Steven Habisohn is the founder of e5men, a new men's movement based on Ephesians 5:25 ("Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her"). In an interview, Habisohn explains the e5men concept: that men should make a bodily sacrifice for their earthly brides just as Jesus made the supreme sacrifice for his bride, the Church.

How does "Ephesians 5 Men" work?

E5men gives Christian men the opportunity to make a true, unselfish gift to their wives: eating only bread and water for one day is a selfless act that can bring grace, spiritual healing, and growth to their wife, or to their future bride if they're single.

And the men fast one Wednesday a month?

Yes--generally, the first Wednesday of the month. We do it in communion with each other and give each other strength. But any day is fine. The requirement is simply a minimum of one day a month. Many men choose to fast every Wednesday either for their wives or other women in their lives. Or they fast for e5 women, who join because they want to be prayed for-for healing in their marriage or their life. When you say e5men fast for their wives' spiritual healing and growth, is there the idea that the wife may need that more than the husband? No. In fact, the idea is that if the husband is healed, the wife will soon follow. If he was more kind, gentle, and patient, if he thought of her more often, she would be glad to respond in kind.
The idea is that both need healing. The husband often needs healing from being selfish, and this act is a way for him to become holy as well. He works at his self-mastery and at bringing God's grace to that marriage. Through that he becomes more patient, kind, and gentle. I've seen many cases where this happens. I know in my own case, my temper is much less. So there are a lot of good things that happen for men and their spirituality. So it's kind of a complementary growth and healing, but the man takes this on as a burden for both himself and his wife. And the wife often responds in kind with her own renewal of her spiritual life. Why fasting? Why doesn't the husband just help his wife by, let's say, taking out the garbage more often? He should be doing that. But there are several reasons why fasting works and why it's attractive to men. Jesus talked about the power of fasting when he discussed the demonic-that some demons can only be exorcised only with prayer and fasting. I'm not saying that this has to do with the demonic-though I would say that in a few cases, demons are involved with trying to break up marriages. But it shows the power of fasting as a powerful prayer for God's grace to come into a situation. As men would like to hear it, it's the 'sledgehammer' of prayer. The second reason is that it's very easy for men to incorporate this powerful prayer into their lives. It doesn't take up extra time-it's about not doing something instead of doing something. Men who perhaps don't like to go to meetings or talk about everything would still gladly pray for the wife.
Fasting becomes a very efficient way to pray powerfully for one's wife and convert oneself. The e5men concept compares a man fasting for his wife to Christ suffering for the church, the people of God. Could you talk more about this? To live the gospel message in one's own body is very powerful for the man. The gospel is about a bridegroom (as John the Baptist calls Christ) laying down his life, his body, for his bride. This is what I'd call the basic DNA of the gospel. Some might say this sets up a construct where the bride is seen as weaker, more helpless, more prone to sin. There are many examples in the Bible of the faithless bride and the more faithful bridegroom who stands by her.

Right. It's not a perfect analogy, as Christ was sinless, and we obviously are not [laughs]. But the headship of the husband, relative to the headship of Christ to the church, is one of service. It's not that the man is needed as the "savior," but the one at the service of the bride. That's similar to the Promise Keepers' idea that the husband's headship in the family is one of "servant leadership." Yes. That eliminates this tyrannical "headship" approach, which can often be misconstrued. Once he lives the fast, the man quickly recognizes that he is not exactly the world's greatest person [laughs] and recognizes how weak he really is. The fast actually often knocks him down a few notches. From the outside, it looks as though women need us-and women do need us, to say that women don't need us would be wrong, to say that men don't need women would be wrong. We need all their spiritual gifts as well. This is just one way a man can conform himself to Christ in a particular way. So what is a man's vocation today?

The man's vocation is to recognize his true nature as a kingly servant, one who is to lay down his life for his bride and for all women, to serve women with the gifts he is given as a man, and to raise up women above men.

