So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
There is a large stream of Christian thought that affirms men as leaders and women as followers. Men are to be the head of the house and women are to be subordinate to men. Men are to pursue and women are to be pursued.
And it’s not hard for someone reading the bible with an assumption of patriarchy to draw these conclusions.
But as many, many folks have pointed out, such conclusions result in a distortion of the Gospel. It results in a Gospel that bows to the cultural mores, the power plays, and the oppressive structures of our fallen world.
And a long time ago it was really easy to claim that women should be silent and submissive. Because, a long time ago, that was a reflection of reality: women had no education, independence, or legal protection.
But today, in our society, they do. Women run corporations, sit on the Supreme Court, hold the office of Secretary of State, pastor churches, teach in universities, serve in the military, and hold theoretical parity with men.
And so, the argument for submission in the home and in the church, is one of an appeal solely to scripture.
Because it is not demonstrated by nature.
And in function, most conservative Christian marriages display parity. Most couples display teamwork. Most couples affirm the unique gifts of each person brings to the relationship, allowing those so gifted to lead in a particular area.
Yet, “the bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it” results in confused language about the role of men and women in marriage. While on the one hand the couple becomes “one flesh”, on the other hand the man is the “head of the woman.” And while the couple is to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” so too the woman is to “submit in everything to her husband.”
And while I think careful exegesis can untwist these passages, there is still tension and confusion in the biblical text itself.
And that is, of course, the nature of texts themselves: contradictions held in tension by the web of words; the struggle between the patriarchal culture in which every author of the scriptures was male with the promise of freedom and liberation from the Powers and Principalities at the hands of the Messiah.
The weight of Paul’s Gospel of liberation and freedom “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, ‘male and female’ for all are one in Christ Jesus” against the cultural assumptions of patriarchal, socially stratified, pagan Ephesus.
And it’s no wonder that this tension works its way into the way our culturally specific churches talk about relationships.
And I’ve heard many Christians express the tension between our culture—in which men still make a third more than women for the same jobs, outnumber women 4 to 1 in executive positions, embrace women as sexual icons, make “that’s what she said jokes”, etc—and the biblical witness which affirm women as image bearers of God, daughters of the King, precious in his eyes.
And the result is usually something like: men need to protect women, guard them, pursue them, lovingly guide and lead them.
While rejecting the cultural conclusions that women are only worth the value assigned them by men—despite legal parity—many Christians continue to make the assumption that our culture makes: that men are naturally suited to hold power in a way that women are not.
And even while rejecting the notion that men should use this predisposition to hold power as a way to harm women, they assert that women need to be protected by men who hold the power. And while this notion is a critique of the idea that holding power means one has the right to use that power anyway one pleases, it nevertheless views women as inferior.
And if there is any myth that the complementarian position is blinded by, it is this: separate but equal is a good thing. But, as racial segregation taught us: separate but equal is never equal.
And if one buys into the doctrine of Imago Dei, then one buys into the doctrine of equality: the lens through which we should read the scriptures.
And this is becoming more and more personal to me since I am engaged to be married.
Yes, I pursue Amanda well. But she pursues me just as fiercely and just as well.
And yes, I bought Amanda a nice ring, but she picked it out. And she is buying me a ring, too.
And I proposed marriage to Amanda, but it was a decision we had previously made together as a team.
And I am her spiritual covering, sure. But she is also mine: encouraging, admonishing, and leading me towards Jesus just as I do for her.
And we will have total equality in our marriage. Because that reflects the Gospel of Jesus: that all barriers are broken down, all hierarchy based on arbitrary characteristics is thrown out, all cultural oppression is done away with, and there is freedom in Christ.
May his Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.