Among some realms of Christian blog-land, you’ll see a lot of discussion on marriage.
The question: is your marriage “complimentarian” or “egalitarian?”
At stake, judging by the ferocity of the discussions, is the very sanctity of marriage. I can’t think of one thing that gets Christians more hot and bothered about other peoples’ relationships, (other than maybe whether the couple in love have matching genitals or not.)
The way the question is usually posed, the “complimentarians” are old-fashioned, evangelical patriarchs who favor imposing artificial hierarchies to keep control over women. That sentence was so full of buzzwords, it even made me a little bit mad.
Meanwhile, the complimentarians paint a picture of egalitarians as being in rebellion against God’s plan and being a bunch of bra-burning liberals.
And, as usual, the whole debate has become an exercise in missing the point. If we actually defined “complimentarian” and “egalitarian” correctly, there would be no more discussion.
Who Is a Complimentarianism?
Who are the most prominent “complimentarians” today?
Some people would point to Mark Driscoll and John Piper. Both have said some pretty controversial things about men and women. Piper most recently said that Christianity has a distincively “masculine” feel.
The debate becomes pretty easy with caricatures like that representing one side. The problem is they don’t. Like Pat Robertson not representing all of evangelical Christianity, you can’t frame the debate by what two guys say about women.
Housework Is Not the Point
Then, complimentarianism is painted as a hierarchy, more like the relationship between a boss and employee. It’s easy to use this as a straw man, because no married people live this way. Men and women in healthy relationships make decisions together. They communicate. They share the work.
Sounds like everyone, even the complimentarians are actually rather egalitarian.
So does that mean that egalitarianism wins?
No, it means figuring out who does the dishes and who makes the money and who changes diapers has nothing to do with having a healthy marriage. The Bible doesn’t say anything about how men and women should run their households. You’d almost think God didn’t give a crap about it.
So when we let the debate focus on those things, we’re again missing the point.
Complimentarian or Egalitarian?
I’ll look at myself and my wife for a minute.
My wife has ovaries. I do not. I didn’t tell her to have ovaries, nor do I wish I had ovaries. Does this make us complimentarian or egalitarian?
I am good at writing. My wife struggles with it. She is enjoying learning how to cook and bake professionally, though I am capable of making my own dinner. Complimentarian or egalitarian?
I mow the grass every weekend. She works most Saturdays. Complimentarian or egalitarian?
She cries more than I do. I get fired up about politics. Complimentarian or egalitarian?
It’s hard to tell, isn’t it?
This is where both sides miss the point. When the Bible says that there is “no male and female,” that men and women are equal in the sight of God, it doesn’t mean they must therefore be the same. My wife and I are very different people. We were born that way, and we can’t change it. Some differences are based on gender, others not. We compliment each other.
And the ways in which we compliment each other didn’t have to be forced. We were both born free to find our own strengths and weaknesses and figure out how to function best as a couple. Just like I don’t force my wife to submit to some kind of “gender role,” we also don’t force each other to be “equal” in all things for which we aren’t gifted.
So a truly complimentary relationship is egalitarian and a truly egalitarian relationship will naturally be complimentary.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go tell my wife to make me a sandwich.
What do you think? Is one biblical and one isn’t? Or is it neither because God doesn’t care whether women work or men do dishes? Or is it somewhere in the middle? And if you really believe I need my wife to make a sandwich for me, then you are mistaken.