A truce (of sorts)

Here’s a thought in light of the recent controversy surrounding Jared Wilson’s inflammatory blog post (or, more precisely, Jared Wilson’s quoting of the habitually inflammatory Doug Wilson)…

Obviously, the gender roles debate isn’t going away anytime soon. Nor should it. This is a conversation we ought to be having. Yet both sides feel they’re routinely misunderstood and caricatured by the other. And that’s not such a good thing.

So… maybe it’s time we called a truce?

I’m not saying we should forget our differences. For me, as an egalitarian and father of a two-year-old girl, mutuality and equality are too important to set aside. So let the debate continue.

But maybe — for the sake of a more constructive dialogue (and because it’s the right thing to do) — we should start dismantling the caricatures we have of one another.

I’ll go first.

Complementarian marriages are sometimes depicted as little fiefdoms where husbands rule firmly and unilaterally. But this is a caricature. Few couples have likely given much thought to whether their marriages are “complementarian” or “egalitarian.” But among those who have — and, specifically, among those who’ve embraced the complementarian point of view — most husbands I know are loving, considerate, and honorable.

They are not domineering. They do not bark orders at their wives. They do not make important decisions on their own. They help out around the house. They run errands for their wives (as Jared Wilson can attest). Although they may not care for the phrase “egalitarian pleasure party,” their wives are well loved.

Most complementarians know full well that “wives, submit” isn’t the only thing the Bible said about marriage. They also take seriously the part that tells husbands to love their wives as they love themselves.

To be sure, the caricature of complementarianism — the boorish husband who walks all over his wife — does exist, and in far too many households. But in my experience, it is less common among those who are intentionally complementarian as a result of careful study and deliberation.

OK, complementarians? Are we good?

Now it’s your turn. You could start by acknowledging that we egalitarians don’t deny there are meaningful differences between men and women. Most of us have taken a biology class at some point. We get it. Boys and girls are different.

What’s more, we celebrate these differences. Egalitarians believe women and men each contribute something vital to the human race. In fact, we might’ve called ourselves “complementarians” if had you hadn’t snatched the label first.

You could acknowledge that egalitarians have no interest in neutering the human race. We’re not out to emasculate men or defeminize women. We just don’t see why the God-given differences between women and men require a hierarchal distinction.

What’s more, many of us have fairly conventional marriages. You might be surprised to learn my wife stays at home raising our two-year-old daughter, while I “bring home the bacon,” as it were. (I have the good fortune of working from home, so I suppose we’re both stay-at-home parents in a way, but my wife does the lion’s share of childrearing by far.)

We egalitarians don’t despise women who stay at home. We just don’t agree with those who say this is the only valid path for married women.

Yes, we think there’s value in rediscovering some of the feminine images for God found in the Bible (e.g. El Shaddai in Genesis 49:25, the mother in labor in Isaiah 42:14, etc.), but we’re not out to purge our lexicon of masculine terminology. Most of us are quite comfortable praying to God our Father. We’re OK with the fact that Jesus and his 12 disciples were male (although we think Jesus’ female followers — many of whom were more dependable than his male disciples — deserve a little more recognition).

It may surprise you to learn that very, very few of us strip down and dance around statues of ancient fertility goddesses on Sunday mornings. Sorry, but we just don’t.

Don’t get me wrong. There are very real differences between our competing views of gender. And I fear those differences become even greater and more divisive when we turn to the subject of women leading in the church. Some of us have a hard time finding biblical justification for a view that automatically denies half the church (more than that, actually) the opportunity to lead, solely on the basis of which reproductive organs they have.

So we may not see eye to eye anytime soon. But for the sake of the gospel, let’s dispense with the worst caricatures of each other. OK?

Now is it time for an awkward side hug?

2 thoughts on “A truce (of sorts)

  1. Hi Ben
    I’ve just stumbled across your blog through links to your thoughts on a book. I’ve enjoyed reading what you have to say.
    I’ve just read this article, though, and it’s made me a bit sad. I really liked the idea of a truce, but I feel like you’ve only added to the heat. It seems you reluctantly give complimentarianists the benefit of the doubt, while defending egalitarianists with sarcasm and attitude.
    Maybe we should think less about the labels and more about the God whom we serve. Let’s encourage each other to glorify God, to do marriage well, to be selfless servants of one another.
    I’m an Aussie, and at least in some parts this debate rages, but it would never occur to me to define my friends marriages by these terms. Maybe the truce will come when we stop fighting the fight. I reckon there are much better things to talk about!


    1. Hi Jo,
      It wasn’t my intent to be come across as reluctant in giving complementarians the benefit of the doubt, nor to defend my views with sarcasm. Sorry if it came across that way to you. My intent was to affirm in the strongest possible terms that the vast majority of complementarian marriages are loving, honorable, life-giving relationships – and that it is wrong to caricature them as otherwise. I would also note that every single caricature of egalitarianism o which I responded is one I’ve read and/or heard expressed by leading complementarians. So there was nothing sarcastic (at least not intentionally) about my defense of egalitarianism against these stereotypes. Hope this at least helps clarify the intent of my thoughts in this post a little. Thanks for sharing.


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