Beyond Gender Roles

October 26, 2012

I’m extending Wednesday’s offer to today’s post.  I’ll be selecting a few random people who comment or tweet this post to win a copy of Rachel Held Evans’ “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.”

What makes a man?APA1478

What makes a woman?

Through month of October, we’ve heard from from great ladies, (and one fantastic dude) about what it means to be a man or a woman before God.

I’d like to chime in at this point to answer, or try to answer, what makes a real man or woman.

Because somewhere in the battle for family values and marriage, gender roles and equality equality, it’s easy to forget what was the original question.

No Hitting Below the Belt

It has become exceedingly obvious how difficult it is to remain civil when we debate our civil arrangements like marriage and gender roles.  We are quick to attack people about their private lives.  We’ve made a mountain out of an anthill (that’s right, the original issue doesn’t even qualify as a molehill.)

The only result is that we draw ridiculous caricatures of the “other” side that are in no way accurate.

It is very rare for me to see an egalitarian define “complimentarianism” fairly.  I almost always see it framed with “control,” or “patriarchal hierarchy.”  I have even seen egalitarians assert that complimentarians use the issue and threat of rape to control women.

The fact is, the Christian friends I have (many of whom consider their marriages complimentarian) are nothing like what they are accused of being.  A complimentarian view simply says that God created men and women for different roles.

At the same time, I think most complimentarians mistakenly think that egalitarians are a bunch of rebellious, bra-burning, ultra-feminist women and weak men who don’t deserve respect and submission.  This cannot possibly be the case either.

Two Slippery Slopes

I fall somewhere in the middle on the role of gender roles.

On the one hand, I know God made my wife and I differently.  That’s a fact.  She has strengths and so do I.  She expects certain things from me, and I likewise with her.  She demands that I take the lead on certain aspects of our marriage, I expect that she take the reins in certain things. (Most of these assigned duties are more consequential than who does the dusting and vacuuming.)

But as soon as we start to make a checklist of what she has to do to be a “real” wife, and what I have to do to be a “real” husband, we have just created another law instead of living in the love and freedom of Christ.

It is a slippery slope when you say there are no rules for men and women.  I get that.  But the slope is equally slippery when you create a checklist, and you reduce people to a list of rules (something people are always prone to do).  People are pretty squishy, and it’s really hard to get squishy people to fit inside rigid, one-size-fits-all rules from the beginning until the end of time.

The fact is both complimentarianism and egalitarianism are laws.  Human made laws.  

I choose freedom that is found in Christ, and our only law is the law of love, the law that Jesus said sums up the entirety of the law.

The Most Important Thing About Marriage

On a related topic, do not think that just because complimentarians believe God created definitive gender roles, that they are always happy with those roles.  Don’t you think there are plenty of men who believe God commands them to work overtime (while their wives stay home), who would rather spend more time with their kids?  Raising kids is tough.  So are careers.  Neither is more “free” than the other.  They are both burdens, hopefully borne in love.

I think I can sum up my marriage to my wife with the song we had played at our wedding:

We are travelers on a journey, We are pilgrims on the road;

We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.


I will hold the Christlight for you in the night-time of your fear;

I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.


Sister let me be your servant, Let me be as Christ to you;

Pray that I would have the grace to let you be my servant, too.


Brother let me be your servant, Let me be as Christ to you;

Pray that I would have the grace to let you be my servant, too.


I will weep when you are weeping, when you laugh, I’ll laugh with you.

I will share your joy and sorrow, till we’ve seen this journey through.


When we sing to God in heaven, we shall find such harmony,

Born of all we’ve known together of Christ’s love and agony. 

No labels.  No caricatures.  Just love.  Simple, huh?

Chime in now.  Do you think men and women have a checklist, or has God left it up to us to figure out?

21 responses to Beyond Gender Roles

  1. I don’t get what the fuss is about, really. As an egalitarian, with all things being equal, I know that as The Bride, to Jesus being The Groom, I am equal to Him.

    It seems quite simple, really.

  2. “But as soon as we start to make a checklist of what she has to do to be a “real” wife, and what I have to do to be a “real” husband, we have just created another law instead of living in the love and freedom of Christ.”

    Amen, Matt! I so agree! I know I am supposed to ‘love my wife as Jesus loves The Church’ and my wife should ‘submit to her husband’, but pffft, those are just silly rules. The love of Jesus makes all things equal and inclusive! Let us throw off the shackles of male dominated theology and embrace true equality as Jesus-followers, even to the point of avoiding what that darn old Bible says! Preach it, Matt!

    • If you’ve read any of Matt’s previous posts, you’d know that he’s about the last guy to try to get rid of *any* of the Bible. Good grief.

  3. Even if the comments got a bit overheated, I think you had a great group of ladies (and dude) posting on here.

    I think my whole take-away from the whole thing was like this–

    I was reminded of some Christian marriage book that I was thumbing through at my parents’ house once (I can’t remember which one) and it had this bit in there about the wife being created to be the husband’s “helper”. The writer didn’t interpret that as meaning that the wife is supposed to be only an assistant, or that she’s supposed to stay in the background all the time and not have an identity of her own. It was more like, the wife was supposed to kind of fill in areas where the husband has shortcomings–so that the couple does actually fit together like a single entity. Yin and yang, if you will (even though I’m pretty sure this book wouldn’t have put it that way.)

