This is going to be a lengthy one. Pour yourself a long drink and settle down.

Another reactionary frenzy of criticism of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney is underway here in Australia, triggered by some minor changes to wedding liturgy. I’ll let the Sydney Morning Herald, that bastion of objective reporting when it comes to Sydney Anglicanism, kick us off

BRIDES will be promising to submit to their husbands under a new marriage vow the Anglican diocese of Sydney is expected to approve at its synod in October.

It requires the minister to ask of the bride: ”Will you honour and submit to him, as the church submits to Christ?” and for her to pledge ”to love and submit” to her husband.

The service is already being used in some Sydney parishes, under a diocese that opposes the full ordination of women and supports an exclusively male leadership doctrine.

Here’s a couple who have used the vows explaining them…

Of course, this sparked OUTRAGE! How dare they do this? Why this antiquated concept? Why force women to do this? etc. etc. etc.

The usual rent-a-quotes were rounded up for the article:

Kevin Giles, a New Testament scholar in Melbourne, said the subordination of women was exclusively related to ”the fall” in the Bible and in 2012 made for bad theology.

”Jesus not once mentions the subordination of woman and says much in contradiction to this. Paul’s comments over the subordination of women fit into the patriarchal culture of the day and are not the biblical ideal. The truth is that happy marriages today are fully equal, and unhappy marriages are ones where one or the other party is controlling.”

Muriel Porter, a Melbourne academic and laywoman who writes on Anglican Church issues, said submit was a more derogatory word than obey and had connotations of slavery. ”Frankly I’m horrified,” she said. ”It is a very dangerous concept, especially in terms of society’s propensity for domestic violence.”

Lots there to respond to – just give me a moment. The next few days of letters in the smh had the expect range of responses from outright criticism to support – even from some who did not agree but commended us for actually standing up for what we believe in. I could  spend quite a while quoting out letters and reactive op-eds but, instead, come with me as I draw out some foundations before returning to a number of the statements of opposition.

Many years ago a minister I was training under made a profound observation that has stuck with me as one of my guiding principles. It was this:

If you don’t understand submission, you don’t understand the Christian life.

As I said, profound. And quite possibly controversial. We were, at the time working through 1 Peter and he had, first and foremost, this is mind:

1Pet. 2:11-13    Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.  Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority…

The Apostle Peter’s call to submission is universal in scope; all of us to the Emperor or governors (vv13-14), slaves to their masters (v18), wives to husbands (3:1) and so on. Each and every one of us is called to submission in many and varied ways. For Peter this was to “live such good lives” (2:12) and it was grounded not in a simplistic appeal to good order but a far more profound appeal to the submission of Christ Himself,

1Peter 2:20-23 if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

It is, the Apostle tells us, a profoundly Christian thing to submit for it is to imitate Christ Himself. What becomes immediately apparent as you read through Peter’s argument is that the authority to which we submit does not have to be legitimate or even good  to validate the submission. Peter more than assumes that we may very well suffer as a result of our submission but this is, he explains, the Christian calling. This does not make suffering a good thing but what is does show us is that although we are called to submit in various circumstances this is not the same as an endorsement of the structures within which we submit. Peter is not here commending corrupt governments nor cruel slave masters – quite the contrary! And, in particular, there is a clear statement on the relationship between husbands and wives. Peter is unequivocal on how a husband ought to care for his wife. He urges Christian women to submit to their husbands, even if they fear mistreatment, yet immediately moves to demand that husbands are loving…

1 Peter 3:7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

So first we might note that the straw man argument consistently put up that the New Testament somehow endorses marital cruelty or slavery is simply unfounded. Nothing could be further from the truth. Here we see Peter is telling Christians to submit despite the unfair nature of what they suffer. There is implicit and explicit condemnation of all abusive behaviour. And yet there is also the radical call to submit nevertheless – just as Christ did.

Hence the comment made to me over a decade ago. Submission is a key part of the Christian life – it was modelled for us by Christ Himself and we are called to emulate that submission, trusting in God that He knows best and will judge justly.

