Friday, October 31, 2008
What do you believe that the Bible says about women having leadership of a local church?
UPDATE (Nov. 1): Many believe that 1 Tim. 2:12 explicitly prohibits any woman from having teaching authority over any man. If you disagree, how do you respond to the charge that you are not following a clear prohibition in the Bible?
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
You may wish to read it. You may wish to give Feedback on their post. That feedback is emailed to the blog authors and not displayed for public viewing. Or is you wish you can leave comments here.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Marilyn to John:
What I do know with certainty is this. When I married, I was scared of emotional intimacy. I was frightened that I would lose my husband if he really knew who I was. So, I used periodic bursts of disrespect to push him away whenever circumstances drew us closer. I read L&R and became convicted that the disrespectful behavior needed to stop. It did, and the intimacy came flooding in. That then created a desire for intimacy with God. Based on the response in the marketplace to L&R, I believe that my experiences reflect those of literally hundreds of thousands of other couples.
If you do pick up a copy of Love and Respect, I ask one thing of you. Please read the entire book. The first third of the book focuses on how to stop the “crazy cycle” in which spouses are caught up in negatively reacting to each other. It is the last third that introduces the Rewarded Cycle, arguing that all husbands and wives should be practicing Love and Respect principles first and foremost out of obedience toward Christ. The book has been criticized for its front end. I don't think that is fair. You have to meet people where they are, not where you want them to be. And, where most people are right now is "I have a right to....." That's where I was when I first read L&R.
John to Marilyn:
You describe very well the inner connection between marriage and our relationship with God. Marriage in this sense is truly a means of grace. As such, it should be emphasized, marriage can never be about coercion, and is not about mutuality, either, but about grace-alone unconditional love. Here are two quotes from the last part of Sacred Marriage:
“Christianity is one of those rare religions which marries internal reality with outward obedience.”
“A spiritually alive marriage will remain a marriage of two individuals in pursuit of a common vision outside themselves.”
Taken together, the quotes express what one might call a compegal synthesis.
Marilyn to John:
Longer than you may have time to read, sorry! But this is a topic I feel passionately about! I had hoped to have conversations about topics like the above on Complegalitarian, but too many people are in attack mode. I’ve ended up there myself, upon occasion.
John to Marilyn:
I enjoyed reading every line of your sensitive and carefully thought-out reflections!
I agree with you that [Complegalitarian blog] is not a safe place so long as its threads abound in attack mode comments. Nevertheless, in line with "Love hopes all things, endures all things, and believes all things," I want to believe that people will not be oblivious to what this conversation has been about, and why the tone in which we have written is connatural to the content we express.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Marilyn to John:
Having said that, I'm not exactly the typical complementarian wife. I work outside the home. I also represented the market segment complementarians view to be the most difficult to reach - the "I'm an evangelical feminist because nothing as ugly as the complementarianism on which I was raised could possibly be Biblical."
John to Marilyn:
The market segment I represent is even harder to please: "I'm a fourth generation egalitarian who has seen over and over again that egalism is far from being a Holy Grail or a saving grace. Who do you think you're fooling if you wish to suggest that complementarianism is some sort of Holy Grail or saving grace?"
Marilyn to John:
Many complementarians undoubtedly question whether it is appropriate for me to work outside the home. Related to this, I think that complementarians don't have good answers for the "but, what about personality differences" questions. Put in Myers-Briggs terms, complementarian wives are supposed to be ESFJs. It sometimes seems as if the extent of a wife's deviation from an ESFJ personality is defined by complementarians as a sin issue. So, I still struggle with the question of what is sin versus woundedness versus giftedness issue.
John to Marilyn:
I think comps and egals need to allow more room for gift-based authority. Gift-based authority represents almost by definition a deviation from the norm. So what? Open your eyes, as John Wesley did on more than one occasion, and be ready to see God do a new thing.
At the same time, extraordinary gifts and wounds go together. I sometimes go so far as to say that extraordinary gifts are wounds.
Sins and gifts also go together. A harder topic to broach, but it stares us right in the face if we look around. All the great saints in the Bible were also great sinners. Fancy that. It makes one wish for mediocrity at times.
