Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Submission, but not like that

Since I’ve started on misapprehensions of Ephesians 5, I’ll continue in the same vein. Although other verses get roped in, Ephesians 5 is without a doubt the keynote text in teaching that there is a hierarchy in marriage; that men in some way are called to rule and women in some way are called to obey. That if there’s a stalemate, then man gets the tie-breaking vote. That the man’s goals and dreams are of more significance than the woman’s.

I already talked about the problem with interpreting “head” as “decision maker.” It’s a modern connotation, not an ancient one. There’s just nothing in this passage about decision making in difficult situations.

What about the other commands? Just keep in mind that every command given in this passage to husbands and wives separately has already been given to all believers, male, female, young, old, single, married. We are all to love one another as Christ has loved us. We are all to submit to one another in the fear of God. Women are not somehow exempt from exhibiting Christ’s love, nor men from exercising submission.

In other words, these are universal principles. Women are to love their husbands as Christ loved the church, and men are to submit to their wives in the fear of God. To say otherwise is to argue exceptions into commands that are plainly written as universal.

What about in practice? I grew up with the hierarchical teaching on marriage. I didn’t seriously consider any other options. In fact, twelve years ago I probably would have argued for a pretty extreme view of male hierarchy. However, even then I had the sense to avoid guys who had anything at all to say on the subject. To me a single guy who needed to talk about being the leader in the home was waving a huge red flag. I am now deeply thankful that I had that much sense.

Although DOB never did particularly hold a strong position on needing to be in charge, there’s no doubt that by nature he’s a take-charge person and by nature I’m fairly easy-going. It would be pretty easy for us to follow a hierarchical pattern. And initially, we kind of did. Because it was what we were used to. Because it was what we were told was right.
The trouble is, every time I’ve decided, “Well, that’s what he wants to do so I should just submit,” when I had a different view, it has been absolutely the wrong decision. It always has meant stopping the conversation we needed to be having. It has been cowardice on my part.

This doesn’t mean me insisting on my way. It means we are one. Like the head and body cannot operate without full agreement, neither can we. If we haven’t reached agreement yet, one or both of us don’t yet have enough of the other’s perspective. When we do that work, the work of really listening and trying to understand, we always find out what is best for both of us.

Now that does not address the problem of what to do when one partner is being intractably stupid. However, I don’t see how this problem is actually solved by giving men the unilateral right to be the intractably stupid ones.


Diary of an Autodidact said...

It has been my experience that I can deduce two things from any couple that emphasizes an hierarchy in marriage:

1. Their marriage isn't very happy or functional.
2. The woman gets her way anyway. She just argues that whatever she wants is "God's way". I have yet to see an exception to this.

On the flip side, the best marriages that I have observed have always functioned like you described, where there is really no need to discuss the issue of power. The couple makes decisions together, and comes to a consensus after thoughtful discussion.

the Joneses said...

One day, I'm going to get in a comment BEFORE Autodidact does.

Your story could be my story!

I know several good marriages where the wife, to some extent, focuses on "letting the husband lead." Seems to me it's usually a go-getter wife and an easy-going husband, and seems to me it's less "letting husband lead" than "making sure husband gets a say instead of me driving forward with my plans." Too bad patriarchal men aren't taught the same principle.

Here's the problem I so often see with even balanced "submissive/leader" marriages: women so easily take blame for bad things happening. It goes like this: Wife sees that something needs to be done, but husband doesn't agree. Wife insists, and husband gives in. Things don't pan out quite right. Guess why? Because wife TOOK OVER LEADERSHIP! It's HER FAULT! Often, it's not even the husbands who are blaming the wives -- the wives blame themselves.

Living with someone is already complicated enough without adding such fertile ground for guilt.

-- SJ

Carrie said...

I'm kinda, well, snickering. (Mostly I'm snickering about Sara trying to comment BEFORE Tim.)

I think your post is sort of weird, actually.

