I spent some time recently with a group of Christian moms. They are intelligent, strong, capable, women. They work jobs, run small businesses, work in ministry, go to law school, have advanced degrees, and are juggling a million other challenges. Some of the moms have adult children with successful careers. Others have little kiddos in the house, and are managing the day-to-day joy and craziness of diapers, preschool, tantrums, and bath time.
We sat together talking, sharing, and praying. Over the course of the conversation, several different women stated that a husband is the “head of the household.” Each time it was mentioned, others nodded their agreement, and the conversation moved forward. I sat there thinking about the fact that this idea is not found anywhere in the Bible. Scripture never states that the husband is the head of the household. Yet many Christians who have spent decades in churches and Bible studies toss this idea out like it’s gospel truth.
They then went on to talk about “managing” their households – and I wondered, if the husband is the head of the household, shouldn’t he be managing things? Perhaps He is the CEO and they are the managers. I’m not sure.
As the conversation moved on someone mentioned that, even though the husband is the head of the household, he often needs to be told what to do. The room nodded in agreement yet again. I sat confused yet again. If your husband “needs to be told what to do,” then who is actually the head of the household? Perhaps the person who is “managing” it.
Finally, one woman bragged about the success of her grown children. She was a lovely, vibrant, entertaining woman. And her children sound like truly remarkable people, who I would love to know. She mentioned that her daughter, a highly successful professional who has been recognized with awards in her field, travels the world for her full-time career, while her husband is a stay-at-home dad, who takes care of their baby. This woman sounds like a powerhouse. She sounds like someone I would love to talk to over coffee. And her husband sounds like a strong, supportive, and nurturing man, who must also be quite a powerhouse to keep pace with his partner in life and love. I don’t know these people, and yet, I admire them and their choices and accomplishments. And as I looked around at the smiling, nodding moms, I could see that most people felt the same as I did. So I wondered again, aren’t these the same women who just stated that a husband should be the head of the household? If that doesn’t mean “managing” the household, and it doesn’t mean being the “bread winner,” then what does it mean?
I began to feel like I was sitting in a stew of cognitive dissonance.
As I sat there sharing a piece of life with these women, these sisters in Christ, I started wondering to myself if they had ever given any serious thought to their views on gender roles.
I’ve seen this on many different occasions – women who proclaim with their lips that their husbands are their authorities – but live their lives as true equals and partners. They are practical egalitarians. Their actual lived theology doesn’t match their proclaimed theology. This is often because egalitarianism works better. And whether people realize it or not, healthy marriages tend to be functionally egalitarian.
Many Christian women have been told that they must believe their husband is the head of the household. They must lovingly submit to his authority. Although they know, in reality, this doesn’t work 100% of the time, so they are comfortable saying things like, “he needs to be told what to do,” or “he needs to be told how to lead,” or the ever popular, and extremely manipulative, “the wife is the neck that turns the head.” But I truly believe that these women know in their hearts and souls, that they function better as a team, as a partnership, as parts of the same unified body – not in authority over each other, but as co-leaders who need each other. But because so many churches have drawn a line connecting gender roles to the gospel, so many people believe that it’s necessary to claim this view of male authority, even if they don’t live it.
Groups like the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and Acts 29 have tied gender roles to the gospel. CBMW recently released a new statement on human sexuality that reiterates their view that one must affirm gender roles, including the authority of men over women, in order to be a Christian. When gender roles and male authority are presented as necessary to Christian faith, you will find people who preach them because they believe they have to, but find ways to live around them, because they don’t always work.
But the gospel is not gender roles. The gospel is not about human sexuality. The gospel is not legalism or rules. The gospel is the truth of Jesus Christ who lived, died, resurrected, and will return. And we are saved by grace through faith in this Jesus. We are not saved by our views on male authority, or baptism, or human sexuality, or eschatology, or anything else under the sun.
So for the sake of the women who are stuck in abusive authoritarian marriages, please, let’s stop making claims that don’t match our lives. If we have good, healthy marriages that function as an equal partnership, let’s own it. Let’s yell it from the roof tops. Let’s proclaim God’s goodness in the gift of these marriages. Let’s celebrate our awesome husbands who partner with us in life. Let’s cheer for the successful career women, the successful career men, the stay-at-home moms, and the stay-at-home dads.
I suspect that, if more Christians with healthy marriages were honest about how they function…
Maybe they aren’t really complementarians.