Rape, and why I think submission in “all” things is a dangerous concept to handle.

I do believe in the existence of good doctrine.  And from time to time I write about those beliefs on this blog.  Not in the sort of vague “it has to start with us loving each other” terms, but in terms of real verses that make real commands of us, and what I think of them.

And every time I write about these things, it gets uncomfortable.  You see, for the last couple of days I’ve been involved in (and then following) a conversation on another blog about wives submitting to their husbands.  The topic was breached in the absence of talking about the husbands role, and inevitably turned to the question of the wife submitting when she disagreed with her husband about something that would have long term repercussions, like family being sent to boarding school.  And I tried to respond and did a poor job of vocalizing myself.  So I tried to write about it here, and again did a poor job of vocalizing myself.

The idea of submission still holds a great deal of fear for all women.  The idea that my husband could make any demand of me, and I would be expected to offer myself up to him as to Christ.  That’s terrifying.  And anyone who doesn’t find that terrifying and respect the power that such fear holds for women obviously knows very little history.  There was a time when women were seen as less than men- as property, as pawns in a game of chess, as a method through which to gain an heir and keep the house clean and often little more.  We all should know this fact because that time was roughly when Ephesians would have been written in the first place.  And the thought of women as lesser continued for some time.  Daughters were the property of their fathers while sons gained autonomy, wives were possessions, women were thought of to gain a soul later in life then men, to be more prone to witchcraft and evil, to need this evil purged from them by a heavy hand as much as possible.

Women were on a level above cattle, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like much of one.  Honestly.  The right to vote and hold property is still a historically recent one.

And the idea that a husband “can’t” rape his wife is still one being debated in some circles.

So let’s talk about submission, in frank terms, and let’s not mince words.  Does anyone reading this believe that I should submit to my husband if he allocates money that needs to go to feeding my children to buy himself a gaming system?  Does anyone believe that Ephesians five requires me to submit myself to his will when he demands sex and I’m ill, or tired, or otherwise not compliantly disposed to the idea?  Does anyone believe that if my husband heard a word that he should take a second wife, that I should say, “yes dear?”  I’m hoping most would say no, because these are extreme examples.

But what about less extreme examples?  What if I am sick, and exhausted, and don’t have the energy to cook a meal, and my husband complains that he’s been working all day and shouldn’t have to work at home?  Or what if I haven’t seen my family in over half a year and he demands that we spend Christmas with his, meaning that I won’t get to see mine?  Or what if I feel God is calling me to a position in my local church body and my husband says that he will not have his wife teaching other men, and forbids me to do it?

Do I really submit to him in all things, to the cost of my body, my family, my calling?

Or by submitting to my husband, would I in some things draw myself further away from God?  In order for both my husband and I to follow God and serve him with all our hearts, my submission to him MUST follow, CANNOT be without his submission to God and his loving me as his own body.  These things are NOT seperable.  Likewise his loving me as his own body and cleansing me as Christ cleansed the church MUST be, CANNOT be without my submission to him.

Both parties must obey God in their commands, or one will get hurt.  That is the beauty of the arrangement- the two become one, or they don’t function, period.

Now, in case I haven’t made myself clear:

  • The wife does not, by submitting, become her husband’s possession or subordinate.  She is his servant, but by choice alone.
  • The husband, should he demonstrate a pattern of making unfair demands or abusing his wife’s submissive position, is not acting in a holy manner and should be called on it- first by his wife, then by his church.
  • Both partners serve God first and each other second- if either one interferes with the other’s servitude to God, something is wrong.
  • Children come first.  If either one places demands on the other that interferes with the raising of their children, something is wrong.
  • If something is wrong, both need to go before God and their local spiritual leaders and sort it all out.

I’ve seen numerous books on the subject which talk about how women can win over their husbands through loving submission.  And at it’s root it’s not a bad thing.  It’s in the Bible! The problem comes when it’s taken to far.  Anything, no matter how good, no matter how holy, becomes bad when not delt with in reason and moderation.  When a woman stays with a drunk who is abusing her kids to win him over in loving submission, it’s not good.  When a wife does nothing about her husband overpowering and raping her to win him over in loving submission, I am sure that is not what God intended.

These concepts must be handled with the respect they deserve, because mishandling them takes advantage of weakness and can lead to real damage.

And I guess that’s what I needed to say.

