A Complementarian Responds

A few days ago I received the following comment in response to my Men and Women in Christian Patriarchy post, and I thought it illustrated an excellent point. Growing up, I was taught that men and women are equal but have different roles. My point in my Men and Women post was that “different but equal” is a lie. I used an article by Debi Pearl to illustrate this point. The following commenter took issue with what Debi said, but tried to back up the “different but equal” party line.

BrianMI6 said…

If Debbi Pearl’s book left off as you say, (and I don’t know because I’ve not read the book yet) then you were fed a half-truth concerning the roles of men and women in the Bible.

The concept of having equal significance but different roles is accurate, if portrayed accurately. The context of the section of scripture in Ephesians where women are instructed to obey their husband comes AFTER Eph 5:21 where both the husband and wife are instructed to submit to one another.

Ah, so the husband and wife submit to each other. That actually sounds equal.

Furthermore, the Holy Spirit chose to spill more in on the pages of the New Testament outlining the HUSBANDS role in the marriage, the defining characteristic of which is the requirement to love his wife as Christ loved the Church. That’s a lot of love. His form of submission, then, is to submit to the NEEDS of his wife as an act of life.

Now wait a minute. There are two different “forms of submission,” one for men and one for women? Suddenly I’m seeing equality flying out the window here.

This being the case, all husbands need to filter family decisions through the love of their wife. No husband who is fulfilling his responsibility to God if he does not take his wife’s feelings on any family directive into consideration. Period.

Well of course, both husband and wife should always consider each other’s needs, that’s called being a good spouse. Wait a minute. What is this about the man taking a “family directive into consideration?” Why the emphasis on husbands dealing with “family decisions?” Shouldn’t that be a cooperative effort if we’re talking about equality? Shouldn’t the husband and wife take a family directive (whatever that is) into consideration together?

That being the case, the Bible is clear that there is a chain of command. The husband is to lead. There can be no democracy in a home where there are two people, each of whom have a single vote, and both vote for their own position on an issue. The frame of your writing indicates that, perhaps through proper communication techniques, an agreement should ALWAYS be able to be made. This is, of course, idealistic…a mere fairy tale. These types of situations will arise, even if they are not often.

This being the case, it would seem that your position would be that if no agreement could be struck, then no decision would be made. The issue would just fade away. This is impossible. NOT taking any definite action on an issue is just as much a decision and has consequences just the same as taking some form of action.

It is for this reason that God decided to assign a chain of command. For better or worse, when a breach is reached, one party must submit to the other. God has deemed that it be the wife that submits to her husband.

Oh, I get it! The man submits by lovingly leading and the woman submits by lovingly submitting. No wait. That doesn’t make any sense at all. This is the same exact line of reasoning I got as a child. Men and women are equal. They just have different roles. Men are to lead and women are to submit. I mean, Brian goes so far as to endorse a “chain of command” and say that “there can be no democracy in the home.” Where’s the equality in that? It’s all a smoke screen. No matter how they say it, it always amounts to the same thing: men are to be in charge and women are to follow. These roles are NOT equal. Brian simply proves my point.

Let me ask a question. If I said that whites and blacks are different but equal, that whites are created to be leaders and blacks to be followers, what would you call me? If I said there is an ordained chain of command, and that whites are to lead while blacks submit, but that in their leadership they must lovingly take into account the needs of blacks, what would that make me? If I said there could be no democracy in a nation that was made up equally of whites and blacks, where each would vote for their own needs, and that therefore whites must make the decisions and choose the direction for society while blacks acquiesce, what would I be? A RACIST. And, when you make the same exact arguments on the basis of gender rather than race, you are a SEXIST. This isn’t equality. Let me say that again: this is absolutely and positively NOT equality.

Brian laughs derisively at the idea that a husband and wife can make decisions as a team, and that they will always be able to reach an agreement, is “idealistic…a mere fairy tale.” I disagree. My husband and I have been married for years now, and our marriage is a partnership between two equals. We have never had a time when we couldn’t come to an agreement. I would contend that if you have two people who love each other and want what’s best for the family, there will be no situation in which they can’t come to an agreement. It’s about teamwork and cooperation, not about a competition where one partner must win and the other must lose. Brian may call this an idealistic fairy tale, but actually, it’s my life, and it’s very very real.

