The Church at large owes a debt of gratitude to apologists, pastors, researchers, and teachers—both men and women—who continue to expose the unbiblical assumptions, teaching, and practices of the Patriarchy, also known as “Complementarianism,” movement. Complementarianism is a recently adopted euphemism for the Patriarchy movement. The groups of concern place women and girls lower on a “spiritual hierarchy” thus making them vulnerable to unscriptural male dominance—and potential abuse. To the references listed at the end of this entry that detail the potential danger of such groups I would add what in my opinion is another important element: “cold threats.” This post describes what cold threats are and how they play a part in silencing dissent and supporting a climate in which women and girls (in this context) are in danger of exploitation and abuse.
My sister “Mary” is part of the medical staff in a prison hospital for the criminally insane. The staff often deals with both blatant threats and what are called “cold threats.” Cold threats, Mary tells me, differ from blatant threats (also known, in that setting, as “hot threats”) in that they are implied. Instead of “I’m going to hurt you,” or some such obvious statement of intent, a cold threat is less obvious, but the results are the same emotionally—and potentially physically—for the victim. Cold threats can be cautionary tales of something bad that happened to someone else because they did something just like the victim is doing now. For example, “The last person that ratted on me found himself in a world of hurt.” A cold threat can also be a hostile look, an aggressive stance, a suggestion, or a “trigger” word or expression that reminds the victim of a previous event, core teaching, or state of being that in some way affirms a belief the perpetrator wants to strengthen and that he or she knows will control the victim. Some examples of the various kinds of cold threats that have occurred in various settings in what one might call Extra-Biblical Patriarchy/Complementarianism (EPC) groups are detailed below.
Cold threats are used to obtain power over another person. And perhaps the most effective cold threats are those couched in the cautionary tale referenced above relayed in a calm, detached manner, or a threat presented as a joke. “Just joking!” the perpetrator will say after delivering what he or she knows will intimidate or strike fear in the victim, and then the perpetrator may even blame the victim for being too sensitive. A cold threat may also be delivered in a gentle, kind, loving manner because the foundational assumption about who has power to do what to whom has already been firmly laid, cast as Gospel truth, you might say.
For example, in some EPC groups, if a woman has been taught that she must submit to her husband because he is some sort of intermediary between her and God (see reference # 1, “Demi-gods and Spiritual Mediators…”) and if she has been trained to believe this assumption, that’s all she may need to know—or to be reminded of—if she considers disobeying one of her husband’s orders, no matter how kind, gentle, or cheerful his presentation. No matter how kind, gentle, or cheerful a person he truly is. Because she understands that could change. Indeed, “for her sake,” rather, for her “correction,” he may deem it necessary to change his disposition and behavior in some small or big way. After all, he is fallible.
You might say it’s like the “good cop/bad cop” dynamic. The person being interrogated might acknowledge (and appreciate) the friendly, understanding manner in which the interrogator is presenting himself in the interrogation, but the “interogatee” also understands who holds total power and who could just as easily, in an instant, turn “bad cop.”
But of course, in the case of the Christian woman in an EPC group, “bad cop” already abides on some level in her mind or psyche. The “interrogator,” in this case the husband (or in some groups, any man in an authority position), is the one telling the other she really shouldn’t be doing whatever it is that he disproves of, and he only need trigger the reminder (with a simple reference of his status as intermediary between her and God or perhaps a Scripture that seems to support this, if need be) while at the same time appear to be the nice guy, just doing his job of loving and protecting her. And if he has been raised to believe he has this power over her, he may not even realize the logical conclusion of the assumption—the “fruit” of it, in short, fear, which is one of the most powerful controlling mechanisms.
All of these delivery systems intensify potential danger, and to have a potentially dangerous situation is a degree of real danger. It’s like being “a little bit pregnant.” The ungodly “fruit” of such relationships where cold threats are present, overtly or covertly, is that they become one part survival, and another part fear for the victim. And of course, for the Christian wife–for all Christians–the assumption that there is any other mediator is a lie. There is only One Mediator between God and mankind (1 Timothy 2:5).
