“Husbands and wives are equal, they just have different roles.” Do you have any idea how many times I’ve heard that? At one point I believed it, but somewhere along the line I realized it couldn’t be true. Why? Because the husband’s role always ends up being “being in charge” while the wife’s role is “doing as told.” I’m sorry, but that’s not equal. That can’t be equal.
But I also remember hearing another constant meme – that marriage is a reflection of the relationship between Jesus and the church. This is why the church is frequently referred to as “the bride of Christ.” In other words, the marriage relationship is an illustration of the relationship between Jesus (husband) and the church (bride). I heard this a lot. I only realized recently how ludicrous it is to make this illustration and then insist that the husband and the wife are equal.
The illustration was generally used to emphasize the importance of the husband loving his wife and being willing to die for her. Christ loves the church, Christ sacrificed for the church, etc. I remember the passage being brought up usually in an effort to urge husbands to “love their wives as Christ loves the church.” Maybe this is why this comparison never used to bother me. I mean, of course I wanted my future husband to strive to be like Jesus! I just never really thought about the converse, I guess.
The church, you see, has to obey Christ. Christ is all knowing, all good, all loving, and the church just has to trust and obey whatever he says, without question. And when you compare the relationship between Christ and the church with the marriage relationship, you infer that that is the orientation the wife is to have to her husband – absolute obedience, unquestioning trust, and complete reverence.
When you set up the relationship between a husband and a wife to be modeled after that between Christ and the church, you are asking for trouble. See, the relationship between Christ and the church is only set up as it is because Christ is (within this religious belief system) completely and absolutely perfect and without error, ever. The fact that the church is required to obey Christ makes sense (within this religious system, at least) because Christ is perfect and will never err. Not so with men.
By framing a marriage in these terms, you put fallible man in the position of infallible God. The church can trust and obey Jesus because Jesus (once again, within this religious belief system) is perfect and without error and will never ever be selfish or make unjust demands or utter an unkind word. But when you set a ordinary fallible man in this position, and then tell his wife that she is to obey him as the church obeys Christ, you are only asking for trouble.
Finally, this comparison makes every assertion that husbands and wives are equal, and simply have different roles, into a lie. That’s right, a lie. See, Jesus and the church are not equal. There is no frame in which you can make them equal. After all, as the story goes, Christ created humankind, Christ is infallible and perfect while humankind is wicked and deserving of eternal torture, and Christ now requires mankind’s obedience to his every word.
And you know what? I’m no longer sure how Christians can get away with saying this. Isn’t it blasphemous to argue that Christ and the church are equals – which is after all what you are implicitly saying when you assert that marriage is a model of Christ and the church, but that husband and wife are “equal”? And isn’t it idolatrous to argue that a woman is to serve and obey her husband as though he is God?