Christians are used to hearing about Joseph and Mary, usually around Christmas. Then, they’re the supporting cast, and Jesus is the focus. They certainly don’t often come up in conversations about Christian marriage. Perhaps they should. If we pay attention, Joseph and Mary point us toward what makes a good marriage.
Whenever I hear the word “submission” I am immediately transported back to my childhood home. We were staunchly rooted in a conservative, Christian tradition, and my family prided itself on having a high view of Scripture. There were a number of beliefs affected by this high view of Scripture (which, for the record I still hold to!), but few made their way into the everyday vocabulary of my family more often than submission. We were instructed to see complementarian gender roles as one of the foundational building blocks of a godly family, and ensuring a healthy sense of submission was front and center when building that foundation.
Whether through sermons or wedding vows or Christian books, we have been conditioned to see different primary roles for husbands and wives. Many churches teach that a wife’s role is one-way submission to her husband. Sometimes we are vague about what submission means, but feel strongly that there is hierarchy in marriage and that it is of utmost importance. The apostle Paul’s letters are often the basis of these teachings. Yet, is Paul advocating hierarchy in marriage, or is he encouraging mutuality?
Most evangelicals are accustomed to the Mary of icons with an emotionless face, the Mary of statues draped in a powder blue robe, and the Mary of piety who quietly and submissively obeys orders. And, if you are like me, you have been nurtured in a faith that, intentionally or not, ignores Mary.
Despite the positive reviews I had heard of The Nativity Story, I went to the movie prepared to be a critic. After all, I thought, it was my duty to see through the cinematic gimmicks and factual errors to produce a film review. Though I came to the film a bit cynically, I left feeling uplifted and moved.
Upon first acquaintance with Ephesians 5:21–33, I was pretty turned off. The husband is the head of his wife? How could this be taken as anything other than an insult to women? My reaction: I already have a head, thank you very much. It may not be perfect, but it’s at least comparable to that of any male I know.
Greater awareness of Mary Magdalene’s exceptional role in the events surrounding Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection and her leadership in the early church should not only help us do justice to her memory but also inspire us in our struggle for gender equality.
I recently wrote a book about marriage. It is a mix of personal narrative, cultural commentary, and biblical reflection. As it turns out, you cannot write about marriage from a Christian perspective without addressing texts such as this one.