Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7 TNIV).
Some hierarchical teachers stress that submission is a choice and cannot be forced. When a husband is careful to never force or coerce his wife to submit, the assumption seems to be made that the wife’s submission is completely voluntary. Yet many hierarchical teachings also tell a wife that God wants her to willingly and joyfully submit to her husband’s final decision anytime they are unable to agree on something—unless he is asking her to sin. These teachers go on to explain that sometimes a husband might choose to defer to his wife’s decision and other times he might not. He has the freedom to choose.She does not. These teachers emphasize that God wants wives to give up this freedom of choice for the health of their marriage.
But how healthy is this?
Say that a couple has been discussing an important decision that will affect them both, and it has become clear that they don’t agree. Under these hierarchical teachings, the wife has been led to believe that it is her role, responsibility or obligation to submit to her husband on the matter. And remember, she has been instructed that her submission must be willing and joyful. So if the wife were to say, “Honey, I don’t agree with you, but I’m choosing to submit to what you believe is best for us because I don’t want to disobey God,” would her submission really meet the criteria of being both willing and joyful?
Speaking those words out loud could make it sound like she isn’t completely behind him and backing his decision. Instead, they could convey that since she is acting under a sense of compulsion, her submission is being given reluctantly rather than willingly. She might be thinking, I’m really only doing this because I have to so that I don’t sin against God. Whether she wants to defer to him or not, she really doesn’t have a choice—not if she has been led to believe that to “choose” otherwise would be a sin. Without the freedom to admit that she still does not agree, she has to veil what she is really thinking in order for consensus and harmony to be reached. And, even if she doesn’t like the final decision, these teachers expect her to act like she is joyful about it.
So how does this help their marriage when communication lines have been impaired and healthy conflict resolution has been averted? How can her submission remain completely voluntary when choosing not to submit becomes equated with sin and with missing out on God’s best plan for their marriage?
Acting under compulsion is not the same thing as submitting willingly. When “no” is not a permissible option—without sinning—then a “yes” cannot be authentically and freely given. Thus, this lack of freedom can lead to wives giving resentfully. Could this be one of the reasons why God loves a cheerful giver? I believe that the hierarchical model sets up wives for failure. Basically, they are told that they must givewillingly and joyfully or they are sinning.
If a wife is denied the free choice to submit to her husband, then her compliance isn’t submission—it’s obedience. The Bible exhorts wives to submit to their husbands—not to obey them. Submission isn’t just for wives; it’s also for husbands (Eph. 5:21). One could just as easily argue from Scripture that it is the husband who should defer to his wife when they are at an impasse. After all, husbands are instructed to lay down their lives for their wives (Eph. 5:25).
In conclusion, I think that giving each spouse an equal say in decision making allows both spouses to submit freely from the heart and allows for more truthful communication and self-disclosure that leads to healthier and more intimate marriages.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Which marriage model (mutuality or hierarchy) do you think best strengthens intimacy, communication and conflict resolution? Why?
I’d like to thank Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend for their book Boundaries, which helped me to see that giving (submitting) under compulsion can lead to resentment in marriage and that gender hierarchy teachings manipulate wives into offering this type of submission to their husbands.