The problem is really one of selective listening, cultural conditioning, and closed minds.
It is a little bit like a commercial currently on television (or a classic Far Side cartoon), revised to go like this:
“…this is what the people in the congregation hear:
“’blah blah blah blah WIVES SHOULD BE SUBORDINATE TO THEIR HUSBANDS blah blah blah blah blah.’”
Churches that use a Lectionary or some other comprehensive rotation of Scripture readings cannot escape this passage. Sadly, too many preachers still duck the issue by ignoring that reading and talking about the Gospel passage instead. Very often, it is a matter of cowardice.
That is NOT to say that I am the most courageous Christian on the planet (far from it!), but in failing to speak to this passage, these preachers are not only deserting Scripture – the inspired Word of God – but they are also deserting the flock entrusted to their care and that in this case may desparately need someone to break through the fog of half-heard statements and social prejudices and unpack the treasure of God’s word.
Regarding this particular passage, there are at least here points that need to be made.
First, the fundamental meaning of the passage is made very clear in the very first verse of the passage:
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.
The attitude of Christians is to be one of MUTUAL SUBORDINATION - repeat - MUTUAL subordination.
Why? For one thing, we are to be imitators of Christ, who humbled himself, took the form of a slave, and even went so far as to accept the most painful and humiliating of deaths. Also, we are to treat each other as we would Christ, for we are all parts of the body of Christ and each of us in some way represent Christ to each other and to the world.
Second, while Paul does not explicitly say that husbands are to be subordinate to their wives, their obligation to their wives is far greater than simple subordination: they are to love their wives “even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her.”
The “handing over” refers to Christ’s giving himself up to death on the cross. Greater love than this no man has. It is quite a high standard of self-giving love that husbands are called to meet.
The third point actually pales in comparison: husbands are to love their wives as they love their own bodies. It is stronger than the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”), although not as strong as the standard set by Christ in His love of the Church.
Our culture emphasizes independence, self-reliance, and autonomy, but ultimately that is a path that leads to isolation and an eternity of nothingness.
God calls us to imitate the loving, honest, and complete mutuality of Christ in our marriages and in all our lives.