When the Southern Baptist Convention in Salt Lake City this week issued a declaration setting forth the proper wifely role, one single word became a flash point of controversy: submit.
"A wife is to submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband, even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ," reads the new 18th Article of the Baptist Faith and Message.
To some, the word "submit" is fraught with negative connotations. Slavery. Inequality. Humiliation. Consequently, many have complained about what they regard as the convention's relegation of wives to a subservient role. A fax from the Baltimore chapter of the National Organization for Women deemed it "a clear and ugly attack on women. NOW refuses to allow radical religious extremists to take women's rights away."
But many Southern Baptists feel differently, seeing the convention's statement as a guide for successful and loving marriages, one that mirrors the relationship between the church and Jesus Christ.
Yesterday, the Today section took a sampling of the reaction by Southern Baptists in the Baltimore area:
* Darlene Peterson, 41, member of Hampstead Baptist Church, resident of Lineboro, Carroll County, clerical worker for board of education: "I know it probably sounds bizarre, like a woman in a second class, but that's not the case. We are equal in God's eye, but we need to have order here on Earth. I support [the amendment] wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, some men will see that as a go-ahead to bully their wives, but that's not how God intended it to be. Someone has to lead the family."
* Tim Trexler, 32, pastor of Lee Street Memorial Baptist Church, Baltimore: When people hear that a woman should "submit herself graciously," they are "not getting the big picture or the context. The equality issue is the same, but the Bible teaches that man is given the role and responsibility to be the servant leader." Servant leadership "is not a dictatorship It's serving with humility and looking out for the best of the other."
* Steve and Denise Davis, members of Severn Baptist Church, residents of Odenton; he works at Bell Atlantic; she's a "stay-at-home mom" who sells Mary Kay products. Steve, 39: "The fact that the wife is to submit herself doesn't mean in a degrading or demoralizing way. It's not like she is a slave."
* Denise, 38: Think of it this way: "You have a supervisor at work, right? Someone who is in charge but in no way is better than you. There needs to be order, and for me, this presents order. It doesn't mean I'm any less important in the relationship or in the eyes of God."
* Laura Berry, summer missionary, Canton Baptist Church, 3302 Toon St., Baltimore: Berry, 19, arrived in Baltimore last Friday. She is from Tennessee and wants to be a missionary. Where? "I'm waiting for God to tell me." About the convention's decision: "I think it is very acceptable, because as believers in Christ we are to be servers to each other. It doesn't matter if we are male or female, we should, in brotherly love, put others' needs before our own."
She then asked the reporter his religion and invited him to church on Sunday.
* Kevin D. Newman, pastor at Loch Raven Baptist Church, Baltimore: "That's basically what we teach." Asked how he and his wife make decisions, he said: "We work together, figure things out, pray together and ask the Lord. When it comes to a decision that I feel strongly about and she feels the other way, we talk more and then if it's still that way, she'll go along with my leadership."
* Mark Smith, 38, pastor of Patapsco Community Church in Ellicott City: "A Baptist can look at this resolution in good conscience and say this is not a position I can hold. The deal comes down to you and God and the Bible. What about this 'submission' thing? The Bible does not call for anybody to be 'boss' in the home. It calls for the husband and wife to love and serve each other."
* Fred Dyer, 54, pastor at White Marsh Baptist Church, Perry Hall: "I say Amen to all that, because that's exactly what the Bible says. I think there are some churches and some pastors that really push submissiveness; they want to make it like the husband is the king and the wife just grovels around and does whatever he says and whatever he wants. That is certainly not the intention of scripture. Submission is voluntarily cooperating with anyone out of love and respect for God first and then, secondly, out of love and respect for that person."
* Becki Jo Disney, 35, member of White Marsh Baptist Church, Perry Hall homemaker: "I think it is a good decision and it's a decision that's based very strictly on spiritual principles and the Bible. True submission is seeking to put the other person's rights and interests first, and yielding to the other person."
* Michele Bossi, 33, member of Manchester Baptist Church, Manchester, day-care worker: "We look at what God wants us to do, what's best for the family as a whole. It's not what's best for Michele. It's not what's best for Jim I think that 'helper' doesn't mean that I'm sitting there kissing his feet and all that. When he walks in, is dinner on the table? Sure. But guess who cleans it up? Jim, not me." Jim and Michelle are not interested in a Ward and June Cleaver marriage, "and I don't think Jimmy would want it that way. He doesn't want to be married to a servant. He wants to be married to a human being, someone who can hold a discussion."
* Tom and Rosemary Phelps of Huntingtown, Calvert County, members of Bayside Baptist Church in Chesapeake Beach, both teachers: Rosemary, 51, says the Southern Baptist Convention is not suggesting that women be subservient to their husbands. "Submission is not that you have a man who doesn't let you do what you want to do. It's that you blend together."
She says she and her husband share decisions about running the household, although he has final say about financial matters. "Most of the time he knows what my feelings are going to be," she says, adding that she trusts her husband's judgment about money matters more than her own.
Tom, 50: "She does the things she's better at and I do the things I'm better at. The husband is the head of the household but not to the detriment of his wife It's more shared."
* Don Massey, pastor of the Church of the Great Commission in Camp Springs, Md.: "Any decision I make, I'm always thinking of my wife. It's better to work with a boss who is not always out for themselves, who cares about you. You're friends with people who are not selfish, who also care and look out for you."
* Barbara Provin, 47, lives in Monrovia, attends Mount Airy Baptist Church, where she's the office manager: "If your husband loves the Lord first, it's really easy to submit to him. It says he should love you the way Christ loved the church -- well, he died for the church, which means your husband is willing to die for you. We all submit to some kind of authority. If there's no authority in a marriage, there's chaos."
* Jimmy Inman, 27, pastor at Berean Baptist Church in Frederick: "Men and women are totally equal. It's not a question of worth -- we believe that God has simply given the role of leadership to the husband he's to lead by service and example and by love, and by trying to reflect Christ. The way it works out personally for my wife and I, we try to always make decisions together and pray together. I respect her, and I respect her wisdom. When it comes down to the point where we can't agree, then, at that point, it's my God-given responsibility before God to make the decisions."
* Earl Gray, 45, pastor of Manchester Baptist Church, Manchester: The big decisions in his household, "We make them jointly." They recently bought a car. "In our family, the way we've always worked it, whatever is the car in the best condition that's the one the wife drives That could come under the definition of the husband honoring the wife."
* Greg Cochran, minister of education at Woodbrook Baptist Church, Baltimore County: "I would prefer that they had not added something to the Baptist Faith and Message, though I agree with some of the intent, and we do need to focus on the family." He said conservatives have dominated the annual conventions since 1979, and he would prefer things were not that way. Cochran described his church as "moderate."
* Terry Stockman Sr., 40, pastor, Gethsemane Baptist Church, Glenwood: He and his wife "work together in decision-making for our home and our family. However, I have the final say. The husband's role is to be the spiritual leader of our home and therefore the wife is a helpmate and she submits to the authority."
Pub Date: 6/11/98