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The other day when we were discussing the terms Complementarianism, Egalitarianism, and Patriarchy to describe how Christian couples view their gender roles within the marriage (What is Difference Between Complementarianism and Patriarchy?), Pastor Ken Garrett must have gotten a bee in his bonnet and wanted to dig a little deeper for himself. I love it when that happens. 🙂
Ken is uncomfortable with labels (me, too). We can’t put marriages in boxes. We are all so unique in how we relate with one another, with gifts and weaknesses. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve seen beautiful Complementarian marriages where both men and women are honored and respected and cherished. I’ve seen good Egalitarian marriages. The key seems to be for husband and wife to work together to find the best arrangement for themselves. Ken’s got the floor today. Enjoy! ~ja
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Complementariansm, Egalitarianism, or Mystery
by Pastor Ken Garrett
Patriarchy in its Biblical application seems more related to the formal, legal transfer of family wealth and tribal leadership, as demonstrated by Abraham’s, Isaac’s, and Jacob’s deep concern for the “blessing” transfers that transpired between them and their sons. Material wealth was a big deal, and since there were no courts of law, national ordinances, etc. in the particular time-frame of that family line (approx. 2,000 B.C. give or take a few centuries), they developed a system for transferring family wealth upon the death of the family/tribal leader.
That’s why the theft of the Patriarchal blessing meant so much to Rebekah, for instance, in leading her to scheme and plot to make sure it went to her favorite son, Jacob, and not to his brother, Esau. The Patriarchal transfer of wealth also accounted for Sarah’s insistence that Ishmael (legally Abraham and Sarah’s son) not be allowed to remain in the family and thereby threaten her own son’s rights to inheritance.
There are very few examples in the actual biographies of the patriarchs that describe the fathers/husbands as ruling with an iron hand, as modern-day advocates of Patriarchal leadership often do. For instance, Sarah seemed to call the shots in her home to the point of arranging for a surrogate to bear her a child. Rebekah played the men in her life like chess pieces, although in doing so she lost her relationships with all of them, and never saw her favorite son again after he fled their home in fear for his life.
Jacob’s wives (two) and concubines (two) at no point ever cowed under his leadership, but actually manipulated and used him to produce children, and eagerly joined him in his plan to flee from his father-in-law Laban (again, out of concern for unjust treatment in the transfer of their father’s wealth). In fact, when Jacob became convinced that he should flee Laban and return to Canaan, the first thing he did was to call his wives to him, to consult with them regarding his intention, of which they heartily agreed!
Tamar played the Patriarchal lineage and transfer of wealth game like a (literal!) pro, running circles around Judah. In short, the women of the Patriarchs do not demonstrate the type of door-mat submission that is often assumed about them. Heck, the language itself even suggests that Sarah was in cahoots with Abram when he passed her off as his sister in Egypt! For good or bad, better or worse, the marriages of the Patriarchs were ones that demonstrated a deep degree of cooperation between husbands and wives, and may even reflect a powerful dominance on the part of the wives.
However, the Patriarchal system dictated a specific way for wealth to be transferred to children and heirs and that is the primary function of the system—not the establishment of certain roles and responses in the marriage relationship. While the subsequent history of marriage in the Hebrew community remained male-led in appearance, there is strong evidence that wives co-led with their husbands (cf. Moses first wife, the daughters of Zelophehad (Josh 17), Hannah, Bathsheba, etc.) in their day-to-day lives.
As to Complementariansm, I’m not sure of the origins of the word, but we should be cautious in discarding it as a description simply on the basis of it not appear in Scripture as a word. This is a short-sighted and erroneous line of reasoning – the word iceberg doesn’t appear there, either, but icebergs certainly existed on earth. Just because the English translation of harpazo was not translated “rapture” does not mean that the original Greek word did not, in fact, describe a literal snatching away of someone. So, for folks to have coined the term Complementarian or Egalitarian should be a source of gratitude for all, because now we have some words to describe the actual beliefs. Unlike Patriarchy, these two words describe marital relationships by design.
