Are traditional roles less valued these days? Some would say yes, but I would say the answer depends on with whom we surround ourselves. I am thankful for friends who have very different lives and beliefs than mine. They help me to understand others better, as I realize I can still be egocentric or ethnocentric. My thirst for knowledge includes wanting to understand others more fully.
Humans tend toward confirmation bias. It makes sense in that our brains work to organize information into understandable sets and subsets. When we surround ourselves with primarily like-minded folk we become complacent in the thought that most people must think like we do. I see this in my politically divided friends as well as my religiously divided friends. To be aware of this tendency perhaps can fuel us on toward seeking more information and understanding.
I have seen a distaste for traditional marriage services when the bride is asked if she will “obey” or “be subject to” her husband. “Wait a minute–hold on right there! That is antiquated and dominating and…” a host of balking descriptors follow.
We are a more civilized and advanced society, and even if we have light-years to go in eradicating racism and prejudice of every sort, we can agree that the imposition of one’s will with the intent to intimidate, dominate or enslave another is morally wrong. So why would anyone in this day and age agree to “obey” a spouse?
The answer lies in the context of the liturgical reference. The pledge is taken from the book of Ephesians in the Bible. The fifth chapter is all about Christlike love. What is that? Well, most agree that Jesus did live. It is who he was and who he claimed to be on which people differ–but that does not matter in what I am reasoning here. Whomever he was, he died in a sacrificial way for his followers and beliefs. Selflessness was “the way.” The ultimate sacrifice of his life to save his friends was a culmination of this way of life, of turning the other cheek, of giving, and of putting the needs of another first.
Ephesians chapter five is about living in love and about the giving of oneself to others and to God. Wives are asked to be subject to their husbands–yet here’s the catch, the forgotten part– and the husband is exhorted to treat “his wife as Christ is the head of the church, its Savior.” There is more about how the husbands are to behave, to “love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her that he might sanctify her…husbands should love their wives as their own bodies…” In its whole it is about introducing total (self-donative) love into marriage. For the unmarried or those in other relationships, the call is no less; it is to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Taken out of context, the phrasing hints at domination. Taken in context, it alludes to self-sacrificial love, of wanting the best for the other. Sure, humans throughout the ages have messed it up and misapplied the words in dreadful ways. But it is neither the words nor the truths intended that are messed up, it is the people who chose to ignorantly use them. Such a love should should flow both ways, though at times one must decide whether or not to continue to give when the other in the relationship is habitually not doing so. If someone in a relationship is being taken advantage of or is abused, that person should seek help and counsel. Abuse is not love.
My husband and I are “subject to each other” in our shared lives. We make mistakes, we go to each other for advice, we critique each other–in love. Perhaps you have heard the saying “Iron sharpens iron, and so a friend counsels a friend.” That comes from another verse in Proverbs, and it applies here. Sharpening hurts even when done in love, but done so in love makes us grow and stretch and become better persons. We can choose not to help our friend for whatever reason, but in the end would that be loving?
All is hinged in this traditional pledge, and perhaps in life itself, on a forgotten verse that comes from a dynamic chapter describing and exhorting us to love each other the best way possible: selflessly not selfishly.