Joshua Harris’s “Word to Wives,” pt. 1Posted: November 11, 2010
I have both of Joshua Harris’ recent sermons on gender roles transcribed now (that was fun, let me tell you), and I’ll be writing about them in more detail in a series of posts. These sermons are a fairly representative and comprehensive summary of complementarian theology, and what it means on a practical level.
An interesting note: In the first sermon, “A Word to Wives,” Harris says that the second sermon will be for the husbands; as it turns out, it ends up being “A Word to Husbands – and a Few More for Wives.” The “few more” words to wives? Over half of the sermon. Meaning that in a series on gender roles in marriage, less than a quarter of the time is spent on how men should love their wives. This isn’t terribly surprising. When complementarians talk about gender roles and God’s “wonderful design” for men and women, they are really talking about God’s wonderful design for women to be subservient to men. They don’t really care all that much about how men treat women (See: John Piper).
The first sermon is on 1 Peter 3:1-6:
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives,  when they see your respectful and pure conduct.  Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—  but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.  For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands,  as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (ESV)
Towards the beginning of the message, Harris says,
I tried to imagine what these words spoken to wives would sound like to a woman. Tried to put myself in the shoes of a woman, if you will. And I thought about that, I think it would be very easy to hear these words as, as belittling, or as overly restrictive.
I imagine Harris’ purpose in saying this was, at least in part, to present himself as someone who can empathize with women, and see things from their perspective. He’s trying to get the women in the congregation to see him as someone who’s on their side. And given the cultic levels of influence he and other leaders in SGM have over their congregations, he’s probably able to do this successfully. From the outside, though, Harris’ comment is illustrative of how little actual empathy he has for women in his congregation. After all, he’s married to a woman – couldn’t he have asked her what this passage sounded like to her? Couldn’t he have found lots of women at CLC who would have been willing to share their feelings on the subject? Why does he have to “imagine” himself “in the shoes of a woman” when he could easily talk to an actual woman? This doesn’t appear to have occurred to him.
Then he gives the standard disclaimer assuring the congregation that the passage doesn’t actually mean what it clearly says: “The tone and the intention of this passage is one of honor. There’s no condescension here. In fact, this passage elevates the dignity of women, the value of women.” (emphasis his) OK. I know I’ve always wanted a man to honor me by telling me I have to obey him and call him “Master.” Why on earth would anyone think that was condescending?
He gives a further disclaimer:
Because I don’t want anyone to be distracted as they’re listening . . .I don’t want anyone to be struggling, I want to be very clear at the outset what this passage is not saying . . . I want to state right now that it’s not, it’s not condoning abuse, or telling a wife to act like a doormat in her relationship with her husband. The call to be submissive is not a call to be on the receiving end of abuse from a husband, that’s not at all what it’s implying.
Right. It’s not a call to endure abuse, except when it is (see again: John Piper). And except for the part later in the sermon where he says the submission of a wife to her husband is parallel to the submission of a slave to his master that Peter calls for in chapter 2. You know, the part that says
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.  For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.  What credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. (ESV)
I don’t know where anyone would get the idea that this passage or Harris’ exegesis of it implies that abused wives should endure abuse in silence (perhaps even with “a gentle and quiet spirit”)! It’s certainly not the case that Harris’s own denomination has told women to go back to abusive husbands, or anything. Totally unfounded.
He continues: “[Peter is] not forbidding the use of makeup, or jewelry, or the braiding of hair, or the use of clothing in seeking to be attractive.”
Oh good. Because that’s what women are really worried about. God forbid anyone try to take our makeup or jewelry away! That would be just as terrible as having to stay in an abusive marriage.