Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Unconditional Respect?

I started writing this comment in the Practical Theology for Women thread Love and Respect but Mostly Respect but it got long. So instead, I'm going to post it here. I somewhat disagree with her and the book she's talking about "Love and Respect" by Eggrichs.

I have used unconditional respect in my work with troubled teens. In most situations it really works.

It is different than respect that you give an authority figure. But it is still unconditional.

The teens I have worked with have been terribly disrespected all their lives. They have been abused on so many levels. And they have little respect for anyone including themselves.

But they respond to me giving them basic, human-dignity respect, regardless of their behavior. They then in turn give me respect that they didn't give to the other 'staff' that is disrespectful.

All human beings respond to unconditional respect. But how do you define respect? There are levels. All women can give husbands basic, human-dignity respect. Even bad-behaving, abusive husbands.


There is a level of respect, an authority respect that is reserved for those who deserve it, who act like leaders.

In other words, sure, give husbands unconditional respect. Don't belittle, don't name call, don't roll the eyes etc... Even when they engage in behavior that deserves a huge eye roll. A woman can mostly train herself to be respectful even in difficult situations.

But respect beyond common courtesy that is reserved for those in authority, this respect can be lost. I'm not saying that when a man in authority behaves badly on occasion that all that respect should fly out the window. I'm talking about situations where the one in authority consistently engages in behavior that is demeaning, disrespectful, dangerous and/or abusive (physically, emotionally, spiritually), that man is setting himself in position to lose respect. From God, men, and women, including their own wives. And it is the man's fault for losing it not the woman's fault for withholding it.

A biblical example would be the story of Abigail and Nabal found in First Samuel 25. Nabal acted the fool and nearly got his entire household killed. Abigail did not respect him or his authority when she went to David and called her husband a fool. But Abigail is not held up as a bad wife. She is looked upon as wise, saving many lives, and David's integrity. As a result, she married a man who became a king.

So while I agree with, believe in, and have personal experience with the power of unconditional respect, I know there are limits.

IN ADDITION (another However)

Unconditional respect should not be reserved for husbands.

I know of more than one relationship where it is the man who is the disrespectful one. I know husbands who withhold basic human-dignity respect from their wives. It is the husband who name calls, demeans, and does the eye rolling over minor and even imagined infractions.

I understand that Eggrich says that both men and women need both love and respect. But there is a problem with making the lines between 'respect' and 'love' so thick and so gender specific. It gives men who have issues with respecting women a loophole or excuse. It makes disrespecting their wives easier and acceptable all the while they claim to love their wives.

So, yes. I believe in unconditional respect and unconditional love for both sexes. I also believe that over emphasizing the gender differences in needs concerning love and respect can be disastrous for marriages that suffer from disrespectful and abusive husbands. It can direct men away from meeting their wives basic human need for a little respect.

IN ADDITION (a third However)

One should probably define the word 'need' along with 'respect'.

I believe all people need basic, human-dignity respect just as they need love.

But there are men who believe they 'need' a level of respect that not only goes higher than basic, human-dignity respect. It goes beyond leadership  respect and on into worship.

There are men, and I have met them, who believe that they need 'respect' but their definition looks more like 'worship'. They not only behave badly and crave leadership respect, they abuse and demand a sort of 'worship' respect and honor from their 'underlings'. And they know that they are right and everybody who denies them this worship is wrong. And they use books like "Love and Respect" to support their position.

This is why books like "Love and Respect" that harp on "Respect" while poorly defining the limits of respect give me the heebie-jeebies. These books are gasoline to the fires of personality disorders and emotionally unbalanced people.

Basic human-dignity respect should be enough for all humans, even and especially those in leadership in the Body of Christ. Craving more than that is wrong and leads to destruction.


EMSoliDeoGloria said...

Well said, indeed!

Anne V said...

This is excellent, Mara!!
I really appreciate how you approach the topic of "respect" from several different angles (ie. what it is, what it isn't) without limiting the application to a marriage context.

Mara Reid said...

