Rape, and why I think submission in “all” things is a dangerous concept to handle.

I do believe in the existence of good doctrine.  And from time to time I write about those beliefs on this blog.  Not in the sort of vague “it has to start with us loving each other” terms, but in terms of real verses that make real commands of us, and what I think of them.

And every time I write about these things, it gets uncomfortable.  You see, for the last couple of days I’ve been involved in (and then following) a conversation on another blog about wives submitting to their husbands.  The topic was breached in the absence of talking about the husbands role, and inevitably turned to the question of the wife submitting when she disagreed with her husband about something that would have long term repercussions, like family being sent to boarding school.  And I tried to respond and did a poor job of vocalizing myself.  So I tried to write about it here, and again did a poor job of vocalizing myself.

The idea of submission still holds a great deal of fear for all women.  The idea that my husband could make any demand of me, and I would be expected to offer myself up to him as to Christ.  That’s terrifying.  And anyone who doesn’t find that terrifying and respect the power that such fear holds for women obviously knows very little history.  There was a time when women were seen as less than men- as property, as pawns in a game of chess, as a method through which to gain an heir and keep the house clean and often little more.  We all should know this fact because that time was roughly when Ephesians would have been written in the first place.  And the thought of women as lesser continued for some time.  Daughters were the property of their fathers while sons gained autonomy, wives were possessions, women were thought of to gain a soul later in life then men, to be more prone to witchcraft and evil, to need this evil purged from them by a heavy hand as much as possible.

Women were on a level above cattle, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like much of one.  Honestly.  The right to vote and hold property is still a historically recent one.

And the idea that a husband “can’t” rape his wife is still one being debated in some circles.

So let’s talk about submission, in frank terms, and let’s not mince words.  Does anyone reading this believe that I should submit to my husband if he allocates money that needs to go to feeding my children to buy himself a gaming system?  Does anyone believe that Ephesians five requires me to submit myself to his will when he demands sex and I’m ill, or tired, or otherwise not compliantly disposed to the idea?  Does anyone believe that if my husband heard a word that he should take a second wife, that I should say, “yes dear?”  I’m hoping most would say no, because these are extreme examples.

But what about less extreme examples?  What if I am sick, and exhausted, and don’t have the energy to cook a meal, and my husband complains that he’s been working all day and shouldn’t have to work at home?  Or what if I haven’t seen my family in over half a year and he demands that we spend Christmas with his, meaning that I won’t get to see mine?  Or what if I feel God is calling me to a position in my local church body and my husband says that he will not have his wife teaching other men, and forbids me to do it?

Do I really submit to him in all things, to the cost of my body, my family, my calling?

Or by submitting to my husband, would I in some things draw myself further away from God?  In order for both my husband and I to follow God and serve him with all our hearts, my submission to him MUST follow, CANNOT be without his submission to God and his loving me as his own body.  These things are NOT seperable.  Likewise his loving me as his own body and cleansing me as Christ cleansed the church MUST be, CANNOT be without my submission to him.

Both parties must obey God in their commands, or one will get hurt.  That is the beauty of the arrangement- the two become one, or they don’t function, period.

Now, in case I haven’t made myself clear:

  • The wife does not, by submitting, become her husband’s possession or subordinate.  She is his servant, but by choice alone.
  • The husband, should he demonstrate a pattern of making unfair demands or abusing his wife’s submissive position, is not acting in a holy manner and should be called on it- first by his wife, then by his church.
  • Both partners serve God first and each other second- if either one interferes with the other’s servitude to God, something is wrong.
  • Children come first.  If either one places demands on the other that interferes with the raising of their children, something is wrong.
  • If something is wrong, both need to go before God and their local spiritual leaders and sort it all out.

I’ve seen numerous books on the subject which talk about how women can win over their husbands through loving submission.  And at it’s root it’s not a bad thing.  It’s in the Bible! The problem comes when it’s taken to far.  Anything, no matter how good, no matter how holy, becomes bad when not delt with in reason and moderation.  When a woman stays with a drunk who is abusing her kids to win him over in loving submission, it’s not good.  When a wife does nothing about her husband overpowering and raping her to win him over in loving submission, I am sure that is not what God intended.

These concepts must be handled with the respect they deserve, because mishandling them takes advantage of weakness and can lead to real damage.

And I guess that’s what I needed to say.

Old and New

Dichotomies.

Is it either-or or is it both-and?

Leonard Sweet describes it as the swing affect.  When you hit the apex of the swing on the playground, you have to simultaneously kick forward and lean back.  You reach this moment of pure balance where you’re trying to both kick into the future while remaining in the past.

It’s impossible to maintain, though.  Eventually everything reverses itself.

My relationship with the Church and religion has always been a strained one.  Needless to say I’m largely unhappy with the church in America today.  I want it to change, I want this desperately.  I want to move into the future.  But at the same time I find myself remaining in the past.  Why?  Because two thousand years ago our faith was reformed by the one person who best understood what it ought to be.  I believe that the early church had to have some wisdom because the founders actually knew Christ.  But, at the same time, the wisdom that led them through the founding of our faith may not have any application to today’s society.

