Submission: An Assault on Identity
Time and again I think myself above it, too strong, and then stumble and fall at the feet of patriarchy, told once again that to be strong is not appropriate. From all sides, I hear that I should be “submissive” - that to have dreams and ambitions, to fight for what I am passionate about, is not appropriate for me, a woman. I have too many goals; I am too independent, too much of a risk-taker. These are not the qualities of the ideal woman. I am not “domestic” enough; my ideas and opinions are too strong and don’t fit in the community I find myself in.
“Didn’t God make me this way?” I wonder. “What is submission anyways?”
So often, “submission” is used by the strong to quiet the weak and to protect their place of power without question -- men against women, the rich against the poor, the majority against the minority, Israelis against Palestinians.
It is too often an assault on a person’s God-given identity, which is seen as incomplete in some way, as needing to be “submitted” to the more complete and “better” identity of another. Gender, nationality, race or even God-given personality can be the issue at hand, rendering one in need of “submission.”
I struggle with God over this issue, as my life experiences as a woman and as someone who cares deeply for justice have taught me that “submission” too often equals an abuse of power or attack on identity.
I know it is in Scripture. So, what do I do with this?
I don’t understand it all, but when I look to my Savior, I quickly see that “submission” is not something demanded of the weak or those with less respected identities. Rather, I see a Prince who took the risk and gave up His own power and rights so that others could have them; He literally made Himself sin (2 Corinthians 5:21), became despised, and submitted his deserved status and identity for an oppressed and desperate humanity.
Jesus accepted people and celebrated their unique identities and callings, encouraging each to grow.
By following Him, each person’s identity becomes uniquely wrapped up in His, a special expression of who He is. He creates us with unique giftings and talents (1 Corinthians 12:25-28), and we are each called to nurture those and to use them, whether we are a man or a woman, Palestinian or Israeli, resulting in a healthier place for everyone.
I think this is why, just before the oft-quoted (and misused) passage about wives and husbands, it interestingly says that we are ALL to submit to each other, without exception (Ephesians 5:21). We are all part of a process of giving and taking, of learning to live and grow together.
In the end, I may still not understand this term - “submission.” I do know what it’s not, though - it’s not a way to assure my own position at the expense of others or to insist that others conform to my standards of identity. It is never about control over another.
In myself, this term still makes me cringe. But maybe it was originally supposed be an expression of passionate, sacrificial love that is confident and strong, even willing to give something up so that someone else may be strengthened or so that justice is accomplished. Then, perhaps, submission makes more sense.
In the meanwhile, I will continue to be the woman who holds strong views, who fights for what I am passionate about, takes risks and is perhaps not the perfect housekeeper. I will happily give up my own self for others and for justice, as this is the example I see in Christ. However, I will not give up my identity or request others give up theirs in the name of “submission.”