Thanks EM and Anne! I'm glad you approve.

Julie Anne said...

Although I liked the original article a lot, there was something NQR (not quite right) and you put in the missing piece for me, Mara.

Mara Reid said...

Glad you approve too, Julie Anne!


Unknown said...


It can be difficult to understand Ep 5:33 and the "men need respect" issue from a modern and Western perspective. It's helpful to consider the Greek. The word used for respect in Ep 5:33 is phobeĆ³ (Strong's 5399). Synonyms listed for the word phobeo are fear, dread, reverence, am afraid, terrified. Wendy mentioned the word "reverence" in her blog post. However, most commentators totally omit the fear and dread part. The English word phobia was derived from the Greek phobeo. Paul was advising wives to have a certain amount of reverence AND fear for their husbands. Why would Paul say such a thing? The context is very important. In a patriarchal society, women (especially young girls) were forced to marry men that their fathers chose. I think we can all imagine the implications of an arranged marriage for a young girl in a patriarchal society. In ancient Rome, wife beating was legal. It was almost impossible for a woman to get a divorce or seek outside refuge because of ill treatment. We know from Ephesians that the idea of a husband loving his wife like Christ loved the church and died for her was a new, radical concept. In this climate, fear might be a wife's best defense under the circumstances causing her to tread lightly around a potentially abusive, unloving husband.

With that being said, I believe that Ep 5:33 does infer something very telling about the nature of men, and it all points back to Ge 3:16. Wendy has done an excellent job of fleshing out the "your desire will be for your husband" on her blog. However, the "he will rule over you" is another issue commentators like to omit and remain silent about. The Hebrew word for rule is mashal (Strong's 4910). The definition means to have dominion, reign and master. In light of that I believe that men want to be feared (phobeo) because fear makes it a lot easier for them to dominate, master and reign over their wives. Albeit, the Hebrew word rule (mishal) is very different from the servant leadership that Jesus modeled in the NT, but that's another discussion.

In the animal kingdom, "being feared" helps predators trap prey and achieve dominance and rank. On the flip side, "being afraid" helps prey be alert, flee and hide from potential predators and dangerous situations.

With that being said, I totally believe in unconditional love and respect. Love and respect are not feelings but rather expressions. We are not told to "feel" love or respect for one another, but express it in spite of our feelings. Perfect example, "love your enemies." Show respect for those who don't deserve it and haven't earned it. I would like to say something about Abigail, but I've already been so long winded, I'll stop here. Thanks!

Mara Reid said...

Thank you for expressing the part about 'fear'.

I have great respect for Wendy and the things she says and the things she's trying to accomplish. I agree with her on many points. I also disagree with her on a few. Respect/Phobia being one of them.

HOWEVER (I seem to love those howevers) I feel that both she and I have enough grace to give each other room in these few areas where we disagree.

And please, go ahead and say something about Abigail. I don't care how long it gets. You would be surprised at how many hits I get covering so many topics years after these posts and comments are put up. I like for people to be able to read and learn and compare notes. There is a lot of confusion about the love/respect dynamic. Different angles help us all to see the bigger picture.

Unknown said...

Given the Greek definition for the word respect, Abigail did respect Nabal. That's why she carried out her plan without saying one word to Nabal about it. Simply put, she "feared, dreaded, reverenced, was afraid and terrified" of him. From reading the text, I don't think that's any stretch of the imagination. Abigail is a perfect example of what Paul was talking about in Ep 5:33 and why the conversation about a wife's duty to respect (fear, dread, reverence, be afraid, terrified) her husband was so necessary in a patriarchal society.

Paul Byerly said...


Great post, thanks. I like your two levels of respect, very helpful.

Mara Reid said...

Thanks for stopping by.
And I'm glad it was helpful.
Sometimes it's hard to get a point across when you disagree with 'popular Christian culture'. People think you are opposed to the Bible if you don't walk, lock step, with the Bible gurus of the day.
But there are always nuances that people overlook when they think they have found the 'silver bullet' answer to what is ailing marriages today.
Thanks again.