Submission in a marriage *UPDATED*

As part of a larger rumination about religion, Barney Quick looked at the Christian notion of a woman’s submission within her marriage, since the media is going after Michele Bachmann on that point:

The recent dust-up over Michelle Bachmann’s statements on record that she feels Biblically commanded to be submissive in her marriage is another example of the kind of thing that hangs me up.  She’s not alone. There is even a network of blogs maintained by women who are proud to be submissive.

I know, I know.  The Christian view of marriage is that the man and woman become one, and the the man loves his wife like Christ loves the church, and therefore there is mutual respect, but ultimately there is no doubt that what is being asserted is that the man is the captain, the leader, the one in the family who makes the decisions to which the wife and children will defer.  I like Michelle Bachmann a lot; she’s one of my top three or four Pub presidential candidates.  But let’s be candid; she’s been dancing around the theological point since it resurfaced last week.

I’ve been thinking about the subject a lot myself, for years actually.  Twenty-five years to be precise.  Twenty-five years ago, in a single weekend, I went to two weddings.  The first wedding was a yuppie New Age ceremony with a mail-order minister who waffled on about universal harmonies, shakras, karma, the joining of souls, etc.  I found the ceremony peculiarly un-compelling.  I couldn’t figure out if the bride and groom had committed to each other for life, or were taking some sort of oath before embarking on a spaceship for galaxies unknown.

The next day, I went to the wedding of two people who belonged to a small, deeply fundamentalist church.  It was my first exposure to an evangelical wedding, which meant it was also the first time I’d heard a minister give voice to the notion that, just as Christ is the head of the Church, so too is the man the head of the married couple.  The minister said that, for the man, this position carries with it tremendous responsibility to love, honor, protect and respect the wife, but that the man still has the dominant position.  I was shocked to the core of my feminist soul . . . yet, even then, I had this sense that I had attended a real wedding, with the bride and groom committing themselves to each other and to God.  I also had a sense of order.

Fast forward to today.  I have a friend who has what is, without question, the most successful marriage I’ve ever seen.  He would say that it’s because he’s married to the most wonderful woman in the world which is, of course, true.  But she would say (I’m pretty sure), that it’s because she is married to the most wonderful man in the world, which also happens to be true.  These two like and respect each other at a level that I’ve only seen a few other times.  But here’s the kicker:  on the rare occasions when they have disputes that reach an impasse, he casts the deciding vote.  Because he loves, likes and respects her so much, he never casts a vote that is intended to hurt or demean her.  Nevertheless, he is the tie-breaker.

Frankly, this strikes me as a good thing.  When he finally makes a decision, she hasn’t lost, nor as he won.  He’s simply exercised his position within the relationship to resolve stalemates.  If you don’t have someone in the marriage who occupies that role, you end up with each dispute becoming a fight to the death.  Neither party can afford to give ground, lest they be seen as taking a subordinate place in the relationship.  Rather than tie-breakers, there are only winners (smug) and losers (demoralized).

If the Christian model is how Michele Bachmann’s marriage functions, fine.  In every marriage there are disputes, and every married couple has to figure out how to resolve those disputes.  It could be through a bloody emotional battle to the death (yeah, I know:  crazy metaphors), or it could be by designating one partner as the tie breaker.  Presidents always have their spouses at their side (or at their backs), and the spouse will always be part of the equation, regardless of the method they use for resolving their own disputes.

What do you think?

UPDATE:  Obama recently offered an insight into his own marriage, which James Taranto examined in the second entry in his BOTW column.  One gets the feeling that Michelle scares him, just a little bit.

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  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    But these are the people who want Islam to dominate women and put them in their place. yet they think they have credibility when talking about MB’s marriage?

    Who the hell are these quacks… 

  • Oldflyer

    This is odd to me.  I was raised a Southern Baptist and, although we were a long way from the most fundamental, the Southern Baptists, being a large denomination,  tend to be the poster child for fundamentalism in the minds of the secular population.  I do not recall seeing, nor hearing, this notion of submission stressed.  The standard marriage ceremony contained the words, “love honor and obey”; but, they were essentially pro forma.
    Certainly, in my family, and in the families I observed closely, the women were strong and would have resisted domination.  In part, this may have been because I was a child during WWII,  and women had to be independent.  But, I honestly do not believe that was the determining factor.  Other than the war years, the majority of the women stayed home and raised the children and maintained the household.  Therefore, men tended to carry more weight with regard to financial decisions.  But, women did not surrender theirprerogatives in other family decisions.

