Women and Submission
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How has the culture influenced your view of womanhood? Elyse Fitzpatrick, joined by her co-author Eric Schumacher, tells how her thoughts of femininity and submission changed through the years.
Bob: The Bible refers to wives as helpers of their husbands. Elyse Fitzpatrick says that’s not a demeaning term; it’s actually a powerful term.
Elyse: The majority of times in the Old Testament that that word is used, it has to do with God; God is the Helper. Our husbands need help; so God made me, as a woman, to be a voice that will speak truth to my husband—to know how to do it/to do it respectfully—and yet not to demure and say, “No, I can’t; because I have to be quiet.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, May 7th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. If you’re a woman/a wife, have you ever felt like your place in the marriage was somehow less important/less significant than your husband’s place? The Bible says that’s not the case; we’ll see that today as we talk with Elyse Fitzpatrick and Eric Schumacher. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. From time to time, we pick up hot potatoes and start tossing them around in here; don’t we? [Laughter]
Dave: Yes we do, and we have one today!
Bob: We have one that’s still wrapped in foil, and you can—
Elyse: —go out for the long bomb. [Laughter]
Bob: Oh!—a sports metaphor from our guest, Elyse Fitzpatrick, who is joining us again on FamilyLife Today.
Dave: And that was a football sports illustration.
Bob: It was a football illustration; good job, Elyse. Welcome!
Bob: Elyse has been here many times of FamilyLife Today. She’s an author and a speaker, lives on the West Coast. She has brought with her a friend and a partner from Ames, Iowa, Eric Schumacher, who is a pastor in Ames. Eric, welcome.
Eric: Thanks; it’s good to be here.
Bob: Together, the two of them have written a book celebrating the value of women; it’s a book called Worthy. When you talk about this, there should be nobody in the audience, who’s saying, “Why are we talking about celebrating the value of women?!” If that’s your visceral reaction, we have a sin issue we need to deal with—with you; okay? [Laughter] We are stepping into an area that is a heated area, and an area that the Bible speaks to; and there are sometimes differing interpretations. We want to be able to have open dialogue and healthy dialogue on this.
I know, Elyse—because I know your background—you did not come to Christianity with a gentle-and-quiet-spirit view of how a woman should function in the church; did you?
Elyse: No, actually, I didn’t. I didn’t come to Christianity until right before my 21st birthday, and grew up in Southern California, and really never even thought about, “Well, women should be quiet.” Besides that, that’s just not my personality. So when I started reading passages like 1 Peter 3, with this “gentle and quiet spirit,” I thought that meant gentle and quiet voice, which is not what it means.
Elyse: It means this heart that’s at rest, at peace, trusting Christ, not in turmoil. But when I read that, I was quite confused; because I thought, “Okay, am I supposed to change my personality?” Well, obviously, if my personality’s sinful, it needs to be confronted; but if that’s just who I am, then am I now supposed to be some other kind of woman, who crochets doilies? [Laughter] You know, that’s just not the way I roll.
Bob: Your worldview and your values were clearly shaped by the culture. You didn’t have any church background growing up, did you?
Elyse: You know, actually, my grandmother took me to the Lutheran church. I was actually baptized and confirmed as a Lutheran, but I was not saved and really did not have any kind of Christian background.
Bob: Eric, your background—a little different than Elyse’s—right?
Eric: It is. Yes, I was raised in a church-attending home and heard the gospel from a young age.
Bob: When you grew up, did you have fixed views about what men and women should or shouldn’t be or do?
Eric: I think the views I had, weren’t necessarily taught, but caught. I think, being in a conservative church, only seeing men be pastors—I remember, when my pastor’s wife was ordained as a deacon at a Lutheran church—so I just assumed that’s how those roles worked. I had a father who was a leader in the home, and my mom who I think respected that.
At the same time, I had a very strong mom. I remember, as a kid, we were camping somewhere. We were walking back to our camper. I told my mom, “Hey, you want to race?” She said, “Okay, I’ll race you.” I said, “Well, you can’t beat me; because you’re a girl.” [Laughter] And she smoked me. [Laughter] She was not worried about fragile masculinity at all; she was going to be strong. [Laughter]
Bob: I’m wondering, when you got married, Elyse—the idea that a wife should be respectful, submissive, should defer to her husband’s authority and leadership—did that chafe?
Elyse: Let’s say that I knew that women were supposed to be submissive, and I assented to it. It’s never been easy for me.
