Retreat from Liberation
Will the new trend in male-female roles be the old trend—dominate man, submissive wife, obedient kids?
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The audience was well-dressed, well-scrubbed, well-meaning, and well-heeled. They were all young couples, most of them about 35, sitting attentively in rows of folding chairs in the living room of a large house in Highland Park, that exclusive municipality in the heart of Dallas. The house belonged to Roy Coffee who, during Dolph Briscoe’s first term, was the governor’s liaison with the legislature. Having returned to Dallas to pursue his law practice, Coffee has been providing a space in his home for Tim Timmons to teach a “seminar” in what Timmons calls “God’s game plan for family living.”
Timmons’ seminar is one of several that teach essentially the same game plan. These seminars are now being taught throughout the United States, but they have developed especially devoted followings in Dallas, where Timmons’ and another important seminar are based. While similar in intent, the various seminars do differ in important ways. One seminar, for example, prescribes punishing the transgressions of young babies by spanking them with Popsicle sticks; another advocates-having sex underneath the dining room table as a way to put romance back into marriage. But all of the approaches to family living are based on a fundamentalist religious belief called the doctrine of submission. Ignoring its teaching is supposedly against God’s intent and produces tension in the marriage, unrest, breakdown of communication, divorce, and, worst of all, homosexual children.
According to this doctrine, submission means respectful, willing, and complete obedience. That obedience is based on a chain of command from God to the husband to the wife and finally to the children. All people must submit to God and God’s will. The husband must also submit to his employer and to his government. The wife must submit to her husband. She must do his will in everything unless obeying his will would lead her to personal sin. If he wants her to wife-swap, for example, she must refuse, since wife-swapping is a sin; but if he tells her not to go to Wednesday Bible class, she must not go since not going is hardly sinful but disobeying her husband is. Children, at the end of the chain of command, must be taught by their parents to submit to everyone above them in the hierarchy.
This sounds like a game plan created not so much by God as by an antifeminist coach. But these seminars together form a movement that is definitely a woman’s movement. Several of these seminars are given by women for women only. Although Timmons’ seminar is designed for married couples, in most cases the couple has started coming because the wife has talked her husband into going with her. “I think women are so interested in this,” Timmons told me, “because they can’t get out of their lives like their husbands who can go spend the day at the office. So the women want to make the life they have the best it can possibly be.”
Other women, women also wanting to make their lives the best they could possibly be, have involved themselves directly or sympathetically with some part of that wide range of organizations, actions, and attitudes that make up the woman’s liberation movement—a movement founded on the conviction that the lives of women could be improved by social and political change. But for the women in the submission movement, the best possible life is one that requires no social or political change whatsoever.
They are women who, ten or fifteen years ago when they were in their twenties and making life choices, decided they wanted to lead a traditional family life, one very much like their parents had led. Then they watched while those traditional values were attacked, first during the sexual revolution and now by the woman’s movement. While their own belief in traditional values was not changed, they found themselves needing to defend a way of life they had always assumed was above question.
They want to be wives, have kids, drive station wagons, send their husbands off to work in the mornings, go to church on Sundays. They want those things because they also want to be “happy” and they believe the family life is not only what will make them happy but is happiness itself. Once they have a husband, a house, a family, they see no reason why their lives shouldn’t be perfect. When imperfection inevitably creeps in, they think the fault is not with the institutions and values they have always believed in but with themselves for not living up to their goals. They look about for a personal solution, not a political one. The seminars are so appealing because they claim to identify the woman’s mistake—not submitting to God’s will—and then propose a solution—submitting to their husbands’ will—which supposedly will create a perfect, happy family life. And, not to seem outmoded, some seminars promise all this and an erotic marital wonderland as well.