Unless the assumptions and motivations of a cold threat are examined, the victim may not even understand the dynamic though he or she will feel it emotionally and be thus more easily controlled. When this happens in movements such as in EPC groups, cold threats are especially deadly because they impact a victim’s perception of his or her spiritual state. Heaven or Hell—for all eternity—is on the line. Not to mention the constant potential for oppression and/or pain in the here and now. No matter how benign appearances may seem. Indeed, no matter however truly loving a husband may be. The reality is, on some or all levels, the “back door” to violence of some sort is left open.
Here are several recent examples of cold threats, their assumptions and motivations, their logical conclusions, and an illustration from my own experience with this phenomenon in Roman Catholicism.
BUT IT’S BIBLICAL!
Elders in the EPC movement will cite the term “biblical,” for example, when describing what some Christians are not allowed to do because they were born female. EPC elders may reference the usual Bible passages dealing with women’s submission and leave out the passages about the submission of all Christians one to another (e.g., Ephesians 5:21), our spiritual equality (e.g., Galatians 3:28), and so on. But because the term “biblical” is used, as, for example, in the title of the controversial “Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood,”  written by leaders in the Complementarianism movement, most Christians would automatically assume that everything the Statement says is doctrinally pure. When Christians hear the term “biblical” it triggers an automatic acceptance of whatever follows, especially if whatever follows is not studied under the light of orthodoxy and the whole context of God’s Word. Add to that the credentials of those at the top of the movement and right there are two very powerful persuasive elements to shape—or stop—thought processes and to prompt fear or inappropriate submission, i.e., to control the victim.
But perhaps the most insidious and dangerous of all the teachings in EPC groups is the notion that because a Christian is a woman she cannot interpret the Word of God for herself, which of course defies the doctrine of the indwelling Holy Spirit promised and sent by Jesus to “guide (you) into all truth” (John 16:13, NIV). Nothing in the context of this Scripture, incidentally, indicates the Holy Spirit is given only to men.
This concept is part of the belief system of one local church I visited recently which subscribes to a form of patriarchy. The teaching implies that a woman needs a man to interpret God’s Word for her. The fruit of such teaching is, logically, some variation of the following. If the victim is, say, uncomfortable with something stated in a sermon or a counseling session, indeed, if she is fearful of some blatant or implied message, or if she recognizes it as error, but if she is also told she does not have the ability to understand it (because she is female) she may be forced, then, to believe whatever the man’s message is. Or she may FEEL she is forced. It’s not hard to understand how this could lead to confusion, self-doubt, second-guessing, despair and depression, or physical abuse. Not to mention the spiritual abuse potential of this relationship dynamic. 
THE MOTHER OF ALL PATRIARCHIES
This was one of the assumptions I grew up with in Roman Catholicism. It was a given that the Mother Church was the repository of all truth, that only She was the “authentic faith” and that only the men in various positions of power in Roman Catholicism could interpret sacred texts for the rest of us, i.e., men not in power positions and all women. When the male hierarchy voted to add the notion of “ex Cathedra”  to their extra-biblical cache of “sacred traditions” deemed by the leadership to be on a par with Scripture, that sealed the deal. In certain situations, so the notion goes, the Pope can speak (and the faithful are mandated to believe) that it is as if God, Himself, is speaking. This is commonly known as papal infallibility. To doubt this, I was taught, was not only wrong, it was sin to disobey what the Pope said ex Cathedra for which you might either lose your salvation and go to Hell, or at least rack up more time in the fires of Purgatory, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross notwithstanding.
And consider the following examples of cold threats in other forms and in other EPC groups where women are considered spiritual inferiors to be controlled, ah, lead, and “corrected” if necessary.
BACK OFF—A LITTLE—BOYS
I listened to a patriarchal radio preacher recently talking about a man’s leadership role in the home. He started out by telling the stories of two young men who, he thought, chuckle, chuckle, probably took things a little too far.
Young Man “A” told his wife that they would have no secrets in their home. To that end, he took off all the doors on the inside of the house.
