I sat in church this morning trying to convince myself that it was going to be OK, that the verses being read were not meant the way I’d heard them preached. I succeeded for awhile, but the more we read, the more concerned I became. Why were we reading about God’s wrath the week after we read about his resurrection? What was happening? The verses read still don’t make sense. The songs were poorly chosen, too… and all I know is that the main song leader was out, so perhaps it was just a bad day.
But then the preacher got up. He read Ephesians 5. He began with a verse that I’ve heard yelled and preached too many times: “Wives, submit to your husbands as unto the Lord.” He didn’t stop there, and to his credit at least he did continue to read through the part about “men, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it…”, which was so little read in the unhealthy church I came from that many men didn’t recognize that part of the passage, even though they quoted the first (about submission) to women often.
The boys would actually sit in the narthex and tell passing women two or three times their age to do things and then say they were unsubmissive if they didn’t, not understanding that the verse didn’t say women were supposed to be subject to all males. A man would follow me around the church, and even off church property, muttering in tongues and saying I was rebellious and unsubmissive for not marrying him. We’d never been on a date. One woman confided that her husband raped her and both he and the church said it was OK, because he was her husband and she should submit.
In Sunday School the pastor’s wife laughed until she cried telling the single young ladies about the man who spanked his unsubmissive wife with a frying pan and another who came home and threw the supper she’d made in the trash, telling her to start over because he wanted something else. The pastor’s brother meanwhile would stand behind the pulpit calling women “loud-mouthed heifers” and other derogatory terms. They were not to take offense, but to submit to that.
And finally one overstepped the line by saying that women were things, because a verse says “he that desireth a wife desireth a good thing.” Therefore, women, in his mind, were things. Objects to be used and set aside, automatons to do the men’s biding without a word. If a woman was to speak her mind at all, it was to be done as entreating her husband, begging and/or flirting until he might consider what she said.
I know that isn’t what the preacher meant this morning. But it was way too close. Talking about how he used to want his wife to be like someone else, asked why she didn’t do this or that like someone else… he said she did speak her mind when it was best for the family now, but he didn’t say he respected or loved her for it. He said it (to my hearing) as a necessary evil of being and staying married. I hope it was just that what he said was filtered through years of abuse. I hope he didn’t mean what I heard. But I can’t shake it.
He said that there is power in submission, because submission requires trust, that the women who submit are, basically, the least damaged or most healed. He does not know me. He does not know my story. He doesn’t know the stories of others I have known, who submitted without trust, whose trust was broken through that submission… not only their trust in a man, but their trust in men in general and more important their trust in God. We were told if God loved us he would protect us if we just submitted. And the abuse worsened. We tried to submit more, and it got worse yet. In “rebellion” to that we found freedom…. in rebellion to the false idea that we should accept whatever we are handed by abusive men because God said “submit”. In rebellion, too, to the false idea that we should remain silent as we see others’ pain, as we all submitted to such abuse.
So excuse me, preacher, if I tuned you out today. It wasn’t because I wasn’t married and so didn’t see an application. It was because that passage was too often applied to me without love, and with a little too much hate or apathy or just general wickedness of narcissists left with a power they didn’t deserve and was not of God.