I like to equate the relationship with a rose: the man is the stem, the one bringing life to the flower. But who is the beautiful part? The woman, the rose, the top of the flower. That's the man's job: to bring the fullness of life to his wife, to make sure she has a happy home and a happy life, where she can become all she can be. That's the job of the man: to not pigeonhole her into certain roles, although those roles may help her understand who she is; his job is to know her and to serve the great beauty God wanted her to be. Not to repress her, but to serve her. By the same token, what is a woman's vocation today? What is her responsibility in all this? In a certain sense, her responsibility is to bring life to the world. As a man, I think women are beautiful. Many men can't understand how absolutely gorgeous and beautiful the nature of women is. How they bring life, how they take care of children and take care of other women. Their generosity and kindness need to be helped and supported by men. Their beauty is what they can give to the world: their natural ability to love and to give. That's their vocation: to pour themselves out to the world. Just as with the Church, Christ gives his life for the church, and the church-the body of Christ-goes out into the world and bears life and salvation to it. In the same way, this works out in families. The husband supports his wife. His wife is the one who's usually with the children, teaching them what they need to learn through her natural, good, feminine nature. So she brings them life--not just literally, as her body would bear life, but spiritually.
Switching gears a bit, how many men have joined? We started in November 2002. We now have 2100 men in over 30 countries. At this particular moment, we get about 10 e-mails an hour. I'm quite amazed. This was just supposed to be something I started among some friends because I'd given them some advice when they were having difficult times in their marriages. I had no idea this would hit such a nerve among so many men and women. Why do men need to register? A few reasons: First, to take the active step of being in communion with other men; second, if there's ever an e5 event or church service being held, they can be invited. We don't have anything like that yet, but we have the e-mails in case. Finally, we send out an e-mail about three days before the fast Wednesday, just to remind the guys. It usually takes a few days of emotional ramp-up. We also send out e-mail to the e5 women-there are about 700 of them--that sign up to be prayed for. The prayers and fasting are a source of hope to the e5women. Many of them are alone or in difficult marriages. They need prayers by men who are not their husbands, because often their husbands have nothing to do with giving them spiritual support. And some of the men also fast for women who have been sinned against by men or whom they've hurt in the past-ex-girlfriends, for example?

Yes, that's a perpetual intention of the e5men: praying for all women hurt or abused by men. Men are asked first to love their wife rightly, but through that, to love all women rightly.

There are many women in the world who just don't have a good man in their lives, and no one praying for them. This fast is a way to pray for all sorts of women in difficulties, even if they're not signed up with e5. For example, we can pray for all the women in prostitution, harmed by abortion, or raped.

Back to a few practical questions: What type of bread are we talking about--Wonder bread?

Simple bread, just something to keep up the sugar level and keep you going. Nothing with raisins or butter. It would taste too good [laughs]. I tend to eat breadsticks. Usually I don't eat anything, though-it's easier just not to think about it and just drink water.

Is there a tendency to chow down the Tuesday night before the fast, like with Mardi Gras?

It happens [laughs]. I won't say I don't enjoy my meal a little more on Tuesday night, take an extra piece of meat, or maybe have a little snack later in the evening. But what's really neat is the day after the fast. It's like a death and resurrection thing: you go through the death of Christ by fasting, a death to self, and then you have this celebration. Food never tastes so good.

What do the wives say when they hear their husbands are doing this?

I just got an e-mail today--and I see these almost every other day--where a woman breaks down in tears.

Any other testimonials?

On the men's side, they become much more patient, gentle, and kind, and grow deeper in their faith. They do this and recognize they do have some self-mastery and control and therefore decide to develop their prayer life, which they would never have considered before. They just become holier men.

You can hear in the e-mails that people are making serious strides in healing their marriages. This has given them the courage to do it. To men, it's giving courage; to women, it's giving hope.

And even if your marriage isn't troubled, this can make it stronger?

Yes. I have a very good marriage, I would say. Since starting fasting, I've become a better person. I've noticed, my wife has noticed. I'm much less grouchy.

The key benefit of fasting for men is this: they know they need to improve, and they just can't seem to do it. Fasting seems to get them there. Say they want to be less lustful and less angry, and fasting is the thing that detaches them from those enslavements. And even little personality faults they think they'll never get rid of start to fade away.

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