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the vow to submit

September 13, 2012

A few years ago, I blogged about the “vow to obey” and other bloggers basically responded with “get over it, Suzanne” and implied that “nobody does that any more.” But as it happens, if the bishop of the diocese of Sydney, Peter Jensen, gets his way, women will be vowing to “submit.” As it happens, the diocese of Sydney exports clergy to my side of the planet. So I was under the ministry of clergy trained in the diocese of Sydney for many years. And I was also witness to criminal violence in the home.

The clergy preached the submission of wives … and they preached the tender loving kindness of husbands. But they did not once publicly offer practical help or shelter for victims of violence. I went to the minister’s wife and explained that I needed resources, at least books, for a friend of mine, etc. etc. – but no, she was certain that there were no cases of abuse in our congregation, and that was the end of the conversation. Is it possible to be that naive?

Here is an example of what you will hear from the Sydney clergy on marriage. Here is a part of a sermon by one of these men,

Marriage is like the trinity, The Father is in charge. Jesus ALWAYS submits to the father, he obeys, he says what his father has told him to say, Jesus sees the father in the trinity as the head, and he obeys him. It is never the other way around. Isn’t it interesting?

But in no way can we say that Jesus being subject to his father is demeaning. … In the godhead himself there is submission. To submit to any authority, you are being Godlike.

In Gen. 1 God said, Let us make mankind in our image. To be made in the likeness of God is to be made in relationship where, just as the son submits to the father, we have a couple, a head and a helper.

Wives, submit to the husband as the head – he is in charge. God solved the argument before it started, he said, I have to choose someone, okay, husbands, you are in charge. I hold you responsible.

Now what does it look like? If you are married to a good husband, who … you will find a very happy wife, … if however, you are a wife who is married to a lousy husband, just line up over here and we can discuss this in a therapy group afterward. [laughingly] Its not easy.

I want to point out something that is very important. In our culture we decide that if something doesn’t work we change it. But God designed humanity. God designed the world and gave it order. We submit to all authorities because God has put them there. Never in the Bible do you see God saying plan B is if it is not working, swap. You never hear, wives command your husbands, and husbands submit.

We do live in a culture where wives command husbands. … we reject all authority structures because we think we know better.

God does not say, I put you in charge now rule. He always tells authorities, I have put you in charge but what I want you to do is love. You are in charge husbands, I have decided this, too bad if you don’t want to be in charge, you are in charge, says God, like I am in charge of you, so I want you to love your wives, in the same way I love the church, so far that you are willing to die for her. Use my love for you as the minimum requirement for how you love your wife.

If there is any husband who raises his voice or strikes his wife the smell of hell is close to your marriage. How dare you … Love your wives sacrificially. It is so shameful when you go to other cultures where the gospel is not preached, women are sold. they are treated like objects.
But it is an irony. In a culture where Jesus has been proclaimed and women have been raised to equality, and have been treated in every way equal but different to men, that same culture, people jettison God and the women say they want to jettison the men, they say, we want to be in charge.

– Husbands ask your wives how you can be a better husband, and take notes.
– The biggest mistake Adam made and we men make is we are not willing to lead.
– It is difficult in any culture if you have a lousy husband. This culture has made it easy, you just divorce him. that is not necessarily, the solution love them as if they were the lord.
– A good divorce? Divorce is a natural consequence of living in a culture that denies the living God.

This man says many laudable things. He is probably a nice enough person. Actually he always appeared to be that way to me. But he laughed at women who could be suffering violence. And there was no practical help offered in reality.

In fact, a young woman stood up in the middle of this sermon and walked out. Was she offered therapy? No. I happen to know for a fact that this young woman is paying for her own therapy. No one from this church offered to pay for her therapy.

I know lots of people who thought I was just being crazy to worry about these ancient vows. But in October these vows will once again be a typical part of the wedding ceremony in Sydney.

