Garth George: The marriage debate

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Marriage has been in the news almost constantly for weeks and the only good news to come out of all the talk has been that all but one Bay of Plenty Member of Parliament voted against the introduction of MP Louisa Wall's "gay marriage" bill.

National's Simon Bridges, Tony Ryall and Todd McClay, plus New Zealand First's Brendan Horan, are to be congratulated for their fearless stand in voting the way they perceived the majority of their electorates wanted then to.

It will not be forgotten when Bay voters go to the polls next year.

But I digress. The marriage debate took on a whole new dimension this week with a report that brides will be promising to "submit" to their husbands under a new marriage vow the Anglican diocese of Sydney is expected to approve at its synod next month.

It requires the minister to ask of the bride: "Will you honour and submit to him, as the Church submits to Christ?" and for her to pledge "to love and submit" to her husband.

As you can imagine, this has triggered an outcry, mainly from feminists, academics and theologians, accusing the diocese of promoting the "subordination of women", reinforcing a "patriarchal culture" and having "connotations of slavery".

How anyone can construe "submit" as any of those things, except through mindless political correctness, is difficult to understand, particularly since the use of the word in wedding services in the diocese is entirely voluntary and is left to the couple to choose.

As the Bishop of South Sydney, Robert Forsyth, chairman of the diocesan liturgical panel which wrote the new vows, pointed out: "The Bible never said women must obey their husbands but Paul and Peter did say submit, which I think is a much more responsive, nuanced word."

And so it is if you care to read the Bible passage from which it is taken - chapter five of Paul's letter to the Ephesians (taken from the widely-used New International Version):

"Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord," he writes. "For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the Church ... Therefore, just as the Church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything."

But then comes the real nitty-gritty - Paul's message to husbands: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her ... So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.

"For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the Church. 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but ... nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband."

As a dear old priest told me once: "A text taken out of context is a pretext." For millenniums men have used "Wives, submit to your own husbands" as an excuse to dominate women and, for centuries, most women, particularly wives, were treated as simply male chattels.

Yet Paul's words make it abundantly clear that a happy and fruitful marriage is almost entirely dependent on the behaviour of the husband.

He must love his wife as much as he loves himself, cherish her, protect her and provide for her needs, and even give up his life for her if necessary.

That's a big ask, but surely if all of us who are husbands at least strove for it, the world would be a much better place.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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