Should Wives Submit to Their Husbands?

The front page of The Nashville Tennessean has an article by Bob Smietana titled “Should wives submit? Debate resurges.” Though Michele Bachmann’s candidacy for president is the catalyst for this piece, the article is not really about her. It’s about how American Evangelicals approach the question of gender roles in the home, in the church, and in society at large. Smietana interviews folks on both sides of this question and even deals briefly with the various interpretations of Ephesians 5 and how those readings play out in the lives of real families. Smietana even uses the proper theological designations for each view, complementarianism and egalitarianism. This is an unusual article, one that you would not expect on the front page of a major American newspaper. Here’s a bit from the article:

For the Bible’s authors, it was pretty clear how marriage works.

Men lead.

Women follow.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s run for the White House put this traditional Christian view of submission in the spotlight. Bachmann, like many conservative Christians, believes that wives should submit to their husbands. That’s led some to ask whether she’d have to obey her husband when it comes to public policy…

Other Christians insist that men should be in charge of all areas of life, politics included, while others say men and women are equal partners and those who disagree are misinterpreting the Bible.

Most who support women’s submissiveness point to a verse in the New Testament book of Ephesians: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” But that policy plays out differently in various households.

I have no idea whether or not Smietana agrees with what the Bible says, but he does declare what he thinks it means. Smietana writes that it is “pretty clear” how marriage should work according to the biblical authors, and it involves husbands leading their families. He gives time to explain both sides of this issue, but he nevertheless settles in on the complementarian interpretation of Ephesians 5. Of course there’s more that needs to be said, but I appreciate Smietana and The Tennessean giving some space to this issue. You can read the rest of it here.

For many readers, the idea of “biblical headship” or “male leadership” may seem strange and outdated. Nevertheless, it is what the Bible teaches. The question is, what does it mean for a man to lead his family? A common misunderstanding (and misrepresentation!) is simply to equate male leadership with abuse. But that is not what it is at all. In the book Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, John Piper gives nine marks of biblical, masculine leadership:

1. Mature masculinity expresses itself not in the demand to be served, but in the strength to serve and to sacrifice for the good of woman.

2. Mature masculinity does not assume the authority of Christ over woman, but advocates it.

3. Mature masculinity does not presume superiority, but mobilizes the strengths of others.

4. Mature masculinity does not have to initiate every action, but feels the responsibility to provide a general pattern of initiative.

5. Mature masculinity accepts the burden of the final say in disagreements between husband and wife, but does not presume to use it in every instance.

6. Mature masculinity expresses its leadership in romantic sexual relations by communicating an aura of strong and tender pursuit.

7. Mature masculinity expresses itself in a family by taking the initiative in disciplining the children when both parents are present and a family standard has been broken.

8. Mature masculinity is sensitive to cultural expressions of masculinity and adapts to them (where no sin is involved) in order to communicate to a woman that a man would like to relate not in any aggressive or perverted way, but with maturity and dignity as a man.

9. Mature masculinity recognizes that the call to leadership is a call to repentance and humility and risk-taking.

These nine points are from Piper’s essay “A Vision of Biblical Complementarity,” and you can read the rest of it here.

2 Responses to Should Wives Submit to Their Husbands?

  1. Chris Blackstone August 29, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

    Bob is one of the best religion writers in the country. If only more articles about religion were written by him.

  2. Jeremy Rose August 29, 2011 at 9:55 pm #

    Chris, I agree. He’s a joy to work with.
    Denny, nice blog. I like it!

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