Should wives really SUBMIT to their husbands?

The following letter was passed on to me in good faith by a woman who was deeply concerned by the proposal of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney to re-introduce the word ‘submit’ into the marriage vows, such that the wife promises to ‘submit’ to her husband.
The Archbishop and others who support the amendment to the current marriage liturgy argue that they are simply reproducing the language of the old  liturgy. That may be correct, but it fails to take into account the ways that such words can be used to justify abuse!
Father Dave

I do not live in Australia, but I attended an church under the ministry of clergy from Sydney for 15 years. I was already married when we began to attend a church with a minister from Sydney. When I was married I had vowed to obey my husband. He was violent and punished every infraction of mine if I was not totally submissive. He hit me and said as he was hitting me that it was my fault since I had vowed to obey. I lived with this violence for 20 years. After a neighbour called the police, he stopped hitting me but often restrained me in my room, threatening to hit me, and yelling at me for hours.

In all the time that we attended this church, the minister preached that wives must submit. There was no mention ever of domestic violence, and no mention of help for abused wives. I never did go to the minister for help, but once I asked the minister’s wife for a book for a “friend” who was in an abusive relationship. She did not offer any resources at all. She said that she didn’t have any books on that topic and didn’t need them because there were no abused wives in our congregation.

In one sermon the minister said that God had put the husband in charge and the wife must submit. Then he said that for women with a good husband this was good, and for women with lousy husbands, they could have therapy after the sermon. As he said this he laughed, and of course, it was just a joke, no therapy was actually offered. I felt that he was laughing at women who lived with abuse.

My ex husband would cite the minister in support of his demand that I be obedient. I am very upset that the diocese now wants to use a vow to submit in the marriage vows. I would like my story of criminal assault by my husband made public. I was assaulted in my complementarian marriage and clergy from Sydney had no training whatsoever to deal with this.

I have written to my former minister, no reply, and I have written to the professional standards office of the diocese of Sydney. Someone there wrote that he would get in touch with me. However, I want to share my story before the synod ratifies the vow to submit, since I was taunted with this vow for 30 years, and for 20 of those years, I was hit every two weeks routinely, in sessions lasting several hours, berating me for noncompliance with the vow to obey. Of course, I have to pay for my own therapy, as well as therapy for my children. The diocese of Sydney has not helped me in any way.

Thank you for listening to my story.

About Father Dave

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four
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8 Responses to Should wives really SUBMIT to their husbands?

  1. Kazzakiwi says:

    The best teaching I ever heard was on this subject was at a wedding in an Anglican church in Sydney. The way the minister spoke reassured me as a fiercely independent 27 year old woman that I could indeed submit to my husband (if I ever found one) as he had the greater responsibility to submit to God. To me that seemed a bigger deal actually. I think that the problem is that if only part of that chapter is taught and not the whole then things get out of balance. Perhaps in the vows the groom should be expected to aslo pledge his commitment to submit to God and love his wife as Christ loves the church?

    • Father Dave says:

      Personally I think the idea that a man has a greater responsibility to submit to God than a woman is patriarchal garbage. Surely we are all equally responsible?

      As to the vows, you may be pleasantly surprised to know that the metaphor of Christ’s love for the church is a part of the equation. The exact wording is as follows:

      Man: “Will you love and serve her, honour and protect her, as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her …?”

      Woman: “Will you love and serve him, honour and submit to him, as the church submits to Christ …?”

      I appreciate that this is Biblical language but, personally, I think the comparison with Christ and the church is not appropriate for modern marriages. Christ OWNS the church. We don’t want to go back to that pattern of marriage, surely!

    • Winnie says:

      Kazzawiki,

      First, the minister did not reassure me that every thing would work out, but I had never seen violence or even abusive behaviour in a man before and had no idea. I was clearly naive.

      Since I do have children, now young adults, I can only say that the mother in reality, never has less responsibility, or feels less responsibility for her children than the father. In matters relating to one’s own future, one’s own financial planning, caring for one’s own parents, retirement, the education of one’s children, their medical issues, and in every other way, moral and social, a woman has just as much responsibility as a man. If somehow, women think that they are going to have a life of lesser responsibility by vowing to submit, they will surely be disappointed.

