At Odds With the Word of God
Paul & Lori Byerly
Domestic Discipline, or DD, is a lifestyle which is quietly being adopted by a growing number of Christian couples. We have studied DD for a number of years - read books and web sites, talked to couples who practice (or practiced) it, and "lurked" on several "Christian Domestic Discipline" e-mail lists. We must acknowledge that some who have adopted this life style have found at least temporary benefit from it, but what is taught is at odds with the Word of God, and we believe it to be a distortion of what God intended headship and submission to be.
Let's start with the basic premises of DD. There are some variations, but these seem to be the main beliefs:
- The husband is in authority over his household and has the right/responsibility to discipline his entire household, including the wife.
- DD is "responsible authority," meaning that if the husband is to have authority then he must be able to take action and mete out consequence in a tangible form.
- Discipline is seen as a practical expression of love, a proactive way of helping a wife to grow and mature; motivating her to re-align her priorities so that she will not end up in mediocrity.
- Discipline is expressed in loss of privileges, spanking, corner time, and writing appropriate sentences multiple times. DDers may include prayer, godly examples, and encouragement in their list of ways to discipline.
- Old Testament scriptures that describe God chastising his "adulterous" people (spiritual wife). DDers see a parallel of this in a husband's responsibility to chastise his wife.
- Hebrews 12:5-11, Proverbs 10:13b, 13:24 and similar scriptures. DDers see this as God commending the use of discipline and by extension physical discipline.
- Eph 5:22-25 Wives ought to submit to their husbands as the church is subject to Christ: DDers feel this command for wives to submit to their husbands is validation that a wife should submit to his use of physical punishment.
- discipline, including physical discipline, is for children only.
- DD has anything in common with BDSM, abuse, master/slave relationships, erotic pain, or sexual play.
- DD is degrading to women.
- DD interferes with the one flesh union God calls couples to.
- they believe it to be in obedience to God's Word.
- they see it as a part of God's plan for protection of women, and the exercise of authority over her.
- they see it as a way of motivating a woman to change/grow.
- it helps women to not seek control or inappropriate leadership, and teaches submission.
- it makes peace in the home, children will not see their parents fighting as the father has ultimate authority.
- it specifies limits of physical discipline, so that there will be no physical abuse.
DDers rest their case very heavily on arguments that explain the authority/submission structure of the home. They stress the need for the husband and wife to take their roles in obedience to God's Word. So far, so good, but then they make a rather large intellectual leap in giving the husband the responsibility of "motivating" his wife to mature and grow through the use of domestic discipline. There are often strong implications that if you are truly submitted you will see DD as relevant and biblical, while those who reject DD are somehow being rebellious, or are immature in their understanding of submission and authority.
Though I thoroughly agree with the structure of authority and submission in the home, I am concerned with including the physical discipline of adults in the structure of a godly marriage, the minimization of the wife's adult abilities, and the level of dishonesty in the explanation of DD beliefs.
I understand that God sees discipline as a good thing, but this does not mean that He validates every form of discipline. I can find no statement in scripture where God tells, or allows, husbands to physically discipline their wives (odd, because He doesn't seem to have forgotten to tell parents to discipline their children). I also find no reference to Christ physically disciplining His disciples or followers (the Christ/church and husband/wife analogy). I do see that God uses hard circumstance to build righteousness in us (the "chastisement" of Hebrew 12:5-11), but it seems clear to me that any reference to physical discipline has to do with young children (including v.10 that speaks of fathers disciplining us for a short time (childhood) and, of course, Proverbs 13:24). If physical discipline is only for children the whole DD philosophy falls apart, so this is a significant battleground for the DDers. I think their arguments lack significant scriptural support, including the fact that a lot of the discipline scriptures are either not gender specific, or speak of the discipline of men (Proverbs 10:13b).
I do see a significant number of scriptures that speak to all believers, male and female, instructing them how to grow up in the Lord. It appears that the Lord believes that women can mature and grow without their husbands "motivating them" through domestic discipline. As with any other believer, wives are to be loved and encouraged in their walk. There is also the instruction for older women to teach the younger women. Difficult sin problems within the church are dealt with through loving confrontation (Gal. 6:1).
