A Former Feminist Looks at the Concept of Biblical Submission – Part 1 of a 2 Part Series

Image Given the sheer length of this blog on Submission and male headship I have divided it into two sections.  Here is the first part: 

Submission.  The word sounded to me just like a filthy rag.  I battled the thoughts in my mind.  I was DEFINITELY willing to love my (future) husband to the fullest extent I could, I looked forward to the day when we would be able to complete each other drawing us deeper into God’s truths for us and pursuing Him in order to better pursue one another… but submission… that was an entirely different story.  You see, I had the wrong understanding of what submission was.  Entirely.  I thought that submission gave men an excuse to “run the show”, “to be the boss”, and to allow “what [he] says go.”  I thought it meant a loss of my independence, the unique skills and personality I would bring into the relationship, and my leadership capabilities.   And I was certainly NOT willing to allow that to happen.  I wasn’t about to give up my lifestyle choices of what career to pursue, what hairstyle to wear, or what car to drive just so he could “boss” me around.  That’s because I had a COMPLETELY wrong view about what Biblical submission and male headship really meant.  Lately, though, as I have been reading the Scriptures, praying over them, and also reading some very well known literature on the difference between how men and women think (Men and From Mars Women are From Venus and Men are Like Waffles and Women are Like Spaghetti being my top two reads) I have begun to formulate a different opinion.  I’m not asking you to agree with everything I state below.  I believe marriage is a highly personal decision and that each case could be somewhat different.  Also, I come at this as a single person who has never been married, engaged, or had a child with a man.  Yet, I hope that you will explore these thoughts with me and that maybe, just maybe, if you are a single woman afraid of making the commitment to enter into a deep relationship with a man because you are a fighter and you feel a man will take away your vivaciousness that what I share here will inspire you to think differently about how you view marriage, your man, and your future. 

WOMEN UNDERSTAND LOVE, MEN “GET” RESPECT

Key Verses: Ephesians 5:23-27 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy,cleansing[a] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=ephesians+5%3A23-27&version=NIV

If every marriage were to follow the instructions that these verses point out not only do I believe we would be doing the Will of God, but I believe He would richly bless us for it!  You see, the Bible is clear that women are to submit their husbands.  This means they are to respect his rightful place as leader of the house and they are to respect the authority invested to him under God.  BUT God doesn’t just let men off the hook.  No, He says that they are to LOVE their wives.  Their love is to be so far reaching that they are willing to GIVE THEMSELVES UP for the sake of her.  This means that they don’t just shower her with flowers or chocolates on Valentine’s day or write her cute cards on their anniversary, but it goes a whole lot deeper than that.  To give yourself up for someone means that you are willing to lay down your life for them just like Christ did for the church. [1]  Few of us will ever be called to physically intervene for the life of a spouse (though we should definitely be prepared to do that if the need arises), but all of us are called to lay down our individual preferences for one another.  This may mean that sometimes we have to admit our faults or allow our woman an opportunity to truly thrive even if that means we have to sacrifice a football game or an outing with the guys.

So, why does Paul (under the instruction of God) write these thoughts to the church of Ephesus?  For too long Paul has been bashed by feminists who believe him to be nothing but a chauvinistic man who wants to oppress women.  However, it is NOT fair for us to judge the Biblical society by our society today.  We MUST understand it was a completely different time period and what Paul wrote in his day and age was SIGNIFICANTLY RADICAL.  He was beginning to give women (who were otherwise oppressed) a voice. 

Men and women both have different core needs.  If there is one thing a woman truly understands it is LOVE.  Her entire life from the time she is a small child is based off of relationships.  When women have GIRL TALK it means they are talking about their deepest feelings.  A woman considers her BEST FRIENDS the people she is able to be the most intimate with and who will support her through anything.  LOVE to her means romance.  In fact, romance even takes center stage over sex.  If she LOVES a man it means she is considering marriage to him and that she wants to build her life with him.  Of course she still has natural human urges, but if a woman doesn’t feel completely safe and able to vulnerable with a man she will not have the urge to have a relationship with him.  God knew this when He created us.  He knew that in order for a woman to thrive in a marriage she would need her husband to LOVE her.  To listen and validate her emotions, to give her gentle physical touch, and to allow her to discover who she is.  She needs to know that regardless of her past struggles, he will always accept her.  She needs to know that he will encourage her to continue to hang out with her girl friends and that just because she is dating or married to him that it will not mean that she will not be able to continue her hobbies and interests, but that instead he will give her the chances she needs to blossom in those areas.

Men have a need for RESPECT.  Think about it.  A man’s life is often based off of achievements, scores, and acknowledgement.  Men love to be appreciated and to know that their problem solving ideas are helping.  This is the way he has been conditioned from the time he was a small boy.  A man will stop trying if he feels his ideas aren’t working or is getting him no where.  He wants to know above all that a woman will RESPECT his desire to lead the family and to be the best father he can be.  For many men career is a huge deal.  I’m not saying that career aspirations aren’t important to women.  Many women have much to offer in volunteer or professional sectors and have made great gains in their employment.  BUT many women are also willing to lay down their professions for their children.  Many women voluntarily choose to be an at home mom or to homeschool their children.  Some men are also willing to give up their career in order to raise a family, but for many giving up a career means giving up a certain sense of independence and identity.  To RESPECT a man, a woman needs to acknowledge the positive contributions he has made in their marriage and family, to cheer him on in his career advances, and to allow him to lead the family rather than to undermine his authority.

