“Submission” is a word that, when associated with relationships, provokes strong feelings. As a result of my own experiences, the word gives me a surge of nausea and the urge to defend myself. Then my anger comes to the surface because I feel that I am going to be judged or blamed for not doing something. This type of reaction comes from the word itself and what it implies. It usually implies subordination or obedience to someone. You are subordinate, and another person has power over you.
This meaning is evident in society’s view of male/female roles. The male is expected to be in charge. Also, our religious teachings help maintain this idea. It seems that, when submission is discussed, an inference is made that someone is doing something wrong. In most cases, it is the fault of the woman because our religious teachings state that she is called to submit to her husband.
The problem here is, most of the scriptures that are used to defend submission are taken out of context, or that emphasis is placed on a part and not on the whole. I recall listening to numerous sermons on relationships. At first, I was excited because I expected the speaker to describe submission, and that I would hear the word “abuse” and “what submission is not.” But that never happened. Instead, the sermons raised more questions than they answered.
I often used to ask myself, “What is submission?” Does it mean I must stand and do nothing while my husband screams and calls me things no woman should be called? And that he could physically attack me without fear of being called to account for his actions. Should I keep letting him squander our money and not intervene? Does he have complete power to make all the decisions concerning the household? Am I responsible only for taking care of the children and the house? With no answers to these questions, I could only feel guilt and self-blame, and the belief that I wasn’t submissive enough.
One of the scriptures that are taken out of context, to the detriment of abused women everywhere is Ephesians 5:22-24:
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 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. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (NIV)
After reading this scripture, my brain would focus on a few words in the passage and miss the overall meaning. I would fix my attention on the statement “wives should submit to their husbands in everything,” which was taken to literally mean I was to let him control all areas of my life.
The concentration on these few sentences in Ephesians 5 is often applied to women who are in abusive marriages. The first sentence in verse 22, “wives submit yourselves to your own husbands,” is usually the primary focus when they seek help for their relationships. It took me a while to redirect my attention and read the passages in their entirety to understand what Paul was saying.
Look closely at this scripture: it has a pretty clear directive of how we should submit. First, it states, “as you do to the Lord.” What does it mean to submit to the Lord? Is our Lord Jesus an abuser? We can all answer with a resounding NO! He was never unkind to anyone, even when he rebuked the Pharisees. He spoke the truth. He wasn’t mean-spirited or manipulative. He was filled with love and compassion, as seen during his interactions with all people, and especially with women.
When we as Christians submit to Christ, we are making him the Lord of our lives and an example to follow. We promise to do what he will do, which means, not concealing the sins of others.
This verse goes on to state that wives should submit as “the church submits to Christ.” How does the church submit to Christ? The church is supposed to reflect Christ and be the beacon of hope for others, and not keep silent when some of its members are suffering unjustly. The church’s role is to help its members follow Christ. As Christians, we shouldn’t let someone who is not following Christ set the example for us to follow.
Besides, submission goes both ways. It says in Ephesians 5:21, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Both husband and wife should submit to one another out of respect for Christ. We have to do what Christ would do, not what we would do. Our love for Christ has to be the motivator as we follow him.
We are also called to submit to the rulers of the land. “Submit yourself for the Lord’s sake to every human authority … or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and commend those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13-14, NIV). As Christian wives, we receive conflicting messages: we are told to bring charges against a stranger who assaults us, but we must take no action when our husband is the assailant. As a result, we are being asked to break the laws of the land by covering up our partners’ abuses.
When the word submission is not specific as “what is” and “what is not,” it makes it easy to accept abuse. As I look back, I wish I had heard what submission is not. Maybe it might have helped me to gain the insight that my submissive behaviors weren’t Jesus’s expectation of me. Now I know and believe that the purpose of submission was never intended to cover up someone else’s sins. Submission doesn’t mean we submit to verbal abuse, physical assault, or rape. It doesn’t say we should allow our partners to separate us from our family or friends. Nor does it deny us the right to speak our minds or exercise our right to partake in decisions that impact our lives.
When we speak out against our abuse and when we demand that our partners stop abusing us, then we are truly submitting to Christ. And we are obeying his instructions to submit to the laws of the land when we seek legal recourse against those who refuse to stop hurting us.
The Christian Abused Woman: What Submission is Not was last modified: February 10th, 2018 by Rose Saad