My husband, Luke, and I met in Virginia Beach at Regent University, where we both attended graduate school. Luke was attending a strict complementarian church at the time and asked me to accompany him. In Luke’s defense, he had no idea what complementarianism was; he simply liked the church.
Ironically, I was slowly but surely becoming a Christian feminist, as I spent hours upon hours studying and writing about women in church leadership in the Bible and in Christian history.
I grew up in a pretty conservative home, which was egalitarian (although not named that), but my parents didn’t have great things to say about feminism.
As far as my church culture was concerned, feminists were bra-burning liberals who fought against the Bible. When Regent University allowed one of my favorite female professors to create and teach a class on Christian feminism, I jumped at the chance.
Dr. Alexander is a black woman who taught what I deemed as “serious” theology classes at that time. Most of the other female professors taught “spiritual formation” and stuff like that. Not only that, but Dr. Alexander thought outside of the box and I think she enjoyed defying odds and pushing boundaries. I loved that about her.
Could I really be a Christian and a feminist? I wondered.
Doctor Alexander encouraged the women in the class to break out of teaching in conservative seminaries if we could. “The world needs our evangelical perspectives,” she would say. She inspired us to reach for higher degrees. She empowered us. She told us we were not just of worth in the home, but our voices, our minds, our teachings, our originality, and our authority as women were wanted and needed by many institutions of higher learning.
I struggled in school prior to college. I was simply uninterested in mathematics, language, literature, and science. I did, however, understand the Bible. I read it to my girlfriends before bed at sleepovers. I preached sermons to any youth group that would let me.
Christian leadership and teaching the Bible were arguably the only things that drew forth both my passion and an exceptional ability in me.
Prior to graduate school, my education – AA in Practical Theology and BS in Church Ministries – was “loved” but it was not “respected.” Many would say, “You go, girl. Women Preachers. Yes!” But when it came down to actually hiring me to teach or preach to adults, I was always passed over for a man.
My degrees and calling were often “loved,” but rarely “respected,” and the truth of the matter is that the lack of respect left me feeling far from valued and loved.
At 23, I attended this complementarian church with my soon-to-be fiance. I wanted Luke and me to start our relationship out right, so we signed up for a “Love and Respect” Bible study based on the best selling book “Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs” by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs.
To be fair, Dr. Eggerichs does have a hilarious and bright daughter who preaches to both men and women, so he does not seem to be a full-blown complementarian. Unfortunately though, his book is being used by complementarian ministers to keep women in “their proper place” in both the home and church.
Recently, extreme complementarian pastor, Douglas Wilson, wrote an article entitled Love and Respect: Basics for Marriage (FIND HERE) in which he provided similar arguments to those Dr. Eggerichs gave in his book. Both Wilson and Eggerichs argue that men need respect more than love and women need love more than respect. The greatest issue with this stance is that there is virtually no biblical evidence to back it up. Ephesians five’s marriage passage is not sufficient proof for this argument.
Secondly, both Eggerichs and Wilson assume that submission and respect are one and the same when they are not. Submission is defined as the action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person. While respect is defined as feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
One can certainly respect someone without submitting to their will and one can certainly submit to someone’s will without respecting them in the least.
Thirdly, the foundation of Ephesians five’s marriage passage is mutual submission: Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21). The Apostle Paul begins this passage with the heart of the message which is that wives and husbands are to yield equally to the will of one another. Paul goes on to charge husbands with sacrificial love and wives with sacrificial submission, as this was the cultural understanding of “household structure” in Paul’s day.
Remember, in the same letter as the “marriage passage,” Paul also tells Christians to “treat their slaves well (Eph. 6:9)” as owning slaves was part of ancient “household structure” among Romans and Greeks.
Paul’s theology, however, is clear that men and women are equal in both worth and authority in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:28). In fact, his message is that all Christians are inherently equal in both worth and authority regardless of their gender or race, or whether they are enslaved or free. This is our privilege as followers of the one true God.
Just as American Christians eventually let go of enslaving human beings in the name of the Bible, it is time to let go of ancient household structures that limit and oppress women in the home and church. We must distinguish between Pauline theology and cultural instructions to specific churches/Christians that are not timeless and universal truths.
