Monday, December 19, 2005

Submission doctrine

In an obituary to the late Pastor Bimbo in the past few days, the author referred to her stand against homosexuality and her campaign for women to be submissive to their man. Anywhere else in the world (for instance, Belfast, celebrating the first gay marriage today) and this would be interpreted as irony or sarcasm. Things are a little different in the topsy turvy world of Ng.

Just as insidious and counter-productive as prosperity doctrine (which ever more christians in Nigeria are turning against thankfully) is submission doctrine. As many know, it comes from this particularly nasty piece of Greek-style patriarchy in Ephesians:

"Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." Eph 5:22-27

I suspect there are many women in Nigeria who are torn between fidelity to this text (as part of a broader faith in the word of The Book) and wanting to resist the licence it gives to their man to lord it over them in their relationship. If we are to use the language of submission, in any healthy relationship, submission should surely work both ways - at times the man submitting to the woman as much as the woman submitting to the man. Any theological attempt to endorse the above citation as The Truth will always end up as patriarchy pure and simple: man considered superior (and therefore accorded more power) than woman.

Christians must recognise that 2000 years after the event, much of the world has come to challenge patriarchy - even in places like Iran and India. Over one hundred years of feminist struggle in the West has given women the vote and a huge amount of autonomy (financial and otherwise) from men - although sadly, many Western womenseem not to have heard of Mary Wollstencroft or the Suffragettes. Any stance apart from the progressive deconstruction of patriarchy must surely be seen as an argument in favour of turning back the clock of history. Christianity is compatible with a much more egalitarian approach to relationships.

In an organisational context, subscribing to this passage from Ephesians is at the same time acquiescing to oga-syndrome or bigmanism. Returning to the quote, surely Christ should submit to the Church as much as the Church submits to him? Any other position would involve a deficit of accountability. In business-speak, the MD must submit to the Board, as the Board must submit to the Shareholders. No one has absolute authority over anyone else in an enlightened organisational/institutional context. In the Catholic Church, if priests were never held accountable (submitting to the enquiries of the laiity), how many more children would suffer child abuse to this day?

The more general point is that no text, no matter how sacred, should be taken to be literally true, for literal truth is impossible with the passage of time. The accretions of history meant that something always gets lost in translation (as other things are found in translation) - as we know that the idea that Christ was born in a 'stable' is the result of a mistranslation from the Aramaic (other accounts point Jesus to being born in a house or a cave). A healthy historicism (a la Nietzsche's classic essay "The Uses and Abuses of History for Life") takes texts and uses them for the progressive purposes of the present, discarding what is no longer needed. Submission doctrine should go the way of prosperity doctrine for the sake of the empowerment of Christian women everywhere: to the dustbin of history.

There are some interesting rebuttals of the foundation story of Christianity here. Whether one subscribes to all that is written there, it certainly points to a lot of confusion between differing accounts of the life of Christ in the Gospels.


the flying monkeys 5:45 pm  

The only thing I believe in is death, notwithstanding the "passage of time".

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