The word is rapidly spreading. Timmons not only conducts his weekly classes at Roy Coffee’s house and a Wednesday morning prayer meeting at the Dallas Country Club, but also travels across the country giving a seminar in a different city practically every weekend. Recently he has taught in such widely spaced locations as Newport Beach, California; Portland, Oregon; Arlington, Virginia; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Little Rock, Arkansas. Another seminar is named Eve Reborn, a course devised and taught by Susan Key, the wife of a wealthy Dallas doctor and mother of three young children. In the last two years her Dallas lectures have drawn thousands of women, most of them well-to-do. A woman who went to Eve Reborn one morning as a favor to a friend was amazed to find herself in a crowd of 600. Susan Key has also taught in other Texas cities and her students have carried the message to such far-flung places as Paris and Singapore.
Two books. The Total Woman and Fascinating Womanhood, have spawned courses of their own, also given just to women. The Total Woman was the largest selling hardback book in the United States in 1974 and is still selling over 3500 copies a week. Fascinating Womanhood has sold over 400,000 copies since it was first published in 1965. Bantam books recently issued it in paperback and the mammoth first printing sold out in two and a half weeks. (Another seminar, Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, seems to appeal equally to women and men. His scope, however, is much wider than the other seminars. Gothard discusses everything from breaking bad habits to making friends, to determining whether your job is the one God wants you to have, as well as the doctrine of submission. He first came to Dallas in 1969 when he spoke to 65 people in a conference room of the Republic National Bank Building. Last year in Dallas he drew 20,000 people to the Convention Center. His is the oldest of these seminars and the one whose success has inspired both Timmons and Key.)
The majority of these women are white, middle class, college-educated, which makes them women from the same social class that is carrying on the woman’s liberation movement. What makes one group of women submit and another group of women from similar backgrounds rebel is a difficult question; but if there is something in common among the women who submit it is a fundamentalist religious belief. Which is not to say they are necessarily members of fundamentalist churches; the people in Roy Coffee’s living room went to one of the large, socially prominent Methodist, Episcopal, or Presbyterian churches in Highland Park. But they do believe that in the Bible is found the solution to all life’s problems and all the seminar teachers rely to a greater or lesser degree on scripture to support their ideas, even those leaders with the most explicit ideas about sex.
“Learning submission has made all the difference in our marriage,” the wife of a real estate man told me. She was a tall, blonde woman, extremely intelligent and likeable, who had been an executive with a large corporation before she married. She had been successful, independent, competent. Now she was an active club woman, an organizer of events and meetings and charity balls. She lived in a large house on a quiet street not far from Highland Park. She told me that though her husband consulted her about family matters, once he made his decision, she obeyed him, even when that decision was contrary to her wishes or her good sense. If in a time of family financial crisis, she said, and this was an example used in one seminar, the husband decides to buy a speedboat instead of spending the money, say, on food, the wife must not berate him but pray thanking God for the speedboat.
“And if you just do it,” the woman told me, “if you just go ahead and submit no matter how much you think you don’t want to, it always turns out for the best.” She told me a story from her own experience. Her husband was supposed to come home from work at four o’clock one spring afternoon to take her and her three daughters to the opening of Six Flags. She had the girls dressed in crisp spring dresses and waiting for their father on the front porch at four o’clock. Time passed, father did not come home, the girls began to grow restless. After about an hour the woman called her husband’s office. A secretary told her he was with a client and would be home as soon as he could. The woman started to get angry. Her husband was habitually late and it was a vexing habit since she was organized and punctual herself. But she had learned in the seminars that she shouldn’t get angry at her husband. She prayed to God, thanking him for making her husband late and asked Him for the strength to deal with this trial. Then she had her daughters pray with her, thanking God for making their father late.
In the meantime the weather changed. What had been a pretty spring day turned cold. Dark clouds moved in from the north. The woman sent the girls in to change from their dresses into warmer things. At nearly six o’clock, two hours late, the father finally came home. He was not met with any recriminations—his decision, after all, was not to be home when he said he would and that decision was not to be argued with—and in fact he was warmly welcomed. They all piled into the car and left for Six Flags. “And praise the Lord,” the woman said, “the children who had gone out there at four o’clock all still had on light clothes. If he hadn’t been late, the girls would have been out at Six Flags not dressed warmly enough for the weather.”
