This past Sunday I went to a meeting of a church men’s group. The group was in session #20 (!) of a series it was doing called (something like) “Finding Your Authentic Manhood.” Just before offering my idea about exactly where each man in the room could find his authentic manhood, it occurred to me to shut-up.
Staying quiet was easy to do, too, because what the thirty or so men in the room were doing when I showed up was watching television. That made perfect sense. It was a men’s group—and if there’s one thing men like to do, it’s watch TV. What these middle-aged men were watching on their big-screen TV was another middle-aged man talking about what does and doesn’t make for a happy marriage.
I got there just in time to watch the guy on TV start talking about how in a good Christian marriage a wife should be submissive to her husband. The moment he said that he started saying what I knew he would, which is that what he meant by the word “submissive” isn’t what people generally mean when they use that same word.
I have never, ever heard a pastor or ministry leader assert that a Christian wife should be submissive to her husband without them immediately launching into an explanation of how they’re not using that word to mean what everybody else thinks it means. And then they always say a bunch of stuff I can never follow, because in my mind it keeps folding in on and contradicting itself. But I’m sure that’s just me.
Anyway, I would like to suggest that when it comes to describing how a Christian woman should act toward her husband, we Christians start employing a different word than “submit” and/or “submission.” Think of how much time pastors could save explaining themselves by using the right word in the first place! I know Paul used “submit,” but … maybe he meant something different, too. Or maybe “submit” is a terrible translation of whatever word Paul originally used to describe how Christian women should act toward their husbands. I don’t know. All I know is that today every pastor who uses that word when he’s talking about women in marriage then has to spend 15 minutes talking about how that’s not actually the right word.
I think we should come up with the right word. I’m a writer. I like using the right word. If I want anyone to take my work seriously, I have to use exactly the right word, every time. And pastors say way more important stuff than I do. I think at this point it’s safe to say that “submit” isn’t working for them or us. There are about one million words in the English language. Surely there’s one in there somewhere that comes closer to what we’re actually trying to communicate about the proper attitude of a wife toward her husband than “submit” does.
It’s weird, though. I can’t, at just this moment, think of that word might be.