A recent blog post on the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s website titled, “Soap Bubbles Submission,” caught my attention for a number of reasons.
I want to respond to the author’s understanding of submission as expressed in the article. The author, Martha Peace, recounts her struggle to submit to her husband in the small, daily tasks of marriage (specifically in rinsing soap completely out of glasses—the bubbles referred to in the title).
But before I look at the question of submission in marriage, I want to address Peace’s opening paragraphs on the sovereignty of God. Peace describes her struggles as a new, adult Christian with issues like the problem of evil and Ephesians’ command for wives to submit. Her solution to these theological issues is to affirm the sovereignty of God, whose commands and actions are always best for us even if we fail to understand how that could be.
The issue of the sovereignty of God and how it relates to the problem of evil is a can of worms I won’t be opening today. But as a Christian feminist, I believe that I can both assent to the theology of a sovereign God and challenge the patriarchy so deeply engrained in so many world cultures, including Paul’s first-century Greco-Roman context and even my own twenty-first century America.
The idea that we must give up our own sense of justice in order to accept God’s sovereignty strikes me as dangerous, particularly when what is purportedly God’s “justice” is used to oppress whole groups of people like women and girls.
I fully acknowledge that my idea of justice does not always match God’s. I know that God’s justice is superior, but I also firmly believe that being created in the imago dei means I have some inkling, however dim, of God’s justice. And that inkling tells me that oppression in the name of divine sovereignty cannot mirror God’s justice.
God’s justice is ordered on a premise antithetical to worldly systems: the first shall be last, the king will serve, women and children are invited to learn at the feet of Christ himself. God’s ways truly are not our ways. And as a social system, patriarchy is far more deeply “our way” than the radically other-oriented posture of Jesus.
Believing in God’s sovereignty, then, does not require me to support patriarchy. This means that, as a Christian and a feminist, I, like Peace, am uncomfortable with the Ephesians command for wives to submit to their husbands. But I, like Peace, am committed to following God’s ways—not patriarchy, but the posture of seeking the good of others rather than of myself.
Even were we to strike Ephesians 5:22 from our Bibles, Ephesians 5:21 still exists: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (NIV). Or Philippians 2:3-4, “in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (NIV). And there’s no way to make “one another” exclude one’s spouse.
Which brings us back to the often banal realm of figuring out what submission between spouses looks like. In the spirit of Peace’s soap bubbles, I’ll offer up my own anecdote of household tasks and discuss how mutual submission, while certainly not easy, provides support and encouragement in the sometimes painful process of learning to put others ahead of ourselves.
I’ve been married for nearly twelve years now, and both my husband and I are stereotypical first-born, type A overachievers. We both have opinions on the “right” way to do household tasks, and on occasion those opinions clash. Recently, I discovered that I have been folding my husband’s unmentionables the “wrong” way.
I’ll admit to an eye-roll when my husband asked me to change how I was folding them. Why should I take the extra time to fold them his way? Laundry is mostly his responsibility, so he should be glad that I’m helping at all! Like Peace rinsing the glasses, my immediate response was certainly not a cheerful “Yes, dear!”
But I trust that my husband has reasons for his requests, and indeed, he presented a persuasive case for his preferred folding style. (The lack of a persuasive case on either side means that we’ve had to agree to disagree on how to fold towels. Did I mention that we’re both type A?) So I now fold his underwear his way, even though it takes an extra few seconds. I’ve submitted, if you will, to his desires on this issue.
As difficult as submission can be, even in something as inconsequential as folding underwear, I do believe that Christ expects it from us. But the key difference between my own story and the one Peace tells is that I do expect that submission will go both ways.
I submitted to my husband’s request, yes, but he also submitted to my desire to know why I should adopt his folding methods. I am also fully confident that, if I make a similar request, my husband will honor it.
Mutual submission requires mutual respect and mutual trust.
Learning to value another above oneself is hard, and my marriage has been one of the key places in my life where I have learned exactly how selfish I can be. Submission is a difficult practice, but practicing it alongside a person I love lightens the burden.
Both of us are still selfish. But as we both seek to serve and submit to each other, I am confident that we are growing into the peace and justice of God’s kingdom.