Vision Forum’s Scott Brown Doesn’t Get Feminists

I recently came upon a post called “The Most Pro-Woman Text in Scripture,” by pastor and homeschool leader Scott Brown, who is on Vision Forum’s board (for more on Vision Forum, see Rethinking Vision Forum).

Last weekend, I was glad to participate in another wedding and to have the joy of giving a message. It was the wedding of Jordan Muela and Sarah Mendenhall in Indiana. As I was meditating on Ephesians 5:22-33 before the wedding, it struck me again that this passage is the most pro-female document ever drafted.

This text is so powerfully one sided that it is hard to understand why it has been so roundly criticized and rejected by feminist thinkers. On the contrary, I have always thought that the biblical teaching that describes the role of a husband towards his wife is the most pro-female writing ever published.

So let’s look at the Ephesians 5 text, shall we?

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body.31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

I guess the pro-female bit is the part where husbands are to love their wives rather than the part where wives are to submit to their husbands in everything? See, there’s nothing here that’s one-sided—each party is given a command, one to submit, and one to love. And if Brown doesn’t know why feminist thinkers would have a problem with a text that commands women to submit, he hasn’t read many feminist thinkers.

Scripture is unparalleled in tenderness towards women, for it calls a man to first of all give up his life, and then to follow the example of Christ and even die for his bride. God must so very highly value his daughters, because he calls their husbands to such a high standard – the sacrificial love of Christ. If you searched the libraries of the world, I doubt that you would find any that would contain writings which call men to such heights of passion and devotion and self sacrifice.

In articles like this, an emphasis on the sacrificial love of Christ is used to cover up the fact that women are commanded to submit to their husbands in everything. That’s not okay. Ever. No one should have to submit to anyone in everything. So husbands are supposed to love their wives? That sounds a bit like being a beloved slave. The love thing is nice, the whole slavery thing is not. I don’t want to be anyone’s beloved possession. I want to be their beloved equal. I don’t care how tender and sweet and lovey someone is to me if they expect me to submit and keep quiet and follow without question.

Also, is it even possible to require person to love someone? If a man’s wife turns out to be a horrible terrible toxic person, isn’t it possible that his love for her might disappear—and for good reason? I don’t see love as unconditional, to be honest. You can’t be forced to or required to love someone.

The teaching here highlights the importance of order and authority in all relationships, and particularly the way that love works through God’s human authority structure in the family. But there is nothing more prominent in this text than the high bar God that husbands are to clear in their love for their wives.

I don’t know, I think the whole women have to submit to their husbands in everything part is pretty prominent too. But as for the rest of this paragraph, it just sounds like words to me. “Highlights the importance of order and authority in all relationships”? How? “Particularly the way that love works through God’s human authority structure in the family”? That may sound all pretty, but what does that actually mean? Does Brown honestly think it’s not possible to love an equal partner? Does he honestly think that authority and love go one way? Does he really think that order and authority is necessary for family formation? I’m guessing Brown’s answer to at least some of that is probably “yes.” But what I’m struck by is how very out of touch he is with how people like me view things like love and family. As well as, of course, his apparent complete lack of understanding of the very foundation of feminism.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • AndersH

    “the way that love works through God’s human authority structure”
    This, and indeed the entirety of what Brown is saying is that hierarchies are always good, and there is no greater joy than to find your proper place in it. For a woman, of course, the proper place is as an (very beloved, obviously) adoring serving “body” for a man.
    Heck of a job, Brownie.

  • http://Thechurchproject.me/ Tracey

    In some translations it is made (slightly) clearer that “husband love your wife” = die for her if necessary as Christ died for us. You picked a translation without the word ‘died’ using the phrase ‘gave himself up’ in its place. I suppose that’s why Scott Brown thinks the verse is great for females; the man is required to die but the woman is only required to submit. That seems a better deal for the woman- I mean she’ll never be required to die right?

    • S

      And if he dies, she won’t have to submit to him! Oh, wait, then she’s a widow and that was quite a financial mess in those days.

      • Baby_Raptor

        Unless her late husband had a brother, or she had adult male children.

        Then she was just shuffled off to them to start the process over.

    • RowanVT

      Except, of course, for that whole stretch of history where maternal death occurred apprx. every 100 births. And where if the woman didn’t fully submit she would be stoned to death.

    • Lucreza Borgia

      …and how often are wives in a situation where the husband needs to die so she can live?