It is no accident that Moses and Paul were both murderers. Was murder a necessary preparation for their life-giving subsequent missions? Murder was a misuse of the gift, the same gift of zeal and sense of justice that God went on to use in positive ways.
Marilyn to John:
On the other hand, I also believe that I should follow traffic laws. If a stoplight is red, I should stop my car even if there are no other cars in sight. If everybody disobeyed traffic laws when they didn't see an immediate need to follow them, the result would be chaos. (And, chaos is what we're currently experiencing when stop lights turn yellow.) I think there's a parallel to gender roles, but I'm either unable or unwilling to develop the argument. And, of course, Thomas' point about our being put in our marriages to serve is always relevant!
John to Marilyn:
More traffic lights, please. I would say that egal family life tends to look like slightly regulated anarchy these days. You would think that Christian comps and egals alike would make common cause against the tendency, for example, to give teenage children almost full control over their lives at an increasingly early age.
That's an easy case, but it's not that different with respect to the question of gender roles. The question: what is the right balance between cultural expectations and flexibility so as to make room for the exercise of particular gifts? More generally: in what sense is the Christian faith to accommodate culture, or instead be counter-cultural, and on what grounds? As you will notice, I have more questions than answers.
Marilyn to John:
I'm not sure that I have a complete response to the egal domain-based arguments that you have raised. I guess there are two issues - our roles and how we relate to each other. With respect to roles, I see the key issue as the couple's intent, not their outcomes. Even if a husband and wife earn comparable incomes, I do believe that they view their jobs differently. She wants to choose whether to work. He wants to choose where/how to work. That difference is huge. The husband assumes the primary responsibility for provision and protection. That supports his authority, irrespective of whether the practical outcome is that she earns a comparable or higher income.
With respect to how the couple relates, Emerson uses the example of Margaret Thatcher, who when once asked how she winds down after a difficult day with Parliament, responded along the lines of, "I curl up in my husband's arms and have a good cry." That example resonates with me. How I want to be perceived in the work place is not who I want to be or should be in relation to my husband.
John to Marilyn:
Your examples are well-chosen. I note that the role-reversal of which you speak was not across-the-board in Margaret Thatcher's case. Indeed, she needed it to be incomplete in order to maintain her sanity. However, I would describe provision and protection on the one hand, and choice on the other, along domain-based lines with sufficient scope given for exceptions to the norm in terms of who detains authority in a particular domain.
For example, in the home, the norm is that the mother provides in the kitchen and protects the physical health of all family members, whereas the father may choose to do so on particular occasions. And if for some reason, roles are reversed for a time, as often in today's world, or even permanently on relatively rare occasions, I fail to see how that alters the norm. BTW, I don't believe that all current cultural norms are excellent. For example, I think the greatest and most destructive gender imbalance in our society right now is the lack of male teachers at the K-12 level. But I appear to be a voice howling in the wilderness on that one.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Marilyn to John:
Thomas' second book, Sacred Influence, carries a similar message to Emerson Eggerichs' Love and Respect. Of the two books, Love and Respect has had greater impact. In part, this reflects the fact that Emerson's message is beautiful for its simplicity. He presents a framework that a couple can apply in real-time, in the middle of a normal verbal exchange that has the potential to escalate into a fight. It's short on ennobling rhetoric, but long on a Biblical framework that enables change. So, it is Love and Respect that I encourage you to read next.
John to Marilyn:
I plan to read it next. It requires great dexterity to offer gender-differentiated advice to couples without falling into time-worn stereotypes. Egals tend to give up on the notion of distinct gender identities and correlative counsel. Meanwhile, non-Christian authors including some feminists find very receptive audiences to even outlandish attempts at defining gender-based differences. The only serious explanation for this is that people by and large are aware of generalized (not absolute) differences even if it is not easy to describe them persuasively.
Marilyn to John:
Emerson argues that there can be no such thing as “mutual submission” in decision making. Mutual submission is possible to the extent that God asks different things of the husband and wife – he is to meet her need for love, and she is to meet his need for respect. Since the needs differ, mutual submission is possible in how the couple relates. However – and contrary to what CBE says – as a practical matter, it is not possible with respect to the outcome of a particular decision.