I talked with another woman, this one in her mid-twenties. She was an artist and also helped her husband run his business as an illustrator. She was smart, confident, and appealing—beautiful in fact—and she believed in the doctrine of submission. I asked her whether following the doctrine had made her go against her natural inclinations and if things had turned out better or worse for it. She told me that about a year ago she and her husband had taken a trip to Mexico with her husband’s parents. She had been reluctant to go. She wasn’t sure she liked Mexico in the first place and that made her even more hesitant to undertake this journey with her in-laws. Before she would go she made her husband agree to one rule: they must always have their own room, no sleeping in the same room with his parents. Once inside Mexico, however, there were some problems with reservations and one night, sure enough, they ended up having to share the same room in a hotel. She exploded. Her husband took her aside and told her he had agreed to the arrangement out of consideration for his parents’ feelings. They had taken it as an affront that their son and his wife were so reluctant to share a room with them. He told her they would do it, that she wasn’t to say any more about it, and that, if she was unhappy, she would let no one know. It was difficult but, believing that it was God’s will for her always to obey her husband, she did what he wanted. “And you know, it worked out so great,” she said. “We really got along together and I got to know his parents really well and my husband became a lot closer to his father, which was something he had always wanted to do. If I hadn’t been submissive we would have missed out on all that.”
I said, “Yes, but suppose the situation had been reversed. Suppose that the trip was with your parents and your husband said that he didn’t want to sleep in the same room with them. You would have had to obey him and get another room. And then he would have missed out on gaining all the closeness you just described.”
“I know,” she said without a moment’s pause, “but God rewards obedience. Somewhere else along the line we would gain, gain more, because of my being obedient.” Then she added with great conviction, “I’ve had to take a lot of crap about all this from some women I know. They just don’t understand.”
The seminars that teach the doctrine of submission are not affiliated with any particular church or denomination. They are fundamentalist and the people who give them are Baptist, but they do not, as the faithful are quick to point out, employ the old hellfire and brimstone style of preaching. In fact they don’t call what they do preaching at all. These people think of themselves as teachers. As one man said to me about Bill Gothard, “He is to Christian teaching what Billy Graham is to evangelism.” And they are teaching much the same thing with virtually the same method. They all distribute thick loose-leaf notebooks with the outlines of their lectures separated into convenient sections by plastic dividers. Graduates are called alumni, the fee for taking the seminars is called tuition, and the course material—those large notebooks—is called the syllabus. Timmons takes 12 hours to teach his seminar; Bill Gothard takes 32.
This collegiate veneer is certainly one reason the seminars are so appealing to the thirtyish, upper-class, college-educated couples who come to Roy Coffee’s house to hear Tim Timmons. But Timmons’ popularity also lies in his easygoing, familiar manner. He is about 35, rotund, likeable, hard working, ambitious—in fact about as much like this audience as a Baptist minister is ever likely to be.
Timmons once worked for Campus Crusade for Christ and is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary. His seminars are sponsored by Christian Family Life, Inc., which he helped found two years ago. Presently he is called their Director of Communications. He illustrates his seminars with anecdotes from his own family and has enough showmanship to make those stories funny and interesting, at least up to a point. He has the lamentable habit of taking pot shots at “hippies” and Jews, and he is capable of making such statements as, “I like to speak to Hostile audiences. I spoke to the Junior League. That’s where a lot of libbers are, you know.” Nevertheless he is the most progressive, or least regressive, of the seminar teachers. His interpretation of the doctrine of submission, though it still has the man dominant, also places great emphasis on the man’s obligations. He will quote Ephesians 5:22-23—“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church”—verses that are among the doctrine’s most important scriptural basis. But he immediately refers to the 25th verse of that same chapter: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.”
Timmons says the man’s role in marriage is to exercise “headship.” He is God’s representative authority in the family and as such has the duty to guide the family and make what decisions are necessary. But he must also love his wife with the same kind of sacrificial love that Christ had for the church, and it is this sacrificial love that precludes the husband from using his power harmfully. The wife’s role is that of “helpmate.” She must obey her husband but, since man and woman are equal in God’s love, hers is, according to Timmons, “not a status of inferiority but subordination.”