I’m uncomfortable with each of them, but agree with parts of each of their definitions. I agree that according to Scripture, as I best understand it, there are differences between men and women, not only in their physical design, but also in their very beginnings: each were created differently and independently by God, each in a way that was different from every other thing He made, in all of creation. This is very significant to me. Each gender must have an independent history with God – unless one believes that it is a mere accident that they were each created so differently from, and independent of, each other.
So, I believe in God’s design, which is expressed and described to us in the Pre-Fall, that the woman does relate to her husband as a type of partner and support. While she does not seem to be the leader, she also is not a mere employee or servant. There is no indication that the woman desired to “move up” the authority ladder and become a leader over Adam. Neither is there any indication that Adam ruled over/led, or even delegated tasks to his wife. They were together, intimate, and unashamed.
It is notable that the first instance of Eve acting or speaking independently of her partner, Adam, is when she tragically chose to rebel against God, and immediately turned to include her husband in the crime. Sure, each sinned and each chose to disobey – perhaps Adam was just as prone to enter into conversations with serpents as Eve was, but the text is all that we have of the account, and we have to play it where it lies.
My point is that as from their very creation, women have certainly been able to make independent, autonomous decisions, and have proven themselves just as prone to deception as men! This doesn’t argue (to me) that women should therefore never lead anything, but that they certainly should not claim a superior moral or ethical basis of taking leadership, at least not because of any gender distinction. So, despite its problems in current-day application, I agree that there are gender distinctions in the Bible. The question is whether those distinctions are presented as a genuine Biblical basis of role assignment. That is a huge issue, with intelligent, godly men and women on each side, and I haven’t travelled near as far down that road of study as would allow me to write much about it!
As for Egalitarianism, I fully subscribe to the argument that my wife and I do, in fact, function as a team, and that in many, many areas of our marriage she is the initiator, leader, and organizer. I suppose many of my Complementarian brothers and sisters might have problems with that – but then, it is our marriage, and it’s blessed me (and I hope her!) for over 30 years.
I suppose in the end, if there were ever a situation that called for me to simply decide on a course of action for our family, and there was literally not time for dialogue, prayer, etc., I’d make a decision and hope she supported me in it simply trusting that I was doing my best out of love for her and my family. It would really be up to her, not me, but we really have never had that kind of crisis to face in our particular marriage.
My problem with the Egalitarian argument is that they often violate what I believe to be the basic “rules” of interpretation – of any piece of literature. Egalitarians often (just my opinion) resort to the idea that if the Bible goes against our present ideas of righteousness, fairness, equity, etc., then the problem must be with the Bible, and not with our own, quite-temporal, notions of those things.
A good example is found in a frequent use of Galatians 3 to justify the removal of gender distinctions in church polity and the home life. It is argued that because “in Christ” we are all accepted and adopted, and there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28), therefore (they argue) there is no longer any gender distinctions. This application of the verse not only violates the context of the verse (which is about the general acceptance extended across all human boundaries for salvation through the gospel), but also violates common logic, as those to whom these words were written (the Galatians) certainly remained in their status and condition as slaves, Greeks, men, women, etc. In other words, the distinctions, such as gender distinction, that Egalitarians routinely seek to disregard and nullify – remained fast in place–despite Paul’s words. Therefore, Paul must have been speaking metaphorically of salvation, not church polity or marriage roles.
In summary, I continue to fall back on my assertion that the divine, inscrutable mystery of the heterosexual, monogamous marriage relationship is mostly lost on both Complementariansm and Egalitarians, and their respective doctrines and teachings do not come close to understanding, describing, or advising marriages themselves. For me, the poets come the closest to doing those things (Solomon, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, etc.)
“Put me like a seal over your heart, Like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, Jealousy is as severe as Sheol; Its flashes are flashes of fire, The very flame of the LORD. 7 “Many waters cannot quench love, Nor will rivers overflow it; If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love, It would be utterly despised.” (Song of Solomon 8:6-7)
Now the ritual begins ‘Neath the wedding garland we meet as strangers The dance floor is alive with beauty Mystery and danger We dance out ‘neath the stars’ ancient light into the darkening trees Oh won’t you baby be in my book of dreams? (Bruce Springsteen, Book of Dreams)
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