Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
April 7, 2003
Partnership, not power struggle
American Catholic evangelist Tim Staples created a bit of a stir when he spoke at a men's conference in Edmonton March 15 and, at least in the eyes of some, implied that men were the bosses of the family and women were their obedient servants.
"The family is as strong as men are," Staples said. This is true to the same extent that it is true that the family is as strong as women are. Better put, one might say that the family is as strong as men, women and children working together are.
It is not the teaching of the Church today that men ought to be the leaders at home and women subservient to them. Pope Pius XI's 1930 encyclical Christian Marriage actually gave considerable credence to that view. That pope advocated "the ready subjection of the wife and her willing obedience." He said that man is the head of the family and woman the heart of it.
Since at least 1981, however, the Church has taken a different view of things. In his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio (The Community of the Family), Pope John Paul wrote that marital love "requires that a man have a profound respect for the dignity of his wife." And Pope John Paul condemned "a wrong superiority of male prerogatives which humiliates women and inhibits the development of healthy family relationships."
In 1988, in another apostolic letter, the pope wrote that husband and wife should "be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." The subjection of husband and wife ought to be mutual and it ought to be done out of reverence for Christ.
This is crucial teaching in an era when the power struggle between men and women has inflamed society, affected the development and implementation of marriage law, and been a causal factor in the breakdown of marriages.
In a good marriage, there ought to be no power struggle. There ought, instead, to be respect for each other and a greater respect for the Lord.
This may seem idealistic, as power struggles are wont to arise in any intimate relationship. But the lack of such respect lies behind so much of the divorce in our society and the many negative consequences for children that often flow from divorce.
Staples is right when he calls for "a renewal of men in our Church." The Church needs men in leadership roles who are not argumentative, abusive or domineering. It needs men who are willing to engage in mutual subjection and not let their testosterone get the better of them.
Staples is not far from the mark when he says, "It's the women who have been holding down the fort while men have been running around crazy." He is calling us men to assume our responsibilities for the betterment of the family and of society, responsibilities we have too often shirked.
The family sets the course for the future of civilization while the Church affects the family's dynamics. Society has a profound effect on the family too, but the Church ought to be the model of justice, peace and right living. If relationships in the Church are abusive, how can we expect better from the family? But if the Church is actually living the Beatitudes, there is much hope.
We flounder when we do not make, "Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . , Blessed are those who mourn . . . , Blessed are the meek . . ." etc., part of our daily meditation and action.
This is our mission statement - not men as bosses or women as bosses. Subjection is mutual, not one sided. Christian families can be advocates for the family in society. But we will do best when we are examples of the ideal of mutual subjection . . . and we have our Church's support in living out that ideal.
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