Timmons knows his audience. His talk is seasoned with little vignettes from family life that, however corny, had everyone poking one another as they recognized themselves or their spouse: “For the wife the time from five to seven-thirty is known as The Pit. The kids are hanging around the kitchen whining ‘What’s for dinner? What’s for dinner?’ Then the King arrives. The King moves toward his throne with his paper in his hand. ‘Hey, honey,’ he shouts into the kitchen, ‘what are we having?’ She can barely hear him because of the kids but she calls back ‘We’re having meat loaf.’ There’s a long pause. The King says, ‘Oh.’… After dinner the King retires to his other throne, in the boudoir suite. He turns on the TV and starts watching agent double-o-two and seeing how swift agent dou- ble-o-two is. And then he starts thinking ‘I’m pretty swift, too.’ It isn’t too long before he’s thinking he’s even swifter than double-o-two. Meanwhile, the wife is bathing the kids, getting them ready for bed, taking them to the last potty run. About ten-thirty she staggers into the bedroom. He’s gotten all juiced up and he has eyes only for her and he says ‘Hey, honey, how about tonight?’ And she says, ‘How about tonight what?”
His point, though, which he comes to a little later, is that one way for a man to love his wife as Christ loved the church is to help out around the house whenever he can. This may seem a small bone to throw to someone whose status is “not inferior but subordinate,” but it is enough bone to make Timmons something of a liberal in the context of the rest of the movement.
His seminar used to include a discussion of sex, which seems a highly appropriate topic to be touched on sometime during a twelve-hour seminar on marriage. He wanted to show that the Bible had much to say about sex and that the Song of Solomon had specific instructions and comments on the dynamics of the act itself. This proved a little too strong for audiences who came expecting religious answers more than physical ones. His mention of women’s breasts, even while quoting from scripture, was particularly upsetting.
Finally Susan Key (of Eve Reborn) and two others went to Tim—two others because the Bible says one should do this kind of thing in groups of three—and asked him to tone down this particular part of his ministry. He has. He still talks about intercourse being a “gift from God” and at one point exuberantly proclaims that he and his wife are “having a ball”; but sex is a subject that probably deserves somewhat more examination than that. Other seminars take the attitude that sex needn’t be discussed in any detail because once the spiritual side of marriage is properly arranged the physical side will fall into place on its own accord. Can it be that simple? Tim Timmons on the Song of Solomon might not have been the answer either, but at least he wasn’t taking sexual fulfillment for granted.
Sex, however, is what made The Total Woman the best selling book of last year. It was written by Marabel Morgan, 36, the wife of a Miami lawyer and, as the dust jacket describes her, “a former beauty queen.” Her book, as I mentioned earlier, spawned Total Woman Classes which have been taught in virtually every large city. Marabel subscribes enthusiastically to the doctrine of submission, which she supports with several chapters of sorority house theology, but her book stresses the temporal rewards of submission more than the spiritual. The author quotes this testimonial from a graduate of one of her courses: “The Total Woman is in heaven—a beautiful suite overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in the heart of San Juan—new, gorgeous luggage in my closet, with the sweetest guy in the world as my companion. That course is powerful stuff! ‘Nothing’s too good for my honey!’ Bob says.”
Circumstances in her own marriage led Marabel to write her book. “I think in superlatives so naturally I expected that my marriage to Charlie Morgan would be the world’s greatest.” She quickly points out that her “knowledge of what that entailed was nil.” She believed “in the all-American Cinderella story; marriage was ruffly curtains at the kitchen window, strawberries for breakfast, and lovin’ all the time.” During their courtship she and her husband Charlie had marvelous communication, so things looked very promising. “I understood his vibrations; we were on the same wavelength.” Charlie used to study his law books in her apartment. During study breaks he would explain the cases he was working on and tell her his “dreams and fears.” There must have been some static in the vibrations because she then says without the slightest pause, “I didn’t understand most of what he said, but I hung on every word because I loved him.” In spite of this perfect communication her marriage gradually turned sour: “Each evening, when Charlie walked into the front door after work, a cloud of gloom and tension floated in with him… We were at each other for some unknown reason… I thought back to our engagement period. How romantic Charlie had been! He was such a fabulous kisser, but now there were very few kisses… After a few short years of married life, I found myself sighing as we sat in front of the television set.”
