Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I Have a Dream

It was a beautiful day. Though both the calendar date and the green trees surrounding the outdoor chapel reminded everyone it was summer, the weather made it feel more like fall on the mountain. My husband and I were blessed with the amazing privilege of doing something not many couples get to do. We were officiating a wedding together. The setting was perfect. The ceremony was unique. The couple was beautiful as they began the new adventure of life together.

Being asked to be a part of this celebration was an affirmation of calling and purpose for me. It was also an opportunity for my husband and I to reflect as we prepared for this ceremony. We reflected on our own beliefs and understanding about marriage. We also reflected on how those beliefs have changed as we have journeyed over these last 11 years together.

We both grew up in traditional conservative churches and so, the predominate teaching that we heard was about "spiritual leadership" and "spiritual submission." It was "God's design" for marriage for the wife to submit to her husband and the husband to take the lead. I even remember one particular statement from the pulpit during a Mother's Day message, "Ladies," the pastor said, "I know this is hard because many of you are much smarter than your husbands, but God still calls him to take the lead and you to submit, even when you know his plan is doomed to fail."

Moving away from home to the campus of a conservative Christian college where I met my my husband, this teaching of "biblical submission" became even more problematic for me. I began to hear things like, "Learning to be a submissive wife is the only way to be truly happy in marriage." The understanding across campus among single and married women alike was that if God's plan for a woman includes marriage then she must give up any ambition of her own in order to follow her husband's wishes. He came first. His career, his needs, his classes were always more important and if I, as a wife, was not happy and fulfilled in this life of submission, then there must be something wrong with me. After all, women are Created to be His Helpmeet according to the book that was sweeping the campus.

The loud and clear message was that, because I was not satisfied and fulfilled in this role, I was not yet truly "broken" in my relationship with God. I needed to repent, both before God and my husband. Of course, this message was completely supported by scripture and I believed it. I even tried to live up to it. And I was miserable.

I would realize what a horrible wife I was. I would beg God for forgiveness. I would return to the scripture and seek out how I might try harder to do better. I would realize that it was "the sin of my pride" that caused me not to be content, so I would seek humility, and I would fall further into depression. A vicious cycle that I was stuck in for years.

I was surrounded by a "biblical worldview" that said there is no other way to live right according to God's Word. As long as I was surrounded with this "complementarian" interpretation, I was doomed to believe that something was wrong with me. The harder I tried to fit in to the mold, the worse things got. I fell into deeper depression and my relationship with my husband became more strained.

Finally something changed. Right when I needed it, right when I was at my breaking point, God planted my husband and I in a place called Buies Creek at at school called CUDS. We would meet people there who had great passion and respect for God and for the Bible, but who understood it, believed it, and lived it differently. We studied scripture not only in the original languages, but in the context of the original hearers who lived under Roman rule. We learned that some considered Christianity a "woman's religion" because more women than men had chosen to follow Christ. We also learned of the many women who are listed as leaders in the church alongside men, including "Junia" who is listed as "chief among the apostles" by Paul. Later scribes changed the name to the masculine "Junius" presumably because they believed Paul would never name a woman as an apostle. (This is not something commonly taught in Sunday school in a conservative evangelical church! It was eye-opening to me!)

Studying the beloved household codes in the original language changed everything. Ephesians 5:22 is a particular favorite, often quoted verse by complementarians to support this idea of submission. "Wives, submit to your husband as to the Lord." For many this is a clear, cut and dry command, straight from the Apostle Paul himself. It was a verse that often haunted me in my days of trying to fit into a mold that made me miserable. Then, I studied Greek.

I realized quickly that the chapters, verses, and headings in the English translations of the Bible that I had been reading my entire life, are not original to the apostle's letters. Parchment and paper was scarce and not to be wasted in the days of Paul. Letters and words were written with no spaces, no paragraph breaks (something else I was never taught in Sunday School) and sometimes translators even add in words to the text that are not there "to clarify" meaning. Every translation is on some level an interpretation.
Even the placement of a comma or a period change the meaning of a text.

How does this apply to Ephesians 5? One of the words that has been added "for clarity" to verse 22 is the word "submit." It is supplied from verse 21, "Submit one to another out of fear of Christ." Not only was the word added, but a verse, a paragraph break and a heading were also added between verses 21 and 22. In the original, however, the sentence starts in verse 18, the paragraph even before that. The entire passage is filled with Paul's radical instructions on how to live as "wise men" who are "filled with the Spirit."
His radical instructions include mutual submission, an idea foreign to the patriarchal household codes of the day. This mutual submission includes not only submission of wife to husband, but also of husband to wife, instructing him to love her sacrificially and treat her as his own body (this sounds an awful lot like respect to me!) It includes submission of slave to master and radically of master to slave. It includes submission of child to parent and respect of father toward child. Ultimately, it is a reminder that all are to be in submission to Christ, and that we are all to follow His example.

And what about that pesky word "helpmeet" from Genesis 2? Does that not indicate Eve was a subordinate to complement Adam? Is she someone who is meant to serve him meals and do his laundry so he can focus on "more important" tasks? This is what I had been taught to believe for a long time, until I studied Hebrew. That is when I learned that the same word from Genesis 2 is found other times in the Old Testament, and in many of these references it refers to God as "helper" to man.

This brings me back to the wedding. Two things from this passage always stand out when preparing the ring ceremony of a wedding, and my husband and I always point them out to the bride and groom. The first is that God used a rib, from Adam's side, to demonstrate that woman was to be man's equal. The second is that the term that is most often applied to God, is used of Eve here. I do not believe it was a word chosen by accident. I believe it was meant to remind man that, just as he was created in God's image, woman was as well. It was to remind them both that, just as the trinity exists as equals in perfect communion and mutual submission to one another, so they, as husband and wife, are to reflect in marriage that type of communion through mutual love, respect, and submission, as equal partners.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the famous, "I Have a Dream," speech. While there are still pockets of this country where Dr. King's dream is not yet realized, I believe that we have come a long way in the last 50 years toward the reality of that dream. Today, I have a dream of my own.
I have a dream of a church where women are not treated as inferior simply because of their gender. I have a dream of marriages where mutual respect and mutual submission eliminates domestic violence. I have a dream in which marriage becomes about two whole people allowing God to make them one, instead of two people being broken by being forced into someone else's mold. I have a dream where wives can use their strengths to complement their husband's weaknesses without husbands being branded as weak and wives being told they are stepping out of their place. I have a dream where marriages are healthy, children are healthy, and relationships within the Kingdom are healthy because we all, "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." I have a dream where it is not shameful for a Christian couple to seek help with their marriage, but where it is celebrated, expected, and accepted within the church. I have a dream...

1 comment:

  1. This was wonderful. Thank you. May God grant your dream come true.