Some of the erudite women (and men) of Christians for Biblical Equality are blogging this week about the joy of egalitarian marriage: where both partners are equal and it’s no one’s particular obligation to submit to the other; rather both submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (as the Apostle Paul advises in Ephesians 5:21). These other folks have Bible degrees, read Greek and have blogs that actually get read, so I encourage you to read their offerings — find links here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1609139879409020/ — and I add my voice to theirs with this post.
I grew up in the Pentecostal church. It was a great place to grow up because it attracted people with lots of passion and joy in life. (Friendly lunatics in other words.) And one thing we had, was women in ministry: missionaries, speakers, teachers, ministers. There seemed no limits on what women could do in church.
My husband’s spiritual heritage was the Episcopalian church, where his single mom was a beloved and respected pillar of every congregation they belonged to.
Although we didn’t think about it in these terms — or any terms — at the time, we came to our marriage with no patriarchal leanings at all and a sort of unexamined egalitarianism as our default. Our premarital counseling — provided by my uncle, a minister — emphasized mutuality. That was good enough for us.
But our marriage had its rocky beginnings. My husband had been married before, for over 20 years, and I had stayed single until I was 35, on my own and supporting myself since college. We both came to this union with strong opinions and certain ways of doing things … which were bound to clash!
Mystified by how our love affair had become a battleground, of course I looked to books at the Christian bookstore for help, and because our local bookstore, Lifeway, is owned by the SBC, I came across The Surrendered Wife.
It purported to show that what the Bible really intended was for a woman to submit, and a man to rule — then he would feel kingly and act with largesse, and she would be fulfilled and happy. It promised if I made my man feel like he was getting his way in everything (because he was head of the household), he would in return joyfully “take care” of me, and I would get everything I wanted.
The key was never to criticize him and force him to make all the decisions. Even if he were driving us in the wrong direction in the car, I wasn’t to correct him! I remember doing exactly as the book said as he missed our turn on the freeway …
A couple miles down, he asked, “Did I miss the turn off?” The book had not prepared me for how to answer this — their go-to phrase if he asked my opinion was “Whatever you think best,” but that wouldn’t work here! Did I admit I knew we were off course (smarter than he?!) or did I LIE and say I didn’t know, or …?
I lamely went with, “Yeah, it was a couple miles back …”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked, obviously miffed that we would have to u-turn.
What could I say? “I didn’t tell you because I am trying to make you feel like you are always right because you are the king of the castle and deserving of respect.” That seemed ludicrous at the moment …
And in fact, seems ludicrous in any moment. My husband, while all man (a passionate lover, a strong defender, a committed Christ-follower), doesn’t need his equally strong wife to pretend to be inferior — subordinate — surrendered even — so he can feel like a king.
I think he feels and acts most like a child of the King when he knows he has a partner who’s got his back.
We made Jesus the head of our household (so neither of us has to be), made Dave Ramsey the head of our finances, and eventually worked through our other issues like a pair of adults … and it turned out that mutuality works for us.
So, girlfriend, if you think that you could properly submit to a man who properly modeled servant-leadership for you and that this would make him a good man and you a happy wife … Maybe it will work for you, I don’t know. But if it means you have to tamp down your intelligence and deny your true nature to manipulate him into being someone he’s not …
I suggest you forget that noise and instead submit to Jesus, the servant leader, and discover how the path of you and your husband submitting to one another (as the Apostle Paul advised) can be a free, fun and wonderful way to live.