Complementarianism, Christian Egalitarianism, and some other thoughts...
In keeping with the focus I picked for this week of Lent - family/marriage - I have been thinking a little bit about the different ideas held by Christians on leadership and authority in marriage.
Most of the churches that I have grown up in and the people I have been around have taught and encouraged a Complementarian view of marriage. The Complementarian view is that men and women are “equal in their essential dignity and human personhood, but different and complementary in function with male headship in the home and in the Church.” And on some levels I think this is still the view that I subscribe to… mainly because its so framiliar to me, but also because I know myself and I know my husband. We are clearly very, very different and we clearly need different things and it makes sense to me to acknowledge those differences in desires/needs when talking about our roles in marriage. But, I also struggle with this view and there are times when I have problems with it… clearly there are those who have taken and do take this view and take the concept of Christian hierarchy in marriage and do terrible things in the name of it. But, I’m not really talking about that… sometimes I feel like even in a genuine and kind adherence to this view there are some problems and it can push women and their view points and opinions to the side lines and margins in a way that can be detrimental not just to those women but to those who could benefit from what those women have to add to the conversation. I think in all honesty even though I have theoretically subscribed to this view I don’t think I have ever liked it much. But, I think I started being more ok with this idea when I got married…which is odd, right? I started thinking about why that is and I thought maybe it was just because I married well and my husband is someone who I don’t mind submitting to and following – I trust him. But, then I started thinking about it more and realized that in our marriage I never really have “submitted” and never have really needed to. There has really never been a decision we have made that we haven’t talked through together and come to some sort of agreement together. So, that got me thinking…we both would probably call ourselves Complementarians…but are we really? In actuality... in how we really live out our relationship are with Complementarians…I don’t really think so…
Christian Egalitarianism is the other major view on authority and leadership in marriage and the more I hear and read about it the more it makes sense to me. And the more I realize that in actual practice is is probably closer to how my husband and I treat each other.
Really though I think the best view I’ve ever seen on authority and leadership in marriage comes from watching my parents relationship and listening to some of the things that they have said about marriage… I vividly remember my dad and I talking about Ephesians 5 once. We were talking about the role of husbands and wives that Paul lays out there and I remember my dad stopping me and telling me to look at it in the context of the whole chapter. He pointed out verse 21 (the last verse under the previous heading and the right before the section on wives and husbands) it says “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” – submit to one another! Wives submit to your husbands! Husbands submit to your wives! Each of you submit to one another! My dad then pointed out what if we thought of it not so much in term of men being the head and women submitting but in terms of each of us submitting to the other one. I thought a lot about this and later it dawned on me maybe Paul is just laying out in this section HOW we should submit to one another. Wives how should you submit to your husband’s? By respecting him! You show respect to him by letting him know that you believe in him, and trust him and think he’s a man - by listening to him and yielding to him as if you were listening and yielding to Christ himself. And husbands how are you to submit to your wife? By loving her! You love her and submit to her by giving yourself up for her – by putting her needs and desires above your own just like Christ loved us and gave up his very life for us. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Lord, you have created us unique yet equal. In Christ there is truly “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus”. But, you have called us each to submit. You call us to submit to you and to in turn submit to one another. You call us to serve one another in love. You call us each to be imitators of Christ and to like him make ourselves nothing, “taking the very nature of a servant”. Lord, forgive me for the times when I have been unloving toward my husband, the times when I haven’t submitted to him, the times when I haven’t served him, the times when I haven't respected him, the times when I haven’t put his needs above my own. Forgive me for what I have done and for what I have left undone in my marriage. And teach me not to fight for control but to in humility take on the very likeness of Christ and serve. In Jesus name. Amen.
Rejoicing in the journey - Beth Stedman