Leadership and Submission in the Home
This post originally gathered a massive amount of dialog and controversy, as the comments under the post suggests. Many good and kind people from the equalitycentral.com were so kind as to follow my blog not only for the duration of this debate, but also for many upcoming months. A few became good friends. You may follow the highlights of the debate as it unfolded by reading this post, then Follow-up Post to “Leadership and Submission in the Home” then The Christian Gender Debate: Understanding the Four Perspectives, then Fighting Over the Pants, or the Crown of Thorns?. If you would like, you can also read my two research papers on this topic.
I am no longer actively participating in this debate, but you are free to read the comments, and I would love to hear your perspective and research.
I preached a sermon in which I expressed my final and mature thoughts on Christian Gender roles: I hope to have that published on this site soon.
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Someone recently responded to my post “From ….emergent to …conservative” by saying that my decision to “step up to the plate” in my home did not sound very much like the “servant-leadership” of Christ. In response, I have responded – in fear and trembling – with a post which touches on the hallowed battle-field of the gender wars.
Before I begin, I feel the need to clarify: this post does not come from a need to be right, but a need to become right. I desperately to build my home on the firm foundation of a marriage done God’s way. Having been married only four short years, I seem to have more, rather than fewer questions the longer I am married.
This leads me to my next point – which is a request. Are there readers who have been married for fifteen, twenty, twenty-five (or more?) years? I would so much appreciate your feed-back! Don’t feel shy about posting “too much” – take all the space you need! I would so much appreciate some seasoned advice on this topic! Perhaps the responses to this post will prove to be more fruitful than the post itself!
I have done a fair bit of study on this topic, but still feel like I am just scratching the surface. I have written two research papers (“Gender in Genesis” and “Gender in the Church”). In writing these, I have found the resources of Bruxy Cavey (especially Can Women Lead the Church, Learning Together as Church, and Supplemental Podcast to ‘Learning Together as Church) on the one hand, and Mark Driscoll (Marriage and Women, and Marriage and Men) on the other to be extremely helpful. The materials from The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood are an excellent presentation of the traditional view of marriage, and The Council for Biblical Equality has some good resources from the egalitarian side.
Okay, now on to my thesis:
I believe there are three possibilities for a Christian home: there is “served-leadership”, “servant-equality”, and “servant-leadership”.
Jesus said that in the secular world, leadership is all about “lording over” (Matt. 20:24) those under you, and receiving benefits from them. We have all seen marriages like this. The husband who demands his wife give so much for him, while he channels all the family resources into his own hobbies, pleasures and addictions. The father who demands his grown daughters return home to serve his needs – sabatoging his children’s careers to further his own. As one speaker said, “The common idea of family headship is, ‘honey, bring me my chips and massage my feet.’ In Christian community, the idea is often, ‘honey, bring me my chips, massage my feet, and then let us pray.'” Some people go so far as to teach that women are slightly less human than men, and were made to serve. Although these people are generally kind and gracious, the implications of their beliefs sound frighteningly similar to the old Christian advocates of slavery, who said that blacks were slightly less human than whites, and were thus made as “helpers” to them.
We all want to avoid this extreme. What needs to be recognized, however, is that male leadership is not the problem! The problem is sexism, arrogance, self-centeredness, shoddy exegesis, etc…in a word, sin. Sin distorts all that it touches: by itself, however, leadership is not a sin. In fact, it may be a sin not to be a leader, when one has been called to be one. (Cf. Gen. 3:17).
This point is often over-looked by my generation. Many over-react against “served-leadership” dysfunctionality into a model (potentially) just as dysfunctional – that of “servant-equality.” Bruxy Cavey is a big advocate of this kind of marriage – which is called “egalitarian marriage.” The marriage which Bruxy describes is a marriage where nobody is really “in charge.” Things are done by consent, by agreement. Bruxy wants to make sure things are completely fair: he thinks the way to do this is to make sure that nobody is in charge, and all roles are shared. A big part of Bruxy’s idea is that Christians are first siblings in Christ, and only secondarily father/mother, husband/wife, pastor/lay-person. No matter what prestigious place one may have “out there in the world,” when one comes home to a family gathering (i.e. the church or the Christian home), the masks are dropped and we are all just brothers and sisters.
After toying with the egalitarian concept for a year or two, I have to say that in my experience, equality sounds like a good idea but leads only to frustration and distance.
I still vividly remember the intense emotions from a missions trip being lead by a very kind, very equality-based, very “non-leadership-oriented” person. One particular night stands out. The task for the evening: drive the group downtown, select a restaurant, eat. Simple….right?
During the twenty-minute drive, we discussed which restaurants to go to. Naturally people had preferences. Cases were made for this restaurant or that. The leader was silent. We arrived at the central parking lot, and a consensus was forming – but as we approached the restaurant, we could see it was quite busy. A person who did not prefer that restaurant loudly complained that his restaurant choice would be less congested. Others agreed. Other options were presented. We piled out of the van, but didn’t know where to go. Some people left on their own initiative to scout out the congestion-status of various restaurants. Still we couldn’t make a decision. We ended up standing in a circle for fully twenty minutes – talking, debating, presenting and counter-presenting options. Adrenaline and blood pressure were rising by the minute. Finally, the leader began trying to do his job. He asked opinions of those silent. He tried to rephrase opinions given in a way which would unite. He tried convincing those he saw as minority voices. All to no avail. No consensus could be formed. No matter what, somebody would be disappointed. What was he to do? He was stumped. A true egalitarian, he simply refused to take a stand in a divided group. Somebody finally pointed out that after all this bickering, most of the restaurants would be well into their supper-time, and unable to serve us quickly: we should just return to our hotel and get takeout from nearby fast-food joints. We all agreed, and the leader gave his rubber-stamp approval.
