Abdicators, Usurpers, And A Throne Already Occupied

Upholders of patriarchy and the rigid gender roles required to sustain it are fond of describing marriage as a dance between initiator and receiver, servant leader and helpmeet, household head and hearth-warming heart, and the one who bows and the one who only then curtsies.  That’s when, at least to them, marriage is going well and “Biblical submission” is rigorously practiced at every turn.

Problems occur, the patriarchialists insist, when these roles are abandoned, flexible, or reversed — when women lead and men follow, or when leadership is assumed by competence in an area and not by genitalia, or when no one is positioned hierarchically over the other.  This is marriage-gone-bad, marriage as practiced by feminized men and feminist women, marriage that stomps on the precious Biblical doctrine of submission, and only disaster, the patriarchs say, can come from a union between a man who abdicates the throne of his rightful headship and a bitter woman determined to usurp it.  This is not only NOT “Biblical submission” — it’s a recipe, they cry, for the wholesale undermining of all things good, pure, and true in society as well as a slap to the face of a Holy God.

I shudder to think what marriage counseling offered by a marital hierarchy-promoting patriarch would be like, given the endless list of ways a competent woman and a sensitive man could offend patriarchial sensibilities, as well as the very limited ways “lovely” wives and “headship” husbands can operate without the sirens of Scriptural infidelity begin to wail.  Indeed, it almost makes me wonder how my loving husband and I have not just survived, but thrived, during our 27-plus years of marriage, what with me being me, with all the horror that evidently conjures up, and him being him, which is a wonderful thing to be — even if it offends complementarian hierarchy and order.

But we had this odd idea, as we prepared for marriage, that we were equals, best friends, soon to be lovers, and partners in everything, with no need for either of us to “function according to the roles prescribed for our gender.”  As 20-somethings just three years or so into our Christian walks, we innocently assumed that the throne at the center of our marriage would be occupied by the only One worthy to do so — the Lord Jesus Christ, the object of our worship, the author of our salvation, and, we believed, the One who brought us together, with different personalities, gifts, experiences, and needs.  It was and remains Christ Jesus who is the Head of our family, the Sanctifier of spouses, the Provider of all of our needs, and the highest point of our marital triangle. 

Of course, if unilateral submission in marriage were, in fact, what Scripture teaches, we would be having problems we’re not having, and if we weren’t, we’d nonetheless be unaware of the degree to which we’re out of step with the Scriptures’ teaching on marriage.  That, indeed, would be awful and certainly worthy of pastoral rebuke.

Unfortunately for patriarchial pastors and masculinist marriage counselors, the New Testament teaches mutual submission (Eph. 5:20), not unilateral submission — unless you want to argue that the verses that follow allow me to not love my husband at all, as long as I submit to him, and that he doesn’t have to submit to me, but still has to love the wife not commanded to reciprocate that love.  Not even the most rabid gender-roles proponent would preach that, because it’s illogical and, most important, violates the clear and direct commandment that leads into the entire Ephesians 5 discourse on marriage — “Submit ye, therefore, one to another . . . ” 

That would seem to mean that husbands and wives are to submit freely, from a position of security and volition, to each other.  And I didn’t even have to ask my husband . . .

It would also imply that, as mutually submissive, mutually loving, partners in marriage, neither the husband nor the wife can use the Word to pull rank over the other.  First Corinthians 7, the Bible text on marriage complementarians never seem to want to preach from at weddings, is full of parallels that describe Christian marriage, with lots of “as the husband, so the wife,” and “as the wife, so the husband” language that seamlessly flows with the entirety of the New Testament message of new life in Christ, the One who reverses the curse of the Fall and ushers in the Kingdom of reconciliation, righteousness, renewal, and redemption.  Those are words of harmony and mutuality, not words of hierarchy and masculinism.

The throne of Headship in our marriage is occupied — but it’s not occupied by Jeff out of male privilege unwarranted by Scripture, and it’s not clawed at and bitterly grasped at by me.  The presence of Christ on the throne that governs our marriage involves no abdication on Jeff’s part, no striving on my part.  It’s the gift and the promise of the Lord Jesus to those who are married in Him, and it’s a gift that is horribly sullied by those men who seek His abdication that they might usurp what is never and can never be theirs.

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