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14 thoughts on “Rape, and why I think submission in “all” things is a dangerous concept to handle.

  1. I tried to ignore yesterday’s post on this, but I can’t stay away.

    “There was a time when women were seen as less than men”

    Lindsey, you know I love you, but that time is NOW. Just because it is less obvious and pernicious in western society doesn’t mean it isn’t absolutely blatant in many third world cultures. Right now. In Somalia, in Zimbabwe, in Iran.

    I have spent a lot of time on this very passage and spoken to other religious people about it. And while said people have tried to make it clear that the passage is advocating a healthy relationship dynamic, I simply can’t agree.

    The fact is that there is an explicit hierarchy of God/Jesus, Church, Man, then woman. No matter how much the rest of the passage seeks to exhort men to treat their wives well, this fact cannot be brushed aside with explanations of how true submission is really love.

    It isn’t simply this passage but many others that firmly emphasize a woman’s second class status and these very passages have been the basis for much of the gender based oppression and horror we have seen.

    Do I accept that the Bible is a book of it’s time, that it is written by men on behalf of God? The Bible is held up as a perfect text, wholly writ, saying exactly what it is supposed to say, completely applicable in the 21st century as in the 1st.

    There is a fantasy story called “Wizard’s First Rule”. In it, Kahlan is something called a Confessor. Anyone she touches with her power will do whatever she says, even if she were to ask them to kill themselves. The power works because the person ‘confessed’ is filled with so much love that it eclipses their very self, their ego. She is terrified that she might accidentally touch the man she’s fallen in love with, Richard, with her power because she would lose him only to gain a servant. Circumstances conspire to force her to touch him with her power and yet he is immune! He remains wholly himself! She is stunned as to how that could be. He tells her ‘I love you, have already loved you, and my love for you protected me’.

    It seems to me that the passage of “submission” was rather like Kahlan’s power. If you love someone, you don’t have to be told to submit – because you are already doing it in a 1000 different ways. However, to completely and wholly submit to someone else is to acknowledge that some person outside you knows what is best for you, everyday, all the time. That, Lindsey, is a parent-child dynamic, not the dynamic of two people in a partnership.

    Anyway, while some will state that the implicit meaning of the passage is that both husband and wife should submit to each other, the EXPLICIT meaning is that the wife submits to the husband and that the husband should treat her well. That explicit statement is clear as to hierarchy.

    A hierarchy based on varying levels of inherent holiness and spiritual authority, where women are firmly at the bottom.

  2. As I’ve already written in “Husbands, love your wives”, I think that the submission spoken of for women is a token gesture when compared to what men are asked to do. Men are asked to BE CHRIST to their wives, to love her as they love their own bodies. That’s a whole lot more than mere submission, that’s totally giving every ounce of your being to the other. Which, of course, is also what wives are asked to do when submitting to their husbands as to Christ.

    So both are give separate but equal commands.

    What I’m talking about here, and in my other post about wives, is what submitting outside of that dynamic can lead to. It leads to bad.

    And I had to snort at your describing “Wizard’s first rule” to me. I know you had to describe it to make your point, and for other people that would read it, but hey, I OWN that book, so you didn’t need to describe it to ME! But I agree, total love means total servitude, which is far more than mere submission. It’s great when both partners display that total love, but the second one views themselves as more than or DEMANDS servitude, it becomes devoid of all meaning.

    Just like the confessor’s mates- that relationship is not an equal partnership.

    Honestly, the way some Christian men talk about these passages, I think they would like to be able to “confess” their wives. Which is why the longer this topic is discussed, the more bitter and cynical I get about it.

  3. By the way, not so much a fan of this passage either. (which shares a striking similarity)

    Slaves and Masters
    5Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.

    9And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

  4. That passage ought to be similar, it’s in the same chapter and covers the same theme.

    And I find it interesting that you would be upset by it, when he gives the exact same message to both masters and slaves. The masters are being brought down to the slaves level. They are to treat the slaves with fear and respect, even when not shown favor.

    This is the problem with cherry-picking verses. When reading the chapter as a whole you see that husbands and wives, slaves and masters, and ultimately ALL believers are given an EQUAL command to love each other as Christ loved and as if the other were Christ, to devote all service to one another as if it were service to God, etc.

