In the Christian home, husband and wife are to defer to each other in seeking to fulfill each other’s preferences, desires and aspirations. Neither spouse is to seek to dominate the other but each is to act as servant of the other, in humility considering the other as better than oneself. In case of decisional deadlock they should seek resolution through biblical methods of conflict resolution rather than by one spouse imposing a decision upon the other.
In so doing, husband and wife will help the Christian home stand against improper use of power and authority by spouses and will protect the home from wife and child abuse that sometimes tragically follows a hierarchical interpretation of the husband’s “headship.”
In their third application, CBE highlights their belief that Christian marriage should be characterized by mutual submission as each spouse seeks “to fulfill each other’s preferences, desires and aspirations.” They do not believe that there should be any sort of domination or headship, just a continual deference to each other, even when it comes to decision making. Their intention with this application is to guard against domestic abuse and power-tripping in the Christian home that at times has happened when a hierarchical marriage structure is believed and acted upon.
Now, how people differ in their beliefs about the structure of Christian marriage largely depends on their interpretation of Ephesians 5:22-33, but more importantly, how verse 21 lends to the overall context and understanding of the passage. But this is meant to be a critique of complementarianism, and in an attempt to stay focused, I will turn to the Danvers Statement. Please consider the relevant portions of their affirmations below:
The Fall introduced distortions into the relationships between men and women.
-In the home, the husband’s loving, humble headship tends to be replaced by domination or passivity; the wife’s intelligent, willing submission tends to be replaced by usurpation or servility.
Redemption in Christ aims at removing the distortions introduced by the curse.
-In the family, husbands should forsake harsh or selfish leadership and grow in love and care for their wives; wives should forsake resistance to their husbands’ authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husbands’ leadership.
One thing that I appreciate about the egalitarians is that they did not shy away from a very important issue that is a real problem in the outlying extremes of the complementarian camp, and that issue is domestic abuse. There is no scripture to be found in the Bible that validates or encourages domestic abuse of any kind, and honest Biblical complementarians do not encourage, promote, or condone domestic abuse and violence. Therefore, I am happy to see that the Danvers Statement did recognize that sin has thoroughly distorted the relationship between husbands and wives, and abuse is a part of that distortion.
However, the complementarians method of dealing with the distortion is very different than the egalitarian method of dealing with it. Namely, complementarians appeal to the redemptive grace of Christ at work within each believer’s heart to begin removing those distortions and restoring the marriage relationship back to its proper place with the husband offering loving headship and leadership in the home and the wife joyfully submitting to his leadership. The difference in methods between the two camps does bring up a serious question that any person who is looking at either side must consider: What is the real problem that needs to be addressed to fix marital problems: sin or the marital structure itself? How you choose to answer that question will largely land you in either the egalitarian or the complementarian camp.
But moving along, complementarians do not address conflict resolution in the marriage, and I think that is largely due to the fact that they have already appealed to redemptive grace to work out sin in the hearts of believing spouses. Accordingly, well-taught Christian spouses will aspire to handle all matters in their life in a God-honoring way, and that would include how to work out problems with your spouse or how to make decisions when you really disagree. So it appears to me that the complementarian camp has a lot of faith and stake in the ability of the Holy Spirit to thoroughly sanctify and redeem each and every believer, whether man or woman, from their sins and conform them to the image of Christ. They are not attempting to alter the structure to address the abuses we see at times in marriages, but they seem much more dependent upon the ability and will of God to make Christian marriages more and more glorifying to Him as couples spend their lives together.
As such, I honestly cannot critique them further. They appeal and rest on the highest authority there is, the Lord God Almighty. And we know from Numbers 23:19 that:
God is not a man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
Consequently, I can only change the trajectory of my critique and pose these questions for my complementarian brothers and sisters: Do women have an authentic voice in their homes? And is it possible for a woman to have a legitimate voice in her home without usurping authority?
In considering that the context of these questions is for the home environment, I recognize that there is a real boundary between the church and the home. As a result, we can appeal to the ‘culture’ that surrounds complementarianism. When you are around complementarian couples, do you feel like women have authentic voices that are heard and recognized, or are the women mostly silent and agreeable all the time? With the complementarian women that you see, how do they tend to handle situations when they don’t agree with something? Do you see the women actually speak up to someone, or do you hear sighs and frustrated whispers in private? Do the women act like they have an actual voice that needs to be heard, and do the men act like they need to hear that voice as well?
Now, I could answer these questions from my own personal perspective, but I think that every person needs to consider these things for themselves. I do believe that complementarianism has its own culture, but the culture varies depending on geography and the backgrounds of the people in question. I may be biased here, but I think that a lot of this depends on complementarian women coming to a solid, Biblical understanding of their roles, worth, and value in the body of Christ and in the home. To say that you can’t walk in Biblical womanhood and speak up about the things that are going on around you at the same time is truly false, and I think that we, as complementarian women, really have to work hard at being all that we are supposed to be in Christ. It takes honest effort and a lot of hard work to “bridle the tongue” while still honestly sharing what is on your heart and mind, especially when you disagree. But it also takes the continuous encouragement of your husband and fellow brothers in Christ to do it as well.
So in conclusion, I like to pose these questions for my complementarian sisters to encourage you to think about yourself. What are you most prone to do? Do you speak up? Why or why not? Do you feel like you’re “overstepping your boundaries” if you say something? And if so, why? Do you actually speak up in ungodly and disrespectful ways at times? And if so, do you think it’s warranted and okay with God? Do you feel like your thoughts and opinions are valuable in your home when conversations are going on and decisions are being made? In your opinion, which is worse: overstepping your boundaries or not being heard at all? How are you walking that balance out right now? How do you handle it when a mutual decision cannot be reached and your husband makes a final decision? Can you accept it and move on, or are you resentful and bitter? How are you moving and growing towards having a better God-honoring marriage? Are you being diligent about it, and do you have any evidence?
For my complementarian brothers, what do you see your wife or your fellow sisters doing? Do you encourage them to speak up? Or do you voice their concerns for them so that they don’t have to say anything? Do you give the impression that their voice, opinions, and thoughts are valuable? Do you believe that it is prudent and wise for you to consider their thoughts and advice? Or do you give the impression that women ought not to concern themselves with the ‘weighty matters’ and let men handle it? For husbands, do you feel like you have the right to make final decisions even if your wife disagrees? Do you feel ashamed or secretly proud to have to do this? How are you moving and growing towards having a better God-honoring marriage? Are you being diligent about it, and do you have any evidence?
Special Note: I understand that some people may find themselves married to an unbelieving spouse due to various circumstances. As a result, it is inherently very difficult to try to live out a Biblical view of marriage, and my only encouragement to you is to continue to be a God-honoring husband or wife to the very best of your abilities. Continue to read the Bible, trusting in the word it proclaims, and be faithful to your marriage. Our God is Sovereign, and He perfectly orchestrates all situations and circumstances in our lives for His own glory and for our good in Him. And if you happen to find yourself in an abusive relationship, I highly encourage you to seek out help and sound advice for how to address your particular situation.