EARNING THE TITLE

Key Verse  1 Peter 3:7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honour to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Peter+3%3A7&version=ESVUK

In a feministic society many women would be appalled with the understanding that they are WEAKER than a guy… but let’s be clear about one thing.  When the Bible talks about us as being a weaker vessel it’s not implied that we lack strength or emotional or spiritual courage.  Many women throughout time have proven that they are anything BUT weak.  To raise a Godly family takes tremendous endurance.  But rather, when the Bible talks about us being a weaker vessel, it’s suggesting that we are delicate.  Women may be able to spring into action and show leadership, BUT physically we are delicate and in society we also tend to be less rough then men in our approach.  That doesn’t mean a woman CAN’T fight for her family or for what’s right (as evidenced through the women who fought for the right to vote, etc), but it does show that women are unfortunately more likely to be taken advantage of by men (at least physically) because men are typically bigger and stronger than we are.

Yet, putting that argument aside, this verse actually sheds a lot of insight into how God intended a marriage and a family to look.  Both men and women have key roles in a family.  A woman is called primarily to be a nurturer, a patient listener, and to be motherly.  That’s in her very nature and it has been conditioned in her that way from childhood where she instinctively went to the dolls and teddy bears.  Men on the other hand are called primarily to be leaders, guardians of the house, and teachers.  They are called to be the problem solvers and it’s been conditioned in them that way since they were children and instinctively went for the Legos and building blocks.  That doesn’t mean that one of them is better or worse than the other.  In a healthy functional family we need both roles.  We need both someone to nurture and to bandage bruises and someone who can solve crises.  There are some tough women and some sensitive men and this is also completely okay!  I’m just talking in generalities here.  Therefore, because we are created differently we should seek to play off of each other’s inherent strengths and to intervene in each other’s inherent weaknesses.  Both the mother and the father, the husband and the wife, are leaders in their own right in the family.  But both of them are called and wired to lead in different ways and for different purposes.

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8 thoughts on “A Former Feminist Looks at the Concept of Biblical Submission – Part 1 of a 2 Part Series

  1. Pingback: A Former Feminist Looks at the Concept of Biblical Submission Part 2 of a 2 Part Series | Zweibach and Peace - Thoughts on Pacifism and Contemporary Anabaptism

  2. Great post with some important insights.

    The point about a husband sacrificing for his wife is very important. Giving up on his own needs/desires for her sake is one of the toughest things to do but is very satisfying ultimately.

  3. Phew, glad you’re not asking me to agree with everything you wrote :p Mainly where you speak in some heavy gender essentialisms. Those sentences make it sound like this is the clearly superior option, if not an outright rule for godly living. Then there are other parts where you acknowledge there are plenty of exceptions and so this headship/submission structure doesn’t work for everybody and I’m back to being on your side. I used to say a lot like the latter, but then realized it was a whole lot easier to just say “love each other, whatever that looks like.”

    The headship/submission structure definitely would not work in my marriage, but it does in some others I know. Good for them! Just be careful about overgeneralizing that experience to say that all men – or at least all real biblical men – are like that husband and all women – or at least all real biblical women – are like that wife. A friend of mine who called off his engagement a few months before the wedding was a strict complementarian at the time (not anymore). Unfortunately, he is much more the nurturing supportive type while his then-fiancée was much more take-charge. Trying to be something they weren’t was a big part (definitely not the only part) of what caused it to fall apart.

    • Hi Ryan,

      Thanks for your reply. Yeah…sorry if it came off as a bit arrogant or harsh. The point that I was trying to convey is that it is different in every situation. I didn’t mean to generalize… BUT I also did feel that a controversial blog post was sort of due. LOL. And as I mentioned, this is something I have very recently come to terms with and that I don’t have that much experience to really write about because I’m not married and never was. So hope there are no hard feelings.

      I love your view about loving one another whatever that looks like. Well said!

  4. The term “former feminist” troubles me. In this context it implies that feminism is in direct opposition to the bible/Christian faith. Feminism is, however, the simple belief that all people should be treated with equal fairness and should not be oppressed or marginalized simply for their gender- a very biblical concept. So I must ask, if you are a former feminist at what point did you stop believing that all humans should be treated equally regardless of gender?

    • Yes, you are right that there are different implications of the word “feminist”. And I should have been more explicit in my article. BECAUSE I would still consider myself a feminist as long as we are referring to egalitarian mindsets. Certainly everyone deserves to be treated with respect and fairness regardless of age, race, gender, or orientation. What I meant to say is that I used to be more in the radicalish camp. I am no longer part of that camp. I believe as women we still need to continue to fight for our rights, but I disagree with feminists who think they are somehow better than men or that they should go burn their bras, etc. Hope that clears things up and sorry for the confusion!

  5. Pingback: Confessions of a Theological Nomad (AKA: How You Can Be a Biblical Christian While Still Believing Women Can Be Pastors) | Zweibach and Peace - Thoughts on Pacifism and Contemporary Anabaptism

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