      And if the husband, or a wife, it can happen either way, is addicted to control, just as some are addicted to gambling or alcohol, then having someone vow to submit to them, is like requiring an alcoholic to drink every day. Since abuse, violence and control are addictive patterns, and very difficult to break, the vow to submit guarantees that some women will suffer violence. The submissive behaviour of the wife reinforces the desire of the husband to control and feeds his addiction. It becomes a vicious cycle. No amount of counselling and prayer turns this around. I don’t actually know of anyone who has altered this pattern without separation and divorce. So, it would be kinder to the husband in this case, if he had been protected from his own addiction, and had never recieved the vow to obey from his wife.

      I do think that Christians need to take care of the weaker members of the family, of those who actually have character flaws and imperfections, and not lead them into the temptations of an authority and submission relationship.

  2. MissTreated says:

    I was married fifteen years to a christian man who, after eight years began some furtive activity which he hid from me and lied about for six years after. It turned out that he was addicted to high stakes gambling but denied it vehemently and concocted lie after lie to conceal his losses. When I questioned him after two years of suspecting him of lying he gave me a black eye in a fit of defensive anger. He accused me of bringing on the violence upon myself because I assailed him with my questions. I dared not ask any more and lived in misery and emotional estrangement from a man who was present in body but his mind was overtaken with an obsession with big winnings. The church encouraged me to remain faithful and not give up praying and playing the doting and submissive wife. Six years later he left me on his own in huge debt, but by that time I had no more assets and was left poverty-stricken with two kids.

    All along my married life I had clung to Eph 5:22 because I wanted to keep my end of the bargain in spite of what the other person did. I prayed that God would change him and improve our situation. But alas, it didn’t end well and there was no happy ending. I was then accused of being foolish by every female friend I had because in hindsight I was a total doormat. I no longer believe that the imbalance implied in those verses are valid if as Peter Jensen explained on QandA recently, it only holds water if the husband were treating the wife as Christ does the church. But does Eph 5:22-33 imply that the wife’s submission is conditional upon the husband fulfilling his role as described here? In the light of this disclaimer, I would say that few husbands would live up to that kind of standard and therefore it would make sense if the marriage vows were to ask both equally to uphold their part to each other as partners in a covenant. Most men are sadly not good images of God and the way they lead their lives would beg for most wives not to submit to them.

    • Father Dave says:

      Thank you for this, sister.

      It is horrible when you see the Scriptures used to condone abuse but the practice is as old as the Bible itself. If you follow the life of our Lord through the Gospels you see one confrontation after another with religious people hurling Scriptures at Him in an attempt to contain Him and destroy Him.

      “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty!” (2 Corinthians 3:17)

    • Winnie says:

      Miss Treated,

      So sorry to hear the financial mess that you have inherited. It is so terrible to have Christians giving advice for how to behave in a marriage and then when things go wrong they back off in horror. Nobody seems to want to accept that the minister did say “wives are to submit.” And so are slaves, so lets just assign half the congregation to be the slaves of the other half.

      In addition, perhaps the diocese should demonstrate their commitment to submission, by breaking off from Australia, and asking the queen to become their absolute monarch, making all the laws, and the clergy could take a vow to obey her every whim. That would start to look like biblical submission.

      Anyway, I sympathize with you and wish that a little common sense could be used on this topic.

  3. Pingback: Should wives really SUBMIT to their husbands? « Kids Belief

  4. Jenn says:

    Thank you for sharing these painful and powerful experiences.

    I heard and applaud Peter Jensen’s explanation that the intent is to encourage men to take their responsibilities as husbands and fathers seriously.

    But doing that by requiring women to ‘submit to their husbands in everything’ just because they are biologically different -regardless of their ability or willingness to love, lead, share, give is cruel. In my experience, it also places an incredible pressure on young men!

    That kind of marriage relationship sets up a power structure that works against a loving partnership, especially when one party, as in the stories above, plays the obedience trump card. In Ephesians 5:21, Paul encourages us all to ‘submit to one another out of reverence for Christ’ before launching into husband-wife, parent-children and slave-master relationship. Funny how very little attention is paid to this verse, or to the section on slaves in Chapter 6!

    If we are going to use verses from the Bible, we should be honest as their textual as well as social and historical context. When was the last time anyone asked slaves or employees to ‘obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, just as you would Christ’?

    Paul tells husbands to love their wives as they love themselves. 1John 4:18 tells us ‘There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.’ Fear has no place in a loving marriage, and neither does submission.

    I am very sorry for what you have suffered. While I did not experience physical violence in my marriage, I did experience a lot of selfishness and unwillingness to support and especially share the load of caring for children. It took me too many difficult years to leave as I struggled with my responsibility as a Christian in an increasingly unworkable partnership.

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