Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Love in Fundamentalism IV: Defining Terms of Submission

[commenter] Maybe it's just a matter of semantics - I feel like we're kind of saying the same thing (for the most part) but we're defining "submission" differently. To me, "submission" means putting the other person first or making them more important than you.  By which I do NOT BY ANY MEANS mean "choosing the other person's desires over your own".  A fine distinction but an important one.  I DO mean “making what is best for the other person your priority”.  Ideally, in a mutually submissive relationship, the other person is working for your best just as much as you are working for theirs.  
You ask, "And where does it leave the one who is doing all the submitting?" and say, "Seems to me that God is more about setting up paradigms that are more likely to succeed than fail."  It seems to me he has and it's called MUTUAL submission, that first word being the key.  In God's economy it's not about one person, or many people, giving in to all the desires and proclamations of one or a few people.  When you are truly seeking what is best for others, and they are seeking your best, then there is no room for the kind of despotism and abuse we've been talking about.  The problem is not with the "paradigm" as you call it, but with the way sinful and imperfect people live it out - or don't as the case may be.

I think you've made the very point I was trying to describe about semantics and vocabulary.  If you can't even tell whether we're talking about the same thing or not when we say "submission" when we've been defining it for several emails, then how can the average congregant possibly have a clear understanding of the word?

In the common parlance of the everyday world "submission" means "to seek approval, i.e. to submit a proposal or submit an essay or submit a doctoral thesis" or "to deny one's own desires in favor of another's".  The idea of "mutually submitting" is a logical impossibility in our regular usage of the word.

sub·mit  (sb-mt)
v. sub·mit·ted, sub·mit·ting, sub·mits
1. To yield or surrender (oneself) to the will or authority of another.
2. To subject to a condition or process.
3. To commit (something) to the consideration or judgment of another. See Synonyms at propose.
4. To offer as a proposition or contention: I submit that the terms are entirely unreasonable.
1. To give in to the authority, power, or desires of another. See Synonyms at yield.
2. To allow oneself to be subjected to something.

In church, "submission" is, if I understand you correctly, supposed to mean "taking action for the benefit of the other".  On the whole page of the above link, including three dictionaries of English, two thesauri and the etymology of the word "submit", there is absolutely nothing that would even hint at your definition of "submit" and a whole lot about things like "knuckling under", "obedience" and "to render up will or authority".

If you want to describe the process of being in a godly relationship as each person "taking action for the benefit of the other", a description I heartily agree with, then we should use a term that everyday English speakers will readily understand to mean that.  Words that come to mind are "love" or "honor", perhaps “service”, I'm sure there are more.

There are way too many sermons preached and Christian marriage books written, though, whose premise and practical advice sound way more like my definition of submission than yours.  That's why I said I don't think even the generally recognized experts in theology are at all clear on this word.  There's lots of advice out there promoting that women submit to husbands, REGARDLESS of the husband's actions.  In the face of outright life-threatening violence, and certainly lesser disrespect, the women are told to "submit" and "keep silent" and “God will honor her in heaven”.  Admittedly, this is an extreme example, but I think if something is True, it will remain True even when taken to its logical extreme.

That's where I say that if we talked more in church about "love" and "honor" and "service", all of which more readily denote "actions benefiting others", and less about "submit", there wouldn't be these kinds of human errors in practical theology.  And there would be less opportunity for the power-mongering among us to exploit those who are trying to apply "submit" to the best of their (dubious) understanding.

I think you and I mean exactly the same thing about God's economy being about the many, with each acting for the good of the others over oneself.  But that is completely not the economy that develops in communities concerned with "submitting" rather than "honoring" or some better-fitting term.  I say that the church has got so hung up over pounding the square pegs of its jargon into the round holes of our common understanding, that it has long ago lost sight of the underlying great Truth.

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