Farewell, complementarianism (pt. 1)

“Let’s say you’re offered a job in another state. You want to take it, but your wife doesn’t want to move. What do you do?”

Crap, I thought.

Ten years ago, my soon-to-be wife and I were sitting with the pastor who would marry us — assuming, that is, we passed the test otherwise known as premarital counseling.

On the whole, counseling was a good thing. I highly recommend it for anyone thinking about taking the plunge.

Our experience, for the most part, consisted of the usual: personality tests, role-playing (not THAT kind), and reading a few marriage guidance books.

Then our pastor dropped this little bombshell-of-a-question into our laps. It wasn’t simply a prompt to talk through styles of conflict resolution. It was a test to see whether I would embrace my God-given masculine authority and take charge of my wife.

“Um…” I said, followed by a nervous pause. “We would talk about it, you know, to see if we could get on the same page.”

Apparently that wasn’t good enough.

“What if you talk about it, and you still can’t agree?” the pastor asked.

Me: “We would… talk about it some more?”

“Let’s say you’ve discussed everything there is to talk about, and you STILL can’t agree. Then what?”

Finally he laid his cards on the table. “As the man, it’s your God-given responsibility to make the final decision. And it’s your wife’s job to go along with it, even if she doesn’t agree. So… what would you do?”

I knew I couldn’t say what the pastor wanted me to say. But our wedding was just a few months away. I wasn’t sure I was ready for a theological argument with the man who was supposed to preside over the ceremony.

So I said, “As a man, I would use my God-given authority to decide not to decide until we could agree.”

He wasn’t expecting that. He paused for a minute, then said, “Well, you COULD do that. But you don’t have to.”

Only a year before, I would have agreed with our pastor about my “God-given responsibility.” I would have agreed it was my job as the husband to make the final decisions, and that it was my wife’s job to respectfully submit to my authority.

(I was quite a catch.)

I had no room in my theology for things like mutual submission, female pastors, or other harbingers of feminism.

The gender roles debate isn’t going away anytime soon (at least not for evangelicals). John Piper’s recent comments about Christianity being a masculine religion and Rachel Held Evans’ response (which prompted over 150 male bloggers, including myself, to speak out) have put a spotlight on the issue once more.

Scanning the list of speaking topics at the recent Desiring God Pastor’s Conference, which was attended by several thousand pastors, you get the impression that some complementarians (those who advocate for the authority of men in the home and the church) have a one-track mind:

  • Masculinity Is the Glad Assumption of Responsibility
  • Departing from Masculinity: Two Ditches to Avoid
  • What Does It Mean to Be at Man?
  • Discipling Men in the Local Church
  • A Culture of Hope for the Men of the Church
  • Why Biblical Manhood and Womanhood Matters
  • How Manhood and Womanhood Are Different
  • The Difference Between Masculinity and Femininity
  • The Resurgence of Complementarianism

Which is why I’ve decided to tell my story over the next few posts — how I went from holding a “complementarian” view of gender roles to being committed to the full equality of women in every sphere, including the home and the church.

Part 2 of this series can be found here.

6 thoughts on “Farewell, complementarianism (pt. 1)

  1. Must…resist…urge…to…reference certain inside jokes from the past about this very subject. =)

    I have a hard time buying into this idea that a man holds this unequivocal, uncaring upper-hand position that many advocate. I see little evidence in the Bible of God actually working that way in His dealings with us. Why we he then demand that we behave that way within the human relationship that’s most supposed to reflect His interactions with us?


    1. Yeah…I would add that it’s never wise to take something the Bible positions as a result of sin (like the subordination of women to men) and make it normative for all good Christians today. When you’re trying to justify something that originated with the Fall, you’ve got problems.


  2. When I reached the part of this post where you outsmarted your pastor’s question, and then he came back with “Well, you COULD do that, but you don’t have to,” I *headdesk*’ed so hard I nearly knocked my brains out. 🙂


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