Before you read further, let me say all the thoughts I expressed here are based on my beliefs as a bible student.
@joysuo tweeted earlier today about submission in marriage. Like my friend @gbemisoke I think she has a ministry dedicated to marriage and sharing solutions to marital issues. One cannot help but acknowledge that the issue of submission is a knotty one.
A few of her tweets got my attention particularly as related to teaching men how to handle submission. She believes like I do that a woman ought to be submissive to her husband.
Which again brought to the fore the issue of headship and equality. Let me start by saying that I am aware of how sharply divided people are over the words ‘head’ and ‘equal’ when it comes to the relationship between men and women. So perhaps we should start by defining what each word means to me.
Equality: I shall borrow from the Greek usage of the word. The Greek word for equality carries the same meaning as you have when you think of two sides of an isosceles triangle. Equal in length, equal in value, equivalent. Are men and women equal in this sense?
I shall go back to the bible account of creation where after God created Adam, he made Eve. From Adam’s rib, we are told. Now, I don’t know how you look at this but if God had to take out a rib this was a kinda permanent indication that the man needs a woman to complete him. Like half a pair of his shoes, the woman holds something that completes the man. Now if you ask me: I would tell you that the right leg of a pair of shoe is not equal to the left. They are not of the same value and they are not equivalent.
Later, the Bible will speak of the physical inequality of men and women when it says the women are a weaker vessel. Of course, you wouldn’t have a female football soccer team compete against men. That would be termed unfair because men, in general, are not physically equivalent to women in general.
Now, what about spiritual equality? The Apostle Paul spoke at length about the spiritual headship arrangement in his various letters to the Corinthians and Ephesians. Now I shall go out on a limb here and say that this submission may not just be within marriage. Why do I say this? Well, I don’t know about you but I don’t think that a woman would learn the qualities she needs to make her marriage work – If she chooses to marry – within marriage.
As @joysuo pointed out, just as women are taught to be submissive, men should also learn how to handle submission as Christ would. One of the best ways to learn is to practice and one can practice within the circle where one will eventually choose to marry. Like Christ learned obedience from the things he suffered, young ladies can learn submission by being submissive in attitude to men in general. Note that this is for people who choose to marry. Marriage is not by force but Christians, in general, are encouraged to submit to one another whether male or female. Graciousness is a great quality for everyone to cultivate.
Headship to me simply means deferring to his authority within marriage. Just as I would defer to my boss in the office even if I feel I am smarter than he is. Of course, I have every right to defend and debate my proposals. As long as I do this with dignity and respect, not being obnoxious, resorting to name calling, nagging or being generally rude, my job is safe…I think. Just as I would want to give serious thought to the boss I work with (my preference would be someone I can learn from and grow with) I should be even more objective when it comes to choosing a partner.
So what exactly does this inequality not mean?
I shall repeat a vital lesson one of my lecturers taught in class one day which helped me put the headship of a man in perspective.
In this demonstration, which I believe he said he read somewhere, he asked that I kneel before him. In bending over to raise me up he had to bend over and as I rose I went higher than him before he straightened up. And he said so it is that a woman who submits to her husband gets to rise above him because her husband will honor her.
There is this saying: two captains cannot sail a ship. What this simply means is that before a woman marries, she should be sure that she is picking a man who she can respect as the final authority in decision making. It is like getting into a car as a passenger, you have handed your life into the hand of the driver. Of course, it would be great If you can drive too because if something goes wrong you should be able to take over. You can also offer helpful advice if there is something the driver seems to be getting wrong but you can imagine how the driver would react if you began to second guess all his decisions.
(If you have ever taken a bus ride in Lagos, you’d see how drivers generally would do the opposite of whatever you insist they should and then they would taunt you with the fact that they are the ones behind the wheels)
Within marriage, the man and the woman are partners. The woman complements the man. So I’m actually tempted to believe that it is the man who is incomplete. (Someday I shall pursue the theory that this is probably the reason why women, in general, can remain unmarried after they lose a spouse while men can’t seem to manage it)
Now a lot of men have gone overboard to believe that submission equals slavery. So they treat women without respect and take away many of their rights including even their right to education. They equate submission to subservience, assuming a superiority that not even God accords them. Jesus the one whose example men are supposed to follow treated women with dignity and respect. He gave women rights. For example, Jewish men did not believe they could commit adultery against a woman but Jesus raised the status of women by telling the men they did not have the right to treat women as objects by divorcing them on every sort of ground.
Jesus set the example of how to be a good husband by serving his disciples. He washed their feet, he was kind to them, showed great understanding and never treated them as inferior even though he was perfect and they were not. Can you remember how many times Jesus asked his disciples ‘what do you think’ during his ministry?
Husbands…men, today are not expected to be despots. Yes, the curse on Eve was that her craving was to be for her husband but this was as a result of imperfection, not a license for men to dominate women. God did not create women as slaves to men. The relationship between a man and a woman is not similar to the relationship between a parent and his child. It is more of a vertical than a horizontal relationship ( yes I know this may sound contradictory but it isn’t really)
It is this ‘verticalness’ that has perhaps led to the belief that God requires submission of women because they were equal to men to start with. I disagree with this too. Come to think of it: do we have to be equal for me to get advice to be submissive to you? When the Bible says slaves should subject themselves to their masters was this because slaves were supposed to be equal to their masters to start with? I would actually say this reminder was given because it was foreseen that some women would be fighting for equality with men and would begin to disregard the headship arrangement because men, in general, have abused it.
So will women and men ever be equal? I do not think God created men and women to be equal. But that is just fine. Women are great just the way they are and as far as I am concerned they don’t even NEED to be equal to men. Men and women need to treat each other with respect and dignity. The fact that they are unequal does not mean one is a slave to the other.
As the Bible shows God is not partial, He does not favor one race or sex above the other and neither should we.