An Unhappy Extreme

Many years ago, I watched a video about the great missionary William Carey.  He was the one who said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”  And as missionaries go, he is in my top ten for heroes.  However, as husbands go, I think there was a little room for improvement.  His call to bring the good news to India was not shared by his wife.  Despite her protestations, Carey insisted, and so she eventually submitted.  It did not go well for them.  While I do believe she tried her best to go along with her husband’s new mission in life, she still suffered miserably because his call never became her own.  When one of their sons died of dysentery, she had a nervous breakdown and died.  What the biographers don’t tell you but what the movie implies is that the death of her son was not the cause of her death.  It was only the last straw.  For the relentless brutality of life in a foreign country was something she was wholly unprepared for, and it had been strangling the life out of her.   The visual image of Dorothy Carey’s deterioration was a little horrifying to watch and decidedly unforgettable.  And, in my mind, it stands out as the unhappy extreme that occurs when a husband and wife do not make a decision cooperatively.

Among modern evangelicals, there is a large majority who believe quite definitively that the husband is the head of the household.  By this, they mean that the husband is the chief representative and decision-maker for the family.  They consider this position a heavy privilege and responsibility.  What this boils down to is that when a husband and wife are at an impasse, it will be up to the husband to make the final decision.

In citing the example of the Careys, it is probably clear that I am not in this ‘majority’ camp.  It’s not that I believe that all wives who are not consulted will become as unhinged as Mrs. Carey, but I do believe that a harmonious marriage is not borne out of a top-down structure but out of cooperative decision-making.  I think most of us know this.  Anyone who has been in a relationship knows that when one person wants to do one thing and the other person wants to do another, it won’t be entirely pleasant for either of them if one of them remains unconvinced.  Imagine if this happened over and over again and the one felt like she had no voice and was not permitted to have a voice?

Fortunately, the majority of marriages I have witnessed, in the post-modern generation, are more cooperative.  When the rubber meets the road, a real-life marriage where both partners are truly happy just doesn’t happen if both voices are not making the choices.

Cooperative marriages work.  It doesn’t make it biblical because it works, but it works because it’s biblical.  The majority may not agree with this viewpoint, but maybe it would be different if evidence for this interpretation were more widely known.

[This is the first in a series.  Click here for the second.]

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