Thursday 23 January 2014

Should wives 'submit' to their husbands - or, are husband and wife 'equal (complementary) partners'?


Traditional Mainstream Christians (Protestants and Catholics) tend to insist that in a marriage the wife should "submit" to her husband - that specific word submit is used a lot. 

By contrast, Mormons (who are - let's be honest - the experts on marriage and family in the modern world, and who are free-er of the taint of liberalism/ leftism/ feminism than most other Christian denominations) say the following:  

By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.

Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children

In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.

From The Family - a proclamation to the world


I think Mormons are absolutely correct to emphasize complementarity of distinct domains within the 'standard' marriage rather than dominance-submission.

In any specific domain one or other sex has the responsibility; but neither has overall dominance; neither is overall required to submit.

(Complementarity of husband and wife is, of course, a fundamental part of Mormon theology; in that husband and wife both need each other for optimal theosis and progression to the highest Heaven or celestial kingdom. Also, note the important supplementary passage on the contingent need for individual adaptation.)


And this difference within marriage corresponds to my observation that Mormon women have a large, important and distinct role in the LDS church; while, by contrast, among traditional Mainstream Christians (such as conservative evangelicals) women typically have a very subordinate, less essential and indistinct role in the church - defined by exclusion and patronage - rather than an 'of right' complementarity.

Both the CJCLDS and traditional Mainstream Christians are patriarchal religions - but to formulate this in terms of 'submission' creates (I believe) a false, and sometimes hazardous, tendency for Christianity to collapse into the pattern of its most formidable rival - a patterns which is goes against the grain of Christianity's fundamental nature.

This tendency of traditional mainstream Christianity institutionally to marginalize women can be resisted, and often it has been and is resisted; but the tendency remains because it is theologically rooted.


NOTE: In the above passage from the Proclamation, I dislike the use of the word 'equal' because equal, in practice, gets to mean sameness; and the sexes are not the same - they just are complementary. 


FURTHER NOTE: The mistake people make in this (and other) matters regarding complementarity is that they look for symmetry. In fact, complementarity is necessary precisely because of the lack of symmetry. 

The primary thing about family (for Mormons) is motherhood, which can be defined quickly, simply, single word. Fatherhood is secondary and needs more words to describe. Women are (in essence) mothers, (worthy) men are priests - but motherhood and priesthood are not symmetrical. Very obviously not! 

(For Mormons) Healthy women just are mothers, but men must be worthy to be priests. In the church the priesthood is primary, in the family motherhood is primary - but not in the same way. The priesthood and Relief society (the women's organization) are complementary in the church, but not symmetrical - and the priesthood is primary. 

In Catholic Christianity celibacy is primary, men are primary - because men are priests. Motherhood comes below celibacy, and celibate female religious are not necessary. The church is necessary for salvation - but only men are necessary to the church: therefore women are not (religiously) necessary to Catholics.

In traditional Protestant denominations, the family comes above celibacy, but men dominate the family and the church alike, in a symmetrical fashion; because men are always the leaders and women must always submit (whatever the circumstances). In religious terms, men and women are individuals and equivalent in value. Women are not religiously necessary, but neither are men, except in the church - but (for Protestants) the church is not necessary. 

And in Christianity's most formidable rival something similar prevails: all men submit to God, men have duties of worship, all women submit to all men, women are not religiously necessary.  

Only in Mormonism are both men and women necessary and also the church necessary; but not to salvation, only to the higher levels of theosis. 



asdf said...

Who takes precedence in a disagreement where you can't come to terms?

JP said...

The more "modern" (i.e., PC) mainstream Christians insist on "mutual submission" -- essentially the same as the "equal partners" idea.

This would tend to indicate that the more PC Christians are right about something -- or that the Mormons are wrong about this issue.

Or perhaps there is something different about the Mormon "equal partnership" than the PC Christian kind.

Bruce Charlton said...

@asdf - Depends on the domain.

@JP - Right second time. (Not least because 'mutual submission' is an oxymoron).

SMERSH said...

