From the Basement

November 30, 2010

some freewriting on submission

Filed under: Faith,Relationships — jeannablue @ 3:58 am
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Some imperfect thoughts on submission, headship, etc. – unorganized and rough.

To assert that submission is something natural in women – or that there is something in women’s character that makes submission a natural impulse – is to negate the struggling of spirit and rational inquiry of scripture so important to women’s full understanding of “biblical submission.” Submission, we find, is to husbands as head of the household, but headship is described in a specifically spiritual manner. Men are the spiritual leaders of the house, which is explicitly articulated as loving their wives and assuming responsibility for the spiritual state of the household. (I will not go to the extent that some do, e.g. that the husband must lead devotions and prayers, etc. – is it unbiblical for a wife and mother to pray for her family?)

Scripture also asserts the physical superiority of men, and this is certainly not a claim exclusive to the Bible – Mary Wollstonecraft claimed it in her Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and I have heard the most liberal and anti-religious of professors in academe assert it, as well. Notably, scripture – and Wollstonecraft and my professors – do not equate physical superiority with spiritual superiority (in the sense that men are inherently closer to God) or intellectual superiority, that because their bodies are stronger, so too are their minds.

Husbands taking the spiritual lead in the household is biblical. However, many theologians seem eager to take this to the next level and assert that certain lifestyle choices must also invariably reflect this hierarchy. I think it is wise – and notable – that our Lord does not spell out exactly how this looks in every house. Scripture does not say, and so the husband must have higher education, or the better job, or the better paying job, or he must be the sole breadwinner and the wife must stay at home, or even that the couple must have children – this is not to deny that these decisions are inconsistent with scripture (if a couple is seeking the Lord and comes to one of these decisions for their marriage, bless them for it), but nowhere are these behaviors prescribed for believers. Husbands and wives are to first seek the kingdom of God, and to love each other; it is critical to note that in Ephesians 5, headship and submission fall under the banner of mutual submission. However – and I will offer this question – if a woman’s priorities are in order – God, husband, and then children, if she has them – if she fears the Lord, honors her husband, and manages her household —  are we really going to claim that Titus 2 overrides Proverbs 31, or that scriptures that exhort women to manage their households inherently exclude them from working outside the home?

All this to say: submission. I hate when it is assumed that women submit because we are somehow made for it, or are naturally inclined to it. To claim that women – or men – are “made” a certain way, is to negate the beauty that is the Holy Spirit working in a person who is striving to follow the calling to love him with all our heart, soul, and minds, who is working through the scriptures, actively yielding their will to His, and allowing Him to conform them to the image of Jesus Christ. It is to simplify the transformative power of the Holy Spirit to mere biology, that God made women for childbearing and submission just as he made horses for riding (too graphic?). To say I “should” react well to the idea of submission because I was made that way is to ignore the beauty that is the Holy Spirit working in my life, the glory Christ receives when His children come to Him seeking a reconciliation that is not natural, but eternal. As headship is a spiritual calling not for man’s glory but for Christ’s, so too is submission.

(I would argue that from the beginning, headship and submission have been spiritual attitudes cultivated by seeking intimacy with God. Does no one notice that Eve was not naturally submissive? Saying women are born submissive seems an active disavowal of female agency in order to prevent another garden-esque catastrophe — but I digress).

Women are not born submitting anymore than man is born leading – and I say this because, lest we forget, these attitudes are specific to marriage; scripture does not say “women submit to men” (though I have certainly been in churches where this interpretation was not far off the mark). They are attitudes to be learned and cultivated in the Holy Spirit, choosing to yield our wills to Christ’s in order to bring Him glory, to reflect a marriage that points to our Savior.

And a Christ-like marriage, I would argue, does not look like an episode of Leave it to Beaver. But that’s another post.

