Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mutual Love and Respect

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Ephesians 5:21

In prison ministry I get to hear stories of how the church is really doing spiritually; in teaching the world about Jesus and how to love our neighbors. I work with a group of women who desperately want to know how to follow Christ and get on the right track. These precious women are not just rebels with a plan to go against the morals of society; in fact they try their best to fit in and follow the rules.  Surprisingly many of these women grew up in the church.  And in their quest to follow the rules and blend in, they often hold on to the strict religious rules we often hear in the church. And it makes sense, for these women boundaries have been crossed countless times and family rules were often blurred and inconsistent.  So in their quest to fit in to mainstream society and find normalcy they gravitate towards the strict religious standards as a way of maintaining control over something in their lives. 

Every week as I sit among the women to teach, I am often interrupted by several of them trying to teach the rest of the group about some rule they've learned to aid in their quest to following Christ.

"You know if you pray this way God will answer all of your prayers".
"The reason I got more jail time is because I did not read my bible that morning".
"If you keep failing, God will give up on you".
"Homosexuality is an abomination and all homosexuals will go to Hell".
"God is too pure to be among us".

Without fail, every time these kinds of statements are shared, all heads turn to me as a way of saying "is that true? What do you have to say?"

A few weeks ago one of the women made a similar statement "the bible said the husband is the head of the wife and wives have to submit to their husbands" and another woman chimed in telling us of how husband once beat her so bad that she had a broken rib as she was trying to submit to him.  At this point every last one of them had a story and they all sat at the edge of their seats waiting for me to share what the bible really meant by those passages where it said for wives to submit to their husbands.

I quietly prayed and said "all relationships should be based on mutual submission and mutual love and respect".  There was one woman in the class who seem to have never heard that statement before.  She asked for me to "repeat that again", I repeated "all relationships should be based on mutual submission and mutual love and respect".  And questions went flying all over the place, "so who is my head?"  I answered: Jesus.  "Can a husband rape his wife?" I answered: Yes, if she said no.  "Do I have to have sex with my husband whenever he wants?"  I answered: All relationships should be based on love and respect; as long as you're not withholding sex from him to manipulate him or punish him. 

Needless to say, we did not finish going over all of our bible study questions for that night.  But their faces looked exactly like mine when several years ago I heard at a conference that Jesus was my head: bewilderment.  They had smiles on their faces, there seemed to be a collective relief by the thought that Jesus Christ, who is perfect in every way, is our head.

I've seen the above picture floating around on the internet and I really don't understand how this picture explains Ephesians 5:21 "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ". The picture seems to be promoting a hierarchy when the bible preaches equality and mutuality: "submit to one another". I really don't know how I could explain and teach this picture to women who have found themselves bound by addictions and abused by the hands of those who professed to love them and "cover" them as the umbrella asserts.  I really don't understand what the picture means.  The picture is assuming many things about the family and not taking into account the diversity of the family.  It is also assuming that every woman will have a husband and if every woman does not marry, then who will be her head? This picture seems to produce more questions than answers.

Church, please teach the bible in context; I mean the context in which it was written not in ours.  Teach the freedom found in Christ not oppression found by the hands of man.  Teach mutual love, respect and submission not a one direction submission. Teach us how to love our neighbors and see them as equals not to engage in any forms of oppression; remember our spouses are also our neighbors.  Teach us how to serve each other with love.  Teach us how to breathe life and dignity into the souls of our brothers and sisters not to suck the life out of each other by dictating a hierarchy that Christ never prescribed.  Above all, teach us to love God as seen by the love we have for one another. 

Church we need you to help us see Jesus!

I pray for my sisters who are in relationships built on power and control not love and respect; God hears your cries for help and he loves you; you are enough.  I pray for my brothers who society dictates you must assert your leadership over your family through power and control, God hears your cries for help; he loves you and you are enough. God teach us to love like you; freely, openly, with compassion and dignity.

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