Of course, we each have different functions on this earth and some jobs carry heavier earthly authority than others, but these callings are based on gifts and seasons of life, not on gender, race, or social status (notice that 1 Cor. 12 makes no mention of functions/roles/gifts within the body of Christ based on gender, race, or social status).
My feminist grad school friend, Laura, asked, “Jory, do you know that church you are attending does not permit women to teach or preach to men?” I was able to ignore the injustice for a while. Luke liked the church for good reasons and I liked that he was enjoying a church. During this “love and respect” class, I became convinced that Luke needed to be respected more than he needed to be loved and that I needed to be loved more than I needed to be respected.
Looking back, I realize this philosophy played on our weaknesses as men and women, not on our strengths.
I reasoned, “If building up my man’s ego would make him love me more, I can do that.” Likewise, I think Luke determined, “If loving Jory better will help me earn her approval more, I can do that.” The issue is that I never stopped needing to be respected and Luke never stopped needing to be loved and the grand solution is to find neither in marriage, but in the tender love and approval of Jesus Christ.
The reality is that the emphasis on gender roles was not helpful to our marriage. I was still crying out to be respected and honored. I wanted my gifts to be seen and used by a church or a university and I wanted my authority on the Word of God to matter. I wanted to submit to Luke, but I wanted him to submit to me, too.
The cry of my heart could not be limited to “love and respect” boxes; I was searching for it all – love, respect, truth, justice, equality, and fairness, and I believed that was the cry of God’s heart, too.
The “love and respect” philosophy is simply another attempt to provide a marriage formula because marriage is so dang hard. It does not matter if one is an egalitarian or a complementarian – marriage is hard and there are no perfect formulas. There is, however, great power in mutual love and mutual respect/submission without regard to gender roles.
It took Luke and me about six years of marriage to totally let go of the idea of gender roles, since we both grew up in the evangelical church. As a result, our marriage has never been as functional as it is today. Luke sometimes says in a cute way, “You got it, boss.” I love when he says this. It shows great respect and makes me feel loved and appreciated.
The truth is that I am his boss, but he is my boss too. We are both the “CEO’s” of our home.
The truth is that I am naturally a more conventional leader than Luke, but he has taught me so much about sacrificial love and has led me in true Christlike servitude. Luke has shown me that a leader must also learn how to follow. We have grown to a place where I no longer expect Luke to lead as “traditional church gender roles” encourage him to lead and he doesn’t expect me to submit in the way “traditional church gender roles” encourage me to submit.
Not so long ago, we threw all the so-called “biblical” gender role formulas in the trash and decided to focus on allowing each other to be ourselves. We have never been happier. We are finally free from those chains.
Luke has thanked me for being the spiritual leader of our home and I have thanked him for being the servant-leader of our home. These things come naturally to us and we accept it and honor each other for it. I think our leadership gifts will rub off on each other organically, but we will no longer try to force each other to be people we are not.
No offense to the writers and promoters of “love and respect” philosophies, but perhaps it’s time to simply allow men and women to be who they are in both the home and the Church.
Let’s stop emphasising “gender roles” and start emphasising “individual gifts and callings.” To continue to emphasise a man’s “need for respect” is to perpetuate gender inequality in the home and Church. Of course a man needs respect, but an overemphasis of this fact downplays a woman’s equal need for respect.
As a woman, I am certain that women need respect just as much as they need love. If we have to lay down our Christ-given authority to be loved by a man or a church, those men and churches can keep their “love.”
This post is part 2 of an #EgalitarianMarriageSeries. Egalitarians are Christians who believe that the Bible teaches husbands/men and wives/women are equal in both worth & authority in the home & church. We oppose “complementarianism” which teaches that Christian husbands/men and wives/women are equal in worth, but husbands/men inherently have greater authority in the home & church.
Read Part 1 of this series (HERE).
Follow Jory Micah’s Blog For More Egalitarian Marriage Theology & Advice by Inserting Your Email to the Right or Below! #BreakingTheGlassSteeple