I recently commented on a blog in Sydney, giving some of these facts, and I also emailed my former minister, also from Sydney, asking him to write to the bishop of Sydney and let him know that women have suffered criminal violence under this kind of ministry. Yes, women also suffer violence in other circumstances, but we don’t support these other circumstances either. That’s the point. Men also suffer violence. This is a fact. Violence is varied in circumstance and nature. But we ought not to support conditions that feed entitlement of one person over another for good reason.

I don’t know if I will ever fully recover from complementarianism. I would like to forget about it, but that is also difficult.



16 Comments leave one →
  1. September 13, 2012 5:30 am

    Isn’t the theory behind the vow to obey based on a slimmed-down version of the three counsels of perfection?

    Since the counsels of perfection are understood to be acts of supererogation, I have difficulty fathoming how they could be mandatory for ordinary family life; one supposes they could be offered voluntarily, but logic dictates that a vow of obedience cannot be both voluntary and supererogatory.

    Similarly, one supposes that it would be disastrous for the continuation of the human race if those in marriage began to commonly adopt vows of chastity; and disastrous for capitalism if those in marriage began to commonly adopt vows of poverty. How did vows of obedience become popular?

  2. September 13, 2012 5:47 am

    A further comment, this time not on substance but on grammar:

    It is difficult in any culture if you have a lousy husband. This culture has made it easy, you just divorce him. that is not necessarily, the solution love them as if they were the lord.

    Note how the “singular they” here has become a monstrosity. Besides the jarring effect it has on the reader, notice how Richard James’s declaration would appear to advocate both polyandry and polytheism.

  3. krwordgazer permalink
    September 14, 2012 1:47 am

    It is my understanding that the idea that God set up the world in terms of hierarchy and authority is a Greek concept that got grafted into Christianity. Applying this hierarchy to the Trinity makes God Himself subject to the “Great Chain of Being” concept.

  4. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 14, 2012 2:13 am


    The three counsels of perfection is quite interesting in the history of Christianity. Of course, protestants don’t hold to those counsels – for men, that is.


    I think there was also some sense of hierarchy in ancient Israel as well. Most societies have had gender hierarchy to a lesser or greater extent.

  5. September 14, 2012 7:48 am

    I don’t know if I will ever fully recover from complementarianism. I would like to forget about it, but that is also difficult.

    These words resonate with so many, Suzanne! Thank you for writing so personally. The more I spend time with my mother six months since her husband’s (my father’s) passing, the more I see her not only in grief but also in recovery. My dad was a biblical manhood man, a complementarian, until the last 20 months of his life. And we’d like to forget so many things. (To me in our post-“racial” and post-Civil War and post-Civil Rights ages in the USA, there are many parallels of “biblical” manhood and womanhood with “biblical” race-based American/European slavery of Africans. Frederick Douglas and Isabella Baumfree, aka Sojourner Truth, and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks couldn’t easily forget.)

  6. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 14, 2012 9:30 am

    Now that Pat Robertson has spoken out so passionately in favour of wife beating, one can clearly see the connections in his mind. He believes that the wife must submit to authority, she is naturally rebellious and the couple cannot divorce, but something must be done. Hence his advice for the husband that the couple could move to Saudi Arabia where he would be free to beat his wife.

  7. September 14, 2012 12:50 pm

    Suzanne, I agree that most societies have hierarchy, including gender hierarchy. But it is my understanding that the idea of a systematized hierarchy of all creatures (known as the “Great Chain of Being”) was passed down from the neo-Platonists to the church fathers, to the medieval scholars, and thus became an ingrained part of Christianity, although this idea is not in the Bible. See The Great Chain of Being by Lovejoy, and also The Elizabethan World Picture by Tillyard. I have a blog post about this topic:

  8. Wayne Shaffer, Jr. permalink
    September 22, 2012 6:42 am

    Hi Suzanne.

    Would you happen to know where I can find an unbiased source providing the entire context of Pat’s comments? I’d like to judge for myself whether he has “spoken out… passionately in favor of wife beating,” or just made a stupid joke about it. However, I don’t trust the editing of any of the copies I’ve found posted online.