If you say that this is demeaning and ridiculous, then by the same logic the man could say that it is demeaning and ridiculous that he submit to God.

Actually, I think the idea that submission is a good thing or should be valued is antiquated and backward. Sure, you should obey the laws, and obey your parents when you’re a kid, but you have reasons for those things. I value love, I value compassion, but I don’t value submission.

It then becomes clear that you simply wish that the Bible was written differently than it was. You wish that it said that both the man and the woman were to submit to God in the same way that the man alone is told to right now. We might all want to rewrite the Bible.

Brian must not have read much of my site. I have no need to disprove this or that passage, or cut something out, because I don’t see the Bible as divine. I see it as man made. Yes, a lot of passages of the Bible treat women like property, but to me this makes perfect sense given that the Bible was written by ordinary men within a culture where sexism and misogyny were the norm. Brian’s accusation that I am trying to rewrite the Bible makes it clear that he knows there are Christians who interpret these passages differently from how he interprets them; it’s just that, personally, I don’t see the Bible as inspired or valuable or something I should base my life on, so his accusation that I’m rewriting it falls rather short. While we’re at it, I should mention that I don’t believe in God either.

Lots of people take scissors to it now. They usually start with the idea of hell and move on from there. Your writing reveals that you have decided to fashion a god to your own liking in your heart. This is just as much idolatry as fashioning one of wood or stone. You are guilty of breaking the second of the Ten Commandments.

Hebrews tells us that its is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. It’s not really fearful to fall into the hands of the (non)god that you’ve created because he’s totally accepting of you and would never judge you as the God of the Bible promises to do.

The good news is that, you’re right…your god won’t pitch you into hell for your unrighteous actions and attitudes. The bad news is that your god doesn’t exist and the God who DOES exist is keeping tabs for the Day of Judgement.

Classy. Brian finishes by damning me to hell. Believe it or not, this is the first time I have been damned to hell. I want to thank Brian for at least being straightforward about his belief in an evil, twisted God who sends people to burn in eternal torture for “unrighteous actions and attitudes.” You know, a God who is so narcissistic as to punish people with a fate millions of times worse than the holocaust for not worshiping him. I really don’t think such a God exists, or any God at all, but if I die and find myself in the grips of the twisted, evil God Brian describes, I will be the first to lead a rebellion.

The Cold, Unforgiving World of Geoffrey Botkin
What the Ruff, the Spotted Hyena, and the Cuttlefish Taught Me about Gender and Sexuality
What Courtship Was for Me
Monogamy Isn't Biblical, It's Roman
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17500128753102750833 Mommy McD

    Excellent take down, I especially love the ending. I'll join you in the rebellion ;).Or like I once said about my extended family (lot of problems there): I'd rather burn in hell with my friends than go to heaven with you.My husband shudders at the idea that he "should" lead me at all. I can't even get him to say what he wants for dinner and the day he asks me to clean the house is the day my head explodes. Not all men have burning desire to rule over people, though it is of course a more desirable position than being the submissive wife. And yeah, we somehow manage to cooperate without having one of us in charge of the other. Its fun living in a fairy tale isn't it?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Mommy McD – Yes! Hooray for fairy tales!

  • http://www.twitter.com/nerdviking NerdViking

    It seems Brian thinks men get 1.5 votes, women get 1 vote. Apparently 1.5 = 1. I think he needs to go back to 1st grade to refine his arithmetic skills. Or learn what "Equal" means.Also, I think the line for rebellion leadership started a looong time ago. Take a number. :)

  • http://www.thedrantherlair.com quietpanther

    I would contend that if you have two people who love each other and want what's best for the family, there will be no situation in which they can't come to an agreement. It's about teamwork and cooperation, not about a competition where one partner must win and the other must lose. Brian may call this an idealistic fairy tale, but actually, it's my life, and it's very very real.Mine, too! We've only been married for just over a year, but so far have encountered no insurmountable disagreement. Thanks to my background, I still worry sometimes that sometime later on in our marriage we'll encounter those massive disagreements where an agreement CAN'T be reached and find out that the complementarians were right all along … but those irrational fears don't last long. See, there's this great thing called "compromise" that's kind of integral for any situation where two people are more interested in getting along than getting their way. And if getting your way is more important than getting along, getting married was a bad idea.By the way, the idea that I'm living in a fairy tale is not news … I am reminded of that fact every time I look at my lovely wife. <3

