“A&E” refers to Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, authors of So Much More. I chose the abbreviation to save space and time.
If you’re familiar with debates surrounding headship and submission within marriage, you’ve almost certainly read 1 Peter 3:1-6:
Wives, likewise be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. Do not let your adornment be merely outward – arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel – rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good are not afraid with any terror.
No matter what your views on headship and submission, one thing is plain: that this passage is about marriage and married couples. At least, it would be plain if we were not talking about A&E (emphasis A&E’s):
True women have a kind of power that our society knows nothing about. Daughters, when trying to pursue femininity, can have a huge effect on their fathers and families. 1 Peter 3:1 commands, “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.” When husbands are struggling with obedience to God, it is in a wife’s ability to “win” her husband over by her respectful behavior. In many cases, even the most stubborn men, when they observe their wives submitting humbly to them, will feel ashamed and repentant, and their consciences will compel them to submit again to God. A woman, even without speaking a word, can have such an effect on her husband simply through her submissive femininity as to encourage repentance! Can this principle work in the same way between fathers and daughters? We have personally seen daughters who had had this effect on their fathers simply by demonstrating chaste and respectful behavior. We’re not prepared to say there is a precise scriptural parallel and that fathers can be “won,” but we have certainly seen fathers be strongly influenced.
You may think, at the end of this, that A&E don’t really think 1 Peter 3 can apply to fathers and daughters. However, despite their assurances that they aren’t treating it as a “precise scriptural parallel,” this is exactly what they functionally do for the rest of chapter 5, and in fact this “parallel that isn’t” is the basis for most or all of the advice that follows – for instance, A&E’s instructions that girls should be more “gentle, feminine, respectful, and lovely” in order to arouse their father’s natural protective instincts and prod him toward godly, patriarchal behavior. (This advice would also encourage abused daughters and wives to blame themselves for their father or husband’s abuse; see my last post.) Needless to say, this is more than a bit self-contradictory.
But this is not the only point on which A&E cannot seem to make up their minds. Notice this key phrase in the above quote:
When husbands are struggling with obedience to God, it is in a wife’s ability to “win” her husband over by her respectful behavior.
I was a little shocked to read this coming from A&E, because A&E, Doug Phillips and most other popular patriocentrists, are all staunchly Calvinist, and one of the key themes of Calvinism is that salvation is by grace alone – in other words, 100% God’s work – with no human contribution whatsoever. One of the logical extensions of this idea is that no human can save another human. So what gives with the above, which implies that wives can somehow bring about their husbands’ salvation via properly submissive and “feminine” behavior? And in case in you doubt that that really is what 1 Peter 3 is about, read the first bit again:
Wives, likewise be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear.
A&E, however, promptly contradict themselves again a few pages later:
No, we can’t save our fathers; it’s ultimately up to God’s grace to do that.
So it isn’t, in fact, “in a wife’s ability to ‘win’ her husband” like you said before. Right? Which is it? This will – well, should, provided they are paying attention – be extremely confusing to your audience, A&E.
Beyond that, though, there is a deeper problem at work here, which also hinges on the fact that the husbands in 1 Peter 3 are non-Christians. I explored this idea in the early days of Scarlet Letters, when Doug Phillips attempted to apply 1 Peter 3 to “visionless” family men. Part of my criticism then was that Phillips is essentially teaching wives to, on some level, treat their Christian husbands as unbelievers, something that is only supposed to happen after the person in question has adamantly refused to repent after repeated confrontation, or done something so heinous that immediate action is required (see Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Cor. 5:1-5). Fortunately, a Christian man’s failure to measure up to the oh-so-high-and-holy standards of Douglas Phillips Esq. does not automatically qualify as either of those things.
And thus we come to the problem ungirding A&E’s treatment of 1 Peter 3. Like Phillips, they are teaching wives and daughters to treat their husbands and fathers like unbelievers, and their only warrant for doing so is that the man in question does not measure up to their ideas of how Christian men should be running their households (their ideas which are rejected by the majority of Christianity and, in many cases, only tenuously derived from the Bible). So what A&E and Phillips are really saying here, albeit subtly, is that a rejection of their ideas about “vision” and masculinity, is in some way equivalent or similar to a rejection of the Gospel, because they both fall under 1 Peter 3 (which is, to reiterate yet again, about women with non-Christian husbands). Or, more simply put, they are putting their ideas about patriarchy, on par with the Gospel itself.
Bad idea, A&E. If those are the rules, I’ll be taking my business elsewhere, thanks.