Let’s face it: Most complementarians are not bad people. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They want Christian husbands to treat their wives well, and Christian wives to treat their husbands well. Much like we egalitarians do, actually.
They want to be faithful to God and the Bible, like us. If they proclaim that men should treat women well and women should treat men well, if many a soft complementarian marriage looks functionally egalitarian, where is the big difference? Isn’t marriage complementarianism and marriage egalitarianism just semantics?
I will quote Dave, an apparently courteous, kind believer in female submission and male headship, one who is completely willing to admit complementarian leadership often does not represent his views (This was said in the comments here):
As a complementarian (for the most part), …I haven’t looked to [CBMW] for leadership on these issues for a long time …
What’s helped me the most as a pastor and a complementarian (for the most part) is to understand that leadership is influence not simply authority (HT: John Maxwell). That means that you can lead by having influence no matter where you are in a hierarchy or an org chart. This means wives can “lead up” even if (according to most complementarians) the husband would be the “first among equals”. It also means that if you lead by your position alone, you have not understood why you have your position. You are there to add value through your giftedness, and thus influence your family toward Jesus and His way of love in the world. In other words, I’m here to empower my wife to serve Jesus in the world.
What’s also helped is to understand that leaders are called to serve those whom they lead. That is what is so amazing about Jesus and his call to husbands in Ephesians 5 – lead by serving. The Bible doesn’t call for men to be treated like like VIP aristocrats, but to serve their wives and families dilligently. Husbands should consistently be asking their wives, “how can I best serve you”?…
Such a vision of complementarianism sounds good, does it not? Ideally it could be a case of husbands lovingly serving wives and children, influencing by his wisdom and love and not his position. And wives lovingly serving wives and children, influencing by his wisdom and love and not his position. Yes, semantically one would be called a “leader” and the other a “follower.” I find that rather strange if the couple actually both defer to the other, both serve, and both can come up with the ideas which are eventually followed. But all in all, except for my minor niggles about semantics, both Dave and I will find a relationship like that beautiful.
Where, then, is the huge difference in how we view marriage? The difference comes in the moment the husband’s flaws starts to show. (Men do not have more – or fewer – flaws than women, but in the complementarian system his flaws are treated differently.)
A simple question can show the difference.
Me: OK, Dave, let’s get down to practical application: Wives can lead, because they can have have influence.
Men should lead by having influence, not just by position.
Then what is the gender specificness, the complementary part, about it? When men lead by position and not because they influenced their wives to believe them, they are doing wrong. Ditto for women. (I suggest the difference you do not mention is that you believe women should submit to positional, non-influencial leadership even when not convinced the leader is right, and that is the large difference, which makes complementarianism a burden to women. That idea never makes life good for her or causes her to be more protected.)
Yes, I suppose I am saying that wives “should submit to positional, non-influencial leadership (in their husbands) even when not convinced (their husband) is right”. For sure, this is not always easy and not always pleasant.
And then Dave continues that this is only half of what complementarians envision, that it is the man’s fault and not the system’s fault:
Unfortunately, this is one-way complementarianism because the husband is not actually adhering to it. I would say that it’s not that “complementarianism” is a burden to women, but rather d-bag husbands are a burden to their wives. You are saying there is something wrong with the “system”, but I would say there something wrong with the husband in this instance who is abusing the system, not adhering to it himself. Husbands have no right to just bark orders at their wives, or treat them like servants or hirelings. He’s needs to be called out for that hypocrisy and lack of humility.
(This continues in part 2)