Bob: Never, even today?
Elyse: I have a wonderful husband—you know Phil; you’ve met Phil—Phil is very easygoing. He’s never made it hard for me to love and respect him, which I do deeply love and respect Phil. But, I mean, sure; I think that it’s hard for all of us to submit to authority, isn’t it?
Ann: I had a dad that was super strong. We didn’t grow up in the church, but my dad really encouraged us to be leaders. For two siblings, that just weren’t there/wasn’t natural; for two of us, when he spoke that, I resonated with that—like, “I am a leader!”
Not growing up in the church, I had no idea what was going on in the church. Giving my life to Christ, it’s kind of like what I do with everything—I am all in: “I am going to serve Him!” “I am going to love Him!” “I am going to follow Him!” I was passionate about it.
I’m not quiet, and I’m not reserved; if I feel it, it would come out. So when Dave and I got married and “We’re going to change the world together; we’re going to follow Jesus together,”—Dave, I think that you have been amazing; because you’ve encouraged me. I know that I’ll butt against you and like, “What? What are you talking about?”; but you’ve been one to really listen.
Bob: Go back to two weeks before you’re married; and you’re sitting at a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway, as an engaged couple, and you’re hearing Dennis Rainey explain to you that wives should submit to their husbands.
Dave: Yes, let’s go back there, Bob. I want to hear—[Laughter]
Bob: You didn’t grow up in the church, and you want to follow Jesus, and you hear that. Did you go: “That’s what I’m going to do! I’m going to be a submissive woman!”
Ann: Thanks for bringing that out, Bob! [Laughter] Actually, when Dennis shared it—Dennis is very much like my dad, so I could see him saying that—and he didn’t force so much that submission; maybe I just tuned it out.
It was two years later, when I was sitting in that conference—and a woman was teaching it, who was very quiet; she’s an amazing woman; I love her and I respect her—but her personality is very quiet, demure, probably more passive. I sat in the back of that room, with my arms crossed, because I thought, “There’s no way that I can be like that!”
There was a time that I tried to be. Dave doesn’t remember it, because I didn’t try very—[Laughter]
Dave: There was never a time that she tried to be. [Laughter] I cannot remember five seconds of that. [Laughter] No; but she does respect, and there is a submissive spirit to both of us; but she does submit.
Ann: I love men leading. I have three sons; I want them to lead. I want the church to have men that are calling us/calling all of us; but I think I got lost—like, “I don’t even know what that means.”
Dave: Think about this—I mean, you know this, Bob; we talked about it earlier—when our marriage book came out last year, and we end up on the Today show, and then Fox News starts blasting these things on the internet from our book. The headline was “Marrying You Was the Worst Decision of My Life, and Then This Happened.” That’s what she said; that blasts all over the internet.
Our kids said to us—because it trended; right?—it trended because: “A woman said that to her husband?”—right? Our kids said, “Do not read the comments”; so I didn’t, but I sort of did. [Laughter] When I read the comments, it was men ripping Ann for ever saying something like that to her husband.
Ann: Well, I shouldn’t have said that.
Dave: Well, yes; but it was like—I wanted to say: “Yes, but that’s the beauty of what God did. She had to say that, so it was honesty.” It is sort of that—you’re not allowed to ever speak that honest to a man—it was like, “No, that’s a different issue here.”
You’re talking about worthy; we are both worthy. Does she submit and I submit?—yes, but it was a different issue.
Bob: Here’s the thing: there are people listening to us talk about a book called Worthy: Celebrate the Value of Women, and we’re talking about submission, and they go: “Those two ideas are incompatible.
Bob: “You cannot tell a woman that she needs to be submissive and respect her husband and call that worthy.”
Is it possible for a woman to have value and worth and still choose to submit?
Eric: Absolutely. I think one of the questions we need to ask is—we’re thinking about submission in the marriage covenant—is: “What is she submitting to?”
Ann: —and “What is submission?”
Eric: —and “What is submission?”—yes.
Just to go back to Genesis, Chapter 2, where the Lord creates the man and says, “It’s not good for him to be alone; I’ll make a helper fit for him.” The Lord creates, from his side, a woman. When the Lord presents the woman to the man, you know, he exclaims in poetry—it’s the first song of Scripture—“This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” Essentially, “She’s the same thing as me”; he is celebrating her worth.
