Hierarchist (aka complementarian) pastor and theologian John Piper tackled this issue earlier this year, and for once, I largely agree with him. It is a bad idea for an egalitarian, and a hierarchist who are firmly wedded to their ideals, to date.
This is just good advice for religious dating in general – don’t date someone who disagrees with you on things that mean a lot to you (and that’s going to be a different list for every person) – but it especially applies to views on gender roles.
How is there not supposed to be resentment in a relationship when he thinks she should submit to his leadership and she thinks Ephesians five wives should only exist in dark corners of the modern world along with Ephesian six slaves? (I am, for the time being, assuming a male hierarchist and a female egalitarian; I’ll get to the opposite at the end of this post.)
Somebody then wrote in to ask, what should you do if you’re a complementarian who is already married to an egalitarian?
On this account, Piper’s response is far less useful. He advises for a prickly situation wherein the husband continues to exercise leadership in the home by calling Bible studies and prayer meetings with the children, leaving the wife in the uncomfortable position of having to either submit to his leadership or stew by herself somewhere else.
This bizarre scenario doesn’t answer a host of important questions in navigating a complementarian-egalitarian relationship, such as:
What church will the family attend?
Will it have female deacons, elders, or pastors?
How will decisions be made? How will disagreements be settled?
Is the complementarian husband going to support his egalitarian wife if she is called to serve as a deacon or elder at her local church, or if she chooses to become a pastor or chaplain?
What happens if the egalitarian wife beats her husband to initiating and leading family Bible studies?
Does he engage with her in co-leading the family meetings, or is he the one stewing with resentment elsewhere?
Egalitarians and complementarians who marry each other only have three options:
(1) compromise on their principles
(2) live and let live
(3) part ways
Either one or both of you agrees to sacrifice some of your egalitarian/complementarian principles for the sake of the marriage, or you live separately and apart in what is effectively an interfaith marriage, or it doesn’t work out.
For me, the question of whether I would date a complementarian comes down to what kind of complementarian he is.
Marriage at the Crossroads was a 2009 book by William & Aida Spencer (an egalitarian couple) and Steve & Celestia Tracy (a soft complementarian couple). There was not a lot of practical difference between how the couples ran their marriages.
As one reviewer said, “In many respects the differences between the Spencers and the Tracys appear to be more semantical than actual, as there are several shared sentiments. ‘If we didn’t know better, we would say we had read each other’s chapters because they have each similar and overlapping content’ (p. 182).”
So I could see a marriage between an egalitarian and a Craig Blomberg  complementarian working out with little issue – so long as the couple could come to agreement on a church home – while a marriage between an egalitarian and a Paige Patterson complementarian would be doomed.
Last year I wound up dating someone who eventually proved to be the equivalent of a hard complementarian.
I reached a point where I asked him, if things ever worked out, would we be able to compromise on a church to attend together given our different feelings on gender and ministry? I suggested the example of an Anglican church I knew of that had female deacons and female “pastors,” but not female elders or priests.
His response? “I am NOT going to compromise on God’s standards!” I realized there was no way I was going to be with someone who wouldn’t attend church with me or be fully supportive of me if I ever became an elder, a deacon, or a chaplain, and this became one of several reasons that I ended the relationship.
My advice to egalitarians who are debating whether to date a complementarian is to know and be up-front about their deal-breakers. I wound up changing my profile on the dating site to be very specific about my feelings on gender and how I wouldn’t date Christians who were strong believers in traditional gender roles.
I have only been addressing the scenario of a female egalitarian dating a male complementarian. What about the opposite, a male egalitarian dating a female complementarian?
I think this is potentially less of an issue because they have a loophole: so long as they mutually agree that the husband is going to lead, and the husband is willing to take the lead, neither one is compromising his/her principles.
There may still be some disagreement about where the couple goes to church and whether the church will have female deacons, elders and pastors, but if the female partner is a good complementarian, shouldn’t she be submitting to her husband’s desire to attend an egalitarian church? Problem solved.
Bridget Jack Jeffries holds a master’s degree in American church history from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Her interviews on religion have appeared in The Washington Post and Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. She blogs on spirituality and single motherhood at Weighted Glory.
Help Jory Micah & Her Guests Break the Glass Steeple by Following Her Blog
(Insert your Email to the Right or Below)
Find Jory Micah on Facebook: HERE.
Find Jory Micah on Twitter: HERE.