As we move along in this series, the final two applications from Christians for Biblical Equality are similar in nature and intention as the third application that I covered in my last blog. Consequently, you may find some repetitive language as we continue. However, I still want to consider these applications separately because they each emphasis different topics that are important as we look at complementarianism. So, we continue with Application #4:
In the Christian home, spouses are to learn to share the responsibilities of leadership on the basis of gifts, expertise, and availability, with due regard for the partner most affected by the decision under consideration.
In so doing, spouses will learn to respect their competencies and their complementarity. This will prevent one spouse from becoming the perennial loser, often forced to practice ingratiating or deceitful manipulation to protect self-esteem. By establishing their marriage on a partnership basis, the couple will protect it from joining the tide of dead or broken marriages resulting from marital inequities.
In their fourth application CBE highlights the need for individual spouses to recognize their own unique gifts and talents, recognize the gifts and talents of their spouse, and respectfully work together to “share the responsibilities of leadership.” The intended result is that spouses will learn to see and respect what they each bring to the ‘table’, keep one person from always being the ‘loser’ in the marriage trying to protect their own self-esteem, and protect the marriage from dying and falling apart due to ‘marital inequities.’ More concisely, I would say that this application is focused on how individual spouses view, value, and protect themselves in the marriage relationship.
Now, as a Christian and former Student Affairs professional, I find conversations about preserving and protecting “self” to be very interesting, but not entirely biblical. I do not mean that we should let other people walk all over us, even in marriage, but I do believe that the Christian life is full of “dying to self” moments that the world cannot readily accept. And these moments are so pervasive throughout the Christian life that most, if not all, Christians should be able to identify with the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12. So, this application is very interesting to me, but this is meant to be a critique of complementarianism. As such, I would like to highlight the two affirmations from the Danvers Statement that I believe speak best to this concern.
Both Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, equal before God as persons and distinct in their manhood and womanhood.
Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find an echo in every human heart.
Now, these affirmations do not speak about gifts or sharing leadership responsibilities, but they do highlight that all people find their identity as bearers of God’s image. Not only that, they say that both men and women are equal before God, but they are distinct by virtue of their masculinity and femininity. We can deduce that this distinction does bring about differences in terms of gifts and abilities, but the distinctions are inherently beautiful and worthy of the recognition and appreciation of every person because they were created by a very intentional God. Outside of this, complementarians do highlight the use of gifts in the Church and in other ministries, but they primarily focus on the heart and mind attitudes of men and women functioning in the home together, while continuing to affirm the place of husbands as heads in the home (consider Affirmations 4 and 6).
Therefore, we can see that complementarians do believe that men and women are of equal value before the Lord, both able to bear His image, but distinct in their gifts and abilities by divine design and purpose. It is a given that complementarians do not believe that men and women should share leadership roles in the home, but they do believe that there should be mutual respect and honor between both spouses. As for the remainder of their application, I do find some things that complementarians should carefully consider in their own marriages.
First, do you really recognize the gifts and abilities that you bring to the table, and can you recognize what your spouse brings to the table too? Now, I know I’ve posed a similar question before, but I am asking this with a different thought in mind. I wonder do people wholeheartedly believe that they bring something valuable to the ‘marriage table.’ We can easily list all the things that we do day to day, but do we believe that those things are valuable and indispensable to the home and marriage?
I’ve wrestled with this personally over the years. When I left my job to be at home full-time it was very difficult for me to see that what I was doing was really valuable. Honestly, I figured if my husband hired a nanny, maid, and cook he could easily replace what I did in the home. It seemed like grunge work, and I felt like being the wife/mom really sucked compared to my husband’s role. To be honest, for a long while, I really hated it. I did share my thoughts with my husband eventually, and he’s spent many times over the past years showing and reminding me how valuable I am in my home, how much my contributions are not easily replaced, and that I bring a lot to the table, a lot that he can’t bring at all. Now, you may be thinking that he’s just brainwashed me or sprinkled some sugar over the real truth so that I suck it up better, but I have come to realize the truth in what he has said. But more importantly, I’ve had to make sure that my identity and sense of worth and value is found in Christ alone, not in my own abilities and talents. That being said, I do hope that complementarians, especially women, carefully consider that question, but also think about how you view your spouse’s contributions and letting him/her know how much they mean and are worth to you.
Second, are complementarians careful not to overemphasize the importance of the work and role of women in the home and family? As Christians we are often guilty of falling into one ditch, getting back up, and then falling into the ditch on the other side. So I bring up this consideration thinking about all of the women (and men) who are members of our churches or families. Are you constantly pressuring people about marriage or even bringing it up a lot just because they aren’t married? Do you remind people of their age and the ‘biological clock’ that’s ticking all the time? Are you sensitive to the people who have gone through divorce when you bring up marriage conversations? For couples who don’t have children, are you constantly asking them when they’re going to add to the family? Do you inwardly judge or look down on people who only have one or two children because you feel like everyone’s ‘quiver’ should be full and overflowing? Do you express unneeded sorrow and pity over those who are childless or unmarried too often?
My primary point with these questions is to make us think about whether or not we have made stumbling blocks of marriage or motherhood or any other good thing that God has given us to the hurt of our fellow brothers and sisters in the faith. Truly, the highest calling that any person can have in this life is to be a disciple of Christ Jesus alone, and we need to be mindful to exhort and encourage one another with that truth more often.
My final consideration for complementarians is in regards to calling out sin, both in attitudes and actions, in the marriage. Part of the blessing of marriage is to be known by someone else on an intimate and personal level that has your best interests at heart, especially your progressive sanctification. Now, we all know about love and being patient in love, but do we believe that love also means humbly calling out sins in our spouse when we see them? Now, I do not mean walking around with a clipboard telling your spouse every time he/she sins, but when we notice sinful patterns of behavior, do we as complementarians speak up about it? If one spouse is always selfishly getting their way, does the other spouse, whether husband or wife, feel like they have a Christian duty to speak up and call out the sinful behavior in respect and love? If one person is being manipulative every time something doesn’t go their way, is the sin mentioned or even addressed?
Basically, it appears to me that much of the perceived inequalities that egalitarians believe come from complementarian marriages is due to the belief that only one person is ‘in charge’ and the other must submit to everything. In true complementarian marriages, both husband and wife recognize that they are equal in standing before God. Moreover, they recognize in addition to the bond of marriage, they are also brother and sister in the faith, and they strive to help and assist each other in this Christian journey. So, if a wife sees her husband constantly being given over to sin in a particular area, she has a Christian responsibility to bring that up to her husband for his good in the Lord. Likewise, if a husband sees his wife being given over to sin, he should also bring it up to her for her own good in the Lord so that they both diligently strive for holiness in this Christian life. The intimacy in marriage comes with a responsibility to love in sincere truth for that person’s spiritual good, not avoiding things out of convenience or overlooking things because you may be forced to deal with yourself at the same time. As complementarians, husbands and wives may not share leadership responsibilities or be partners in the marriage relationship, but we are called to be genuine brothers and sisters in the faith who dutifully watch over one another so that no one becomes caught in any sin (Galatians 6:1-10).