We see the same call to submission in the letters of the Apostle Paul, most famously in Ephesians 5:21-6:8. Here submission (and responsible leadership) is explored in the arenas of marriage, family and servitude/slavery. Of key interest to us here is the section on marriage and the call to wives to submit to their husbands…

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.

the husband is, in turn, called to love His wife sacrificially. This is, of course, highly contentious in our current philosophical climate which cannot countenance any distinction between men and women and which cannot comprehend that a distinction in roles might not mean a distinction in value or esssence. Further, we are acutely aware of much abuse in marriage relationships (not least if, like me, you’re a minister and have the (often sad) privilege of involvement in people’s marriages. We ought always to be aware of this particular danger and yet it is not as though the New Testament authors were ignorant of it. Peter surely had it in mind not only when he called husbands to be considerate to their wives but also when he urged wives,

1Peter 3:6 …do not give way to fear.

In the context it seems obvious, I would suggest, that their chief fear would be that their submission could be taken advantage of.

Again, rather than the New Testament condoning abuse by urging submission upon us it makes the extraordinary claim that not only is abuse wrong but we ought to submit despite it! Easier said than done, of course, but do not let the jarring nature of what is being said here distract from the profundity of it. In every act of submission by the Christian there is a reflection of Christ’s own loving and glorious submission to the pain and agony of the Cross in the sure hope of a future vindication and a proclamation of the self-giving nature of the gospel sacrifice which each and every Christian draws upon.

The particular interest at the moment, of course, is in the field of marriage and so let’s turn there for a little more detail. Here, again, is one of the statements of opposition recorded by the smh,

Kevin Giles, a New Testament scholar in Melbourne, said the subordination of women was exclusively related to ”the fall” in the Bible and in 2012 made for bad theology.

”Jesus not once mentions the subordination of woman and says much in contradiction to this. Paul’s comments over the subordination of women fit into the patriarchal culture of the day and are not the biblical ideal. The truth is that happy marriages today are fully equal, and unhappy marriages are ones where one or the other party is controlling.”

It has to be said, statements like this are fairly embarrassing. Giles, who claims to be an evangelical, trots out standard revisionist fare. The argument is palpably false as only a little examination makes clear. Rather than appealing to the culture of his day, the Apostle Paul (the author of Ephesians) has another referent in mind…

Eph. 5:25-31    Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for herb to make her holy,a cleansinga her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himselfa as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.In this same way, husbands ought to love their wivesa as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—  for we are members of his body.

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

Anyone even remotely acquainted with this topic will recognise the citation that Paul makes as his basis for the gender roles he has set out. First we note that the husband is called to sacrificial love, modelled on Christ’s own loving sacrifice. Concepts of domination are utterly alien. Second we see that it draws from the creation account of the first marriage in Genesis 2. The Fall (the account of the entry of sin into the world through Adam’s first sin, and the resulting corruption of the Creation) occurs in Genesis 3 which is (and this is deeply complicated theology which even a New Testament scholar like Giles seems to have trouble with) after Genesis 2.

Now, to be fair to Giles, the account of the Fall in Genesis 3 does contain details of the resulting distortion in the marriage relationship which God instills as punishment,

Gen. 3:16   To the woman [God] said, “…Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

The language of “desire” here carries with it the sense of desiring to control. The language of “rule” carries connotations of oppressive domination – everything which our critics accuse us of promoting. But note carefully, these are traits (indeed, outcomes) of our fallen behaviour whereas the New Testament call to rightly ordered gender relationships in marriage draw from the very good created order in Genesis 2 – not the distorted Fallen behaviour of Genesis 3. In this matter Giles is simply incorrect. As for Giles’ comments on Jesus, it is instructive that Jesus Himself quotes from the same Genesis 2 passage that Paul does when He is questioned about marriage (Matthew 19:5 = Mark 10:6-7). He also grounds His understanding of marriage in the Created order.

As for Muriel Porter’s comments,

Muriel Porter, a Melbourne academic and laywoman who writes on Anglican Church issues, said submit was a more derogatory word than obey and had connotations of slavery. ”Frankly I’m horrified,” she said. ”It is a very dangerous concept, especially in terms of society’s propensity for domestic violence.”

I actually want to agree. Yes, it is a very dangerous concept! That is exactly the point! Submission is so totally absurd in the eyes of the world that it is exactly what it has such revelatory power! As we have seen the Apostle Peter point out it shows the world what Jesus was like and demonstrates a profound trust in God.

But what is also demonstrated here is the consistent rejection of the Bible by those who claim to be Christian. Muriel Porter and Kevin Giles don’t like the word “submit” but it is a profoundly Biblical word. What they communicating is that they really don’t like the Bible. That’s a very troubling position for a “Christian” to be in but it’s where they place themselves. Porter is a particularly prominent example of this kind of double-think for with the one breath she claims to be not only a Christian but also an Anglican and yet with the next she reject the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.

