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Submission: It’s not about control, it’s about LEADERSHIP

August 31, 2013

This week blogger Rachel Held Evans and others are leading discussions on their blogs about biblical submission and the Christian household codes found in the Apostle Paul’s letters.  I do not wish to make a hermeneutical argument (an argument about how exactly scripture should be interpreted) because there are many who have done this better than I can.   However, I believe I have witnessed firsthand both abuses of the complementarian position and the shortfalls of the egalitarian position.  I also believe that in two years of our marriage, by God’s grace, my husband and I have set a healthy pattern for our complementary roles.  As a result of these things I have some perspective that I think is worth sharing.

The idea of a wife submitting to her husband is not about the man having power or control over his wife.  Nor is it about the wife having to do every wish of her husband willy nilly.  It is about leadership.  A good leader respects and empowers those he leads.  As a musician, the best analogy for this that I have experienced is that of a conductor leading his or her musical ensemble.  I have been honored to sing and play flute under some excellent conductors.  They all had different personalities and different strengths, yet the all had one thing in common:  they expected much of their musicians.  They believed in the potential of their musicians.  My high school choir director could (and still does) take any group of moderately talented voices and turn it into an award winning group.  She has brought her group of homeschoolers to Carnegie Hall, NYC and Notre Dame, Paris.  She is an amazing leader because she respects her highschool singers enough that she can help them sound like an elite college ensemble.  The group tours and serves together and uses their many gifts including public speaking, drama, caring about people, and caring about each other.  As a result, singers in that group graduate as better leaders to serve the world.  They have been empowered.  The conductor is the head leader, she directs the choir and makes the final decisions.  But in no way can she control the voices of her ensemble. Rather, she leads them to make a beautiful sound. In the same way, a husband empowers his wife to thrive in her gifts and skills when he is a good leader.


In the ridiculous comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Maria has a conversation about patriarchy with her daughter, Toula-

Toula: Ma, Dad is so stubborn. What he says goes. “Ah, the man is the head of the household!”

Maria: Let me tell you something, Toula. The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants. 

The line is humorous in context, but reveals a serious issue with many patriarchal/complementarian families- the man may be head, but he is not being a leader.  He is being domineering and the wife is manipulating.  In both complementarian and egalitarian marriages, I have witnessed husbands and wives try to control and manipulate their spouses.  This is a most unfortunate error.

My husband does not control me.  And I do not control him.   In fact, if I feel like he is slipping back into an old mindset and trying to control me, I call him out on it, and vice versa.  However, he does LEAD me and our (small) family.

About a month ago, my husband and I were having a conversation with somebody about Liam’s toys.   I said something about how we hesitate to have electronic toys that stimulate and entertain, and in the toy box we want them to be the exception, not the rule.  I know, we are very idealistic  🙂  Anyway, a week or two later Liam was very cranky and I set him down and pushed some of the buttons on two of his electronic toys to entertain him.  It satisfied him for a little while but soon he was just crankier than ever.  Matt came in the room and observed the situation and asked why, if the electronic toys were to be the exception, his two biggest electronic toys were the only toys on the play mat with him right now.

*Sheepish look when you get caught being a hypocrite*

At that point Matt said that at least one of the electronic toys needed to go into storage, picked one of them up, and brought it to the basement.  And this is where I submitted, even though I liked the toy that he put into storage.  He wasn’t controlling me- I am free to respectfully question his decision.  I doubt that if I asked him now “could we could bring that toy back up for use in moderation?” he would prohibit it. He desires my opinions and input to influence our family.  I am also a leader, yet I defer to him.  In that day, in that situation, he saw what was needed for his family, and made the decision that he saw was best for us.  He led us.

Christ leads his church and lay his life down for her on the cross.  His church accepts his love and follows his leadership.  Ephesians 5:32 CLEARLY draws such an analogy: “[Marriage] is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.”

Christian husband and wives, the teachings about marriage found in the New Testament are not shackles.  They are principles of design for a beautiful marriage that are meant to give life and joy to both partners and the entire family.  These principles have been twisted and abused, but I ask you, please give them another chance.

What do you think?  How have good and bad marriages influenced your opinions?  How has good or bad leadership affected your life?  How could this view of marriage and leadership change the way you see your family relationships?

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