Most conservative Christian women will agree that women are to submit to their husbands and that God has given the husband the position of leader of the home. However, we often don't realize the extent to which feminism and individualism have infected our thinking and we often fail to renew our minds with the scriptures. The issue of conscience is one of the most problematic areas where I see a lot of otherwise obedient wives justify their rebellion because of their personal convictions.
The Bible teaches women to submit to their husbands in everything (Ephesians 5:24). This is a very inclusive statement. It does not say to obey except where we have very serious disagreement. It does not say to obey only if we don't have any personal convictions against it. It says we are to submit in everything. Every. Thing.
We know that God's authority is higher than our husband's. Thus, husbands do not have authority to overrule God. If God has commanded something in scripture, we must obey God over our husbands in such cases. So, for example, God's word tells us that we are not to murder. If a husband were to command his wife to murder, such as getting an abortion, then she should not obey that command. She must obey God over her husband where they directly contradict. But our conscience is not God. Our personal convictions are not commands from God. We cannot elevate our convictions over God's clear command to obey our husbands.
There is a very relevant passage for this issue in Numbers 30. Yes, this is the Old Testament, but the principle still applies because this is God commanding women on how they are to handle sacred vows to God. While a woman is under the authority of her husband or her father, and she makes a sacred vow to God on some subject, she is obligated to perform what she vowed unless her husband or father forbid her. Keep in mind that these sacred vows are generally considered very binding. They are usually made in response to some conviction. Yet if her husband (or father, if she is unmarried) disallows her, she is freed from her vow and not bound to fulfill it. If her husband forbids her to fulfill her vow when he first hears of it, then she is freed from the vow and there is no sin for not fulfilling it. If her husband allows it at first and later disallows it, she is still to obey her husband, but the sin for not fulfilling the vow will fall on her husband for forbidding her. Read the whole chapter for yourself. It's very clear. Either way, her responsibility from God is to obey her husband. This is very clear teaching on how far a husband's authority extends. The husband's authority trumps the wife's conscience and even her sacred vow made to God because God has given this authority to the husband.
So where does this leave modern women? Too often, our society and even Christian culture tells us that what we feel very strongly is supremely important. In Christian circles, we speak of personal convictions very soberly, and this is warranted. All other things being equal, we are not to violate our conscience. Yet when a husband commands his wife, all other things are not equal. It sounds very pious to say that we have a personal conviction and thus cannot obey our husbands. Yet this is not what the Bible teaches us about such matters. The authority of the husband extends over our personal convictions.
There is a very good reason for this hierarchy of authority. If the wife can feel a strong personal conviction and act counter to her husbands authority because of it, this would essentially eliminate the husband's authority on most matters. All a wife needs to do is genuinely believe that her own plan is morally superior in some way to her husband's plan, and magically she has a conviction about it and doesn't have to obey her husband. This leads, not only to women disobeying their husbands on all manner of issues, but believing themselves to be more pious than their husband and looking down on him. He is asking her to violate her conscience, so in her eyes, he's asking her to sin. She's the good one who would never dream of doing such a thing while he's the bad guy. This false piety kills marriages, tears apart families, and gives women a rationalization for their disobedience while feeling superior for it.
I have seen this problem appear on many issues, and in many cases, the preference of the wife is an otherwise good thing. Maybe she wants to wear dresses all the time to be modest or wants to give more money to the church. Perhaps she believes they should homeschool their children. She might want to reduce sugar in their diet or have a family prayer time every morning. These things are perfectly good choices, and ones I would often recommend. But when a wife uses her belief that these things are good to overrule her husband and ignore his God-given authority to lead his household under the excuse that she has a conviction, then she is being disobedient and destroying her home. No longer is she submitting. Instead, she is ruling the house with her own preferences and views.
Instead of giving women the ability to set aside the husband's authority whenever she has a strong feeling that something is right or wrong, the Bible commands her to submit to her husband. Only where God has specifically commanded in scripture is she bound to obey God over her husband. That way, it's not up to her internal feelings or moral leanings, which might be misguided. Her conscience is not the leader of the home. Her husband is. This is God's very good design for the family and we cannot improve upon it.