Now, Religion in the News—a report and comment on religious trends and events being covered by the media. This week’s item is from WorldNetDaily.com, June 24, 2003, with the headline: “Husband Says Punish Me for My Wife’s Act—Citing Mosaic law and the founding fathers, a Pennsylvania man insists he must bear the burden of punishment for his wife, who was ticketed for breastfeeding their daughter while driving in Ohio.
“Kathryn Nicole Donkers, 29, could have gone on her way after paying a $100 fine, but her case is scheduled for an August 6 trial because of the couple’s deeply held spiritual beliefs, the Akron Beacon Journal reported. ‘The situation here,” said husband Brad L. Barnhill, 46, “is that according to our faith, I am the head of the household. I am responsible for what she does and no one can punish her except me.’
“Donkers was pulled over by police May 8 on the Ohio Turnpike after a trucker called 911 to report he had seen the woman driving her car with a baby in her lap, the Akron paper said. She has been assessed misdemeanor charges of child endangering, failure to comply with the order of a police officer, and other driving infractions, but could have had it all reduced to a single guilty plea, court records say. Barnhill vows however, to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary to prove his point that as the sole head of the family, he is the only one who can punish his wife for a public act.
“Barnhill insists he is the defendant. ‘That’s the way I have to do things under my faith,’ he told the Beacon Journal, ‘and if I fail in that duty, I’m going to hell.’
“Barnhill follows the teachings of the First Christian Fellowship for Eternal Sovereignty, a group founded in the 1990s by a man named Christopher Hansen. According to the group’s website, ‘the fellowship’s main objective is to convert and educate sovereign Americans to demand and defend their God-given rights and fulfill their duties as freedom-loving Christians against the encroachment of the beast and his agents’
“‘The beast,’ says Hansen, ‘is the Federal Government.’”
Tom: Dave, I think this group, this religious sect, or cult, maybe even—I think they have been moonlighting with regard to what they are reading. I find this in the Qur’an that, certainly a husband has the right to punish his wife—where is that in the Scripture, the Bible?
Dave: I don’t find it in the Bible at all. “Husbands love your wives”—but first of all, Tom, I wonder why her last name is Donkers and his is Barnhill. That sounds like a little independence on the part of that lady, doesn’t it? Or does he have multiple wives? I don’t know, that doesn’t come out, but I thought that was a bit odd.
Secondly, Romans 13 tells us we are to obey the authorities—that these are ordained of God, established to keep human beings in line with God’s standards. And I would think that the law that is given to govern safety on the roads—that everyone ought to do that. Well, apparently he is not disputing that. He is suggesting that he is the one who should punish his wife—that the state has no authority in this. However, he was not the one who was offended. It was the state that was offended, and it’s the laws of the state that this lady violated—not his laws, not the husband’s laws.
Tom, it doesn’t make sense; it’s wacky. And the whole purpose of this fellowship, or the main objective, it says, is to “educate sovereign Americans to demand and defend their God-given rights.” Well, it seems to me that to suggest that a woman would endanger other motorists and herself and her baby—if she’s got a baby on her lap, breastfeeding it while she is driving down the freeway—that seems rather reasonable. So, is he suggesting that she has the sovereign right to do that? That this is a God-given right? I don’t think so.
Tom: Dave, my concern and one of the reasons I picked this article, here you have somebody claiming to be, I would assume, a Christian—the First Christian Fellowship for Eternal Sovereignty—yet if you’re going to call yourself a Christian, what’s your resource? What’s your manual? What are you preaching and teaching here? Does this conform to the Bible? Because we have so many groups out there—they’re making it up as they go along. That’s why I started out by saying he could find this information in the Qur’an—certainly verses that would support this idea—but I don’t find anything in the Scripture. But we do have these groups, and now they are promoted as fundamentalists, but they are not even going by the fundamentals. I don’t see them.
Dave: Not the fundamentals of the Bible. Yeah, the name of this fellowship, First Christian Fellowship for Eternal Sovereignty, gives it all away. Now, the sovereignty that I read of in the Bible is the sovereignty of God, to which man is to submit. I don’t read anything about man’s sovereignty or that God has given Christians some special sovereignty so that they do not have to obey the government, much less that when a wife breaks the law, it’s the husband who has to punish her. What punishment is he prescribing? The government already has a prescribed punishment for this breach of the law.
This man, sincere though he may be, is, I think, confused. He’s confused about the issues, he’s confused about the role man is to play before God, he’s confused about the sovereignty of God—He hasn’t given that to us so that we can complain against our government; He tells us to obey the government. So, Tom, it’s just another one of those crazy religious ideas, of which there are plenty of them out there.
Tom: Yeah. But Dave, you say, “confused”—the thing that grieves me here, here is somebody who is committing himself to a religious view, and they quote him as saying, “And if I fail in that duty, I am going to hell.” There is works-righteousness. There’s a…again, claiming to be Christian but a false gospel—this is—it’s not just pathetic, it just grieves you.
Dave: Yeah, and it’s serious for these dear people who believe this and are hanging on the brink of hell all the time for lack of fulfilling certain duties. That’s not biblical.