Equality in marriage — what does that mean?
Sam had a hard time with the concept at first. He grew up as a Southern Baptist, so the idea of a woman pastor seemed sort of heretical to him. He had always subconsciously imagined that his wife would do everything that his mom used to do for him (cook, clean, pick up after him). The first time we really talked about it was after a Bible study we attended together where Pastor Dora Wang led us to the truth that God doesn’t intend for women to be silent in the church. After that, we had heated debates and arguments and very productive conversations about its implications. We talked about it all the time — in emails during the day, while cooking in the evening, while brushing our teeth late at night. It was an ongoing conversation for days and weeks.
We had so many questions — especially regarding the implications for marriage. We were seeking scriptural and theological answers, because we did not want to embrace something that had no biblical basis. Providentially, we found some articles on CBE’s website that ended up being key to opening our eyes to a new and better understanding of old passages of Scripture which we had previously presumed to understand. The articles inspired more biblical and theological conversations in the first few months of our marriage than we had ever had before.
The issue that we frequently went back and forth on was what biblical equality would look like practically in the home. What do egalitarians believe about men and women, husbands and wives, in terms of roles and responsibilities? Were there any? Is the egalitarian view of men/husbands and women/wives just androgyny? The idea of androgyny did not appeal to Sam.
Eventually, we came to realize that being egalitarian doesn’t mean being androgynous. It just means that there are no stereotypes. We are free to be all that God has made and gifted us to be.
We tried to fit the mold
At the beginning of our relationship, Sam and I earnestly sought to follow the complementarian pattern for marriage. Sam took on the role as the leader, and I became the appointed follower. His responsibility was to decide how we would spend our time together, doing what and how. He was to plan our dates. He was to decide how we could grow spiritually. And I was to wait for his initiation and respectfully follow his lead.
However, before long we found ourselves very frustrated, because our giftings and natural inclinations don’t fit the complementarian mold. Sam’s strength lies in his ability to pay attention to the minute details, but he has blind spots when it comes to the big picture. My strength, on the other hand, is in being a visionary, in being able to easily assess where we are going, what we are doing, and what we need to do in order to better align ourselves to God’s greater plan for our lives. It’s easier for me to notice that we need to start praying again or have Bible study. Leading a Bible study comes naturally to me but not as naturally for him. But as complementarians, we both had to refrain from exercising our gifts and, instead, do what the other person was clearly better at.
We struggled for awhile in these role assignments which were unnatural to us and eventually found ourselves sinking. And then we found ourselves thinking. If a couple were in a sinking ship and the wife knew how they could be saved, shouldn’t she say something? Should she stay silent — just because the man is supposed to be the captain and she shouldn’t usurp “his God-given authority?” Common sense says no.
God’s design for marriage
The Bible also says no. Patriarchy and hierarchy were never God’s design for marriage. We can see this in Genesis 1 as Adam and Eve were made in God’s own image. It doesn’t say that God made Eve in Adam’s image. They were made to be equals from the very beginning.
So as Sam and I studied the Scriptures and found that God designed for husband and wife to be equal partners, it gave us a new freedom to exercise our own gifts and be all that God called us to be. It was a relief to me to be able to lead Bible study again. It was a relief to Sam not having to lead all the time.
In an egalitarian marriage, it’s not that no one leads anymore, and it’s not that only the woman leads (as some would accuse). It’s that both lead. Both lead in whatever area they are gifted in and enjoy the most. If the husband loves cooking, then he should “lead” in the cooking! If the wife loves home repair, then she should repair. If the husband is good with details, then he should do the taxes and pay the bills. If the wife is good with visions and ideas, then she should lead them in the direction that they should be headed. There is no one prescription for what every couple must do. Each should mutually submit to one another as they are both submitting to Christ (Eph. 5:21).
Some who oppose the idea of an egalitarian marriage think that if the man doesn’t lead, then there would be anarchy, but this is fallacious reasoning. Two partners making decisions together will not result in anarchy.
Complementarians query, “What if the two of you can’t make a decision? Who decides?” In that case, they say that the husband gets the final vote and veto power. But for us, if we can’t agree on something, Sam and I will talk and pray for as long as it takes for us to come to a decision that we both believe is from the Lord, and we’ve found that it’s not impossible to always come to a decision together.