  • heather

    @Oldflyer – I’m not a Baptist, but I believe this focus on submission is relatively recent.

  • MacG

    These people fear the word submissive because the polar opposite is to be dominated.  What hey miss however it that to be submissive is not to be dominated but rather meek as in Jesus was meek which does not mean Mr Milque Toast but rather connotates Power Under Control* and we all know if the wife aint happy aint nobody happy – she has the power :)  I do find it interesting that the Democrats choose the sexual definitions of Submissive and Dominator as their frame of reference.  They seem to have no problem with S&M sex life style because there are “safe words” (love CSI) and consenting adults partake in it.  What they miss is that the safe words in consenting adult Christian marriage are in the vows.  Love your wife as Christ loved the Church and gave His life for her. 
     
    In our sense of the word submissive has a meaning to defer.
     
    *  “And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? “How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?”Matthew 26

  • Simplemind

    Traditional marriage  is not a license to act like an imperious jerk. To put it simply it should be tempered by Dirty Harry logic “a man’s got to know his limitations” i.e. don’t go trying to plan the bridal shower for Christ’s sake. 

    There a some things that should be discussed and then decided and depending on the issue, someone has to make the final call. Sometimes it may be her and sometimes him. 

  • jj

    Not recent, Heather – ancient.  All of what I refer to as the ‘desert religions’ – Islam, Judaism, Christianity – had, historically, very little use for women.  Judaism and most sects of Christianity – except the head sect, Catholicism – have loosened up quite a bit.  Even Catholicism has loosened up a bit, though not hugely, and only somewhat meaningfully.  Islam, obviously, hasn’t loosened up at all, and why a woman would consciously be a Muslim eludes me, but there’s no accounting for taste, I guess.
     
    When I was young  I had a number of Jewish friends, a couple of whose families were pretty close to Orthodox.  Women, the sisters and mothers of friends, were tolerated – but not much.  They weren’t allowed to get within five yards of the rebbe, let alone do anything as blasphemous as actually shake hands with him, because of the fundamental unclean factor of being female.  After giving birth, you couldn’t go to temple for forty days, and had to be ritually cleansed.  They were allowed in the temple – but they had to stand in the back, and maintain a closed mouth.  Religious discussion, discourse, and scholarship was reserved for men.  ‘Submissive’ would be playing it lightly: women were second-class citizens.  For the genuinely Orthodox, their life was not one whole gigantic hell of a lot different than an Islamic woman’s: they were escorted by males in public, they traveled in groups, etc.  (The Orthodox haven’t changed much.)  I have never seen even a picture of a woman worshiping at the Wailing Wall.  They didn’t used to be allowed – now maybe they are, grudgingly – but I have never seen it.  But for the non-Orthodox that’s changed for the most part over the last half-century, to the point where there are now female rabbis.
     
    In my altar boy and catechism days growing up Catholic, there were a lot of rules for girls.  They were rules of ancient derivation.  For the first few decades of my life, women didn’t have to be in the back of the church any more, and they no longer had to wear veils – but they did have to have their heads covered with something.  Hats, usually, or scarves.  The change is sufficiently recent that you will see elderly Italian and Irish women in church with their heads covered to this day.  Women have only recently gotten the right to stand inside the altar rail unless directly involved in receiving a sacrament – which is why there were no such creatures as ‘altar girls.’  In a Catholic wedding the groom was/is always served communion first, because he is the head of the family – the woman gets the consolation prize of being the ‘heart’ of the family, whatever that means.  And of course women are not – and likely will not ever be – allowed to be Catholic priests.  You bet they were expected to be submissive.  Hell – they were expected to be invisible.
     
    And the psychological warfare the church aimed at girls in my youth was insane!  In catechism we got a sex talk in about the seventh grade by a parish priest – what he’d know about it I never did figure out.  He spoke separately to the boys and the girls.  He went at us for about an hour, I don’t think his talk to the girls consumed ten minutes.  He couldn’t have wanted to tell them very much.  (If he had, his talk would have taken something more like ten days, right ladies?)  Catholic girls of my generation would be quicker to understand an explanation of the Trinity than they would sexual information.  They were repeatedly admonished by the nuns to dress modestly, and there was always at least one nun who spent a lot of time on her knees with a ruler, measuring the distance between hemlines and the floor.  If it was too short you were indulging in the serious sin of ‘scandal,’ and home you went.  A blouse was considered too tight if it even hinted that there might be breasts beneath it, and you got sent home – after some ritual shaming before her class.  (Okay – they didn’t actually stone them – just shamed them.)  It had to be a hell of a hot day for a sleeveless blouse to be okay, and perfume and make-up were also causes for dismissal.  Psychological warfare.
     
