Dear Inspiration Seekers,
After addressing Emotions, Obedience and Disobedience, Paul turns his attention to family relationships. Wives ,Submit to your husband…(5:22) Not much of a post-feminist sentiment. The last wedding that I heard this quoted in was one in which most of us attending knew that she would never submit to him. We should have taken a vote about how many of us had objections to that marriage, for our prediction certainly became true, unfortunately.
After addressing marital relationships, Paul opens chapter 6 with Children, obey your parents… (6:1). Contemporary social psychology would argue that children rebelling is a normal developmental stage for asserting autonomy and individuality. Being fervent in my understanding of Christianity during my teen years, I probably appeared the epitomy of the obedient high school boy: attending all my classes, turning in my homework assignments, fulfilling my duties with the church high school program and choir, kissing only at the end of a date and never copping a feel, helping to lead the school Christian group, etc. All that obedience just pushed my rebellion back a few years. After a number of stormy years, when I was on the brink of another poor decision which I knew my father disagreed with for fear that I would not complete college, I recall he told me, “You are old enough to make your own mistakes”. Maybe I missed that this was his way of expressing his fatherly Love and Wrath. Through my disobedience, I learned to be responsible for my decisions, and learned to live with my the father within me (review Father and Son from last Fall).
Well, if Paul had not already irritated modern sensibilities, he proceeds with troubling social constructs: Slaves, obey your earthly masters… (6:5). This flows as if Paul did not even consider the institution of slavery suspect. I have heard many people who have fallen away from the church of their upbringing use the history of slavery in Christianity as an argument for their distrust of the church. If the early church saw nothing wrong with the Roman form a slavery, if Catholic leadership saw nothing wrong with forced labor or expulsion of Jews and Muslims, if the Anglican church saw nothing wrong with transporting Africans and poor Europeans (indentured servants) to the Americas, if we see nothing wrong with hiring “undocumented works” with under-the-table poverty wages…
These three sections appear to appeal to the male-hierarchy minded leaders and theologians, especially over the past few centuries prior to the sexual revolution, feminism, and social justice movements of the past few decades. However, the conflict of these prevailing opinions has divided the church even more. Progressive minded folks congregate in the Episcopal and Unitarian churches, home churches, and hermits writing blogs. Conservative minded folks join the Anglican Church of Nigeria, the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition, Tea Party, and Pope Benedict (at least for a couple more weeks), and home school their children. I find this ironic, in that Paul states that he is making a comparison of domestic life to church life for the Unity of the church. We seem to be turning the tables and using passages such as these to divide Christians.
The “balance” that I recall during my informative years was that wives and children (hmmm, I do not recall those verses on slavery getting into my stack of Bible verses to memorize) should submit while husbands should love their wives and children. Paul basically tells wives and children to submit twice. He tells husbands to love four times. Maybe he knew who was more thick skulled. Submit and Love. The institutionalization of power dynamics in marriage was something that I rebelled against in my college years.
Social relationships that are built upon one party submitting and the other leading are based on power and control residing in the husband. These relationships usually fail or flounder because of the authoritarian attitude of the husband and subversive behavior of the wife. In my opening paragraph, I cited one marriage in which the wife vowed to submit and the husband vowed to love. Neither did. The end result was that on the surface they followed these roles, while she undermined his authority, used her submissive role as a reason not to work (or at least hold a job for more than a couple of months), exhausted his financial resources, then said one day, “I don’t want to be married any more”, refused to pursue a divorce (there is potential money in the future), and left him to finish rearing their adolescent children. His view of love was to look for branches in our wood to beat his children with when disciplining them (I stopped letting him go into our woods for such hunting expeditions).
This is not an isolated case of subverted Submission and Love that I have observed. Other patterns of marriages with power imbalances include passive-aggressive manipulation (one does not want to go to that holiday party, and drags his or her feet about getting ready on time, resulting in an argument so they do not go because they no longer feel jolly), tit-for-tat (he gets a new truck, so she gets a new kitchen), parallel lives (she goes to yoga and he plays golf), absenteeism (she stays home to rear the children and manage the home, while he works 12 hour days), co-denency (he provides financially, while she does not confront his infidelity), and mutual exploitation (she gets fine clothes and jewelry, he gets sex). What I see missing in these marriages is companionship, communication, and compromise. They lack Unity.
Paul has previous addressed the theme of Unity. And, in this passage he does state that he is comparing family relationships to the body of the Christ, the church. In discussing this Unity (4:11) he cites different roles that members of the church perform. There is a difference between using one’s talents and skills, and having power over someone else. The difference is not necessarily some egalitarian utopia, but Respect.
The verse that I find oddly separated from the passage starting at Ephesians 5:22, is verse 5:21, Submit to one another… Paul does not advocate submitting to an authority but to each other. He follows this with …out of reverence for Christ. He directs …the wife must respect the husband. (5:33)…; Children should honor your father and mother… (6:2); Slaves should obey with respect and fear… (6:5). The correlary is for husbands to love, not exasperate their children, not threaten their slaves. Paul does not advocate authoritarianism, but Obedience to Order for Unity, Submitting to each other with Reverence, Respect, and Honor. If Rebellion is defined as defying the authority in order to reform an institution, Paul was advocating a Revolution to create a new social order, the Church.
Until next time, Inspiration Seekers