    And these passages were written ONLY to believers. Not all slaves were expected to serve all masters this way- it was only meant for situations in which there was a mutuality of belief and devotion.

    Blargh. I think I’m going to throw in the towel on this one. In RL I’ve been kind of going through this whole angry at the world/God/anyone who gets within two feet of me thing, and I’m sensing my general discontent bleeding into the blogging world.

    When seen as advice, Ephesians 5 is actually good advice. When seen as a command, of course it’s exorbitant. The difference is in the interpretation. Do wives HAVE to serve their husbands? Of course not. “Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.” (Which also comes from Paul.)

  5. “So both are give separate but equal commands.”

    The point is, and why many women are ‘uncomfortable’ with this passage, is the clear distinction of hierarchy and authority. It little matters that men are or are not given a more onerous duty. In fact, it merely emphasizes the stated chain of command. The higher one is, the more authority one has, the more duties and responsibilities one has as well.

    We’re back to why I disagree which is that I do not believe that men, even my beloved, is ‘higher’ and holds more authority – spiritual or otherwise – than I do.

  6. As Paul says, he’s not talking just about husbands and wives, but about Christ and the church.

    These passages aren’t commands, they are explanations. And in that sense, knowing the climate of that time, they are actually revolutionary. And I don’t believe that on a basic level it has lost it’s value.

    Of course I don’t. I love the stupid Bible.

    But as I said in my above comment, I think I’m done for the day.

  7. I just wonder if it’s not the traditional interpretation that you’ve not a fan of. Because the passage, in and of itself, is actually pretty beautiful. It’s not about creating a hierarchy, but about making all equal under God.

  8. Yeah, what Lindsey said, but I’m not even sure I’d ascribe that to most traditionalists. And I should make clear that I don’t mean to speak for Lindsey here; I’m just agreeing with her on that point.

    I’m pretty sure that what you mean to say about the Bible being “held up as a perfect text, wholly writ, saying exactly what it is supposed to say, completely applicable in the 21st century as in the 1st” is a thing not believed by even strict conservatives. What exactly do you mean, for instance, by “perfect,” other than to snarkily set up a straw man you can easily blow down.

    The books of the Bible were written in a language and culture not our own. To say that they are inspired doesn’t remove the imprint of that culture or the emotional textures and even prejudices inherited from their human authors, let alone what we impose in the reading. Most especially, to say that they are inspired and authoritative does not mean that we should rip them (even whole, let alone line-by-line) out of context and apply a 20th-century, American, Western, Rationalist, Scientific, atomistic world view to them. We might could get from there to here but there’s a bit of a translation and there is much that is lost in that translation. Indeed, Christ proposes a world view that is radically at odds with any culture, even the ones in which his message was originally planted, let alone our own. Scripture itself–which should be taken as a whole but which is by no means homogeneous–clearly demonstrates that its own words were 1) spoken situationally and to a concrete context and 2) despite the best craft of man and intentions of the Holy Spirit, persistently misunderstood. Many would argue, in fact, that the whole canon is an attempt (an attempt one might by some standards judge largely unsuccessful) by God to uncover what He meant when He gave the Law on Sinai. The Pauline epistles, in this context, are pretty damned good, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they are “perfect,” especially if what we mean by “perfect” is “intuitively understood within our contemporary zeitgeist.” Well, actually, part of the problem is that they are more intuitive than we allow them to be, but that’s a whole other discussion.

    If we want to talk about what the text explicitly says, it explicitly says to submit to one another. That means men to women. And, I admit, as a guy (who was married for 25 years and that only ended in the passing of my spouse), I’m quite disturbed that the call to be Christ-like “matters little.” What you’re essentially saying is that the power structure is what really matters. Not an uncommon interpretation–sadly, not uncommon among many professed believers–but it misses the Gospel entirely. The essence of the Gospel and the testimony of the life of Jesus is precisely that we ought to get over the power struggle (“under” might be better). Christ certainly submitted to Israel, the Church, the Gentiles, the sword of the empire–submitted out of love, showed that He didn’t care about position or power, even the power over His own life. This is not–again, despite what one often sees in religious institutions–a submission that one imposes on another but a submission that one sacrificially and selflessly accepts. If we’re telling others how they need to submit to us, we’re definitely doing it wrong. And, yeah, you’ll find that, but that isn’t what Jesus lived and died for.

