As a Hispanic child, I saw my grandmother sew many things. She was a prolific seamstress with an eye for detail. I once asked her, “Wouldn’t it be easier if you just stacked all the multicolored fabric pieces and cut them all at once?”
In my naïveté, I thought it would save time. “Absolutely not,” my grandmother told me, “each dress needs special attention. The designer wants us to follow the pattern.”
Hispanic marriage is all about tradition. Generation after generation, we honor the traditions passed down to us. To question them would be to dishonor our culture, our family, our identity. But what if a pattern is wrong? What if it’s not the pattern our designer wants us to follow?
To be honest, it took me years to discover what biblical marriage looked like in a Hispanic context. Early on, I realized that the patterns my family, ancestors, and many other Hispanics in my community followed were extremely harmful to women. Of course, ours is not the only patriarchal culture, but in my context, it was hard to find a biblical alternative.
I found little solace in Hispanic churches. Most promoted a hierarchical pattern that didn’t respect the beautiful image of God within women. Legalism is still prevalent in many Hispanic churches across denominations, and women are taught at an early age to be hyper-submissive to men.
The egalitarian movement called for mutual leadership in the home and church. But it was focused on white Americans—their culture, values, and priorities. For example, white women may fight to work outside the home, but that fight doesn’t help women of color. Because of economic inequality tied to racism, women of color in the US have always worked outside the home. We fight to get the same economic freedom white women already have! When I looked to egalitarianism for help on marriage, what I found was only about European-American marriage. I had to find my own way.
What does a biblical marriage pattern look like in a Hispanic context?
1. Reframe marriage around collaboration
As a Hispanic woman, I’ve observed that even Hispanics that don’t attend church know one thing about the Bible: headship. In other words, “the man is in charge.” This fits with machismo, a kind of hyper-patriarchy that infects many Hispanic families. And it is enforced through culture and expectations. Boys and men are told things like “Don’t let your wife push you around!” while girls are taught to be subservient, not to push back against anything men do or say. When a wife gets “out of hand,” her husband is expected to enforce his dominance, even abusively.
Can this be the Bible’s pattern or God’s design? Can abuse be acceptable to our designer? No!
The big myth about egalitarianism is that it’s about making men subservient and putting women in charge. But this is not true. It is all about collaboration. In the Bible, headship is all about sacrifice. It is about the husband giving up dominance in favor of collaboration. He is to lay down his own pride and desires. That doesn’t mean he is subservient, but neither is she. Women can speak for themselves and should not endure abuse. Biblical headship means husbands and wives submit to each other, and they work together as partners.
My husband and I got married young. We went to college together and took classes on social justice. We chose to break generational patterns that were abusive and sinful. We chose instead to base our relationship and family dynamics on the biblical idea of collaboration. I am a church planter, which means I am very busy. I don’t have time to do all the work around the house, so we share it. Ironing, vacuuming, taking the kids to school and picking them up—these are all tasks that we share. We taught our sons how to cook, clean, vacuum, and do anything else that was needed. My husband and kids did the grocery shopping. They learned that in our home, we all work together.
We established a pattern of joint decision-making and leadership. When our kids asked one of us for something, we’d respond with, “We’ll discuss it and get back to you.” When they came home spewing patriarchal ideas they learned, we’d challenge them to think critically about what they were saying. Years later, we still do.
2. Be ready to explain
When you are committed to mutuality, people notice. You need to be prepared to respond to a lot of different situations.
People will ask questions, and you need to be prepared to answer them. Over the years, people have asked my husband “how could your marriage work? Your wife is a pastor! How can that be?” He simply responds that it works because we collaborate. We’re partners.
People will make assumptions that you need to correct. At my first church planting meeting, someone approached my husband and said, “Great to have you here, pastor” when I was standing right there. My husband said, “Oh, you think I’m the pastor? Why did you assume I was the pastor? I am not the pastor, my wife is, and she is a church planter. Let me introduce you to Pastor Gricel.”
People used to pull my husband aside and tell him that he should be the pastor. That the only reason I was the pastor is because he was disobedient to his call, so I had to step in. But he’s very proud to say that I am the pastor, not him. Now, whenever I go to speak at a church, they finally know that I’m the pastor.
People will be surprised by what you do, but you can make an impact. I am smart, opinionated, and fearless. I have become very aware that when I say something that sounds remotely like a challenge to a man, it really surprises women around me. They shrink back and get bug-eyed, as if to say “What are you doing?!” At the same time, they gain courage by seeing me stand up for myself. They see that I reasoned with a man, and I didn’t get hurt. Next time, maybe they’ll be bold enough to speak up, too.
3. Be an advocate in your context
You may not be bold and vocal, and you might not be a leader. That’s okay; you can still share the biblical pattern of marriage in your own context. Before I found my voice, I was able to advocate through marriage counseling. When I counseled couples, I encouraged men to collaborate by reminding them things like, “These kids are both of yours, not just hers,” and “You may be tired, but so is your wife. You have to collaborate. You can mow the lawn, but you still need to work with her on things inside the house, too.” “And,” I reminded husbands, “If you really want to have sex with your wife, it would be to your advantage if she weren’t so tired!”
When men were hurting their wives, I’d ask, “Is your wife a daughter of the king? Is she made in God’s image?” They’d look confused. “When you lose your temper, who are you hurting? Not just her; you’re hurting God when you hurt his daughter!” Then they began to understand. I explained that men had rights and power, but so do women. It’s not about taking power for yourself; it’s about using your power to collaborate.
I didn’t bring up feminism or egalitarianism by name. I talked about the concepts, and I explained how they are God’s pattern. I helped them see how this pattern improved life for everyone. You don’t have to know all the answers to be an advocate, you just need to have conversations. You can change lives!
4. Value relationships
When we choose a kind of marriage relationship that looks different from others in our churches or our extended family, it can strain relationships. People question us. They’ll say we’re disobeying God. We need to stay strong, but we also need to stay engaged with these people. It is easier to cut yourself off (and sometimes that is necessary for our own safety or health). But we need relationships with people that we disagree strongly with. We can say, “Let me show you how I see this issue,” but it has to be done with mutual respect. We also need to listen and respond to people, not just tell them why they are wrong.
We can most effectively show people a better pattern for marriage when we do it in mutually respectful relationships.
New pattern, new fruit
Marriage always follows cultural patterns, and that’s okay! But we cannot blindly follow the patterns we have been given. We need to stop and ask the question, is this pattern healthy? Is it bearing good fruit?
According to Decent Work and Gender Equality, economic development in Latin America is stifled by “gender inequalities that are a direct consequence of traditional views on the place and role that women should occupy in society—views based on prejudice, discrimination and disregard for the progress the region has made and its effects on societies. Societies must set out to become more inclusive and egalitarian in order to overcome.”
When this is the fruit of our pattern, we need to make a change. We need to re-orient our pattern to mirror God’s design. We can honor our traditions, our culture, and our families, but cannot allow another generation to fall victim to patriarchy. We need to reframe marriage in our homes, in our churches, and in our communities.
This article appeared in the print version of Mutuality as “Following the Designer’s Pattern: A Biblical Model for Hispanic Marriages.”