      • smrnda

        Good point. It seems a lot of people talk all about how men will ‘sacrifice’ for their wives, but, in the end, those sort of dramatic sacrifices just don’t happen. The ‘sacrifices’ (if they even deserve that word) that do happen are just as likely to come from the woman as the man and involve things like deciding to get pizza instead of Mexican food or who decides what color to paint the bedroom.

  • http://Thechurchproject.me/ Tracey

    That link you have to Brown’s post didn’t work for me, but googling finds it easily enough. It’s telling that several comments over there express how problematic the verse is, and heartbreaking that someone describes an experience with abuse in connection to the verse. The word ‘submit’ is so loaded and yet so skimmed over.

  • Amtep

    “After all, no one ever hated their own body”

    Isn’t that enough to dismiss the whole passage as nonsense written by someone who knows very little about people?

    • Hat Stealer

      I missed that bit, but it does reveal the author as staggeringly ignorant.

      • http://lanahobbs.wordpress.com/ lana hobbs

        That line is actually from the Ephesians passage, but it’s another reason I think even Christians shouldn’t consider the bible innerant – because that is definitely not true that no one ever hated his own body :/

      • Amtep

        Yeah… I know, but it being from the Bible makes it worse not better. Because it doesn’t change my opinion of the passage but still it’s in the Bible. It’s like… suppose you meet an important man, one you respect, at a social function. And you notice his fly is open. What do you do?

        There’s really no dignified, respectful way to tell a man his fly is open. (And I’ve had occasion to try!). Yet NOT telling him is, in a way, even less respectful. There’s really no good way out.

        Author of Ephesians, your fly is open.

    • tsara

      I noticed that bit, too.

      I have a brand new official diagnosis for an eating disorder, plus a whole bunch of dysphoric and self-hating tendencies.

      On the bright side, child-birthing hips? Not a problem anymore.

    • Alice

      Especially since this was written at a time when the “Flesh is evil, spirit is good” philosophy was so popular.

      • Scott_In_OH

        And by the guy who seemed to say it most often!

    • persephone

      You know that if you bring up people with body dismorphic disorder, sexual abuse survivors, addicts, and so on, Brown would say that they’re suffering because they haven’t accepted Jesus.

    • The_L1985

      It’s like he never heard of eating disorders. Despite anorexia and bulimia being in the news over and over since at least the mid-90s.

      • Nancy Shrew

        Even earlier than that (Karen Carpenter and a couple Olympic gymnasts).

    • http://cuterus.blogspot.com/ Palaverer

      Back when I was Christian and married, my husband used to say that he couldn’t understand that scripture because he didn’t love his body. I explained repeatedly that to love your body doesn’t necessarily mean you feel great about how it looks, but that you enjoy feeling good; you want good food, comfortable chairs, sex, etc (this does not apply to everyone, but it did to him). He would say, “nope, I don’t get it, I don’t love my body.” That was his loophole to treat me like shit.

      • Firemind

        Your ex was/is an asshole. Back when I was a Christ-stain, I had similar arguments with that sort of statement, but I used that more fuel to treat OTHERS better, and live my life as a sacrifice.

    • aim2misbehave

      Hell, you don’t even have to bring up body image issues to think of men that I’ve met who treat their own bodies in ways that I wouldn’t want to be treated – I mean, I’m not some fitness and health guru, but I at least make an effort not to clog my arteries and to shower frequently….

  • Norm Donnan

    why do you think submission equals slavery.When you drive on the road you submit to the road laws,when you go to work you submit to your employer,this isnt slavery,its how society functions.If you were talking about Islam in the middle east fair enough,lm with you but in Christian marriage its rarely abusive and when it is it is just as likely the woman is the abuser as the man.I personally have never seen a couple where the wife even a servant never mind a slave.

    • NeaDods

      This is going to take a lot of typing, but here goes. Taking your points in reverse.

      1) Your personal experiences do not encompass the entirety of human existence. I haven’t seen a sequoia tree; that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

      2) Cite your sources that women are just as abusive as men. All the statistics I have seen say otherwise.

      3) Cite your sources that Christian marriage is “rarely abusive.” Factor in the higher divorce rates in areas of America that self-identify as “very religious” vs the lower divorce rates in areas that self-identify as more secular. If Christian marriage is so good, why is it harder for them to stay married?

      4) We are neither discussing Islam nor the Middle East. Please stay on topic. Saying “look over there!” is not a rebuttal, it is a derailing tactic.

      5) Submission, as described here and in other fundamentalist texts like the Pearl writings discussed elsewhere in this blog, is slavery. “Submitting in all things.” The woman has no agency to make decisions, or even travel, speak, or wear things not approved by her husband, should he choose to make rules about them. All of these things deny agency in lieu of orders from another single human being.