Remember friends, that this suggested change by Sydney diocese (and it is as yet only a suggestion, it has yet to be fully ratified) is an attempt to make the Book of Common Prayer even more plainly Biblical than it already is. The 1662 BCP, still the constitutional standard for worship in the Anglican Church of Australia, has the following vows in the marriage service,

N. take thee N. to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.

The language of obedience here quite obviously draws from the notions of wifely submission that we have already discussed. The wife is promising to obey a husband who has already promised to love, comfort, honour and keep her. So the proposed Sydney revision of the marriage service in Common Prayer has the wife promise the following in Form 1 of the marriage service,

With God and this congregation as my witnesses,
i name, take you name to be my husband;
to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish and submit to you, as long as we both shall live. This is my solemn vow and promise.

It should be obvious to any honest reader that the only real change is to update the language of “obey” to “submit”. The intended Scriptural allusion, however, remains identical – all that has been updated is the language to better reflect the correct Biblical understanding in current language. We also ought to note that the language of “obey” is retain in the wife’s vow in the first form of the marriage service in the 1978 An Australian Prayer Book  – the only nationally ratified prayer book revision in Australia (p.550 in the 1986 print).

Those complaining about the language of “submission” ought to bear in mind that they are railing against a concept deeply embedded and endorsed in the official prayer books of our denomination. This “change” by Sydney diocese is no such thing. It is, rather, a clarification of a prominent Biblical concept  – one which is endorsed in our constitutionally approved standards of worship.

One challenge remains to be addressed; the legality of what has been proposed. Back to the smh,

DOUBT has been cast over the legality of the Sydney Anglican Diocese’s changes to the marriage vow after an expert in church law said he did not believe the new wedding service complied with federal laws.

But Archdeacon John Davis, from the Wangaratta Diocese, in Victoria, who is an expert on the Anglican Church constitution, said the changes not only carried ”unpleasant connotations”, but could also be illegal.

Under the Marriage Act a religious ceremony must use a service authorised by the religion’s governing body, which in this case would be the Anglican Church of Australia as the act is a Commonwealth one, Dr Davis said.

”The legal relationship is between the Commonwealth and the Anglican Church of Australia, and not between the Commonwealth and each of the 24 dioceses in the country,” he said.

The Anglican Church of Australia has not authorised the change to the wedding vows.

It’s funny how theological liberals play so fast and loose with the rules. When it suits them they will cry foul, when not they will ignore any rule that stands in the way of their relentless march to “progress”. In the matter of the celebration of marriage by authorised celebrants we have to turn to the Australian Marriage Act of 1961 which states the following

MARRIAGE ACT 1961 – SECT 45

Form of ceremony

(1)  Where a marriage is solemnised by or in the presence of an authorised celebrant, being a minister of religion, it may be solemnised according to any form and ceremony recognised as sufficient for the purpose by the religious body or organisation of which he or she is a minister.

(2)  Where a marriage is solemnised by or in the presence of an authorised celebrant, not being a minister of religion, it is sufficient if each of the parties says to the other, in the presence of the authorised celebrant and the witnesses, the words:

“I call upon the persons here present to witness that I, A.B. ( or C.D.), take thee, C.D. ( or A.B.), to be my lawful wedded wife ( or husband)”;

or words to that effect.

Now several points need to be made here.

  1. The Act only states that the ceremony must be “recognised as sufficient for the purpose by the religious body or organisation of which he or she is a minister.” but does not stipulate anywhere how that body or organisation is defined. Davis claims that it can only be the national church but he also knows very well that the nature of the relationship between the General Synod and the individual dioceses is a vexed question and individual dioceses maintain their constitutional right to do as they see fit, not least Sydney itself. This has already been established in the area of liturgy. General Synod adopted the controversial A Prayer Book for Australia (APBA) in 1986 but Sydney diocese did not. Sydney adopted it’s own alternative liturgy Sunday Services which is used by some parishes. The point is this – the use of alternative liturgies has long been accepted in the Australian church.
  2. The Act itself stipulates a bare minimum and doesn’t even prescribe exact words! In this context it is utterly ludicrous to suggest that a change of wording from “obey” to “submit” in what the Act itself would regard as a peripheral vow would somehow render the marriage invalid. On the contrary, the Act values intent over form when there is any doubt. So, of particular interest is this,

MARRIAGE ACT 1961 – SECT 48

 …

             (3)  A marriage is not invalid by reason that the person solemnising it was not authorised by this Act to do so, if either party to the marriage, at the time the marriage was solemnised, believed that that person was lawfully authorised to solemnise it, and in such a case the form and ceremony of the marriage shall be deemed to have been sufficient if they were such as to show an intention on the part of each of the parties to become thereby the lawfully wedded spouse of the other.

