Respect and Equality in Marriage

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

Are respect and equality in marriage a radical feminist idea of fairly recent origin? Are they against the plain teaching of the Word?

Ah, I hear the “buts” already. Why am I putting respect and equality on the same footing in that statement? Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians everywhere would say respect and equality are not intrinsically linked. “I can respect my wife in her position beneath me.” That’s what popular Christian marital role philosophy teaches.

True respect values another as being just as important as myself. Respect sees the other person as equal or greater in value. And respect doesn’t pick and choose, limiting respect to a theoretical concept, while still viewing the other as “less” in many ways. It isn’t respect if it isn’t respect.

The Word’s admonition for husbands to love their wives as their own bodies is a good example of this. Who among us is going to treat our own body abusively (deliberately – not through poor diet choices, etc.) Granted there are some people who do hurt themselves – but we can hardly say that is a good thing! We don’t like pain and we go out of our way to avoid it. That is respect for ourselves – I respect my own feelings enough not to deliberately violate them. We are fundamentally created to avoid hurting ourselves – that’s what nerve endings and pain receptors are for! I consider my leg to be just as important as the rest of me. Same with my eye or my foot. That is respect. There is NO element of choosing “less” or “greater.”

In a marriage relationship, respect cannot be one-sided. That will be a relationship destined for abuse on some level. The minute there is a heirarchy, there is some element of disrespect, because there is an expectation that some are “above” others. That means, by default, that those others are “less” or “lower” than those above them.

This is so simply logical, and yet, it is denied. You can put all the words on it you want like “equal but with different roles” – and it is still a higher-lower relationship – which is one of disrespect. Equal with different roles would be equal with different roles, not hierarchical with different roles.

It’s exactly like the prejudiced idea of racial “equality” popularly phrased “equal but separate” – that wasn’t equality of value or respect! I don’t care what words or fancy explanations you want to concoct – it is still disrespect. If one person is “lower” than the other in a heirarchy, that is disrespect at the most basic level – and therefore disrespectful throughout. You cannot have an uneven foundation and expect the building to be level – or secure.

This idea of disrespect in hierarchy is fundamentally in opposition of everything Jesus taught. He gave up His “rights” and put Himself in the lowest position – and instructed husbands to do the same. That doesn’t sound like the hierarchical system the church teaches at all. In fact, it would put husbands as EQUAL to their wives. What a novel concept.

We also have to remember the cultural paradigm of the time when Jesus spoke. In that culture men owned women – women had no rights. They were very little different than slaves – which makes it that much more interesting that the passages about wives and slaves are seen in close proximity in the Word.

Without attempting to directly attack the cultural reality of the day, Jesus effectively overturned it by telling husbands to put themselves in the position of servant to their wives. We interpret that through the lenses of our culture, which does not include slavery. So we think of “servant” as just someone who does nice things for someone else or helps out with the household tasks. We MUST understand it the way Jesus meant it when He said it.

Slaves had the least status of everyone. Jesus told men NOT to lord over their wives (that was His paradigm of leadership across the board, stated elsewhere) – but instead to be the servants in the relationship – to voluntarily take the lowest position in the culturally-expected hierarchical system of the time. That would make them equal to the women, slaves and children rather than being “over” them in a hierarchical system.

If we interpret the rest of the admonitions on marriage from this fundamental perspective, it changes everything.

On a side note — would that make Jesus the original radical feminist??? I think not. And it doesn’t make me one either. It just makes me a Biblical literalist – who believes that taking the Bible literally means taking the entire thing in context, rather than picking out bits and creating doctrines on verses here and there. Hmm – how strange and wicked – and radical – is that?

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