      Whereas working and driving require acceptance that there is a greater whole – a MUCH different concept. I obey – not submit to, obey; there is a difference – the rules of the road because this keeps myself and the people around me safer. Because I am obeying, not submitting, at all times I retain the agency to make my own decisions to plot my own travel path, change lanes, speed up, slow down… even to choose to stop obeying the rules IF IN MY OPINION this is the right choice to make to avoid a wreck.

      For instance… slamming on your brakes in the middle of a superhighway is a bad, illegal thing, right? That’s breaking the law, isn’t it? You should never, ever do it under any circumstances, right?

      When a two-wheel trailer came unhitched on the PA turnpike and started careening across 4 lanes of traffic, you’d better believe that every person on that road stood on their brakes and to hell with “submission” to the road laws! Our good sense told us to throw the law under the wheels of the trailer and act as necessary to keep ourselves safe. There were no laws to tell us how to restart again when the trailer came to rest. That was up to us to work out, silently and cooperatively, with everyone else across all 4 lanes, including the lanes that were now blocked. And yet, for all of this lawlessness, for all this lack of submission to the road rules, nobody got hit. Not when stopping, not when restarting, not when changing lanes. Agency and cooperation are wonderful things, especially when submission would fail. (How does one submit to the law when there is no law covering the situation?)

      Work is the same. First of all, to whose authority are you supposed to be submitting? Your boss? What about his/her boss? And the boss above that? Do you really think that in a job you have to “submit” to an unfair boss when there are work safety laws and a Human Resources department to discuss it with? And that’s just behavior; unless the job has a uniform, the dress code is usually “these are your parameters” not “This is what you must wear.” So again – plenty of individual agency. (Not to mention the fact that if you don’t like a job, it’s not impossible to go get another one with more congenial rules.)

      Much, MUCH different than “submitting in everything” as the quote above demands!

    • Sally

      I got into a discussion recently on a Christian board about the submission passage. My conclusion was that some women acknowledge that in our modern American society, they don’t really submit *in everything.* Instead, they cooperate. Sometimes they give in, sometimes the husband gives in. Sometimes the both compromise. But there were quite a few women who insisted what I just described was submission none-the-less. The simply couldn’t see that how they relate to their husbands in this modern culture looked very different than what actual submission to one’s husband *in everything* would look like. I think the reason they couldn’t see it was because they’ve been forced to redefine submission in order to honor that text and still live modern lives.

      On the other hand, there’s a lot of discussion on this blog about a Christian sub-culture called patriarchal which you may not be familiar with. It is extremely male-dominated as if they families were living in another place and time. Libbey Anne has been taking us through a book written by a “member” of this sub-culture (which is widely read among those who live this way) called Created to Be His Help Meet (yes, “meet”) by Debi Pearl. So some of us here who have been following along with Libby Anne’s critiques are more likely to view the passage discussed today through the lens of the Pearls.

      But even without that lens, a straight reading of the text is not a feminist manifesto. If one doesn’t see that, I think one is viewing it very much through a modern American lens where the whole thing has been so deluted by explanation that it practically just now says, “Submit to one another and love one another,” because that’s really what modern American Christianity demands.

      I once dated a guy in college who was a conservative Christian. When I asked him about this submission passage (I wanted to know his view), he pointed out that right above it it does say, “submit one to another.” Well, OK, that’s all well and good, except that it doesn’t refer to husbands and wives in that verse. It refers to church members, specifically men. (But his answer told me his view on the whole issue, which to me, was no one-sided submitting.)

      So sure, modern American Christian men and women relate to each other as equals (of course I’m generalizing; yes there are exceptions even outside the patriarchal movement). But they’re not getting that from this scripture passage. It’s been “rewritten” in their minds, and greatly improved, I might add.

      • Norm Donnan

        Thanks Sally for your explanation of the book Libby’s going through. Ive been in church all my life in denominations ranging from liberal to conservative and have never seen scripture taught or practiced in the way described here.I think your view that it has been “rewritten” is correct and is definitely the basis for a much more fulfilling relationship.

    • Lunch Meat

      Who says that women submitting to men has to be “how society functions”? I obey road laws because it’s part of the social contract and we’ve all agreed on them. I can petition to change them if I really don’t like them. I obey my employer because it makes sense that the person paying me to do what they want should get to tell me what to do. If I don’t like it I can find another job or even start my own company and employ others. Why is it so important to the function of a marriage to have one person telling the other what to do, and why is it so important that it can only be the man “in charge”?

