Sunday, November 8, 2009
How far does a father's "Headship" over his daughter extend?
Dear Rev. Know it all;
My 26 year old niece, Diodora Steinherz, and her fiancé, both Catholic, hope to marry in June. However, Diodora's parents, who are "Bible Christians" do not think her fiancé is the right person for their daughter and based on their interpretation of the biblical "headship covenant", have advised her they will not agree to the marriage. If she chooses to go against their wishes, particularly her father's wishes, they will not attend the wedding nor will they allow any of Diodora’s brothers and sisters that still live at home to attend the wedding. At this point, it would appear their intent is to "ban" her if she goes through with the wedding without their approval. This, of course, is causing many problems in the immediate as well as extended family. Is there any validity to this man’s claim that the bible states that the father must approve a grown daughter’s choice of a spouse? Does he have "authority" over his daughters until marriage? What does the bible say in regard to these matters?
Dad is nuts on many, many levels. Headship covenant? Covenant implies mutuality. Unless Diodora signed on to have her father run her life and pick her spouse, I don’t think there is a covenant. I can’t find the phrase “headship covenant” in any Bible I’ve read. So, let us look at what the texts say.
1 Corinthians 11 has this to say: “I would have you know, that the head of every man is the Messiah (Christ); and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of the Messiah is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman that prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head. A man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man...... Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man..... Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God."
Then we have the text of Ephesians, chapter 5. “Be filled with the Spirit,... submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church: and He is the savior of the body. Therefore as the Church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. Thus ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself. No man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord of the Church.... Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife should reverence her husband.”
From these texts, it is apparent that the headship and submission that St. Paul talks about have to do with the relationship between husbands and wives, not fathers and daughters. I am sure that “Dad” can counter with texts from the letters of St. John and sundry other bible bullets about children obeying and honoring their parents. It sounds from your letter that Diodora is anything but a child. Dad is probably a lost cause but I am very worried about his children, for whom I write this note. The text from Corinthians is very obscure and seems to contradict Jewish custom. Both Jewish women and men cover their heads in prayer. I have discussed this at great length with my dear friend, the Rabbi Yehuda ben Yiddishkeit, and neither he nor I can quite make heads or tails of it. The most revealing part of the text I have left out for brevity’s sake ( YOU can find it if you reference the whole text in your Bible.) St. Paul says, a woman should cover her head out of respect for the angels! That is, women are such a gift and a wonder, that even the angels are distracted by their true spiritual inner beauty. It is a biblical principle that what is sacred is covered. (Contrast that with our current barbarism.) When we read that woman is for man, not man for woman, one needs to remember the Creation story. Adam was created on the sixth day, as were the beasts. He was alone and so God caused him to fall into a deep sleep, When he woke, there was Eve, taken from his rib, that part of the body that protects the heart. Now the Hebrew sages point out that the Sabbath, the seventh day, doesn’t begin at sundown. It begins when there is not enough light to distinguish between a black and a white thread. There is that twilight, which is neither the sixth nor the seventh day. When do we sleep? When the sun goes down. It was when he awoke on Sabbath that Adam found Eve. She was God’s Sabbath gift to him. She makes him fully human, even though he had been created on the same day as the beasts. She divinizes him, for “In His own image He made them; male and female he made them.” This is why the woman is “for man,” lest the man return to the beasts. Ain’t it the truth? Most men can’t even find their socks without a woman to tell him where he put them!
The idea becomes clearer in the second reading from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. Headship is not about control, it is about service. I never understood headship until I heard Chicago’s Cardinal George talk about it. A brainless, hair-hatted reporter once asked his Eminence, “As leader of the Archdiocese of Chicago what are going to do about yadda yadda?” The Cardinal looked shocked and said “I’m not the leader of the archdiocese. I’m its head!” Amazing! Headship and leadership are not the same thing. Leadership emerges from different places in different situations. When I am hungry, it is my stomach that leads me. It is the head’s job to get what the stomach needs, and to do it in a reasonable and healthy way, but it is nonetheless a matter of the service of the head to the body, not the other way around. In this case, the head submits to the body, for it’s well being, just as Christ submitted to death for the sake of His bride, the Church.
I always used to tell my students that the little words in a text were the most important. Here we have a fine example. The most important word in the text is “as.” No one in the Greco Roman world doubted that a woman should submit to her husband. St. Paul modifies that submission by the word “as.” A woman was not to submit as to the emperor, not as to a slave owner, but as to the Messiah (Christ in Greek). A husband was to love his wife. A Greek would have asked, “Why?” A woman had no soul. She was a domestic appliance that could have children and was also useful, as were daughters, for cementing business deals. Love and amusement, well, there were lots of other people for that sort of thing. Not only does St. Paul tell the Greeks of Ephesus to love their wives, but to love them “as” Christ loves the Church. A man is supposed to give himself for his wife, not the other way around!!! He also mentions that Christ drew a bath for His wife, the Church. Sounds pretty romantic, no? I wonder when was the last time that Diodora’s dad, Mr Steinherz, drew a bubble bath for his wife. It sounds like his favorite song is “Put Another Log on the Fire.” (Look it up if you don’t know it. A country music classic.)
St. Paul also says, (1 Corinthians 7:4) “The wife doesn’t have authority over her own body; her husband does, and likewise the husband doesn’t have authority over his own body, but his wife does.” St. Paul is, I suspect, the first person in history to say that a man is answerable to a woman, and not just a woman to a man. So you see, headship is all about service and not about domination. The whole point is moot, however, because Diodora is not a child and besides, “...for this a man leaves his parents and clings to his wife and the two become one flesh.”
I can imagine the pain that this must cause the family, but my suspicion is that Dad is not interested in Biblical principles. He seems to be a control freak who has found a theology to fit his illness. Were I your niece, I would tell this bully, “Fine if you don’t want to be part of our lives because of a nonsensical private interpretation of Scripture, that’s up to you. It will be just as well that our children will be brought up in orthodox, traditional Christianity and that you won’t be able to bully them as you’ve tried to bully me.” Such a statement is not disrespect. It is truth spoken in love (Ephesians 4:15). For the sake of the siblings and whatever grandchildren there may yet be, I would put my foot down now and say no more of the bible based bullying.
PS I would encourage your niece to go as slowly as possible on the marriage and to get good marriage counseling with her fiancé before the marriage. My instinct is that Dad will do everything possible to break up the marriage just for the pleasure of saying, "I told you so."