Work Life Balance

Like Michele Bachmann, I’m A Submissive Wife. Or Aim To Be, At Least

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Instead of watching last night’s GOP presidential debate, I was blissfully unaware of it and watching the Denver Broncos preseason game at a bar with hundreds of other people. But upon review, I heard there was quite a bit of controversy over one of the questions a moderator asked.

Byron York, who is an excellent political reporter, asked Rep. Michele Bachmann about her views on being a submissive wife and she said something like:

“What submission means to us, if that’s what your question is, it means respect. I respect my husband, he’s a wonderful, godly man and a great father. And he respects me as his wife. That’s how we operate our marriage. We respect each other, we love each other.”

The story has become more about the question being asked than about her response, although her response was certainly interesting. I know Byron and really like him and his work, in fact. And his wife is one of the more smart, beautiful, thoughtful and funny people on the planet, by the way. Byron’s one of the most interesting reporters out there and asks questions that others miss. I would not have asked this question over questions about the economy or foreign policy, but, on the other hand, which question is the one we’re most talking about?

But what’s most interesting to me is how the question reveals that many people are either ignorant of Christian marriage or misunderstand it.

I’m Christian and my husband and I aspire to reflect Christian values in our marriage, including submission. So allow me to explain.

Much of the New Testament is about how to speak to one another in love and how to serve God by serving our neighbor. In Ephesians, St. Paul writes that Christians should be “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Then it transitions to a discussion of marriage and gets more explicit.

In marriage, you have one neighbor and that’s your spouse. You serve God by submitting to one another. Wives are told to submit to their husbands, as to the Lord. The husband is told to “give himself up” for his wife, sacrificing for her in the same manner that Christ sacrificed for the church. When you consider how much Christ gave himself up for the church — including his own death by crucifixion — you realize just how much is being asked of the husband. Society always complains about wifely submission to the husband but I can’t help but think that the husband has the much more important and difficult job of complete sacrifice for his wife.

In any case, this is what my husband and I aim for. Do we achieve it? Hardly. We sin and fail to submit to each other or sacrifice for each other daily. We ask for forgiveness regularly and aim to improve our behavior.

But for us, this model of Christian marriage has not only been a complete blessing but perhaps the most important thing that has kept us together. One of my favorite writers is Gene Veith. He’s said of this model:

The husband loves and serves his wife, and the wife loves and serves her husband. The unpopular command for the wife to “submit” and the forgotten command for the husband to “give himself up” for his wife are examples of the self-denial required in every vocation. The husband, emulating Christ, sacrifices himself for his wife, who, emulating the church, receives that sacrifice in submission to him.

Today’s culture gets marriage wrong, in large part, because of our obsession with the self. People assume that marriage is supposed to be about self-fulfillment. Christianity, in contrast, teaches self-denial. The irony is that in a Christian view of marriage, both spouses are fulfilled, not by each of them making selfcentered demands, but through the selfless actions of the other.

I’m not going to lie. It took my husband and I a few years of anguish to transition from our obsession with ourselves to a place where we aim to focus on each other. But that transition has also matched the transition we’ve had from a somewhat difficult period of our lives to one filled with love and joy and greater intimacy. We still have much room for improvement, but I’m thankful to be a submissive wife to a generously sacrificing husband.

Back to the question from last night’s debate. Here’s the thing: I think it was a fair question on account of things Bachmann has said in the past about making career decisions simply because of her husband’s direction. That’s a variation on this theme from Ephesians and one that even I’m curious about even as a wife who aspires to abide by Ephesians. I’m less curious about it from her perspective of submission than from her husband’s perspective as sacrificer. But presumably every single one of these candidates who are Christian — whether they are Republican or Democrat — either explicitly accepts or rejects this Biblical view of marriage.

There’s this undertone to the question that because Bachmann is in a Christian marriage, she might not be able to hold national office. Why would that be any different than the male candidate? I mean, presumably President Obama believes he should sacrifice for his wife and children. And whatever you think of his politics, he appears to be an amazing husband and father and do just that. It’s clear that he thinks about how his career decisions will affect his wife and kids. We would never think of asking him whether, in his role as Christian husband and father, we should worry about whether he’d put them ahead of his job. I think that’s a good thing that we wouldn’t ask him such a question. But it does show how this Biblical view of marriage — even though it requires far more of the husband than the wife — is interpreted both inside and outside the church more as a burden for the woman than for the man.

No matter the reason, I hope we see more questions about the economy, unemployment, taxation, health care regulations and the three wars we’re fighting right now and fewer about Bachmann’s exegesis of Ephesians 5. But that’s just me.