      • NeaDods

        ” I can petition to change them if I really don’t like them.”

        Good point. The ability to change the law is hardly the same as submitting to someone else’s rules!

      • Gillianren

        Heck, my boyfriend is more passionate about getting “right turn on red” changed in Washington (he was hit by a car once) than he is in getting me to submit completely. For one thing, it’s at least theoretically possible that he’ll get right turn on red changed. The other? Not so much. Not that he’d know what to do if I did.

    • Composer 99

      .When you drive on the road you submit to the road laws,when you go to work you submit to your employer,this isnt slavery,its how society functions.

      This strikes me as a very authoritarian way of viewing both social/legal rules and employment contract. I’m sure that’s not the way you meant it to come across, is it?

    • RowanVT

      I don’t submit to my employer. In fact, I have the explicit right to refuse to do an assigned task if I think it has a significant chance of causing me physical harm.

      As to the road, I’m not ‘submitting’ to those laws, either. Those laws are there as a guideline to keep us safe. Did you know that if everyone was going 75 on a 65 freeway and one person was going 55, *that* person would likely be the one pulled over and ticketed because they are obstructing the flow of traffic? The cop at my drivers ed. class was awesome.

    • Dawn

      Let me point out to you one GLARING major distinction–and FLAW–in your analogy of road laws: EVERYONE who gets on the road is EQUALLY subject to the laws of the road! When someone violates those laws, whether male or female, they are subject to getting a traffic ticket or being in a wreck. Men don’t get a “bye” on the highway, but they’re certainly given one in the Bible!

      OH!! In case you didn’t “get it”–and I’m certain you didn’t–women in the Bible ARE property, and that IS being a slave.

    • Baby_Raptor

      First off, please put spaces between your periods and your next sentence. It makes your text hard to read if you don’t.

      Second off, you have yourself several nice layers of BS here. Initially, we have the Othering of Islam, which I’m willing to lay money you know next to nothing about. Also, the ease with which you condemn these people just for not sharing your religion speaks myriads about you.

      Next, we have “My religion isn’t like that.” I hate to break it to you, buddy, but yes. It is. Take off your blinders and actually look around; just hop over to Google. There are thousands of people out there with stories of how “Christian” marriages, and Christianity in general, were abusive. Hell, plenty of people here can tell you their stories. I’ll lead the sharing time.

      Then we have the usual “Women are just as likely to be assholes as men,” which is not at all statistically backed up. You provided no facts for either of your claims.

      Continuing on, do you really think that, just because you’ve never seen something that meets your personal definition of “slave,” that it never happens? If you can honestly claim this, you really need to get over yourself. The world does not revolve around you, nor is your world view typical of how this planet really is.

      And lastly, we have your bickering over the word “submit.” I do not submit to my employer. I do work for the lady because in return for that work I get a paycheck and crappy benefits. It’s an agreement wherein both parties do X thing and are compensated. That is not the definition of submit, nor is it the meaning of this text, nor is it how the doctrine is typically taught.

      You appear to be mixing up submitting with someone and choosing to obey them. Nea already covered this, so I won’t waste the space; her explanation is excellent.

      And, no. Before you even start typing, don’t pull out “No True Scotsman.” Please keep in mind that you are not the sole arbiter of what is and is not Christianity, so you cannot just sit back and say “Those people who do X bad thing aren’t Christians” as Christers are wont to do when confronted with people doing bad shit. Nobody buys it, and denying them instead of owning them and attempting to correct them just puts you on their level.

    • Trollface McGee

      Oh no not the menz! Not the menz! Why is it that no woman can ever talk about any issue without first making sure to mention that the menz have this problem 100,000 times worse? Rape? Abuse? Women do it too, in fact more than men do statistics be damned. Menstrual cramps? Again why are you excluding the menz! (oh and bonus points for Teh Evil Mooslims)

      Yes, we “submit” to things. But in exchange for submitting to road rules, I get the right to drive on them. In exchange for submitting to my employer’s request that I do stuff, I get money. What do I get for submitting to a man? A promise to love me? A promise that if we’re in an unlikely situation where only one of us will survive that he’ll volunteer? Yeah.. I’ll take my driving rights and money and pass on that last one.

      • NeaDods

        Don’t forget that “competence doesn’t matter” to some church dude, so if it’s a situation where the two of you might survive if you take action, you still have to let him die. Because his junk’ll fall off if you don’t or something.

