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June 12, 2016

“A wife is to submit graciously to…her husband.”

Baptist Convention, AP story June 1998
In 1998, the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention decided to update the provisions of the “Baptist Faith and Message,” a set of principles adopted in 1925 to provide guidance to the millions of members of Southern Baptist churches in the United States.

The text of the 1925 version primarily focused on fundamental aspects of the Southern Baptist faith, which are generally similar to other Christian Protestant faiths.

There was nothing in it about the roles of husbands and wives or the definition of marriage.

Back then, what was “normal” with respect to such things was taken for granted.

Seventy years later, in the late 1990s, things were different.

Women had increasingly become “liberated.”

Homosexuals were increasingly coming out of the closet.

There was even talk of (gasp!) gay marriage.

So, in June of 1998, at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, the church leaders decided it was time to add a new section to the Baptist Faith and Message that addressed these “issues.”

The new section, titled “THE FAMILY,” was unanimously adopted by Convention members on June 9, 1998.

The first part had some language that took a clear shot at the newfangled notion of gay marriage.

“Marriage,” it opined, “is the uniting of one man and one woman.”

Of course, it wasn’t any big surprise that Southern Baptists opposed gay marriage (and homosexuality in general). They had already staked out that turf.

But there was some other language in the new section that caught the attention of reporters and quickly generated nationwide news coverage, a firestorm of criticism and many political cartoons and jokes.

Jeff Larson cartoon Wives submit graciouslyThe most controversial sentence was in the third paragraph, which says:

“A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.”

The doctrine is loosely based on a Biblical quote, Ephesians 5:22-33. Those verses, which don’t actually say wives should “graciously” be “servants” to their husbands, are given in the King James Version as follows:

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

For weeks, the Baptist Convention’s new rule about wives submitting graciously to their husbands was discussed, lambasted and lampooned by newspaper columnists, TV commentators, feminists and comedians.

Naturally, many women and social liberals attacked and mocked the idea that wives should graciously submit to their husbands, viewing it as incredibly outdated, wrongheaded and insulting to women.

And, of course, TV comics couldn’t resist commenting on the flap.

For example, Jay Leno quipped:

“The Southern Baptists issued a new ruling this week stating that a wife is to submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband. What if a husband wants to lead her and the family to Disneyland on Gay Day? What do you do then? What if your husband’s an idiot?”

Given Hillary Clinton’s imminent nomination as presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, it’s especially interesting to read one of the paragraphs in the Associated Press story about the flap over the submissive wives doctrine.

It notes that in 1998 the most visible member of the Southern Baptist Church was President Bill Clinton. The reporter who wrote the story, Kristen Moulton, was told by White House spokesman Mike McCurry that Bill Clinton “was aware of the convention's action and had joked about pointing it out to the first lady.”

The criticism and jokes had no effect on the policies of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The sentence about a wife submitting graciously to her husband remained and still exists in the current Baptist Faith and Message text.

At least, it still exists on paper and online.

I haven’t seen any studies on how strictly it’s adhered to in Southern Baptist households.

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