August 5, 2010

Thoughts from a Christian Feminist

I am a Christian. I am also a feminist. I triple majored in English, Politics, and Women’s Studies in college – suffice to say I sought answers in feminism that I could not find in the church. In the church, I saw leaders who told women they should stay at home, who said women’s primary purpose was to be wives and mothers. There were fellow congregants who stood aghast when I declared my ambitions, who were equally appalled at all the original oratories I took to speech competitions on gender pay equity, violence against women in advertisements, and women and the presidency.

For a long time, it seemed like I was on the outskirts of both groups. I was too liberal for the church, and I was too church-y for my women’s studies classes, what with my views on, well, the church (or rather, should I say, Jesus Christ).

For the last decade, any mention of Ephesians 5 has been enough to make my blood boil. Suffice to say that I grew up in a home where headship was abusive and un-Christlike, even after my father’s conversion. Male headship was something to be feared. A husband could do anything he wanted to the wife, and she had to obey for “the good of the family.” And let me tell you, much as I heard pastors rail against abuse and male domineering within marriage, I watched again and again as pastor after pastor ignored my parents’ situation. (It is my personal opinion that for every pastor out there willing to confront an abusive marriage in his congregation, there is one who cowers in his office, fearful of confronting it, hoping he can just pray it away – particularly if it’s not life threatening to the wife and children. Cynical? Maybe. But it’s just my two cents.)

So to say I have baggage regarding marriage is an understatement.

But over the last few months, the Lord has really brought me to a place where I’m reconsidering crucial questions within a biblical light – often for the first time. It’s grace. Total grace. I still have fears, and the desire to control is very strong within me, but I’m learning – slowly – what marriage is about, what it was intended to be. (To spell it out, I affirm Christ-like headship and submission.)

Part of my reluctance in discussing this is that feminism is viewed as an enemy by prominent Christian theologians; it is very much figured as a war on the church. I’m in a unique position in that I am intimately familiar with both sides of the war, as it were. I’ve read Grudem and Piper (the experts on complimentarianism), and I’ve read “evangelical feminists” like Craig S. Keener. It goes without saying, given the Women’s Studies major, that I have read at least the basic texts in each major feminist theory. (Which is – I think – more than Grudem and Piper can say, given some of their arguments.)

This post was inspired by something that struck me tonight; it’s a very small point but I do feel the need to introduce it within its larger context. A friend recently blogged about her frustration with extremism in the feminist blogosphere, and the discussion brought up issues of identifying as a feminist and as a proponent of gender equality.

The term equality has never sat very well with me. It posits a binary in which Man is Equal and Woman is Unequal; at its core is the assumption that women need to be “brought up” to men’s standard. And man is not the standard!

This is what I love about Christianity: it eradicates having “man” or “woman” as the standard – Christ is the standard. Look at how Christ treated women – he was an absolute feminist, for at its core, feminism is about acknowledging the value of men and women, and how much more can you affirm the value of both sexes if not by offering both eternal life? (Notwithstanding the fact that both were created in God’s image to begin with.)

Like I said, small point.

I’ll be blogging about feminism and Christianity in the future, but can I leave you with some thoughts? Both “sides” – the church and “feminism,” so called – make terribly general assumptions about each other. Of particular concern to me is how the church discusses feminism. The Great Commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds, and Faith is not an excuse for:

a)    Rash generalizations (e.g. feminism is responsible for the downfall of the family)

b)    Not doing your homework (e.g. not reading feminist texts and theory)

c)    Poor arguments – the result of being uninformed and general

And it seems that most discussions of feminism in the church today are, frankly, all of the above.

This is not to say that writers like Grudem and Piper have not produced outstanding scriptural exegesis on passages like Ephesians 5 – quite the contrary. Piper in particular gives the best explanation of Ephesians 5 I’ve ever heard. While they sometimes push too far for my liking (e.g. stating that mothers should not work), I think they’ve done outstanding work.

It’s when the church starts blaming feminism for everything that it displays a remarkable lack of self-reflection…

But that’s the beginning of another post.

P.S. Here’s a link to one of Piper’s sermons on marriage, entitled “The Beautiful Faith of Fearless Submission.” http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/2007/2088_The_Beautiful_Faith_of_Fearless_Submission/

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