    All of this stuff has pretty much disappeared though, as I said, don’t hold your breath waiting for a female Catholic priest.
     
    The idea of female submission was originally central to all three religions  – it’s hardly a recent development.  Bachmann is plainly a bit of a purist (mis-called by some as ‘fundamentalist’) about her bible.  She’ll have to get it figured out, or this rather secular nation will be likely to just laugh at her over it.   

  • Mike Devx

    You can’t dance around your religious questions.  and they’re notoriously tricky to handle politically.

    This could hurt her if she is actually “dancing around” on it.

    If she comes right out and says it: “Yes, in my marriage, I am submissive to my husband, as is correct for the traditional view of a Christian marriage”, it might work with a lot of Americans, it might not.  Are typical Americans (these days) ready to accept a female President who is (in a sense, totally) submissive to her husband?

    Word choices and the phrasing of answers to difficult political questions can make or break a politician.  It’s why Reagan was so brilliant; by the time he became President, you couldn’t trip him up.
     

  • Old Buckeye

    So is the problem some are having with the whole submission thing a) that because she’s submissive to her husband in private family matters that she has no spine and would not make a good president or b) that by being submissive to him, he would actually be the one calling the shots (the power behind the throne so to speak) or something else? I don’t really have an issue with her being submissive to her husband as it doesn’t seem that it would affect her public life.

  • http://poliwogspoliblog@blogspot.com poliwog

    As a widow I’ve come to realize what an enormous burden having the final responsibility was for my husband.   We were partners and discussed our decisions but someone has to have the last word in any relationship where decisions have to be made. 

  • 94Corvette

    Two comments – one with a smirk, one serious.

    It is said that there are two kinds of men in this world –
    The first admits that his wife calls the shots –
    The second lies about this and everything else.

    On a serious note – my wife and I are conservative Baptists but arrived here from different origins.  She was raised in the Roman Catholic church and I was raised in a very conservative Christian church.  I was 50 when we wed, she was 42 and it was her first marriage.  She could have married earlier but didn’t because for her, ” ’till death do you part” was a literal.  The only way that she would say yes to my proposal was that I had to make the same vow.  In our life there are two covenants that we will not violate. . . . the first is between us and God. . .  the second is between ourselves.  As a part of our ceremony, we signed a Ketuba which is a wedding contract which is part of the Jewish religion and culture.  For those who think that the Jewish people think of women as inferior, you are wrong.  If you read Proverbs 31, it describes a confident, self assured woman who is a successful business person in and of her own right.  I cherish my wife and there is nothing I wouldn’t do for her.          

  • Lyte Lee

    I attended a marraige seminar just before I got married.  We are Christians and the speaker made this comment to husbands about this issue, “Make submission a non-issue in your marriage.”  I’ve found that to be good advice.  My wife instinctively seeks my input in any decision which I greatly appreciate.  At the very least, I don’t discover after the fact that I wasn’t included in the discussion.  The other thing I’ve found is that excercising my position as final decision maker, to which she always submits, has only resulted in me finding out she was right.  That’s happened enough times that I invariably defer to her because I often trust her decisions and opinions more than my own.  In other words, her track record has proved better than mine.  As a woman, my wife has some gifts that don’t come naturally to me.  She has great feminine inutuition in terms of evaluating peoples character and situations and then there’s every women’s gift of anticipation.  She is a Godly woman, well versed in the scriptures and has wisdom which I appreciate.  We both hold to the biblical modes of male and female roles in marriage.  The proof of his intended design has proved it’s truthfulness.  Unfortunately, as any Christian should know, this passagee regarding submission has been used as a provocation for abuse by Christian men and so misses the ultimate  admonition of mutual submission and violates the importance of love spoken of in 1 Corinthians 13.  Mutual submission is the reality but each has a God given role.  Watch what happens when that’s violated in a marriage-any marriage. It’s fatal.

