14 Years of Mutual Submission in Marriage

On June 21st, 1997 Kristen walked down the aisle escorted by her dad then her uncle Fred led us in an exchange of vows.

Here we are, 14 years later, still standing next together on life’s amazing journey. This past 12 months have been especially dear to us as we experienced two of life’s great (and unexpected) joys together. First, in July 2010 we ministered side-by-side in Haiti for a week. Second, we walked together through the anticipation, birth, and first 4 months of having Jackson.

In 14 years Kristen and I have largely not experienced the bumps and bruises so many of our friends have. We’ve had it pretty easy by comparison. We are thankful as we recognize that without an over-abundance of God’s grace it wouldn’t be possible.

We are far from perfect people. And my flaws must grate on Kristen much more than hers grate on me.

The secret to success for us

Mutual love for, respect for, and submission to one another.

That’s right my fellow conservative friends. I said it. Our marriage is built on an equal footing of love, respect, and submission to one another, as to the Lord.

Many times in the last 14 years I have submitted to my wife out of respect and love for her. (And, by proxy, Jesus.) In 14 years of marriage I can’t think of a time when I stood in front of her and said, “I don’t care what you think, we are doing it this way. You must submit to me because I’m your husband.

And I hope our relationship never breaks down, at its core, to the point where I’d think it was OK to do that.

In the lead-up to our engagement Kristen and I challenged one another to memorize chapters of the New Testament. I know its cheesy, but for us it was fun, competitive, and become meaningful. (Plus, an easy way to be together alone and keep our hands off of one another!)

One of the chapters we memorized was Ephesians 5.

It kind of started as a joke. After all, we were Bible College students surrounded by people who loved to use this section of Paul’s letter to Ephesian Christians as a weapon. And it was totally stereotypical that a madly in love couple would memorize a passage of Scripture about marriage. At least it wasn’t Song of Solomon, right?

Like many ancient things misunderstood throughout time, as we got to know this passage of Scripture we realized that while at the surface level it felt antiquated and entrenched with man-power-dogma, as we embedded the words on our heart we came to realize the passage is much the opposite. It really has become the basis of our marriage.

Read Ephesians 5 for yourself. Actually, take 10 minutes and read it 3 different times in 3 different translations.

You don’t need a commentary to understand what Paul was saying.

As you get familiar with Paul’s language and read it in context you will see that this isn’t a repressive thing at all. As Kristen and I memorized this passage we fell in love with it.

Most importantly, we learned that it had nothing at all to do with blind submission for a woman to a man. Why? Because that’s not how Jesus expects us to submit to Him. Like a loving groom, He asks us to offer our hand to Him willfully. And willfully, lovingly, he gave Himself to His bride wholly and completely, even unto death. It’s a beautiful mystery.

The kicker for the whole passage, and why we crack up that people get hung up on it, is that in verse 32 Paul says, I’m not even really talking about marriage here people– this whole passage is an illustration for the church’s relationship to Jesus! And in verse 33 he adds, “Oh yeah, but a man should love his wife and a woman should respect her husband.

Back to the practicality of mutual submission

In our every day life does Kristen submit to my authority over her as her husband? Only to the extent that I submit to hers. The point of that passage wasn’t blind submission for a wife to her husband. It was mutual, willful, and willing submission to Christ for all of God’s people. We get along because we chose to get along as brother and sister in Christ.

Blind submission is not an act of love as it is an act of obedience. I expect my kids to submit to my authority and to do what we ask them to do because we are their parents and we actually do know what is best for them. But I also know that to lean into the Shema I must win their hearts… which requires more than a relationship built on obedience, right?

To expect that of Kristen would be disrespectful to her, our relationship, and her relationship with the Lord.

Instead, we walk together in mutual, eyes-wide-open submission, love, and respect to one another as we submit arms-wide-open to Jesus.

We’ve agreed with our very lives to put our relationship as #2 with Jesus at our only #1. As we submit to His will for our lives, we act in concert with one another out of love & respect for one another. And, not to sound trite, we’ve found our relationship with one another pretty simple because we’ve kept one another in the proper place all of these years.

