Graciously Submitted for Discussion
The Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s second-largest Christian denomination, raised eyebrows with the announcement that it had amended its official statement of beliefs to declare that wives must “submit graciously” to the leadership of their husbands, just as the church “willingly submits to the headship of Christ.”
Feminists were soon arguing with political conservatives on national television, with feminist leaders charging that such ideas do not reflect mainstream opinion in a society finally inching its way toward male-female equality.
RACHEL FISCHER spoke with a long-time Southern Baptist and the local head of the National Organization for Women for their views.
67, a restaurant industry billing clerk and an active worshiper at the First Southern Baptist Church of Hollywood for 36 years
The Southern Baptist Convention meets annually and makes resolutions. However, it is up to the individual churches to interpret those resolutions. Usually, [the First Southern Baptist Church of Hollywood] does adhere to them, but our congregation is self-governing. There are those among our body who may agree [with the new wording], there are those who may not agree, but we work together because it’s the Lord’s work.
The resolution is an affirmation of the basic church concept that goes back many years. If you go back into Genesis, Eve was created to be there for Adam, to be his helper, his confidante, his soul mate. In a corporation, there’s only one head of the company.
One of the problems today is that there’s chaos in so many households simply because we have assumed a “me” concept: I am all-important. I am the one. The true joy that comes with Christianity is putting Jesus first, others second and yourself last. Now, that doesn’t mean you become a carpet or a steppingstone.
Marriage is a partnership; there are strong partners and there are weak partners. My husband was ill the last 25 years of his life and he ultimately died last year from emphysema. When he was not able to be the breadwinner, there came a time that I said, “Fine, I’m going to have to go out and work. But if you’re going to be here during the day, you can help me and together we can do this.”
But he was the head of the household. It never came to the point where ego stepped into this. I went out and earned, and I turned over to him the money for the bills. He paid the bills; his signature was on everything.
That sentence in the beliefs statement absolutely does not mean that a woman is inferior to a man. In a Southern Baptist church, the husband has certain responsibilities to his wife. I have never encountered a problem in the home as a result of my taking my rightful place.
27, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women
Next month is the 150th anniversary of the first women’s rights convention in America [in Seneca Falls, N.Y.]. And, instead of focusing on the progress that women have made over this period of time, the accomplishments we have and where we are in society, now we’re hearing from conservatives that it’s time for a wife to “submit graciously” to her husband. This is certainly a damaging idea that’s been around a long time. But why is it being brought to the forefront now?
We need to look at the motivation for the Southern Baptists to take this position at this time. Make no mistake about it: What occurred at this convention was as political as it was religious.
The idea, as we approach the new millennium, that women need to go back to a place in society where there was no semblance of equality is a dangerous one. There is certainly a movement afoot in this country to bring women back to the time when they were the property of their closest male relatives. But women are working outside the home in larger numbers than ever before, and most are not looking for a husband to submit to.
The Southern Baptists are not the only example of religious leaders who are trying to take their viewpoints into the political realm. I am proud to live in a country where the Constitution and the Bible are two totally different documents. Taking a religious viewpoint into the political realm is not appropriate, but it’s something we’ve seen more of recently, whether we’re looking at the [Christian men’s organization] Promise Keepers or the Southern Baptists.
If a woman doesn’t submit to her husband, is she going to be the victim of domestic violence?
The Southern Baptist Convention put forward this message not only to Southern Baptists. They went on every political show in the nation to try and put forth the message that this is what we should be looking to, that we should look to the Bible in order to determine the roles of men and women in society. This is not the direction that most men and women want this country to be going in, including many Southern Baptists such as President Clinton.