One night, after what was apparently the argument with her husband that remains most vividly in her mind, she ran upstairs crying. Charlie’s final words had been, “From now on when I plan for us to go somewhere, I will tell you twenty minutes ahead of time. You’ll have time to get ready, and we’ll do without all this arguing!” Marabel says she “felt as if my little world was crumbling all around me. What disturbed me most at the moment was having only twenty minutes to prepare for any event.” She should have been upset. Her little world was crumbling around her. That night, instead of leaving ruffles and strawberries behind, she decided to discover what she had to do to get them. Her search resulted in her concept of the Total Woman.
The Total Woman follows what Marabel calls the four A’s. She Accepts her husband by thinking about his virtues and forgetting his faults; she Admires her husband and compliments his body even if at first it makes her “choke”; she Adapts to her husband by living according to his schedule and tastes rather than her own; and she Appreciates her husband by being grateful to him and for him. And following this plan made her wishes come true! Much to Marabel’s delight Charlie started buying her gifts—something he had never done before. He bought her a new refrigerator. (“I wanted one without someone else’s germs”) and, though he had resisted her on this for years, he announced one morning that she could redecorate their house. Marabel “stopped squeezing the oranges and started squeezing him.” The results so inspired her that she started telling her friends about her ideas which led to the Total Woman classes and book. After one of her early classes, one of Marabel’s friends came back to the second meeting “radiant.” Her husband had never given her a gift but that week he had showered her with “two nighties, two rose bushes, and a can opener.” After reading all that, it was a great surprise to find that her section on sex, one-fourth of the book, is, in its own way, not all that bad. Her basic attitude is positive and confident—“If your sex life isn’t satisfying, you can do something about it today.” Yet she is aware that old habits are not broken at the drop of a nightgown—“If you are suddenly overprepared for sex after months of denial, don’t take it as a personal rebuff if he reacts with apparent disinterest, preoccupation, or suspicion. Perhaps he needs to trust you. Be prepared and patient.” And she offers specific suggestions to keep things from becoming stale. They may not be things that appeal to you but Marabel believes part of the fun should be discovering your own games: “For an experiment I put on pink baby-doll pajamas and white boots after my bubble bath… When I opened the door that night to greet Charlie… he took one look, dropped his briefcase on the doorstep, and chased me around the dining-room table. We were in stitches by the time he caught me.” Or “One wife changes the sheets every few days while her husband is dressing for work. As she sprays the sheets with cologne, she purrs, ‘Honey, hurry home tonight.’” She suggests books that deal with what she calls “the physical mechanics of sex,” although she realizes that sex is as much an attitude as an act: “A woman’s most important sex organ is her brain” and “Sex is an hour in bed at ten o’clock, super sex is the climax of an atmosphere that has been carefully set all day.” And she is fully aware that the husband may need help and education too: “It is surprising how ignorant so many husbands are concerning their wives’ sex lives.”
In this section Marabel finally encourages Total Women to take some initiative and learn how to get something on their own. It may be impossible not to laugh at the thought of hundreds of thousands of American housewives in pink nightgowns and white boots lying in wait behind the front door for their husbands, but aren’t people supposed to have a good time if they can? The key to the success of The Total Woman is that Marabel Morgan somehow realized that the average housewife wants to take part in the sexual revolution, too, but she wants to do it with her husband. Marabel took it upon her slim shoulders to show the housewife how.
Helen Andelin, author of Fascinating Womanhood, also wants to show housewives how to live. She sees the woman’s role as making the male feel superior by herself becoming helpless and dependent. Over 300,000 women have taken her course from one of the several hundred women nationwide who have paid $12 to become certified teachers. In Houston, for instance, there are fifteen Fascinating Womanhood teachers holding regular classes.