Young Man “B” stressed accountability in his marriage. He came home one day and asked his new wife where she’d been that day. She said to the grocery store. He told her the grocery store was only four miles round trip and her odometer indicated she’d gone twelve miles that day.
Chuckle, chuckle, yes, this was a little extreme, explained the preacher, sounding like an amiable grandfather. And he counseled both husbands to back off some and went on to finish his talk.
These are apparently true stories. But even if it they were hyperbole for the sake of humor, the “cold threat” for Christian wives—and fiancées and girls—remains. Emotionally (even if they did not actually take the time to verbalize this), women and girls in the hearing of this preacher and who might believe in male superiority received the following message on some level: okay, then, SOME gradation of this kind of behavior is acceptable. Maybe the husband shouldn’t go as far as to take the doors off in the house, but maybe he could walk in on her anytime he wanted to, even in the bathroom! Or maybe it was okay to “bug” the rooms, or track all of her online or cell phone activity… Still uncomfortable situations, but certainly not as bad…
As for the young man keeping track of his wife’s mileage, if that was too severe, as even the preacher agreed (good cop), maybe the husband had the right to track other things, such as where she went every day, or the contents of every receipt, and so on. But even if the husband backs off of the really bad behavior, the wife still feels threatened especially if she’s also been told he has some kind of extra-biblical right to control her. And the extent to which he can control her is always vague…how far COULD he go and get away with it, that is to say, how far does he have a “right” to go?
But she may shove her feeling of discomfort, even fear, at this behavior aside because, after all, she has been told she is spiritually inferior and can’t really ever know the true interpretation of the Scriptures although she’s smart enough emotionally to get the subtle hints, suggestions, and threats. Not to mention the unmarried and young girls who heard this message who at some level are “taking notes” for their future relationships—if they stay in the church, that is.
And, of course, there are the effects on men and boys, which, depending upon the maturity level of the guy might go something like this on some level at some point in time:
I get to have THAT much control, ah, “headship”? I wonder just HOW MUCH I really can get away with, ah, that is, how much I have a “right to do to correct her,” especially if she does something I don’t like, that is to say something that is, ah, “unbiblical” for a woman?…And does this work even if I just suspect something?
Not to necessarily imply men would ever use this assumed “right” in a moment of human weakness or pride or arrogance or assumption, or to suppress or silence or “correct” their wives (as long as they don’t go so far as to be abusive, whatever that might mean or not mean according to the Biblical Manhood paradigm). And not to assume they don’t understand that scriptural submission for men includes giving their lives for their wives, even as Christ gave his life for the church (Ephesians 5:25).
But then again, you know what they say about absolute power and its ability to corrupt, even the power of the mere suggestion of absolute power.
But perhaps the most extreme example of a “cold threat” would be a story that came out of the polygamy cult that was in the news a few years ago because of the rape and abuse of underage girls by their so-called “husbands.”
One young woman was teaching a class of youngsters when her “husband” walked in the classroom. Without a word, he grabbed her braid (remember the single, long-braid-down-the-back hairstyle of the group?). He proceeded to twist the braid so tightly the victim fell to her knees in severe pain. In silence. He then suddenly released her hair and left the room. She got up and (somehow) resumed teaching.
There is no doubt the little girls present got the message, they got the cold threat: this wife did something wrong, and her “husband” had to punish her. I am sure the terror suppressed by those little girls was immense. And I’m sure the power of that assault became part of the “emotional tape” running in the background that will keep them in compliance in the future unless they escape.
Unfortunately, the little boys got a message, too.
There is also an aspect of the EPC movement that controls what women wear. Recently, I saw pictures of acceptable swimwear for girls in some of these groups . The costumes resemble swimwear circa 1900. (By the way, do these folks realize that the costumes would have been considered pretty racy in some circles back in those Victorian/Edwardian days?) While no one is suggesting women or men dress immodestly at the beach or anywhere else (oh yes, gentlemen, women can also appreciate a male body clad in beach wear), and if someone wants to wear that style of swimwear it’s really her choice, but the assumption beneath this clothing style is where cold threat comes into play.
