Does God Really Call Women to Just Submit? A Response to “Submission Theology” and the Criticism of Patriarchal Christianity
Much of the teachings of the Bible are seen as oppressive and arcane, especially to the sensibilities of modern, egalitarian, and progressive cultures. The teachings of the Bible, therefore, have not been short of criticism. Perhaps some of the most infamous condemnations of scripture and the depiction of God’s character in its pages have been made by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion. He wrote,
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” (The God Delusion, p.51)
And often those who teach the scripture are cast into this same mold, as bigoted, misogynistic, and patriarchally oppressive. Such similar criticism have now fallen at the feet of Bill Gothard, a minister, speaker, writer, and founder of the Institute of Basic Life Principles. The Twitter-verse has been set a-rage with condemning and vituperative tones in response to an article published by Alternet entitled Cultish Christian Leader Teaches Women Should Submit to Husbands — Victims of His “Submission Theology” Speak Out.
Sarah Posner, the author of this article, catches this teacher backpedaling from his statements “wives submit yourselves to your own husband” and “she should submit to me, that’s in the Bible.” She, of course, found this sort of teaching arcane and oppressive—seeing it as “cultish.”
She is not alone, of course, but a chorus of voices have joined her on twitter saying such things as “Submission theology: it’s for weak men” and “Submission theology: putting your boots on the necks of women in the name of God.”
The criticism extends far beyond this particular man, whom I do not know personally and whom I do not wish to defend.The particular criticisms and smudging of some biblical and theological teachings do, however, require a response.
Gothard, used as a representative of patriarchal and oppressive Christians, is cited as teaching that a man serves as an “umbrella of authority” under which his wife and family are protected. The husband, according to the “damnable” teachings of Gothard, is responsible for the physical and spiritual protection and growth of the family. This authority, Gothard’s critics say, leads to tyrannical and oppressive authority under which children and wives are left with little to no freedom.
Gothard’s “victims” bemoaned the outlandish teachings of this vile pastor. According to one former congregant, “Gothard required total submission to God, doesn’t matter what you think, want, or feel, it only matters what God wants.” Moreover, “Women are taught how to ‘radiate the brightness of the Lord Jesus Christ through their thoughts, words, and actions,’ becoming ‘virtuous women,’ and recognizing the importance of ‘falling in love with the Lord, accepting your design and realizing your unique gifts.” One woman even blamed her father for still being single to this day because he oppressively disallowed dating. Rather, her father insisted on courtship—an approach to relationships in which God is sought and marriage becomes the primary focus. Many women, now “freed” from their husbands and fathers whom believed and practiced such things collectively described their former lives as dogmatic and a real life story of “brainwashing.”
The heart of the criticisms are feminist in nature.
Feminism, to be clear, is not some evil or distorting system of beliefs as some evangelicals believe. If feminism is about equality between the sexes, than Paul the Apostle was the greatest feminist of the ancient world—making outlandish claims that there is no division is sex or class within the body of Christ. He wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
However, Paul elsewhere in his epistles makes clear the authority and hierarchy of how relationships function within this equality. While there are dozens of examples, a clear picture is painted in Ephesians 5:22-33
“Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is head of the wife as also Christ is head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives should [submit] to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as also Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her, to make her holy, cleansing her in the washing of water by the word. He did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own flesh, but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, since we are members of His body.
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two will become one flesh.
This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. To sum up, each one of you is to love his wife as himself, and the wife is to respect her husband.”
Too often all attention is given to the first few lines of this image and commandment. Wives are to submit to their husbands as they are to submit to the Lord. The commandment is clear. But the image, in reality, has so much more to say to the husband whom are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and GAVE HIMSELF FOR HER. The image of Christ and his service is radical. Though when one looks at the gospels and sees the clear argument that all authority was given to him over the physical and spiritual world, he was a servant of remarkable humility. He did the work of slaves, though himself being the king of kings.
This is what husbands are called to—radical, boundless, and unbelievable love and service. Though I may be biased (being a husband and father myself), this seems like a much more difficult command than that which was given to the woman.
The importance of this image, which Paul calls a “great mystery” in the closing verses, is that marriage and the unity which exists within it is supposed to be a perfect image of our creator established from the beginning. “So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.” (Genesis 1:27) Man is not a perfect picture of God. Neither is woman a picture of our creator. Only together do they reflect the God whom exists in perpetual and perfect communion—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Though each having their own roles, they place themselves in hierarchy. The Father is the head of authority while the son submits himself to the Father. Though they are equal, a hierarchy of authority and submission, service and love, is part of the very core of the Christian gospel and nature of God. A proper theology toward marriage necessarily reflects this nature and divine truth.
There are serious crimes against women, there is no question about that. Things which turn the stomach and cry out to God for justice. Being a father of a little girl myself, some of the atrocious things done to little girls the world over are the real oppressions done by vile and evil men. Such is the case when six Muslim men beheaded three young Christian girls walking to school 2005. These young girls’ bodies were dumped in the village from which they came in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. One girl’s head was placed in a plastic bag, left on the steps of a Christian Church as a warning to the Christian community. This is oppression, and a vile and evil form of it. These women are real victims of terrible crimes. God’s judgement will rain down on such men.
In the case of Posner and the “victims” of Gothard, they would seem to have less an issue with distorted and aberrant theology and more so a disdain toward biblical teaching. There is no question that such truths taught from the scripture are offensive to modern sensibilities. But just because people are offended by them does not make the scripture vile and in need of revision. Perhaps we need revising instead.
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