  • Michael Adams

    That part about submission has seemed to me, for the past forty two years, anyway, like one of  those rather annoying “men…de” constructions so beloved of Greek writers. We were usually taught to translate them as “on the one hand…on the other hand.”  However, in English that always connotes and usually denotes, difference, contrast.  In Greek, it can be emphasis, or an even more nebulous relationship between the propositions. Read that way, it means something like, “defer to each other.” 
     
    The other, more controversial, meaning may also apply, and that is one that gives more responsibility to the husband, which I spent years trying to avoid, equality in marriage, dammit!  It rarely works that way. Very few women want to be married to a wimp. On the other hand, ;) no well-informed Christian husband would be so much the “head” that he would, for example, demand some particular sexual practice that the wife found repugnant, or get all bossy about how she arranged the furniture, or what she cooked for dinner, or whether she cooked it at all, after a day at her own office, or sitting in the city gate selling the clothes she and her maids had made.  (Read the reference to Proverbs.) The theological term for such a man is a$$hole.

  • Oldflyer

    Back to Michelle Bachmann.  I don’t think she needs to walk into that snare.  This is a very accomplished woman.  It may be questionable whether she would make a good President; of course that is always a crap-shoot, to be blunt.  But, people who try to whittle her down to some  level that meets their approval, are silly.
    If the question is put to her, I would hope that she would say something along the lines of: (sic) “The internal relationships in my marriage are private and of no concern to the media or the electorate.  Judge me on my public record.”

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    The Left are obsessed about sex. And they wish to make us the same. Interesting.

  • MacG

    Y that’s because they’re Dom’s er uh Dem’s :) and the TEA Party won’t be Submissive’s and our Constitution is the safe word.  But the constitution is really more like garlic to a vampire init?

  • Mike Devx

    The problem I was highlighting is Bachman’s current answer to the question, which is apparently insufficiently clear.

    The best take on what actually occurred at the debate that I can find is this:

    In an obvious demonstration of disapproval, the crowd at Thursday’s GOP debate in Ames booed after a panelist from the Washington Examiner asked Bachmann if she would be submissive to her husband in the White House.
    Bachmann, a Christian, once spoke of how the biblical admonition “Wives, be subject to your own husbands as to the Lord” influenced her to become a tax lawyer. During Thursday night’s debate, she answered, “What submission means to us, … it means respect. I respect my husband … and he respects me as his wife.”

    It doesn’t matter what she *should* have said.  And in truth, it has nothing to do with her capabilities or performance as President, which is outside the boundaries of her marriage, anyway!  That’s the truth, as logic would have it; but when has logic mattered to your average American voter?  The media will spin her as worst they can, and the average voter will take this “submission” question into account when they really shouldn’t care at all.

    Bachmann’s current answer – at least, the one I read above – is insufficient as it relates to her job as the President. If she clarifies it incorrectly, she could even manage piss off her conservative religious base!  Or she could say something that gives the media fuel for their fire…
     

  • MacG

    Mike,
     
    She defined the terms as they as a team understand it.  It may not be to the left’s liking or the biblical letterist’s either but it is clear answer nonetheless of how they apply this submission verse in their lives.  She shared how his influence played a role in becoming a tax lawyer perhaps had she extrapolated a bit further to say he had no say in the court room it may have been harder to object to.
     
     

  • BrianE

    Is this whole man woman submission problem really just rebellion against God? I can understand the rankle, since it rankles me to submit to authority, whether it’s my boss or the cop that just stopped me for _______(you fill in the blank). We all submit to someone pretty much all the time. 

    I assume most would have the same reaction if the comment related the fact that as a Christian, I am a slave to Christ, and am learning to daily crucify the natural man in me, allowing Christ to control my life. This is a lifelong project. Even Paul, possibly the greatest ambassador for Christ, struggled with this.

    I don’t think most folks get it, and she’s never going to explain it away to the satisfaction of the natural man in us.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    I think she can easily explain it. Her submission is a choice and she chose the person to trust in. The rest of Americans submit to government and they didn’t get to make an informed choice. Who then should be more concerned about their situation right now?

     

  • suek

    I feel like I’ve been absent on this one!  work can be _so_ demanding!
     
    Two thoughts:
     
    Book, I think your explanation is about the best expression of the issues involved that I’ve seen.
     
