I checked yesterday to see whether “wives submit to your husbands” was still the most hated Bible verse in America. It is. The feedback was mostly like vampires reacting to a cross.
I write on some pretty controversial topics on a regular basis, but nothing has brought out even a 10th of yesterday’s vitriol–not immigration, not religious freedom, not rape culture, not even Christian nationalism. No, a straightforward reading of Ephesians 5 is what did it. If you can gauge your distance to the target by how much flak you’re receiving, then Satan’s most well-defended redoubt is the hold feminism gives him on the American family. It shouldn’t be too surprising; he has his own design for family, and he cannot endure what God ordained.
But amidst all that, there was actually one valid objection that I’ll cover briefly and one interesting question that I’ll cover at length.
The objection is that I’m not actually representing Judge Barrett’s views on submission or those of her faith group. This is absolutely true, and I never intended to suggest otherwise. I presented the straightforward Biblical instruction in Ephesians 5, which may or may not align with Judge Barrett’s personal views. As I wrote, the issue of how Americans react to submission is far bigger than Judge Barrett. To be perfectly frank, she was the occasion for writing because she’s part of the current news cycle–she wasn’t really the subject I was writing about.
So with that clarified, let’s move on to the question: If Judge Barrett must submit to her husband as to Christ, then would said husband be the de facto Supreme Court Justice if she were confirmed? I have actually answered that one before, but after nine years it’s probably worth revisiting.
If you want to understand Christian ethics on questions that involve temporal authority, then you have to understand vocation. God has called each of us to certain offices in this life–each of which comes with 1) certain responsibilities and 2) the authority to carry them out. The authority doesn’t proceed from us as individuals, but from the vocations God has given us.
What’s more, each one of us has multiple vocations. The same man could be a husband, a father, an employee, a manager, a friend, a neighbor, a citizen, and more simultaneously. We have to delineate these responsibilities so that we don’t end up treating our employees like our children, our friends like strangers, and so forth.
When we mix our vocations up, we end up abusing our authorities. For example, when a man is both a middle-manager at someone else’s company and a father, he needs to understand that it’s an abuse of his authority to hire his son for a job for which he is in no way qualified. He has to fulfill both sets of responsibilities without co-opting one authority for the sake of the other. This is precisely why people in positions of authority recuse themselves when there’s a clear conflict of interest between their vocations.
Accordingly, it’s not really a matter of which person is in submission to whom, but of which office is in submission to which other office. For example, consider a man who is both an employee and a father. He is under his boss’s authority, but only with respect to being his employee. His boss has absolutely no business telling him how to raise his children or manage his household, and he is under no obligation to obey such instructions. In the same way, Judge Barrett is under her husband’s authority, but only with respect to being his wife and the mother of their children. He has no business telling her how to weigh in on her cases and she has no obligation to obey him in that respect.
It would be nice to leave the issue there where it’s comfortable: saying she could just ignore him when it comes to her job as a judge. But that’s not quite the end of the story. The distinction between the offices isn’t as airtight as we might like it to be. While the offices of wife and judge aren’t related in themselves, they are related because they are held by the same person, Amy Barrett. And this person is under her husband’s authority.
So what does that mean in practice? Let’s return to our example of the father/employee and his boss. As we said, the boss has no business telling his employee how to run his household. However, he does have some measure of influence over that very thing. If we’re speaking of legitimate exercises of authority, he could tell his employee that he needs to work late to finish a project. That kind of thing most certainly affects his employee’s family life.
There’s also the potential abuse of authority to consider. The boss could misuse his influence over the man’s job to coerce him into running his household a certain way. This would put the employee in a tight spot. He may be able to correct the abuse in different ways: He could quit his job or appeal to a higher authority at the company who might discipline his boss. But if he cannot find such recourse, he would remain in a tight spot and his family life could be affected. This would absolutely be evil of his boss, but the mere fact that it’s evil wouldn’t solve the issue.
So are circumstances like these a meaningful liability for Judge Barrett? Does submission mean that her husband could rule on cases by proxy? It may have taken us awhile to get there, but the answer is actually quite simple: Only if he were an immoral and abusive micro-manager. If that were truly the case, she would be well advised not to seek high office.
But is that possibility something Americans need to be especially concerned about? Not at all. The idea of submission may be strange and alien to us, but Judge Barrett and her husband are not. She has a public record of service while she has been married. It is the same record of service according to which she is being evaluated for the higher position. If any such shenanigans by her husband were an issue now, they would have been an issue all along, and they would be apparent in her work.
So in the end, submission has absolutely no bearing on whether she is fit for the Supreme Court or on how she is evaluated for it. If she’s submissive to her husband, she should be evaluated based on her record. If she’s not submissive, she should be evaluated based on her record. And really, on the family side of things, they seem to be immensely successful, so they’ve no doubt worked out proper boundaries long ago.
The only difference submission makes is how bigoted most Americans are on the subject.