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00987022971262088932 Pam

    I think the people who screech the loudest about who must submit see all relationships in terms of power – who has it (men) and who must submit to it (women and children). I don't think they can even fathom a relationship that is about mutual love and respect, not power.And count me as another person who lives the fairytale since my husband and I don't worry about leading or following. We both want what is best for each other and for our family, so that's how we make our decisions. It's actually pretty simple. We trust each other to make good decisions and forgive each other if we don't. It makes for a much happier marriage than if we were constantly worried about a power/submission dynamic.

  • Anonymous

    You both sound somewhat shrill to me. Not much subtlety to go around. I understand Brian's point of view-pretty standard for his side of the aisle. I am not as familiar with your side, but I assume your thoughts reflect an atheist outlook in a general sense?Life has shown me too much to accept either outlook uncritically. I appreciate the rush to ditch God, the Bible, and simplistic outlooks like Brian's, and after what you went through as a child, I do not blame you.But I have looked into the void that remains on the other side of all that unleashing, and, well, no thanks.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Anonymous – The idea that marriage should be an equal partnership where both parties work together for the good of the family and make decisions cooperatively is not "shrill," nor does it necessitate an "atheist outlook." In fact, it's an idea held by lots of people, regardless of belief about the spiritual. But since you ask, I take a humanistic outlook to life. Atheism is the absence of a belief system, so I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the term "atheistic outlook." I don't believe in a God, so I am an atheist, but as for my values and views of the world and people around me, I am a humanist. Also, I didn't "ditch" God and the Bible because of "what I went through" as a child. I would suggest you poke around my site a bit longer before asserting that. I understand that there are a diversity of religious perspectives, it's just that I really honestly don't think there actually is a God or a spiritual out there. If I find new evidence I always evaluate it, and perhaps in the future I will change my mind. I am not dogmatic. Finally, I'm not sure what this "void" you are talking about. I haven't believed in God for several years now, and I have found no void at all. And I'm not alone in this. If you want to know more about my deconverssion experience, I would recommend this article: http://lovejoyfeminism.blogspot.com/2011/07/searching-for-baby-in-bathwater.html

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05727103254526473461 homebornbabes

    I love every word you wrote on this! And I'll join you in the rebellion as well! I never understood that patronizing b.s. about women being different yet equal. I got this drivel growing Mormon as well.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11439024525253785948 Grikmeer

    I'll join the ranks of the Rebellion. Someone should make Tshirts :P

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05449482325197334224 Tim C

    I discovered your site thanks to your recent post on AlterNet. I grew up within a similar movement, although my parents did not enter the movement until later in their own lives, so they never had the "Quiver full" that they were "supposed" to have. Boy did they ever encourage everyone else they knew to do so, though.I wanted to chime in, from the male side of the aisle, that my marriage is in that same fairy tale. Democracies work best when all sides understand that it isn't a majority that's required to get things done, it's cooperation and willingness to see from each other's perspective, and that's just what we try to do.To be fair, there are decision-making areas where I "submit" to her, and areas where she "submits" to me, but these tend to be areas where we trust the other to act in the best interests of the family, so it's a voluntary thing that helps take burdens off of one or the other of us, so it's not really submission, nor even the expectation of submission, as it is getting things done.I could not imagine even wanting to dominate my wife or bend her to my will. There is no joy in that way of life.

  • CLDG

    Living the fairy tale here too, apparently. Going on 7 years now. We have conversations about things and generally come to an agreement. Part of why we wanted to get married in the first place is that we are pretty simpatico. If there's any submitting, it's to one who feels most strongly about it, has the most investment, or is the most affected by it, what have you. This is not some crazy un-Christian thing – it's like the "Policy of 100% Agreement" taught by Christian marriage counselor Dr. Harley of the His Needs/Her Needs series, which evangelicals should be familiar with. (It was part of our premarital counseling.)

    • mecia577

      ” If there’s any submitting, it’s to one who feels most strongly about it, has the most investment, or is the most affected by it, what have you.”

      That’s how my husband and I go about it. It’s worked well for 8 years now. Some agreements are harder to reach than others, but we always reach one because we both want the other to be happy and have their needs met.