    Second, I agree with Old Buckeye: they’re not asking about her personal life (well, yes they are, in a “gotcha” kind of way) … those with honorable intentions are asking whether they would be electing her or her husband when it comes to actions and policies as a President.  Some of this also came up when Palin was running…would we be electing Sarah or Todd.  There are apparently lots of people who are incapable of understanding the meaning of “partnership”.  (those with dishonorable intentions – well, who cares about them.  They’re just dishonorable.  Period)
     
    Apparently, one of the well-known Libbers has stated that Sarah and Michelle don’t qualify as Feminists, because they’re married and have raised children.  Makes you wonder what they think Feminism actually is…women who are just semi-males with boobs?  Gives a whole new meaning to Boobs, imo.  Nature designed women to bear babies.  Women also have brains.  Neither one negates the other, and the best of both worlds is to exercise the abilities of both.
     
     

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Suek, the Left thinks they are too brilliant to be able to do both at the same time. They think brilliance is to ignore everything but one single thing.

  • suek

    jj…
    I think I’m pretty close to you in age, if not older.  I was raised in Catholic schools,  including 5 years in a convent boarding school (8th grade to graduation) and one year in a Catholic college.   (one year in a public school, where we opened the day taking turns reading short bits of the Psalm 25.  Oddly, in the Catholic schools, we said a prayer to open the day, but never read from the Bible – just in the Public school)
     
    Never…I mean _N E V E R_ did I experience any of the psychological warfare you seem to have experienced.  I admit to hearing stories about the Sacred Heart nuns who were supposedly terrorists in habits, but we laughed at them…sort of couldn’t believe them. 
     
    I can’t deny your experiences – they were what they were – but they _weren’t_ universal.

  • gpc31

    jj – you wrote: Not recent, Heather – ancient.  All of what I refer to as the ‘desert religions’ – Islam, Judaism, Christianity – had, historically, very little use for women”

    With respect to the historical origins of Christianity, you are simply incorrect about the status of women within the early church.  Wrong, very wrong, almost 180 degrees wrong, except that the events of history and the felt experience of same are not one-dimensional — historical consciousness changes over culture and time, making cross-era comparisons tricky — so I will be kind and say that your perceptions are anachronistically askew.

    Cf. Rodney Stark, who devotes an entire chapter to the role of women in “The Rise of Christianity”, e.g:
    “An unusual number of Christian converts, for example, came from the educated, cosmopolitan classes. Because it offered a new perspective on familiar concepts and was not linked to ethnicity, Christianity had a large following among persons seeking to assimilate into the dominant culture, mainly Hellenized Jews. The oversupply of women in Christian communities–due partly to the respect and protection they received–led to intermarriages with pagans, hence more conversions, and to a high fertility rate.”

    See also Diarmaid MacCulloch, “Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years”

    I am sorry to be so harsh about this point and make no comment on the rest of your personal  experiences, impressions, observations and conclusions except to the extent that they depend on a historically flawed premise.

  • jj

     I don’t mean to be harsh either, gpc31, but you – and, I guess, Rodney Stark – are wrong, wrong, absolutely wrong.  Within the early church, so early it had not yet become recognizably Christian, but was just an off-shoot of Judaism (questions like whether or not circumcision was required to be this new kind of Jew were still being debated) you did find females fulfilling official functions.  Even Paul – no particular fan of women, better dead than wed – went along with it for the sake of getting the start-up off the ground.  This emergency measure did not endure, as I’m sure you – and even Diarmaid MacCulloch – have observed.  I’ve never encountered a female Catholic priest – and neither have you or Rod or Diarmaid – and I don’t expect to in this life.  (By the way, stick with Bart Ehrman, Bill Cook, and Thomas Noble.  Better scholars.)  A role in the rise of Christianity, yes.  A transitory, temporary, pretty brief and non-enduring role.  Once it rose, thanks, ladies, get back on the other side of the altar-rail where you belong.  Forget running the service, you don’t even get to assist: we don’t need no altar-girls.  There were no female opinions at the Council of Nicea.
     
    Once God stopped being a woman, transitioned from the Great Mother to the Father, priestesses vanished.  In Catholicism after a very brief run (and Paul would never allow them the title) they have stayed vanished, and in Islam of course they never were.
     
    Sue – nobody ever checked how far your hem was from the floor?  You sure this was a Catholic school?  ;) “Psychological warfare” is my term, and I only came to it years later when, looking back, it dawned on me that some of these people were crazy.  They were so, of course, with good hearts and the best of motives, but nonetheless… our girls spent their lives trying desperately not to be occasions of sin.   

