Pat Robertson, the conservative Christian televangelist and former Republican presidential candidate, caused a minor controversy Monday when he implied on the air of his Christian Broadcasting Network show, "The 700 Club," that in marriage, the husband is "boss." Criticism, however, comes not only from women and liberal thinkers, but from Christian leaders who say Robertson is misrepresenting key elements of Scripture that describe Christian marriage and family.
Robertson was answering a question during the show's "Bring It On" segment from a Christian husband who described his family budget as "tight." His wife, who is not a Christian, disagreed with his desire to tithe, or donate a tenth of their finances, presumably to a church. The man asked Robertson for advice "since (their) house is divided spiritually."
"You know big man, you are the boss," Robertson replied. "I know people don't want to hear that, but you are the high priest of your family and you are the man of the house."
The televangelist added that it would be wrong to use the wife's money for tithing, but "assuming you're the breadwinner, you want to give, that's between you." He also told the advice-seeker to "man-up."
"You need to push forward and your wife will come along," Robertson said. "But if you're vacillating and she pulls you back, you're not much of a leader. You're supposed to be a leader, you're supposed to be the high priest. You're supposed to intercede for your family before the Lord."
The CBN founder and chairman's reply sparked an outburst of critical comments online, with some women calling the advice "chauvinist." However, Christian leaders seem to also disapprove of the popular evangelist's response. They suggest that Robertson has misinterpreted the Scriptures by implying that women are subservient to their husbands and that men are in control of the marriage and have the right to ignore their wives' will.
"While there is some truth that the husband is a 'leader' of a marriage, family and home according to Ephesians 5:23, we must also continually remind ourselves that it is absolutely inaccurate to describe a biblical leader as a 'boss,'" Evangelical Christian ministers Mike and Trisha Fox told The Christian Post.
The Foxes are founders of "Marriage for Today," a radio show helping other couples with marital problems in accordance to the Bible. "The godly marriage is not a boss/worker relationship, contrary to Pat Robertson's words. A true, godly, healthy marriage is in fact a partnership, co-equal, all the while the husband is a leader, not a tyrant — not a demanding superior, but a loving 'guidance' for his family. The very word 'lead' is opposite and contrary to one that is forcibly pushing."
The sometimes disputed passage describing a martial relationship comes from Ephesians 5:22-33 (NIV), which reads: "22.Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23.For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24.Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything."
The passage goes on to add: "28.In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. ... 32.This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33.However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband."
Other passages that seem to address marital relationships can be found in 1 Peter 3, verse seven of which encourages husbands to "be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life." 1 Colossians 3, which discusses the Christian household, says in verses 18 and 19 "wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord" and "husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them."
If Robertson's advice to "The 700 Caller" was based on an interpretation of such verses, it is not healthy nor biblical, the Foxes suggested.
"The natural understanding of a boss is not of one that has any close-knit, loving relationship with the lesser, inferior laborer," they said in a jointly written statement emailed to CP. Furthermore, it is "not only impractical and unbiblical, but wrong and unhealthy for any spouse to forcibly act in any regards 'against the wishes' of their spouse, unless physical abuse and danger is a cause. And certainly, monetary motives are not even in the vicinity of abuse. We wholeheartedly encourage every husband and wife to always come to a positive agreement about any actions done by either. What was advised to do is actually divisive and contrary to the Bible and harmony within a marriage."
Biblically, men and women are equal, Dr. James Bradford, General Secretary of the General Council of the Assemblies of God, told CP. "That's pretty clear from Genesis 1 and 2," Bradford said, but Jesus also elevated the status of men and women. One example he gave is that women were the first to discover His resurrection on Easter Sunday. Also, apostle Paul mentioned in Galatians 3:28 that to Christ, there is no 'male nor female.'"
Ephesians 5:22 is preceded by a verse that tells Christians to "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ," Bradford emphasized, adding that the verses are very often misinterpreted.
"In a family there would be a leadership role, given to men – this used to be a role of initiative, of loving their wives like Christ loved the Church. It has nothing to do with being a 'boss.' But it does talk about men being the head of a house," the Bible scholar said. Love is the "description of biblical leadership," he added. "It's not like being a 'boss' or a 'king' of your little kingdom. It's being one who serves another to help them be all they can be."
Claudio Consuegra, Director of Maryland-based Family Ministries, added that most Christians would agree that husbands should exercise spiritual leadership within a family, which is in accordance with Scripture, but agreed that Robertson's interpretation is off.
"As to whether he should be the 'boss,' that I think is a misunderstanding of the role of husband as a spiritual leader."
Ephesians 5:22 has often been misinterpreted, as the Bible says that husbands and wives should submit to each other, he confirmed. They are to sanctify their marriage through each other, and none is supposed to be subdued, he added. Neither side should be "the boss." A good husband "knows, encourages and supports his wife," Consuegra said.