Submission: Understanding The Spiritual Context

I ran across an interesting article, written by a Christian woman, who values womanhood. I agreed with this article so much I decided to think about it in terms of the scriptures, as our Church teaches. Note: I have taken her list and added my own to include our doctrine.

Mary Kassian is an award winning author, popular speaker, and a distinguished professor of women’s studies at Southern Baptist Seminary. She blogs at Even her blog name sends a positive message.

She was asked what her understanding was about “submitting to your husband.” We all feel the hackles rise when we hear that phrase, but when we understand it in the Lord’s way, we can rest easy. Mary’s explanation is very helpful. The Lord actually gives us a lot of understanding in the scriptures. It is for us to study and understand once and for all our valued place. She clarifies seven misconceptions:

Misconception #1: Submission is universal—the directive applies to all women, even those outside of the faith community.

The biblical directive to submit applies specifically to Christians—it cannot be upheld as a necessity for those outside the faith community. People without the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit have neither the discernment nor the power to live out submission and authority in a godly manner.

I agree with her statement here. The commandment to submit comes to those who have received covenants, including the Gift of the Holy Ghost. We are then accountable for our behavior.

Once the people of Alma were baptized, they were commanded that “there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye…one faith…one baptism…hearts knit together in unity.” (Mosiah 18:21) This doesn’t happen unless all people are repentant, faithful, humble, and most definitely submissive.

Misconception #2: Submission is gender-exclusive—it’s just for women.

Men have a responsibility to submit too—it’s not just something that’s required of women. EVERY Christian, female or male, has the responsibility to submit to the Lord, and also to the authorities the Lord has placed in his or her life. What’s more, the biblical concepts of submission and authority cannot be disassociated. The two are indivisibly connected. A biblical definition of submission cannot be understood apart from a biblical definition of authority.

We also believe it’s universal for all women, and men, alike. In Mosiah 3:19 we learn the traits that Jesus Christ showed us we MUST cultivate: “…yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit…becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him (her), even as a child doth submit to his (her) father.”

We often see these characteristic words as weak and helpless. Here are some other words that mean the same thing: Trusting, Accountable, Self-masterful, Obedient, Reconciliatory, Patient, Recognizing and Desiring the Lord’s saving grace. 

I find it interesting that she talks of authority. In the Church, we would call this Priesthood authority. We women should be willing to submit to Priesthood authority as those men holding the Priesthood submit to the Lord.  

Misconception #3: Submission is generic—every woman submits to every man.

The Bible instructs a wife to submit herself to her own husband; not to men in general. (See Eph. 5:22, Eph. 5:24, Col. 3:18)

We can also accept the counsel that a husband and wife is a type and shadow of the Church and it’s Savior. The marriage covenant is in place and we must be willing to submit to that covenant.

Misconception #4: Submission is a right—a husband has the right to demand his wife’s submission.

A husband does not have the right to demand or extract submission from his wife. Submission is HER choice—her responsibility… it is NOT his right!! Not ever. She is to “submit herself”— deciding when and how to submit is her call. In a Christian marriage, the focus is never on rights, but on personal responsibility. It’s his responsibility to be affectionate. It’s her responsibility to be agreeable. The husband’s responsibility is to sacrificially love as Christ loved the Church—not to make his wife submit.

I really like her explanation. We are all responsible and accountable for our actions. And always understand, we have been asked to submit to righteousness, never wickedness. “…when we undertake to…exercise control or dominion…in any degree of unrighteousness…Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.” (D&C 121:37)

Misconception #5: Submission is indiscriminate—it means mindless acquiescence.

A Christian’s first responsibility is to submit to the Lord and His standard of righteousness. A wife is not called to submit to sin, mistreatment, or abuse. The Lord does not want “weak-willed” women—women who lack the discernment and strength to respond to the right things and in the right way. Godly women do not submit to sin. They carefully and intentionally weigh and discern how to submit to sinful human authority in light of their primary responsibility to submit to the ways of the Lord. No brain-dead doormats or spineless bowls of Jello here! Submission is neither mindless nor formulaic nor simplistic. Submitting to the Lord sometimes involves drawing clear boundaries and enacting consequences when a husband sins. Submission is an attitude of the heart. A woman can have a submissive spirit even when saying “no” and refusing to go along with sin.

She says it all.

Misconception #6: Submission precludes mutuality—it creates lopsided, one-way relationships.

Submission and authority function hand-in-hand with all the other biblical directives about how Christians ought to interact with one another. Along with submitting to her husband, a Christian wife also has the responsibility to be transparent, speak truth, confront sin, and challenge her husband to ever-increasing levels of holiness. As heirs together of the grace of life, both husband and wife have the responsibility to love, encourage, and build one another up; and to interact with forbearance, kindness, and humility. Biblical authority and submission contribute to mutuality and do not diminish or detract from it. (It’s “both-and” not “either-or.”)

“Pure womanhood plus priesthood means exaltation.  But womanhood without priesthood, or priesthood without pure womanhood doesn’t spell exaltation.”  Pres. Harold B. Lee.

“In the true Patriarchal Order man holds the Priesthood and is the head of the household…but he cannot attain a fullness of joy here or an eternal reward hereafter alone.  Woman stands at his side a joint-inheritor with him in the fullness of all things.”  Bruce R. McConkie.

Misconception #7: Submission promotes abuse—it encourages husbands to be domineering, self-centered boors.

When properly understood and enacted, the framework of hierarchical relationships within the Christian community serves a protective function, because every authority is accountable to a higher authority. This community structure encourages husbands to fulfill their responsibility to love as Christ loves, and holds them to account when they don’t. It fosters Christlikeness and prevents abuse. A wife whose husband is abusive can appeal to higher authorities for intervention and protection. It is the responsibility of the authorities to protect and seek the good of all those under their care.

We are all striving for perfection, that we may keep our covenants and receive our reward in heaven. For instructions on how to turn a temple marriage into an eternal marriage, study D&C 121: 41-46 and The Family Proclamation.

For her complete article go here.


This photo is taken in honor of a couple who started a long line of family sealed in the Idaho Falls Temple. Thank you for your great example.