Intriguing, insightful answers to your thorny theological queries
‘Male Dominance’ Debunked
DEAR DR. TOM: I read somewhere in the Bible that
Paul says women are supposed to obey men, especially
their husbands. I want to be a good Christian wife, but
sometimes I refuse my husband’s suggestions. So tell
me, am I wrong?
—Believer in Baltimore, Maryland
DEAR BELIEVER: Oh, yeah. Totally. The passage in
Ephesians frequently cited to support male dominance
(“Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the
Lord …”) is usually taken out of context. The author of
Ephesians, who scholars say was most likely not Paul but a
later advocate of his ideas, goes on to command Christian
men to do likewise: “Husbands, love your wives, just as
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”
(Ephesians 5: 25). The unknown author—we don’t know
if a man or woman composed Ephesians—goes on to say
children should obey their parents, but parents should not
“… provoke your children to anger but bring them up in
the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (6: 4).
Now for the truly radical part. Ephesians tells Christian
slave owners, “Stop threatening them, for you know that
both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him
there is no partiality” (6: 9). That sentence exploded like
a bomb in a Greco-Roman world where 40 percent of the
population was held in bondage.
The real message of Ephesians isn’t subservience—it’s
agape, selfless love. If your husband has a suggestion and
you don’t agree, tell him. Talk about it. I hope he’ll do the
same when you suggest something. All sentient beings
have the divine spirit within them. My wife assures me,
on a good day, that husbands are included.
DEAR DR. TOM: So every Easter we celebrate a dead body
that came back to life, conversed with friends over a fish
dinner, ascended into the sky, and sits on the right hand
of a celestial throne complex until returning one day to
send all us unbelievers to hell. Don’t you think it’s naïve to
—Skeptic in Seattle, Washington
DEAR SKEPTIC: Yep. See the next question.
DEAR DR. TOM: Do you believe the Bible is true?
—P. T.M., Auckland, New Zealand
DEAR P. T.M.: Let me repeat an old story and ask you a
question. Aesop’s fable of the “Fox and the Grapes,” from
the Latin version by Phaedrus:
Driven by hunger, a fox tried to reach
some grapes hanging high on the vine
but was unable to, although he leaped
with all his strength. As he went away,
the fox remarked “Oh, you aren’t even
ripe yet! I don’t need any sour grapes.”
People who speak disparagingly of
things that they cannot attain would do
well to apply this story to themselves.
Simple fable. Here’s a simple question: Is the story true?
Before you say, “No,” let me ask if the experience
reminds you of real life. Have you ever known someone
who wanted something badly, didn’t get it, and walked
away saying, “Well, it wasn’t right for me, anyway”?
If we look for life lessons, the story is true.
Except canids (dogs, wolves, and foxes) can’t gorge
themselves on grapes without becoming sick, and a fox
can’t talk. If you try to make the story a history lesson or
a study in wildlife, it isn’t literally true. However, we all
know people like that fox. In fact, I’ve been the fox more
than once in my life. Truth often comes in symbolism,
legend, fable, parable. It’s no accident that Jesus was a
storyteller, and nobody asked him to prove there was a
real Good Samaritan.
DEAR DR. TOM: With the environment on the verge of
crashing around us and climate change challenging
human survival, I feel guilty every time I eat a hamburger
or ride on an airplane. What should I do?
—J.H., San Francisco, California
DEAR J.H.: So stay home, ride a bike, and eat vegan. Or
join me on the flight and we’ll discuss ways to save the
planet over a Reuben sandwich.
REV. THOMAS SHEPHERD, D.MIN.,
FORMER PROFESSOR OF THEOLOGY AND
CHURCH HISTORY AT UNITY INSTITUTE®
AND SEMINARY, IS THE AUTHOR OF MANY
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