  • Shina

    Very nice Libby. The mental gymnastics required by complementarians always give me a headache, and also reeks of "separate but equal."Anonymous, thanks for perpetuating the misogynistic norm of calling all women who dare to stand up for their rights "shrill." What's the next name going to be, "castrating" or "feminazi" perhaps?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03702441292981376229 Darcy

    I guess I live a fairy tale too. Shall we all band together to prove that fairy tales are true? ;) There's no power-plays in my marriage. Just two people loving, respecting, and honoring each other AND loving it!

  • Anonymous

    Count me in as one who is living a fairy tale marriage, as well. My husband's first marriage was one where they tried to follow the bibical roles of men and women. He says that is a no win situation for either spouse, and ultimately is what led to the divorce. Before we got married he made it clear that he wasn't going to "lead". We make decisions together. We both love each other and want what is best for each other. Sometimes that means one of us bends a bit. Somehow we manage to live in harmony despite him not leading and me not submitting. kateri @ http://dandelionhaven.blogspot.com/

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15172112981244682382 shadowspring

    Tim C., I'm glad you felt confident enough in your personhood to write:"To be fair, there are decision-making areas where I "submit" to her, and areas where she "submits" to me, but these tend to be areas where we trust the other to act in the best interests of the family…,"One of the things I hated most about complementarianism was the way it insulted my husband when he had no opinion on a decision or felt I was in the better position to make the best call. This was considered weak, and I can't tell you how much I wanted to pop the preachers who spewed this idea (ususally dripping with insult and sarcasm) that a man letting a female take the lead in a decision was no man at all.

  • Gloria

    Living in a fairytale here, too. :) It's really not that hard- I don't get why complementarians think it's so impossible! I can't imagine life every other way! We talk things through, and we always come to a joint decision together. It makes for an incredibly happy marriage! :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01641970264436339191 dulce de leche

    Another excellent post, Libby Anne! <3 And I say that as one who agrees with you AND the Bible. ;)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13783085707283000645 Maria

    I'm glad Dulce posted this on FB, so I would find it. I needed to read this today, and like Dulce, I agree with you and the Bible. <3

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Dulce and Maria – I am totally happy to have people like you working to rescue the Bible from the harmful teachings so many promote in its name! I generally don't get involved in those debates because I no longer see the Bible as divine and it appears to me that the Bible actually sends a number of contradictory messages, and that because of this it ends up supporting both sides on a lot of issues. But I'm glad that there are people like you who do take up the debate, because so many people do see the Bible as divine, and need to hear that the patriarchy and control taught by some isn't the only side of the story. :-)

  • Wendy

    Tim C said, "To be fair, there are decision-making areas where I "submit" to her, and areas where she "submits" to me, but these tend to be areas where we trust the other to act in the best interests of the family…."CLDG said, "If there's any submitting, it's to one who feels most strongly about it, has the most investment, or is the most affected by it, what have you."And there you have it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09779444962182438901 Enigma

    I've had this argument at least a million times. The bible says slaves should submit to their masters, but does that mean its alright for Christians to have slaves? Culture has reformed religion before, so why was suffrage the cutoff point? Oh, and don't you just love those passionate evangelists that try to sneak some harmless manipulation into their comments? Come on now buddy, we've all heard your terrifying rhetoric about hell. *sigh*

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16783353779130502220 Amyables

    It's all about compromise. Joy in loving one another, and joy in the challenge of submitting to each other's views. That's what submission is about. As close to unconditional love as one can get. Finding joy in the challenges. Praying together. Knowing that neither is perfect and God will help to reach a compromise or point to the right way to go. I agree with your idea that as long as parents are fully committed to their families, agreements WILL be struck – the "chain of command" BS is just that. . . BS. Anyway, enjoyed your post!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03820077215682328240 boomSLANG

    But I have looked into the void that remains on the other side of all that unleashing, and, well, no thanksAh, so "truth" is determined by what appeals to us, and what does not? No, thanks.