Mrs. Andelin, a doctor’s wife from Southern California, believes that being feminine is being a storybook version of a little girl. She advises a woman when buying clothes to “visit a shop for little girls and study their clothes… There will be jumpers, pleated skirts, and baby doll yokes and lots of petticoats and pantaloons. Many of these styles are repeated in the women’s sizes. You will not lack for ideas if you study what little children wear… Ribbons and flowers add girlishness to hair styles, as do also barrettes and bands… Childlikeness will make a man feel bigger, manlier, and more like the superior male. It is this feeling which makes the quality of childlikeness in woman so charming to men.” This “childlikeness,” she claims, is not the same as being childish. Just what the difference is she doesn’t make quite clear except to say childishness is a “negative quality.”
In addition to dress, she advises women to adopt childlikeness in manner, too. She believes women should develop a “childlike anger” which she defines as “sauciness”: “There is no better school for learning childlike anger than watching the antics of little children, especially little girls who have been spoiled by too much loving… When such a child is teased… she stamps her foot and shakes her curls and pouts… One feels an irresistible longing to pick up such a child and hug it… This is much the same feeling that a woman inspires in a man when she is adorably angry.” While being adorably angry a woman may even threaten her husband, but only in an adorable way: “Your threats should be exaggerated as are those of little children who say, I’ll never speak to you again,’ or ‘I won’t do anything for you anymore,’ or ‘I’ll tell my mother on you.’”
Helen Andelin confidently makes a list of masculine characteristics, things like skill in repairing a motor, deep pitched voice, heavy jaw, and says that they have suited the man for masculine tasks like “painting, repairing the furnace, fixing the roof, or handling the family finances.” If the woman is “stuck” with any of these tasks she is to do them in a “feminine manner,” in other words badly: “Women are supposed to be inferior in the masculine duties. If you are not, it is because you have taken on unnatural capability.” I should think a man married to such a woman, one who bungles about the house in barrettes and petticoats, would lead a very strange life.
I had hoped to be able to discuss Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts which, as I said before, is the largest seminar and the one whose success has precipitated the others. Unfortunately, people who have attended his sessions are asked not to discuss the course in any detail with an outsider nor to show anyone the course material Gothard hands out, because, as they say, it is so easy to misunderstand. I was also refused admittance to a seminar he was conducting in Fort Worth since it had been “booked up months in advance,” but then was allowed to see him on the night after he had given his lecture on marriage, which is titled The Chain of Command. The “booked up” Convention Center was two-thirds full. I had a ten-minute interview with Gothard. When I asked him about the chain of command in marriage he replied that took him several hours to explain in the seminar, so we reached an immediate stand-off. Security at his seminars is tight because it costs $45 to enroll.
I have been saving Susan Key’s Eve Reborn for last. Key has modeled her course after Bill Gothard’s. Her publicity releases describe her as “the wife of a Dallas medical doctor and mother of three young children. Her lecture is based on God’s principles revealed in Scripture for today’s woman.” Her strongest following is among women of means. When she gave her seminar at Highland Park Methodist Church, the most socially prominent Methodist church in Dallas, the main chapel filled to overflowing with women; many came to each of the three morning sessions 45 minutes early to get good seats.
Her family has lived in Dallas for several generations, and she was raised in the First Baptist Church listening to the legendary sermons of Dr. Criswell. She told me she had had a crisis in faith when, with babe in arms, she read about rioting in American cities during the late Sixties. “I wondered,” she said, “what I was going to do when the rioters came to my door.” That is an unlikely occurrence now, even if there were riots, since she lives far north of the central city in a huge new house which she has elegantly furnished. She was a successful interior decorator before she married and, judging by the evidence of her home, her success was no accident. She is willing to follow the doctrine of submission as far as it will go: “One time it led to the cross, you know.” As we sat talking beside a glass wall that looked out over a golf course, she added, “Since there is no authority that is not ordained of God, we must submit to all earthly authority.”
“But,” I said, “you don’t mean something like Hitler.”
When giving her seminar she wears long dresses and enough expensive jewelry to make her imposing, but her voice in class is always a very soft monotone. She teaches the concepts of male headship and female helpmeet and believes that it is the woman’s duty, not the man’s, to place herself in submission: “If you want your husband to rule, you must first give him a kingdom.” Failure to do this will prevent her husband’s spiritual growth. “When a wife is putting pressure on a husband,” she says, “God can’t.” God, according to Key, has given women “a unique capacity for submission and obedience and when this capacity is thwarted by rebellion and deceit, it becomes a capacity to destroy which begins to work within her heart and then sulks out to her intimate relationships, widens to her acquaintances, to society, and then into history.”
