I had a chat with a friend of mine the other day concerning the complimentarian vs. egalitarian view of marriage. My friend holds to the C-team view, and he does so with an informed and I would say gentle spirit. Me, I don't hold to either view precisely, but in practice my own marriage tends to resemble the egalitarian model I think.
I've noticed some Christians want to go to the mat over this issue, and I'm afraid I just don't see a reason to do so. I think loving relationships within marriage are certainly possible in both models, but there I've kind of given away my bias in saying that. My bias is toward the loving relationship, not toward any one model, whether the C or the E variety. That's not very original or profound, I'm afraid, but it's my goal and my wife's also.
So my point here is not to assess the relative value of either position or ultimately take sides between the two and insist that this model or that one is the correct one that all ought to adhere to, but I do have a point here, and a point that I think justifies my not taking a strong stand with regard to these two positions.
I'm going to assume that anyone reading this probably understands what is meant by Complimentarianism and Egalitarianism as these terms are applied to marriage. The C-team holds that there are distinct but equal roles for the man and the woman and that these roles, though equal, do involve a degree of hierarchy. The male is the head, the leader, the Lord of the household. The husband, as head, loves his wife as Christ loved the church, and the wife is to submit to that headship.
The E-team holds for a non-hierarchical view of marriage, with both members being full partners in the endeavor. I think Egalitarians speak of mutual submission within marriage, not just wifely submission. Needless to say, both sides have carefully worked out their vociferous objections to the views of the other side.
Me, I don't fancy myself on either team. But I would say again that in practice my wife and I might well be mistaken for egalitarians. Mutual submission would probably better describe our way of doing things, but this doesn't mean I'm placing my seal of approval on everything the E-team stands for or endorsing every implication that follows from their propositions. No, when it comes to marriage, I'm just a working stiff with no particular theory to espouse.
What the theoreticians tend to forget, I think, is that in practice their idealized vision of marriage is always marred by the sinfulness of both partners. Sin is the failure or refusal to love God with everything we've got and to love others as we love ourselves. That's true in any setting, whether the workplace, the ballfield, the political arena, or the home. Whether you're on the C-team or the E-team, sin is the problem in your marriage. Whether your role is husband or wife, sin is your problem. Sin, the failure to love, is at the root of all that's gone wrong in the world, and it's at the root of all that goes wrong in your marriage.
So start here. If your on the E-team, your sin is going to be self-love overriding or out-muscling other-love. In your self-love you want what you want and you're not going to lay aside your desires in favor of satisfying the other (in this case, your wife). So you fight over it, and the ideal of mutual submission between loving partners is nothing more than a pipedream.
If you're on the C-team, your self-love to the exclusion of other-love is still the problem. No, you have not loved your neighbor (or spouse) as you love yourself. You've put yourself first, and perhaps connived to get your way when there was a disagreement. If you're the husband, and you're a C-teamer, you're temptation might be to play the Lordship card for your own selfish purposes.
What I mean to say is, in the end, on the ground, these marriages don't seem so different. The problem everyone is facing is the problem of love, or the failure to love, as the Bible clearly calls us to love. Does the Bible call us all to love our neighbors as ourselves, but not the wife to love her husband?
The answer is, of course not. Whatever Paul may have meant when he said, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord,” and then, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church,” what he did not mean by mentioning love only in regard to the husband but not the wife was that wives are not called to love their husbands. That is precisely the conclusion we should not draw. It does no harm to the “institution of marriage” to say that husbands and wives should love one another.
On this ground it is safe to say that there is no difference between the call to love others as ourselves when applied to women as opposed to men, or wives as opposed to husbands. That means that we might as properly say, “Wives, love your husbands as Christ loved the church” (which is to say, sacrificially) as many wives have certainly done over the years. In such cases, it is not roles or hierarchies which govern the marriage relationship, but the law of love. Does that really seem like such a bad thing?
Do you see my point? The overwhelming bulk of the NT message has to do with love, not with the ordering of the marriage relationship. Love really dove cover a multitude of sins, as anyone who has ever been truly forgiven by a loved one surely knows. As a matter of fact, it is something very much like what Paul says elsewhere with regard to church fellowship: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” [Romans 12:10] In the light of such instruction, it really does not seem a great crime upon Biblical understanding for a married couple to say, “we believe in and try to practice loving mutual submission, honoring one another above ourselves.” And if another couple says, “Well we think the husband ought to be the lord of the household and the wife ought to submit to his judgment in all things,” well to them I'd say, I hope you can make that work for yourselves. Now let's the four of us go bowling!