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Egalitarian Husbands

Something has just resonated with me that may relate to other husbands within egalitarian marriages so I will put it out there for your interest and comment.

Within complementarian marriages it is expected that men should take the lead, in both the family and church, because they believe that they are biblically mandated to do so. This can lead to many women within that ordered environment becoming passive and retreating from the active development of their own spiritual walk with God. Even though complementarians believe that men should lead, many of the books that encourage such leadership spend a great deal of time speaking to women about how to help release their men into taking up the mantle of responsibility. This is more evident in some of the dating books where prospective brides are urged to step back and let the men step up in the relationship. Which suggests to me that males are not so ‘hard-wired’ as we are led to believe to fit automatically into that role. Some men, as with some women, are naturally born leaders and initiators possessed with boundless charisma, energy and vision. Humanly speaking, the bulk of us are content to be followers, ready to get behind a worthy, dedicated and wise leader. This should not mean though that our own spiritual development and discernment is shelved and we blindly follow another fallible human being instead of tuning in to the heart of God for ourselves.

Even though I have been in pastoral leadership myself I was never the aggressive leader type. My gifts were more in the area of relational pastoral care with a gentle touch of the prophetic. I was more of a Bible teacher, exhorter and encourager than an inspiring evangelist who demanded a following. Perhaps that is at the heart of why it is  I so readily embraced egalitarianism within both the church and the home. I was more than happy to recognise Godly, gifted people of either gender, who were prepared to step up and use their gifts for the glory of God and the extension of his kingdom.

But there could be a down side to that for men like myself. Because I am more willing to step back and be the servant in a situation I run the danger of being too passive, allowing others to override my sense of what may well be right  and the more Christ honouring course to take. Egalitarian husbands, like myself, could find themselves being overly passive, just like the complementarian wives I spoke of at the beginning of this post. In freeing their wives to be all  they can be under God they may inadvertantly relinquish, or go soft on their own spiritual development and sensitive walk with God.  I sense this in my own journey and that is why I’m drawing attention to it here. I’m interested in hearing from other egalitarian men who may have recognised a similar tendency in their own experience.

Egalitarian marriages are meant to express mutuality and shared responsibility but, even though they are soundly biblical, there is the danger that men could fail to share the responsibility equally and unduly burden their gifted spouse. How do we prevent that happening? Let’s hear from you egalitarian men.

30 Comments

  1. PS anafterthought
    Comment #96385 posted June 8, 2012 at 9:22 am

    If we ignore the gifts that God has given each of us, is that not a type of sin, perhaps? Or at least, not giving God thanks for a gift? If we ignore the potential that God has given each of us, in different ways, again, do we not fail to give thanks to God for our gifts?

    I get your points, but I think that if God has given us gifts and traits and our spouses, then we need to recognize all of these things, which would be different in each marriage.

    OTOH, it is true that if one partner in a business, in a marriage, or a parent in a family, does “too much” then it often follows that the other people relinquish more of their responsibilities because it is all to easy to be passive and let the other person take over a certain area, any area. I don’t think that this is just a marriage issue, but rather an issue of people working together.

  2. Don Johnson
    Comment #96386 posted June 8, 2012 at 9:23 am

    My thoughts are to keep the lines of communication between the spouses open and be willing to adjust to life’s changing circumstances.

    I also purposed before getting married to not either be exploited by nor to exploit my spouse and we discussed these potentials before getting married.

  3. Meggie
    Comment #96394 posted June 10, 2012 at 11:16 am

    I’m not an egalitarian man , but I’m married to one, and I can share what he does. He’s never passive because he’s such a communicator. However, he always works toward a consensual solution that is win-win. He’s taken some classes in negotiation and he’s a gifted debater, so he could probably play the bully and try to “win” every discussion, but that would be foreign to his nature. He has the wonderful quality of fairness. He’s also a healer. He’s aware of the damaging effects of patriarchy on women, and he works to mitigate the effects of it. I feel very much loved by him. It is his love that prevents him from trying to “pull rank” as a male and to honor my worth and influence. That makes me love him so much that I wouldn’t want to override his needs or wishes or for him to be passive. Sorry! This sounds so unbelievably sappy! I think it’s love that makes neither one of us want the other to be passive or yielding. We both work to get the other’s needs met. We both try to present out views to the other in the belief that doing so will offer the other new ideas, but we also want to keep the other happy, so it’s hard to be either passive or aggressive. We just try to communicate and work things out together.

