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The Use of "Obey" in the Wedding Vows... [Jun. 16th, 2006|09:48 pm]
[Current Location |Study]
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I will be doing a wedding next Saturday for a faithful couple (well, at least the bride), and she sent me an e-mail earlier this week that said the following, among other things:

"We... read the vows, and we are wondering why the female part includes "obey", but the male part does not include that.  I'm a bit too independent to say that, and T-- agreed he would be uncomfortable with me saying it, but not him.  So, we would both like to say the "obey" part, or neither of us.  Maybe you do automatically make them the same, but I just want to make sure.  Afterall, it's not 1950...  :) " 

I responded to this with the following (I thought I had covered this in "pre-marital counseling"):

Hello V------,
I apologize in advance for the long response. I understand your concern about the word "obey" in the vows for the woman.  It does indeed go against the grain of what is commonly promoted in our society.  Give me a chance to explain why it is that way.  The reason that "obey" is in the vows for the woman, but not the man, is rooted in the passage from Ephesians 5:21-33.  You see, in the Christian teaching on marriage, the relationship between the man and the woman is a picture or image of the relationship between Christ and His Church.  As you know, Christ is the head of the Church (His Bride) and the Church is to submit to or obey the Word of Christ.  St. Paul draws this connection in the Ephesians 5 passage, and there is also more imagery of Christ as the groom and the Church as the Bride in the book of Revelation.  Therefore in marriage, the husband is considered the head (not only of the wife, but of the household), so the wife is to submit to him as the Church submits to Christ. 
Of course, the husband is also supposed to love his wife as Christ loved the Church (unconditionally, and to the point of even dying for her if need be).  The kind of "headship" the husband has is rooted in love, just as the submission of the wife is rooted in love.  The husband being the head is not some kind of "lord it over" the wife kind of position, because then it wouldn't be done in love.  There is mutual love and submission, but the husband is the primary head.  This is often called "the order of creation" as man was created first and then woman. God creates order in our earthly society. 
Now I know this isn't popular or well-understood in our more "democratic" times.  However, as Christians we are to submit to God's Word and conform ourselves to Him, instead of trying to conform his Word to our thoughts and opinions.  It is not easy, but it is what we are called to do, which is why the vows are the way they are.  God's Word is the same now as it was in 1950, 950, and will be in 3250 (if the world is still here by then).  Just because we float further away from it and become more rebellious, it does not change.  As a pastor in the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) I am bound to use an order of marriage that has been approved by our synod.  I can give you one other option.  You can use either the vows that I already gave you, or the ones listed below.  The vows listed below have been approved by our synod for inclusion in a new hymnal that is coming out this year.  They do seem to reflect the language of Ephesians 5 a bit better.  Here they are:

"P       Name of bridegroom   , will you have this woman to be your wedded wife, to live together in the holy estate of matrimony as God ordained it? Will you nourish and cherish her as Christ loved His body the Church, giving Himself up for her? Will you love, honor, and keep her in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others remain united to her alone, as long as you both shall live? Then say: I will.

R   I will.                                                                                                                                [Eph. 5:29]


1.      The pastor asks the bride:


P       Name of bride   , will you have this man to be your wedded husband, to live together in the holy estate of matrimony as God ordained it? Will you submit to him as the Church submits to Christ? Will you love, honor, and keep him in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others remain united to him alone, as long as you both shall live? Then say: I will.       [Eph. 5:24]

R         I will."
If you would like, we can use these vows.  I strongly think that the "obey" or "submit" language must be included in the vows for biblical, theological reasons.  The husband and wife each have a different vocation (calling) in a marriage.  If you take out the submit/obey language, you are, in a sense, giving both the man and the woman the vocation of husband.  If you have both of them use the submit/obey language, you are, in a sense, making both of them the wife.  It is because, in our times, that we see both sexes or genders as interchangeable that we have widespread confusion about what marriage is (leading to some seeing no problem with gay marriage). 
If you still have any concerns or questions about this, I would be glad to discuss it further.  I hope this answers your questions and makes sense.  I would be more than happy to clarify.

I hope this was clear. If anyone thinks I am offbase, please let me know.  Anyway, I was worried that I would receive a hostile response, but this morning I received this message from the woman:

"Thank you so much for the great response.  Now that I know the meaning behind it, which I'm ashamed to admit I never knew, I definitely want to keep them the same.  I prefer the traditional version, rather than the newer one.  I really appreciate you going through that with me, and I have a new respect for the vows in a way I never did before."

Sometimes people do hear your teaching.

From: (Anonymous)
2006-06-17 01:11 pm (UTC)

traditional vows

Very cool. Some in our synod would have agreed with the original position of your couple; others, unfortunately, would have been too timid to challenge it. Fear prevents a lot of good progress in pastoral care and liturgical reform, I think. Thank you for standing up in this way for love of your people. I know they appreciate it.
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[User Picture]From: fatherkaput
2006-06-17 02:16 pm (UTC)

Re: traditional vows

I think you are right that many pastors are driven by fear (with a little dose of paranoia sometimes). We just don't want to become "unpopular" or be seen as "driving people away." We especially don't want to risk loss of salary or benefits, so we wimp out and don't stand up against error or bad practices. However, we are called to be faithful and so sometimes you just have to have a pair. I see way too many pastors just paralyzed by fear. We need to let go of that and trust in the Lord, who is our fortress and deliverer.
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[User Picture]From: fatherkaput
2006-06-17 02:18 pm (UTC)
As long as one of the two is used (just for the woman), I'm happy. But I do think that "submit" is preferable to "obey." I think it's less open to misconstrual, and, as you say, it is more Biblical
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-06-17 07:40 pm (UTC)


I dig what you're saying in general, but you don't want to take this too far. The active righteousness of the law is, after all, what we are called to fulfill vis a vis our neighbor in the context of our vocations, eg., the obedience of a wife to her man.

