Do you suppose it’s a co-incidence that the places on the planet where women are most free are places where Christianity has been dominant for the longest? I don’t. Christianity had its roots as a very subversive movement. Misogyny has roots so deep in the human experience that some have called it humanity’s real original sin. Today, even those Christians who believe in the unique submission of women (as opposed to the submission of all believers to each other as scriptures teach) are holding onto something that is a mere shadow of the evil which animated attitudes towards women throughout recorded human history. It is God’s redemptive work playing out over generations. And despite the hold-outs, there is a good reason to believe that this trend towards full equality and self-determination of women will continue. Not only is it desirable and beneficial; it’s deeply scriptural as well.
While browsing through books, I came across one which claimed to explain the biblical injunction for wives to submit to their husbands in such a way that a woman could be at peace with her role. The key, this author claimed, was that women had the easier part; while women were called to submit, men actually had to LOVE their wives. You see, the oft quoted verses first tell women to submit to their husbands and for husbands to love their lives. Since only husbands are instructed to love their wives, this author reasoned, women were free to despise, hate or just be indifferent to their husbands so long as they were submissive towards them.
Here’s my challenge to those Christians who promote a traditional view of women’s submission: If you would please point me to a place in human history when humanity has done a good job with women’s submission, then I can take what you have to say seriously. But no such example exists.
And this is the point that all of the heurmetics about the role of women and relationship between husband and wife almost completely leave out: out of all God’s creatures, women – whose creation He crowned all that He had made with – were the most oppressed, the most heartbroken, the most vulnerable, the most weak, the most despised, the most ignorant, the most powerless. But I have never heard this spoken about in church. I have heard pastors preach on poor, oppressed men with women tagging along behind. But when Paul tells men that they are to be the head of their wives as Christ is head of the church, the fact that their wives were in need of rescue from their oppression, pain and powerlessness is not what they talk about.
Jesus variously said that he came to lift oppression, offer freedom, offer rest, challenge, love, rescue, save, comfort, bring salvation. Those verses which say that the husband is to his wife as Jesus is to the church are saying that men ought to do for their wives what Jesus does for his church: offer freedom, rescue them from oppression, offer rest, love, comfort, etc. Like Jesus did with his followers, husbands are to help their wives get to a point of being able to stand on their own two feet and go out into the world as a strong, whole human being (ie unified). The verses which say that the husband is the head of the wife have nothing to do with hierarchy, power, control or roles and responsibilities. In reality, they teach just the opposite of what Christian Patriarchy proponents take from the verse.
The more I studied the matter, the more it became clear to me that using scriptures to demand that women take their place under men was an abuse of God’s word. At the very least, it was blazingly clear that equality in all things between men and women was not in conflict with scriptures.
However, even if we get to the point where we can see that, it still begs an important question. Why did God allow scriptures to be written in such a way that they were so easily manipulated to put women at a disadvantage? Surely God knew that this would happen and could have made things clearer – not left half His creation so vulnerable to abuse by those claiming to act in His name.
Proverbs 31 is ike Cosmo for Christian women; it presents a completely unrealistic image of what a woman should be. Some women get together with their girlfriends to study it earnestly and try to follow its tips and guides to be more like what is presented. Some women look at it and just feel awful about themselves because they know they can never live up to the perfection they see in it. And then there are women who grab a pint of hagen daz to eat while looking for all the tell-tale signs of the copious amounts of airbrushing it takes to make a woman look like that.