By Barrett Owen
When it comes to changing diapers, I wish my wife and I weren’t egalitarian, but we are. Our marriage is an equal partnership. We listen for God’s guidance together and apart. We communicate our needs and express our desires openly. We sacrifice for one another and support each other’s careers. We divvy up roles based on skillsets and availability. We both do laundry, make beds, cook, take out trash, clean the litter box, fold clothes, mow the lawn, put our child to bed, water the flowers, get the mail, pay bills, work full-time jobs in ministry and pray before meals.
This is our way of life. We’re partners.
We don’t live this way because my leadership style is so benevolent that as the “man of the house” I allow my wife’s desires to be heard. I’m not the boss. My wife doesn’t wear the pants in the family. It’s preposterous for us to think God’s dissatisfied with this way of life. We’re partners.
Not everyone agrees. Recently an article emerged in the blogosphere from rock star pastor David Platt about complementarity. He preached at Southern Seminary’s chapel service and said the way forward for Christians is a stronger commitment to male headship and wifely submission. He thinks this is the best avenue for Christians stuck in spiritual darkness looking to be dragged into the light.
Another article emerged focusing on Southwestern Seminary releasing a new document for their women’s courses in what it means to be a holy woman. In their 12-point document these values emerge: women must submit to their husband’s leadership, their ministry can only lead other women, and their chief responsibility is to invest in the next generation (make babies and raise them in a Christian home).
They believe the Bible is quite clear on this issue, but it’s not.
The biblical narrative is forged in a culture where women were disposable and often treated like property. Even with this backdrop, the Bible still contains stories of godly women breaking through and engaging God in a relationship commonly thought to be designed for men, a relationship where women lead armies, travel with Jesus, represent God in parables and become deacons. At other times, scriptures paint a sternly aggressive view on what women can and cannot do. I wonder if this dichotomy says more about how we attempt to interpret our relationship with God than it does about the character of God.
I’m less interested in a Scripture-slinging contest with Platt or Southwestern and am more interested in clearing the air. For decades books and articles have been published arguing both sides of the debate. Both sides use Scripture definitively and effectively. Both sides have their key passages and biblical players. Both sides use logic and faith as best as they can. Both sides suggest the uncomfortable realization that the Bible allows for differing interpretations.
I’m not interested in hashing out arguments that have stalemated. I am, however, interested in offering my voice to the conversation that says wifely submission has something to do with advancing the kingdom of God. At best, this is a poorly articulated understanding of God’s dream for us. At worst, it’s a tool used in a battle for control and satisfaction that often leads to abuse.
To say the highest roles for women are to be submissive and birth babies is abusive. To spend a lifetime arguing what women should wear and when they should speak seems to be a terribly small agenda that feels like we’re moving backward.
So my wife and I choose to set our sights higher. We choose to live more openly, more freely and more unequivocally with one another. We choose to focus on serving the homeless communities, offering pastoral care to those in need, and preaching an inclusive gospel where God calls all people “Beloved.”
If there’s anyone left on the fence about gender roles, hopefully they’ll be able to see there’s no gospel in forcing women into submission.
We both change dirty diapers.