What’s interesting is that passage doesn’t go on to culminate in talk of headship and submission; it goes on to say: “Therefore a man will leave his father and mother and will cling to his wife, and they will be one flesh. And they were naked and were not ashamed.” What’s really interesting is that, in that culture that Moses is writing to, it was the woman who would leave her family and go join her husband’s family. So what’s going on when it talks about the man leaving his father and his mother?
I think what we see right away is that the man is going to be the one who makes the sacrifices for the sake of becoming one with his wife. The culmination of that passage between man and woman is perfect unity. That’s what the creation of man and woman is heading towards—is perfect unity—which the man self-sacrifices; he makes a sacrifice to achieve that.
You trace that theme through the whole Bible; and you get to the end of the Bible, where you have Christ and His people, and it says at the end of Revelation, “They shall reign with Him.” There is a perfect unity between Christ and His church, where they’re ruling together. How did that happen? He left His Father in heaven, and He came and sacrificed His own life for the sins of His bride, and was raised from the dead so that He could make her clean and she could be united with Him.
Even when Paul talks in Ephesians 5 about headship and submission, he’s not telling the husband, “You be the head of the wife.” He says, “You love your wife the way Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” That is what the woman is to be cooperating with.
That whole question about quietness and submission—you know, Paul says in
1 Timothy that we’re to pray for kings and those in authority so that we can live quiet lives. He obviously does not mean lives in which we don’t speak, or say anything, or raise a concern. Every Christian should want to live a quiet life.
As I look through the Bible—and you know, Paul relates the marriage relationship to Christ and the church/God’s relationship with His people—ask the question, “What does it look like for God’s people to be submissive to Him and to follow his leadership?”
Sometimes you have God’s people, like Moses, when God says, “Stand back, Moses; I’m going to destroy Israel and start over again,” and Moses says, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. You can’t do that, God. If You do that, Your name will be mocked,” et cetera, et cetera.
We have saints, who are held up as good examples, who are talking back to God and saying, “Why are You about to do this? This isn’t how things should go.” If it’s okay for someone, who trusts in the Lord, to cry out to Him in a loud voice and say, “What are You doing?!” can’t it be possible for a wife to cry out in a loud voice to her husband and say, “What are you doing?!”
Elyse: If you look, too, at the Psalms, which is the believer’s prayer book, if it’s okay for a woman to pray the Psalms to the Lord—“How long, O Lord? Why are You leaving me like this? Why are you letting this happen?”—wouldn’t that also be appropriate for a wife to say to her husband? But there are places, where women are told that they can’t say that to their husband/that they can’t push against his authority at all, because that would mean that they’re not being submissive and respecting him.
Bob: If you’re sitting with a wife, deeply frustrated by what’s going on in her marriage/by things she sees with her husband—some of it valid; some of it her own issues that she needs to deal with—how do you coach her to give voice to what she’s saying? Would you say, “Go to your husband and say, ‘How long will you forget me?’”
Elyse: Well, that’s what the Psalms said.
Bob: I know! Would you coach her to say that to her husband?
Elyse: Well, it depends on the context; right, Bob? Because in some contexts, if she would say that, he would double down or even abuse her.
Elyse: So I would not say that in that kind of context; but in other contexts, where you have a respectful marriage and a marriage that’s not abusive, sure—always in the context, too, of respectful communication.
Can I say to my husband, “How long are you going to keep doing this and disrespecting me?” I need to say that in such a way—because I love him and I want to make knowledge acceptable to him—isn’t that what Proverbs says? The wise person knows how to make knowledge acceptable. I want to say to him, “Honey, you’re doing this,” and I need to know him well enough to know when to say that, not when he’s waiting for dinner.
Ann: —and even the tone.
Elyse: —and the tone—right—so the respectful tone. But certainly to be able to say that, and to let women know that submission does not mean that I never say anything.
Ann: —that you don’t lose your voice.
Elyse: —that I don’t lose my voice.
We get back to what that word, “helper,” means, which is the Hebrew word, azer—which basically is not: “Aren’t you a nice little helper? You picked up your toys,”—but that word is used over and over again. The majority of times in the Old Testament that that word is used, it has to do with God.
Bob: It’s talking about Him as our Helper.
Elyse: God is the Helper: we need help; God helps us.
Our husbands need help; they need to not be alone. What that means is—they need to not just hear their own voice. God made me, as a woman, to be a voice that will speak truth to my husband—to know how to do it/to do it respectfully—and yet not to demure and say, “No, I can’t; because I have to be quiet and respectful.”
