Tag Archives: trust

To love, cherish….and obey?

I, (name), take you, (name)
to be my wife/husband,
to have and to hold
from this day forward;
for better, for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish, [and obey]
till death us do part,
according to God’s holy law.
In the presence of God I make this vow.
from The Marriage Service, Common Worship (Church of England) 

I got married a few weeks ago, and we opted to go for the more traditional wording of the vows. While the man says “to love and to cherish”, the woman’s vows say “to love, cherish and obey”. It’s funny how a single word can cause so much angst, but this one does. Not particularly because it is in there, but because, while the rest of the vows are the same for men and women, only the woman ‘obeys’.

I am sure that, if they noticed it, some of my feminist friends will have gasped (internally- I didn’t hear any out loud gasping, so well done) at the inherent inequality of it. But it wasn’t a mistake, I haven’t lost my mind, and it wasn’t a decision I took lightly. This blog is an attempt to explain to those who find it surprising my rationale behind making that decision. You may well not agree with me at the end of it, but at least you will hopefully understand more why I chose that route. (It will also act as a reminder for me on the days I am feeling disobedient why I made the promises I did.)

Firstly, and very importantly, it was my choice. Part of my understanding of the importance and role of feminism, is that it gives women the power to make choices in decisions that impact them, rather than decisions being made on their behalf. Of course, I discussed it, at length, with Husband and I was aware of his preference. Of course that influenced my decision; the opinions of those we love always do. But Husband was also clear that it was entirely my choice as to the final decision. These are vows that we have made before God and each other, and we intend to take those promises very seriously. Husband certainly didn’t want to  make me promise something that I didn’t agree with and didn’t intend to stick to.

We set out the boundaries in our discussions. In saying that I will obey Husband, that doesn’t mean anything he says I have to do. It is not a case that he clicks his fingers and I jump. In promising to obey, I have not surrendered my ability to discuss, disagree or express my opinion! For us, this bit of the vows is particularly pertinent to big decisions that we come across in life; for example, a decision on where any children we have go to school, not the colour of the curtains. We are taking about situations where a decision has to be made, but after discussing it, both listening to the other’s point of view, praying about it, discussing and praying some more, we still have different ideas of the best course of action.  A democracy of 2 simply can get stuck. In those situations, someone needs the casting vote. I guess this is my pragmatic side coming through in making this choice. We’ve decided that our default is for Husband to have that casting vote. Sometimes it might be me, depending on the situation. An obvious example is my work. Obviously Husband doesn’t have jurisdiction over my work decisions,  but it may well be that with other decisions we decide that it makes sense for me to have the final decision.

While we are talking about work, there was another aspect I had not considered before Husband raised it. He reminded me that in my future line of work (being a vicar), I am likely to be responsible for making a lot of decisions, every day. We cannot always predict the outcome of our decisions, but we all carry the weight of responsibility for the decisions we make. In a profession such as the priesthood (but also many other careers such as social work, teaching, nursing etc.), our decisions can have profound long term impacts on people’s lives, for good or ill. That’s a lot of responsibility. Husband’s job, on the other hand, while it involves decision making as all life does, doesn’t involve the same type of decisions. By taking on the role of lead decision maker in the family, he is also taking on the responsibility that carries, and taking it off me. He is not doing this to gain power over me, but to love and help me. (This again doesn’t mean that I am passive in decision making, nor does it mean I won’t take ownership of decisions we reach, nor that if it goes wrong I will ascribe blame to Husband, but he will still carry more weight of responsibility simply by having made the decision).

We would be foolish if we didn’t acknowledge that by me vowing to obey, I have handed power over to Husband. Not complete power, but there is still the possibility that he could abuse his position, demanding I obey in every decision, or make decisions that are in his interest, not ours as a family. In spite of all the other reasons above, this was the crux of it for me: Do I trust Husband? Do I trust him to make good decisions on our behalf, decisions which I can get behind and support because I know that they are made with love and thought and care? Do I trust him not to abuse this power? Yes, I do. If I couldn’t say yes to this, I couldn’t marry him at all.

The final part to my thinking, and possibly the most controversial, is that we want our marriage to model (as imperfectly as it may be) the relationship between Jesus Christ, and His bride, the Church. There is a really difficult and awkward passage in the New Testament which reads “21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy” (Ephesians 5:21-25. New International Version).

I don’t have space to unpack this passage fully now*. I find this a really uncomfortable passage, and it has been misused to cause great harm to many women down the centuries (specifically verse 22 “Wives submit yourselves to your own husbands”- those who misuse it tend to ignore the previous verse which is abundantly clear “Submit to one another” and verse 25). I might rail against the patriarchical society that first wrote it, but I can’t get away from it saying the wife should submit to the husband in the same way the Church submits to Christ. Admittedly, the Church (which is all Christians, not just specific denominations or groups meeting in a particular building), is in many ways terrible at submitting to (i.e. obeying) Christ Jesus. The list of ways in which the Church doesn’t follow Jesus’ teaching is shamefully long. But, for all its failings, the Church at its very core is trying to follow Jesus and be obedient.

