Because Christianity is bigger than Biblical manhood or Biblical womanhood (Blog of Retha Faurie)

(Continued from part one)

Dave’s first defence (“but complementarians actually envision two sidedness”) is inadequate, as they will certainly be willing to teach submission to a wife whose husband is not present in the class, (or present and not doing his part of the “system”) and tell a woman to do her submit part regardless of what the man does. If the complementarian message was that this is only to be done mutually, and no woman should try it alone, the defence would have had merit.

As for the second part, not all husbands who are wrong are d-bags. He could be someone who just honestly is less informed about where to invest, what school is best for your children, or even where to buy meat at the best price. And Dave really cannot claim that the system of male lead and female submission is innocent, because see what happens if we put that same couple in different systems:

The couple: The husband wants to invest the couple’s money in a scheme he believes will make money. The wife, who knows more of investments, disagrees because the scheme does not sound legitimate to her.

Complementarianism: The wife has to submit. She should ignore any Biblical advice about using what you have wisely, she should not care about the actual financial future of her children, herself and her husband, but about submission. Submission outside the military usually meant shared responsibility and loyalty, but she should wash her hands of responsibility and fail to be loyal to the long-term goals the couple could possibly have, by just giving in.

Secular Western society: She can refuse: “No, I will not sign for you to invest our money in something unwise!”

Christian egalitarianism: The wife and husband, if they cannot come to an agreement, will pray about it until they do. “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” and the wife will not do something she is not sure is right.

Under the complementarian system, it could lead to financial ruin. Under secular Western values or egalitarianism, it will not. It seems to me that the system can be blamed for things, if said things will not happen under another system.

So, complementarian, if you want us to see your view as benign, please tell me how your view is a light burden, an easy yoke on a woman when her husband:

> gives enough tiring, trivial commands to keep her busy all day and half the night

> tells her to do things which degrade and objectify her

> wants her to make an unwise investment

> wants them to become members of a cult

> or simply gives some plainly selfish commands?

Can a wives-should-submit complementarianism be developed that is not a source of oppression for the wife of a demanding, degrading, unwise or selfish husband? A way of understanding submission that will not encourage the husband’s worst qualities?

Until the day complementarians got an answer for Journey*, who I will quote below, even soft complementarianism is too hard.


* “He commanded that I give up my car, my tv, my guitar, etc, I complied with only a whimper of protest. I didn’t have the rights to own things anymore. I was a wife now, and my husband was my spiritual authority. …So later, when my husband gave me lists for what I had to clean to perfection before being allowed to go to bed at night, etc, I submitted because I thought that was what God wanted. In fact, if there was anybody who was in sin, I was positive it was ME for feeling so humiliated at being given these long lists. I thought my reaction was what was sinful, not my husband treating me like a child. According to the teachings of this camp, the only time a wife has the right to say no to her husband is when he’s asking her to sin. And giving a detailed list of how the kitchen had to be completely sanitized and toothbrush-scrubbed before I could climb the stairs for bed (where he was waiting for me, ready for some action), was not sin. Right? My heart would sink to my stomach as I climbed those stairs, finally done with my job, and, get this, again, I was sure (thanks to all the books I’d read) that the problem was ME. I would be so ashamed of myself for MY sin at not being a cheerful and amorous wife.” – Journey

Comments on: "When soft complementarianism is too hard: Part two" (25)

  1. I miss Journey. It’s good to see her word are still making the rounds on the internet.


  2. The complementarian system is failing the well-meaning man in that scenario too– insisting that he needs to be the spiritual leader even when in a particular area, his wife would be the better one to follow.


  3. PS. Here’s what really bothers me– the way in complementarianism, definitions change depending on who’s doing it. The man in this scenario could decide to listen to his wife– he could say, “She knows more than me about this, so I’m choosing her way” — and when he does that, it will be called “leadership.” “He’s such a good leader, he appreciates his wife’s expertise.” BUT if the thing was reversed– if the husband was the one with greater investment experience, and the wife chose to listen to him– THAT would be called “submission.” “She’s such a good submissive wife, she yields to her husband.”

    But it’s the exact same action– one partner deferring to the other’s expertise.

    It’s a double standard.


    • An excellent example of the double standard that you’re talking about was played out on the Bayly Blog a few years ago, when an egalitarian reader challenged the Brothers Bully by presenting various scenarios to them without identifying which partner was the husband and which was wife, then asking them to identify which partner was “submitting” and which was showing “sacrificial love.” The Baylys and their regular commenters blew a fuse. I thought it was brilliant, and, as you may know from my interactions at TWW, I am not even an egalitarian.


      • SMG, I remember that! Both you and Kristen is right about the double standard.
        Do you have any opinion on the question I am asking in this blog post, the one I would like non-egal input on?


      • Retha,you asked, “Do you have any opinion on the question I am asking in this blog post, the one I would like non-egal input on?”

