On Women in Marriage/The Church
I was once engaged to a guy who insisted I say “obey” in the marriage ceremony. I said I would not. He said, “I thought you weren’t one of those feminists.”
He was Catholic. My parents, who would pay for the ceremony, would hold it in our Nazarene church; neither “obey” nor “submit” was in the Nazarene marriage vows.
I never heard in church that I should be an obedient wife. I refused to have the pastor put “obey” into the marriage vows.
We sometimes argued about this; my fiancé seemed to think that if I didn’t promise to obey him, then if he told me not to go out and have affairs, I would go ahead and have affairs (for example).
The “obey” disagreement was only a symptom of his control issues and emotional abuse. Eventually he broke up with me, probably tired of my sticking up for myself and refusing to be a doormat.
(Why did I stay with him? It was probably a combination of, trouble getting dates and hoping he would change. I suppose I loved him, too.)
His next girlfriend was even more of a “feminist” than I was, so I’m surprised they lasted so long, but they did have a tumultuous relationship and finally broke up.
After finding and marrying a much better man who did not care about wifely obedience, we went to a church which preached a different meaning of submission.
It wasn’t about obedience; it was about the wife submitting to the husband voluntarily and the husband submitting to the wife. The wife was to respect her husband; the husband was to love his wife.
“Respect” also included “respect for the husband’s role as spiritual head of the household.” That meant, he would make the decision if there was an impasse, and he was in charge of the spiritual health of the household.
This was much better than how such people as my ex-fiancé interpreted it, because it allowed the woman to have her own opinions and influence decisions. However, she still seemed to have a second-class status.
I even read an article by Lisa Whelchel in Today’s Christian Woman which said the husband should take over the finances, no matter how bad he was at it! (I guess my own mother was a “sinner,” then.) My own childhood church never taught that! And I wondered how to explain Peter praising Sarah for obeying Abraham and calling him “master.”
Actually, when you take scripture as a whole instead of in bits and pieces, both the husband and the wife are to be totally equal. Christ explains that rulers in the Church are not to lord it over their followers as earthly rulers would–which he himself demonstrated by example when he went to the Cross to pay the debt to death which freed us from sin and death (Matt. 20:25-28).
St. Paul says that the husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the Church. So if the husband is the head of the wife in the same way that Christ is the head of the Church, then he is to love her and give himself up for her, not act like “the king of the castle” who must be obeyed.
Here’s an Orthodox view: An Orthodox, Christian Perspective of Marriage by Rev. Fr. Charles Joanides
St. John Chrysostom wrote that “a good marriage is not a matter of one partner obeying the other, but of both partners obeying each other.” While “the husband giving orders, and the wife obeying them” is “appropriate in the army, it is ridiculous in the intimate relationship of marriage” (p. 72, On Living Simply). They are obedient to each others’ needs and feelings.
He also wrote that a harsh master, using angry words and threats, causes obedience but not attachment in a slave, who will run away the first chance he gets. “How much worse it is for a husband to use angry words and threats to his wife.”
Chrysostom went on to describe what, even in our modern age, still plays itself out every day: a husband shouting, demanding obedience to his every whim, even using violence. But this treatment turns wives into “sullen servants, acting as their husbands require out of cold fear. Is this the kind of union you want? Does it really satisfy you to have a wife who is petrified of you? Of course not.”
Such behavior may make the husband feel better for the moment, “but it brings no lasting joy or pleasure. Yet if you treat your wife as a free woman, respecting her ideas and intuitions, and responding with warmth to her feelings and emotions, then your marriage shall be a limitless source of blessing to you” (p. 74).
Catharine P. Roth’s introduction to St. John Chrysostom’s On Marriage and Family Life, published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press (Orthodox), says the Pauline epistles give the impression of much freedom and equality between the sexes. They were missionaries and church patrons; the husband’s body was owned by his wife, just as her body was owned by her husband.
But eventually, “the roles of women became restricted, probably to avoid provoking too much conflict with the surrounding patriarchal society.”
Pagan fathers, husbands or masters needed to know their daughters, wives or slaves would still submit to them if they became Christians; “otherwise life could become very difficult for the women.”
This is why some New Testament epistles tell the women to hold to their traditional roles. In time, this survival strategy became the norm even in Christian families, so rather than overthrow it, Christian teachers tried to “mitigate its exercise or at best transform it from within.” St. John Chrysostom, rather than trying to change the patriarchal tradition of marriage, taught couples to transform it with love (pp. 10-11).
This introduction–in a book published by an Orthodox press–suggests to me that we should look at marriage not so much in terms of who obeys whom, but in terms of how to love each other and meet each other’s needs. Outward customs can change from one culture or one century to another; what’s important is Christian love, respect and mutual submission.
Also read this article: Domestic Violence at Home: Cursory Observations by Kyriaki Karidoyanes Fitzgerald (now only available here).
Now, of course, if you’re still not convinced that the husband and wife should submit to each other, not just the wife to the husband, then here’s a tip to get your wife to submit to you:
Act like you don’t care if she submits to you or not. Then, if she doesn’t, there will be no hard feelings between you. If she does, it will be willingly, with no resentment on her part.