I know that some of you will still be choking on verse 22-24, as do I (especially that “in everything” phrase). But remember the mutuality of verse 21 “Submit to one another”- the give and take of relationships, and when I keep reading I reach “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”. Too often we never reach this verse, but quite frankly, having read this, I think I have the better deal. My Husband is meant to love me in the same way that Christ loved the Church: i.e. he is meant to show me the same self-sacrificing, costly love that led Jesus to set aside His own desires, comfort and well-being, and led Him to the cross. If Husband is making decisions with that attitude and approach, they are likely to be decisions which are in our best interests, and easy for me to agree with (though not necessarily easy to enact). I think husbands have the harder task in this passage.

When I started writing this blog, I didn’t expect to end up writing about Ephesians 5. I probably wouldn’t have started writing it if I had. Promising to obey is controversial these days, and talk of submission even more so. I expect may who read this will still disagree with my decision, but it is done, and though he will not always get it right, I trust Husband to love me well.

 

* Here are some blogs which look at this passage/the idea of submission in more depth. The first is from a writer whose book ‘A Year of Biblical Womanhood’ was one of the most liberating things I’ve read. The other two are written from a queer theology perspective.

Rachel Held Evans – Humility without Hierarchy

Queer Ephesians 5:21-6:9 – Guest Post Ben Allison

Queer Ephesians 5:21-33 – Wives be Subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord

 

Trusted to Talk

Throughout my life I have been involved in ‘mission’ (demonstrating Christian faith to people) primarily with children and young people in the East End of London. This has been done through a life-long involvement with Longbarn East End, a residential camp run by Scripture Union for 8-11 years olds from East London, and, in the past 4 years, with Eden Bow. Eden Bowis a team of Christians committed to living on the Lincoln estate in Bow for the long term in order to do youthwork and see the community transformed through the gospel.

Both of these groups focus on reaching those who are growing up in deprived areas. While many of the families are not themselves ‘deprived’, the areas are, and so the young people within them daily face the challenges of growing up in communities shaped by poverty, dysfunctional relationships and low aspiration.

One attribute that is frequently encountered when spending time with young people from the East End of London is wariness of adults, specifically a mistrust of what adults say. Young people may be willing to come to sessions put on for them, or have superficial conversations, but as soon as you start to go deeper in conversation, or to suggest future plans, the young people get dismissive. Sadly, this is all too often understandable as many of them have been repeatedly let down or looked over by many adults in their lives, from teachers and youthworkers to police officers and parents. They simply don’t trust what adults say.

This obviously has implications for speaking to them about faith. Simply telling the gospel message to a group of young people will often meet with the attitude ‘Why should we believe what you say?’ This attitude is rarely stated, but more frequently demonstrated through disinterest, disengagement or mocking. While frustrating, given their collective experience of adults being untrustworthy or disappointing, this is a justified question (even if there are some adults in their lives who are good).

However, this situation provides an opportunity for Christians and the Church to markedly stand out from the prevailing surrounding culture by being people of integrity, who keep their word. Proving integrity and gaining trust takes a long time, and is earned through small steps, but if we can be trusted in the small things, like following through on a promised game of Fifa, or a trip to the zoo, perhaps we can be trusted when we are talking about the big messages of God’s love and grace. It is high praise indeed, and a sacred position of trust, to be told by a group of teenagers “We know you will do what you say”.

The adage ‘It’s got to be seen to be believed’ is true. Simply telling young people about God’s love and grace is often inadequate. In areas where ‘love’ is often fleeting and conditional, and grudges are held for generations, such extraordinary claims are dismissed as unrealistic or are simple incomprehensible. However, if these young people are able to trust those telling them the gospel, and experience that love and grace as demonstrated by Christians around them, the gospel good news becomes accessible to them. This goes hand in hand with earning the right to speak to them about faith; if we demonstrate ourselves to have integrity through our persistent loving of people, we open the doors to being able to have a conversation about what motivates us.

Yet, even if these young people never ask about our faith, even if they remain untrusting and unlovely, we are still compelled by the example of Jesus to keep loving them. We may never gain their trust enough to be able to speak to them about faith, or what we say may seem to have no impact. But our behaviour is still observed, and in the same way that words that start a feud can be remembered for years, so too can words that speak of hope.

Are we able to follow the example of our God who loved us despite our mistrust and dismissal of His good news, and who demonstrated that love not just by His words, but by his actions and attitude?