Weaker Partner

Nov 01, 2007 |Heather Koerner
Weaker Partner

Scripture calls me the weaker partner. What's my response?

I can still remember the chalkboard very clearly.

Ronald Reagan 22
Walter Mondale 2

It was 1984, and I was sitting in my suburban Oklahoma seventh-grade classroom. It was a presidential election year, and my civics teacher, attempting to produce engaged citizens, was encouraging our classroom of gawky 11 and 12 year olds to debate the issues (we knew very little), discuss the candidates (we, at least, could speak very emphatically) and conduct a "pre-vote" on the two major party candidates.

The results were on the board. Reagan was the landslide winner — as he would later go on to be in the general election.

But I was crushed. You see, I was one of the two who voted for Mondale.

Not that I gave a hill of beans about Mondale. Not that I even understood the fundamental differences between the candidates' philosophies. But there was one thing I did know. I knew who Mondale's vice presidential candidate was: Geraldine Ferraro — a woman.

Geraldine Ferraro was, in fact, the first and only woman, to date, to represent a major political party as a candidate for vice president. To me, she was a hero.

My male classmates had taunted me that a woman, well, a woman just couldn't be vice-president. She just couldn't.

But as a pre-teen who could beat the pants off my male counterparts in math class and was wholly unimpressed with their flatulence jokes, I begged to differ. We were women, hear us roar. Her victory, I thought, would bring honor to all females, and her defeat was a defeat for us all.

Looking back, I have to smile. I am thankful that Mondale and Ferraro were not elected. She does not, to put it mildly, advocate my political beliefs. I've realized that just because another human has ovaries, doesn't mean we naturally share the same opinions or ideals.

In my Christian walk, too, I hope that I've matured. But there have still been times, I must admit, when that seventh-grade girl stiffens her backbone in protest — especially when it comes to the authorities and responsibilities of Christian males and females. Passages such as 1 Peter 3, which tells me in language hard to misinterpret that I am to submit to my husband, have been a struggle for me. The passage, too, refers to me as the "weaker partner." Is God serious, I used to wonder.

To be honest, not much in my church experience has helped me deal with these passages either. Some churches ignore these Scriptures altogether, some churches believe them but won't teach them, and still others shout them from the rooftops but explain them the same way my seventh-grade male classmates did — well, it's just that way ... because. None of these were any help.

In fact, I started my marriage fully entrenched in the 50/50 camp. My husband and I would split all the work right down the middle — nothing less would be fair. I even informed my husband that I would do three days of cooking a week and no more. He was to do the other three, and we would go out the final night. Saint that he is, he agreed. If I could have drawn a red line down the middle of my house showing his side to clean and my side, I probably would have done it.

But God has taught me a lot through my marriage. He has shown me that He has created me uniquely as a female, and that He designed me for a specific purpose, separate and complementary to my husband. He has shown me that His roles for husband and wife help a family work, and help it to work well.

Some of the lessons came through my husband as he modeled servant leadership. Some came through the conviction of the Holy Spirit — I've seen that, girl power advocate though I was, when I'm honest with myself, I am glad that I do not have to be the provider and protector. And some came through the Word — I saw that 1 Peter 3 doesn't just talk about submission and weaker partners, it also commands that I be treated with respect, consideration and as a joint heir of the gracious gift of life.

One of the latest lessons I've gotten came from an unexpected place — a secular article about a woman who grew up in a Muslim family in Mogadishu. In the article, Deroy Murdock profiles Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a woman with an amazing story. Ali now lives, writes and speaks in America, attempting to encourage the West to realize that its culture is, indeed, superior to militant Islam. As Murdock quotes her, "Human beings are equal; cultures are not."

She particularly extends her appreciation to our culture's treatment of women.

You go girl, my seventh-grade self might have said! We are still fighting for our equality, but we're getting closer all the time.

But that's not Ali's point in Murdock's article. Her point is simple: Here, a man holds a door open for a woman.

"When I first came to a Western country, I was astonished to find men who said, 'Ladies first,'" Murdock quotes Ali. "I was amazed because I was born and raised in a culture that put me last because I was born a girl."

"A culture that holds the door open to her women is not equal to one that confines them behind walls and veils," Ali continued. "A culture that encourages dating between young men and young women is not equal to a culture that flogs or stones a girl for falling in love. A culture where monogamy is an aspiration is not equal to a culture where a man can lawfully have four wives at once."

Unfortunately, not all women are as appreciative of an opened door as Ali. Some women, and men, link the impulse to open a door for a woman with the impulse to repress and abuse her. But Ali's experience has taught her the exact opposite, and I think she is right: There is a difference between a culture where women are honored and a culture where women are chattel.

But, for me, it goes further than just "culture." Many modern-day feminists have tried to argue that they offer me honor while Christianity offers me chattel. But they've got it backward. I only have to look around to see it. The hook-up culture, the abortion culture, the depiction of women in media — they're all proof. It wouldn't take me 10 seconds flipping the television to see that — though Ali is gracious enough to see the positives in our culture — there is plenty of chattel-like behavior toward women.

As a seventh-grade girl, I was incensed that someone would treat me differently because I was a female. Now, though, I take comfort in the fact that God commands my Christian brothers to treat me differently. God's balance, of course, is perfect. He commands that I be respected, but also that I respect. He commands that I be honored, but also that I honor. He commands that I submit to authority, but also commands that authority to submit to Him.

He understands my heart. After all, He created it. He knows that it may be difficult for me to accept my husband's authority, so he reminds me in 1 Peter to do what is right and not to give way to fear.

In seventh grade, and probably for years later, I would have told you that all patriarchal societies were the same — their only goal to puff men up in their own power. But not anymore.

Yes, some societies live that way, and it's a shame. But that is not God's way. God has given my husband the right, and the responsibility, to lead our family. But simply because I submit to an authority — as, in fact, all of us have to do — God doesn't see me as inferior, as inadequate or unworthy. The true message of Christ is quite the opposite, and it's a beautiful thing.

Now I remember that every time my husband opens my door. It's a small gesture, but it points to the larger truth.

Copyright 2007 Heather Koerner. All rights reserved.

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