    And if that’s some people’s definition of “complementarianism” or whatever, I guess my marriage kind of looks like that. My husband and I are not the same–he’s got stuff that he’s good at taking care of that I’m not and vise versa. It’s worked out pretty well for us.

    Where things become thorny, I think, is when folks take it a couple of steps farther than that yin-yang/fitting together thing and take that to mean that husbands and wives are *supposed* stay within certain boundaries. Wives aren’t supposed to do any “leadership” stuff because of all those emotions they get. Husbands shouldn’t take care of the kids because they aren’t as “nurturing”. Men are supposed to dominate and conquer and women are supposed to submit. That, I think, is what gets people’s hypothetical panties in a bunch.

    And the thing about men and women being different–well, I don’t think you’d get any argument from me there. However, I do bristle at generalizations about what women and men are like. Before I got married, my dad had me read one of those John Grey “Men are from Mars, etc.” books. While there were some good points, I kept thinking “Well, *I’m* not like that all the time.” For example, he’s says that women tend to talk about a problem just because they want someone else to understand how they feel about it, while men have a tendency to focus on “fixing” problems instead of talking about how they feel. Well, it turns out that most of the time I don’t do a lot of venting–if I’m telling someone about a problem it’s because I *want* it fixed, dammit, not because I want them to share my feelings!

    I think it’s all that overanalyzing and rule-making and stupid generalizations that cause the problems–if the focus was just on being a decent human being toward your spouse (and the rest of society), we’d probably be better off.

  4. When it comes to gender roles with my kids I am neutral. I grew up with a wonderful father, but he was a manly man. He rarely showed a softer side. Through the years I realized how that hurt me. I longed for the attention and love from my father, but I was not the athlete nor was I the hunter. I was just me.
    When I held my first born for the first time I promised to show him love and shed tears in front of him. Not to hide how I felt just to keep up the image of a man.
    That is who God calls us all to be. Real. Not a man or a woman, but someone who loves despite the image they are supposed to portray. To break the mold of the world’s point of view and be a comfort and an example of pure love.
    I want my boys to grow up knowing their dad loves them no matter what and they shouldn’t try to change who they are to get my attention.
    That is the Godly image.

    • This is beautiful, Tommy. You sound a lot like my husband. We have a son and it’s so important to my husband to show affection and love and to not be an aloof “provider” (which, actually, I’m the provider because he has a lot of health problems).

  5. I agree with you- God made men and women with differences (in general) and the differences are great but they’re just generalizations and you can’t use that to make rules- “ALL WOMEN have to do this, and ALL MEN have to do that”. People’s roles should be based on their individual personalities. I consider my position to be egalitarian. :)

  6. I’ll be honest and say that while I read your blog and I read RHE’s blog, I don’t really think about the whole complimentarian vs egalitarian debate very much. My marriage works well, and we’re both happy and satisfied in it. We have different roles, of course, and different strengths, but they don’t always play out how one might expect. I wash dishes and balance the checkbook; he does the laundry and cooks breakfast. We both work full-time. We make big decisions together. He leads in some areas, I lead in others. Sometimes he suggests we pray or study together, other times I do. It fits us well and we work together and we don’t really spend much time discussing (or even thinking about) whether our marriage is more egalitarian or more complimentarian.

  7. Matt, I think this is right on. There is a big problem with this debate is the same problem that arises with many other debates within the church: it fails to keep the main thing the main thing. There are so many who do not realize who Christ is or what He stands for because His Bride has done so much to make the view unclear.

    We can argue about gender roles, free will, end times, baptism, communion, worship styles, and church sizes from now until the end of time. We will never all agree. The Bible does not talk about reaching agreement, it talks about reaching unity. About letting love and grace trump all. It is about journeying together, with our eyes fixed on Christ, not on what we perceive as one another’s short comings.

    Thanks for elevating the discussion.

  8. In Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.”

    I don’t think God’s Word is hindered in the slightest because of someone’s genitalia.

  9. So what would you say about Gender in the Church?

    A legitimate critique of the complementarian position is that when a Comp claims that men and women are made for different roles, that your genetalia ordains what you are divinely mandated to do, the roles men are “allowed” to take are always positions of power and authority. The roles women are “allowed” to take are always positions of subordination.

    The guys over at the Gospel Coalition openly admit, embrace and celebrate this. They claim that those who don’t follow complementartian gender roles is hindering the Gospel. Egalitarians would say the opposite: that by establishing power structures, by engaging in hierarchy, you’re failing to live out the life of Jesus most fully. So I appreciate whats “at stake” in this discussion.

    I have wonderful female friends who are gifted and passionate for leadership who’ve been denied the opportunity to be who they fully are in Christ because of their gender. That IS an issue worth fighting for for me. That’s an issue of justice, of religious people using their power to hold people down rather than help them up (and yes, a complementarian would frame that whole situation totally differently).

