A few weeks ago, R&B singer Fantasia — also known for her gospel flair — conducted an interview with The Breakfast Club for her latest album Sketchbook, which dropped on October 11. In her interview, she advised women to “let your man lead the way,” stating that the reason it is hard for women to find and keep a man is because they do not allow a man to be the leader. The comment came under heavy scrutiny on social media. In recent history, black women have often been the heads of their households. Many of these women still follow Christian doctrine. I’m left wondering if the idea of women submitting to their husbands is an outdated concept. Or perhaps, the Bible is in need of new interpretation.
According to the Oxford dictionary, submission is defined as the action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person. When discussing submission in a religious and Christian perspective, too often preachers have told women to accept the will of their husbands. Some interpretations from preachers and churches are more radical than others. For some, submission has required a woman to be seen and not heard both in relationships and ministerial positions. For others, it simply meant that the man and woman take on stereotypical gender roles where the man is the provider and protector, and the mother cooks, cleans, and looks after the children.
But times are changing. Women are advocating for themselves, receiving higher pay, attending and graduating from college at higher rates, and choosing their own familial structures. In 2019, for women to be advised of their “place” on the hierarchy scale in juxtaposition to men is not only outdated, but unnecessary.
When men discuss submission from a religious perspective, they quote the Bible to justify ruling over women. While writing this, an alert from my Bible app flashed saying, “Now, what should we learn from everything that is written in this book? The most important thing a person can do is to respect God and obey his commands, because he knows about everything people do” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). However, are all of these really God’s commands or the interpretation from another man? Throughout life, rules and systems are improved upon once the collective has reached a new perspective. So when it comes to the Bible, how do we approach its commands that are no longer widely accepted or suitable in cultural practice?
Men’s historical justifications of women being “under” their husbands have been backed by the first story in Genesis involving Adam and Eve. According to the text, Eve giving Adam the fruit to eat is what resulted in a curse from God in which the command was given that “Thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee” (Genesis 3:16).
“I think that this was a passage that was written for the people in that day and age to explain natural phenomenon,” said a Ph.D. candidate from Vanderbilt University, who is writing their dissertation on the topic, and asked to remain anonymous.
“People assumed that it was a part of the curse for women to be dominated by men, and that’s a valid interpretation of the story. That’s definitely there within the text. The issue comes when we recognize today that women and men, while not equal in every way, shape, and form, ought to have equal rights and opportunities and there shouldn’t be hierarchy,” the student said.
Women, like Fantasia, are not wrong to choose to submit to their husbands, but to impose that opinion on women as a whole is not only inaccurate, it’s a continuation of oppressive interpretations of the Bible. Additionally, not all men desire submissive women and not all women desire submission for themselves.
According to the Institute For Women’s Policy Research, more and more mothers and women are the heads of their households, especially black women. In 2016, the data showed that 81.1 percent of black women were the heads of households with more than half (60.9 percent) being single mothers. When it came to married black women, the amount of women leading their house financially was significantly lower than white and Asian women, which had higher percentages of being the breadwinners in households where they were married. Overall, the report concluded that black women were the most prominent group holding down their households in comparison to any other demographic in every state.
When looking at the data and then the rhetoric of the “man being the head,” this notion appears contradictory. How can we demand that women submit — claiming their lack of submission is the reason it’s hard to find men — when it’s women being left with the emotional and financial responsibility of raising children, earning money, and running a household system?
One of the things left out of many interpretations of the gospel is women’s roles within the Bible. The autonomy of Eve to initiate the “first sin,” Mary and Mary Magdalene, Ruth, and Esther. But most importantly, many preachers are ill-informed or skeptical about stating the truths regarding the Bible’s origins. It is not a book to be taken literally but rather a book of literature that can be analyzed multiple ways while simultaneously revealing the universal truths of God, which is found in many other books and religions.
“Most biblical scholars and more pastors learn, when they go to seminary or when they do biblical studies degrees, all of this. But it never makes it to the pews. It never makes it to the people who go to church every Sunday. No one wants to rock the boat. Essentially there are very few pastors out there who are willing to go to their congregations and say ‘Hey, this text is just a fable. Snakes don’t talk, we know that. It’s just a story.’ People still hold it as if it actually happened,” the doctoral candidate stated.
Although it’s perfectly fine to submit to your husband, if you see fit, the purpose of the text isn’t to say that women must yield to the will of their husbands. There are many interpretations to the text and far too often, the text, which was written by men is often interpreted by men for personal gain. Consider Ephesians 5:22-28, which is talking about a wife and husband loving and respecting one another equally. It states:
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
Although the text is telling wives to submit, it is also telling husbands to do the same in loving their wives like Christ loved the church, a metaphor for a universal principle in every relationship.
“They impose an American and modern-day interpretation on the word submit, and doing that you miss the whole concept of the love principle,” says Reverend Stallworth of East End Baptist Church in Bridgeport, Conn.
“Hey husbands! Love your wives as Christ loved the church. When you deal with that, it’s a whole different context. Who’s in charge goes out the window. Even when you start with Adam and Eve, we look at it [as] somebody has to be in charge and in a firm dictatorial-type leadership [way] and that’s not in the Bible,” said Reverend Stallworth.
“That is something we impose on the text. If you have a husband or wife, same-sex couple, two people together, the whole idea is to sit down and say whom does what well? And then whomever does that well ... will sort of lead in that area.”
Submission has far too often been used out of context, especially when defended by biblical misinterpretations. When we preach a doctrine for our own agendas, whose interpretation is not analyzed in its entirety, it misguides the masses. Women have been the gatekeepers of the most high, and continuously show themselves beyond capable, with or without a man. They are not, however, unlovable because they aren’t submissive. They are enough, their work is enough, and God loves them.