What makes for a healthy Christian marriage? What's the biblical role a woman should play? Or does there even need to be a gender-defined role?
Depending on who you ask, you might get wildly different answers to these questions. Some focus on the liberty both men and women find in Christ, stressing equality as well as mutual love and respect in marriage. Others emphasize God-ordained, gender-tied functions of leadership and submission, highlighting distinct but equally valuable roles for husbands and wives. Toss into the mix extreme views that relegate women to quiet-subservient-little-mouse status or exaggerated stereotypes of bra-burning, husband-dominating feminists, and you've got quite a mess to wade through!
So what's the correct view? How ought I best approach my marriage? These are questions I've wrestled with since even before I was married—when I was an earnest, ideals-driven, single university student. And, through Bible study, research, prayer, and discussions with pastors and mentors, I've come to a conclusion. . . . and then, as life continued on, I've leaned toward another conclusion . . . and then, sometime later, I've swayed back again . . . and so on. The truth is, these aren't easy matters to navigate. And now, a decade and a half into marriage, I'd say I've forged somewhat of a hybrid position: I'm a complegaltarian.
A what? you ask? A complegaltarian. (Yes, I made that word up.) It's the best way I can explain my stance toward two different, Scripture-based understandings of Christian marriage: the complementarian view and the egalitarian view.
Defining the terms
It's important, right off the bat, to distinguish the complementarian view from an ultraconservative, traditionalist stance which may view women as secondary in importance to men. That is not the case with biblical complementarianism. In the complementarian view, men and women are both of equal, intrinsic value before God— and are also both of equal value and importance within the marriage. However, they are understood to have different, complementary roles or functions, with the husband serving as the spiritual leader in the family. An egalitarian view of marriage, on the other hand, focuses on equality within marriage without distinct roles based on gender. Both the husband and wife lead the family collaboratively, stressing mutual submission to each other.
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For Further StudyDownloadable resources to go deeper
- Carolyn Custis James: What It Means to Be a Woman in MinistryeBook Format Available! Author and speaker Carolyn Custis James offers leadership insights for women.