[This post is courtesy of Phillip Jensen, Dean of St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney.]
Last week, I wrote Submission and the Clash of Cultures. This week I want to follow it by writing about subjugation and the clash of cultures. For in website and blog comments regarding last week’s article the clash of world views became very obvious. The word ‘submission’ is, as I suggested, the presenting issue of something much bigger; it is a difference over “the nature of marriage, of human relationships and humanity itself”.
When people remove a word from its cultural context and carry it across to another culture it is easily misunderstood and misapplied. This is even more complicated when there is an overlap of cultures such as exists within the dominant Australian culture of “Christianised secularism or secularised Christianity”.
The consistent accusation levelled against the Christian understanding is that it leads to oppression and worse—domestic violence. To heighten this argument, details of dreadful abuse are given about husbands who use the wedding vows about submission to claim the right to be violent, abusive, controlling and domineering.
The secularist worldview, based in individualism, power and rights, analyses the cause of this abuse in terms of giving power and authority to the husband and therefore rejects the whole notion of submission. The Christian worldview analyses this abuse in terms of the profound sinfulness of the human heart and therefore rejects the behaviour of such husbands as expressions of a wicked and evil nature in need of repentance and regeneration.
Sydney Anglicans are accused of speaking a lot about the submission of the wife and the difference between the spouses, but not of the sacrificial love of the husband and the equal rights of the spouses. It is an accusation that does not ring true to my experience, where most wedding sermons on passages like Ephesians 5 major on both Christ’s sacrifice rather than the church’s submission, and on the husband’s responsibility rather than the wife’s response. These accusations are the result of selective listening. Sometimes people who live in a different culture only notice what is said when for them a politically incorrect word like ‘submission’ is uttered. Others have seen firsthand the horror of domestic violence and are rightly sensitised to anything that could contribute to such an awful abuse.
However, to make sure that people within the Christian culture understand and, on the off chance that some secularist will take note of what we actually teach and, so that we can have it on record, I will draw out the implications of what I said last week on submission, under the heading subjugation.
While the Bible calls upon the wife to submit it never calls upon the husband to subjugate or subdue his wife. It is never his prerogative or responsibility. Hers must always be her own willing, Spirit-filled response to the saviour, never a response enforced by her husband. All forms of coercion—physical, economic, social, psychological, spiritual—are inappropriate and wrong for a husband to use on his wife. Some, such as physical abuse, are criminal and should be dealt with by the courts. The Christian husband’s duty and solemn vow is to follow the example of his Lord and lay down his life for his bride. This will always put her interests before his own at whatever cost it is to him. This will mean never using or even threatening force. To subjugate his wife is a complete denial of what he promised.
There are many Biblical truths that lie behind the previous paragraph. Here are a just few of the principles:
- The character of the love required of a husband is sacrificial (Ephesians 5:25-33, 1 Corinthian 13:4-7).
- Christian leadership is fundamentally different to the world’s leadership, as it is not based on power and the exercise of authority, but on service and sacrifice (Mark 10:42-45, 2 Timothy 2:22-26, 1 Peter 5:3).
- Men and women are together created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) with the dignity and right to life that such creation implies (Genesis 9:5-6).
- Men and women are one in their status in Christ and eternal life (Galatians 3:27-29, 1 Peter 3:7).
- Godliness is demonstrated in caring for widows and orphans because God has a particular care for those who lack the provision and protection of a husband (Psalm 68:5, Exodus 22:22, Isaiah 1:17,23, James 1:27).
- Violence is the character of the wicked not the godly (Psalm 11:5, 73:1-6, Romans 12:18-21).
In 1 Peter 3:7 we read of the Christian husband’s responsibility: “husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honour to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered”. Notice how the husband’s greater physical strength is to be used not to subjugate but to honour his wife, especially as she is equally an heir “with you of the grace of life”. Indeed what he is commanded to do is to live considerately, understanding his wife’s physical needs.
Or again in 1 Corinthians 7:4 it is clear that the wife is not the chattel or possession of her husband: “the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does”. This reciprocal mutuality is even reflected in Jesus’ teaching on divorce (Mark 10:12). Indeed, so foreign is the idea of the wife being a man’s chattel that the old Book of Common Prayer makes no allowance for a bride to share her possessions with her husband but requires the groom to endow “all my worldly goods” upon his bride.
The Christian bridegroom’s vow to love is not the same as the world’s ‘being in love’. He is not declaring his emotional affection but promising his devoted service. The man who keeps his vow to love like Christ, can never try to subjugate his wife.