Spirituality · Uncategorized

Biblical Marriage and Alienating Language

Yesterday, a few members of the men’s group at our church stood up to speak to the congregation about a study they recently completed. They were enthusiastic about it and, between the reading and fellowship, reported improvements in their romantic, parenting and work relationships. One of the things they talked about was following the biblical model for marriage; a partnership in which the husband takes a leadership role and the wife takes a more submissive role. Raise your hand if you read the last part of that sentence and started feeling irate, or at least uncomfortable. Yeah… me, too. I’ve thought this through before, and the idea of submission always stops me cold. Now, they did make a very important distinction yesterday, saying that submission is not for a man to impose; rather, it’s a gift that a woman can choose to give. Still, I was hearing that word louder than all the others. I’m still not entirely comfortable with this issue, but I do have a few thoughts. Before I dive in, please understand that I am not giving advice and am only exploring how it might affect a committed, loving couple who have mutual respect for one another.

What does the word “submissive” conjure for people? A submissive dog is one who pees whenever it is afraid or excited. A submissive woman might bow her head and quietly endure abuse. This is not a trait that ANY woman wants to embody, so I think we have to get past the loaded nature of the word and discover what’s really intended.

So, how else can we understand what this means? We do use “submit” in other contexts. A student might, for example, submit an assignment to a teacher. This is a voluntary action. The student gives their work to someone whose opinion they value (ideally 🙂 ) to read it and weigh it. The Vice President advises the President, but doesn’t have the same authority and we don’t call him submissive. I think in marriage it means choosing someone you love and trust completely to consider your family’s best interests. It means offering your opinions and support and allowing him to make decisions (heavy responsibility). It means gracefully refusing to be an obstacle. And here’s the other thing: If I choose to empower my husband to make decisions, that doesn’t mean that he can’t submit to me in return. He may decide that what I want is the best thing, even if it isn’t what he wants. I chose to marry someone I trust and we do run into situations sometimes where I really want something and he really doesn’t. Is it a good thing for me to push and push until he caves? Not usually. 🙂 OK, that’s never actually worked well for me. It damages the relationship. In instances where he’s wanted something that I really don’t want, he almost always respects my wishes. 

The sad fact is that women are still subverted in negative ways all the time. Feminism is such a big part of the culture that I grew up in. Any whiff of “inequality” sends us scurrying in the opposite direction, but honestly, that isn’t at issue, here. We aren’t talking about stripping power or rights from women – we’re talking about a completely voluntary way to structure a personal relationship.

Any comments? I know it’s a touchy issue…

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3 thoughts on “Biblical Marriage and Alienating Language

  1. I believe you said it well Sarah. To submit is voluntary. We choose to submit to Gods authority over our lives or we choose to rebel and it strains the relationship. The same is true for our marriages. Another point you made, which I agree with, is when you said it is a “heavy responsibility” for the husband. Imagine the responsibility of Abram, Noah and Moses when they went to their wives and said, “This is what the Lord our God has commanded me to do.” Imagine if the wife said, “I don’t think so” or “I won’t go along with it”. The marital strife would have been thick. God first made Adam and said you are in charge of what I have made but you need a helper. Helper is the big word there not slave or submissive human under you. Women help the husband in their daunting role as the head of the family. And yes I do believe we as husbands submit to our wives requests even when we don’t want to because it is what is best for the family. I believe one of the most hated words in our language is obey or submit because too many people have abused it over the course of time. Submitting to your husband is not weakness, it actually shows strength, trust and respect in your husbands ability to lead.

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