We Are In Charge.
The following post is a reflection of some of my new thoughts and learnings about marriage roles and the marriage style (Egalitarianism) my husband and I are embracing. It is different than the traditional view of marriage I held before (Complementarianism) where men are the leaders in the home and Church and where women submit to that leadership. I plan to tell the story of what changed my mind and unwrap some more of the specifics, practical and theological, in the future but for now I give you a nutshell version of my beliefs. Your thoughts and questions are welcomed.
I believe that the first time hierarchy entered the world was after the fall as a result of the curse (1). That nowhere in the chapters prior to Genesis 3 is there even so much as an implication of male ordained leadership or female to male submission. Only equal worth, responsibility, help and harmony are portrayed up to this point.
After the fall the curse came in a variety of forms including death, pain and hierarchy but they were never God’s ideal for His creation.
Throughout the Old Testament we see the implications of the curse carried out. Where as men and women were created for each other for the purpose of fellowship and intimacy, they now experience tension and pain. Just as predicted (1) men take a place of rulership over women creating a Patriarchal culture that is often marked by oppression and injustice (2). Women are often seen as property instead of people and as commodities instead of companions.
God does not see women this way in the Old Testament though. Instead, He consistently uses them in mighty ways to rescue (3) and lead (4) His people despite the culture.
God continues this into the New Testament (5), making clearer and clearer steps towards the redemption of human relationships with God and with each other.
Through His Redemption plan, Jesus came to reverse the curse. This not only includes the curse of death and hell but also hierarchy within male and female relationships (6). While this reversal will not be complete until His return, the Holy Spirit empowers us to overcome the clutches of the curse in our own lives.
We have been set free from our sin and given eternal life in a Heavenly Kingdom. And as Kingdom citizens, hierarchy in the home and Church have been replaced by equality, mutual submission (7) and mutual leadership (8). In this new paradigm, the first will be last and the last will be first, we are all one in Christ and our roles are based on our gifts and callings rather than our sex and gender.
In this new Kingdom, we have the ability to embrace togetherness. Men and women are now allies, strong helps for each other, instead of superior or subordinate ranks in a male-centric army (9). We work together to advance the cause of Christ, free the captives and rescue the spiritually enslaved. We bare each others burdens, draw encouragement from each other’s wisdom and glean from each other’s Spirit empowered giftings.
Because of all of this, in our marriage, we lead. We are both in charge. Together. Because we are one. No hierarchy. Just happy service, willing deference and passionate love. Jesus is our leader and the Holy Spirit, our guide.
Notes and Sources:
(1) Genesis 3:16 "...Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you."
(2) In the Old Testament narratives, we see many instances of polygamy, the owning of concubines, women being given away as prizes or considered to be spoils of war. There are also the startling stories of Tamar, Hagar and the raped and dismembered concubine from Judges 19. These types of stories are not just relegated to the Old Testament, they are continued on in strong patriarchal societies today. This is an overview of just some of the violent crimes regularly committed agains women in strong patriarchal cultures today... just because they are women. Here are some mind blowing statistics about the 27 millions (mostly women and girls) being sold as sex slaves along with video stories. There are also staggering numbers of child brides, gender based acid attacks and stonings of women (because they were raped). It is estimated that one in three women will experience domestic violence by her intimate partner, this includes U.S. women.
(3) While there are other mentions, two of the most notable examples of women rescuers would be Esther and Rehab. God used Esther to rescue the Jews from extermination and Rehab rescued the Israelite spies by hiding them and redirecting their enemies.
(4) Debora was both a leader and judge for Israel. And, the Old Testament names several women prophetesses who provided spiritual leadership for Israel including: Huldah (2 Kings 22) and Miriam (Exodus 15, Micah 6:4).
(5) Jesus' ministry was very counter cultural in the sense that He welcomed women. We read of Him having a good sized following of women... including women financial supporters. He also encouraged women to learn along side men and He appeared first to a woman after the resurrection. The New Testament is full of women whom God had given leading and teaching positions including: Pricilla (teacher of Paul the apostle), Junia (an apostle), Philip's daughters (prophetesses) and Lydia (likely the leader of the church in her home).
(6) Galatians 3:28 NIV "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
(7) "Submit one to another out of reverence for Christ." Ephesians 5:21 comes right before the verses often used to support the idea of unequal submission in marriage ie. unique wifely submission. If we take those verses in context though with verse 21 (and the whole of Scripture), I think a very different conclusion can be made.
(8) I think it is very notable that there is only one place in Scripture that commands authority within marriage relationships and that authority is to be mutual. 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 "The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control."
(9) Complementarian commentaries often suggest that the word "submission" (hypotassō) from Ephesians 5:22 is a military term where one aligns themselves under the leadership of a commander. By their definition "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord." means wives are to assume a lower rank (at least in role) under their husband. It is true that the word hypotassō can be used in military scenarios but it also has a second definition for non military uses: "a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden" (Strong's Greek Lexicon). Marriage and military are two completely different things so it seems logical that the second definition would fit better when speaking of husbands and wives particularly since verse 21 (see note 6) advocates for mutual submission among believers. I see a stronger case for mutual cooperation and burden carrying than arranging yourself like troops under a commander. More could be said on this and how the command for husbands to love their wives is a description of husbandly submission... but, I will leave that to another day.