  9. September 22, 2012 6:51 am

    We might look at the Huffington Post as biased:

    Thus, maybe the Christian Post provides a more objective slant, especially when its reporter Katherine Weber gives this direct quote:

    “We regret these comments and subsequently edited them out of the later broadcast,” Chris Roslan, spokesman for the CBN, told local Virginia news station WAVY-TV, an affiliate of NBC.

  10. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 23, 2012 1:20 am

    Hi Wayne,

    What context would make it okay to tell a man to beat his wife? Cause I am a bit curious about that.

  11. Wayne Shaffer, Jr. permalink
    September 23, 2012 1:51 am

    Come on Suzanne, read what I actually wrote and tell me how I implied any such thing. I realize this will sound condescending, but you’ll have to live with it: I think some people’s experiences with complementarianism — perhaps including yours — have distorted their/your perception. The clips I have been able to find include the viewer question to which Pat was responding, but end rather abruptly. At this point, I am left with the impression that Pat was making a JOKING endorsement of wife-beating, partly as a way of making a “dig” at some forms of Islam, and partly as a way of acknowledging it is not at all right that the guy’s wife tried to hit HIM. The joke may have been distasteful, and I certainly disagree with the non-jocular complementarian views Pat expressed elsewhere in his reply, but there is no way I could interpret any of the clips I’ve seen as Pat actually endorsing wife-beating.

    The reason I would like to see the whole clip from some unbiased source is that I’m fully prepared to kick the hornet’s nest by pointing out Pat as a fool on my Facebook page, but only if I have a trustworthy clip to link to.

  12. September 23, 2012 8:03 am

    Why would Pat Robertson or anyone at CBN need for you to come to full preparation “to kick the hornet’s nest by pointing out Pat as a fool on [your] Facebook page”? Spokesman Chris Roslan has already said in public: “We regret these comments.” The sense of wrong is so strong that Mr. Roslan went so far as to explain how CBN “subsequently edited [Pat Robertson’s regretful comments] out of the later broadcast.”

    But even staunch complementarian Denny Burk very much agrees with Suzanne’s observation — “that Pat Robertson has spoken out so passionately in favour of wife beating” so that “one can clearly see the connections in his mind” between wife beating and the imagined legitimacy of other sorts of mistreatment of women by their husbands. Now to be fair to you, Burk wants, at first, to think Pat Robertson must just be joking, to interpret his comment surely as only a bad attempt at offensive humor perhaps, but Burk considers so much more:

    At first it comes out like a really bad joke, and his co-host brushes it off. But then he comes back to it again as if what this wayward wife really needs is a good beating from her husband. Robertson almost sounds remorseful that wife-beating is not a legal option, saying “I don’t think we condone wife-beating these days but something has got to be done.”

    It would be almost impossible to believe that he said such a thing were there not video evidence. It just seems so implausible that someone could possibly say such a thing on national television, but there it is.

    This is but the latest episode now in a long line of horrendous blunders. Last year, he has advised a man to divorce his invalid wife. Just weeks ago, he stigmatized adopted children as “weird.” When you add to that the fact that he is proponent of the prosperity gospel, it is plain that this man is not operating from a biblical worldview. Wisdom cries out in the streets (Proverbs 1:21), and it ought to be plain to everyone at this point that this man is a false teacher, not a spokesman for evangelical Christianity.

  13. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    September 23, 2012 11:36 am


    Let me rephrase my question. What context would make it okay to even jokingly tell a man to beat his wife? Because I know women who have been raped, beaten or coerced, and they don’t live in Saudi Arabia either. I also know some men who have been mistreated and coerced. I don’t joke about that either.

    So, once again, what makes it okay to joke about this topic?

  14. krwordgazer permalink
    September 23, 2012 12:22 pm

    I watched the Robertson clip on Burke’s blog. I do think he at least thought he was being flippant about the wife-beating– but I agree that it was totally inappropriate even as a joke. The rest of what he said was just as bad, though. Essentially, that this woman must have been spoiled as a child and allowed to rebel against her father, so she doesn’t understand proper authority and thinks she can raise her hand to her husband.

