By: Steven Nelms
The focus of the negative responses, for the most part, revolve around one of two things. First, there was indignation at the subject of the post itself. Because I was writing to my wife, the title, the pronouns, and the overall language of the post spoke of a stay-at-home mom and used feminine specific terminology. This caused some backlash in the form of being accused of encouraging misogynistic, archaic gender roles, or neglecting to give credit to stay-at-home dads, or devaluing working moms, or even devaluing myself as a working dad. I tried my best to clarify my meaning, but at the end of the day I can’t please everyone with the language of my post and I hope those who had argument with the particulars of it could at least understand my intention.
The second negative response shook me a little more than I had anticipated, partly because it was a response I never anticipated in the first place. This response has come exclusively from men and it has been a direct attack against me as one who is not representing “true manliness”, “Biblical leadership”, or even how to be a good husband. I put the first two descriptors in quotes because those come directly from actual comments on the blog. It seems I've suffered an onslaught by a particular type of man. The static male.
In middle school, I remember a guy coming up to me in class and he told me to look at my fingernails. I extended my fingers out, with the back of my hand facing toward me, and looked at my nails. He then laughed and pointed at me saying that I was a girl. Because if I was a guy, I would have curled my fingers over my palm, with my palm facing me, and looked at my nails that way. You see, scientifically speaking, there is a chromosomal disposition to observe one's nails in a particular way that only serves to undergird one's true gender identity. I immediately became very intentional to change my habit and began looking at my nails the “manly” way, lest I become a “sissy”.
As silly as that illustration sounds, it is the exact same litmus test being applied now. There is only one way to be a man; a static way, unchanging and inflexible. If anything I do steps outside the lines of this static male, then it is cause to brand me as an inept husband worthy of divorce.
I had a few good laughs reading through comments that described me as a wuss and whipped and a piece of this or a pile of that. Through the myriad of incredibly creative ways to deride my manhood, there was really one constant. These men arrived at a consensus that I am not a man. Or at least I am less of a man as is reflected by the post I wrote. Their reasoning was that my post portrayed me as groveling, or sucking up, or kissing up to my wife unnecessarily.
My written adulation of my wife is unmanly. Is it because I publicly expressed emotions? Or maybe admitted to shame or embarrassment? One blog, in criticism of my post, said my wife tells me “she wants [me] to lead, or at least to stop deferring to her, and [I wrote] a blog post doing the exact opposite.” Supposedly, by me consulting my wife before spending money on something for myself, I am deferring the leadership of our family to her.
Dalrock, the pseudonymous writer of the blog quoted above, goes on to say, “It is even worse that [I] have set out to teach this abdication [of leadership] and feminist viewpoint as being the Christian view of marriage.” It is almost impressive how much Dalrock seems to be able to contrive from one post written about one topic of my marriage. Whatever I’ve exhibited in the publicity of this post has caused many a man to conclude that I am not only irrefutably unmanly, but also irrespective of a biblical model of leadership.
They think my post portrayed me as seeking approval from my wife or even “deferring leadership” to my wife. They even identified a particular term that supposedly describes what I was doing in my post. One blog called it “lift-chasing”, describing how my post was merely a “passive-aggressive attempt by Nelms to place himself above other husbands and fathers by publicly out groveling them.”
I won’t lie. These sorts of comments hurt. You’d have to literally be a sociopath for these kinds of comments to not sting you. But my response to these critiques of my manhood or lack of leadership is not centered on defending my dignity or me beating my chest to prove something. My response to these criticisms is about what I believe “Biblical leadership” truly looks like. Again, if these men, as they claim, are up in arms in righteous indignation on behalf of their biblical model of leadership, then please allow me to expound some text from the Bible. So let’s commence.
“Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her” – Proverb 31:28
What is the difference between groveling and praising?
