This post was written by Shaney Irene. My favorite thing about Shaney and her writing is that she doesn’t have it all figured out yet. And she’s willing to show you her process. This post is for when you aren’t ready to drop into one camp or another and start waving flags.
That word brings up a lot of emotions for me. When I hear it, I often feel anxious, confused, and would rather just not think about it.
Growing up, submission was a word that was equated with ideas like being quiet, not expressing opinions, letting men lead, pursuing “helping” roles rather than “leading” roles, and generally taking a backseat to men. I was taught that husbands are the head of the home, that they get the final say in everything. I was taught that women could not be pastors or elders, and that they shouldn’t be presidents or CEOs. The desirability of different careers was based on how flexible they could be in allowing the woman to still take care of the home and kids. The underlying idea was that men were created to run the world and rule the home, while women were created to help the men.
As a woman who has strong opinions, likes expressing those opinions, enjoys taking on leadership roles, and has a very low tolerance for following leaders who are unqualified or unprepared (regardless of their gender), submission was a very difficult concept for me.
I no longer believe what I used to believe. I now believe women can be leaders, even pastors; that the home is not a “woman’s place,” and neither is the outside world a “man’s place,”; that it is perfectly okay for a woman to hold and express strong opinions; that men and women are equal.
Along with this big shift in my thinking, though, comes the question of what to do with the S-word. On one hand, I would just like to never think about it again. The word submit is, in my mind, equated with ideas like giving up, being a doormat, being silent.
On the other hand, the word is still in my Bible. The Bible that I still look at as a source of Truth, and Beauty, and connection with God.
Ephesians 5:22-25 confuses me. I don’t know what to make of it. Oh, I’ve read the explanations by scholars and translators, people much smarter than me, how Paul is taking the Roman household codes and making them extremely progressive for their time. That the fact that Paul calls on husbands to love their wives was incredibly radical, because before, women had just been seen as property.
But I still wonder what is meant by the word submit when it is used in this context. Because, when compared to the word Paul chooses to use for husbands, it seems that Paul is calling for wives to do something that he is not calling husbands to do.
On the other hand, the word is first used in verse 21, which calls for all believers to submit to each other. And I’m not sure what to make of this. I’m not positive what submission is supposed to actually look like. Is it simple selflessness, thinking of others before ourselves? Is it a sense of acknowledging that we are all connected to each other as the body of believers, and treating others as part of the same body?
Paul starts chapter 5 of Ephesians with these words:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
And I know that whatever submission looks like, it must reflect this. It cannot be anything that treats women as second class. It cannot be anything that allows for harm. Rather, whatever it is, it must be something that reflects these words.
So I’m learning to become more comfortable with the word “submission,” and to see it as something beautiful that happens between all believers, as Ephesians 5:21 calls for. And perhaps, if we saw submission as defined by Ephesians 5:1-21 instead of assuming it means women are subordinate to men, others could avoid the baggage with that word that I’m learning to shed.
Shaney Irene is a twenty-something who grew up in Texas, with a small stint in California. She is currently meeting God in the questions and seeking the answers, all the while trying to live out Micah 6:8: Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.