What hath chivalry to do with submission?

The fraternity to which I belonged in college spoke much about chivalry, about being ‘Southern gentlemen.’

But the ‘chivalry’ that held sway among those brothers amounted to little more than holding your date’s purse while she barfed into the potted plants after a night of loud music and cheap beer.

This thin, anemic and spiritually vacuous notion of chivalry also sometimes substitutes for the biblical concepts of mutual submission and treating wives as weaker (more fragile) vessels (Ephesians 5:21, 1 Peter 3:7). Especially in the church in the South, chivalry frequently appears as simply opening or holding open the door for women and carrying the casserole dishes into the fellowship hall for them.

But surely there is more to it.

Jesus did not honor Martha by telling Mary to help her, as she requested (Luke 10:38-42), nor by jumping up to the dishes himself. Jesus did not honor the Samaritan woman at the well by drawing water for her and carrying her full jar home (John 4 — he said, in fact, ‘give me a drink’). In other words, Jesus did not go around telling the women he dealt with to ‘sit down, don’t exert yourself,’ yet we would be quite wrong to conclude that he did not honor them. He did, after all, draw female followers, speak to female social outcasts, include women in his “d-groups”, and, at his death, charge others with the care of his mother.

Submission does not mean catering to a wife’s every demand, and considering women fragile does not mean deeming them helpless. Thin, shallow, frat-boy chivalry does not know what to do with Proverbs 31 women.

Men are chivalrous in the biblical sense when they work at honest labor to provide for their families. Men are chivalrous when they encourage and display modesty in behavior and moderation in consumption (it is NOT chivalrous for husband to expect wife to work outside the home so that he can buy a new bass boat, or even so that the fam can live in a few more square feet). Men are chivalrous when they lead the family in household devotions and arrange opportunities for biblical service. Men are chivalrous when they participate in the discipline of children, their religious instruction and their overall development.

Why, then, do we persist with the token gestures of honor and respect to women? Perhaps ‘chivalry’ as commonly practiced has more to do with public appearance than with private reality. There is nothing wrong with men opening doors and carrying things. But if those things are a substitute for biblical honor and mutual submission, guard the potted plants.

[In keeping with notions of chivalry, Mrs. Faircloth approved this post.]

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