“Groveling” has a really negative connotation, and rightly so. It’s the idea of begging on one’s face at another’s feet for their forgiveness or to win their favor. I imagine those scenes in drama-thrillers where the traitor is found out and he throws himself at the leader’s feet to beg for mercy. Praise, on the other hand, has more of a positive connotation. The Hebrew word translated as “praise” in the above proverb is defined as “cheer, brag on, extol, i.e., extol the greatness or excellence of a person, object, or event”. Are you groveling when you cheer for your favorite team? Or rattle off the stats of your favorite player? Or brag on your kid’s latest accomplishment? Of course not. So why is it that a husband bragging on, cheering for, or extolling his wife is condemned as groveling?
Is it considered groveling rather than praise because the reality is that these readers in fact do not interpret the work of my wife to be praise-worthy? This may be closer to the heart of the issue than the theory of my alleged attempt of “out groveling” my husband-peers. If that then is a contributor to their criticism, and if they are choosing to portray my post in opposition to a biblical model of leadership, then let’s take a cursory look at what the Bible says is praise-worthy.
Proverb 31 is an oracle from King Lemuel’s mother. Wait a second. The words of a woman are being written down as inspired, authoritative instruction in the Bible? And they are specifically addressing men? Yes and yes. The very first verse states, “The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him” (emphasis mine). The second verse begins the quotation of his mother's words addressed to him as she asks, “What are you doing, my son?” Fellow sons of God, we might want to take heed of these words as if (since they are) being spoken directly to us. Now, we’ve already seen that the husband she speaks of in this oracle praises his wife. But why? Let’s look.
The “excellent wife” that Proverb 31 describes accomplishes quite a lot. Before even listing out all the things she does, the oracle states that this kind of wife is far more precious than jewels. (I wonder if that should be considered groveling).
Verse 12 states that “she does [her husband] good, and not harm, all the days of her life.” So it would logically follow that everything she is described as doing would be for the benefit of her husband and her family and not to their harm. Not only that, but all that she is described as doing is considered praise-worthy since the end of the proverb describes her children and her husband blessing her and praising her.
Verses 13-15 outline her activities as being responsible for providing food and clothing to the household and making the decisions concerned with each. Let me repeat. This biblical model of womanhood presents a woman as handling her family’s estate.
Verses 16-18 present her as being a businesswomen and investor who handles the finances of her household and is a hard working person as she “burns the midnight oil” (v.18). This biblical model of womanhood presents the woman as handling her family’s finances.
Verses 19-21 describe her work toward providing not only for her family, but also being generous to the poor, and preparing for the future. It seems as if this woman was responsible for her family’s investments as well.
Verses 22-24 describe her as an entrepreneur and tradeswoman, engaging with the merchants at market (which means outside of the home) with her home spun linens. These verses also include the one and only reference to her husband’s activities which seem to portray him in a favorable light with the elders of the community. Given that this entire oracle is in praise to the wife’s activities, this can only be inferred as another part of her contribution to the household which means she was no stranger to public relations either.
Verses 25-27 describe her as being wise and trustworthy for instruction, supervision, and contribution to decision making conversations. This is conclusive from the fact that she is portrayed as responsible for the future financial confidence of her household as the result of her prudent investments and trading.
Verses 28-29 then provide the much earned praise from her children and her husband for all of the work she accomplishes, all of which is to their good and not their harm.
So then, if the Bible describes all of these activities and functions as being praise-worthy, more precious than rubies, and responsibilities that a woman accomplished, then in what instance is my gratitude for my wife and consideration of her input concerning our finances a display of unbiblical and unmanly groveling? To this I would say, none. It is sad, if not tragic, that the presence of one man praising his wife puts such a feeling of trepidation in others that the only defense is to demean my manhood and to hide behind such terminology as “Biblical leadership” when no exegetical exposition of the actual text could serve to support their case.
In response to me giving praise where praise is due, and providing honest self-criticism where it is necessary, the “true men” have responded vehemently behind the anonymity of the internet. As apparently one post of less than 2,000 words has provided enough information for one reader to condemn my marriage to divorce, I sincerely ask by what model, what passage, what verse are you informing your biblical leadership?
Look to how Jesus led. Look to the proverbs. Look to the wisdom of God’s heart and search your own hearts. Is your idea of Christian leadership truly biblical? Or is it an unfortunate construct of a culturally biased and contrived idea; the static male?