        I’m an egal, of course– but it seems to me that the only way complementarianism can be developed so that it is not a source of oppression if a wife has a demanding, degrading, unwise or selfish husband is that complementarian churches spend a lot more time teaching men how to be Christlike, and that ministers refuse to marry couples unless the men can pass a test demonstrating their maturity, humility, servant attitudes, and willingness to grow in Christlikeness in leadership. If the man must be the leader in the marriage, he’d better be able to be a good one.

        The problem with this, of course, is that many men simply are not natural leaders and may never develop Christlike leadership. Should these men never be allowed to marry? Or should this one-size-fits-all model of marriage perhaps be replaced with something that actually works with all different kinds of real couples? it seems to me that this is the question complementarians must answer.


      • Thanks, Kristen. I can see how that was a bit unclear. I asked Sergius Martin-George, as he is not an egalitarian.

        (I really wish some non-egals have an answer, for the sake of non-egal women. I see that several people have found my blog from Wendy Alsup’s “New wave complementarianism” thread, and also from a Kevin de Young thread on “New wave complementarianism.” But then, my main problem with complementarianism is that they appear to have nothing to protect women from oppression.)


  4. Note to my (egalitarian) regular readers: I asked Wendy Alsup (complementarian whom I agree with on many things)’s readers to comment on this topic, because I really believe that this is an important issue that complementarians, not egalitarians, need to find a solution for. Please remember that any Christian who tries to show kindness and justice in what they preach – in this case, towards women whose husbands gives wrong commands – agrees with us in the big things, and treat their comments with grace. I do not want kind complementarians to be afraid of commenting on this thread.


  5. “Just who would I be submitting to? My husband? Or a demon?”

    Most people don’t realize what may be going on in the unseen world, when it comes to husband and wives and how they treat each other. Often times, IT IS A DEMON
    that is troubling the man to act god-like in his demands from the wife. Closing the doorway that caused the demon to enter, and then casting it out, is FAR more effective!

    I CAN TESTIFY, that the way my husband used to treat me was far from Christ-like, ( yet now, years later, after changing tactics and casting out those demons affecting him, our married life is now much better! Now we BOTH are more ‘egalitarian’! (Before such casting outs, he was not.)

    It has been interesting for me to discover, that upon the casting out of the demons that were affecting my husband, (along with those affecting me of course,) I found that the fruit of the Spirit Christ-like behavior of egalitarianism, is what remained.



    • I believe you speak the truth: Submitting to selfishness, stupidity and unreasonable demands is “submitting as to Satan” who came to “steal, kill and destroy” not submitting as to Christ, who loved us first and thereby convinced us to choose Him.

      It could literally be submitting to a demon. It is certainly not Christian to submit to a demon, even if such a demon is inside your husband!


      • We don’t struggle against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers, so it’s very likely that submitting to a husband’s sin is submitting to Satan.


  6. Nick Bulbeck said:

    Retha – thanks for the invite!

    Can a complementarianism be developed that is not a source of oppression for the wife of a demanding, degrading, unwise or selfish husband? A way of understanding submission that will not encourage the husband’s worst qualities?

    With a few reservations, I think it can. The main reservation is that an unrepentantly demanding, degrading, unwise or selfish husband OR wife is incapable of being a good marriage partner regardless of what theology one uses to paper over the cracks in their character.

    My own pastor/mentor is not patriarchal – indeed he strongly supports the involvement of women in all areas of ministry. Anyway; a few years ago he was approached by a young newly-married man who brought his equally young and newly-married wife along with him, and said words to the effect of: Tony, I want you to tell her she needs to submit to me. Without even thinking, Tony responded: submission is a response to love.

    Nowhere in scripture is a husband commanded to rule his wife, as you know (in fact, none of the commands in the NT regarding authority are to rule). Now, if folk really believe that the husband is given responsibility for leadership, because (in some sense) he’s inherently strong and she’s inherently weak, they should stop teaching a woman to submit to her husband whether he loves her or not. Instead, they should teach a man to love his wife whether she submits to him or not. As it is, some appear to want to have their cake and eat it. They want to call a woman weak and incapable of teaching and leading, such that it is a sin to do so even if appears she can. But then they want to demand that she be strong and take responsibility for upholding the Gospel™ in the home through submitting, even in circumstances that would destroy most men. Including her husband, if he’s a bully; because if he’s a bully, he’s also a coward. Reading through the comments on the thread so far, I think Kristen are barking up much the same hymn-tree here.

    I’m a bit wary of labels like “complementarian” and “egalitarian” as I consider myself complementarian! I think it’s a question of “equal in value but different in role” – if that means “lesser in role”, then we’re in trouble. If it genuinely means “different”, and we let every individual grow and produce fruit as God has created them rather than shoehorn them into ideological pigeonholes, we could be onto something good.


    • Verity3 said:

      I believe complementarianism is at its best when it frees traditionally-oriented men and women to be their best selves as Christ created them to be. The world these days often tries to deny them that freedom, and egals need to be sure and communicate that we are not trying to deny their freedom in Christ.


      • Nick Bulbeck said:

        Verity3 – well put.

