I recently added tags to my blog posts and attempted to organize my entries a bit, and I came across this post from November of 2011. It contains my thoughts on a book about marital submission. Or rather, it contains my explanation on why I didn’t want to share my thoughts at all. Reading it made me laugh and shake my head. I remember exactly how I felt when I wrote it.
I like reading blog posts and articles online. I try not to get sucked in and spend an inappropriate time doing so, but I love the variety of opinions, experiences, perspectives, and writing styles so easily accessible to us on the Internet. It helps me to challenge what I believe, sometimes changing my mind and sometimes strengthening a belief. Very often it helps me to better understand those I disagree with, which is something I feel has been invaluable in growing my compassion and love for those different from me.
What really gets to me, though, is how often the comment threads are downright vicious. I’m not sure if the authors of the comments I have read speak as unkindly when they are not behind a screen name, or if (as I have heard suggested) people feel less reserved and move to extremes online. Either way, I often come away from reading comment threads feeling very discouraged. When I read the book and wrote the post about “Me? Obey Him?”, I had also spent some time reading blogs on the subject. Marital submission is a controversial subject, I understand that, but I was very discouraged by what seemed to be several instances of bloggers posting their best understanding of what scripture says, presumably to help others, or start a conversation, or help other understand their views, and were ruthlessly attacked for it. So I was left with no interest in posting anything about my views about marital submission online.
Since then, however, some of my emotions have calmed (they calmed long ago; I just forgot about the post!), and I’ve realized that I have to approve comments before they are posted on my blog anyway. And I can close the comment thread on a post if I felt it best. Really, I mean, I could shut down the blog. I know, that sounds dramatic for a blog that is barely read, and mostly only by people I know anyway, but it’s a big deal to me. Christian blogs that descend into unkindness, either in the post or allowing it in the comment thread, completely discredit (in my opinion) any truth that may be contained. What is gained when we provide a forum for Christians to attack each other, or others? Regardless of whether or not the volatile things we said (or allowed to be said in the comment threads) are “true”?
SO… Want to hear some thoughts on marital submission? First, the book: What I liked about the book was how seriously it took scripture. I think when we come across passages that are hard to accept or hard to understand, sometimes we try to make sense of it and/or make it palatable by trying to fit it inside and amidst what we already believe about that topic. So maybe I would read that wives should obey their husbands and think, “OBEY? Well, I already know this doesn’t mean “obey”, so maybe it was only for that culture. Or maybe obey means something other than what I thought. Or maybe we only have to obey if our husband is following his scriptural mandates well enough?” Now, I’m not even saying any of those things are true or false, only that I question beginning the process with assuming “obey” must not mean just what it says. What if we started with considering maybe it means just what it says. Not in an unthinking way. Just being open to the possibility as we study scripture and decide if it agrees with other commands from God. From what we understand of God’s character. I like books (and people) who take God’s word seriously. Some of the mandates are cultural. Some were temporary. Many are very hard to understand. But let’s start by believing, and rejoicing, that every word in the Bible is holy and is there for a reason. And that we haven’t got it all figured out yet.
What I didn’t like about the book was what I felt were several false conclusions. She asserts things like that if we are submitting, we will never be put in a position where we have to disobey our husbands in order to obey God, and vice versa. She attempts to support this by saying if this is seeming to happen, it must be because the woman was not submitting at some point. Even if this were true, she doesn’t seem to offer any hope for anyone who has ever made a mistake. As in, what is the woman whose husband is telling her to get an abortion to do? That is a clear case of choosing between obeying the husband and obeying God. So even if the woman were to accept that maybe this happened because of some past non-submissiveness? Then what? She still has to decide about that baby. It’s been a long time time since I read this book, but I do believe that her stance in the book is that if the woman were to repent, God would change the husband’s heart. I do not believe this, or many other of her conclusions, to agree with what the scriptures say. I appreciated reading her thoughts and thinking more deeply about the matter, but I disagreed with much of what she writes.
Aside from the opinions in this book, does a woman have to submit to her husband? Even obey? My interest in this subject has far from faded since reading this, and I have since heard well-thought-out, thought-provoking arguments for many different positions. So where am I? I realized something relatively recently that has shaped my current dominant views. Ephesians 5:21 tells us to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ. Which reminds me that Romans 12:18 tells me that if it is possible, as far as it depends on me, to live peaceably with everyone. I always knew those were there, of course, and I usually hear Ephesians 5:21 used to “fight back” against a woman having to submit to her husband. But what I realized is this: however I interpret Ephesians 5:22, I am called to submit to and live peaceably with everyone. Including my husband. Even if I heard a watertight case for “egalitarian marriage”, at the end of the day, when my husband is asking me to do something (or had a bad day and is grumpy and is telling me to do something) that I don’t want to do, the overriding principle in the moment will come from Ephesians 5:21, Romans 12:18, and Matthew 20:28. If I want to be Christlike, I must seek to serve instead of seek to be served. This covers the practical “what to do” in the vast majority of cases in my marriage.
But I understand: This is not the whole answer. There is still value in seeking to understand. There have been more moments than I wish there were in my marriage where the right thing to do wasn’t perfectly clear. So I’m grateful for this insight that covers most of our interactions, I continue to try to learn more, and I continue to walk– with fear and trembling.