What do we think about people who take the perspective that the man is the head and everyone else submits to his authority?
We think they are wrong. And we have 14 years of proof that our way works just fine.

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

20 comments

  1. I LOVE IT!

    I went to a – what many would call – a conservative christian college, where the roles of genders and relationships between them were much of the “submit to your husband” style.

    My wife and I didn’t really have a taste for it. To us, it seemed that love requires you to lean/trust/submit to the other to the point of where you open yourself up to get hurt.

    Christ loved humanity and trusted those he was among with his life. He seemed to trust the authorities whom had him killed. Love isn’t preceded with the question of “am I protected from bad things happening to me.”

    We only have 2 years of study though….

  2. I think the bottom line is love all the way around. You are right, the idea of a Christian marriage sometimes has had this “blind submission element to it, which is crazy. My wife would laugh at me anyway if I tried that haha. The only thing I don’t like is changing the language. The scriptures has Christ serving the church , loving it with his life, the church submits. There is no Christ “submitting” to the church. He serves to point of letting himself be crucified for us, but there is still, the order, God ordains. It’s not “the husband speaks and the wife listens, as we learn from “My big fat Greek wedding” the husband may be the head, but his wife is the neck ;).

    But the head, he is , like Christ is, but in the Gospel sense not law.

  3. Ah, headship. The natural order of things. The “someone has to be in charge and God is male so it must be the boy.” I know the boy arguments.

    In our house, Christ is the the head. He is the decision maker. He is who we submit to. Beneath Jesus’ authority we are all just a distant second place.

    In our house… the secret to our success in 14 years has been that we are equally “in charge.” Absolutely equals. There’s even times where she is fully in charge and I’m not in charge at all. To pull some sort of boy card? That’s not the meaning of this passage.

    In the Way, women were on equal footing with men.

  4. Adam, what “boy card?” I think the problem is our western understanding of submission (and in turn those who abuse what it means). Submission to the husband in marriage is a beautiful thing, it isn’t some sort of unreasonable “I don’t care what you say or if this even
    Ames sense but I’m going to force my will on you, wife.”

    That’s not what Scripture says when it says “wives submit to your husbands as the Church submits to Christ.”. Our culture also conveniently discards the husbands role: “love your wife as Christ loves the Church.” Christ died for the Church. So without abuse a wife submitting to her husband in love and the husband loving his wife above all else, as Christ loves the Church, is the groove God set up in creation and what St. Paul echoes. Sinful abusers get this wrong, not “conservatives.”

  5. Deal with the scripture Adam don’t put word’s in my mouth (Boy Argument/ God is Male) I never said either. Respect is a word in scripture too, not being condescending.
    No it’s not a “boy argument” it’s the Scriptural passage, I am alluding to. Your making it a law thing, it’s Gospel, it’s sweet. You argued this point in relation to your kids, but you still had a role. I suppose you don’t use the word “obey” in your translation for your kids, like submit is? (Eph 5-6)
    Christ is the head of the Church, the church submits to Christ. To rip it out of what it actually says is to ignore the real issue which is Christ and the church. Why would Paul use Marriage for this? It doesn’t matter that we are all a “distant second” what does that have to do it? You are thinking in Law/ authority, We are actually “in Christ” we submit to him in love, but the church does submit – roles are given. Perhaps you may have given birth instead?
    Interesting that to participate in your blog, I must click a button that says “Submit” – why because you told me too in your condescending last post? Hardly , but because the topic interests me and to send a message , I do it this way, under the heading of the topic at hand, to participate in responding to your post.
    The arguments against conservative understandings are missing the point, it’s the Gospel. Look past the Evangelicals with sticks up their rump, ignore that, not the scriptures.

    1. My intent isn’t to condescend. I think it was to draw out better what you meant by your original comment. Thank you for that.

      How am I ignoring Scripture here? That’s a pretty big charge. Is it that I’m ignoring Scripture or that you feel my hermeneutic is flawed?