You could almost see the steam rising from the van as we arrived back at the hotel and scattered to find food. Everybody was feeling distinctly the loss of a precious hour in our busy day, and exhausting schedule. Most people were nursing wounds from the heated debates, some were struggling with bitternesses. None were singing the praises of this wonderful “egalitarian” leader.
An alternative is presented by Mark Driscoll. He gives a compelling illustration:
Think of a president, sitting at the head of a long table, filled with the brightest and best his nation has to offer. Is the president the smartest person in the room? Probably not. So what should he do?
The “served-leader” will ignore his advisors, shout over his assistants, and make selfish, egotistical decisions based on his own needs. Foremost in this bully’s mind will be a need to over-compensate for his lack of intelligence, to be “right” at all costs, to make sure that his decisions pass, irregardless of consequences to others.
By contrast, the “served-equal” will do nothing. He will sit back in silence as people present, counter-present and argue long into the night. He will try to make jokes and give out-of-place compliments to make people like him. At times, he will try to summarize what has been said – but usually, he is present but absent. Such a leader always prays for a unanimous decision, or for a de facto leader to arise: he just doesn’t know what to do otherwise.
The “servant-leader” is the only really good option. He will come to the meeting prepared, open the meeting on time and with a clear agenda, then state the issue at hand and ask for input. He will arbitrate the discussions and ask relevant questions. A servant-leader is not independent or aloof from the group – he draws people out, follows the logic of the debate, and presents tentative possibilities for consideration. At the end of the meeting, when he finally presents his position, people are not surprised at his perspective. In many ways, it is “their” perspective – they have made it together. Those in disagreement submit (they are consoled at least that they have been really heard, and given the chance to influence the proceedings), and the group is able to move forward in consensus under his effective leadership.
A true servant-leader gives freedom to his those whom he leads. He provides a context where people can object to the established norm, where they can propose alterations, where no person is without voice, and where no loudmouth rules the day. In leading, a true servant-leader actually allows others to lead – because each person is given a voice, and decisions are made for the good of the whole.
By contrast, an “egalitarian” leader demands that someone else take on his role of leadership
And this has been my experience with egalitarian leadership of the home: at the end of the day, it becomes a feminist marriage – a marriage where the woman leads the home.
Let us think of an example. The man comes home tired from work, and his wife has some family decisions to present to him. He listens, but he is not really paying attention. She weighs one option against another, and goes into details about the pro’s and con’s of price, functionality and style. Trying to be a good husband, he works hard to stay focused. He knows that his wife processes things verbally, and so he is trying hard to say, “uh huh” and “yes, honey” at the correct times, and (this is the hard part!) to follow her words adequately to repeat back to her what she just said from time to time. All the while, he is just waiting to hear her opinion hidden behind her words, so that he can say, “Well, it sounds like you want to do ‘x,’ so why don’t you just go ahead and do it?” Problem solved – now, let’s move on..
The man already knows he does not have a deciding vote. He knows that he is not an expert. His presence in this discussion is completely superfluous – it is duty, and duty alone which make him remain present, until he can finally rubber-stamp her decision and move on.
According to Driscoll, men who are in marriages like this will tend to pay less and less attention to their wives and households, and wives put less and less effort into obtaining his meaningless rubber-stamp. Gradually, the husband and wife drift into parallel, separate lives – she handles household concerns, he handles work and finances: sometimes they share a bed.
Juxtapose this model against the one which (I think) is clearly presented in Scriptures.
A man comes home from work. He is tired, but glad to be coming home. His wife meets him with a pressing matter. He sits down and pays attention. Why is this matter pressing, why does he pay attention? Because he needs to make a decision about it! He understands that his wife is the expert here, and so he listens carefully to her opinion. Feeling the weight of leadership on him, he does not want to make a snap-decision, but is motivated to spend deep time in prayer, to do research, and to seek out godly council. Finally, he comes back to his wife and says, “Well, honey, I am leaning towards ‘x’ – is that what you think?” He is not lying. He is not just reflecting her mind back to herself – he actually has an opinion! Now that her husband has presented his side, she has an opportunity to add to that, to correct it, to present an alternative. Together, they can almost always come to an agreement. The key is at the end, however: after all is said and done, he makes the call, and she supports him. It’s his call, and she submits. He is the head, even if they make the decision she wanted in the first place.
At the beginning of this paragraph I mentioned that a man is “glad to be coming home.” Why is a husband glad to be home in this second scenario? The answer is simple: he has a place in this home. In an egalitarian home, a man is neither an expert nor a leader: by default, he slips into the only role available – the follower. The man becomes the servant, the “fill-in-the-gaps” man, the “laborer” – trying hard to do his job and stay out from under foot. Some metro-sexual men excel in this role: most despise it. Suddenly, work and sports, entertainment and “the guys” become so much more important than the home. Here, the deep needs for respect, competence and value are fulfilled: at home, he is just made to feel like a child. At this point, the family begins that journey towards a distant marriage.
Love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8), and a marriage with much love and a little confusion over headship will probably do okay: however, I still believe that Driscoll is right: Servant-leadership role is the role which God has designed for men to fill in the home.