I Refuse to Be the Head of Your Household: Don't Submit to Me!

In the most recent Synchroblog I participated in, the idea of marginalizing the already-marginalized kept coming up in conversation with other bloggers. Does our focus on the marginalized exacerbate their situation, rather than empower and aid? The point made by several others was that those of us in priviledged positions should be speaking primarily to affect change among our own groups, classes and spheres of influence. But a point made by someone else reminded me that if the marginalized themselves aren't actually brought to the table, we have a bunch of elites spinning our wheels about issues we have no real perspective on. Too often, this is the case. I used an example that liberals love to use tokens like women or blacks until they say something that contradicts our agenda - like Michael Steele or Sarah Palin.

In the New York Times today, there's an article about author/teacher/housewife-for-God Priscilla Shirer. While certainly "empowered" in her platform and career, Shirer's teaching revolves around the place of women in the house and in the church: "the man is the head and the woman must submit." She decries "feminist activists," and warns of Satan's attempts to undermine traditional, complimentarian gender roles in the home.

Now, I hope I've made it quite clear here that I am a feminist (well, at least an aspiring feminist, chauvenism takes a long time to recover from) and I reject any social or theological model that is anything less than egalitarian. I have also said before: even if subordination were somehow appropriate in some marriages (which I don't believe) I have NEVER, EVER met a man worthy or deserving of such submission. In faith, as people of faith, we choose to submit to God because God is holy. To transfer that relational paradigm from the realm of religion into the sphere of the home and family isn't just non-conducive to contemporary society and morality (which it is), it's also dangerous. People don't deserve the mantle of godhood. There's a lesson to be learned here about abusive pastors and priests, too.

All that said, am I marginalizing Priscilla Shirer by calling her teaching out of touch, reckless and tragic? After all, I am a man.

Do I have the right to tell a woman that her theology is bad and her social views, toxic?

I'm honestly asking, and I think, perhaps, I don't.

Instead, following the recommendations on other Synchroblogs, I should probably stick with speaking to my own group of affiliation…

So, men: I don't care what you hear, you don't have the right (theologically, biblically, ethically, socially or any other way) to subordinate the women in your life. If a woman tries to subordinate to you, you probably have an obligation to subordinate yourself simultaneously, so that she remains your equal. Not every woman is going to like this. Priscilla Shirer will probably call you weak. Lots of Evangelical pastors will call you a sissy. I know dudes whose wives don't want them to be "equalized." It doesn't matter: inequality is wrong, regardless of whether or not it's comfortable for the marginalized. That's a symptom of long-term oppression that becomes normative (and thus, comfortable).

Click here for the full article at NYTimes.com


elly said...

Haha, I almost spit my coffee out when I read the line "I have NEVER, EVER met a man worthy or deserving of such submission."

There are some interesting conversations happening on Rachel Held Evans' blog about submission, too.

I don't think you're wrong to affront women who claim to enjoy the, uh... "biblical model of marriage" (although I think that phrase is bizarre--show me the happy couple in the Bible who gave us these ideas)... this may be an extreme and inappropriate (?) comparison, but what comes to mind is a documentary I watched about North Korean people. It was made by a traveling eye doctor who was allowed to come into the country and do some cataract surgeries or something. The people were grateful for his work, but gave all the credit to their beloved leader! There were pictures and shrines of KJI in every home. Of course, the traveling doctor couldn't say anything while he was with the people, learning about their lives and their devotion to KJI--for fear of his life. But it was evident he was shocked at the contrast between their dedication to their country and the squalor they were living in.

So... if you could, and it were safe, would you tell these people the truth about their situation? Or because they seem to like it and don't know anything else, and are convicted that their leader is good, would you let the situation be as it is?

I'm not really trying to equate thousands of relatively happy Christian marriages to a locked up communist country rife with disease and starvation--just saying that I do think the right thing, when possible, is to speak against situations that are truly unjust.

Peter J Walker said...

Fantastic point, and story, Elly! I love it!

Steve Hayes said...

Sarah Palin is undoubtedly a woma, but is she marginalised? I doubt it?

Women may be more likely to be marginalised than males, and in some societies a lot more likely, but that does not mean that all women are marginalised, and if you disagree with their theology, say so. If you don't say so, just because it is theology propounded by a woman, isn't that sexist?

Kelly said...

I don’t think submission is about doing exactly what a man tells you to do. We submit to one another, not because one is a man and that makes him smarter or better or anything, but because in submitting to one another we create unity. We don’t submit to one another because they “deserve” or are “worthy” of that submission, but out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)

Our relationships with one another are a reflection of the relationships within the trinity. Jesus submitted to the Father, though he had the power to do otherwise. Humans are a reflection of God, and our relationships with one another are a reflection of true community that can only purely exist within the trinity.

This isn’t placing the mantle of godhood on them, it is allowing them to function as God created them. For a long time I had a hard time with the verse telling wives to submit to their husbands. But if you look at the first chapters of Genesis, it is clear that men and women are created equal. Husbands and wives are BOTH called to support and lift one another up. It doesn’t have to be about having power OVER one another, it should be about giving one another power.