John to Marilyn:
Point taken. It sounds like Eggerichs does not find "mutual submission" as helpful an umbrella concept as "love and respect." With this I am in full agreement. I sometimes use the term "mutual submission" with couples in marriage prep, but I spend more time describing what it means to honor someone else, and what sacrificial love is about. In an egal culture such as the one we all swim in, honor and sacrificial love have largely gone by the wayside. We associate both honor and sacrifice with military mores (not false in itself) to be avoided by reasonable people (a false conclusion). That is a recipe for mediocrity. Rightly understood, honor, respect, and reverence on the one hand and sacrifice and self-denial on the other describe life-enhancing attitudes of the first order.
Marilyn to John:
I also encourage you to read Love and Respect because it is the complementarian book that has the most thorough discussion of domain-based authority. In fact, it is this discussion that convicted me. For example, Emerson points out that men and women tend to view careers very differently. Women typically view work outside the home as a choice, while men view it as a fundamental responsibility. (This thinking came through on Complegalitarian blog a couple of weeks ago, in Wayne's "what is a Christian feminist" post. Women wanted the right to choose whether they worked and the right to choose the military. Yet, none of them expressed a willingness to assume primary responsibility for supporting a family or defending their country.) Male authority in marriage follows logically from this responsibility to protect and provide. Of all the complementarian books that have attempted to answer the “why does God command me to submit to my husband when I know we’re equals” question, it is Emerson’s discussion of responsibility and authority that I found to be compelling.
John to Marilyn:
As you know, I am a big fan of domain-based authority. Indeed, I think it's important to understand how essential and life-enhancing domain-based and office-based hierarchies are in human life.
I'm also a fan of choice and your distinction between choice and responsibility corresponds well to facts on the ground. Those facts, of course, change to some extent from epoch to epoch and culture to culture.
Marilyn to John:
When I read this section of L&R, I thought back to a time in my marriage when I had just finished graduate school and had been offered my "dream job". Up until that point, my husband's career had come first. I thought that it was my turn, and my husband agreed to the move. However, he pointed out that we would be living in an area where it would be difficult for him to find professional employment. He was willing to make the move and to stay home with our child. But, he asked me to acknowledge that in accepting that job, I was assuming the primary responsibility for supporting our family. If I wanted to quit work (we had a second child on the way), there was a chance that in the near term, I wouldn't be able to. I'm so glad my husband had the wisdom to recognize the implications of the decision we were in the process of making and the maturity to share his concerns in a loving fashion. In reflecting on what he said, I realized that I did not, in fact, want to assume the responsibility of providing for our family. Rather, I wanted to keep open the option to quit work as our family grew. I turned down the job. As I reflected on that incident while reading L&R, I became convinced of the wisdom of the complementarian model.
John to Marilyn:
I'm not sure I follow everything you say, but I'm listening.
In my marriage, both Paola and I have been offered and have turned down "dream jobs" more than once out of a sense of family priorities. In my case, Paola has consistently objected on every occasion I have been offered an academic position. This has not been easy for me (I am a consummate bookworm and I love to teach).
Not that her objections even made sense to me half the time. Nonetheless, I have accepted her stance. It turns out that this stance of hers has been the greatest gift she has given to me. It has kept me in the pastorate which is a place of great blessing at least as I experience it, much fuller and deeper as a life experience than I would have had if I had pursued academics exclusively.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
My comp background had painted a different picture of egalitarianism (which is not to say that all complementarians paint this picture, but more to say that this was the impression that my own unique experience caused me to have). I pictured the "me-first" attitude I saw on television, a home where chaos reigned, absence of structure and routine pre-eminent, loud and angry power struggles... I couldn't have been more wrong. As I studied Christian egalitarian writings, I saw a strong message of respect promoted throughout---a respect based on humanity, not on gender.
As a result, when I ceased to believe that my husband was my leader, I did not cease to respect him. In fact, I sought to understand better what respect meant and what it might look like in my difficult marriage. The following are some excerpts and musings from egalitarian sources (some Christian, some not) on the absolute importance of respect in marriage and other relationships.
From Discovering Biblical Equality (the response manual to CBMW's handbook), on the very first page of the Introduction, we are reminded that egalitarianism is not in opposition to the concepts of authority and respect.
