Saturday, July 21, 2012

Comment on "Marital Submission and Syria's First Lady: A Lesson for Christian Women"

Christianity Today has posted an article on the topic of "marital submission" and its limits using the first lady of Syria as an example.  This seems like an odd story until one recalls that the Syria's first lady grew up in the west (England) and has been looked upon as someone who could help the country become more progressive.

That dream seems to be shattered by recent political developments in Syria and the regime's bloody crackdown against dissent.  Thousands of Syrians have been killed by their own government.  In all of this many are wondering , Where is Mrs. Assad?  Why isn't she speaking out?  Why isn't she doing something to reduce the bloodshed.  

An email from Mrs. Assad to the international media provides some insight:  

"“[Bashar al-Assad] is the President of Syria, not a faction of Syrians, and the First Lady supports him in that role,” wrote Asma. “The First Lady’s very busy agenda is still focused on supporting the various charities she has long been involved with . . . [and] she listens to and comforts the families of the victims of the violence.”

CT offers this comment:  

"These are not the words of a woman who defies the stereotypes of a dictator’s wife and captured the hearts of many. This is the response of a woman who does not see a way to influence her husband’s actions and put an end to the violence."

CT attempts to answer the questions raised by this email by applying Ephesians 5 to the situation.  It writes: 

"This united front is honorable and biblical in a marriage. God clearly calls for the man and wife to become one. Many Christians would take it further, saying that a wife is called to submit to her husband’s decision-making authority in all spheres of shared life, based on Paul's description of marriage in Ephesians 5. But no matter how you interpret this passage, doesn’t a time come when a wife can and should usurp a husband’s authority if he is making sinful choices or decisions that harm others? Does unity in sin or harm qualify for biblical unity at all? Is silence in the midst of sin even biblically permissible?"

This statement is balanced by this conclusion:  

"Obviously, women and men have different perspectives and outlooks on life, so wouldn’t women have insight that is valuable to men? Husbands aren’t perfect, and neither are wives, of course. But even if wives are submitted to the authority of their husbands, a wife is not called to silence or idleness when wrongs are committed. I would argue that silence in an instance where the welfare of another is at stake is negligence of a wife’s role in marriage... In the West, we likely won't deal with the reality of husbands commanding the bloody crackdown of protests, but we might be in marriages in which the husband is making poor financial choices, creating abusive situations, risking the welfare of others for career advancement, or ignoring the needs of others around him. If your family or others are at risk of harm, will marital unity be your excuse for inaction in a time of need?"

I appreciate this attempt to answer a thorny question.  Yes there are limits to how far marital submission should go and CT gives us some good examples.  Yet applying Ephesians 5 to Mrs. Assad is a bit shaky for two reasons.

First, the writer neglects to account for the complexity of the situation.  Mrs. Assad is both a wife and a citizen of the country of Syria.  Thus her relationship to her husband is both as a wife and as a subject.  Sure, Ephesians 5 addresses marital issues but it doesn't apply to the relationship of a person to the civil magistrate.  That's where Romans 13 comes into play and the limits of obedience.  The magistrate is called to maintain law and order by punishing evil doers;  however when a government is involved in murdering its own people for political expediency citizens (including the first lady) have a right and a duty to speak up.    

Second, the principle set forth in Romans 14:23 of going against one's conscience applies in this instance.  While Mrs. Assad is not a Christian she has the law of God written on her heart and that should prompt her to intervene.  Yet she is apparently suppressing that knowledge as she continues to be involved with charity for those affected by the violence.  That is a strange way to deal with evil.   

Again, I appreciate the attempt to answer the questions related to Ephesians 5 by using a current event.  Yet using a less complicated example might make more sense to illustrate the point about marital submission.

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