The evangelical left loves to critique complementarianism. And more power to them. Marshal your best exegetical arguments, egalitarians, and put pressure on us to be biblically faithful. Don’t let us remain complacent, assuming that our gender-role traditions are necessarily worth preserving. It’s hard work to “weed” the garden of one’s own cultural and religious customs, and sometimes the only person who can spot a particular dandelion (or even a gargantuan kudzu vine) is the gardener next door.
But, egalitarians, don’t think you can label our position “patriarchy,” borrow our culture’s sanctimonious disapproval of “patriarchy,” and therefore win the debate.
This malicious labeling is the primary rhetorical strategy I see in the blogs of the evangelical left (see McKnight and Evans here). And if the bloggers go fifty miles down that road, their commenters go to Wheaton and back. I come from the heart of complementarian country, I think, and I just don’t even recognize myself in the partriarchalist picture they paint. You’d think my children were completely silent in my presence, that my wife would fear to ever share her opinion—or even have one.
I grant that some complementarian men abuse their position as head of household. I am concerned about any group of Christians who give fathers license to throw their weight around. I have seen this on occasion, and I excoriate it. And I confess that in my fleshly moments, I sometimes wish I had the power to make my kids be quiet and my wife stop interrupting my reading… And sometimes, like Bob Parr in the hits-too-close-to-home family dinner scene in The Incredibles, I don’t really listen when my wife is talking. Am I a failed, wannabe patriarchalist?
No, I think that by God’s grace I’m currently what biblical complementarian guys are supposed to be, according to their theology: an often-failing dad who nonetheless loves his wife and kids and tries to lead them without railroading them—or better, to use biblical language, without provoking my children to anger (Eph. 6:4) or living in a non-understanding, dishonoring way (1 Pet. 3:7) with a wife who is just as much made in God’s image as I am (usually more, I think).
When I fail, like every other Christian, I confess and forsake my sin. Over and over. To any egalitarian who stumbles across this blog post, I issue a kind invitation: come visit my home. Watch me. Watch me fail as a husband and father, but watch for my aspirations to come out even in my failures and apologies.
I am the head of my home. I’m the final decision maker on every major issue. But I honestly can’t remember a time when I made a “final decision” and my wife disagreed with it. I have certainly never in my married life made a major decision without speaking to her (though I admit to inviting people over and forgetting to check with her and occasionally ordering food for her in a drive-thru without consulting her because there were cars behind us [and then having to apologize]!). I’d be a fool to ignore her wisdom. I insist that distinction of roles need not and does not imply inferiority of persons.
Why did I write this post? Because I stumbled across some beautiful words in a book and I thought, “When I see complementarians talking about marriage during those moments when we forget egalitarians in the mainline or on the evangelical left might be looking, this is the kind of thing we say to each other.” Here it is:
Therein lies the very goodness of the gospel: as the Father is the lover and the Son the beloved, so Christ becomes the lover and the church the beloved. That means that Christ loves the church first and foremost: his love is not a response, given only when the church loves him; his love comes first, and we only love him because he first loved us (1 Jn 4:19).
That dynamic is also to be replicated in marriages, husbands being the heads of their wives, loving them as Christ the Head loves his bride, the church. He is the lover, she is the beloved. Like the church, then, wives are not left to earn the love of their husbands; they can enjoy it as something lavished on them freely, unconditionally and maximally. For eternity, the Father so loves the Son that he excites the Son’s eternal love in response; Christ so loves the church that he excites our love in response; the husband so loves his wife that he excites her to love him back. Such is the spreading goodness that rolls out of the very being of this God.
I aspire to just this. I want to be the kind of loving head Jesus was. Is that so bad?
Will a person of good will from the evangelical left cross the invisible blog wall separating us and reflect on what I’ve written? I’m genuinely curious to know what you’d say.
*I don’t know whether Reeves is a complementarian or egalitarian, and I don’t think it matters for the purposes of this post. What he said is exactly consistent with what I have heard all my life from putative “patriarchalists.” If we haven’t modeled what Reeves said, shame on us. But it is our ideal.
**This post was read, critiqued, and approved by my wife.
***My daughter is usually happy, even in pictures.