The way you explain it makes it sound alright, but the way it is written makes it sound very, very bad, for reasons you've explained in your earlier post about the destructive nature of calls for equality.

I have to wonder if this doctrine could not be perverted under the onslaught of a determined attack by left entryists. Maybe they just haven't gotten around to targeting the Mormons for some reason (or they've started, but haven't gotten very far yet).

In the future it would probably best if the word equal was removed from the language entirely. Some newly created technical term could replace it for use in mathematics, etc.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SMERSH - Anything can be perverted by Leftism, as Roman Catholics are beginning to wake up to. RCs thought they had everything made clear and consistent in their Catechism and structure of authority, but it has now become very thoroughly corrupted nonethless.

Mormonism, by contrast, has many 'liberal' elements (in my opinion Mormonism has most of the genuinely good things about leftism - because of course there are good things about leftism, notwithstanding that it is overall the greatest evil in the history of the world) and yet Mormonism NOW is at its best and on average probably more 'devout' than it ever has been (at least since the days of Brigham Young's theocracy).

But it certainly is under attack. Most of (not all!) the Mormon bloggers, for example, are liberal subversives who have learned absolutely *nothing* from what liberalism has done to the mainstream denominations (ie. shrunk, weakened, inverted and destroyed them).

JP said...

Not least because 'mutual submission' is an oxymoron.

Heh that is exactly what I said to my RCIA teacher (as well as "that is not what the Bible says"), and I was basically told to stop asking questions and making comments in class.

Adam G. said...

The first paragraph of your further note was a gem.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Adam - Thanks. You always seem to prefer the NOTES to the actual blog post! - If only I could write the NOTES without having the bother of doing the posts first...

Adam G. said...

"Mutual submission" leads to the kinds of mental gymnastics C.S. Lewis talked about where all the members in a home are always trying to guess what everyone else wants and will never state plainly their own views on any subject. Although in his case it was 'unselfishness,' not 'mutual submission,' that put the Kafka into Christianity.

As a Mormon, I kinda regret the 'equal partners' language in the Proclamation. Liberal entryists have tried to use it, though for the most part they get too infuriated by the rest of the document and just start spitting denunciations instead.

So, in practice language and concepts that entryists will seize on can still be safely used if surrounded by tripwires.

If some reactionary Jonathan Swift were updating the Declaration today, he would simply write "All men are created equal, including the genetically less intelligent hottentots and the the congenitally objectively disordered gays" or whatever else was the reactionary equality heresy of the day

Adam G. said...

I wouldn't say I *prefer* them anymore than I prefer jam to bread.

James said...

Perhaps corporations should establish equal partnership amongst Department Heads and get rid of the CEO?

Bruce B. said...

Catholic understanding of the role and status of the Blessed Virgin seems relevant to a discussion here. For example, a woman is necessary for the Church and for the salvation of men.

Bruce B. said...

Also, I think you’re leaving out something. Wives are told to submit but husbands are told to love their wives. Also, being the dominant person in the marriage is only properly ordered when the man submits to Christ.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - Both very good points.

I am indeed leaving-out a lot here!

Barnabas said...

In Evangelical circles right now so am hearing a lot about "complimentarity" but usually as an explanation of what a well ordered submission looks like. You can't really read Ephesians and get around submission.

Bruce Charlton said...

@B "You can't really read Ephesians and get around submission."

And yet there is immense diversity of interpretation... as I outlined.

Nearly 500 years of Protestant experience shows that chapter and verse proof testing alone never seems to solve any serious doctrinal dispute; and I do not think it ever will.

MC said...

"Perhaps corporations should establish equal partnership amongst Department Heads and get rid of the CEO?"

A typical corporation has a CEO, a CFO, COO, etc.

Bruce Charlton said...

@MC - I suppose I should come clean and admit that this post was influenced by (stolen from?) a talk I read on your blog! I'm happy to cite it; but I'm not sure whether you want to break commenting confidentiality on this.

MC said...


Feel free to cite it. The only reason I don't use my full name in commenting is that I don't want my assorted blog comments to be on the first page of Google when some future employer looks me up.

Bruce Charlton said...

MC - Here 'tis: