Not long ago a friend posted the picture to the left on her FB page. Initially I wanted to rant. Surely she should know better. This sign offers, at best, a shallow description of marriage and a barely recognizable definition of perfect. Yet, my friend is not alone in her appreciation of such a perspective. I know many, many people who drink the cool-aid fed to them, especially through religion, that divorce is not an option. Most of these people also buy into a complementarian model of marriage. And, all of them would be shocked by my objections and would themselves, quite literally, like her post.
Those who embrace the complementarian model would have us believe that it “protects” women. Yet, two posts from chief complementarian advocate, John Piper showed up on my FB page a month or so ago and sent shivers down my spine. Both are sobering examples of how dangerous the patriarchal, complementarian voice within the Church can be. In a podcast found here, Piper outlines his criteria for how women should choose their jobs. This criteria has nothing to do with a woman’s capabilities or her interests. The perspective comes entirely from a male supremacist interpretation of scripture. I saw the reference to the podcast on Benjamin L. Corey’s Formerly Fundie blog in which Corey offers a spot on analysis of Piper’s message to women. The second post was even more disturbing than the first. In it T. P. Charlton reviews a Piper video in which Piper answers the question, “What should a wife’s submission to her husband look like if he is an abuser?” In short, Piper response gives the wife in question no way out. Instead, he insists she should continue to submit to her husband’s authority, verbally affirm his headship over her, and even endure physical beatings in order to honor him. In what possible way can this philosophy be said to protect womenPiper’s position exposes just how toxic the complementarian view is to women. It also reveals how unwilling he and other complementarians are to holding men accountable for their self-serving and at time sadistic behavior. Yet, even if the relationship between a husband and wife does not drift all the way into sadism or physical abuse, complementarian relationships are almost never healthy.
Most advocates of complementarian theology explain away the inequalities between men and women in the complementarian model by suggesting that those who object have confused role differences with value differences. They argue that the God-ordained roles women hold (and therefore the women who hold them) are equally valued by God and just as important to the success of the family/community as those held by men, they simply are not the same as the God-ordained roles men hold. The troubling reality of this argument is that we can say God “values” whomever we want to say He values yet continue to accept no responsibility for our treatment of the individual people we claim are so valued by God. In truth, the lop-sided view and treatment of male and female roles, which is foundational to complementarian theology, works against the ability to value and respect men and women equally.
Ultimately, when one group of people is given unchecked authority and control over another group of people the ingrained hierarchy rarely values or benefits the submissive or oppressed group. When it does, the benefit is inherently limited by what the authority figure deems beneficial. Since in a marriage and family the husband/father is the head, his needs and wants must always be factored in as most important. Thus, a benefit to the wife or family must not be too great an inconvenience, for him. In reverse, an inconvenience is an impossibility, since the wife’s primary role and purpose is to benefit her husband.
Complementarians are quick to point out one aspect of the role men take on as a husband is that of caretaker. Yet all too often this part of a husband’s role is so narrowly defined by his ability to provide financially for his family that it completely ignores the family emotional well being. Husbands do not “take care” of their wives simply by bringing home a pay check that they then decide how to spend. Husbands do not “take care” of their wives by insisting their wives stay home, raise the children, clean the house, prepare the meals, and run the errands. Nor do they “take care” of their wives by allowing their wives to supplement the family income, that they then continue to decide how to spend. Care, provision, and protection sound nice. But, unless the women in these arrangements are able to make adjustments on their own, raise questions and objects and be heard without repercussions, and freely change their situations when they want to do so, they are NOT being cared for; they are being kept.
As final note, please do not hear what I am not saying. I am NOT out to get husbands and wives who have organized their lives along traditional gender roles because those roles fit who they are as individuals. I do NOT think all women should be out in the work force along side all men in order to build the capitalist’s dream of gluttonous consumerism. My fight is with the patriarchal role model found in Institutional Religion which subjugates women for the benefit of men and claims God has ordained their self serving bias.
The complementarian role model is not of God. God made us male and female, in His own image. In Galatians, when Paul recognized there was no longer a distinction between male and female in Christ, he was writing about our value and our roles. The first disciples watched as Jesus spoke to both men and women, taught both men and women, and ministered to both men and women. In the early Church both men and women received the anointing of the Holy Spirit, served as teachers, and functioned as prophets. Equality is God ordained.