In other words, the Marriage Act gives primacy to the intent of the parties. Any number of infractions cannot invalidate the marriage.

Davis’ statement is scaremongering at best. The likelihood of this change making marriages illegal is next to nothing.

So where to from here? No doubt this will die down after a few weeks but the comments are instructive. With regards to popular culture we ought not to be surprised. Whilst we might seek to explain ourselves to our society we’re surely not naïve enough to expect to be understood properly, let alone received fairly? Let’s get over that misapprehension.

What is more interesting, however, is the urgency and glee with which some seek any attempt to decry the diocese of Sydney. It is, however, constantly alarming how they will stop at no lengths to do so. The lengths, habitually, turn out to be rejection of not only Anglican norms (on this occasion our long-approved prayer books) but, more fundamentally alarming, the Biblical witness. In the rush to cast stones at Sydney they end up pushing away the submissive example of Christ Himself.

That people who call themselves Christians should so readily reject our only real source of authority in order to also reject Sydney is telling in so many ways.

21 comments on “My Submission on Submission

  1. “Muriel Porter, a Melbourne academic and laywoman who writes on Anglican Church issues, said submit was a more derogatory word than obey and had connotations of slavery. ”Frankly I’m horrified,” she said. ”It is a very dangerous concept, especially in terms of society’s propensity for domestic violence.”

    I actually want to agree. Yes, it is a very dangerous concept! That is exactly the point! Submission is so totally absurd in the eyes of the world that it is exactly what it has such revelatory power! As we have seen the Apostle Peter point out it shows the world what Jesus was like and demonstrates a profound trust in God.”

    I am shocked by the callous nature of this response. Some women live out their life, with weekly beatings, they die in this misery, they live in despair, numbness and exhaustion. Give your body to thirty years of violence, and then blog about this topic.. Walk in those shoes, suffer the death of Christ on the cross. But if you have not suffered beatings in your own body, then do NOT mock those who do suffer.

    The suffering of abused women does NOT demonstrate a profound trust in God. It demonstrates the shame of the church. It should be against the law to teach women that suffering violence is a demonstration of faith.

    The callous nature of this post, the irresponsible language, is typical of how some men care about what happens to women. Have you lived a life of submission to violence? Can you speak to 1 Peter from experience? Then do not mock.

    I attended a church where the minister was trained at Moore college, and trained in the Sydney diocese. And he had not one useful word for abused wives. There is very real violence which has not been addressed by this diocese. Not hypothetical violence, but actual violence.

  2. Sue, thank you for commenting. I’m afraid I’m confused by what you write. When you state:

    do NOT mock those who do suffer

    I am at pains to understand how you think I am mocking them. Could you point out where it is that I mock those that suffer?

    I think I actually went out of my way to say the exact opposite but perhaps you could show how I have actually mocked those who are abused?

  3. “Yes, it is a very dangerous concept! That is exactly the point! Submission is so totally absurd in the eyes of the world that it is exactly what it has such revelatory power! As we have seen the Apostle Peter point out it shows the world what Jesus was like and demonstrates a profound trust in God.”

    You write of “danger.” Danger, to a wife, to the women I know, means being raped on the kitchen floor in front of the children, being dragged by the hair across a parking lot, putting make up on bruises, lying to friends and family.

    Women in antiquity were routinely treated in this way. Peter was speaking to a situation in which Christians were tortured for their faith and slaves were whipped and chained. So wives also suffered unspeakable pain. This is “danger.” This is Christ on the cross.

    Now Christians are not tortured in our countries, nor are there legal slaves to be whipped. Only women remain as the violated, as a testimony to submission. This has no revelatory power to unbelievers.

    Don’t use the word “danger” in this mocking way, don’t make fun of women until you have yourself been beaten. The suffering of women in this way, truly is absurd, because it is suffering for no worthy cause. That is the worst.

  4. By taking Muriel Porter’s words, and ignoring the actual violence that women have suffered under this teaching, by making light of the fact that she is talking about actual real danger, rape and beating, you mock.

