I have a confession to make. I like reading those articles for women about what good husband material looks like. You know, the ones that often take the form of a list? There are a lot of them out there and while I don’t exactly go looking for them, I can never resist the temptation to get inside the mind of the fair sex. I rationalize this to myself by saying that it’s a sort of “know your enemy” exercise and that I am bettering myself by learning. (Just kidding about the “enemy” bit!) The truth is that curiosity may play a bigger part in my perusal of these articles than any other motive.
The articles usually lead in by naming a list of admirable traits that are personal aspirations of any good man. For the most part these are items that I think we should all be able to agree on. Often, at some point, and usually near that end of the article there is an item that goes something like “he isn’t controlling,” or words to that effect. The reader is then straightly warned against the dangers of getting involved with a man who is “controlling.” Of course I am not so naive as to be surprised by this trend. It is the norm in the day and age in which we live – par for the course in modern secular thinking. What is surprising is that I find and hear of this concept and wording in Christian circles.
I think it’s time we asked what this kind of statement means. In the case of the secular articles mentioned above I don’t think the question is difficult to answer. By using the word in this way in the authors are signaling their rejection of the idea of male headship in marriage. I’d venture to guess that most if not all of the secular authors I’ve read would describe any husband who exercised or claimed Biblical authority as “controlling.” Any suggestion that the husband is the head of the wife would most likely be met with scorn.
But is this really what we profess to believe? I hardly think so – at least, it shouldn’t be. Now I’m not going to make a straw man argument by accusing everyone who disagrees with me of believing exactly as the “heathens” do. The point I’m trying to make is that when Christians use this term they are borrowing it from another world view. Does that sound a little wild-eyed and far-fetched? It may seem so, but where is the Biblical support for the idea that a husband should guard against the danger of being “controlling?” I can find no concept or admonition that would suggest such a danger. On the contrary, we find that the Bible likens the husband’s authority in the marriage to that of Christ’s relative to the Church and commands wives to be subject in the same way. Let’s look at that verse.
“Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.” Ephesians 5:24
Now of course “Controlling” is a pejorative term, that is to say that it has an unfavorable connotation. But surely is has this connotation because it carries the implicit statement that the person to whom the term applies is overstepping his or her authority or claiming authority which they do not posses. In light of this verse, how can this be so in the case of the husband towards the wife? The extent of the authority is that of Christ’s authority over the Church and the scope is explicitly “in all things.” Now of course, we always have to obey God rather than man, which puts definite limits on the husband’s authority. But apart from this caveat I can find no room for the accusation that a husband is ever too controlling. I am wholly unable to reconcile the concept with scripture.
I will make one last point for those who may feel that I have barked up the wrong tree with my previous observations and that all Christians mean when they use it is that the husband should not be too overbearing in his authority – that he should be kind, gentle, and loving in its exercise. Now this is all quite true, but if that is all they mean then why not say it outright in so many words? The inherent ambiguity in this usage makes it all the more insidious. It smacks of double talk to me.
Christians must not simply accept societal norms and values. We have to evaluate every incoming idea and concept in the light of scripture, and be willing to throw it out root and branch if it does not square with the Bible. When we adopt ideas and terminology that originate outside our worldview it makes it that much easier to fall into wrong ways of thinking. For this reason I feel that is is high time that the term “controlling,” as applied to husbands, be dropped from the Christian vernacular.