    It is my understanding that most abusive adults (and yes, they can be women as well as men) were not spoiled as children– they themselves were abused as children, or else they watched one parent abusing their other parent– or both. Robertson seems to be hung up on this idea of authority to the point where he either disbelieves, or has never exposed himself to, this fairly common knowledge. To him this is not about one human being abusing another. It’s about the subordinate human being not acknowledging the authority of the one in charge. He views the wife as “13-year-old in a woman’s body” who needs to be spanked. Therefore, it would be best if she could be taken to a place where it’s legal to spank her– and this will solve the authority problem. The problem (if it exists; he’s reading a lot into one short letter) of a woman being emotionally still a child– the co-host sees this as a need for therapy. Robertson is more interested in that emotional child being disciplined than he is in the woman being healed.

    It’s sad and disgusting.

  15. October 1, 2012 12:17 pm

    ”I don’t know if I will ever fully recover from complementarianism. I would like to forget about it, but that is also difficult.”

    Suzanne, as one who has suffered sexual, physical, emotional and mental abuse from a child and then pretty horrendous emotional and mental abuse from the church, I do not think one can or should completely recover from the abuses of traditionalism and/or patriarchal gender hierarchy. I say this to show I have some understanding. Thanks to the Lord, I have healed greatly from my experiences. God has turned the bad around to good. And that I don’t want to heal from.

    Those who come to Christ to recover from abuses have a blessing waiting. After God heals the pain and damage, what is left is great empathy, wisdom and insight for the downtrodden. We do not have to see behind the closed doors to know the full story of abuse. For those who have lived around abusive people we learn the signs, just like recognizing bad weather signs. Regarding Pat Robertson and those like him, it is not possible to joke in the manner he did unless he has a dishonorable view of women. The fact that he went on and also chuckled about it reveals it is not casual. Piper did a similar chuckle when questioned about what a wife should do when she is being beaten by her husband.

    This gives us fuel for seeking the truths of Scripture on these and similar subjects. And these truths need to be revealed. It is crucial. There is a ‘however’ though. I am still realizing that we must learn to speak and teach with a certain dispassionateness toward the abusive and arrogant ones. We never know that one of them may be able to be corrected and redirected by the Holy Spirit.

    I have had a messianic Jewish friend for 30 + years. He always felt that he had “rights” as a man that women should not have. He patronized women (which infuriated me). Now for 3+ years we have been serving in the same church. He has tried everything he could to stifle my teaching ministry even accusing me of false teaching. Slowly I started confronting him. It was so aggravating as he refused to discuss, he just wanted to ‘correct’ me as if he were the authority. I pressed on (with the support of the pastors) AND continued to treat him with respect and always told him he was welcome. One day he told me that God had told him I was like Deborah. But of course he then had to throw in the fallacy that Deborah was only there because there were no men. I challenged him on it. God has given me the grace so far to stop him at every fallacy I could and correct him and challenge him. It has been a long haul and there is not enough time to bore you with some of the details of his incredible ridiculous responses. I know he is running out of excuses. And yesterday he applauded me in church when I spoke. I was pretty surprised. Lately he has become more conciliatory. We are not there yet, but at least now there is a modicum of real respect showing up. There is hope.

    It is difficult to do text only on the net, but if anyone can do that you can. With your capabilities as a linguist and a historian and a woman’s insights, your input is hugely needed on the blogosphere. I refer to your contributions often. And I hope for some books from you. You could outwrite Grudem with your left hand while eating with your right hand.
    Perhaps this expression is now getting antique but — “You Go Girl!”, or “Go Get’em Woman”. ☺

  16. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    October 3, 2012 12:35 am


    Thanks so much for your comments. In fact, I do have a book outline and a first chapter. But my day job is very full time. I keep trying to clear the decks to write. Perhaps soon.

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