    • smrnda

      I’m actually against all submission. When I ‘submit’ to the rules of the road, I’m doing exactly what everybody else does. Rules of the road are attained through social consensus, not from authority.

      Submitting to an employer sucks. Ask any low wage worker how great submission is working out for them, and then as a union worker about their employment. Refusing to submit definitely has its perks :-)

    • stacey

      1) Submission isn’t slavery? Um, having to SUBMIT to someone, in everything, sounds a lot like, uh, slavery…. I guess the difference is that it is not backed by law in this case. But functionally it is the same.

      As for couples YOU know- do you know what goes on inside their homes? Unless you are part of their subculture, you will probably not hear much about the whole submission doctrine, they will more likely just appear as “traditionalists”. As for abuse, it is likely that you are seeing just the tip of the iceberg. Abusive MEN hide very well in Christian communities, and often the worst cases come as a total shock to their friends and families, while abusive women are much more noticeable.

      2) The way women are treated in fundamentalist Islam, compared to how they are treated in fundamentalist Christianity, is more similar that most people realize. There are many more similarities than their are differences in their theologies, its merely a matter of being degrees apart on the same continuum.

      The only thing that keeps Western women from being treated like women in many (but NOT all) Islamic nations is secular democracy. If America became a right wing, patriarchal Christian theocracy, women would lose their rights and be treated in much the same way. Only our *secular laws* keep this from happening, and have allowed women the ability to fight, and gain, their rights. This is just not possible in a place where Islam is the penal code as well, and is why women struggle so hard there.

      Please know there ARE Christians that think that America needs to be ruled as a theocracy, and their beliefs about women are nearly identical to Islams. Both demand: submission, purity, virginity, NO bodily autonomy as far as reproductive or sexual rights goes (i.e.: man chooses when to have sex, whether they use birth control, how many kids etc.), head coverings, modesty, no speaking in church/mosque, no leadership roles in religion, and on and on.

      I also want to add that I think you are assuming quite a bit about Islamic relationships, based on the outsiders view of Islam and Islamic cultural values. (There are abusers everywhere, but I am not referring to them here.) You should know that many Muslim men love their wives, moms, daughters, and they think that they are doing what is right by them, just like Christian men do! They truly believe that women are totally different and weaker, and need to be “protected’ by purdah and modest dress, and that Allah has placed men in charge for good reason, etc.

      I am in no way defending Islamic patriarchy, I just want to point out that all Muslim men aren’t purposely trying to enslave their women, even though that can be the end result, for all intents and purposes. Both religions define male and female relationships in a way that a literal reading of their book guarantees the women ends up a servant.

  • Trollface McGee

    The chance that one will have to die for their spouse or loved one is rather minimal so really, it’s not that great a sacrifice. It’s kind of like the lottery, the one that’s getting the steady income will always come out ahead.
    Besides at the time of Ephesians, the distinction between wife and slave weren’t very pronounced. I think now, even in the most fundiest of marriages, love is considered to be an essential part of the marriage so why would you even have to tell someone to love their spouse? It’s like ordering your mailman to deliver your mail.

    • Ibis3

      The difference between wife and slave* was mostly about the legitimacy of their offspring, not so much their own status or condition.

      *in certain cultures; it’s important to note that the status of women was not uniform across ancient cultures: Roman women had more rights than Greek women and Egyptian women had more rights than did Romans.

  • Baby_Raptor

    It’s the most pro-female document ever because it orders men to love their wives.

    You know, something a decent man will do on their own.

    Nevermind the rest of the religion; how it makes women slaves, denies them any sort of autonomy or independence, blames them for every single thing wrong with humanity and the world, et cetera.

    It orders men to love the women they married, so it’s totes pro-woman.

    I don’t have the amount of sarcasm necessary for this left in me. I’m up past my bedtime already.

  • http://ripeningreason.com/ Rachel Marcy (Bix)

    I’m pretty sure “love their wives as their own bodies” refers to coverture, by which the legal and social identity of women was subsumed under that of their husbands. I’d rather be considered my own person, rather than merely an extension of someone else. And I’d rather be loved as my own person, rather than as an extension of someone else.

  • Jayn

    I couldn’t help but notice the part about “presenting her to himself”. I get the impression of a man taking care of his wife for his own benefit, making this “pro-woman” text still centered on the male. The previous paragraph, in contrast, is simply a command to submit without even bothering with a reason why doing so is a good thing to do, for either partner. I’m not entirely sure which example bugs me more.

  • Marta L.