  • http://mamapsalmist.com/ mamapsalmist.com

    I'm another Christian living in a fairy tale marriage. Though I believe (and I am not alone in this) that the bible itself sets up men and women as equals. If you study the original language of the 'submission' passages, you'll find that the only submission in the original texts is to God. NOT to men, or husbands or any of that propaganda. I don't claim to be a scholar of classical languages, but I do know people who are, and they're with me on this. Feminism and Christianity do not have to be mutually exclusive clubs. :)

  • http://www.amandasjournals.blogspot.com Rosebud

    I'm in the fairy tale marriage too. :) "And count me as another person who lives the fairytale since my husband and I don't worry about leading or following. We both want what is best for each other and for our family, so that's how we make our decisions. It's actually pretty simple. We trust each other to make good decisions and forgive each other if we don't. It makes for a much happier marriage than if we were constantly worried about a power/submission dynamic."Pam, that was amazingly put. I can't imagine what it would be like to be worried about a power/submission dynamic in my marriage… It seems like it would be really unhappy.I do believe in God…and for what my opinion is worth, I think that His character completely does away with the notion that He commands a power/submission dynamic in our marriages. I mean, think about it…He walks alongside us, helping us on the road of life; He doesn't beat us along. :P And I think that reflects how husbands and wives should walk beside each other, helping each other, not with one person doing all the leading and decision-making and the other never having an opportunity even to insert an opinion.Just finished reading the comments…I could have just said that I was echoing Dulce and Maria. ;) Anyway, good post!

  • http://atheistreadsbible.blogspot.com/ Jude

    Even though I'm an atheist, I briefly considered raising my sons in a church (in part, so they'd know what they were rejecting if they chose to do so). But I quickly realized that the patriarchal structure of my fundamentalist church was both subtle and overt, and they would consistently receive the message that men were better than women, so I came to my senses. Who does all the work? Women. They clean the church, prepare communion, serve on the church board, lead most of the Sunday School classes, play most of the music. Who has all of the power? Men.

  • Anonymous

    I'm someone who would chime in with Dulce, Maria and Rosebud. I don't believe feminism and Christianity must be mutually exclusive. I believe that you have to take into context the cultural and the time period that the Bible was written in. (i.e. you must use common sense when reading it word for word, regarding women, slavery, racism, braiding hair, wearing head coverings etc.)I haven't and don't plan on tossing out the Bible or God. As a scientist, I have difficulty reconciling logic with atheism. ;) But I certainly agree with your perspective, and the "chain of command" and utterly absurd. Nothing rakes my nerves more than my husband's Christian cousin posting on facebook the other day about how she wants this puppy but her husband "won't have it". Or a similar situation when his sister brought home a kitten and her husband was furious at her and gave the kitten to his friend, and told her if she didn't want to give it to the friend he'd drop it off at the shelter because he wouldn't have it in "his house". And it blows my mind that these people can't see the complete absurdity of treating an adult woman as if she were a child in her own home. And that the women go along with it and see it as "okay" because she was "acting irresponsible" by bringing a kitten home without asking him first.

  • Anonymous

    I am yet another example of the "fairy tale marriage" where both partners' opinions are given equal weight (Married 14 years). My own parents, who have been married for 44 years, gave me the advice that when you can't agree on an issue, then the person who cares the most should have the final say. Obviously this is subjective and requires a lot of honesty, but that is the way that I was brought up to understand marriage.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08252374623355509404 Kristen

    My husband and I tried the complementarian way for years– but he is a kind and gentle man who never really wanted to lead and felt totally uncomfortable with it. We had a happy marriage anyway (probably because of his gentleness– certainly not because of complementarianism!), but when we became convinced of full equality in Christian marriage, it got so much better! No more frustration, trying to squeeze ourselves into roles that don't fit! Now we each tend to take the lead in our own areas of expertise (I'm better at finances, he's better at driving somewhere without getting us hopelessly lost). No more shame that he's not manly enough just because he's not a natural leader. No more shame that I'm unwomanly because I tell him how much he can spend on something he wants. I'm convinced the Bible doesn't teach complementarianism. It's a bad tree that bears bad fruit.

  • Caroline

    I see amazing fairy tales coming to life all around me in this magical world of ours, a man can love a man as much as a man can love a woman, a woman can be a legitimate scientist, children who aren’t spanked grow up normal, somehow people can be more healthy because of this magical thing called “medicine”! It’s crazy the “magic” you see all around once you take off the blindfold.