    It’s instructive that Paul, as Jesus, calls on us not only explicitly (i.e., in nearly these words) but implicitly to each esteem others more highly than ourselves. Note in this passage that the exhortation is to the one making the sacrifice. Wives, submit to your husbands; husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the Church. It’s not “husbands, make sure that your wives submit to your authority” or “wives, be careful that your husbands love you like Jesus loves the Church.”

    It seems to me that the facts that I squirm at the thought that I will be held to Christ’s standard of love and that you don’t like the idea that you have less authority than your spouse–it seems to me that these facts testify to the authenticity of Paul’s words. It’s not easy; and if it doesn’t require the death of my will to power and if it doesn’t require the assistance of a Higher Power, it’s not the Gospel.

  9. Joel: From this day forward you can take pride in the fact that someone has, in reality, uttered out loud the words “Thank God for Joel!” (Promptly followed by “do NOT lick me!”, but that had nothing to do with you or your great comment.)

  10. Hayden Tompkins, I second your opinions. You said what I mean, but far better and eloquently.

    To say that they are inspired doesn’t remove the imprint of that culture or the emotional textures and even prejudices inherited from their human authors, let alone what we impose in the reading. Most especially, to say that they are inspired and authoritative does not mean that we should rip them (even whole, let alone line-by-line) out of context and apply a 20th-century, American, Western, Rationalist, Scientific, atomistic world view to them.

    I have a question (one that I’m sure will have a bad reaction, but I mean it in a manner of humble questioning, not sarcasm). If you believe the text is affected by humanity, if you know this, then why do you continue to call the text holy? Why isn’t it a book written by man, and left at that? If it can’t be adapted to this worldview or this time, then what use are the words?

  11. Great post. And great comments. I think the two things wrong with interpreting the Bible is cherry-picking and literal reading. Again, I want to point out how many people cheery pick that verse apart, and to do that is to destroy the meaning. And we cannot understand a literal meaning of the piece because our concept of submitting is vastly different from what was intended by Paul. But read as a whole, understanding the meaning gives us a different view. Every woman should shutter at the “traditional” reading of the text, but we should remember that Jesus saw women as equal to men, not a step below.

  12. @goldnsilver: Those are some great questions, actually, and I’m happy to attempt some answers (and would probably be even if they were meant sarcastically, though I do appreciate that they weren’t). To say that the text is affected by humanity doesn’t at all preclude its holiness. We could have a great discussion about just that one word, “holy.” Nor does it preclude its being divine. To me, that’s much of the genius of Christianity–and, indeed, of Jesus Himself: fully human, fully divine. That’s not just cute theology; it means something profound.

    Some of my points are (I was going to say “my point is” but I realized that that would be altogether inaccurate):
    1) Our ideas of what “holy” and “divine” are are pretty messed up (I was going to say “f***ed,” but thought better of it 😉 ).
    2) If we’re going to translate the text–which we arguably must (I’d suggest that a reader has to translate any text she encounters), it sure helps to appreciate the full context in which it was written.
    3) That culture has some things to teach us, things that we tend not to understand and that we desperately need to learn.

    They are books written by men and women. Why can’t they be more than that? Why should I leave it at that? Is that respectful of the texts (and their authors, original audience and culture) themselves?

    As far as the text being “adapted to” our contemporary worldview and time, it depends a lot on what you mean by that. To a great extent, I believe that we can get to the meaning of the text (and that it is well worth the effort); it’s just not always easy, for lots of reasons, not the least of which are are arrogance and sloppy habits. I’m slightly afraid that by “adapted to” you might mean “subjugated under,” “processed by,” “rationalized into conformity with,” and a host of other scary things we insist on doing to foreign texts and cultures (hmmm, and people, come to think of it). That might be possible. Sort of. I don’t recommend it. I’d go so far as to say that’s the problem. I’d even go so far as to say that that is often the problem between men and women.

    I believe that we can engage the original authors and, yes, Author in a dialog. I think that’s the point. But we tend, instead, to put both on a procrustean bed whereon they are “adapted” to fit the systems and worldview to which we stubbornly insist on adhering.

    The Bible is not a collection of books one should read without experiencing significant change. It is not a collection of books one should read if one insists on avoiding encounter. But we’re pretty damned determined to do both. Until we let go of that commitment, these books will be, at best, problematic.

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