I know that everyone in the world right now is freaking out about the Doug Philips scandal, and to be honest, the whole thing grosses me out so much that I don’t even want to read about it. And given that I don’t even want to read about it, I’m certainly not going to pull up my socks and start writing about it. But the whole situation has given me some food for thought, and that is on the question of how to raise our daughters so that they don’t fall prey to the manipulations of that kind of man – because those kind of men are found the world over, not merely in patriarchal conservative groups. Is your daughter ever likely to encounter more than three men in the course of her life? Then she will encounter this kind of man. So how do we teach our daughters to be submissive but also strong? To be gracious but also quick to say no?
I have three daughters, all of whom are are now closer to “young lady” than “little girl,” so this isn’t a hypothetical question for me! Here are some of the things that have been bouncing around in my head on this question, in no particular order – things that are very much at the front of my mind as I watch these lovely girls grow up.
1. Christian women should be characterized by submission. No matter how much cool-shaming is thrown at the concept of headship and submission by the hipper-than-thou crowd, we can’t get around it that the Bible teaches this. Some people scream and run when they hear the word submission, and men like Doug Philips make that reaction understandable. Then over amongst the crowd that’s all gung-ho about submission there is frequently a scary lack of nuance. On the two sides of this question you find people waving their flags saying either, “submission is terrible,” or “submission is wonderful.” But submit is a a word like love. Is love good or bad? Well of course that all depends. What do you love? Whom do you love? Do you love God, or do you love the world? Do you love your children, or do you love your best friend’s husband? Obviously those details make all the difference in the world. It’s all good and well to say that we Christian women should submit . . . but whom do we submit to? Do we submit to God or do we submit to Nebuchadnezzar? One is a great act of faith, the other a great act of cowardice. The word submission, on its own, holds no moral value whatsoever. Submission could be noble, submission could be treacherous. It all depends. So as we teach our daughters to “be submissive,” the ever-important question is “submissive to whom?” And the only no-fail answer to that question is “God.” We teach our daughters to be submissive to God – and that may mean being the extremely un-cool person who believes that wives should submit to their own husbands . . . and that also may mean being the wife who calls the cops on her husband, or the woman who calls the cops on her pastor, or the girl who calls the pastor on her dad. Submission certainly doesn’t always mean saying yes – sometimes submission means saying no, and that can take an awful lot of strength and bravery. Submission always has a backbone – and that backbone is the Word of God. Every human authority requiring our submission should be examined in the light of that. Do I owe this person my submission? If the answer to that quesion is yes, then it is because I submit ultimately to God and He has asked me to submit to this particular man. As a mother, I want my girls to know and understand this, and I want it to be deep in their bones. Ultimately, a heart submissive to God can stand up and resist someone who attempts to exploit that submission for their own ends.
2. Working through those questions is not easy. Girls need to know how think, how to study, how to pray, how to engage, how to take every thought captive, how to understand a principle and then make application in their own lives. That means teaching them how to think, and that means an education. It’s not at all surprising that men who get infatuated with the idea of male headship frequently don’t think that women need much of an education. (They’re easier to manipulate that way – you can get them to do whatever you want and they’ll think you’re smart at the same time. Win win!) As a mother, I want my girls to know how to hold their own in a debate, how to not be intimidated, how to follow an argument, how to spot flaws in an argument, and how to tell a boy or a man where to get off. I want my girls to be intimidating to the wrong kind of guy. I want my daughters to see right through the stupid posturing of machismo just as much as I want them to see right through the sorry pleas to be let into the cool group by women like Rachel Held Evans.
3. Frequently, women are successfully victimized because of their own fear. Fear of their abuser, fear of anyone finding out, fear that maybe this is all their fault. I want my daughters to understand that fear is like quicksand. It will pull you down, paralyze you, and swallow you up – and that is just as true of mothers who fear for the safety of their children. In 1 Peter, a gentle and quiet spirit is described as being very precious in the sight of God – and then a second later we are told that this spirit is not afraid with any terror. So rather than being told to hush up, which is what many people seem to assume, we are being told to be BRAVE. A quiet spirit is a brave spirit. I need to model that for my girls – by not stressing out and wringing my hands over them, by not letting my thoughts and conversation be dominated by worry, and by not falling prey to any of the fear-driven fads on facebook that sweep through in a flurry of comments and likes about every ten minutes.
4. I want my girls to know that if they ever needed help they could turn straight to me. If they’re facing a terrifying situation, I want them to know they can tell me anything. And if I want them to do that with the big things, then I need to let them know by listening to them in all the little things. He who is faithful with little will be faithful with much – and she who is faithful to listen to her daughters in all the trivial things is showing that she will be faithful to listen to them in the big things. If I want them to believe that I would help them work through something big, then I need to be there to help them work through all the small little issues they’re facing right now.