I must also say that the number of women that I know who are walking mature, godly, and submitted lives without DD, makes DD seem unneeded at best.
I have yet to read an explanation of DD that alludes to anything other than an either/or position. Either you are considering or walking in DD, or you are rebellious or immature. A few consider that those who are not practicing DD are the "weaker brother," something that maturity will take care of.
Another serious problem with the DD philosophy is that if women need this kind of discipline, how do teens, singles and widows get what they need? The extension of this philosophy gets frightening pretty quick. Why would God meet this "need" in marriage and leave the rest without the "help" that they need? Or maybe fathers should discipline their girls until they are married, and singles/widows should be disciplined by the elders? Yikes!
Or perhaps we should discipline our children so that as adults they are capable of walking with the Lord, following the lead and direction of the Spirit?
Having spent time reading messages from a number of DDers, I have a bit of insight into how DD can play out in a marriage. There are many things that concern me:
Where are DD's roots?:
DDers will point to very non-Christian sources to support the idea that DD is the way things should be. I have often seen references to Ricky spanking Lucy on the original "I Love Lucy" show, or to actors like John Wayne and Elvis spanking a woman in a movie. Hollywood as role model? No thank you!
Also troubling is the fact that DD and "wife spanking" have been popular with a small segment of non-Christians far longer than Christians have been practicing DD. References to secular web sites on how to spank a woman are posted by on-line Christian DDers, and many of these sites prominently show partial or full nudity.
Who is calling the shots?:
One selling point among some DDers is that women want, and even ask for, domestic discipline. This is true enough, a good number of couples who are practicing DD are doing so because the wife wanted it, and kept asking her husband for it until he agreed. If this is about a man's authority, how can it be instigated by his wife? DD lists are full of posts from women who want to know how to get their husband to participate.
Does it cause growth?:
In some wives DD seems to spawn a loss of responsible behaviour. These women will "misbehave" because they feel the act is worth the punishment they will get for doing it. It's as if being spanked, or losing driving privileges for a couple of days, eliminates the wrong. It's free reign to do whatever you want, as long as you can deal with the punishment - I don't see that as being biblical.
Does it work long term?:
I've talked to a few men who got "burned out" on DD after a while. Their wife was "not behaving better" or "seemed to enjoy being spanked." Some men report their wife seems more like a child to them, or that regularly spanking her "was tearing me up."
Some DDers practice what are called "maintenance sessions." These sessions, usually done daily, consist of the wife listing all the rules she has broken, and the husband meting out what he considers appropriate disciple. Some DDers advocate that every maintenance session end with a spanking, even if no violations are reported by the wife.
In DD circles there are women who call themselves "brats." These women will "break a rule" or "misbehave" on purpose, just to get punished. Some admit it's the only way they can get attention from their husband - not unlike the child who acts out to get a busy parent's attention. These women don't need DD, they need their husband to be the loving spouse God has called him to be! Other brats admit they enjoy being spanked. This brings us to a very large concern ...
DD is very often sexual in nature, and is often a sexual turn-on for one or both spouses. Most Christian DDers deny this, while non-Christian DDers often play up the sexual aspects of what they do.
While spanking is said to be only one of many punishments that can be used, it is clearly the primary choice for the majority of DDers, and the only choice for a good many. Some DDers put a great deal of importance on the wife's rear being completely naked when she is spanked. The reasons range from claims that a pair of panties reduces the pain of a spanking up to 50%, to flesh to flesh contact being emotionally or even spiritually important.
Maintenance sessions most often take place at bed time, and for many DD couples this means that sex frequently or always occurs right after a spanking. Some DD wives report being aroused after a spanking, but most claim it's a result of "feeling loved by their husband" rather than the spanking itself. A few wives have admitted they cannot enjoy sex if it is not preceded by a spanking. Some DD husbands admit to having erections when they spank their wife, but deny the erections are desired or enjoyed.