        BTW – I can’t believe how many typos there were in my post, and I am tempted to plead the excuse that some kind of auto-correct was at work. I certainly don’t consider myself “complementation“, nor have I ever typed that before!

        All part of life’s rich pageant, I suppose!


      • Nick – I corrected that for you. And thank you for that comment, and welcome on my blog.


  7. Retha:

    Sorry to make that comment and disappear like that (as you know, I was a little busy tag-teaming with you over at Kevin DeYoung’s blog!). I agree with both Kristen and Nick. Beyond that, I’m afraid I may have lost track of what precisely the question was on which you wanted non-egal input. I think one of the things Kristen’s comments point up is that “complementarianism” as practiced by YRR types, for example, has developed a culture of hostility to answering the tough questions — in some cases ANY questions — about what complementarianism is and what it means in day-to-day life. This is one of the reasons I refuse to call myself a comp — among many others. If you purport to be representing the real, true, “Biblical” position on gender relations in the family and in the church, you had better not be afraid of some tough questions, let alone requests for more precise definitions.

    Hope that helps. If I’m evading the real question, let me know and I’d be happy to check back in.



    • Nick Bulbeck said:

      …If you purport to be representing the real, true, “Biblical” position on gender relations in the family and in the church, you had better not be afraid of some tough questions…

      SMG – I think that therein lies the rub. If you purport to be representing the real, true, “Biblical” position on anything then you’re making a claim quite as large as that of Papal Infallibility. You’re basically then retreating into Law, and appointing yourself as the guardian of that Law, so that grace and the Holy Spirit (who, lest we forget, is a person, present in real time) are silenced. YRR has embraced, with a passion, justification by law – so much so that even “saving faith” has been reduced to an act of law, such that you’re saved by ascribing to the correct form of PSA doctrine.

      But back to the egal/comp point… the Sabbath was made for man (and woman) and not the other way around. So I don’t think it’s far-fetched to suppose that the broad differences between male and female are there to serve us, not enslave us.


    • Here was the question in my post: “Can a complementarianism be developed that is not a source of oppression for the wife of a demanding, degrading, unwise or selfish husband? A way of understanding submission that will not encourage the husband’s worst qualities?

      Until the day complementarians got an answer for Journey*, …, even soft complementarianism is too hard.”


  8. My answer would be yes, but I’m not sure it would be a complementarianism that the comps themselves would be willing to pronounce “Biblical.”


  9. I wonder if the answer to the question isn’t dependent on how you define “complementarianism” in the first place. I mean, if you are asking, is it possible to hold a view of male headship that also recognizes the human fallibility of said headship and the spiritual influence a wife can have over a husband in his moments of weakness? Yes.
    If you are referring to the limited paradigms and small readings of Scripture that many comps function in, I don’t know. So much of the problem is precisely the narrow definitions that both egals and comps have utilized over the years that have not been robust enough to convey human personhood and the entirety of Scripture.

    For my part, I still come down comp (conservative… whatever you want to call it) because I do believe that there is a unique role that a husband plays in marriage that in turn translates into the church. Having said that, I don’t know if my definition of headship would be the same as more establishment comps.


  10. Those of you who say a complementarianism can be developed that can answer “Journey”, what will you(r complementarianism) tell to Journey about how she should react to her husbands demands?


    • Nick Bulbeck said:

      Like this.

      Firstly, any “ism” – complementarianism, egalitarianism or vegetarianism – in itself is just words. The best “ism” on earth is no blessing if people only give it lip service or reject it. Nor can any “ism” in itself magically repair a toxic situation that has developed over many years, even before the marriage began (consider: what makes people join cults in the first place?). So there is no easy, trite, pat or painless answer.

      The abusively demanding husband is not “complementarian” but godless and maritally unfaithful. He is in rebellion against the very clear command to love his wife (I suppose that depends on whether one uses “complementarian” as a term for godless and abusive, but you know what I mean). And the congregation that forces that kind of slavery on her is no “church”, any more than the persistent liar, fornicator or divisive gossip is to be received as a fellow-believer.

      Is the husband, and the patriarchal church culture that backs him, ready to listen to her and show compassion towards her? And actually repent and change? If so: result.

      If not, “Journey” would have to decide what she really believed, and really had the inner strength for. Suppose that she truly felt she had faith and hope to continue to suffer in that marriage and under that “church”, rather like historical and modern-day martyrs who have gone boldly, dignified, and without fear, to torture and death. Then and only then should she stay in the marriage. If not, there remains only another hard option: to find a way of rebuilding her life outside of that marriage. And yes, I mean leave him.

      Much more could be said, but I have to be at the school gate in 8 minutes! Sorry…


    • Nick Bulbeck said:

      P.S. back from school – anyway, quick summary: Jesus said that justice and the love of God were the weightier matters of the law. To me, that says that God’s law, in any shape or form, must never be used to enslave or oppress.


  11. […] quote comes from the comments section on Biblical Personhood.  The post is entitled When Soft Complementarianism is Too Hard: Part […]


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