    It’s been a long time since I’ve read the full context. There’s the bit about a woman being the man’s body (which is downright rapey to modern ears) and also the idea that a woman no longer has dignity or honor of her own – her purity is an honor to her man. Yowza. I mean… yowza.

    The weird thing is, I think there are verses Christian feminists can work with. To give one example, male dominance over women is packaged up in original sin, so it should be the kind of thing that forgiven and healing Christians moved past (this is how I interpret the passage of there being “neither woman nor man” in Galatians 3). We could also point to the fact that it was women who witnessed Jesus’s resurrection in the Gospels or the way Jesus affirmed Mary’s right to be taught by him rather than being banished to the kitchens with Martha. I’m not saying Christian feminists don’t also have problems. But there are much better texts to work with here.

    What this passage does do, is present a good package deal for women who are satisfied with a certain approach to themselves as being “covered” by men. It requires that they be treated well, almost idolized. But that’s not feminism by a longshot.

  • sylvia_rachel

    Even soldiers are allowed to disobey an illegal order from a superior.

    Just saying.

  • Noelle

    It reminds me of when my dad was getting married to his 3rd wife. The pastor asked them to pick out a couple bible verses and he’d work them into his sermon/talk during the wedding service. My dad rarely attended church, and step-mom to be was only barely more observant. I’m pretty sure church was something she did to catch up with friends during coffee hour after the service. So they looked up verses in the concordance pertaining to marriage, and chuckled that they were all about the evils of divorce or some other outdated gender-role nonsense. I had just finished high school at the time, and was still an occasional bible-reading Christian. I recommended they check out the Corinthians 13 verses, which is nice poetry about love. Those Ephesians verses are not nearly as nice.

    • Karen

      We Used Corinthians 13:1-7 (IIRC) in our wedding service, too. Against both our better judgements, we married in the Catholic church, because my mother threw such a fit against the notion of doing otherwise. But the priest understood, the readings were about loving and understanding one another, and the dreaded “obey” word never came into play. We agreed to honor one another.

      Except for a couple of weddings and my own mother’s funeral, that’s the last Catholic service we ever attended.

      Our marriage isn’t quite equal, but that’s mostly because Husband is much stronger-willed than me. He wants to do X, or Y, or Z, and I seldom object unless it really strikes me as a bad idea. And since he’s an engineer, I’d better be able to argue my position coherently and back it up with data if necessary. Although, since I’m a scientist, he has an obligation to refute my idea with just as much clarity and data.

      • ArachneS

        My husband and I didn’t use the Corinthians vs in our Catholic wedding, we used a verse from James. I read through the Corinthians verse and didn’t like what it lead into so I didn’t want it. Funny thing is, the priest streamlines his wedding homilies(mid-mass preaching) so he brought it up in his homily anyway. Guess most couples in the church just default to it.

      • alwr

        “Obey” did not come into play because it is not in the wedding vows used in the Catholic Church in the U.S. Not because your priest was special, but because those are the vows written by the USCCB’s Secretariat on Liturgy.

  • Joykins

    I like the way all these quotations of that passage leave out Eph. 5:20

    “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

    Which is the introduction to the sections on how each group of people have an opportunity to submit (wives, husbands, fathers, children, masters, slaves). Not that there aren’t other problematic issues with the passage, but to suggest that this passage means unequivocably that wives must always submit and husbands must always lead is, I think, a peculiar interpretation of a passage with a lead-in that says everyone must submit to each other.

    • KarenJo12

      Good point. The passage also has to be compared to similar literature of the time, which makes this look like it was written by Gloria Steinem. Classical Greek and Roman philosophy was not pro-woman AT ALL. Interpreting this passage without comparing it to Aristotle or Seneca or Cato the Elder is at best incomplete, and interpreting it to me that 21st C women need to forego education and employment is, well, stupid.

      • Christine

        But… you’re bringing in context! Everyone knows that the Bible was magically written for a 21st century audience, and we can just read it as a set of rules, no matter how it was written. Bringing in context is like interpreting the Bible, and you shouldn’t interpret the Bible. Just read it the way that your pastor tells you to read it.

  • Kay

    The scripture was “pro-woman,” but only for the context/time period in which it was written.

    Back then, women were second-class citizens and didn’t get much respect. Think about it. They endured dry, possibly loveless sex and marriages because their greatest assets were their vaginas with which they could please their husbands and give their husbands children, preferably sons. In essence, women were just useful, obedient holes, and men treated them as such.

