We went to a wedding this weekend. The priest started off strong. “The Bible tells us that a husband should love his wife as Christ loved the church. There are many different kinds of love, but here, we are not talking about romantic love, as our modern sensibilities might think of marital love,” he explained. “We are not talking about filial love. The word for love used in the Greek is agape. Agape is a self-sacrificing love. So husbands, you sacrifice yourself for the sake of your wife, the sake of your marriage.”
Then he moved on to the part that talks about the wife’s role. “The Bible tells us that a wife should submit to her husband.” He acknowledged that the idea of submission challenges a modern woman, one who values her independence, one who is likely to be as educated as, and even earn more money than, her husband. I leaned forward, interested to hear how the priest would explain it. Maybe he would give the word “submit” the same linguistic attention he had given to “love,” help us to understand its different meanings, and how we could interpret it for support and inspiration in a modern context. “In a household, it’s easier if one person is the head,” he said. “And God declared that that person should be the husband. So the wife’s duty is to submit to him. Even if it challenges her modern sensibilities. So wives, submit to your husbands.”
They read this passage at our wedding, too. We had always joked that I was alright with conceding the “head of the household” bit because there was also a part that said that I, as the wife, “always gets to eat first.” But I knew I had come out ahead in this deal, in all kinds of ways.
In truth, the way it worked out, our marriage is pretty egalitarian, something we had both wanted. If I had the upper hand in age and debating ability, my husband had it in size and maleness. He’s a person of color and an immigrant; he’s also more decisive, steadier and more organized; he has a bigger voice and far more presence. Also, he is a great partner. When other women complain about their husbands’ shirking of household chores or inability to manage the children, I keep silent.
I put my hand on my husband’s shoulder. I could tell from his posture, from the fact that he didn’t soften into my hand, that the priest’s exegesis had failed to move him. Later, as we drifted off to sleep, he said, “I wanted him to do something more with that.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Me, too.” We slept pretty well though.