TEXAS FAITH 127: In faith and gender politics, what does submission mean — as in, submissive spouse?

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Dallas Morning News,

Each week we will post a question to a panel of about two dozen clergy, laity and theologians, all of whom are based in Texas or are from Texas. They will chime in with their responses to the question of the week. And you, readers, will be able to respond to their answers through the comment box.

When Sarah Palin ran for vice president, as Hillary Clinton considers a race for president and with Wendy Davis actively engaged in a bid for governor, one aspect of that culture war is what it means in religious terms to be submissive – most notably, a submissive wife. A recent USA Today article notes the subject is popping up these days, preached from the pulpit, pontificated about in a spate of new book releases and prominent on the agenda of next month’s Southern Baptist leadership summit. “All seek to answer the question of whether wives are 100 percent equal partners or whether ‘biblical womanhood’ means a God-given role of supporting their husbands — and, in turn, knowing their husbands are honor-bound to die for them, if necessary.”

Biblical references to husbands leading their households have long invited interpretations that sound to many people a lot like inferiority. Where’s the equality in submission?  And yet Cynthia Rigby of the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and a member of the Texas Faith panel noted in the USA Today story, the Scriptures came out a world where women couldn’t own property and could be divorced by their husbands saying the word three times. In that world, holding wives up as “holy and without blemish” was a radical idea, she said. In her upcoming book, “Shaping Our Faith: A Christian Feminist Theology,” Rigby explores the idea biblical submission and its implications in the wider public debate.

With gender politics is so much part of our public debate, how do we interpret the idea of submission? What does submission in a religious, political and modern cultural sense really mean?

NITYANANDA CHANDRA DAS, minister of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), Dallas 

In order to have a stable culture stable family life is necessary.  If there is irreligion in the form of divorce it breeds lack of faith and stability in the children along other degrading qualities.  Submission by the wife is a psychological tactic for a peaceful and strong marriage.  Men in general like to feel that they are in charge.  If a woman can give him that illusion, that he is the leader, the relationship can be more strongly supported from the danger of break up.  In a traditional Vedic marriage the wife is the queen at home and the husband in the king in public.  Because of this ancient social science there is hardly any divorce in India and outside of the modernized urban areas it is practically non existent.

Ultimately one is to become submissive to God.  The material world is a place where souls go who have ego problems.  Those of us in the material world have a tendency to lord it over others.  Because a good and peaceful family life is conducive towards dharma and spiritual life, a spiritual aspirant will try to cooperate with their spouse towards that goal.  The idea is that pleasure and happiness comes by serving the whole just as watering the root of the tree supplies water to its leaves.  Similarly a spiritual relationship is free from mentality of getting something out of another but rather to work together to serve the whole.  When a couple truly serves the root with love, they, the leaves, become nourished and satisfied.

To see all responses of the TEXAS Faith panel click here.