    But when the word “love” is introduced, it’s completely counter-cultural to everything folks knew back then. “love” toward someone who was supposed to be a servant? That was considered absolutely absurd. “love” which meant a man being called to lay down his life for said servant? Even more absurd.

    This is why Jesus stunned the Pharisees when they tried to trap him with the whole divorce argument. He knew that men back then were hypocritical douches who’d divorce their wives for stupid reasons just to find younger, tighter holes to use, so he got their nuts in a vice about it not only with the “he who so much as looks at another woman with lust in his heart commits adultery,” but with the aforementioned scripture.

    Great back in these times, but because of all of the advances that women have made toward equal treatment in society, that scripture isn’t nearly as relevant as it used to be. Nowadays, we know that men shouldn’t have to be TOLD to love/respect/cherish their wives, and those who DO need to be told don’t deserve to get married in the first place. I think this guy had the right idea about the passage, but mistakenly assumed that it was just as ground-breaking today as it was when the words were first spoken/written.

    • Donalbain

      Where on earth do you get the idea that men did not love their husbands in the past? There are poems that speak of the love between husbands and wives, there are graves that speak of the love felt by the partner left behind. There is nothing new in that.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      I’m with Donalbain–love existed before Christianity. Really, it did. There are many subversive, countercultural elements in the New Testament but that passage is not one of them, no matter how hard people squint at it. I wish Christians could just deal with that instead of acting like love is something that the rest of the benighted, backward world needed to hear about from Christians in order to try to make every last word of the New Testament jibe with modern values. If you really think that no men loved their wives before Christianity put the idea in their heads, I have a bridge to sell you.

      And the “lust=adultery” idea is terrible and damaging. I really find very little that is redeeming about New Testament teachings about sexuality and gender. What is so wrong with occasionally saying “You know what? This part is just messed up!”

      • gimpi1

        I’m not sure, but I think what Kay is referring to is the coupling (no pun intended) of love and marriage. That is a fairly recent thing. Marriages in the past were largely arranged by the parents (courtship, anyone?) and mostly about property and inheritance. In a way, the poor and common had an advantage here. They might actually be allowed some input about a spouse, as opposed to the whole thing being arranged for financial gain or political advantage.

        Men, in general, were allowed to have mistresses, and many did. Those relationships were sometimes about love. Women, however, had no such option. That was adultery and punishable by death. In general, men’s extra-curricular relationships weren’t regarded as adultery.

        In the middle ages, the troubadour movement started up, singing (again, no pun intended) the praises of romantic love, both inside and outside of marriage. As romantic love began to be seen as a part of marriage, more and more people began to lobby for the right to marry who they chose. It was quite a revolutionary thought at the time. There were claims that expecting to choose and love your spouse was immoral and would destroy parental authority, weaken respect for the church, and cause untold damage to society. Sound familiar?

        As an aside, anyone who says marriage has been unchanged through history, before today and the marriage equity movement is only showing their lack of historical knowledge.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Yes, I know this history. What I don’t understand is what it has to do with what I said. My objection was to the implication that love in marriage was some radical Christian idea introduced by the New Testament, which is a common and very obnoxious way that “liberal” Christians try to make the nasty Ephesians passage more palatable. Providing a capsule history of the norms regarding marriage, gender and relationships that were present in Christian society does not address this. If anything, it just upholds the point that I was trying to make, which is that Christianity really just offered more of the same patriarchy that was the rule for other contemporary societies. It’s not special.

      • gimpi1

        I wasn’t so much addressing you as the discussion in general. I’m sure you’re up on the whole troubadour thing, but I’m surprised at how many aren’t. Sorry if I offended you.

  • Marta L.

    I’ve been thinking about this while I was out tonight, mainly about the point Kay raised about the societal expectations of the time being thoroughly sucky. Also a statement from the Episcopal Church’s recent Catechism of Creation: God inspired the ancient writers to describe the world in concepts and
    language they and their audiences could understand, not in our concepts
    and language. The ancient world-picture: a “three-storied” creation of
    the heavens above, the earth beneath, and the waters under the earth
    (Ex. 20:4), though meaningful in its own time, was replaced by
    succeeding models and most recently by our modern portrait of a vast
    universe with billions of galaxies.

    My point is, I find it odd when people assume that the Bible must be read literally. If we can look at scientific claims and say this was the Bible’s attempt to explain things in the worldview of the people it was revealed to, then I’d like to think we can say the same for things like gender roles and moral teachings: look at the fundamental truth the Bible is trying to teach, filter out what’s just a reflection of an antiquated cultural model and look at what the basic principle would mean in our own current situation. This is why I love the Methodist (my own denomination) approach: we believe the Bible is the start of a tradition that should be viewed in its entirety and extrapolated into the current time.

