For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
– Ephesians 5:23, KJV
I have already written about the abuse of this specific text from Ephesians in earlier posts (see, for example, here and here). While many may be aware of the disasters that ensue when men take headship to mean they are entitled to abusive power over their wives–another wrong use of the above text–I wonder how many recognize that this teaching taken to an extreme is harmful for men as well.
The rise of New-Calvinism and machismo-masculinity in evangelicalism obscures this dark side to the headship teaching. Hyper-headship-ism, as I will call it, can easily lead to distortions in one’s theology of divorce and one’s harmatology (i.e. theology of sin). It can easily lead to victim-blaming and all sorts of harmful stupidity.
Let me explain:
Hyper-headship-ism teaches that the man is always in control of his family and wife. He is the head. The leader. If someone sins “on his watch,” he takes the blame as well. So, if his wife commits adultery, hyper-headship-ism teaches the husband is responsible for being cheated on as it is ascribed as a leadership failure on his part. This view also translates to blaming the divorce on the husband even if he did not initiate it or was the victim of marriage ending sin like adultery. Such teaching is victim-blaming dressed up in religious language. So, in other words, it is spiritual abuse.
Often times, I have heard pastoral teachings on this text that liken the husband to a CEO. Yet consider how extreme the headship teaching is even when considering that analogy with a little more in-depth consideration:
Let’s say CEO of a company has an employee embezzling money. The CEO catches this employee and takes appropriate action to halt the behavior. Is it just to blame the CEO for this employee’s choices and actions? Would we consider a society just that threw CEOs into jail for the behavior of subordinates acting independently? No. A just society recognizes the agency of the employee who chose to embezzle money and appropriately holds that individual responsible for his poor choices.
I assure you that most, if not all, faithful spouses are not helping their partners to commit adultery. They are simply uncovering the dirty deeds. Yet Christian communities pushing hyper-headship-ism teach that you throw the “CEO of the family” in jail along with the intimacy-thieving, adulterous wife. It is insanity.
Something is seriously wrong with our interpretation of Scripture when we treat the victim of a sin–i.e. the faithful husband–like the perpetrator–i.e. the adulteress.
This is not just.
Therefore, it is ungodly for God is Just.