A few weeks ago, there was a bit of a brouhaha over Byron York's question to Rep. Michele Bachmann at a Republican debate in Iowa. She'd previously made a comment about her interpretation of what it means to be a submissive wife. He asked her about it. The crowd booed. The media began writing up stories about submission. None of them terribly good. But Bob Smietana over at The Tennessean had a piece on different ideas about gender roles. Mostly it looked at "complementarianism," the idea that men and women are equal but have different roles that complement each other. And unlike a lot of those other pieces, it's a good and worthwhile read.
At the beginning, readers are introduced to the Roses, a couple that explains how this works in their marriage:
Scripture doesn’t give husbands a right to be jerks, said the Rev. Jeremy Rose, pastor of the Axis Church in Nashville. And it doesn’t mean women have to do whatever their husbands say.
Instead, Rose said, men are supposed to love their wives and put their wives’ needs first when making decisions.
“If you quote that verse to your wife, you are not in a good place,” said Rose, 32.
If the Roses disagree, it’s Jeremy’s view that prevails, although he said he breaks the news as gently as possible.
He believes that men are in charge in the church and in their homes, a view known as complementarianism. It often appeals to younger men like Rose, teaching them to grow up and be better husbands and fathers.
And he’d be fine with a woman president. So would his wife, Jill Rose, 31. She thinks that most people don’t understand what the Christian idea of submission means.
“Men and women are created equally,” she said. “People have this stigma of the male chauvinist domineering over the wife, and that’s not what the biblical perspective is at all.”
Instead, Jill Rose said, the Bible passage about submission is about trust and respect, something that was missing in the early days of the Roses’ marriage. Jeremy Rose spent most of his time at work or out hunting, playing sports and hanging with his friends. His wife drove herself to the hospital to deliver their second child while he wrapped up a softball game.
“It was a very low point,” she said.
Things changed after Jeremy Rose took a class at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. The class focused on an often-overlooked part of the Ephesians passage. Women are to submit, according to the passage, while men are to love their wives in sacrificial ways.
As someone who is part of a couple that attempts to have a Christian marriage, I was pleasantly shocked to read this. It's my experience that the male role of sacrifice for his wife is infinitely more difficult than the female role of submission. But frequently the male role -- though so important -- isn't even mentioned in stories about this.
The article goes on to explain how this point is lost on many people and how a Christian marriage is about each spouse attending to each other's needs. There's a bit of a discussion about how much responsibility men in Christian marriages have, being held accountable for when things go wrong. Again, these are things that are typically not mentioned in stories.
The article includes various perspectives on gender roles, including some who hew to a rather strict interpretation of submission and leadership and some who reject it outright. I didn't quite understand either of these group's arguments, but space is tight in these stories.
The one thing I thought intriguing was what wasn't mentioned in the story: Jesus Christ and the church. There is a reference to a part of a Bible verse that instructs wives to submit to husbands as to the Lord. But the passages about the roles of men and women in marriage are almost impossible to understand without understanding their relationship to what traditional Christianity teaches about Christ and the church.
It's so much a mystery that this is the word used to describe it -- a great mystery.
The book of Ephesians tells us that marriage is an image of Christ and the church. After telling all Christians to give thanks always to God for all things and to submit to one another in the fear of God, wives and husbands are given particular roles. The image used is how Christ loves the church and how the church receives that love from Christ. Men are to sacrifice as Christ sacrificed for the church (which, you might recall includes his own death by crucifixion) and wives are to submit as the church submits to Christ.
Now, after the Bachmann thing happened, and I wrote that I aim to be a submissive wife, I had a few radio and television producers contact me asking me to go on air to discuss this. When you're contacted by producers, they pre-interview you to see if you'd be good for a given show. The pre-interview is particularly important for the television shows.
What was hilarious was when people asked me to explain why I believe in this understanding of marriage, and I began explaining this passage from Ephesians and about Christ and the church, they basically didn't want to talk any more. I'm not blaming them but just pointing out how incredibly difficult it is to explain even basic (but mysterious) church teachings. And certainly many television shows no longer know how to discuss religion in any meaningful way. It made me long for a television show like the Phil Donahue Show I watched growing up where opposing sides got the time to actually explain their beliefs in longer than 23-second soundbites that were repeated -- via shouting -- three times in segment.