    So a Methodist would want to know what the cultural context of this verse was. I think you can read Paul as saying women have more value than the predominant culture of the day recognized – a value I’d obviously like to expand beyond the specific points Paul recognized. Perhaps also a Methodist would point to the distinction between the Christ/church relationship – even with Jesus and the apostles, Jesus taught and led but also let the apostles make their own bumbling way after him, and he didn’t seem all that ready to force people to come to his point of view, he just laid it out there and let them make up their own mind. There’s a lot more respect for free will there than I think you see in the typical husband/wife relationship of the time, so maybe “love your wife like Christ loved the church” is pointing to the idea that a husband should support the wife but let her make her own way at her own pace, even if she decides to turn aside and go a different direction.

    I’m not trying to defend the verse, particularly as folks like Scott Brown are reading it. And I don’t think it’s the most feminist verse out there even if we find a way to read it well. I also get that most people reading this board aren’t religious so may not be interested in reading this text in a better way – you may just want to reject it out of hand, which is certainly your right. But my point is that Scott Brown is doing a bad interpretation when he interprets things like this literally. And not every kind of Christian takes that interpretation.

    • Joykins

      I think it’s possible (even easy) to read that passage as an urge to mutual submission where the person in traditional “authority” is directed to treat the person in a “lower” position *as they would treat Jesus*; in other words, it’s actually pretty subversive on a personal level. It’s not a paean to authoritarianism (as it is also not an affirmation of civil rights) but an appeal to humility especially from those whom society has empowered.

      • Marta L.

        I quite like this reasoning. The difficulty is that the passage says husbands love wives like Christ loves the church (so husbands = Christ, wife = the church), but I think your basic point still holds. Christ seems to have quite a degree of love and respect for his disciple’s autonomy, at least how I read the gospels.

    • alwr

      Too many people leave fundamentalism and conclude that you have to read the bible literally or not at all. So in this post, we have a literalist responding to a literalist.

      • Marta L.

        I don’t think Libby Anne is reading this passage as a literalist. She passed through liberal versions of Christianity on her way to atheism, if I’m remembering her biography correctly, and I’ve always thought she understands that there’s more to Christianity than fundamentalism. Certainly my own Christianity with its progressive streaks has always been respected and welcomed here. She gets the idea that some religious people interact with the faith in a way very different from Scott Brown.

        What I do see her doing here is reacting to a literal, fundamentalist reading of the Bible and showing why the message he gleans from it is a bad reading. Not bad in the sense of being unfaithful to the text or the religion, but morally bad – basically, Scott Brown’s reading of Ephesians 5 isn’t the view of women any morally good person should be on board with. I don’t see her taking a position on whether Scott Brown’s interpretation is an accurate one, or the only accurate one; that just doesn’t seem to be the question she’s interested in here.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        Tell me, if you find my reading so “immature” and thing I’m still a fundamentalist seeing things in black and white, why exactly do you feel the need to haunt my blog? I’ve really had enough with you doing this. I did my time as a liberal/progressive Christian. I didn’t leave because I concluded that “you have to read the bible literally or not at all.” Indeed, I spent several years viewing the Bible through a liberal/progressive lens. I left because my faith just sort of vanished. I have a lot of respect for liberal/progressive Christians, and I have a lot of liberal/progressive Christian friends who would affirm this. For that matter, I have a large liberal/progressive Christian readership that clearly doesn’t share your views of me. What is your game here, exactly? Are you trying to bring me back to the fold or something? To suggest I’ve missed some sort of huge truth? That my reasons for not believing in God are somehow invalid or not good enough? Seriously, knock it off.

  • Christy

    I went to a wedding a couple of years ago where they read that passage. Even years after leaving the conservative evangelical world, it makes me physically flinch.

  • Physeter

    I’m sure this has been said before, but here it is again, the biggest problem with this passage.

    Compare it to 1 Corinthians 9:26 and 27, which says “26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
    I make my body my slave. Because, you see, your body sometimes tells you it wants things that you know aren’t good for it. It wants another piece of cake, though you know it will be bad for you in the long run. It wants to sit on the couch instead of doing that workout, because it’s only dealing with short-term feelings.
    That’s the problem with loving a woman like your own body. It essentially means you can do anything at all to her as long as you think it is for her own good. If she protests that it’s NOT for her good, you can be confident that she’s wrong because she wasn’t made the “head” by God like you were.


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