Oh boy. Look what showed up in my Facebook feed – shared by my BIL, liked by his feminist sister, and one of my premarital counselors(!).
What We Get Wrong about Women Submitting to Their Husbands
First red flag: it’s posted at something called “Relevant Magazine.” Hooboy. Nothing like a warning up front that the contents will be lacking in reason, logic, and any brush of actual informed knowledge on any serious matter! (I suppose I could be judging the website wrongly based on a single article, but somehow I really doubt it.)
The other day, I tuned into a show that’s turning some heads. It’s called Submissive Wives’ Guide to Marriage and it aired on TLC in mid-May.
The show follows three couples who claim to be living the life of a “submissive wife” and vouch that this has been the saving grace to their happy marriages.
The show’s main character, submissive wife Tara, says that the motto of a submissive wife is to: “Help her man, serve her man, submit to her man and sleep with her man.”
While I’m all for helping, serving and sleeping with my husband, the show left me feeling empty and wrestling with some serious questions I’ve struggled with in light of this really important, yet delicate topic, often only partially discussed in Christian circles.
So, woman watches reality show on television, and the testimony of a submissive wife who has the courage to say on television that she’s a happy, submissive wife gives this “counselor and relationship specialist” the FEELBADS.
As a counselor and relationship specialist, the truth of the matter is that I’ve seen this concept of “submission” defined and redefined in so many ways. Sadly, I’ve seen it used to fulfill selfish agendas and aid in manipulation, and at times, even abuse. As a Christian, I’ve grown up in conservative circles hearing conversations about being a “submissive wife,” but sometimes not as much about establishing a loving marriage.
Now as a counselor and relationship specialist, what kind of relationships are going to form the majority of your experience? That’s right, the BAD ONES. The ones where people are struggling with particularly difficult sins.
Now, “submission” itself is never set forth as a list of actions which all of us Pharisee-inclined humans would really, really like to have. There’s no divinely mandated set of rules. God just says, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” Now, that’s pretty darn submissive, if you’re a Christian and attempting to wholeheartedly follow all the Lord’s commands. It doesn’t mean you don’t cry out to the Lord when you’re in pain and confused with how His Will seems to be going for your life, however. (See: Book of Job.) Christ doesn’t expect His Church to be a silent doormat in the face of pain, but He does expect us to keep following Him even when it hurts.
As I look through Scripture and even zoom in on the Ephesians 5 passage where this idea comes from, I see so much more about love than submission. In fact, the word “love” is used in some way, shape or form more than twice as much as the word “submission” in the referenced passage. There is a significant umbrella of love that is foundational to this concept, but so many times, it gets overlooked.
Yes, there is love involved in submission: that would be “the love of God,” which is the foundation of Christian obedience. But I expect our feminist Christian relationship counselor to elide right over 1 Peter 2 and 3, where wives are commanded to submit to unbelieving husbands as a slave to a harsh master, and drop God’s command to wives so that she can start talking about God’s command to husbands instead.
Training a wife to submit to an unloving husband is like training a child to swim without water—it simply misses the mark, because there’s so much more to it than the superficial strokes. It’s so much deeper than that!
Called it. Oh, no, it’s okay for Christians to ignore the fact that a woman who is already married really is called to submit to an unloving husband. I suspect that condition – believing wife married to an unloving pagan husband – happened fairly often in the early days of Christianity. However, that cultural context is quite different from what we have to deal with today. Ours is much, much easier. Women even get to pick their own husbands!
Too many women have been bogged down in unhealthy and dangerous relationships yet answered with the simple concept of “submission,” rather than getting the real help they need to tackle and heal the root problems in their marriage.
There’s more to a healthy marriage than submission, and that more is found in the unconditional, life-giving, marriage-nourishing love of Christ that has to be both given and received by husband and wife. Maybe it’s time we zoom in on that.
No doubt many women have indeed been bogged down in unhealthy and dangerous “relationships” that they should have gotten the help to break off before they married the guy. And no doubt there is an acute lack of resources to help women who are unhappily married, since the modern solution in many churches is “just get a divorce!” But notice Satan’s lie: “love of Christ that has to be both given and received by husband and wife.”
NO. That is false. The only thing a wife needs for her submission is the love of Christ given to her alone. The Bible is clear that a wife married to an unbelieving husband is just as bound by God’s instruction to submit as women with believing husbands are. Maybe her marriage won’t be “healthy” or happy, but it will be GODLY on her part – the only part of it under her control. God will wipe away every tear – in Heaven. In the meantime, He tells us that following Him will be difficult and painful.
Now onto the next section: “Have we placed our own cultural gender roles on a spiritual concept?”
Another thing I found myself questioning throughout the TLC show was the idea that “submission” meant that a wife has to learn to be a good homemaker. I can confidently say I don’t see that anywhere in Scripture.
I guess our “relationship counselor” has never read Proverbs 31.
One theme that kept shining through this particular show is the idea of creating “a happy husband” through cooking, cleaning, laundry and sex.
I won’t deny that most men, my husband included, love and appreciate the things their wives do to show them love. But isn’t there a difference between acts of service toward our spouse and biblical submission? Could it be that we have placed our own cultural gender roles on a spiritual concept?
I truly believe we’ve done the concept of biblical submission a terrible disservice by lumping it into the category of simply being a good homemaker. Not only so, but I believe that many women who aren’t necessarily gifted in this way may feel slighted and offended by the thought that the reflection of their submission and love is measured by the cleanliness of their house or the quality of their cooking.
Once more, an element of truth to make the lies slide down easier. Submission isn’t graded on how well you keep house. Since, you know, submission is an attitude, not any one particular action. You could be the best homemaker in the country and still keep an attitude of rebellion in your heart. Considering there were college girls who couldn’t do their own laundry when they moved into the dorms, an emphasis on not being totally incompetent at caring for your own basic needs as an adult sounds like something that our culture actually does need to (re)start providing young women.
Submission may not be synonymous with acts of service, but a wife who despises doing the very household chores that everyone has to do because her husband will also benefit from her labor is signaling quite clearly that she is rebellious and unloving, not submissive. The answer to the FEELBAD of “Suzie is a better homemaker than I am” is to stop coveting your neighbor’s skillset and start practicing your own. You don’t have to be “gifted” to keep a clean and tidy house! Oh, and if you’re offended that someone who cooks better than you is seen as a better wife… jeez, get over yourself, sugarcube. Obviously “better wife” is only graded on how hot your sex life is, but they can’t obsess over that on TLC. (Alert for the humor impaired: this is a joke.)
Next section: “Have we focused too much on the superficial without tackling the heart of the issue?”
Yup, and the one focusing too much on the superficial without tackling the rebellious heart of the issue would be… Debra K Fileta, who is offended that some women have found happiness in their marriages through fulfilling a calling to be domestic champions. The following section – which I won’t copy/paste here – is nothing more than Debra admitting that she struggles with the temptation to cling to control, then going on to testify that she’s at the point where she’s surrendered some control, but only because she trusts her believing husband. It’s apparent that Debra has not surrendered control to God, and that she doesn’t really trust God’s instructions for wives to submit. Once again, she skips over all that difficult “wifely submission” stuff and prefers to talk about how it’s her husband’s “love and submission to Jesus” that gives her the confidence to let go.
So what happens if he goes through a midlife crisis and becomes an atheist, but doesn’t abandon the marriage? Would Debra still submit to her husband, as God has called her to do?
The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.”