She discusses what to do about “the other woman.” The wife must never criticize her husband but must become even more submissive. The man will then ultimately see that the other woman is merely the counterfeit of the true woman he has at home. And she ends her course with a discussion of how love of money can prevent loving God. She believes that God knows “when it is better to withhold money than to provide it,” and that “riches often inhibit spiritual growth” and cause conceit, pride, and insomnia. Since she is so obviously well-heeled and wears the clothes and jewelry to prove it, this disparagement of wealth often falls on skeptical ears.
With the possible exception of Gothard’s, hers is by far the most severe notion of the world among all teachers of submission. Her advice on child rearing shows this best of all. “My aim in spanking is to break the will of rebellion against authority and to underscore that each of us is responsible for our actions, our reactions, and our attitudes. I apply the rod until they are prepared to agree with me. The spirit of rebellion may require a longer use of the rod than a bad reaction (biting or hitting in retaliation). The results of the rod are rarely visible for more than an hour or so… My first indication that I need to correct behavior is usually my own disposition. When I begin to be cross with the children, and when the general noise and confusion begins to increase, I realize that I have been neglecting my responsibility. I issue warnings at a family council meeting and ask for suggestions from the children about what they think we should do to improve the situation. The next day, I begin to spank each one of them for every transgression. Over a period of the next three days, I may administer two spankings to the one who responds quickly, and as many as five each to the other two. We arrive at this situation about four times a year and our children are now five, six, and seven… Ideally, I use a flexible branch from the willow trees in our yard.”
She also recommends using a Popsicle stick as a “rod of correction” on babies too young for willow. Before spanking the parent is supposed to get the child to admit what he did wrong: if he lies or won’t admit guilt he is spanked until he does and then spanked for the original transgression.
Without arguing the pros and cons of spanking itself, surely five spankings in three days four times a year for young children means that something else is wrong, something that spanking isn’t correcting. One Christian man who uses this method told me he spanked one of his children whenever he wouldn’t eat at the table. “Of course,” the man added offhandedly, “he’s taught himself to throw up at the table now, so I have to spank him for that, too.”
These extreme views of child rearing reveal most clearly the insidious side of the doctrine of submission. It is, in spite of its biblical basis and in spite of the sugar coating Tim Timmons or Marabel Morgan may put on it, still a doctrine that requires the subjugation of one human will beneath another. While a certain amount of submission may be necessary to make the world run, any doctrine that revels in submission makes me wary. After all, the Bible says, “Do unto others…”
Still, it’s difficult to argue with people who have, of their own free will, accepted submission fully and are happy with it. After Tim Timmons finished his talk at Roy Coffee’s, I sat talking with a man and his wife who had attended the seminar several times. The man told me he had been brought up in Dallas in a comfortable family environment. He had returned to Dallas after attending the University of Texas and Stanford Business School. He was doing well. “In business school they told me what to do—A, B, C—and I came back here and did ABC and it worked.” And he knew very well why he kept coming to evenings like this: “I never, and I tried, had a really deep relation with someone, I mean really talk with someone about the things that are important until I met this group of friends with a common interest in Christianity.” His marriage, like that of many other couples I talked to, had fallen into a pattern of male headship and female submission before they had ever heard the terms. The husband wanted to go out in the world and provide for a family; the wife wanted to be provided for and take care of domestic responsibilities. The seminars led them to realize the patterns they were following, gave them a rationale for feeling comfortable with those patterns, and offered God’s love as a higher existence those patterns could achieve. His wife said, “We had a good marriage before, but now we love each other so much more.”
Well, if they are happy, they are happy. But at least two warnings seem to be in order: (1) Men, if your wives are submissive, be worthy of them; and (2) husbands and wives, relinquish your ways the moment vile spots appear on the tablecloth in front of family members.