On a lovely Sunday afternoon I sat on my porch puffing away on my third cigar of the day as my wife rooted around in the nearby flower bed for rogue monkey grass. And as we enjoyed our time we listened to a few weeks old episode of Doctrine and Devotion. In which the hosts, Joe and Jimmy, answered a listeners email asking for advice on cigars and his wife.
The gist was, listener man was about to become a first time father, and as such wanted to partake in a celebratory cigar with four of his closest friends shortly after the birth. Trouble arose in the form of his wife objecting to the cigar smoking. It should be noted that, unhelpfully, listener man did not give her reasons. It can be speculated that they are health related, possibly something to do with that old chestnut that any smoking is sin, or she may just not like it. Joe and Jimmy operated out of the first assumption, and then laid out their advice which became stuck in the respected craws of my wife and I.
The general conclusion drawn by the D&D guys was that since this was such a small one time thing the man should submit to his wife and not have cigars with his friends to celebrate his firstborn. Had he been a long time moderate smoker, then perhaps the issue could allow for some debate. But being a one off type situation it clearly was just a matter of going along with what she wanted. It was then heavily suggested that the husband should apologize to her for upsetting her so. A caveat was given that maybe she was over reacting but still, as they understood 1 Peter 3:7 living with his wife in an understanding way meant letting her decide this one.
It should surprise no one that I disagree, adamantly. Two chief points should be made and explored. A third lesser point can be explored as well.
A. The low hanging fruit is the apology. The husband in question has done nothing wrong, he merely has disagreed with his wife. And even if he decided to go ahead and have the cigar, he still will have done nothing wrong. At worst, he has raised her ire by wanting to do something that she for, unknown to us, reasons does not like. No sin has been committed, it would be should he lie by confessing sin where there manifestly was none.
B. More importantly is the constant creep in the tyranny of thin complementarianism. According to Joe and Jimmy, the emotions of the wife supersede both the reason and facts of the issue, and that living with her in an understanding way meant doing what she wanted. Obviously this is a basic failure to parse the passage. The key is understanding, a husband should be such a caring student of his wife that he is eminently aware of her strengths and her weaknesses, her insights and her blindspots. A wife is to be a helpmeet, she brings many important things to the decision making table, a prudent wife is from the Lord, as Proverbs reminds us. Husband is tasked, by God, to receive input from his wife, but he is tasked, again by God, with the responsibility to make the final call. Should that decision not be the one the wife likes, he has not sinned on the merits of disagreeing with her, he is entirely within his God ordained role as head.
The immediate push back is that tyrants can operate from this justification. But I would submit that tyrants do not ever actually listen to input from helpmeets. Marital tyrants are more than likely to not even bother going through the motions of pretending to listen to a wife. In a situation such as this to leap to the worst end of the spectrum is disingenuous at best and intellectually dishonest at worst. Why not look to the most positive end of the spectrum and point to the husband who is doing this well?
C. Finally there is an assumption that the size matters. Had the husband been smoking regularly for some time now, and out of the blue his wife decreed he should stop posthaste then perhaps it would not be out of bounds to take umbrage or negotiate. This is clever misdirection, the only common denominators in the two scenarios is the presence of the cigar and the draconian decrees of the wife. Both cases leave room for listening, considering, even working with a wife to reach a compromise, and ultimately making a decision. The quantities and amount of time involved have little baring on the actual situation.
Part of a Larger Problem
The chief issue raised is the slow chipping away at the roles assigned to men and women, through Scripture, from God. Much of thin complementarianism is easily dismantled with a simple assessment of when God wrote the things he wrote, in Scripture, did he plainly mean them or were they put down for kicks and giggles. It takes a lot of theological gymnastics (granted said in a very calm and reassuring tone of voice) to take the Ephesians command for husbands to agape they wives actually means submit. As Kymberli Cook of Dallas Theological Seminary does.
To stay in Ephesians, the command is to love wives as Christ loved the church, sacrificing himself for her. This is submission to the will of God the Father. But it is the furthest thing from submission to the church, the bride of Christ. In several instances the early church was quite opposed to Christ’s death. Most notably from Peter who eventually was called Satan for presuming to oppose the will of God. It should not be suggested that Husbands compare their wives to Lucifer, but it does bear some thought to consider that such a rebuke probably did not take the feelings of Peter too much into account. A decision had been made, regardless of the will of the bride.
It is entirely possible in the debate over the details of complementarianism to loose the forest for the trees. Scripture gives commands and principals, it also illustrates descriptively. Occasionally a description seems to run against the grain and frequently those get elevated as exceptions that disprove the rule. It is not difficult then to jump from that apparent exception to what is perceived as one of your own. And sometimes there are exceptions, the problem is every person thinks they have one. A good rule of thumb would be if most of your operating procedure is built out of exceptions then perhaps you are very far from the truth. Exceptions in the Bible frequently are there to prove the rule, they are there because God is working in spite of them not because of them, or in some instances as an act of judgement
“My people—infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, your guides mislead you and they have swallowed up the course of your paths.” – Isaiah 3:12
Ultimately the debate matters, not because men are trying to preserve power, but because God has spoken. As Schaffer has memorably said, “He is there, and He is not silent.” Satan does not move for overt attack in the garden until the marriage is established. He made quick work then, causing the spouses to hide from one another for shame of judgement. He is on a different tack now, just as Dutschke has had great success in his proposed long march through the institutions, so too it would appear that Satan is having great success in his long march through the marriages. For those whom infidelity, or lust will not do, the cultivating of envy for authority does very nicely.
Cigars seem like such a small issue to pick a fight over. But I think in this instance it managed to show the rot* beneath. Thin complementarians want husbands that effectively hold to a theological Fabian Strategy, retreat, retreat, retreat, until a wife either has all she wants or simply tires of control. A husband would be, rightly, shamed if he forbade his wife a celebration with her friends over the birth of a child, and any prohibition of anything stronger than Kool-ade to enjoy. It is offensive in the highest order to our present society, “How dare he!” But flip it, and he is an unloving husband to want to celebrate in a historically masculine manner. What is obvious is that the thin complementarians do not want anything complementary at all, they want a matriarchy. Wether they know it or not Joe Thorn and Jimmy Fowler, said the quiet part out loud.
*I am so tired of evangelicals using “the rot” to mean complementarianism as a whole, as if Piper and Gruedem are two little termites that have been chomping away at the foundations of the work of Christ with their council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. I am therefore delighted to refer to thin complementarians are the rot that is eroding the authority of scripture.