From time immemorial religion has always been used to justify unequal power structures and an overall inequality in systems. A religion like Christianity was once used majorly to push the idea that black people were inferior and as such slavery and obedience to the white masters was the lot that was assigned to them from God.
All religions Christianity inclusive have always been used to push the idea that women were to be second class citizens. Statements like “Women were created after so they are not greater than the first” and “The Bible says men are the heads” are said often to shut up women seeking for justice.
As someone who identifies as a Christian and a Feminist, I am often made to feel like faith and feminism cannot exist side by side. However, a relationship with God has been instrumental in my outlook to life so I cannot divorce myself from my faith. So what then happens to those glaring verses of Scripture like “Wives submit…” that are also gaining momentum in the quest to silence women?
For starters, I do not agree with those verses and I would tell you why. Before you stop reading this “blasphemous” article, please hear me out. I want us all to understand that a lot of the time, people interprete Scriptures to suit them and their self centred agenda. Most people who talk about headship and submission have not taken time to read those verses in historical context.
The first thing to know is that the Bible is literature albeit a divinely inspired one. It does not remove the fact that like literature, the Bible is a reflection of the times and cultures of the people in which it was written. There are certain events that occured in Scripture that no right thinking Christian would do no matter how much we always say “The Word of God is standard”. For instance, as a church didn’t we all find it absurd that certain Nigerians in the past went to a zoo and demanded that they be thrown into the lions den? The mindset they had was that God would save them as he did the Prophet Daniel. Why didn’t we say, “It’s in the Bible so it must be followed hook, line and sinker”?.
About those verses, yes Apostle Paul did say that wives should submit to husbands. It was recorded in Ephesians 5:22 as “Wives submit to your husbands…” and also in 1Peter 3:5 “In the same way wives should submit to husbands in everything…”. In other parts of the Bible it then goes on to exposit that the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church and that husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. The Bible also talks about the man being the head of the woman and that man also not being independent of woman as he is born through woman.
As much as these verses appear, I want us to realize that it is not merely about a verse appearing. We have to study the history behind the verse to know if it is still tenable and more importantly if it is in line with the personality of Jesus Christ. His personality was one that sought justice for all people.
Before Apostle Paul tells women to submit to husbands in Ephesians 5:22, in the preceeding verse Ephesians 5: 21 he actually admonishes that “Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ”. This verse makes it known that submission or Christlike submission is one required of both parties and it is to be done “out of reverence for Christ”. It is funny how everyone has been blindfolded to not see that husbands are also required to submit.
To the historical context, each of the churches that Apostle Paul was writing to was under the imperial rule of Rome. Infact practically the entire world was under the colonial rule of the Roman Empire. We must also remember that Christianity back then existed as a small sect that still faced persecutions and the killing of matyrs of like Stephen.
Now, the Roman Empire has what we call in Theology the “patas familias”. These were sets of household codes, rules and laws that governed the smooth running of the Empire. A very very crucial part of the Roman household codes were the clauses of Wife Submission and Slave Submission. In both, women and slaves were practically of the the same level and were viewed as chattel. It is imperative to know that the Roman Empire was a capitalist and feudalist empire that relied heavily on the free labour of women and slaves to succeed. It also required that they not question the social status imposed on them. If any sect came preaching a gospel that sought to upturn the entire social order, that sect was definitely going to be extinguished.
The church leaders like Apostle Paul knew all of this. So instead of seeking to upturn the entire system, they gave women and slaves a way to navigate their already unjust society. That is why if one observes the Scriptures especially in 1 Peter, one would notice that before or after women were told to submit, there were chapters admonishing slaves to submit to masters. In I Peter 3:5 it says, “In the same way, wives should submit to husbands…”. In what way? Women here are being told to submit to husbands in the same way as slaves have being instructed to submit. This brings the looming question: “Are wives slaves?”.
A key thing to take note of is that the same Bible records in Galatians 3:28 that, “From now henceforth, let there be no distinction amongst any of you, neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female for you are all one in the eyes of your Heavenly Father”. By this verse in Galatians, God has smashed the Roman Household codes and all of the bondage that comes with them.
As Christians if we can all acknowledge that slavery in whatever form even if seen in Scripture–though not approved by God–is wrong, why then can’t we let go of those seemingly sexist parts of Scripture? Is it because it is beneficial to our discrimination of women that we hold on so tightly to them? Moreso, if everyone is submitting to one another in Christlike manner, who then now has unbridled authority as the “head”. We must also know that Christ led by placing Himself in a position to serve.
I personally am not submitting to anyone. At least not in the manner in which most men understand submission which to them is a one sided female enterprise where the woman gives up her right to have a say in the marriage.
If you are a Christian woman reading this, I want you to understand that the rejection of the doctrine of submission is not anti-Christian and does not mean you reject Jesus. Now that you know better, to submit or to not submit?
Words By Angel Nduka-Nwosu
Writer. Poet. Feminist. Activist.