  • Mike Devx

    BrianE asked:
    Is this whole man woman submission problem really just rebellion against God? 

     Remember, when I’m analyzing this, I’m trying to look at this issue (and most issues) from the perspective of the average middle American voter.  They’re not us.  They’re not your Obama-Pelosi-Reid Democrat/leftist either. They’re not my family either (who are decidedly Democrat and ardently pro-union, but they’re not leftists – they’re the old-style salt-of-the-earth Democrat but who swallow some leftist lines easily: global warming, environmentalism; some go to church but are far more secularist in outlook and behavior than most church-goers).

    So: the average American voter.  They’re not per-se in rebellion against God, but they’re more secularist in outlook even though many attend church.  The whole concept of submission to the husband is either a non-issue to them or they’re hostile to the idea.  A candidate that is absolutely up-front in believing the woman should submit to the man in marriage, and who uses the term submission in marriage – is viewed very skeptically by them.

    And they retain unfair, unfocused discrimination against women running for President.  The bar for women is just set *differently*, and in some ways unfairly.  For a woman candidate to express that yes, she is “submissive in marriage” to her husband invokes those mostly-unfocused prejudices against women candidates.

    The MSM plays this up against conservatives.  Because they can, and it still seems to work.

    That’s my take, anyway.  And that’s why we’ve got this little tempest in a teapot going on right now, gleefully played by the MSM.   You can sympathize – so little that the MSM tries to do these days actually works, that they can’t contain themselves when one of the old tricks does still work!
     

  • gpc31

    jj – Thanks for your reply!  I don’t really want to quibble too much on this point because it’s tangential to the main thread, but…. I think that the empirical evidence to support my view about the improved status of women in early Christianity is clearly laid out in “Rod’s” books (I mean Rodney Stark, as I don’t know him personally.)  MacCulloch’s (“Diarmaid’s”) book examines the issue throughout history, although it’s not a major question for him.  There are many other sources and authors (including the New Testament itself!), but I chose those two because although they come at the subject from different angles, both clearly and carefully consider the evidence.   We do agree on thing — Thomas Noble is a superb historian and teacher.  And since he happens to be an acquaintance of mine, I asked him your question “whether “Christianity – had, historically, very little use for women”.  In a word, he disagreed.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Re. Christianity’s “little use” for women, I am a bit puzzled by the obvious veneration, especially by Catholics, for the Virgin Mary and Mary of Magdalene.

    I am also puzzled as to why, if Christianity had little use for women, the very Christian Europe during the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance was often ruled and/or led by very powerful and influential women (Queen Isabella, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Joan of Arc, Elizabeth I, etc.) who made no excuse for their affiliations to Christianity. Curious that.

    And, whereas Roman Catholics do not accept women priests, many other denominations do. The reasons for the Roman Catholic position is not that women are inferior to men, but that the original apostles were men and therefore the apostolic succession falls to men because, in his wisdom, Jesus chose men. Other denominations, such as my own, just happen to disagree with this point of view. I respect their right to disagree without seeing it as a judgment on the status of women.

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    Interesting debate about the role of women in early church history.  I think part of the debate stems from the fact that you guys are starting from different comparison points. 

    Compared to the larger Western world in which we live today, women had then and still have now no official status in the church, despite the veneration accorded certain female figures (the Virgin Mary chief among that list).  However, looking at things in context, the early church was a welcome relief from the Roman world, especially the Roman spiritual world, which accorded virtually no rights to women.  That’s why, from the very earliest days, women (and slaves) were its strongest adherents.  It may not have offered them an official place in the hierarchy, but it was still better than the alternative.

    Also, as Danny’s historic references show, Christianity was sufficiently flexible to allow room for women, if not within the Church hierarchy, at least within the larger culture.  Islam, interestingly, is so stultifying in its doctrine that women have no room for growth.  

    Judaism too didn’t leave room for women in the priesthood but it still gave woman a better deal than the larger society.  They had a different (and, yes, subordinate) role from men, but it was still a role accorded deep respect.  Again, this differs from Islam, which does not grant women any independent identity.

    So, as I sometimes said to my children when they were little and quarreling, “we’re all right!”

  • suek

    >>Sue – nobody ever checked how far your hem was from the floor? >>

    Never.