Apparently, the word on the beach in that group is that if a girl or woman reveals a little too much of her body parts (because of swimsuit style or because perhaps it’s a bit tight) this results in temptation for a guy and he might get aroused mentally or physically. HOWEVER, apparently, it’s the girl’s fault, not only that, she has somehow “defrauded” the hapless fellow.
TAKE A DUNK
Note to guys—and gals: if it’s impossible for you to resist temptation, how about taking a dunk in the river or staying away from the beach? Or, how about simply thinking of your fellow Christian, your sister (or brother) in the Lord, as a whole human being not just the sum of her/his body parts? She/he, like you, is a unique creature made in the image of God. She/he, like you, has a mind, a spirit, hopes and dreams, she/he, like you, has been gifted by God as a valuable part of the Body of Christ for His glory. And if none of that works, do what Jesus did when he was tempted: resist Satan with the Word of God.
BACK TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED COLD THREAT
Now, here’s where the cold threat comes in for the girl who is the cause of all the mental and physical, presumably unrestrainable, sexual angst in the guy at the beach, and it might read something like this—blatantly or on an emotional level:
Girls and women, when you wear certain clothing items (or the wrong size or style or…) you are the cause of men thinking and doing sinful things. By causing him to respond in that way, you are to blame because you have “defrauded him” of his purity.
The truth: temptation is all around us. It is not sin. Jesus was tempted, as noted above, and He showed us how to deal with it.
Sin would be acting on the temptation.
And really, no matter how hard women try, they will never be able to deal with temptation for a man: that’s his responsibility. Conversely, men will never be able to deal with temptation for a woman: that’s her responsibility.
However, if this is what a girl is taught, then the cold threat is that she has put a stain on the boy’s or man’s purity, therefore she has sinned therefore…well, the consequences are subject to the leader of this genre of EPC. Banned from the beach? Beating? Burqa? Or just shame?
(And I wonder how the “accountability sessions,” or whatever they call them, go…
“Mr. Smith, your daughter’s swimsuit skirt went up above her knees and that made me think about her breasts!”
“Young lady, is this true?”
“Well, ah, I guess maybe when I climbed down into the water…I don’t know…it’s kind of hard to keep the skirts down below my knees ALL the time…”
“Mr. Smith, she said ‘knees!’ Now I’m thinking about her breasts again!”
“Shame on you daughter for defrauding Billy! And not once, but twice! Now you’ve ruined his sexual purity FOREVER!” [Insert consequence/punishment here, for her disobedience/sin])
Sounds silly, but it’s a logical conclusion. Not only this logic is apparent, but something else far more lethal surfaces, rather, hides in the psyche. This kind of dynamic causes the girls to think they are somehow responsible for the boys’ sexual difficulties, read, needs. It sets the girls up for sexual exploitation as well.
And of course this strange interpretation of the term “fraud” and the cold threat aimed at girls and women has nothing to do with a completely healthy concern about modest dress whether one is female or male.
In the middle of putting this post together, I had an interesting dream that leads me to the “good news” and the encouragement parts of this piece.
In this dream I was being pursued by some anonymous bad guy through an unknown neighborhood. His intent was to hold me hostage for some reason. I managed to escape from him and run to safety, but an “invisible me” went to where he was hiding. Even though I was invisible to him (imagine a transparent body form which is how I “saw” myself), the bad guy somehow knew I was there. He got as close as he could to my transparent form. I thought he was going to hurt me, and I felt the fear, but of course he couldn’t; nevertheless, he continued to insist he controlled me and I was his hostage.
While I was beginning to realize that I was really in no danger at all and my fear was subsiding, the bad guy moved to the far corner of the room and then admitted he really had no power over the “invisible me” after all. He also admitted I could in fact hurt him. I decided to see if this was true: I “wafted” over and hit him where it really hurts and he screamed. Then I woke up.