"Egalitarianism recognizes patterns of authority in the family, church, and
society---it is not anarchistic---but rejects the notion that any office,
ministry, or opportunity should be denied anyone on the grounds of gender
On this website helping young women make wise choices about relationships, readers are taught that one necessary component of a healthy relationship is,
"Respect and Trust: In healthy relationships, you learn to respect and trust
important people in your life. Disagreements may still happen, but you learn to
stay calm and talk about how you feel. Talking calmly helps you to understand
the real reason for not getting along, and it's much easier to figure out how to
fix it. In healthy relationships, working through disagreements often makes the
relationship stronger. In healthy relationships, people respect each other for
who they are. This includes respecting and listening to yourself and your
feelings so you can set boundaries and feel comfortable. You will find that you
learn to understand experiences and feelings of others as well as having them
understand your experiences and feelings."
One non-complementarian professer speaks openly about the need for respect in marriage, explaining that,
"Respect can sometimes be an old-fashioned word, at times it can be
downright annoying because it seems to be the one ingredient that’s been minced,
sliced, grated and chopped many times over, especially in relationship and
marriage manuals and how-to books. There’s respect for one’s parents, for
society’s traditions, for your neighbor, for other races. And then there’s
respect at the workplace, respect for the opinions of your co-workers and
respect for a particular culture’s system of values, no matter how these values
seem so alien from our own. The frequency with which we talk and analyze respect
shows that while it may be an old-fashioned virtue, it still lies at the core of
our ability to achieve success and happiness. Not to mention our acceptance,
social or otherwise, by others.
Respect begets respect. Respect in marriage is the key to fulfilling
relationships and well-bred, considerate children. It may sound rather
repetitious and stale, but when there’s respect in a marriage, the integrity of
marriage as an institution remains intact. What society needs is the dignity of
every man and woman and child multiplied a million times over. If people
respected each other and the property of their neighbors, there wouldn’t be any
crime. And we would even dare say that if there was respect in marriage, there
probably wouldn’t be any divorce.
Oops…maybe we’re stretching that a little, but if we can detect the lack of respect during the courtship stage, we would certainly not commit to a lifetime commitment of married life. So if we refrain
from getting into a marriage where you suspect the respect ingredient will be
blatantly missing, then there wouldn’t be a compelling need to talk about
avoiding divorce since there won’t be a marriage devoid of respect in the first
He then goes on to give a checklist for couples thinking about marriage, warning them that if disrespect is alive and well in their relationship, their would-be marriage is likely to fail.
"Here’s a possible checklist of things your antenna should be catching. And
if you’re honest with yourself and want true happiness, you won’t make excuses
for your beloved’s transgressions, even if he or she is the greatest-looking gal
or lad around. Being beautiful does not give anyone the right to be
disrespectful of others:
Here goes –
When talking about family, do you feel your partner
deeply respects them and thinks the world of them? Or does your partner tend to
air dirty linen much too frequently, revealing intimate details about family
members that ought not to be revealed?
Does your partner arrive punctually for dates and appointments with
you, or is there a habitual tardiness accompanied by lame excuses?
Does your partner make fun of you in public, disregards your opinion
and dismisses you as though you were not around when he/she is with friends?
Does your partner make all decisions on his own without asking you for
yours, especially in matters that involve the two of you?
Does your partner go out of his/her way to please you and say things
that make you feel good?
Does your partner remember birthdays, special occasions, and does
something special for you?
Does your partner recognize your strengths and limitations and
offers encouragement instead of belittling you?
Does your partner show respect for your parents and family?
Does your partner pry into your personal life too much and asks you
embarrassing questions that you’d rather not answer?
No doubt there are a host of other signs (or omens) that will tell you
whether you’re going to be enjoying respect or craving for it. You don’t want to
have to ask for it, respect is something that should come naturally.
If you feel you don’t get enough of it, and you still go ahead with the
marriage, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Many people think marriage would
correct a person’s faults. Marriage, being a noble state to be in, unfortunately
is not a rehabilitation center. Neither is it a correctional facility. If your
partner says things or engages in behavior that puts a big question mark in your
mind, don’t expect marriage to relieve the symptoms. It is not a cure for
diseases like disrespect." [full
The theme of this advice is that respect is absolutely vital to a relationship, and that respect is not something that is a male thing, but rather a gift that both men and women are to recieve---as well as give. Respect is something we give to humans made in God's image, the gift of being treated with dignity, as a seperate and unique individual. For egalitarians, respect is not a gender thing, it's a human thing.
Doctor's Cloud and Townsend of the famous Boundaries series explain that,
"Boundaries are anything that helps to differentiate you from someone else, or
shows you where you begin and end... We need to respect the boundaries of
others in order to command respect for our own."
Dr. Bellows says respecting your spouse is vital in order to have good communication, explaining,
"We often immediately reject another’s perceptions, especially when our
views differ. This rejection may even be unconscious. We find ourselves ready to
dispute the things our spouse has to say, to challenge them, or to hear them as
threats. Obviously, such an attitude interferes with two-way communication. The
first step to improved dialogues is to respect your partner.
you to accept another person’s point of view whole-heartedly. Consider and value
your spouse’s perspectives or suggestions. Let your partner know that your
respect and value for him or her supersedes the specific issue you are
Respect is not optional for the egalitarian Christian, because respect is not optional for the Christian. We are called to treat others as we would treat ourselves---and what human being does not desire to be offered dignity? We may differ from some complementarians, in that we do not believe that respect is dependant on gender, but rather on humanity. We also may differ from some complementarians because we do not believe that respecting males means to defer to their opinions or to give them authority over us (in fact, sometimes respecting the image of God in a person requires us to refuse to do what they are demanding!). For example, it is not disrespectful to disagree with someone, or to have your own opinion. It is disrespectful, however, to belittle their opinion.
Wikipedia defines respect as being,
"esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal
quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal
quality or ability."
We believe that all created in God's image have great worth. Because we are followers of a Savior who treated society's "scum" with respect, who suffered and died so that those who beat Him might have hope, and who calls us to follow in His footsteps, we can embrace the idea of treating others with respect and we seek to grow in our understanding of what respect means and looks like in our every day interactions.
Friday, October 17, 2008
During this labor process, please note the following:
- I have added a sentence to the posting guidelines about including evidence to support statements.
- I have added a new poll in the margin to see how you all are feeling about the blog.
- Previous blog comments are now hidden.
- New blog comments are blocked.
- Please pray that mother and baby will be safe during labor.
- Also please pray that we all can find a way for there to be joy after delivery.
John to Marilyn:
I want to thank you for recommending Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. I picked it up today and have found it absolutely lovely. I will now look for Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs.
Marilyn to John:
Sacred Marriage is a beautiful book, isn't it?
I have such respect for Thomas because his writing reflects a level of surrender to God that most of us only talk about. I don't think that anyone but Gary Thomas could have written Sacred Marriage, in part because the book reflects Thomas' personal marital experiences. To support his family and allow himself time to write, Thomas conducts seminars based on his various books. He typically travels about 120 days a year, and his wife home schools their three children. So, the dynamic in his marriage is that approximately 40 weeks a year, he is gone for three days and his wife is alone with the children. He arrives home from a seminar exhausted by both the public speaking and the demands for one-on-one counseling. His wife, in turn, is exhausted because she has spent three intense days alone with the children. Upon his return, is he to serve his exhausted wife? Or is his wife to serve her exhausted husband? The answer, of course, is "Yes"! It is this dynamic in Thomas' marriage that produced this beautiful book. (However, I think the case can be made that the tone of the book is a bit too somber. For the average couple that doesn't face these stresses on an ongoing basis, shouldn't
there be seasons of pure joy?)
John to Marilyn:
I like the somber tone of the book! I can't stand the unrelenting sweetness and light of the upbeat self-help culture. Thomas won my heart immediately with his first quote, from Socrates:
"By all means marry. If you get a good wife, you'll become happy. If you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher."
Self-helpers will immediately reply that we can be happy and philosophers at the same time. But that's not particularly realistic.