The past, the future, that one moment of pure balance lost in the downswing.

I believe there is something inherently good about tradition because it connects us to the millions of years of history that our world has gone through.  We need to learn from generations past if we don’t want to have to make all of the mistakes that they made to gain that wisdom in the first place.  Yet, at the same time, one must acknowledge that tradition for tradition’s own sake becomes useless.  Have you heard the one about the woman that always cut the ham in half because her grandma did?  Then grandma says, “I only did that because my roaster was small.”  Without knowledge of the “what for” tradition is empty, a meaningless gesture, without any real value but a massively huge cost.

The future, the past, blurred in the upswing.

At the end of the day, all I know is that I know nothing.  I thrive off intuition.

I often get things wrong.

The Subjugation of Women in Religion

Several years ago a church my family is affiliated with started supporting women in Afghanistan and Iraq. They made cookbooks and sold them as well as having bake sales and other fundraisers, all of the money going to a fund to support women’s rights in Muslim countries. The celebration of a “beyond the veil” day in which stories of Afghani women who were able to remove their veils were read sparked an interesting discussion.

Why?

Because that particular church sat a little to the west of the heart of the largest Amish settlement in the world. Every day, parishioners would drive by farms where women wore black bonnets and knee length black aprons to weed their gardens in 90 degree heat. Every day, they walked by women with ten children in tow because birth control is banned by their faith. Every day, they saw sixteen year old girls who feel pressured to marry and start families. Every day, they drove by the buggies, buggies that get in a large amount of accidents because the stricter sects of Amish belief will not allow battery powered lamps or reflective strips. A strong argument can be made for the follies of the Amish faith- there is a high rate of depression, of birth defects, even fatalities when women are told their bodies won’t bear another pregnancy and they refuse hysterectomies. There is one story that stands out in my mind, one where a doctor pulled aside an Amish man and said, “another delivery will kill your wife,” and the man replied, “then I will remarry.”

The argument that Islam is alone in it’s strong belief that women are to be modest, to be wed and submissive, is foolish. Christianity has it’s fair share of extremism where that is concerned. There are churches that pray to Christ where the men and women don’t sit together, where the women have scarves on their heads and ankle length skirts. These churches also could not easily be written off as extreme fundamentalists or crazies. Take the Mennonite faith, for example- they hold to a lot of old tradition, including a notable lack of instruments during worship. They praise God with their voices, they work hard with their hands, in the more traditional churches the women wear head coverings and the men and women sit on opposite sides of the aisle. There are still girls who are raised to not seek out careers, instead to marry and move out and start families of their own. Women rarely go out alone- they marry young and travel in packs until the children come.

In fact, there are a great number of parallels between conservative Christianity and Islam. Trace them back historically and they come from the same roots- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There are some women who will point out the fact that Christianity traditionally didn’t allow for divorce, even when women were being beaten. In fact, some orders of Christianity encouraged spousal abuse to teach women submission. Islam, on the other hand, teaches that men are to honor their women and treat them well.

I realize that there are failings. There are still honor killings, there are cultures in which Islam is used as a justification for the horrific subjugation of women. But I believe that the cultural differences cannot be blamed on belief any more than Christianity being blamed for the KKK- religion, when abused, loses the touch of faith. It’s not the faith that is to blame, but the abuser. Historically certain parts of the world have always subjugated women, and when religion came along it was twisted for the use of the culture instead of redeeming it. The failure is the culture, not the faith.

I simply find it interesting when I see churches cheering on young Afghani women to remove their veils, while outside in the streets Amish women slave under their bonnets, hands raw from wringing out clothing and hanging it to dry, arms tanned from hours of tilling by hand. The point is that some believe that honor can be found in holy living, and holy living can be found in being bound by the dictates of a restrictive faith. It is a choice that is made, a choice that should be honored. Where culture falls short, by all means call for change.

Just don’t ignore what’s going on in your own back yard.

Tenabrae Shadows

Tonight our church is having a Tenabrae service.  This may not seem that special to a lot of people, but it is to us because we don’t normally have these kinds of services.  For us a return to tradition is deeply significant, because it means we are acting not out of habit but out of true desire and devotion.  I’m working on a short reading to give in the first triplet of scripture reading.  It’s still a little rough, but here goes:

If I were a disciple, I imagine, I would be endlessly devoted

I would sit at his knee day and night

I would center my life around memorizing his words

clarifying my memory

Asking questions and learning answers

casting aside every shadow

living in his pure light

I imagine myself head on his lap

Eyes to his eyes

Lips repeating every word, breath, rhythm, glance,

Until our souls were intertwined

I would devote myself to writing his story

Explaining to the world who he was

I would never hear him crying  in the distance

I would be at his side

I would never deny him

I would be like a bride

I imagine these things

And then look at my life

The days that have passed without reading his story

The nights that go by without prayers into my pillow

The weeks and months that dwindle without devotion

And I wonder

Would I be the one to deny, to betray?

Would I be the one to look the other way?

Would I be the one who slept through his darkest hour?

In the garden, in the garden,

Would I realize the time, or let it pass away

into the cold ground

Into history

Distracted by myself?