When I talk to complementarians about biblical equality, they all seem to believe that men and women are created equal in being, but that women are subordinate in role to men. They read the Scriptures and see hierarchy translating into family life where the husband is the primary leader, and has authority over his wife. It is the husband’s responsibility, they say, to make the final decisions for everything regarding the life of the family, and his wife is to graciously submit herself to his authority. Using the same passages they cite, I try to show them that mutual submission is God’s ideal translating into a constant and seamless flow of co-leadership and mutual agreement between husband and wife.
“But,” say the complementarians, “If you don’t have hierarchy, you will have its opposite.” And according to them, the opposite of hierarchy is power struggle, division, and disorder.
The skit below can be used to help people see the absurdity of putting two intimate equals in a relationship of hierarchy when mutual submission is what creates closeness and harmony. It can give men (especially men, but women too) the chance to feel what it would be like to live in a world where someone they care about has ultimate authority over them in every aspect of their relationships.
A living room setting with TV, coffee table set up with a bowl of snacks and some cold drinks on ice. Sound of a ball game pre-show on the TV and one man (Sam) sitting on a couch or in one of two chairs. He hears the doorbell ring and jumps up to greet his friend, grabbing a cold drink for him as he meets him at the door.
Sam: Hey Joe!
Joe: Wuz up, Sam? How come you wanted me to come this early before the game?
Sam: (Sam very excited) Joe, Joe, I have the most brilliant idea I’ve ever had!
Joe: (Joe starting to get excited) Yeah? What is it; lay it on me, man!
Sam: You know we’ve been friends — best buddies, since 8th grade…
Joe: (Joe interrupts with a correction) End of 7th grade when we both decided to roll the Thompson twins yard!
(Both men laugh and clank their soda cans together in triumph!)
Sam: Yeah, and then in 11th grade you went out with Julie Thompson…
Joe: And you went out with Sally Thompson.
Sam: Then you ended up with Sally…
Joe: And you ended up with Julie.
Both men mutter together: That was pure wisdom…you were right about that one…you knew what you were talking about… she was right for me, not you! Yeah…yeah…
Sam: (Coming back to the point) Man, we agonized together about which courses to study…
Joe: Which colleges to go to…
Sam: We got each other through the SATs
Joe: The GREs
Sam: (pointing at Joe) The MCATs
Joe: (pointing at Sam) The LSATs! (Very excited now) Yeah man, from A to Z, man! From A to Z! We’ve been there for each other through everything! So, what’s this brilliant idea you’ve got, huh? I’m feelin it, I’m feelin it! What’s it gonna be?
Sam: So, here’s the thing. We’ve got a great thing going here (points back and forth between the two of them) right?
Joe: (still excited) You know it man, you know it!
Sam: (Sam animated and intense) And we don’t ever want anything to break this down, no divisions between us, right?
Joe: No way man, whatever it takes, whatever it takes!
Sam: Well that’s just the thing. I’ve figured out a way that we can be tight (gestures by making a fist with each hand and bringing them down hard next to his sides) for the rest of our lives and never have to worry about power struggles ruining our friendship! Joe, to keep us from ever having disorder or divisions — which you know would wreck our friendship — I’ve decided we need somebody to be the servant-leader between us! (Pause) …And that is going to be me!
Joe: What? (Joe looks confused, but he is still listening intently.)
Sam: Hey man, you know you mean the world to me, so I will always prayerfully consider your opinions and your wishes whenever I need to make decisions about what we’re gonna do after work or on weekends. I will even put your needs above my own!
But, (grimaces a bit) after consulting God in prayer, there may be times when I can’t always agree with what you think your needs are, or the direction you think we should go. So, you can see that I may have to make a decision for you, or for us that seems contrary to your ideas or goals, and you will need to submit to my decision.
But hey man, you know that my decisions will be for the good of our friendship.
Joe: (Still looking puzzled, but trying to comprehend) But Sam, we are equals, you know that.
Sam: I know, I know we are equal adults… in being… but one of us has to take on the authoritative role and one the subordinate role if we are going to always have true closeness and harmony. So Joe…bro, I will humbly take on the burden and responsibility of making the final decisions about everything we do so there will never be any power struggles between us!
Joe: (Still trying to get it.) Give me an example.
Sam: OK, for example, if we want to get out of town for a weekend, and you want to go camping and I want to go skiing; man, I will prayerfully consider your request. Hey, I may even choose to defer to you, ol’ buddy, and we will go camping. But just so you understand that a decision like that doesn’t undermine my authority as your servant leader, ya gotta be clear that even the choice to defer to you will be mine.
Got it? All right! (Says definitively) It’s settled then…Hey, I just made my first decision as your servant-leader…Cool! (Slaps Joe on the back, hands him the bowl of chips, and motions for him to sit down as he notices the game is about to start)
Joe stares off into space with an incredulous and puzzled look on his face, while Sam begins to get excited about the game, takes the remote and turns the TV up as he watched the TV screen intently. The football game sounds get louder as the lights fade on the scene.
This scenario reminds people that some of their closest relationships work just fine without hierarchy. It helps them see the mutual submission in Ephesians 5:21 in a new and more meaningful light. Here Paul describes how a marriage relationship can be lived out within the oneness Christ prays for in John 17:20–23 — a oneness that is based on equality and mutual submission.
I agree with the complementarians that if you do not have hierarchy in marriage, you do have the possibility of its opposite. But, the opposite of hierarchy is not division. Hierarchy is designed to create and preserve divisions between people. The opposite of hierarchy, therefore, is oneness!