As I pondered this, I saw the clear analogy, no pun intended. The bad guy was actually a belief system (EPC? Catholicism?) that wanted me to believe I was subject to its total control (with the logical and obvious potential for harm). The “invisible me” was me, the born again believer and therefore a “new creature in Christ Jesus” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
As born again believers, Christians have the spirit of Christ within (Romans 8:9). (For the sake of the dream metaphor, you might say His Spirit in me was the “invisible me,” or as I perceived the image in my dream, the “transparent me,” the part the bad guy, so to speak, couldn’t overpower.) Because we have Christ within, and because of Jesus’ defeat of Satan at the cross, all of us have the power to overcome the wicked one (Romans 8:37) who is our real enemy (Ephesians 6:12).
And the Bible gives no indication that our “power,” if you will, is size, strength, status—or gender—specific.
The part of the dream where it took me so long to realize I was completely safe from the bad guy I see as recovery time once my “power over the enemy” became apparent to me. That was also the point at which the bad guy acknowledged the truth.
Depending upon how long one is involved in cults or cult-like groups, it may take some time to sort through the issues. My own complete separation from Catholicism—after I became a Christian—took several years. From time to time even now, over thirty years later, I still catch myself hooked into old legalistic/works based thinking. Although it’s rare, certain words can still trigger some old fear, if even momentarily.
And a key part of the recovery process for most is mourning.
What has seemed like “home,” spiritually or any other way, is still missed once one is free from it or away from it. And as is the case of many cults or cult-like groups, members, even family members, may “shun,” or completely disown those who decide to leave. This can be heartbreaking. Fortunately, there are counselors and support groups who are familiar with cult mind and emotion controls and who can help people sort through the trauma and the lies. (See resources, below.)
At the very least, even if no other abuse occurred, one needs time to mourn the loss of the sense of peace and safety stolen from her because of aberrant teachings and assumptions. She may need to be reminded often that Jesus is her one and only mediator, and that He is her one and only Lord.
I am reminded of a story from the days in the eighties when I worked in a cult ministry. Occasionally, my boss and his wife took one of our clients into their home for the rehabilitation/recovery part of the ministry. One such person was a young woman of about 20. She had been involved in The Way International and had been the fiancée of one of the local leaders. She was on the phone with him one day and I overheard her part of the conversation. From what she said he was obviously trying to seduce her back into a relationship with him and back in the organization. She said this, which stays with me still:
“You might still have a hold on me emotionally for awhile, ‘John,’ but you no longer have a hold on me mentally and spiritually.” She was free, indeed.
I marveled at the strength and wisdom of one so young.
FREEDOM IN CHRIST JESUS
I can think of no better encouragement to close with than with these two scriptures:
“If the Son therefore shall make you free ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:38 KJV).
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 KJV).
Sisters in the Lord,
No man owns you, nor does he have the right to control you or to take you hostage to an aberrant gospel that renders women less than men spiritually. That is not the meaning of appropriate, biblical submission, both men’s and women’s.
You are free in Christ Jesus. I pray you will learn how to walk in that freedom. I encourage you to saturate yourself in God’s Words of comfort, direction, and peace, for no person, man or woman, elder, minister, priest, guru, or Pope has the power to take you out of God’s hand (John 10:29).
And keep these words close: “Greater is He in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Millions have come free of aberrant belief systems. You can, too.
REFERENCES AND RESOURCES
 On Patriarchy and Complementarianism, here are just a few sites that represent views, pro and con, on the issue:
http://vimeo.com/15274174 “Demi-gods and Spiritual Mediators No Wife Cometh Unto the Father But By Her Husband First”
 On the controversial “Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood.” There is much written on this, here are just two sites representing both sides of the issues:
 An index on spiritual abuse:
 RE: Ex Cathedra http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05677a.htm
 RE: “wholesome wear” http://www.wholesomewear.com/page-4.html
 RE: how girls/women “defraud men” by wearing non-wholesomewear-type swim wear: http://shine.yahoo.com/parenting/michelle-duggar-modesty-bathing-suits-163300485.html
Here is help for those who’ve been involved in cults or cult-like organizations or situations. Again, there are many such sites. These include alphabetical listings of research on various cults and information on how to get help: