27 May 2005


Submission to your husband is another topic that comes up on homeschooling boards. I have to admit that I'm always surprised at the number of conservative Christian women who advocate submitting to their husbands.

Now, I am sure I don't really understand where they're coming from, and I hope that it doesn't sounds as bad as it does. But when I hear "submit," it just gives me the creeps. I've agreed to hearken to my husband, and I am happy to do that, especially since I feel that he hearkens to me and the Lord. But I won't submit to him. In certain cases, yes, but as an overall guiding principle for our marriage? No. Submission implies mindlessness to me, and I don't think it's good for one partner in a marriage to be unthinking.

This may very well come down to semantics. But when I hear specific examples of women advocating submission (for example, that a wife shouldn't disagree with her husband on a name for their baby), I get concerned. Would these women also say you should submit to a man who is doing illegal or immoral things? I get the impression that some would allow not submitting only as a very last resort, and I think that could be spiritually destructive (I will always be grateful that my mother-in-law did not continue to submit to her husband.)

But it's easy to get hung up on this- to be so sure that I won't submit that I ignore my husband's needs when I have as much a responsibility to help him as he does to help me. But really, what does submitting and/or hearkening mean? My concern is that submission implies that the wife's role is less important, and I don't agree with that. I don't think the LDS Church teaches that.

I think hearkening should be an attitude of unselfishness where we both are concerned about each other. It has nothing to do with dominance or power. It's simply love.


  1. I think the key is not so much the idea of 'hearkening' but of following your husband as he follows the Lord . In other words, you are judging your husband: if what he counsels you to do is the Lord's will, then you follow him. If it isn't, you call him on it. In this way, the separation of the Garden of Eden is remedied in the mutually interdependent relationship of the husband and wife: she judges him (and therefore can correct his wayward behavior) and he counsels her (and therefore can correct her wayward behavior). I like it that the roles of different, but suggest equality and complimentarity.

    If you haven't already, I'd highly recommend Hugh Nibley's article Patriarchy and Matriarchy.

  2. I agree, Julie, and I've liked how you've explained this in other places. There are times that husbands and wives need to counsel and judge each other.

    However, I still prefer to focus it on love. I am completely satisfied with the way my husband and I have worked things out.

    I find it interesting that there are so many different perspectives on this and that there are some women who are happy with submission- I don't think I've met too many like thatin the Church though. :)

  3. it's interesting because in a religion class i took in college, we learned the word "harken" meant listen and obey.

    the emphasis was that not only were we supposed to listen to the word, but obey it, which gives the word a deeper meaning than we usually think of.

  4. Perhaps Aimee Roo has hit on something. If hearken means to "listen and obey" then the same law applies to the husband.
    If husband and wife are both doing what they are supposed to they would truly be one, not one above the other. To me, it's like when the Lord gave prophets the power to do whatever they wanted, (if you say "move" to the mountain it will move...)The Lord didn't give this authority to just anyone, he gave it to those who He trusted would not abuse the authority and go around moving mountains and such just to prove they could do it, but rather as a power to use when THE LORD would find it necessary.
    I think we forget that marriage is a sacrament and as such has been given the power to create what we will create (in His name and under covenant)without having to ask each time. Similar to the the whole "move" senario, the Lord gives other commandments and blessings within the sacrament trusting both parties will not abuse the authority given. A woman submits to the will of her husband so far as he is acting AS THE LORD WOULD. Once hubby uses unrighteous dominion, (as in any priesthood duty) his power is lost, and those "under" his authority have no law to follow. I don't think the Lord gave women brains and a Spirit not to use them but rather to councel with her husband and children in the same sense that even the Prophet has counselors. They councel and then he makes the final decision and takes resposibility for that decision.

  5. aimee roo--

    Again, I think you need to be sure that you aren't taking 'hearken' out of context: we never find it without the complimentary phrase, 'as he follows the Lord.' (Otherwise, the Lord might be commanding a woman to follow someone who isn't following Him! Oy vey!)


    I want to strongly object to your last line about "'making the final decision." as applied to husbands. The husband does not have this right, and I am surprised at the number of Saints who subscribe to this false doctrine. I've had this conversation several times before, and I've repeatedly challenged people to provide me with a statement from a Church leader or a scripture suggesting that the husband has the 'last word.' I've never had anyone take me up on this offer. On the other hand, I can point you to several statements stating the opposite.

  6. Just an observation about southern women. They appear to be entirely submissive to their husbands (and the the husbands generally think they're the ones that are in charge). However, there's a suprisingly (to someone who's not southern) strong willful streak running through these women. They are willing to serve their husbands and let them think they have control. And then they turn around and do whatever they deem best for raising their family, going to church, or whatever. And, they have perfectly happy marriages.

    I think we tend to think of things like submissiveness in terms we were raised with. If anyone told these women in my ward that what they were doing was not really "acceptable", they'd say (something like), "Honey, it worked for my Mama, and it works for me. Besides isn't a man just the head? It's the neck that actually moves the head, right?" (I actually did have someone say that to me once...)

  7. Melissa--

    See this re: head and neck.


  8. Julie -- Okay. I understand where you're coming from with the head and neck thing. I agree. I don't consider myself a "neck" (I like your hands analogy). My point was, though, that many women down here do. Not necessarily deceitful, but calmly and quietly directing their husband do to the "right thing". Or sometimes, it's letting their husband do their own thing while they do theirs.

    Granted, it's not what I think of as working together in harmony, which I think is the ideal. Though, for whatever reason, the marriages work, they are good women, and they don't seem to me to be what I consider submissive.

    Living in the south does give one a different perspective on what works.

  9. I had a really strong experience this year reading 1 Peter 3, where it says "Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands..." (NIV has submission) I realized the "Likewise" goes not just back to chapter 2's description of the Lord's submission, but likewise back to "Servants (slaves), be subject to your masters."

    I realized this counsel is for dealing with the fallen world's system; Peter's counsel to slaves is no endorsement of slavery, therefore Peter's counsel to wives is simply about being effective in your circumstance, not an endorsement of the subjection of women. The fact that Peter's counsel is specifically to wives married to unbelievers makes this all the more apparent.

    Peter's advice throughout this letter on suffering is about how to be the most powerful and resourceful advocate you can be. I realized much of the time I had given over to my husband the final decision, I had only abandoned duty to conform to my idea of local culture, rather than answering God's call, and making my marriage truly an endeavor both my husband and I were fully engaged in.

    I recall when Paul did not want to take John Mark along on his missionary journey, and Barnabus insisted that he be given another chance. Both advocated strongly, and thus created the solution where Paul took another missionary companion and headed northwest and Barnabus took John Mark and headed north. Twice the missionary work was done, and the concerns of both men were fully answered. I've become a big fan of negotiation though I don't enjoy it, because the Holy Ghost seems to delight in giving each party part of the picture so we must work it out. He cannot function without real unity. One party capitulating is a mockery of unity.

  10. " One party capitulating is a mockery of unity."

    This is a great line.