      1. I am not saying you are specifically, I am referring to the general reaction these days of Evangelicals reacting against the way they were brought up. A good thing in many respects, sometimes though these arguments throw out the baby with the bathwater. You mention how pastors with the mikes abuse this.
        I was also refering to the issue that the scripture does not say “mutual submission” but this is not a matter of Law, it’s the Gospel. The grace shown to each other, the self denial , the commitment the Love, and yes in a spiritual sence the leadership, but it’ s all love.

        As Matt points out we have lost the appreciation of Marriage in one sense because of our western mindset, the church seems to undervalue Marriage. Self fulfillment instead of self denial, “until we both shall Love” “instead of as long as we both shall live”

        Great article on Marriage:

        http://classic.lcms.org/pages/wPage.asp?ContentID=1035&IssueID=56

  6. What has tainted it? Sin of course. Men who look to dominate women instead of loving them as Christ loves the Church. Same way “dominion” and “subdue” have been tainted by the West. Those words don’t mean trash creation and use it however you want. Nor does submit to your husband mean you’re to be subjected to your husbands sinful desires and just deal with it. But bc abuses exist we don’t recreate or redefine either is what I’m saying.

    1. [Tone is tough to measure online. Understand that I’m not throwing daggers, just seeking to draw out your point. ]

      First, we live in the West. So I don’t get your argument that I’m somehow supposed to take a non-Western view. (That’s intellectualism IMO) Darn near everything we practice in our faith is Western to the core.

      I do largely agree with your points. But might you agree with me that “sin of course” is a little too broad of a stroke? Wouldn’t you agree that one reason for what you arguing is abuses/misuses of Scripture by church leaders, men who look to dominate women? I know I’ve witnessed and cleaned up the mess after men came in and said, “You know what the problem here is? Men need to take their rightful spot in marriages and tell women what to do.” (Hyperbole, of course.) Whether or not we like it or not, we have to minister to the world and the mess people before us have created.

      We live in a world of equality. Thanks be to God that Jesus’ life leveled the playing field so that all men could have equal access to the Father.

      I’ll take willful, mutual submission to one another as to the Lord over “I’m the dude in charge and I’m the final decision maker in this household.” Actually, I don’t really know anyone who takes such a view. But plenty of church leaders present themselves as if they hold that view when they have a microphone in their hand.

  7. Adam, my criticism of the West is that the Scriptures are decidedly not Western. So as we come up with new modes of intellectualism or what have you we must be mindful of the authors original intent, not read our own reinterpretation into Scripture. I think much damage (beyond even this convo) has occured over rationalism, enlightenment, and Western ideas being forced onto the faith.

  8. Dear Adam,
    Thanks for your comments. Congrats on your fourteen happy years with Kristen. May you have fourteen more happy ones if the Lord waits and may your children each grow up loving and fearing the Lord with their whole hearts.

    On our island, which is a non-western culture to be sure, sadly, we cannot even count on our hands how many times we have had to deal with domestic abuse. We have been woken up inummerable times to the sound of loud screams and fists flying, a husband punching his wife. Once a woman ran frantically into our home, disrupting Michele homeschooling the kids, blood running from her nose, her husband on her heels with a bush knife. Once I rushed a young woman to the hospital nine-months pregnant; she was traumatized because her husband poked her violently in the belly with a huge stick. Why? Because she was playing cards with friends and had the audacity to ignore him, the man, when he told her to stop. Black eyes. A skull cracked open with a stone. One woman had her hand nearly cut off, the tendons saving the day, laid bare under the tourniquet. I still remember the first Mothers’ Day I had here. An old, goldly Christian man stood up in front of the community. He was in tears. “I’m so so sorry,” he said to women who had gathered for the occassion. “We have had the Good News for many years, but still we treat you like pigs.”

    Two days ago I was sitting with a translator over a meal when he looked at me and said, “I have observed something about you foreigners. You do not beat your wives.” I assured him that this was definitely not the truth. I explained there are many men in our culture who beat their wives. I told him one of the differences might be that in our country we have pretty strong laws that punish men who abuse their wives AND WIVES WHO ABUSE THEIR HUSBANDS for that matter.

