The Anglican diocese of Sydney, Australia is expected to approve a change to its marriage vows, which will now include a little ditty about brides promising to "submit" to their husbands. The amended vows, reports the Sydney Morning Herald, were written by the diocese's liturgical panel, which includes noted fan of the word "submit" and panel chairman Bishop of South Sydney, Robert Forsyth. Forsyth explains that "submit" has deeply biblical connotations, and that, anyway, couples wouldn't be forced to use the word in their vows if they didn't really want to.
"The Bible never said women must obey their husbands," explains Forsyth, "but Paul and Peter did say submit, which I think is a much more responsive, nuanced word.'' Melbourne New Testament scholar Kevin Giles explained further that the idea of female "subordination" comes from The Fall, because of course it does. He says that, while the word "submit" certainly does seem pretty patriarchal and, oh, misogynistic in contemporary vernacular, it's actually way more nuanced than all that, stupids:
Jesus not once mentions the subordination of woman and says much in contradiction to this. Paul's comments over the subordination of women fit into the patriarchal culture of the day and are not the biblical ideal. The truth is that happy marriages today are fully equal, and unhappy marriages are ones where one or the other party is controlling.
That, at least, is a thorough explication of the term, though Melbourne academic Muriel Porter is unconvinced that the word's inclusion in marital vows constitutes a positive step forward in gender equality. "It is a very dangerous concept," says Porter, "especially in terms of society's propensity for domestic violence." The danger as Porter sees it is that, on less nuanced tongues and to less nuanced ears, "submit" can very quickly justify marital tyranny, because people are really looking for any justification they can get their greedy little paws on to sanction their self-righteousness.
The Herald offers a profile of newlyweds Stephanie and Andrew Judd as the final counterpoint to Porter's objections. They understand the idea of submission as merely establishing clearly-defined roles, as in, Andrew Judd, a minister-at-study, explains, dancing, where the man "leads" and the woman, well, you get it. If two people want to knowingly enter into such a hierarchical union, that's fine (if they're both adults, of sound mind, etc., ad infinitum, excelsior), but Porter is right to be suspicious of the Sydney diocese flinging "submit" around — in the wrong hands, it can foster a dangerous power imbalance between a married couple.