    >> You sure this was a Catholic school?>>

    Very Catholic. Four different schools. One in Virginia, two in Ohio – one private, one parochial – and one in Washington DC (College). Though I don’t remember them all, I believe there were four different orders of nuns involved as well. Holy Cross and Ursulines, I remember. The nuns at the parochial school, I don’t remember, nor do I remember the order at my college – but that was only one year anyway.

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    When I was growing up in San Francisco, Mercy High School was the biggest Catholic girls school in the City.  All during the hippie era, while skirts got shorter and shorter, the Mercy girls were wearing their long uniform skirts.  They stood out like sore thumbs. 

    Eventually around 1974, they put so much pressure on the school administration, it relented and it changed the uniform to short skirts (really short, totally mini skirts).  The Mercy girls had a couple of good years.  Then, in about 1976, fashions changed and skirt lengths started dropping.  Very quickly midis were in fashion. 

    Over at Mercy, though, the administration would not relent — you wanted short skirts, you got short skirts.  The result was that the Mercy girls, parading around in skirts about as long as those worn by your average hooker, got a completely undeserved reputation in the late 1970s as “sluts.”

  • gpc31

    jj – Your quip  “Even Paul – no particular fan of women, better dead than wed” sounds like a quote from Bawney Fwank!

  • jj

    gpc31 – you’re right, we’re very off-topic here – we’ll have to go start our own thread someplace.  It’s a little disconcerting that I sound like Barney Frank – that was my own summation of Paul!  Barney?  Really?  I must be doing something wrong…  So ask Noble how come women had to cover their heads, couldn’t go inside the sacred precinct (altar-rail) and couldn’t be priests.  Though Paul did allow for some deacons and preachers for a while, but once the start-up got off the ground – they were relegated to history.  (Gates and Allen had to work together to get Microsoft off the ground, too – but once it was flying, Allen realized he’d never been able to stomach Gates, and as soon he’d banked a few billion, told him to f*** off, and left.)
     
    Bookworm – yes, I noticed that backlash!  (Every male on Manhattan Island noticed that backlash…)  At Trinity in New York, when they were finally allowed their own way – in the mid-to-late-ish seventies – the girls were still in uniform, true, but you needed a microscope to find their skirts!  I mean, holy cow!  The frequency of traffic accidents up there around three in the afternoon became the stuff of legend.  They were finally allowed to be actual girls, and they were serious about making up for lost time!
     
    Danny – the whole point of the Virgin was precisely that she wasn’t a woman.  How many virgins have you ever heard of who gave birth?  Every other woman on earth had to first go through that sweaty, icky, moaning and groaning sex stuff to get pregnant – there’s a reason you can’t visualize Mary doing that, y’know.  It being unthinkable is not an accident.  And given that she is regarded as ‘ever-virgin’ – then were Joe Jr., James, Joses and the girls God’s other kids?  Jesus had a bunch of siblings, you know.  (Though I had to get to be a fair amount older before I knew that, it wasn’t stressed – or even mentioned – in catechism.)  There are those who think Joe was his older brother, too – which means… well – you figure it out.  And recall that after his birth, even she still couldn’t get back in the door of the church (temple) until she’d undergone the same ritual cleansing as any other Jewish woman.  And, most of all, Mary and the virgin birth and the idea of her as an object of prayer didn’t come along until a couple of centuries later, she dates from the late third century.  Mary is venerated as a vessel – not as a woman.
     
    The other Mary (every woman he ever knew was named Mary – or, more probably, Miriam) who either was or was not Mary of Bethany, was recognized as a saint fairly early in the game because she was there at the rising and was the one risen to, but then was relegated to fallen woman status for the next fifteen hundred years or so, until fairly recent interest in her.  It’s largely popular interest, thanks to Baigent, Lincoln, Leigh, Margaret Starbird, Elaine Pagels, and Dan Brown.  I’m uncertain how enthusiastic the church is, though they do – rather defensively – point out that she was made a saint a long time ago, so long ago no one really remembers when with any sort of precision – which could lead suspicious minds to wonder if it really ever actually happened officially, or just sort of by acclimation.

  • gpc31

    jj – thought  your summation of Paul was very witty — “better dead than wed” — didn’t mean to say that you sounded like Barney.  The wed/red thing reminded me of Barney, so maybe I’m the one in trouble.  Cheers.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Mercy on women who want to be spoiled on fashion.

    Fashion changes, and it is not something to put credit in since that investment does not return a profit.