    So what am I getting at? I’m interacting with Matt’s comment above. He suggests our western understanding of submissions is wrong and some people use it as an excuse for abuse. Well, I’m not sure about our western understanding, but I am definitely sure the understanding we have encountered in our little corner of the world could stand to be informed with a little more Gospel grace.

    While it sounds like I’m probably not as egalitarian as you in my understanding of how the home runs, I think we can all recognize when a man goes beyond what is written in demonstrating his “headship”.

    In Christ,
    Erik

  9. By the way, Adam, did you see on your page that our anniversary is the same day as yours? We must have talked about that before, huh? I had forgotten we were married on the same day.

    I haven’t done anything special with Michele yet, and I think she is pretty cross. So I’d better go and make her some tea or something! By the way, how do you change or edit one of your posts? I wanted to delete the last line I wrote above to the effect that “While it sounds like, blah, blah, blah…” I don’t think you wrote this thing to highlight differences in opinion as much as to celebrate how you have made it fourteen years, huh? Congrats again to you, Adam. Fourteen years is a long time in today’s world, for many people, anyway!

    1. You might want to get Michelle a little something! I thought you got married and the 22nd? Either way, woohoo for 14 years.

      Yes, I did add that comment at the end to elicit a response. There’s a danger in writing for response. If you dot say anything people won’t engage the content enough to respond. But if you go too far, you offend readers and push them from the discussion. Maybe the comment at the end it was too much?

  10. Erik, blessings on your work abroad.

    Where the Western part comes in is we seek to redefine Scripture instead of dealing with authorial intent. In the West we hear words like submit (and dominion and subdue echoing Genesis) and we automatically think this is a negative thing which has led to so much abuse and has kept women down. As true as it might be (and is) that men have used “Wives submit to your husbands…” for unspeakable abuses does not mean we incorporate a Western and Enlightenment understanding of “progress” and “rights” into the text. That is not the angle Paul is working with whatsoever. Paul is giving a beautiful picture of marriage “in the groove” (to borrow a phrase from Bonhoeffer).

    I contend our coming out of that groove (violently or not) does not mean we re-interpret or write off Paul’s picture. Sadly I think this is re-enforced by two comments upstream by two individuals who seem to view Western Enlightenment thinking as the way to interpret Paul. Mr. Lehman condescendingly says, “Oh brother…” and gives a silly response followed up by an even sillier response by Mr. McClane exclaiming folks who think like this are only in a couple of bubbles. In actuality the picture we have of the roles and the groove of marriage is something Christians have operated with for 2,000 years and in the largest parts of Christianity (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglicans in Africa and Southeast Asia, many Lutherans, many Presbyterians, etc., etc.) this is still the norm. So it is hardly small, but a comment like that is indicative of American Christianity (whether left, right, middle, or otherwise) which finds its interpretation of Christianity to be of utmost significance as though we’re on the edge of something big happening and I’m a part of it. No, you’re not. The Church has been around long before American Evangelicals and now American Evangelicals reacting against each other. So it’s an easy way to side skirt the Scripture, tradition, and theology by saying, “Oh brother…” or by making an untrue claim that this is a small matter.

    Now understand I am not saying all things Western are bad. Certainly we cannot and do not read this text and say women can only be barefoot and pregnant. That too is silly. The reason we cannot say that is because that is not the thrust of the text. The thrust of the text is a picture of a Godly, and in the groove, marriage. No need to belittle (which is what comments like the above ones do whether it’s tough to tell on the internet or not) or re-interpret because we’re uncomfortable with God’s Word. Deal with the text.

  11. There’s a tension here in your ‘let’s get a response comment’ that needs to be flushed out… in another post or elsewhere online, because this is an important conversation that is important to biblical exegesis and application. So dude- happy anniversary and enjoy the time.

  12. Matt & Adam,

    Thanks for clarifying that (a) Adam you did want a response thus the comment and (b) Matt you are saying (I think) that the egalitarian model of marriage is a modern, American Evangelical thing. I agree with Matt, I think. And while I would like to chat more about it, time is ticking away and I need to go.

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