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.