Sunday, 9 December 2007

Why are some of Jesus’ emissaries telling our young women to ‘submit’?

I’m not a religious fascist but I went to a wedding recently that might turn me into one.

It was a service that disturbed me on many levels but the emphasis – and I mean emphasis – on the wife’s expected ‘submission’ to her husband, even excused and justified as it was, repeatedly, by reference to The Good Book, deeply sickened me.

Do these people, who purport to live ‘in Christ’ (and who, may I mention here in passing, worship The Cross – written like that in their song sheets, with initial capitals – in the kind of way that could bring to mind graven images, false idols and the like), have any idea of the reality of women? Especially in South Africa, do they know that rape is practically pandemic? That women, according, coincidentally enough, to a report in today’s Sunday Times, still earn ‘peanuts’ compared with men? That the abuse of women – spiritual, emotional, financial, physical – is terrifyingly widespread, often inhumanly vicious, sporadically acknowledged, and drastically underreported and under-addressed?

Why, then, was a 20-year-old bride allowed by those who love her and care for her to be married, in ‘the presence of these witnesses here gathered’, to a man of equally tender years who swore to ‘love and lead’ her as long as she swore to ‘love and submit’ to him?

Why were the readings – one from Ecclesiastes, if memory serves; the other a darkly Gothic lesson from Revelations – so intent on pushing home the message that marriage survives only if the wife ‘submits’? (The Ecclesiastes reading was particularly vociferous – it mentioned, too, as did the Revelations reading, how a bride should be ‘clean’; I heard no similar reference to the state of purity, physical or otherwise, of the groom – and it was read by a clearly very sincere young woman. The mind can only boggle.)

Why was the sermon, delivered from typed notes by an intense young man, so hell-bent on pushing womanly submission as the only route for a workable marriage? (Bless his steel-rimmed spectacles, he also tried to deconstruct the Revelations reading for us, his congregation: all I got out of it, and I listened carefully, was the Christ would come again riding a white horse, in robes dripping with blood – and, quite frankly, I just can’t imagine Jesus, a carpenter who befriended prostitutes and fishermen, who turned water into wine at a wedding, who had a Last Supper rather than, say, a Last Judgement, when he knew he was going to die, doing something so ridiculously theatrical.)

Why were the prayers, offered up by a succession of intense young men, so centred on the bride’s submission, so intent on pushing this message home to its – let’s face it – captive audience?

‘Submit’ was a word – an exhortation, really – that came up often enough in the 45-minute ceremony for my father, an old-fashioned 73-year-old guy, to lean over and whisper in my ear, ‘There seems a lot of submitting going on here, don’t you think?’

I had to conclude, on serious subsequent thought, that a powerful emotion drove the ceremony, that something pretty overwhelming caused the necessity for this succession of otherwise intelligent young people to tell an equally intelligent young woman that if she didn’t ‘submit’ to her husband, her marriage was doomed to failure.

And it wasn’t faith.

It was fear.

It wasn’t even fear of disappointing Jesus Christ or burning for eternity in the fires of hell (although, that said, no opportunity was missed to remind we ‘unbelievers’ in the gathering – nasty, dirty sinners that we are – that it was never too late to repent, to turn our lives over to ‘The King’).

It was fear of Woman.

I don’t want to get up on my soapbox (which, of course, I’ve already emptied in the employ of washing my children’s and husband’s raiments), but I have to wonder, given the social climate of the world today, if Jesus would really have objected to a ceremony in which the husband and wife were exhorted to rejoice in a marriage of equals? If both partners agreed to love and honour each other, in health and in illness, riches and poverty, etc, with no-one leading and no-one submitting?

If the husband were gently reminded that if his wife found a higher-paying job than he, and it served his family well, that his dignity could remain unimpaired, and that he shouldn’t feel compelled to beat her for infractions, minor, imagined or otherwise?

If the wife were similarly advised that, in spite of being the childbearer in the family, if she wanted to go off and study exotic plants in the Amazon for a year, and the family could manage the strain, she should feel happy to do so – secure in the knowledge that she was going to ultimately contribute in amazing ways to this Christ-blessed union?

If the husband were told that changing nappies and grocery shopping and doing school runs didn’t detract from his manhood?

If the wife were granted her right to tussle as enticingly in the boardroom as she did in the bedroom?

If the husband were reminded that if he made some stupid-arse decision about the family’s savings, and the wife objected, this is no reason to go out and get drunk with the boys and then go ahead with the stupid-arse decision anyway?

If the wife were exhorted to use her god-given intelligence, spiritual strength, pain-withstanding abilities and emotional superiority to occasionally overrule the husband when it was obviously necessary (and in the nicest possible way)?

But no.

And please don’t come with how the message disseminated at this service could be ‘interpreted’: it was abundantly clear what the message was, and it was repeated many times and in many ways. Simply, it was that marriage – this kind of marriage; the marriage I witnessed with a fair amount of horror – has a chance only if the husband ‘leads’ and the wife ‘submits’. There really wasn’t much room for interpretation.

I hardly know the bride (I’ve met her once, in passing). But I can tell you this: if it had been my daughter being married, I would have been on my feet and screaming. No way would I allow my child – of whatever gender – to enter into a life pact of such alarming unevenness.

Seriously, I’m not being gender-verskrik. If it were my son who was getting married, and he were being asked to promise to ‘love and submit’ while his affiance’s vow was to ‘love and lead’, I would have a problem with that too. As if life isn’t hard enough!

I’ve never had an easy relationship with Christianity, the religion I was born into. I went to Sunday School from age dot to 17, when I was thrown out of the confirmation class for being a ‘disruptive influence’ (what a pity nobody bothered to listen – although I told several adults with ears – to how the minister in charge of the regular Friday-night confirmation youth gathering repeatedly tried to put his big hairy mitts into my panties).

But Jesus and me, we’re okay. I get him and I’m pretty sure, in spite of my pagan ways, he gets me. (Hey, I had a four-year relationship with an ordained minister; I’m no bigot.) And, driving away from that wedding, I was pretty sure he wouldn’t have been okay with what went down there.

Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ For me, that’s one of the most powerful things anybody’s ever said. And I see nothing about submission in it.

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tonypark said...

You nailed it (no religious puns intended). Woman haters.

I catholic-ish, but I think the prods got it right letting more women become ministers.

meggie said...

Really great post!!
I was raised in the Christian faith too, but left it long ago, never wishing to return.
In fact I just don't care for any religion. As far as I can tell, they are all about control.

That poor bride. She should have just run!!

Lynne said...

Not sure if you'll even see this comment... 2 years after the post!

I did want to say that, as a Christian, I totally agree with you, and this is one of the reasons why it is important to not judge Christianity (or any other group) by the people who purport to follow it.
As Ghandi famously said "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians"...
In fact most of the strong Christian marriages I know are run on exactly the lines that you describe... including mine (and my husband is a pastor, albeit of a teeny Moorreesburg community)