As you know, I hold the (way more) conservative position in this little group here. I do believe that scripture is fairly clear in describing how marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. (I think to say that it is not a picture of Christ and the church is to dismiss a boatload of other scriptures and therefore ignores a great many truths.) There are clear roles within the union, but I take the complimentary approach.

In short, I don't disagree with anything that you've said at all. I've never exactly been the "wilting violet" type - at any point in my entire existence - and so I have trouble even imagining a marriage in which the wife sits quietly and "humbly" by until she EXPLODES out of frustration. We don't make decisions apart from one another. In fact, when we do is when we get into trouble. (Mostly because we are so incredibly different from one another and we're also both first borns. We're each equally right all of the time, dontcha know!)

I think you and I are ultimately saying the same thing (I THINK) in describing our position of what a complimentary balanced relationship would look like, except that we're saying it in very different ways.

I am a bit put off by the idea that we must point out the fact that men are frequently stupid and/or the intense desire to downplay the important and God-given role that the man and husband is designed and privileged to play. Women can be equally stupid, as you pointed out, and it would be in their best interests - quite frequently - to sit down and shut up every once in awhile. (We all know females who are full of it. I wish they would be quiet. I also wish their husbands were brave enough to address THEM when they clearly need to be addressed! If that husband was a team player, he would understand that he NEEDS to address his wife's sins before she goes out and exposes them to the universe. It would be a kindness to her and others if he would do so.)

I think the roles compliment one another and so I'm not interested in arguing over who gets to clamber up to the top of the pile. Marriage is a joint effort - a union. There I think we do agree.

Queen of Carrots said...

Tim~I'm not surprised you beat out Sara again, but I AM surprised you fit all your thoughts into a single comment.

Sara~So right about the guilt.

Carrie~I do think in practice we agree. There are personality differences, and for opinionated women a message on submission may be just what they need to hear. It tends to include a lot of good things: Listen to your husband, trust him, respect him, don't nag or belittle him. All excellent things to do. But none having to do with a gender-based hierarchy. (In fact, they're how we should treat anybody with whom we have a close relationship!)
The problem I see with teaching it in a hierarchy context are threefold: in a context where the personalities of the couple don't fit well into certain traditional gender stereotypes, it creates unnecessary strain in trying to fit into extrabiblical requirements instead of just learning to be more like Christ. In a context where the wife is naturally more restrained, it tends to discourage the couple from learning to truly work together. And in situations where there is abuse, it does not provide adequate safeguards.

Jessica said...

Love this, especially your last paragraph.

Rachel Held Evans had a post recently about how complementarianism is essentially patriarchy in practice. It was interesting.

Diary of an Autodidact said...

Jessica, that article hits it right on the head:

"...our marriage was “functionally egalitarian” long before we began reevaluating our interpretation of those passages of Scripture so often used to support hierarchal-based gender roles.

"We make decisions together. (No one holds a trump card.)

"We share household chores. (No one gets out of doing the laundry or helping with the yard work based on gender.)

"We don’t impose gender-based absolutes on one another. (I like football more than Dan, and nobody’s particularly concerned about that. Roll Tide!)

"We don’t have a single leader. (Dan likes to say that “leadership” requires context. It’s not something you are; it’s something you do. So depending on the circumstances, sometimes I lead, and sometimes Dan leads. Sometimes I support, and sometimes Dan supports. We see our gifts, particularly our spiritual gifts, as complementary. We function best—as individuals and as a team—when we do what we’re good at and what we love, and when we cheer one another on. We also function best when our leadership looks more like service than authority, just like Jesus said.)"

If you change "football" to "Tim is the more cuddly and nurturing spouse.", this would be spot on for our marriage.

Diary of an Autodidact said...

This one is also good:

"They are losing ground because their rhetoric consistently reflects a commitment to an idealized glorification of the pre-feminist nuclear family of 1950s America rather than a commitment to “biblical manhood” and “biblical womanhood”—terms that many of us recognize as highly selective, reductive, and problematic."