You know, the Bible is famous for "texts of terror," not just stories with Hollywood endings. Thomas performs a real service in describing sympathetically the difficult marriages of Anne Morrow and Charles Lindbergh, and Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln. Most marriages are difficult. I thought he could have done far better with Heloise and Abelard and John Wesley's marriage.
Thomas stays away from the terminology of the Great Tradition out of deference to evangelical sensibilities, but he quotes it with great skill. His Francis de Sales quote is priceless:
"The state of marriage is one that requires more virtue and constancy than any other. It is a perpetual exercise of mortification . . . From this thyme plant, in spite of the bitter nature of its juice, you may be able to draw and make the honey of a holy life."
De Sales develops a sacramental view of marriage: marriage as a means of grace. Thomas, who speaks of "Sacred Marriage," is doing the same.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
I am wondering what the comps that hang out here think of it.
Would they sign it or encourage their wife to sign?
Do they have any concerns with it and so would decline to sign?
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
UPDATE (Oct. 15): I realize that complementarians often feel outnumbered by egalitarians on this blog. And complementarians who comment often feel that their comments are denigrated, even though we moderators try to make this a safe place. Therefore, for this post, I will only approve positive comments about the joys of being a complementarian.
In other post I will give egalitarians the opportunity to tell about joy they have experienced from functioning as egalitarians within marriage and the church.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Please word posts and comments so that they reflect biblical character (such as "speaking the truth in love", Eph. 4:15). Do not speculate about the motives of others for believing as they do. Refrain from using sarcasm. Focus on issues, not personalities. Comments which do not follow these guidelines may be deleted without warning or explanation.At times I am asked by someone to disapprove comments from someone else for making various kinds of statements which are not covered by these guidelines.
For instance, I may be asked to disapprove a comment from someone who writes, "Complementarian belief leads to abuse of women." I may not correctly understand the guidelines that I have developed for this blog (this would not be the first time I have not properly understood something I have said), but I don't think that such a generalization can be disapproved by the posting guidelines. Instead, if you disagree with the generalization, you have every right to say so and give reasons why you do.
On the other hand, if someone writes, "Joe Smith believes that I am not a biblical Christian for saying that women should have full equality with men," I would not approve that comment unless Joe Smith has actually said what is claimed in the comment. The comment would be stating something about Joe Smith which is a personal conclusion based on how Joe's comments impact you, but we do not have sufficient evidence from Joe's comments themselves to support the comment about him.
It is difficult enough for us moderators (and we are more than one) to try to disapprove comments which contain things which the posting guidelines ask us not to write. It would be nearly impossible for us to disapprove all forms of logical errors, over-generalizations, etc.
I do not enjoy putting posting reminders and clarifications up as posts. I far prefer posts about the issues we are concerned about on this blog. But clarifying moderation policy is a necessary price to pay for having a blog where we truly attempt to provide a safe place for those with differing opinions about gender issues to discuss them. We really do try to have this be a safe place. But we moderators cannot create safety. We can only do what we can to contribute to safety. The rest is up to each of us to try to speak to each other in a way that is true to our convictions yet also gracious toward those with whom we disagree. Always remember that there are other forums which focus on gender issues which do not allow public comments or if they do, do not allow comments which disagree with the views of the hosts.
Have a good, safe week, everyone!
P.S. I wish I could moderate the comments more quickly these days, but I can't. My wife and I are visiting family. I do not have good access to the Internet while visiting. To get on the Internet I have to drive 3 miles to a grocery store which has a wireless network. Or I just discovered an unsecured wireless network on a residential street 1 1/2 miles from where we are staying with family. So, please be patient if you don't see your comment appear on the blog as soon as it might when I'm home.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
"Studies also indicate that this traditional view may be one of the factors
involved in creating an environment for abuse. The rate of wife beating in
couples where the husband dominated was found in a study by sociologist Kersti
Yllo to be 300 percent greater than for egalitarian couples. The conclusion of
the analysis was "regardless of context, violence against wives is lower
among couples where there is a relative equality in decision-making...In general, domination of decision making by husbands is associated with the highest levels of violence against wives." Other studies have found
similar results, the majority of battering of wives occurs in homes where the
husband holds the reins of power." [full article here]
With quick and clear explanation that the comps participating on Complegalitarian do NOT support wife abuse (and please do hear that), I think that the above quote demonstrates why so many participants here have strong concerns about the teachings of other complementarians and complementarian churches that teach and believe that "God's way" is males having authority over females.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Related to this issue is the question of whether or not those who believe that their position is biblical believe or teach that following their position is voluntary. For instance, do "biblical complementarians" teach that married couples in their churches or spouses in marriages can volunteer to live by complementarian principles? We could add to that question, "Can they volunteer to live by those principles and remain biblical?