  5. “Again, rather than the New Testament condoning abuse by urging submission upon us it makes the extraordinary claim that not only is abuse wrong but we ought to submit despite it! Easier said than done, of course, but do not let the jarring nature of what is being said here distract from the profundity of it. In every act of submission by the Christian there is a reflection of Christ’s own loving and glorious submission to the pain and agony of the Cross in the sure hope of a future vindication and a proclamation of the self-giving nature of the gospel sacrifice which each and every Christian draws upon.”

    And if that means death? How much violence? How little can a mother shelter her children? How many years of pain? How can one human being speak so to another human being?

  6. I didn’t make any light at all of the real danger, nor did I “make fun of women” and you have yet to point out where I actually mock women.

    You might just possibly want to mount an argument that I have minimised any proper sense of the abuse that some women (and others) endure and I am happy to concede that there is a sense in which none of us can fully empathise until we have been there. However, I made it quite clear that I abhor abuse of any kind in marriage or any other relationship and I also pointed out that the texts we are talking about also make it plain that abuse is wrong. I also was quite clear that I have firsthand experience of those types of abusive relationships.

    So I fear there comes a point where we are beyond you simply misunderstanding me and into the area where you seek to deliberately construe what I write in the worst possible light, despite my attempts to clarify on a large number of occasions. I have no intention of allowing another comment of yours to pass moderation if you continue in this manner. That would be a shame since I am sure you have many positive things to contribute to these debates but I find myself with little other option.

  7. David and Sue you both agree that male abuse of women is completely wrong and not in accordance with God’s will. There are undoubtedly many women world wide who have been victims of violence, rape, mental torture and so on at the hands of those that they married or fell in love with. I agree that in some situations the church (as in the universal church not Anglican) has not addressed these issues appropriately and in some instances may have even contributed to this evil. An example I will give is that of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist movement in the USA. Their teaching on wifely submission and attitudes I have no doubt has allowed and encouraged domestic abuse of both women and children. I have listened to sermons preached at these churches and it is clear that these men see women as being completely inferior to themselves. Women who are sexually or physically abused are made to feel that it is their own faults. All these wrong attitudes are justified through a twisted reading of scripture. Another area that alarms me about this church group and others like them is their parenting advice. People like Michael and Debbie Pearl for example have written books that instruct us to hit our children almost from the time of birth. Another very dangerous teaching and one that I came across in a pentecostal church in Scotland was the idea that women could love their children too much and if they did God would take them away. So yes I agree Sue if the Biblical teaching on marriage is not read properly then it can lead to dangerous outcomes. I don’t however believe that anything that David Ould has written about the subject poses the same threat to women and I certainly don’t see the biblical teaching if read as it was intended doing this either. Another point to note is that domestic abuse occurs outside the church in marriages where there biblical principles are ignored. There should of course be more awareness of domestic abuse within churches and recognition that for those who have suffered in this way the biblical marriage is likely to cause alarm and objection.

  8. I enjoy reading this blog and I’ve watched this debate with interest over the past 2 weeks but feel that it’s been quite uncivilized in some quarters. First an observation – for secular Aussies the idea of “submission” has strong connotations with abuse and control, an oppressive hierarchical dynamic, and exerting strong physical or psychological pressure on a person until they cave in. An analogy is a weaker opponent being painfully pinned down on the wrestling mat. No wonder the response was shrill and critical!

    Archbishop Jensen’s article in the smh went some of the way to defend the diocese’s position with many helpful comments on the responsibility of the husband in marriage relationships and the fact that general distinctions and differences exist between men and women. However this still doesn’t address a critical problem – the mutual submission articulated in Ephesians 5:21, and why this isn’t reflected in the proposed marriage vows. In the light of 1 Cor 7:3-4 the marriage relationship is perhaps more egalitarian than many are willing to admit or articulate!

    In practice I’ve personally seen Evangelical Christians who take a more egalitarian view (of both marriage and women in ministry) dragged out onto the wrestling mat and pressured to submit to a complementarian (or is it patriarchal?) position while at the same time being labelled “extreme liberal feminists” when that is not what they are. This oppression occurs both in marriages and churches, and when the secular world sees this behavior and bullying it only confirms in its mind that when the Church talks about submission it is exactly what it was thinking it was – control, abuse, power! It is so far removed from 1 Peter 3:7 that it’s not funny.

    Dr. Carl Trueman (who holds a complementarian view) clearly sees the divisive nature of the current debate and the dogmatic fortresses being erected. His perspective is well worth a look at if we’re to call a truce and get on with the business of being salt and light in a world obsessed with money, sex, and power: http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2012/08/confused-by-complementarianism.php

  9. thanks for you kind words and helpful thoughts, Richo.

    I’m not sure that the “problem” of mutual submission is exactly that. My friend Lionel’s article has been really helpful on how the greek works here and I would suggest that even if you’re not convinced by the totality of his argument we all have to grapple with the fact that Paul has already shown us what he thinks that “mutual submission” looks like in specific roles for men and women. I would suggest that the distinction between husband’s and wife’s vows reflect that distinction.

    I think there’s some unhelpful posturing going on for both sides, from where I’m standing it seems that it’s almost impossible to state a clear complementarian position without being immediately branded as the worst of misogynists. As I try to argue in my article, nobody is denying that abuse occurs nor (I trust) decrying that abuse – we just don’t think abuse of a structure makes the structure itself invalid. Far from it; often it shows us how the structure, properly carried out, is the better way.

  10. I have a couple of questions for you David – please bear in mind that I also am a ‘continuing Anglican’, on your side of the ‘current unpleasantness’, as it were. These are honest questions.

    1. In light of what you have said about submission to authority, do you think Deitrich Bonhoeffer did the wrong thing in involving himself in the plot to assassinate Hitler?

    2. How would you counsel a woman with children whose husband beat her and would not stop? Since the 39 Articles tell us not to interpret one part of scripture to contradict another, how do you reconcile your teaching on submission with the radical way Jesus treated women in his day? (I am thinking specifically about how he allowed Mary to sit at his feet and learn.) I understand that in a proper Christian marriage the man has the harder duty – to love your wife as Christ loved the church is to be willing to die for her – I am not called to be willing to die for my husband!! – but even people in the church sometimes don’t have proper Christian marriages. What does a wife submitting to a man who calls himself a Christian but beats her teach her children about our Lord and Saviour?

    • hi Kate, thanks for the comment.

      I’ll try and answer your questions:

      1. Fascinating question, and one I’ve pondered in the past. I’m genuinely conflicted over this one – I have every understanding why Bonhöffer did what he did and I am also convinced that the Nazi government had obviously abrogated it’s responsibility but I’m not sure I could have done the same thing. In his reasoning, no doubt, he was carrying out God’s justice and I don’t think I could mount a winning argument that he was wrong.

      2. This is more simple. I’d counsel her to get herself and especially her two children out of the house as soon as possible and have done so in the past.
      Having said all that, and I think this is where your question leads, if she chose to stay out of a desire to “not give way to fear” I would understand, but urge her to reconsider. When children are involved, of course, there are extra considerations and (not least) legal responsibilities. But bottom line – get her and the children out of that place.

      As for your last comment, it says two conflicting things. First, it shows us how terrible abuse is that a woman may think that it is acceptable to keep children in that situation. Sadly those of us in pastoral ministry get to see quite how much abuse messes with people (not least women in these power imbalances) so that they don’t clearly see what must be done.
      At the same time, it may perhaps speak to some of how Jesus entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly (1Peter 2:23). I think it would not be the wisest but there is just something there about trust in Jesus that I want to commend while also, as I’ve already said, urging that woman to leave the home as soon as she can.

      • David, you did say this, though:

        “Again, rather than the New Testament condoning abuse by urging submission upon us it makes the extraordinary claim that not only is abuse wrong but we ought to submit despite it!”

        I think I can see why Sue misunderstood you and got angry. It is a very complicated issue, one that requires deep thinking. I think that many Christians on both sides of the current unpleasantness are afraid to think prayerfully and deeply about these issues.

        • Sadly Sue is reading everything any complementarian writes on this subject (both here and on a number of other sites) through the filter of her own experiences and particularly insists that we all condone abuse. So I can see how if I wrote only that there may be some misunderstanding but I think the general tenor of the piece could not possibly justify that response. You, for example, seem to have very quickly grasped what I am saying.

          • I suppose. I hadn’t run into her before. I didn’t grasp what you were saying immediately, I thought maybe Sue had a point. The difference is I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and ask you questions!

            I’m not sure where I stand on the complimenarian/egalitarian issue. I’ve been a stay at home mum for ten years and I think it was the best decision I’ve ever made – I think it is important for children to have a parent at home, and I think in most cases the mum is better suited to the role. .However – I also think that there is biblical warrant for women to serve as church leaders and presbyters.

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