For a while now, I’ve wanted to do a review of the marriage book Love & Respect by Emerson Eggerichs. But that assumes I would actually have the time to read it. It may still happen one of these days, but it might be when my kids are in college. 🙂
However, I often see the book whenever I’m browsing shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, and it always sets me off. I just KNOW this book is a prime example of the typical complementarian diatribe that shames and oppresses women through twisted scriptures. How do I know? Because of what appears on the cover:
The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs.
As you can see, Eggerichs casts love as a desire and respect as a need. Not just any need, but a desperate need. (Respect is the new oxygen, apparently.) From the time we are three years old, we are taught that needs take precedence over wants. Sure, you may want a PlayStation, but what you really need are some new pants to wear to school. Needs come first. If anything is left in the bank account after needs are met, then we can talk about indulging wants.
Christianity, in particular, tends to give desire the ole disdaining side-eye. Despite the Bible’s decree that the desire of the righteous ends in good (Proverbs 11:23), or that the Lord will give those who delight in Him the desires of their heart (Psalm 37:4), or that the entire Song of Solomon is a celebration of desire, Christians tend to view desire in a negative light. Desire is something to be restrained, controlled, feared, put on hold, and even sacrificed if necessary. After all, denying self for the sake of Christ is the believer’s ultimate prerogative.
So when complementarians frame love as a desire, they are using a loaded term that pitches love as something superfluous – something that can (maybe) be fulfilled only after all other needs are met.
This is not an accident. If you’re going to sell the idea of man’s God-mandated headship over women, then you have to do something to prioritize the biblical command for wives to respect husbands over that of husbands to love wives. To cast both love and respect as needs would place the obligations husbands and wives have toward each other on equal footing, which would smack of the dreaded egalitarianism and, thereby, defeat the complementarian position.
There are a couple of reasons why this portrayal of love is particularly criminal:
1. It ignores love as a spiritual imperative.
2. It erases the needs of women.
Yes, love – like respect – is a spiritual imperative. The Bible commands husbands to love their wives. It also says that those who do not love do not know God. Jesus’ sole command to his disciples was for them to love one another. In fact, Jesus says that loving others is the only way to remain in his love. Loving God and others is the greatest commandment, and doing so fulfills the whole Law.
So when complementarians suggest, however so subtly, that loving one’s spouse is, at best, of secondary importance, they endanger the very body of Christ. They endanger women by subjecting them to emotional death, because love is the key to spiritual, emotional, and even physical life. Nearly every testimony I’ve encountered from women who have experienced loveless and abusive marriages has included statements like, “I was dying inside,” “I became a shell of a person,” and “I could feel my life draining away.” Lack of love kills the soul.
This teaching likewise endangers men with a heretical doctrine of entitlement that leads them away from the will of Christ. FYI, the Bible does not define respect as an especial need of men. Neither does it indicate that women crave love more than men. Love and respect are simply spiritual imperatives to which all believers are required to submit. In particular, men are called to love their wives sacrificially, just as Christ loved his Church. Sacrificially means there are no prerequisites to a person’s ability to love. On judgment day, Jesus isn’t going to buy the argument, “Well, I would have loved my wife, but she didn’t respect me enough.” Why so many pastors are willing to accept such hokum is beyond me.
And when one of humankind’s greatest needs is redefined as a desire, it means that women don’t get to have needs. Their needs aren’t simply made less important; they are erased from the conversation entirely. As a result, men often act in marriages without awareness and without motivation to sacrifice.
This doctrine of love and respect also places an enormous burden on women. When respect for husbands is cast as a desperate need, persuading women to fulfill that need becomes a desperate attempt. As I have stated before, about 90 percent of complementarian books and sermons are directed at women – including those written by women. Christian women are told that men NEED their respect in order for men to fulfill their God-given purpose in life…which is to lead, succeed, and serve as kings and priests unto God. So in the event that a husband fails at being a good and godly person, his wife takes the blame.
God didn’t tolerate such nonsense in the Garden of Eden, and He hasn’t changed since then.
Love is our deepest need, our greatest spiritual imperative and our highest calling. It is only a desire when it is used to prop up a dangerous doctrine like Eggerichs’.