Tag Archives: The Husband’s Authority

Doug Wilson Plays the Motte and Bailey

Last Friday, Doug Wilson came onto The Gospel Truth to discuss his book Reforming Marriage.

At 30:15, the host, Marlon Wilson, brought up a question I’d typed in the form of two chat messages. Unfortunately, he brought them up in the wrong order. Here’s what I said:

After reading the question, Marlon first asks Doug if what I said was true. I think it’s interesting that Marlon first asked to confirm if Doug really did write what I said he wrote. The easy answer should have been, yes, that’s true.

Instead, Doug answered thusly at 30:50 (I’ve tried to cut out extraneous words, ums, uhs, stammering, and other things to make it more reader-friendly):

The word “despot” there is the word that Paul uses, “despotes”. And so, those statements from “Reforming Marriage” and from “How To Exasperate Your Wife”, harmonize. And they harmonize this way: The wife is the executive of the home. Alright. So, when I was in the navy, I served in the submarine service. The captain was the captain of the ship, but every ship had an executive officer, the XO. And the captain was the final authority in the home, but the executive officer was like, in a company, you’ve got the CEO, and then you’ve got the chief operating officer, the COO. My understanding is that God’s pattern in marriage is that the husband is the protector and provider for the home, and he’s the captain, the head of the house. But, when it comes to the management of the house, like, what goes in the dishwasher when. “Don’t put paper plates in the dishwasher,” Mom says, right. Or, since Mom is the one keeping everything clean, she says, “I really want everybody (to) kick your shoes off by the door, by the front door.” You know, things like that. She’s the executive of the home, and she’s running the home. And that can happen without the husband relinquishing his headship or his authority. So, if she says, let’s say it’s a rinky-dink kind of thing, where she’s the one that does the grocery shopping, she stocks the fridge. I remember when our kids were teenagers, and Nate was moving into the age where he would drink lots and lots of milk, Nancy’s impulse was to, “I just went to the store yesterday, I just bought that! Limit the milk!” And I said, “No, our kids can drink as much milk as they want.” So, I make an occasional decision as the head of the home, this is what we’re going to do. But when it comes to the running of the house, that’s her area of expertise. That’s what she does. Now, if she thinks that I would have any question about something, Nancy runs it by me, but I believe that… Wifely submission is something we believe and practice, but, in 43, coming up on 44 years of marriage, actually, we’re coming on 45. 45 Years of marriage(…)So, um, coming up on decades of marriage, the instances where Nancy and I differed about something, and I made a decision and she needed to submit to it, has probably happened less than ten times. Everything else is just ordinary (lack?) together, talk-it-thorough, that sort of thing. Submission is assumed in everything we do. Headship and submission is assumed. But, if you are having a showdown every other day, and you’re pointing to the Bible verse in Ephesians 5, and you’ve got bigger problems. You’ve need to go get counseling.

Doug said that the word despot is the word used by Paul, which is despostes. In How To Exasperate Your Wife, he didn’t say Paul used despotes. He said oikodespotein. Here’s the quote (bolding is mine):

As the apostle Paul is urging young women to marry, he lets a very interesting comment fall in passing. “I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully” (1 Tim. 5:14). The word translated here as “guide the house” is oikodespotein. The wife is to be the ruler or despot of the home. This means that when she tells you to take your shoes off at the door, you will take your shoes off—and cheerfully.

How To Exasperate Your Wife (Page 11)

Perhaps Doug has argued for the word “despotes” in another book or article. Or maybe he was thinking of “oikodespotes“.

That aside, my assertion was more than that Doug used the word despot to describe the wife’s authority. I made sure to mention that he meant the wife, as despot, could order her husband around. The obvious point being that Doug, in the book this episode was named after (Reforming Marriage), condemns bossiness on the husband’s part, but allows the wife to do just that in another book (How To Exasperate Your Wife). Doug asserted that the two statements harmonize. But if you look at his answer, he harmonized nothing at all.

Remember, there’s two conflicts asserted by me in my chats. One is hypocrisy when it comes to allowing bossiness for the wife but not the husband. The second is a challenge to Doug to explain how he can allow the wife to order her husband around when he knows full-well that wives are to submit to their husbands. Keep that in mind, and now look over Doug’s entire response. Listen to it in the video. Despite speaking at great length in response, he never even tried to show how he resolved either of the issues I raised.

Instead of harmonizing what he wrote, Doug resorted to professing a completely different view. In How To Exasperate Your Wife, he didn’t write all this nonsense about XO’s and COO’s. He wrote that a wife is a “despot” and proceeded to grant to wives the authority that a despot would naturally have. Several pages later in the same book, Doug Wilson only fortified his belief:

A wife therefore has true authority over her home which no one, including her husband, can take away from her. She must be obedient to him, as this verse states, but this is a clearly delimited obedience.(…)In a certain sense, a husband (as the head of his wife) is an honored and permanent guest, but he should learn to see himself as a guest. He wipes his feet at the door, he eats what is served to him, and he seeks to conform to the pattern established by her

How To Exasperate Your Wife (Pages 17-18)

A husband is a guest in his own home? His wife has authority to tell him to stop in his tracks and remove his shoes? She decides what he eats? He conforms to her pattern? And he better do it with a smile on his face? Wow. It sounds like the wife is ruling over him. Sounds pretty bossy if you ask me. One might even call it despotic, which is exactly why Doug would shrink away from defending it.

However, he doesn’t have to defend what he wrote in How To Exasperate Your Wife. He could always just renounce what he’s written, but he can’t do that. His whole scheme as a feminist-in-patriarchal-clothing relies upon him playing the motte and bailey. In person, he’ll assure you that a wife should submit to her husband, and any authority she has over his household is, of course, subject to his veto. Then you buy How To Exasperate Your Wife expecting to find the same biblical model being proclaimed there, and you find this bizarre monstrosity has taken its place.

But honestly, what else is Wilson to do? Well, if you’re familiar with his work, he talks about masculinity being the glad acceptance of responsibility. If what he wrote is indefensible, then he could just withdraw the book from sale, say that he was wrong in this area, you know, basic stuff a man would do if he were gladly accepting the responsibility for correcting his error. But Wilson simply cannot do that, so the game must go on.