I agree that submit is, over all, perhaps a better word. But I don't know about "much" better. We obey the will of those set over us, and we submit to their authority. Both concepts, properly understood, are extremely close to each other.
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From: jerrellsclafan
2008-10-17 09:27 am (UTC)
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,  that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.
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From: pen_19_corn
2008-01-19 03:24 pm (UTC)

The use of "obey" in the wedding vows

In reply to the woman who originally stated that she was not going to promise to "obey" in her marriage vows, because she was too "independent", and that such a vow was outdated in today's society, but then changed her stance when you stated your position, I would ask what did she expect you to say? It does seem very strange to me that someone would alter his or her view just by being acquainted with the other's position.

As a man, I would not want any prospective wife to "obey" or "submit" to me, because I feel that such a vow carries with it connotations of inferiority. Any prospective bride making such a vow in my view both demeans and degrades herself, as what she is in effect saying to her husband is "because I am a woman, my opinions are less valid than yours, due to the fact that my judgement is less sound." I do not care what justifications you advance for making such archaic vows, they are rooted in history, dating from a time when women had no rights, and getting any bride-to-be to say "obey" or "submit" is part and parcel of your agenda to take away by stealth all the hardwon rights won by women over the course of more than a century.

I would like to know if the woman concerned intended to pursue a career after marriage in line with her "independent" personality, because if she did, you probably talked her out of that as well, as I am sure that you are totally opposed to women having any kind of power or influence outside of the home. Such rights as women possess ie the right to own property, to vote, to hold public office and to have careers were gained, as mentioned above, by more than a century of hard struggle, and it is no coincidence that the use of the words "obey" and "submit" have declined during the 20th century in line with the acquisition of such rights. If it becomes the norm once again for women to say "obey" or "submit" in their vows, it will be much easier to justify taking away the rights mentioned above, which I believe to be your not-so-hidden agenda. I am sure that you wish also to outlaw abortion, and possibly contraception, to make divorce harder, if not to outlaw that as well, and to re-criminalise homosexuality, because these are all part of your rightwing, moralistic blueprint of how society should be run. The end result of all this, and your eventual aim, would be to return women to the completely subservient position that they held in the 19th century, and cowed into accepting that position by scripture and the fear of God.

I wonder if the woman concerned, having changed her views merely by reading your own traditionalist, fundamentalist, anti-feminist ones, really does have any strong opinions of her own. Carrying her position to its logical conclusion, one could envisage situations in which politicians would alter their own stances merely by being acquainted with the views of their opponents. Thus, Bill Clinton could, in a TV debate with George W Bush, say "George, having just heard your views, I have gained a new respect for your position, and I now agree with you on everything!" The fact that the prospective bride changed her stance so easily indicates to me that she does not possess very much strength of character, and will probably just agree with the views of the last person that she comes into contact with!
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[User Picture]From: kayeyem
2008-09-16 08:33 am (UTC)
I realize you haven't updated your journal in quite some time...

However, when I was attempting to find traditional vows online your entry came up. Would you be willing to share the traditional vows you've written about here?
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From: pen_19_corn
2009-12-01 01:29 pm (UTC)

The use of obey in the wedding vows

I have read the replies to my original post, and I still hold to my views. I believe that your eventual aim is to drag society back to another age in which not just women, but also working class people and ethnic minorities, had no rights, or at least fewer rights than middle class, white males. It is no coincidence that as women gained more rights in society, so did working class and non-white people. The fact os that the feminist movement is inextricably allied to the black civil rights movement. It is my strong belief that you are espousing a right-wing agenda, in which everyone's place in society is fixed immovably from birth. I would like to know whether you believe that women should have the right to vote, be elected to Congress or to hold public office. It would not in the least surprise me if you wish to take away these rights. In addition, I would not be too surprised if you wished to restore things such as racial segregation, or even slavery.

In one of the replies that I received to my original pose one women said that she believed that I had misunderstood the meaning and purpose of the vow to obey, but I had not. I do understand the meaning quite clearly. I just do not agree with such a vow. For me the issue in not just whether the husband does not use the bride's promise to obey or submit to abuse his wife. It is the fact that by making such a promise at all the wife is in effect saying that she is an inferior human being because she is stating that her views will always carry less weight than her husband's. If that is your God's order for the world then I am glad that Christianity no longer holds the sway over society that it once did.

I believe firmly that a loving relationship between two adult human beings should be based on complete equality and mutual respect. Such respect in my view cannot happen if one party is always submissive to the other. I still hold to what I said in my original post when I said that the vow to obey was demeaning to the bride. If I were getting married I would feel very uncomfortable if my partner were to make such a vow to me, and if I were a bride and a pastor were to insist that I should vow to obey then I would refuse to marry until I could find a pastor who would happily use the modern identical vows for both sexes.
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