Also note that yes, indeed, there were women apostles: Junia, Priscilla, Mary Magdalene, Thekla, Nina.
Phoebe was a deaconess (woman who ministered to women in ways improper for a male deacon) who got a personal recommendation from Paul: Apostolic Succession by Dr. Daniel F. Stramara, Jr. So when Paul says he does not allow a woman to teach, he can’t possibly mean that no woman can ever preach or teach men.
Even the Catholic Church, which at the present time is adamantly against women priests, recognizes “Fathers and Mothers of the Church,” or primary teachers of the Apostolic Tradition in the Early Church. Another class of teacher is called “The Doctors of the Church”; three were women. Teachers of the Church by Dr. Daniel F. Stramara, Jr.
St. Gregory of Nyssa held a lengthy dialogue with his learned sister in On the Soul and the Resurrection. He called her “The Teacher.”
Also see this article on Mary Magdalene, the Apostle to the Apostles.
As for the Orthodox restriction against women priests: As explained to me by an Orthodox believer around 2006, there were women preachers in the Early Church, but not ordained women who distributed sacraments etc. Modern Protestant churches have preachers taking on the roles of priests, not just preaching but distributing sacraments and taking charge over a church, so we tend to lump the words together when examining the Early Church.
As the explanation continued, the Orthodox do not have a problem with women teaching men (though a layman who preaches is rare). They allow women all sorts of leadership roles, even the role of epistle reader in the Liturgy. The highest role possible for humankind in the Church, the Mother of God’s human incarnation, was given to a woman, Mary.
Who was the first apostle? As my priest explained it, it was not one of the Twelve Disciples–rather, it was Photini, the Samaritan woman at the well.
See Women’s Ordination by Frederica Mathewes-Green, an Orthodox writer who herself has preached in the Orthodox Church! She writes, “Non-sacramental ministry, such as preaching, is open to non-ordained people, as long as they are continuing in the faith and worship of the Orthodox Church, and in obedience to a spiritual father or confessor.” She also gives examples of Orthodox women evangelists, theologians, apologists, rulers, etc.
But Orthodoxy does have a problem with women distributing the sacraments, because the priest represents Christ giving Himself to the Church (the bride). The Eucharist is not just a memorial; it’s not just about Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross; it is also intimate communion with Christ, Christ and the Church (the bride) becoming one, a spiritual counterpart to marriage. And well, even though some of us do fight against this, Orthodox hierarchy frowns on a marriage that’s not heterosexual.
I made peace with this concept many years ago (circa 2006) despite wanting to see women ordained as preachers. But nowadays I’ve returned to many of my older feelings about things like female preachers and homosexuality, and wouldn’t mind seeing a change in who the Orthodox ordain, especially since there’s been a priest shortage for years. Still, I see the symbolism involved.
An Interview with Bishop Kallistos Ware re: the Role of Women in family/the Church
Written between probably 2005 and 2007
Index to my theology/church opinion pages:
–End Times and Christian Zionism
–God’s Purpose/Supremacy of God Doctrine
–Cat and Dog Theology
–Raising One’s Hands in Worship
–On the “still, small voice” and Charismatic sign gifts
–On church buildings
–The Message Bible
–The Purpose-Driven Life
–The Relevance Doctrine, i.e. Marketing Churches to Seekers
–The idea that God has someone in mind for you
–Literalism in Biblical interpretation
–Name it and Claim It Doctrine, Prosperity Doctrine, Faith-Formula Theology, Word-Faith Theology, Positive Confession Theology, Health and Wealth Gospel, and whatever else they call it
–More about Pat Robertson
–Dr. Richard Eby and others who claim to have been to Heaven
–Women in Marriage/the Church
–Why do bad things happen?
–Should we criticize our brethren’s artistic or evangelistic attempts? Or, how should we evangelize, then?
–Angels: Is “This Present Darkness” by Frank Peretti a divine revelation or fiction?
–Halloween: Not the Devil’s Holiday!
–Hell and the Nature of God
–Is Christmas/Easter a Pagan Holiday?
–Is everybody going to Hell except Christians?
–How could a loving God who prohibits murder, command the genocide of the Canaanite peoples?
–What about predestination?
–Musings on Sin, Salvation and Discipleship
–An Ancient View which is in the Bible, yet new to the west–Uncreated Energies of God
–Technical Virginity–i.e., how far should a Christian single go?
–Are Spiritual Marriages “real”? (also in “Life” section, where it’s more likely to be updated)
–Does the Pill cause abortions, or is that just another weird Internet or extremist right-wing rumor?
–What about Missional Churches, Simple Churches, Fluid Churches, Organic Churches, House Churches or Neighborhood Churches?
–Is Wine from the Devil–or a Gift from God?
–What is Worship?
–Evangelistic Trips to Already Christianized Countries
–Fraternities, Sororities, Masonic Lodge
–Was Cassie Bernall a Martyr?
–Some Awesome Things heard in the Lamentations Service (Good Friday evening) during Holy Week