Editor's note: This is a He Said, She Said on the issue. To read this author's wife's take, go HERE.
My wife and I have been embroiled in a deep debate lately. It involves gender roles, complementarianism, egalitarianism, and often threats of a kick landing somewhere on my body. It’s not that we haven’t worked this sort of thing out within our marriage — I take out the trash, she does the laundry — but somehow despite both being raised in Christian households we do not see theologically quite eye to eye on this issue.
I happen to fall on the side of complementarianism. For me this does not threaten the basic equality or God-given image and sense of worth that belongs to all humankind. But I do happen to think men and women were designed differently biologically and otherwise. Yesterday morning in yoga, I did my downward dog alongside 15 women and one other guy. I work in the same building as a special needs school with 22 female teachers and only one dude. I am happy to say that there are some areas women seem to be drawn toward, and in my opinion, excel in.
My wife on the other hand would like to argue (and does) that to pointing out any differences whatsoever leads necessarily to thinking in terms of an inequality. She believes that many of the Biblical mandates on gender roles have more to do with timing and culture than God-given norms.
We may never see quite eye-to-eye on this, and that is OK; we both move beyond it to live in forgiveness and grace. I continue to learn, and I deeply enjoy reading and hearing from those who see it differently.
What I have noticed outside of our own debate though, is that there seems to be an interconnectedness between this topic and repentance. Often, those who fall into the camp of egalitarianism paint with a much broader stroke than I would on things like sinfulness and where we stand before God.
When I hear things like “Jesus was all about unconditionally valuing people” and that “Jesus was opposed to traditional values” it makes me cringe. To me that sounds a lot like saying “God loves us because of how unique we all are” and that “we can all do whatever we want because that’s how God made us.”
The reality is, God loves us just because he loves us. He forgives us because we need to be forgiven. And we are all called to repentance because we all have areas where, in fact, we need to repent.
For me that is really what the oft-debated Ephesians 5 is all about. It is far too common for men to be found not caring for their families, not taking responsibility, and not loving their wives as Christ loved the church. Men, repent and do better. It is not uncommon for women to look over the submit part of the passage because it's uncomfortable. Ladies, repent and do better. (We all know who is really in charge anyhow.)
But to be honest I really don’t care which side of the fence you fall on gender roles. If you think egalitarianism is the only way to have true equality, that’s fine. If, when I say complementarianism, you scoff, I can live with that. And if you do not see any differences whatsoever between men and women, then so be it.
But with the heart of a pastor I have to say this: Do not let that argument blind you to the need for repentance, for yourself, for others and most certainly for me. Among my little group of Sunday-morning worshipers, I am regular in pointing out my own imperfection. I believe my job is to point them to the truth of scripture and the One who is perfect, and not to appear that I am above needing this same forgiveness I preach. And so I do repent before my people when I am wrong.
And here is where I would make a final, perhaps most important point. The unfathomable grace of the Gospel can only be experienced in light of the deepest repentance.
In scripture, who knew the most about the Gospel? Those who also experienced the greatest forgiveness.
It's the woman caught in adultery as Jesus says, “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”
It's Zacchaeus, the stealing tax collector who first ate with Jesus, then heard him say, “salvation has come to you.”
It's Peter, who got it wrong more times that I can count, but nonetheless stood at the foot of the cross and 50 days later delivered history’s most influential sermon.
Each of them received a great gift from their acts of repentance: the realization that God loved them in spite of their unique ways of rebelling against him.
So that is my soapbox. I could be off; I may have to repent, but it is where I stand today.
Now excuse me while I tie this pillow around my midsection before going home to see the wife.
Michael Middaugh is pastor at Calvary Lutheran Church in Silver Spring, Md.
Bride and groom on beach, szefei / Shutterstock.com