Despite claims that DD has nothing to do with BDSM, sexual fetishes, etc., many DD sites and lists are clearly fetish and sub/dom oriented. Many Christian DDers tolerate those who are more openly sexual about spanking and domination, possibly because they are not rejected by these same individuals. The majority of forums I've found devoted to Christian DD contain a good number of members who are advocating things far more sexual than just DD.
So why are some couples attracted to the DD life style? We think that a high percentage of Christian DD woman desire their husbands to be in authority. The problem is that they are responding to the need with the quick fix of DD - and it doesn't really fix the problem. Men are made to be in authority or are shamed into it (because if they don't they are considered rebellious, lazy or unloving).
Another group is looking for a similar quick fix for marriage and family problems. No more arguments, no more division, instant peace. We are very concerned about this, and find it unbiblical at its heart. We are called to be in relationship with others and to mature in, and because of, those relationships. Simplistic role playing destroys the possibility of maturing in a marriage relationship, and leaves the children without a model for healthy relating.
It is also our belief that some are using DD to legitimize sexual fetishes. Desiring spanking may be wrong in their minds, so giving it "biblical validity" makes spanking OK. It is also a legitimized outlet for those who emotionally need to dominate/punish or be dominated/punished.
DD can also look good to a woman who wants to be free from having to make decisions, or taking responsibility in life. All responsibility falls on the husband and the wife is relegated to child status. If she does not live up to her responsibility she gets a spanking, and that's the end of it. There is little effort or motivation to grow into a mature woman of God.
Many couples have grown tired of the kind of marriage our society advocates, finding it incomplete and empty. On the surface DD may seem to offer a better way of living as man and wife. DD does advocate headship and submission, both of which are biblical concepts, and there are those who say DD has improved their marriage. Upon close examination it's become obvious to us that DD does not live up to the claims made for it, especially in the long term. Of far greater concern is that we see DD as contrary to what the Bible teaches, and counterproductive to developing the kinds of lives and marriages God has called us to have.
From the scriptures:
Eph 5:22-25 "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her"Three groups are mentioned in the Ephesians scriptures above: husband/wife, parents/children, and owners/slaves. Discipline is mentioned for two of the three groups, but not for spouses! Disciple of children is encouraged, threatening of slaves is discouraged, and no mention of discipline is made to wives and husbands. The wife is commanded to respect her husband, but the husband is not told to discipline his wife.
Eph 6:1-9 "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 "Honor your father and mother," which is the first commandment with promise: 3 "that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth." 4 And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. 5 Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; 6 not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. 9 And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him"
Eph 5:28-29 "So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church."Husbands are told to treat their wife as they treat their own flesh. They are to:
- nourish up to maturity
- to nurture, bring up
- to warm, keep warm
- to cherish with tender love, to foster with *tender* care
Hebrews 12:5-11 "And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: "My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; 6 For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives." 7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. "This scripture is often used as a proof text for DD. We believe that it actually negates their claim. This scripture alludes to the proper time for physical discipline (v.10 "for a few days," speaking of childhood) and this scripture is a metaphor. It compares God maturing and educating believers through hardships and a father disciplining a child. It does not support or advocate physical discipline for adult women by their husbands. We understand that DDers want to make the Christ/church and husband/wife connection, but the content and context associates physical discipline with children and makes the point that maturity for wives (as any other adult believer) is God's work through trials, hardship, or affliction.
1 Peter 2:13 "Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. "This passage mentions 3 groups who are in authority, governments, slave masters, and husbands. In the first two sections discipline or punishment are mentioned, in the section to husbands, it is not. The governments discipline is approved, the masters beating slaves is not approved, and there is no mention either approving or disapproving for husbands.
1 Peter 2:18-20 "Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. 19 For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. 20 For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God."
1 Peter 3:1-7 "Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. 3 Do not let your adornment be merely outward--arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel-- 4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror. 7 Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered."
In 1 Pe 3:7 men are told to honor their wives - the Greek word means "honor which belongs or is shown to one; the honor which one has by reason of rank and state of office which he holds; deference, reverence." The idea of spanking or otherwise disciplining a person who is to be honored is completely contradictory.