Dave: I’ll say this: our marriage was saved when my wife spoke, in a sense, those words: “How long are you going to do this?” She said, “I’ve lost my feelings for you”; and when I said, “What do you mean?” that’s what basically came out. She wasn’t yelling; she wasn’t screaming; she was just saying: “How long? How long am I going to be left here, and you’re going to go off and do your ministry thing?” That changed our marriage.
If she would have felt like, “I cannot speak,” I don’t know if we would have made it. It was a beautiful moment, even though it was hard; but she spoke.
Ann: I think, in my early years, I may have dug my heels in when that word, “submission,” came up. I just don’t think I really understood it in a biblical context.
Now, at the Weekend to Remember conferences, and even at marriage conferences, as I teach about this, I’ll bring an umbrella to the stage. I’ll put the umbrella up. As I talk about how God has called the man to lead, and to be our covering in protection and love, I open the umbrella and say: “The man’s role is almost like the covering of this umbrella. It’s so important; it’s over our family. It’s vital for a healthy family to have that covering/for a man to step up.
“And a woman’s role is just as vital. We are the stem or the handle;—
Bob: —that supports.
Ann: —“we support the canvas.” I ask the women, “Which is most important: the covering or the support?”
Because, as a woman, we are the influencers; and if you put the leader and the influencer together, I sit there and think, “They are both so vital.”
Dave: I actually want to know—and this would be a good question for both of you women; because I’ve wanted to know, ever since that ten-year anniversary, when Ann felt that from me—I’ve wanted to know: “What do I do—or do I often or ever—make you feel ‘less than’ as a person/as a woman?”
We’ve talked about it a little bit in ministry; but I think that’s an important question for men to ask, and especially for us husbands, to ask, “What do I do?” Because I think I do that quite often to make her feel less than, not even knowing it; but it’s like: “I’m the umbrella; there’s no stem. I’m the stem; I’m everything.” I don’t think that, but do I do that. Do I say things? Have you women felt that?
Elyse: Well, I don’t want to say that I’ve felt it a lot from Phil; because again, my husband is quite used to strong women and acknowledging them. However, if I’m a room with a group of people, and perhaps I’m the only woman there, it’s like I’m invisible. I’ve had that experience so many times I can’t even tell you—to be in a situation, with a group of men, who are discussing something important—and to not even have my voice heard, I have often felt invisible.
I wonder, as husbands, when a wife says, “Hey, honey, I’m concerned about this,”—whatever it is—if you automatically think: “Okay; well, I’m going to solve that. I’m solving it, so I don’t even really have to think about you; I’m just going to solve it, and I’m not really going to take it to heart,”—or do you just think, “Oh well, that’s just a woman; and they’re kind of psycho.” [Laughter] It’s like, “Treat my voice the way you would treat the voice of a man you respected.”
Bob: I would hope that the wives, who are listening—who may have thought, “It is not respectful or submissive for me to express how I’m feeling to my husband; I just need to bear this,”—I would hope they would have heard us say today, “No, that’s not what the Bible teaches about respect and submission, that for you to bear up—we’re all called to bear up under pressure—but for you to be silent and think, “It’s disrespectful if I speak,” that’s a misunderstanding of what it means to respect somebody. Silence is not default respect; in fact, silence is disrespect.
Ann: Speaking the truth in love—both of those are so important—speak the truth, but do it in love.
Bob: And “Let your speech always be full of grace, seasoned with salt… [Colossians 4]” I mean, Ephesians 4 goes on in those passages to give us direction: “Yes, let’s not speak sinfully to one another,”—but let’s not be silent, sinfully, either.
I think people are probably going to look at your book about celebrating the value of women and think, “Oh, this would be a great book for the women’s group to go through.” I think this is a book for men to go through—for church leaders to go through/for husbands to go through—I think all of us need to grapple with this.
We have copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order Elyse Fitzpatrick’s and Eric Schumacher’s book, Worthy: Celebrating the Value of Women. You can order it from us, again, online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order. One more time, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; the number to call is 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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Now, tomorrow, we want to explore what the Bible has to say about the value, and dignity, and worth of women; there’s a lot more than I think most of us realize. Eric Schumacher and Elyse Fitzpatrick will join us again tomorrow. I hope you can join us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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