Don’t tell women what to do

2011-12-14 00:00

ANGUS Buchan (and others) may be right. Perhaps the biblical command for wives to submit to their husbands is a valid principle and God’s preferred way of families operating. I have my own views which aren’t particularly important. There are, however, two problems with Buchan’s stance.

First, it is rather over the top to suggest that because wives don’t submit to their husbands, the family is breaking up and the world is going to pot. That’s rather like the Gospel story of the woman caught in the act of adultery. I like to think Luke intended us to see the irony in the fact that there appears to have been no man involved. Could it not be the failure of men to learn how to love that has caused the break-up of the family and the world going to pot? We have a recent horror case of a woman jailed for adultery in Afghanistan because she had a child as a result of rape, and then being offered pardon on condition that she corrects her situation by marrying the father of the child (her rapist). For some this is simply the logical next step in blaming women for all the world’s woes.

The other issue is that, even if men do have a position of authority and responsibility in the home, men of all faiths and those of none have so abused that position that we cannot be trusted with the responsibility. We have the all-too-short 16 Days of Activism Against Women and Child Abuse precisely because women and children need urgent protection against men, including (and often especially) their husbands and fathers. Submissive wives, and submissive women generally, tend to be trodden on and abused. As men we have lost the right to tell women about any duty to submit.

What we (and Buchan particularly since his is a ministry to men) should be doing is teaching men to love their wives. That is the important second part of Paul’s admonition to the Corinthian Church. It is a message men desperately need to hear. I confess that it’s a message I thought I knew during my first marriage but failed dismally to practise.

There will always be controversy about submission, but love is an unequivocal call to all of us. When we, as men, get that right, when we love our wives as we have been loved, no one will have to tell anyone to submit. There will be loving co-operation all round. But until we get it right we are not entitled to tell our wives what they should or should not be doing.

Forgive the analogy, but it’s rather like a thief insisting that his victims must forgive him. The thief’s “duty” is remorse and reparation. If he gets that right, forgiveness may follow, but it will always be a gift freely given, never demanded. If one is counselling victims of theft (or worse) one may want to lead them towards forgiveness in order to help them move beyond the trauma. But if one is working with perpetrators, forgiveness doesn’t come into it. One helps them face the consequences of their actions whether they are forgiven or not.

Perhaps we spend too much time worrying about how to be head of the house, and too little time asking: “How can I love my wife?” In an article titled “What is a man?” (The Witness, September 18, 2009), Suntosh Pillay wrote about “encouraging new forms of masculinity that are more adaptive, more flexible, more balanced and more engaged with the people around them, which in turn allows men to better understand themselves and their identities”. That I would suggest is an appropriate focus for a ministry to men. Let’s keep clear of what our wives should or shouldn’t be doing, at least until we get this right.

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