The Bible teaches that in a marriage relationship the wife needs to submit to her own husband (e.g. Eph. 5:24). However, the Bible says so many other things about wives and women. If we focus too much on the call to submit and nearly ignore the other biblical teaching on wives and women, it often leads to problems – sometimes major and evil problems. These problems aren’t just found in cults; sometimes they’re found in Christian circles. I really appreciate how Rachel Green Miller stated it in her new book, Beyond Authority and Submission:
The hyper focus on authority and submission can create an environment that is emotionally, spiritually, and physically abusive for women and children – especially when a man’s authority over his wife and children is almost absolute. In this system, men are the authority that’s been put into place by God over families. To reject or resist that authority, even when it’s used abusively, is to put oneself at risk of spiritual and physical harm. As a result, women are told to submit to their husbands’ authority even if their husbands are cruel, harsh, or abusive. They are taught to accept however their husbands treat them without complaint. When husbands are abusive and cruel, women are encouraged to suffer in silence as Jesus did, and so to glorify God.
Sometimes flawed teachings on women and men are in themselves spiritually abusive. Teaching that men represent Christ to their families leads to the belief that men are mediators for women and children. This denies women and children direct access to God and contradicts the priesthood of all believers. It’s also spiritually abusive to teach that women are more easily deceived than men and are prone to usurping male authority. This view undermines the important role that women have as co-laborers with men, and it creates a climate of suspicion and distrust. Because believing women are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, just as believing men are, they can be trusted counselors for men even in spiritual and theological matters.
Physical and sexual abuse can also flow out of this system. Teaching that sexual intimacy between a husband and a wife is an expression of authority and submission can lead to sexual abuse of women. If a wife has no rights over her own body and no power to deny her husband, then a husband has the authority to compel his wife. This is a system ripe for abuse, and it’s contrary to what Paul tells married couples about their duties to each other. Husbands and wives have mutual authority over each other (see 1 Cor. 7:4).
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