When Christian conservatives talk about “traditional” marriage, they often don’t just mean a man-woman marriage, but one in which each spouse has different and supposedly complementary roles. “Male and female were created by God as equal in dignity, value, essence and human nature,” explains the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, “but also distinct in role whereby the male was given the responsibility of loving authority over the female, and the female was to offer willing, glad-hearted and submissive assistance to the man.” In exchange for the wives’ submission, husbands take responsibility as moral leaders who look out for and protect their wives, a role commonly called “headship” in Christian-right circles.
The leak of user data for millions of subscribers to the cheating site Ashley Madison shows us what this call to male responsibility and protection can look like in practice.
Pastor Ronnie Floyd is the head of the Southern Baptist Convention, which endorses the view that a “wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband” in exchange for a husband handling the “the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family.” Floyd is also the pastor of Cross Church in Springdale, Arkansas, frequently attended by the Duggar family, whose eldest son turned up among Ashley Madison’s users.
This past Sunday, Floyd’s sermon explored all the ways that sexual liberation is ruining marriage. Floyd was happy to bag on gays, divorcees, and cohabitants for destroying a hallowed institution, but he really zeroed in on how a cheating spouse’s behavior can be laid at the feet of the cheated-upon spouse for not giving it up whenever sex is demanded. People reports that one way to prevent infidelity, according to Floyd, is:
… keeping both husband and wife happy through “sexual contact,” which may only be put on hold for “focused prayer.” However, Floyd warned, if a husband or wife fails to keep his or her partner happy sexually they are opening themselves “up to the attack of the enemy.”
“And that enemy is going to take your spouse away from you,” he said.
“Both men and woman have their sexual needs met by someone, somewhere, somehow.”
Prior to this sermon, People reported an anonymous source close to the family predicting that Anna Duggar, Josh’s wife, would be under pressure to “absorb some of the blame” for Josh’s wandering eye. Not only does it appear that the source was right; the blame was dished out in the most obnoxiously public way possible.
The story of Sam and Nia Rader, a couple of conservative Christian strivers who are trying to break into the competitive and lucrative family-values video-blogging market, is also illustrative of how the “male responsibility” part of the traditional-marriage bargain works in real life. Not long after he became Internet-famous for supposedly fishing his wife’s urine out of their toilet, “surprising” her with the resulting positive pregnancy test, and then weeping over their self-diagnosed “miscarriage” three days later, Sam turned up on the Ashley Madison list. He immediately put out a video, in which he explained how his behavior is safely in the past.
“I have sought forgiveness from God, and he has forgiven me, so I have been completely cleansed of this sin,” he explains. The video is called “FORGIVEN.” It’s so easy!
Sam Rader’s skills at providing moral leadership, taking responsibility for his actions, and reading God’s mind were on display again over the weekend: He got kicked out of a Christian vlogger conference, which some attendees said was due to his threats of violence against other attendees. Rader denied the accusation, telling Gawker that he is the real victim. “What happened was there was a couple of fellow vloggers who had ridiculed our family on Twitter regarding the method we were mourning the loss, our miscarriage on Twitter,” he said. “If I made a threat, it was to the one person, and it was, ‘You need to watch out before he messes with my family.’ ”
Nia Rader is (fittingly) seated behind Sam in the “FORGIVEN” video. “It’s unfortunate that it’s being dug up right now, but you know, our marriage is worth fighting for,” she says of the Ashley Madison revelation. “Marriage is the real deal, and it’s been sealed, and it’s worth fighting for.” A beautiful statement, no doubt. But in a traditional Christian marriage, who’s the one doing most of the fighting?