Some appear to take the position that it is appropriate (biblical?) to voluntarily choose to follow a comp or egal position. Is it the teaching of standard (whatever that is) comp and egal teaching that choosing to follow that teaching is "voluntary"?
Thursday, October 2, 2008
One of the ways complementarians typically try to define the kind of authority they see a husband possessing in the home is by speaking of "final decision-making authority." Yet that phrase can be understood to mean a variety of different things, and the meaning which someone ascribes to it says a lot about what they understand complementarianism to be.
Some people hear "final decision-making authority" as an affirmation that the husband's word is law. There are a variety of extreme patriarchal expressions of this which seem to imply (or state outright) that the husband is the one who discerns and decides God's will for the family, that the husband's will is ultimate and should never be questioned, that he may choose to consider his wife's input but he is under no obligation to do so. Complementarians and egalitarians are united in decrying this authoritarian and oppressive view.
A close corollary to the my-word-is-law approach, and one which often accompanies it, is the oppressive arrangement in which the wife is expected to run every conceivable decision past her husband. Beyond having some form of "final decision-making authority," the husband in this instance has sole decision-making authority. Essentially, she is not permitted to make any decision. He must micromanage everything. Again, extreme patriarchalists may affirm such levels of control, but egalitarians and complementarians do not.
Others hear "final decision-making authority" as meaning that the husband has a kind of tie-breaking vote when husband and wife do not agree. In this view, the spouses are expected to strive for unanimity where possible, the wife may have considerable input into the decision-making process, and she may have the freedom to make all kinds of decisions without consulting her husband. Yet when husband and wife disagree, the husband is seen as able to cast the deciding vote. I think many complementarians hold this view, which may or may not be oppressive depending on how the husband wields his voting power. If this ability to play a decision-making trump card is used by the husband to domineer his wife, such a marriage won't look very different from the my-word-is-law type of marriage described above. If, however, the husband uses his deciding vote only as a last resort, such a marriage can exhibit a great deal of mutuality and consensus in decision-making.
Egalitarians tend to argue that an arrangement like that is fundamentally oppressive and potentially dangerous because it still gives a sinful man ultimate authority over his wife. I think they certainly have a point.
Some hear "final decision-making authority" and emphasize the finality of the decision. In other words, once an issue has been decided, there is an implicit assumption that the issue should never be brought up again. Wives in this situation may feel not only that they have been trumped by the husband's final vote, but also that once his vote has been cast, she can have no basis for further appeal. Again, it won't be long before women in this situation will begin to feel they have no real voice in their marriages.
For my wife, Lisa, and I, "final decision-making authority" is not a vote to be cast so much as a general framework for decision-making. To begin with, I certainly don't feel I have to make or approve every decision. Lisa makes a variety of decisions, both big and small, affecting not just herself but the whole family, without being required to consult me first. In a high percentage of cases she will consult me first, perhaps because she wants to use me as a sounding board, or because she wants to make sure I don't have any strong objections or scheduling conflicts, or simply because it's a decision we really need to make together.
I likewise am free to make a variety of decisions on my own without first consulting Lisa, but in a high percentage of cases I do consult her. This dynamic is not about rights and obligations so much as it's about mutual courtesy and our desire to benefit from each other's wisdom. In other words, we generally make decisions as a team, and there are no set "rules" for how the decision-making process is carried out.
That's a largely mutual decision-making process which I doubt many egalitarians would object to strongly. So where is there any sense of my having a "final decision-making authority"?
To begin with, Lisa and I both operate with the tacit understanding that when a decision needs to be made, I am ultimately the one responsible to do it. This is not the right to a final vote so much as the responsibility to articulate a decision when one needs to be made. Like the chairman of a board or the leader of a committee who summarizes and integrates the various opinions and ideas which have been expressed, I'm usually the one who summarizes the discussion and says, "Okay, here's what we're gonna do . . ."
