I‘m still reading through the book Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. Dr. Eggerichs is, obviously, a complementarian–meaning he believes that men are the heads of the household and are the providers and protectors, while women’s job (all marriages in Eggerichs’ world are one man/one woman) is to submit and nurture and care for the home.
Dr. Eggerichs’ does this thing that complementarians love to do now-a-days where he tries to convince folks that his way is actually good for women. In order to compete with feminism’s and other gender justice movement’s promise of equality and fullness of life, complementarianism attempts to reframe it’s position to make women think that this is what they really want. This is what will really give them equality.
He starts where most complementarians start: Of course we’re all equal…in Christ! We’re all equal…as heirs to salvation. We’re all equal…in God’s value of us.
We’re all equal…in non-tangible ways that have nothing to do with our every day lives. In heaven, once we’ve escaped our gendered bodies, then we’ll be equal! In God’s eyes–God who looks at the heart and not the gendered body–we’re equal!
But when it comes to the here-and-now, to our daily, bodily lived experience?
I love the “Equality…in Christ” line. By love, I mean, that line can go to hell, thanks. When complementarians say “we’re all equal…in Christ,” they’re really saying, “We’re all equal…but…” It’s always followed by “buts,” by reasons why our equality in Christ doesn’t apply to our roles in the home, to our opportunities in the church, to our places in the world.
Some interesting wording usually follows the “Equality…in Christ” line.
Like the phrase “First among equals.”
This is Dr. Eggerichs’ way, in Love and Respect, of showing how he believes in “equality…but.” Men and women are equal (non-binary people, of course, do not exist here), but the husband is “first among equals.” (pg. 53)
Why do men get this status? What earns them the right?
Because men are willing to die for their wives, that’s why. Eggerichs’ believes this is an innate trait of all men, as evidenced by the male-driven culture of the U.S. military (pg. 50-51). Eggerichs’ does not believe women have the same trait of willingness to die for others.
He erases the countless women who also serve in the military, who’ve died protecting their loved ones, who risk their lives/health by giving birth, etc., and he subtly sets up a hierarchy of morality here…
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NIV)
Though Eggerichs says throughout his book that women, not men, are experts at love, here he implies that women are not capable of the greatest love–only men can achieve such spiritual heights.
Because husbands have this great willingness within them, women should submit to their husbands in gratitude and for her own protection. In return, her husband will treat her like a well-guarded treasure.
Women are equal…but they are not “first among equals.”
Eggerichs’ words are nothing new. The whole “Men are FIRST but it’s okay, because they might have to die so it’s not really a privilege” thing is popular among complementarians.
It’s clever though, really, if you think about it.
As my husband, Abe Kobylanski, said after I read him lines from Love and Respect, “How often do U.S. Christian men in white suburbia have to die for their wives? It’s not like this is a weekly chore like taking out the trash.”
That’s a pretty good gamble for men like Eggerichs whose families likely don’t face the threat of outside violence on a daily basis. All they have to do is say, “Sure, I’d die for you.” And until that hypothetical, extremely unlikely day comes, their potential willingness to die earns them a place as the head of the household.
I’m not interested. It’s not a fair trade.
I’m not going to give someone unconditional respect for life on the off-chance that they might someday die for me. Especially since, practicing this mindset, I nearly died for an abusive partner that I felt I had to respect unconditionally.
That’s not a fair trade, complementarians. Quit trying to scam us.
**Note: Changed the title of this post shortly after publishing it to something that I think better reflects my point. I don’t think most complementarians try to scam women into submission. But the system works that way regardless of intentions or motives.