2:5)
Every true follower of Christ, male and female, has the Holy Spirit in them, and God speaks to all of us through His Spirit.
Patriarchal theology loves to view women as less then, incapable, practically childlike creatures who desperately need a man to guide them.
They use the covering theology to give the husband the final say in decisions. Abuser love this.
But God has the final say, and when both spouses are true Christians who hear the Lord, He can speak to them both, bring agreement and mutual submission to decisions.
How can a man who is covertly emotionally and psychologically abusing his wife be her “covering”? He’s not even a Christian! (see below)
1 Pet 3:7 is often cited, saying that women are “weaker vessels,” and need a “covering.”
As Bob Edwards explains,
“Unfortunately, patriarchal theologians like St Augustine wrongly interpreted this language to mean that women were ‘weaker in the mind’ than men. Augustine then taught that it was God’s will that ‘the weaker brain serve the stronger.’ This was his rationale for ‘male authority.’
Throughout ancient Greek literature, however, this language was used to refer not to those who were ‘weaker in the mind,’ but rather to those who were socially disempowered.... In Christ, Peter explains that women are elevated to the position of ‘co-heirs’ with men in God’s kingdom.”
You need to respect your husband
My husband told me I wasn’t being respectful any time he just didn’t feel comfortable....if I had a different opinion, it was disrespectful....it I had a need, I was disrespectful....if I dared to hold him accountable to something he said he would do- VERY disrespectful. ~ Covert Abuse Survivor
When abused women are told to respect their husbands, it’s asking them to be hypocritical. How can anyone respect a wicked person who abuses them? What does that even mean?
Submit to more abuse because of his “role” as husband?
Respect his right to abuse you?
Respect him just because he’s man, even though he’s completely selfish and behaving in wicked ways?
Really? How can you respect someone who is trying to destroy you?
Would you be told to have respect for a burglar who’s in your house with a gun? Or a man that is sexually abusing your daughter? An abusive husband is a criminal.
Respecting someone who is intentionally hurting you isn’t possible for a person who is trying to maintain her sanity. It goes against all common sense and dignity.
When this scripture is thrown at an abused woman, the blame for abuse is being put on her- implying that it’s her LACK of respect that is causing the abuse, instead if HIS lack of love, his character disorder, his need for control, and his sense of entitlement that this kind of theology promotes in him.
No amount of respect will change an abuser into a loving husband. He’s not abusing because of the wife’s lack of respect, he’s abusing because he feels entitled to be an abuser. This kind of blind respect only feeds into his entitlement to do as he pleases with no thought to his wife.
We can’t separate this verse from its context, and is its context Paul is talking about a husband loving his wife as Christ loved the church, giving himself up for her, and loving her as he loves himself. It was written for marriages in which the husband is loving like his wife like Christ, trying his best, and making normal human mistakes, not abusing her.
We are all sinners
I was told that God sees all of us as toxic, yet He loves us anyway.
I was told that we are all sinners and everyone is abusive. ~ Covert Abuse Survivors
There’s a lot of sin-leveling that goes on the church– treating all sins as if they are the same and implying that any one of us could “fall into that sin” as well.
Rubbish. I’m not sitting here on the verge of losing control and abusing someone I love, and neither are you.
God sees the sins done in ignorance and the sins of a genuine believer, who He calls a saint, as distinctly different from the sins of those who maliciously set out to harm and destroy another person.
He wants us to deal with the sins if a wicked person differently- not with acceptance and forgiveness, but through consequences. (See Parts One through Four of this series for more on this.)
If someone has TRULY repented, God treats that sinner the same as all sinners- with forgiveness. But abusers don’t truly repent, yet they count on being treated with mercy anyway. And the shallow, confused theology of many churches grants them that mercy where God does not.
He’s a Christian
It can take a while to come to terms with the fact that a church-going, scripture quoting, Christian sounding, abusive man is not a true Christian.
A true Christian has the Spirit of God dwelling in him, and when we compare what the fruit of the Spirit looks like with his behavior, it becomes clear that he’s not a Christian.
He’s a social “Christian,” just a member of a club, not having a genuine relationship with Christ.
When we realize our abuser is not a Christian but a wolf in sheep’s clothing, it really clears up a lot of confusion. If pastors and church members understood this, they would save the abused woman the world of trouble they inflict on her.
Scriptures tell us how a true, Spirit filled Christian behaves, and tells us that there are false brethren among us.
Let the Word speak for itself.
I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren. (2 Cor 11:26)
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. (Matt 7:15-17)
… if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. (Rom 8:9)
Jesus replied, Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. (Jn 14:23)
This is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commands. (1 Jn 2:3)
And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. The one who keeps God's commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. (1 Jn 3:23-24)
Whoever claims to abide in Him must walk as Jesus walked. (1 John 2:6)
Let me give you a word of truth and freedom– your abuser is not Christian. He has failed the test of love in every way. He is pretending to be a Christian for many reasons:
~ He knows how naive Christians are about evil and knows he can fool your support system.
~ He knows he will be treated with grace and mercy and not be held accountable.
~ He knows that he can more effectively spiritually abuse you if you believe he’s a Christian.
Who does the Bible say an abuser is?
Thankfully, the Bible tells us very clearly who an abuser is. Here are the signs of an evil heart in the Bible:
They create confusion and division.
They fool others with their smooth words.
They want control.
They reject feedback and accountability.
The twist the Word to their own advantage.
They expect mercy and forgiveness.
They have no empathy.
They have no conscience or remorse.
They don’t struggle against their sin
They pretend to be someone who has good character, masquerading as an angel of light.
They pretend to be innocent.
They twist facts, deny reality, mislead, lie, and shift blame.
They are mockers.
They steal faith, hope, and love.
Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:25)
You are precious to God as a woman, not as a “role”
Women, you are filled with the Spirit of God. You are capable and strong. God has a plan for you that goes beyond a “role” given to you by a doctrine.
You matter to God as a precious, independent, beloved, valuable individual with an identity that is separate from being a wife.
You are free in Christ and just as significant to God as your husband is.
As you grasp that all the oppression and abuse that you have faced from your husband and church DID NOT COME FROM GOD, and was never approved of by God, I hope you can begin to open your heart to the Jesus who truly adores you, accepts you just as you are, and honors you as a woman.
We have so much spiritual abuse to heal from, and Jesus wants you to be healed even more than you do! He wants you to see Him as He really is.
May you find complete rest in His arms.
If you’ve experienced covert psychological abuse and spiritual abuse, come join our private Facebook group for women of faith who are covert emotional and psychological abuse survivors.