Seeing this as ultimately my responsibility helps motivate me to step up to the plate when I might otherwise try to avoid making a decision. And when I do make the decision that needs to be made, Lisa typically finds that comforting rather than oppressive.
But what about the times when Lisa and I do not completely agree? How do we handle that?
In the vast majority of cases, one of us will simply defer to the other. If one feels strongly about something and the other does not, the one to whom it is less important will typically be the one to defer. We love each other, and if we can make each other happy by giving in, we're usually quite willing to do so.
There have, of course, been times in our marriage where we each felt strongly about some point of contention, and those are the times we've argued, and discussed, and cried, and prayed, and yelled, and reconciled, and talked until we're blue in the face. When we just can't seem to see eye to eye on something, and it's a decision we can put off, we'll do so. If we have to do something, then we'll reach some provisional compromise and go on with our lives until the issue crops up again.
There are a few things I've learned over the years from these various decision-making crises. First, I've seen that Lisa and I tend to make decisions differently. I tend to be very slow to make decisions. I'll put off making a decision until I've analyzed all possibilities, anticipated potential pitfalls, counted the costs, and become convinced that a particular course of action is the right one. The downside of my approach is that I can often slip into "analysis paralysis." The upside is that once the decision has been made, I rarely ever second-guess it, and I accept any challenges which result from it as challenges I knew ahead of time I might face.
Lisa, on the other hand, is quicker to become convinced that a particular course of action is the right one. She'll certainly weigh a decision ahead of time, but not to the same extent I do, and she isn't nearly as prone to paralysis and indecision as I am. Conversely, she is far more likely to second-guess a decision once it's been made, wondering if the grass would have been greener if we had taken a different direction.
As I see it, our different approaches to decision-making complement each other perfectly. She's there to prod me into action when action needs to be taken, and I'm there to reassure her when she starts wondering if we made the right decision.
By the way, these tendencies are one reason I never view any decision we make as "final" in the sense that it can never be revisited. I may think something has been "settled," but if Lisa brings it up again, it obviously hasn't been settled to her satisfaction. In many cases, she just needs reassurance, but in some cases, it has become clear that there's something more which needs to be addressed. I may not want to reopen that old can of worms, but if Lisa needs us to, we will.
Another thing I've learned from these decision-making crises is that those are the times which have helped us grow the most. They're painful, and the temptation is always there to cut the disagreement short. There are times I'm certainly tempted to say, "Look, this is what we're doing and that's final." There are also times when Lisa is tempted to throw up her hands and say, "Look, you decide; I don't care any more." But acting the tyrant is not leadership, and knuckling under is not submission. When I feel Lisa has just given up, I don't proclaim victory; I keep the conversation going with the goal of reaching agreement. When Lisa feels I'm just being stubborn, she begins praying that God would change my heart, and tries for the umpteenth time to explain her position in terms I can understand.
Finally, these crises have taught me that the decision we're trying to make is usually not the ultimate source of the conflict. In many cases, the issue at hand is not really the issue at heart. Instead, the point of disagreement is merely the catalyst for exposing insecurities, fears, concerns, and sins we were previously unaware of. We certainly don't enjoy the seasons of strife, but if we were to use some concept of authority or submission to cut those seasons short, our love for each other would never have grown so deep.
So as a complementarian, do I affirm that the husband possesses "final decision-making authority"? As a means of control or a way to silence my wife, certainly not. As a trump card or final vote, no. As a general framework in which decisions can be reached, yes. As a call to accept responsibility for making decisions together with my wife, yes.
Is my view what most complementarians mean when they speak of someone having to make the "final decision"? I don't know. I think many adopt the tie-breaking vote view, but most of the comp marriages I've seen operate very much like mine. The wives are strong and active in the decision-making process, yet there is nevertheless an expectation on the part of both spouses that the ultimate responsibility for family decisions falls to the husband. It certainly isn't the model of marriage most egalitarians articulate, but it's a far cry from the oppressive authoritarian relationships which they may envision when they hear the phrase "final decision-making authority."