In our house, we have an equal share in the housework. Even now, as I am writing, Sam just finished washing the dishes and vacuuming, and now he is making me a smoothie! Some days, it’s the flipside, and I will do all the grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning. But usually we do it all together. It’s so much faster to do things together as a team. Our way of doing things is simply to always be chipping in to do all that needs to be done in order that we might live and serve God better. There are no assigned roles and responsibilities, so there’s never complaining or blaming, “Well, that’s your job!” We are in a ship together, and we do all we can together and for each other to stay on the course God has set for us.
A Perfect Partnership
The good thing is that in marriage, we are partners — not CEO and subordinate — and it works well in our marriage. God made Mary Ann nearly 100% “iNtuitive” (big-picture and visionary) and me nearly 100% “Sensing” (precise, detail-oriented), according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Together, we are a perfect complement for each other. Mary Ann casts the vision and I hammer out the details, putting the plan into action. Together, we can see the whole picture and are able to move in the direction God wants us to.
Before we found biblical equality, when we were going along with what we thought was the biblical pattern for marriage, I felt like I had to always be alert to the big picture. I felt that I had to have all the good ideas and be on a permanent spiritual high so that I could be leading Mary Ann. I was supposed to do all the leading, and if she were to give me any input, that would mean that I was weak, and that she was rebellious for pointing out what I lacked. The problem with this whole theory is that no one is that perfect. No one can completely fill those shoes.
To draw an analogy from how the church body should function: When we are down, our Christian brothers and sisters should not let us stay down. Instead, we need the body to lift us up, to encourage us, to spur us on. Why should I want or expect something different from my wife? How would that be “rebellious?” If I’m not on the right track, I would want someone to tell me. If I can accept constructive criticism from a brother or sister, then why not even more so from my wife?
During our pre-egalitarian days, whenever Mary Ann saw the big picture and reminded us that we should be getting back to normal study of our Bible and prayer, I would get upset — not at her, but at myself for not realizing it and not being the one to come up with the idea. But after we thought through what biblical marriage really looks like, I realized that I don’t have to have all the good ideas. God has gifted Mary Ann with a great mind and great ideas, and we would be at a loss if she didn’t share them. The truth is that God speaks to her as much as he speaks to me, and as much as he speaks to you.
In a hierarchy, the “top dog” may feel threatened when there is input from a subordinate; he would feel undermined. However, Mary Ann’s giftedness in being a visionary and seeing the big picture of what God has planned is hardly dissension in my book.
The Way We Do Things at Our House
Mary Ann and Sam keep these notes posted in their home, as daily reminders of their commitment to God and to each other:
- Marriage is not about giving 50-50, but 100-100. We must give 100% of ourselves.
- Loving each other means never keeping a record of wrongs or of rights.
- Once we’ve reconciled and forgiven, let’s not bring the issue back up again.
- Even if I do X, Y, Z, it does not mean that you must do A, B, C in order to even the score or ‘make things fair.’
- Marriage is not about fairness but oneness.
- Respecting each other means not slandering each other or pointing out our spouse’s weaknesses to others. It means refraining from passive-aggressive sarcasm and snide remarks. (Sarcasm is a joke at the expense
- of another.)
- We must choose to appreciate and affirm one another as often as possible. Be each other’s number one fan, “I am with you, heart and soul.”
- Headship means sacrificial servanthood. Submission means yielding to the heart of a servant. And the key to marriage is Eph. 5:21 — both submitting, both yielding to one another.
- A “suitable helper” means a companion equal to Adam, it does not mean “junior assistant” or a subordinate. God intended husband and wife to value each other and work together as equal partners.
- A wife is a wife. She’s his wife, not his mother, not his cook, not his housekeeper.
- “Love your neighbor as yourself” applies especially to your spouse.
- This means thinking, “How much can I offer and how many ways can I serve the other?” rather than, “How much can I get away with not doing?”
- If you see a need, then fill it. Rather than saying, “But that’s your job," say, “Let me do it for you, I volunteer, I choose to serve.”
- Housework is a shared responsibility. It’s not one person’s responsibility and the other is “helping her out”. We are helping ‘us’ out by doing whatever needs to be done.
- Nobody likes housework, nobody. So let’s not complain but do it together with a cheerful heart and servant attitudes (Phil. 2:14–15).
- We are leaving traditions behind and cleaving to each other, establishing our family and our way of doing things as the Lord leads.