    Even with respect to marriage, the question isn’t whether you and your wife are different (no egalitarian would claim otherwise), the question is whether those differences are *essential*. Do the roles you and your wife inhabit in your marriage reflect the divinely ordained roles every man and every woman *must* inhabit if they are to be fully imitating Christ, fully participating in the Gospel? If you say Yes, you’re in the Complementarian camp. You seem to lean towards No, which puts you in the egalitarian camp.

    Obviously (by now), I’m an egalitarian too. Not because I have a checklist, but because I think every man, every woman, every couple, must be free to discover (in the context of their faith communities) who God created them to be.

    • *snort!*

      It has nothing to do with genitalia. It has everything to do with authority that my Father mandates.

      Wives submit to their husbands as The Church submits to Jesus. Husbands love their wives as Jesus loves His Church Both do so because of Jesus and His Word. This is non-negotiable.

      Egalitarianism fails because it says we really don’t have to obey The Word because our society has evolved and we are more enlightened than those old people from the Bible so long ago. At the end of egalitarianism is the false belief that, since men and women are equals in marriage (no roles, just equality), and we are The Bride to Jesus being The Groom, than we are equal to Jesus.


      Dripping poisoned sugar into the ears of His sheep is dangerous, indeed.

      • Prophet –

        As Matt pointed out in his post, this is an exceptionally unfair caricature of Egalitarians. No one I know who holds to an egalitarian position would say “we really don’t have to obey The Word”. In fact, it’s our love for the Scriptures that’s compelled us to the Egalitarian position.

        To label our view as poison is uncharitable and clearly not meant to engage in or forward conversation. Which is contrary to the spirit of the post Matt wrote and the Spirit at work in our hearts.

        • “To label our view as poison is uncharitable and clearly not meant to engage in or forward conversation. Which is contrary to the spirit of the post Matt wrote and the Spirit at work in our hearts.”

          Now then, would you really want this statement of yours to be measured against you? Are you throwing a stone at me? Do you really want to do this?

          Seeking to emotionalize this, and trying to spin it as that by my speaking out against the false spirit of egalitarianism is me not being lovey-dovey enough, is what victims will always do. Do you want to be a victim the rest of your life?

          I’m definitely not here to have long and deep dialogue with anyone, for this is merely the Internet and it is, at best, a marshmallow land of self-inflated egos.

          Please feel free to have the last word. I know you need it. Or you can simply walk away, and wonder why I, as a faceless set of words on your computer screen, would be so darn mean to you since you are all about peace, love, and unicorns.

    • Thank you jr. I read the Bible before I became a believer and I really believed that there was “neither male nor female” etc. It never dawned on me before I worked up the nerve to go to church that I would find descrimination there as far as my ministry opportunities go based on my gender. It is an important issue because I’m seeing more and more voices that have a lot of influence in the evangelical subculture presenting an even more limited picture of women’s opportunities. As a 54 year old woman my approach has always been to smile and go about my business doing whatever I knew I was supposed to be doing. But I’m increasingly seeing more need to speak up on behalf of so many of my younger friends who are not wired that way. I want them to be free to have amazing relationships with their husbands and to be free to follow their calling and gifting in the church.

  10. It is actually wives submit to your husbands and husbands treat your wives as Christ treats the church… So who is really submitting?

  11. But Jesus is the head of the church :)

  12. Yes He is the Head of the Church, but He is showing us the example of our “gender roles”… A man does not lord over a woman.
    I never understood that scripture until I got married and learned to put my wife’s needs and wishes first.

  13. Amen. This is beautiful.
    I struggle with the whole gender role debate as well because people are messy. I don’t believe in checklists, but neither do I think God leaves it complete up to us to figure out.
    I think God gives us guidelines and we are to love, respect and cherish each other.

  14. “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.” -Proverbs 22:6

    There’s an element here in the Hebrew that the rabbis picked up on. The Hebrew translation is more like “train up a child in the way he is bent…” So if a child is compassionate, train them up in that. Or musical. Or generous or whatever.

    Same with the genders. We are not equal, the genders are very much different. The way we think, act, communicate, etc. Now I will say that the genders are both “capable” of doing tasks. They won’t do them in the same way or manner, but both are capable. Yet there are some gender-benders out there (I feel I’m in this group) that mix up these stereotypes. But to love one another, as children of God, to train and honor each other the way we are bent, and to seek unity in Christ… yeah, that’s what it’s about.

  15. I’m a little late in the game here, but great thoughts Matt. I definitely agree that we often skew the other person’s viewpoint. We also rarely examine our own view because we’re so busy pointing out the flaws in others’.

    I think a lot of confusion and aggression in gender roles comes from Ephesians 5:22-25 (Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord…). They believe submission means women are less important or unequal to men. The most common response (and a good one) is that later in Ephesians 5 men are called “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” In other words, men are called to give their lives to serve their wives.

    But some still see the word “submit” as a big negative. To that I look to Philippians 2 – “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[b] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

    There we see Jesus, who is clearly equal to the Father, submitting to the Father’s will. Does his submission make him less equal? Of course not! In fact, because he humbles himself, God glorifies him to the highest extent. Husbands, I believe, are called to do the same. They should glorify and lift up their wives above themselves.