I have been saddened by some conversations I have had in recent times with young Christian women who are confused by the biblical teaching on submission.
It seems to me that the more society around us moves away from traditional biblical values on the family, marriage and sexuality, the more passionate the Church becomes in defending those values. This isn’t wrong in itself. I believe the Church has good reason to be concerned about some of the damaging lifestyle choices that are being embraced and celebrated in “progressive” circles.
But the problem is that, in its fervour to defend biblical values, the Church runs the risk of becoming rigid and graceless on issues that really require tremendous sensitivity and compassion.
One of these areas is the position of women in marriage.
In response to an aggressive, subversive brand of feminism, many churches are teaching on the biblical roles of men and women within marriage. The command for wives to submit to their husbands is often quoted.
But what we don’t hear enough teaching on is whether this command still stands if the woman is married to a man who does not love her as Christ loves the Church. Whether she is still called to submit if her husband devalues and abuses her. Whether she is biblically mandated to submit herself to a violent marriage.
My answer to these questions is a loud and resounding, “No!” I do not believe that any woman, or man for that matter, should have to live in fear, or suffer abuse.
I also believe that the Church as a whole needs to be stronger in tackling these gritty, uncomfortable issues.
When you read the Bible in context, and don’t just take isolated verses about wives submitting to their husbands, it is clear that God is consistently a defender of the weak. He came to release the captives and bind up the broken-hearted.
What’s more, when you look at the biblical teaching on marriage and divorce in its entirety, it’s abundantly clear that God put safeguards in place to protect women against abuse. The requirement that men should give their wives a written divorce certificate (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) was a radical break from the customary practice in Ancient Mesopotamia. In the surrounding nations, it was common for men to simply abandon their wives and take another woman, without formally releasing the first. This way, the original wife remained bound to a man who was no longer supporting her, and she was unable to remarry. By commanding men to issue their wives a formal divorce certificate, God was ensuring that the woman would have her dowry returned, and that she would be free to marry again.
When Jesus got angry with the Pharisees when they asked Him about divorce (Matthew 19:1-12), it wasn’t the issue of divorce itself that enraged Him. It was the attitude of the Pharisees. In their petty arguments, they were twisting the meaning of this statute that God put in place to protect women, and they were using it to justify casting their wives aside for no good reason at all.
Women should never be made to feel that it is their duty to remain in an abusive marriage. Nor should they be condemned for seeking a divorce under the circumstances. Although divorce is never ideal, it was and still is a provision that God put in place because He knows that this is a fallen world, and He came to set the captives free.