Judges, Submit to Your Husbands?

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.

About Matt

Software engineer by trade; lay theologian by nature; Lutheran by grace.
This entry was posted in Ethics, Family, Feminism. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Judges, Submit to Your Husbands?

  1. Karen says:

    Americans at our best do tend to be bigoted against bullies and injustice, and ‘wifely submission’ makes all husbands into bullies.

    I would prefer to give up Christianity than give up being an adult human. If letting my husband beat me — and that is EXACTLY AND EXCLUSIVELY the effect of ‘submission’ — is the essence of Christianity, then the sooner the whole religion and all others like it die, the better off all of us will be.

    • Jane Wulf says:

      Also, in his Tweets he revels in calling his detractors ‘pearl-clutchers’ and ‘shriekers.’ it’s almost sad really, because it’s so obvious that a truly wise, strong, confidant man has no need for sarcastic name-calling. A confidant man has no need to get off by triggering the libs. (And, of course, name-calling is a tactic of the bully. And bullies are always weak.)

      • Matt says:

        I think we’ve finally reached peak projection here. Please tell me more about what name-calling means as you call me names. You don’t really think the passive-aggression changes what you’re doing, do you?

      • B. Gordon says:

        Calling compliant beta males “confident” is a female tactic to get what they want out of said beta males and suggesting a non-compliant male isn’t “confident” is a shaming tactic to bring males in line with gynocentric secular society.

    • Malcolm Smith says:

      I’m afraid you’ve got your religions crossed. It is the Koran which tells husbands to beat their wives, not the Bible.

    • B. Gordon says:

      “‘wifely submission’ makes all husbands into bullies” and “If letting my husband beat me — and that is EXACTLY AND EXCLUSIVELY the effect of ‘submission’…”

      I know this isn’t true because my wife submits to me and I’m not a bully. I have never hit my wife and the thought of that makes me sick. I don’t like leadership – am not a natural leader – do not enjoy telling others what to do – do not like being served by others. So we do not turn into petty tyrants, let alone beat our wives.

      “I would prefer to give up Christianity”

      Then you don’t believe Christianity is true – you’re just in it for the benefits.

  2. Luigi says:

    Amazing how a single verse from scripture brings so many bitchy women out of the woodwork

  3. Matt (not Cochran) says:

    Re: Karen

    I actually respect this type of reply. This person is openly hostile to Christianity and is admitting it. This is far more honest than the “progressive christians” that would redefine our religion to fit into a secular liberal worldview. Cochran has accurately relayed the (only) Christian conception of the order of the family. It’s take it or leave it. Love Christ and follow His commands…..Or reject both scripture and Christ. While I ultimately disagree, I wish more people were as intellectually honest as Karen instead of trying to invent their own God to serve.

    • Matt says:

      It’s not the hostility I object to; I agree that open conflict is refreshing compared to deceitful claims of being on the same side. She’s dishonest because her straw-man tactics moved on from the usual “so what you’re saying is…” to actually making up fake quotes and attributing them to me. It’s the latter that I won’t tolerate here.

  4. TFS says:

    Thank you for faithfully proclaiming this unpopular Biblical truth. This topic has been extremely interesting, informative, and instructive for me. It is also timely as I am currently wrestling with the following question: What does a wife’s submission to her husband look like in the voting booth? I have been thinking about this since the 2016 election, which was the first time my husband and I did not vote the same ticket. (It may not matter for whom we voted, but I will say we both voted a pro-life ticket). That got me to thinking, and I have since questioned whether I ought to simply let my husband’s vote serve to represent our household or to vote as he votes. I have talked to my husband and asked the question to several people, including my pastors, and they have rightly mentioned the role of conscience as well, but I can’t get past the thought that my vote, if it differs from my husband’s, is rebelling against his authority and essentially saying that I am going to “cancel out” his voice with my own. Any thoughts?

    • Matt says:

      Thank you, TFS.

      Here’s my take on your question: The reason we have government in the first place is to create an environment in which households thrive–someplace with relative peace, trust, and responsibility in which we aren’t constantly being robbed, murdered, and swindled by one-another. In effect, it is household authority that has been delegated en masse to our government institutions. In America voting is how that delegation is carried out.

      So in the end, voting is a household decision. Accordingly, yes, I believe wives should vote alongside their husbands rather than in contrast to them–at least as long as it’s not a matter of blatant and gross immorality rather than a mere judgment call (and politics is usually a matter.of judgement calls, though there can be issues like abortion that are different.) It would be great if you could find a way to actually be on the same page as your husband and genuinely agree on how to vote. That’s the ideal, though, and it may or may not be possible every election.

      So my suggestion would be to talk to your husband and offer to cast your vote the way he would–and if he takes you up on that offer, then do so. It’s both submissive and a gentle reminder to him of the weight that his authority carries. Most men will react to that by being more considerate and careful to consider their wife’s input–to be as responsible as they are able in the exercise of their headship.

  5. Mrs. Heathen says:

    My gosh, you’re abhorrent.

    As for your recent Federalist article, if left with the very limited options of “hooking up with bad boys” or “submitting to a good man,” I’d take the bad boys any day of the week.

    A heathen

    • B. Gordon says:

      “if left with the very limited options of “hooking up with bad boys” or “submitting to a good man,” I’d take the bad boys any day of the week.”

      Of course, you would. You’re confirming what we already know. Is that supposed to hurt?

      Since women’s options are now unlimited, you generally choose “hooking up with the bad boys” AND the (left out but implied) option of marrying a nice, compliant male (the consolation prize when you lose the bad boys to other women) IN THAT ORDER.

  6. Mamie Whitington says:

    You seem to have fallen into the image trap. Anthropomorphizing G-D in your image. I read it as it works both ways. * Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. The many translations and the human condition take more understanding than a literal belief. Starting with biological science. Teilhard De Chardin has great writings on such.

    • Matt says:

      Ephesians 5:21 is where it says “submitting to one another out of reverence to Christ.” However, that clearly doesn’t mean “everyone submits to everyone” for two textual reasons.

      First, Paul immediately goes on to explain himself by indicating which people everyone is supposed to be submitting to (wives to husbands, children to parents, servants to masters) while also explaining the responsibilities the husbands, parents and masters have with respect to that submission. It’s not “submit to everyone,” but rather submit to the authorities God has established in your lives.

      Second, in the case of wives, Paul compares it to Christ and the Church three different times in three verses. It doesn’t “work both ways” between Christ and the Church. He doesn’t submit to us; we submit to Him.

      When you have a stable understanding of a Biblical teaching that’s lasted 2000 years, and you only start seeing a host of alternative explanations spring up at the same time as a modernistic and anti-Christian philosophy, then it’s not a matter of “many translations” or “the human condition.” It’s a matter of worldliness, plain and simple.

      • Matt (not Cochran) says:

        Well said. That is one thing that gets lost in all of this consternation. There is nothing in any of your commentaries on this subject that was not well established, plain common sense throughout the entirety of recorded human history (until the last 100 years or so). If you are not a Christian, don’t worry about it. Our rules are for us. If, however, you would claim Christ then there is simply no altering the plain meaning of the whole counsel of God (all of scripture, not just one or two verses pulled out). Also a quick look through the writings of the early Doctors of the Church all the way through those of the Reformers and beyond will tell you that Female submission (to her own husband) is about as basic and Orthodox of a teaching as you will find. Again…..Follow Christ or don’t. But you don’t get to make up your own rules because His make you uncomfortable.

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