Ok, so maybe I'm getting tired, but this chapter seems fairly straight forward in a "well this is just how Debi Pearl is" sort of way. I did a bit of reading in Strong's Concordance on the word she translates "obey" and it appears that the King Jame's Version perhaps does a bit of disservice at this point. Basically, it's the same word used in Eph 5:21 which goes, "submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ." In this case a common sense understanding of "submit" rejects the idea that Paul is telling Christians to obey each other. Instead it makes sense to understand "submit" as deferring to one another and to subject one's own wishes to the needs and desires of others. The word pretty clearly does mean "obey" in other contexts such as in Romans 8:7, but it always seems to have the larger meaning of being subject to authority. Strong's Concordance says:
This word was a Greek military term meaning "to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader". In non-military use, it was "a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden".I'm not an egalitarian when it comes to life and especially not in marriage. I do believe the husband is clearly and firmly the wife's head or authority. I also think that for those few women out there who believe it's their duty to obey their husband no matter what he says (there are some out there, and their list of exceptions is frighteningly small) it would be helpful to understand that this word doesn't mean absolute, unquestioning obedience and that it's most basic meaning centers more around being in line with your hierarchy and deferring to or cooperating with one's husband/government official/fellow congregant/etc. Mrs. Pearl does have her exceptions (next chapter), but since I did the background checking I thought I'd go ahead and put it out here for y'all to see.
That aside, the vast majority of this chapter is actually pretty good in a pragmatic sort of way. Her advice generally amounts to "Make the best of it, and don't antagonize the man." Many of the women she writes about are in bad marriages, and she rightly points out that the Bible (and human nature) tells us that we'll never win a husband to Christ by nagging, pushing, scolding, or complaining. Men don't like being told they're wrong or being nagged or scolded, and being met at the door with a fresh litany of complaints every evening is a great encouragement for them to leave or shout at you or in general NOT become the spangly bright Nice Christian Man you wish he was. The Bible tells us that cheerful submission and a generally quiet demeanor are much better for winning one's husband. Any man on the street can tell you this as well. I disagree slightly that acting in this way will increase our husband's esteem among his peers. I suppose it depends on who his peers are though. Allen once heard a man he knew publicly diss his wife about something minor, and our evening with them was essentially over after that. He did not care to be in the presence of a man who acted that way. On the other hand, if a guy only hangs around a bunch of slubs his friends might think he's hot stuff for being able to keep such an awesome wife around. It's something of a mixed bag and fairly neutral from my perspective. A man might be won by being perceived as better than he is and trying to live up to it - wanting to be the man his wife thinks he is - or by seeing reflected back from his peers a conviction that he should be repenting and stepping up to become a decent husband. I could go either way I think.
On the other side of this, Mrs. Pearl counsels women not to step out in some sort of superior obedience apart from their husbands in areas like birth control. There was a woman who married a husband knowing that he only wanted two children. Then she "heard from God" and decided to have more children. By her sixth her husband had warned her that if she got pregnant again he was leaving. She did, and he did. Now obviously the husband should and could have done something about this, but I can imagine how he would feel as a husband watching his wife walk her own way in defiance of his wishes. He gives her four more chances to listen to him. By the fifth "extra" pregnancy he's decided that she doesn't give a darn for him. All he's good for is a pay check to feed all the babies she's popping out. So he leaves. And she's left high and dry. As Mrs. Pearl points out, you follow your own way at your own peril. Obviously I feel this is an area that requires judgement and not just knee jerk reactions, and Mrs. Pearl gets into that (with mixed results) in the next chapter.
I had two major "Oh no she didn't!" moments this whole chapter. The first came when she said that she has no authority higher than her husband - specifically referring to pastors. I need to do some more research on this, but in our church we take vows that we will submit ourselves to the authority of the church. That means I'm not just subject to Allen but also to our pastor. Obviously there are spheres of authority. I wouldn't necessarily buy a car because he told me to (although I did once buy a pair of boots he told me looked awesome when I ran into him at the shoe store in the mall), but I'm obligated to listen to him if he tells me I'm treating Allen wrong or are sinning in some fashion or damaging my witness. He's my authority in spiritual matters, and I'm daily grateful our church has someone like him. Although Mrs. Pearl's position isn't unknown in the Christian world I do think it's highly damaging. When a husband goes wrong there's no one with authority to rebuke him. Unless he's committing a crime there's no one "higher up the ladder" to whom she can appeal for redress of her grievances. That leaves wives utterly stranded in their marriages with little recourse but to take advice from people like Mrs. Pearl.
The second bit that sort of raised by eyebrows concerned "making an appeal." My first thought was "I have to get permission for my husband to take me seriously? What kind of marriage is this?" Then Allen pointed out that since Mrs. Pearl seems like the dramatic type it's entirely likely that she and her husband needed a way to talk that cut through her over the top personality and brought them down to facts. There are actually times when Allen and I need to signal "Hey, listen to me. This is really important." because, while not being a drama queen, I do like to chit chat about whatever I'm thinking about at the moment. Sometimes it's interesting stuff that Allen and I get into together, and sometimes I'm babbling about Christmas lights and throw pillows and whether or not we should plant a new pine tree in the backyard. It's not always obvious what stuff really matters to me and what is just running through my mouth. So I guess I'll pass on that point. I still think how she views the appeal making process (calling it a "liberty" - sounds like something you give your kids when they finish their homework on time), but overall it probably says more about her personality than how women in general can and should relate to their husbands.
Ok, almost done! I have to admit, I'm ready to get some other content up so that "Created to be His Help Meet" isn't the first thing I see when I open my blog.