Editor's note: This is a He Said, She Said on the issue. To read this author's husband's take, go HERE.
Who would have thought that five years into our marriage we would still be having this debate? Gender roles. Egalitarianism. Complementarianism.
If you've come here first, please read my husband's take on the issue before continuing on.
We tend to think fairly similarly, though he likes to think himself a complementarian, while I tend toward the egalitarian label. I love words, but that's all these are: words. I think it's all in how you define it for yourself. But since he brought it up …
The fact that we were both raised in Christian households, yet differ on this and other Biblical issues isn't surprising. We could have been brought up in the same household (which would be, admittedly, concerning) and have two completely different interpretations of Ephesians 5.
I would argue with his definition of egalitarianism. Obviously there are differences — biological, hormonal, stereotypical — between men and women. I don't dispute that. For me, the danger is in going one step further to assume how those differences do or should affect real-life situations — from choice of profession, to division of labor in the home, to the ever-present work v. children debate.
I believe it's inaccurate, or at least short-sighted, to say that women are more naturally drawn toward caring professions like nursing or teaching, while men are attracted to active or powerful careers like engineering or technology. When you accept this as fact, you ignore the societal structures that encouraged that type of funneling to happen. You also ignore that — with those societal pressures dwindling — more women are entering the workforce in "atypical" ways, rising to the ranks of CEO at tech firms, becoming race car drivers, making strides in math and science.
Men fall victim to the same societal pressures. Who could forget the "hilarious" concept of Ben Stiller as a "male nurse" — also known as … a nurse — in Meet the Parents?
Of course, some women are called to teach. Some men are called to build skyscrapers. But to insinuate that a person is better suited to one of those fields simply because of his or her gender is incorrect. And you certainly didn't pull it from the Bible.
The Bible actually talks little about gender roles. It speaks to the roles of husbands and wives, but not necessarily men and women in general. When it refers to men carrying out the task of preaching and teaching, I do believe it is descriptive of the societal norm and not prescriptive for the future. After all, the first person ever to spread the Gospel — the good news of Jesus' resurrection — was Mary Magdalene.
But let's talk about husbands and wives. People do love debating the wifely submission part, and I confess (and repent, hubbs) that I sometimes love overlooking it. But let's see how the infamous Ephesians 5 passage on marriage roles (NOT on male and female roles) actually begins:
"Submit to one another out of reverence to God."
In marriage, we are called to submit to one another. I submit to the fact that his career requires certain things of me as a preacher's wife — like moving to St. Louis. Twice. He submits to the fact that mine is a real calling and makes sacrifices to help me achieve my goals — like moving to D.C. I submit to him by washing and folding laundry. He submits to me by doing … pretty much everything else, if I'm honest (I got a good one).
The part that follows — the part that says "wives, submit to your husband" — actually doesn't say that. It really reads, "wives, to your husbands," referring to the previous line. So literally: "Submit to one another … wives, to your husbands." By logic, also: men, to your wives.
It's not my goal here to explain away the convicting words of scripture. The same passage also says the husband is the head of the of the wife. To which my husband poetically says," You're gonna have to explain away that one, too."
But really, I accept it. I may not completely understand it. And I may not gracefully practice it. And he might be the head, but the passage later says he's supposed to give his life up for me. I think I got the long end.
I believe what Dr. Mimi Haddad, president of Center for Biblical Equality, says about the egalitarian view: "Females and males are created in God’s image to share dominion. Both are responsible for sin. Both are equally redeemed by Calvary and equally gifted by the Holy Spirit for responsible stewardship."
My husband — though he calls himself complementarian — would agree.
But the issue of complementarianism v. egalitarianism really comes down to how you live it. After all, they're just words.
Sandi Villarreal is Associate Web Editor at Sojourners. You can follow her on Twitter @Sandi.
Male and female icons, Pedro Salaverría / Shutterstock.com