The desire to dominate is a direct result of the fall of man. (Genesis 3:16) Redeemed power brings equality back into that relationship.

Al said...

If the 'problem' is "the marginalized themselves aren't actually brought to the table, (so) we have a bunch of elites spinning our wheels about issues we have no real perspective on", then the answer isn't in "speaking to my own group of affiliation", but to bring those who are marginalized to the table. Just preaching at the men isn't giving the women a chance to affect your own thinking on the subject.

By the way, I think Paul's teaching on marriage is exactly what you are saying--mutual submission. Not the woman serving the man, but each serving each other.

Peter J Walker said...

Hi Kelly!
Theologically I absolutely agree with you: mutual submission is fine when it's genuine mutuality, and it's Scripturally legitimate too. But male dominance can be Scripturally legitimated as well, depending on which proof texts one is using.

A lot of complementarian Christians use the language of mutual submission with unfortunate subversive connotation. Culturally and practically, I stand by my argument. Women in the church have been and continue to be systematically and deliberately subjugated to their male counterparts.

My understanding of the Trinity is that Jesus of Nazareth uniquely submitted to the Father while on earth, but the Cosmic Christ is eternally equal with the Father and the Spirit. The Father and Spirit submit to Christ in the same way Christ submits to them, and they to each other. In The Trinity and Subordinationism, Kevin Giles explains how the Son has been subordinated to the Father in contemporary Evangelicalism, to validate the household structure of male dominance in the midst of the feminist movement and women in the workplace and (eventually) the political sphere. When the world was equalizing (or trying to) Evangelicalism was making radical theological changes to the Trinity (the literal foundation of Christianity) to preserve male power in the church.


Kelly, I like your Genesis reference, and again, think we're theologically on the same page. But I think we have to find some different language, and even outwardly reject established relationship paradigms (theologically legitimate or not) to affect meaningful, equalizing change in the church. It has to be faced head on, because the complementarians are still winning.

Peter J Walker said...

Al, good points - we do need to bring more folks to the table.

Peter J Walker said...

I would say that just because Sarah Palin has money, power and a platform now does not necessarily mean she hasn't been marginalized. With quite a bit of savvy, I think Palin has has actually managed to turn that around and use it as part of her narrative about the evils of the media.

I'm not defending Palin, and I certainly don't pity her. I think she's very dangerous. My point is simply that there are a lot of ways that oppression plays out, and a lot of what was said about Palin - especially early on, in the '08 election cycle - had far too much to do with Palin's gender and stereotypes of "the dumb hot chick." It's legitimate to say she wasn't ready, or competent, but the attitude of a lot of the critique against her played on tacky gender stereotypes.

Steve, you said...
"If you don't say so, just because it is theology propounded by a woman, isn't that sexist?"

Maybe you're right. But as men, we need to walk delicately here...

Kelly said...

Ah! love it!!!
The Father didn't order the Son to die on the Cross, Jesus willfully submitted and CHOSE to sacrifice himself.
There doesn't need to be hierarchy in the Trinity because each member has the same desire and same truth.
I agree that this equality isn't being demonstrated in most churches. But it should be.

Peter J Walker said...

Kelly, I agree. It's one of the ways I deal with cruel-God questions: "How could a father order his son..." I think that's the wrong setup.

Enjoying the conversation! Hope school is going well!

tmamone said...

I'm an amateur feminist myself, so there's a lot I still need to process. But I will say this, though. I think there's one thing everyone keeps forgetting when talking about gender roles--the part where it says men should love their wives the way Christ loved the Church. Once you think about it, how did Jesus love the Church. He died for it. And throughout the Bible, God calls leaders to humble themselves and be servants. So, if I'm interpreting things correctly (and I might not be), the husband's job is NOT to be Atilla the Hun or some other forceful leader. The husband is a servant; he must set aside his selfish desires and think about what is best for his family. This is what John Howard Yoder calls, "radical subordination."

Hopefully that makes sense.

Kelly said...

school is wonderful. i feel like i'm really being empowered! and AG people LOVE women in ministry :)

Peter J Walker said...

Kelly! Awesome! I'm glad to hear they're walking the talk. There is so much theological and ecclesiological potential for Pentacostals to take the lead of socially progressive spirituality!

Cheryl Ensom said...

Love this!!! :) Ya I wouldn't want to be submitted to, either. It sounds boring!

Kathryn said...

I just wanted to tell you that I am both eternally thankful for finding your blog, overall, and for reading this entry....and from a man, no less. I just left a church which tried to teach the mess of a "trinitarian" reason to back up their complimentarianist beliefs, and kept double-backing on their message of "both genders are made in God's image" followed quickly by a message of submission which would bar women from any leadership.....and this was a young congregation (scary).

So. Thankyou. Thankyou for being Egalitarian, and being the voice needed in a sea of complimentarianists.

Peter J Walker said...

Kathryn, I'm blessed by your comments, and your visit. I know exactly the "approach" you're recounting here. Sadly typical.

I hope you'll keep in touch!

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