Submission can be a beautiful thing.
The most beautiful stories I know from scripture are about submission. Christ taught that submission is the way to God. Christ lived a life of submission: submission to beatings, to exile, to hatred, to death. I have always loved the story of how Christ washed the apostles feet and how Mary anointed and washed Christ’s feet with priceless oils, using her own hair. These moments are filled with a power that, for me, has come to define what godliness truly means.
There are moments I have had with my husband that have and will always define a level of love that has exceeded any love I thought was possible. As cliche as it may sound, they are moments that are “too sacred to share with others”…not because I want them to be all “mysterious” but because I want them to just be ours. They were moments when he metaphorically washed my feet and I washed his.
How else can I describe this? It’s the feeling I had as a child, reading about Aslan’s willing sacrifice to the White Witch–knowing that he had power over his enemies, but submitted to it to save a single, little boy.
Like I said, submission can be a beautiful, powerful, holy thing.
However, I think we can too easily fall into the habit of characterizing “subjugation” as an example of this holy and ethical “submission.” We can too easily confuse debasement with deification. Good and evil does not fall on a linear scale–it’s measured in a circle…and often the most beautiful things can so easily become the most evil…the best separated by a thin line from the worst. So I think it is with the concept of Submission.
Ethical Submission is never as simple as being “the one who is lower.”
An Ethical Submission absolutely requires all of the following components to become valid, holy, and powerful:
1) The permission of and absolute free choice for the one submitting. If the submittor feels coerced in any way, then it is not ethical submission.
2) The knowledge that “to submit” is something one is doing consciously, as in, lowering oneself from one’s usual higher position. The default (or, the ‘eternal nature’) of the submittor must be equality with those receiving service at the very least, superiority if we want to refer to a Christological submission. Submission is the action of purposeful self-abasement from a universally understood and acknowledged place of authority and power.
3) The knowledge that one may return to that higher position of authority and power whenever one may choose to do so. Without this ability, there is no more agency in the choice and is therefore not Ethical Submission.
Without these three components, there can never be Ethical Submission.
If only one of these three components is missing in a situation where a child of God is placed hierarchically lower than another child of God, there can never be Ethical Submission.
If I am asked to do something that violates one of these three core components of Ethical Submission, I refuse to do so because it will, by necessity, strip me of the power and beauty that comes with a true act of Christian, Ethical Submission–an act that I believe is one of the most powerful things any human being can ever do for another.
But, and I cannot emphasize this point strongly enough, without this triumvirate of requirements there is no Ethical Submission– only unavoidable slavery.