A Feminist Fights for Submission

I once dated a self-proclaimed feminist. But one day she surprised me when she said she also thinks submission to a husband is absolutely essential. I just looked at her, confused, probably with a really dumb look on my face.

It turned out she wasn’t being duplicitous. In fact, as I got to know her, I began to see her as one of the wisest and well-thought-out people I know.

Basically, she got me thinking that the common error lies in letting marriage become a power play to get what we each want. She thought that when it is done right, God uses this particular dynamic in marriage to show us something about the nature of the love between Him and His people. And He wants it done that way in marriage because it is something we wouldn’t otherwise see to demonstrate God’s nature. Therefore submission to a husband was made to show something beautiful and had very little to do with injustice to women. In fact the way he set it up it seems a little bit less fair for the men!

The two roles in the relationship between God and his people (his bride) are equally important, but not the same. The first has power, willing to die to protect the other. And the other has beauty (whether that be in body, brains, whatever), willing to dangerously and vulnerably share it with the first. Without the power, the beauty could not be protected. Without the beauty the power has nothing worth protecting. Both are a unique and beautiful way of loving that wouldn’t be demonstrated if both roles were the same.

We each have been given a role, but it’s not because of anything we have earned, so one cannot think he/she is better than the other. Our job should be to do our best in the struggles and pleasures built into the role we’ve been given, for both roles have difficulties as well as benefits.

These roles may not need to be played out often in a marriage where decisions are easy, or where the beauty isn’t often threatened, but when it is put in the spotlight, I think we should let it shine. Like for the women, submit when he says, “Get back in the house; it’s not safe out here,” because he knows he is stronger and he’s willing to sacrifice to protect you. And men, let her stay awake to nurse your battle wounds, because she loves you. And also notice that the Bible doesn’t tell women to submit to all men. Just submit to your husband, because, I think, he is the one who has earned your trust. Also, I think we could probably say that dying for someone is the harder role, so it’s kind of funny that it has become a feminist stance to oppose this dynamic.

Now, I’ve never been married and I’d probably suck at it because I’m not good at setting myself aside to serve someone else, but I’m guessing in marriage there are a lot of blurred lines. I’m a pretty tender-hearted man, and I’ve dated some amazingly strong women. And I’m guessing in those cases we borrow parts of each role from each other to make it work. Maybe your wife makes the decisions in the area of money because she’s stronger in that. Or maybe your husband makes decisions in the area of child raising, because he has a better instinct in that. The part that matters is that we do our role at our own expense to better love the other. But the idea is that ‘power over’ and ‘submission under’ are not bad because they are meant to show different kinds of trust and sacrifice for the other.

And it seems even the physical interaction between man and women is a cool symbol of God’s interaction with us. In the most intimate moments of loving, God puts something inside of us that births new life in us.

But like all of God’s fascinatingly unique systems in creation, the system is easily turned bad by selfish mankind. Instead of living into it, we flawed men have abused our power and brave women have resisted submitting so they could stand up against that injustice. And I’m guessing that’s why feminism has generally had a beef with Biblical marriage; we’ve abused the power and given God a bad name.

I don’t think God uses his power to abuse us for his own gain, like we sometimes do. He uses his power to show his love for us, and He was killed for it so that we will be able to trust new areas of our hearts to him. He has made a beauty and a love worth fighting for, and it is us.

Raw Spoon

7 Responses to A Feminist Fights for Submission

  1. Diane Fender says:

    First let me say this is a well written post. I have only really heard one maybe two good sermons on the topic of submission and marriage. The particular sermon references the original language of the text in the famous Eph 5 passage. The language shows there is actually no difference in meanings between “wives submit to your husbands” and “husbands love your wives.” In effect, the actions are very similar not making it a ‘power over’ or ‘submission under’ issue but a compelling argument for both to work in mutual partnership with each other. We can’t read the text literally but instead have to look at the deeper meaning and hermeneutics behind the text. Where mutual love, beauty and trust are present there should be a mutual recognition in decision making, valuing of ideas and serving each other. With both recognizing Christ as the ultimate center. Both roles are beautiful not because they are vastly different but because they both require mutual sacrifice, vulnerability, trust and love.

    As a self-proclaimed Jesus loving Feminist, I would caution against using the word Feminism negatively. From the beginning and even the title of your post you seem surprised that the girl you dated was not “duplicitous” or “capricious.” The actual term feminism simply means someone either man or woman who cares about women’s rights, well-being and advocating for them. Christians referring to all feminism and feminists as something that is extreme or against men is over generalizing.

    Jesus was a Feminist. He was an advocate for women always. There are countless times when Jesus showed that he advocates and cares for the rights of women.

    I agree with you about our selfish culture. Submission has been misused by both Christians and non-Christians making it more muddled in this particular debate though I do not think we can make generalizations about feminism being in direct contrast to submission or this debate as a whole.

    • raw spoon says:

      Nice Diane! By the definition I see that I am a Feminist as well! It’s funny that in the same way the label “Christian” has negative connotations because of Christians who have done Christianity poorly, I think I have bad connotations of feminists who have done it poorly. I obviously still need to get over that. Thanks and awesome stuff, Diane! I’m getting some good feedback on both sides so I’ll have to dive into this stuff and figure it out deeper!

  2. raw spoon says:

    My sister in law pointed out this interesting counter point article! Is submission in marriage an outdated cultural remnant? Looks like I need to do more research! I’ll let ya’ll know if I dig up more beauty. Thanks for your responses! Either way, I think a main take away from my post is that tender submission, and in contrast, laying down life in protection are both ways to love well in a relationship with someone you can trust with your life! That’s how Jesus modeled it with his bride (us!). Here’s the link. Thanks Kristin! http://benirwin.me/2012/06/08/is-a-wifes-submission-culturally-outdated-a-response-to-john-piper/

  3. Diane Fender says:

    Hi Ross! Thank you for your comments. I agree with and understand the process of understanding and wrestling with negative connotations to certain terms. It is also still something that I am learning about and wrestling with myself.

    The picture of how God trusts, loves, protects and calls us to submit to him is such a beautiful picture of how we can love well in our relationships. Thanks for being willing to tackle these issues through your writing.

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