  4. Comment #96401 posted June 11, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    Thanks Meggie, what you have described of your own marriage relationship is just how it should be for an egalitarian couple and it sounds just wonderful. It’s much the same way for Liz and I too but I am conscious that I could take advantage of my wife’s ability to keep things running smoothly and not be as engaged as I should be.

  5. Comment #96402 posted June 11, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    Being married to a man who has become increasingly egalitarian over the years is very affirming and takes away the pressure to perform to expectations. We have the liberty to ‘provoke one another to love and good works’ and value each other’s opinions.

    There is also the liberty to say something in love if we feel the other is taking advantage of the special freedom we enjoy.

  6. Red
    Comment #96404 posted June 12, 2012 at 10:19 am

    I would echo those who say communication is key. If you communicate with your spouse, hopefully it will become clear when one person is doing too much and the other has ceased to have input.

    Also, maybe it helps to cultivate a servant attitude? I would like to hope that if both partners come into the marriage with the attitude of serving, they will each be active when an opportunity arises to help the other person. This would, in theory, prevent either one from becoming passive or allowing their spouse to become over-burdened.

  7. Christensen
    Comment #96412 posted June 19, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    This is great to read! I came here to find something on a topic similar so its encouraging to read this post and comments.

    I do have a question related. How can we Biblically counter the idea that husbands, as the complimentarian head of the household,is viewed as the provider? Yes,I can point to mutual submission,but I still get the arguments that men should be the leader and provider and fit that gender role,however in submission to God and his wife. And women should submit in their passive and recipient role as the gracious receiver of the husband’s providing. I’m reading the Five Love Languages and this is pervasive in that book. So, what passages in the Bible show that marriage should be the mutual building that you all express here where both spouses are uplifted but also equally responsible in their individual giftings apart from gender. I’m strongly against gender roles but need to know what the Bible says. Any thoughts?

    • Comment #96420 posted June 22, 2012 at 11:26 am

      Christensen, #96412

      Scripture does not describe gender roles. It does describe some things about how spouses are to love one another, but not everything. The point being that we are to love one another in whatever stages of life we are in, whether single or married, young or old, free or slave, etc. We have some clues but we do not have detailed lists such as that suggested by gender hierarchalists.

      If we are men, then we love and serve with the strengths, skills, knowledge and gifts that we have. If we are women, then we love and serve with the strengths, skills, knowledge and gifts that we have. No two people are alike. In fact there are more differences between people of the same sex, than between male and female. Who is the primary provider should not be an issue. Both spouses should provide for the family in whatever ways they are able and IMO we should seek to give our best.

      Mutuality is all over the place in Scripture: love one another, serve one another, consider one another’s concerns before your own, forgive one another, help one another, pray for one another, support one another and so forth. Marriage is not an island that has different rules than the rest of humanity.

      There is also mutuality in Ephesians 5 and 1 Cor. 7. We just need to take off the blue lenses that have filtered out the mutual submission, nurturing, supporting and caring that is written there. Headship is not spoken of in Scripture. Male only leadership is not spoken of in marriage or in the body of Christ. These ideas have been inserted via those who like wearing those blue glasses.

  8. Michelle
    Comment #96413 posted June 19, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    1 Timothy 5:8 has often been translated using masculine pronouns. My understanding is that the original language does not indicate that only men are responsible for providing for their families.

    I’m presuming you mean financial/economic provision? There are certainly other types.

    One needn’t refer to Proverbs 31 for an example of a godly woman working for economic gain. Women and men, it is my understanding, often both did some sort of work to provide for the family.

  9. Red
    Comment #96414 posted June 20, 2012 at 8:19 am

    I know this post is kind of old, but I just had another thought about it.

    I think some egalitarian husbands might accidentally become too apathetic because, for those who grew up in church, male responsibility was always defined *as a function of his headship.* In other words, a man was taught that he had certain responsibilities *because* he was the head of his wife, and his headship defined what those responsibilities were.

    So when the notion of headship (and some of its definitions, such as spiritual covering etc.) are done away with, it leaves men without a strong definition of what to do. In some cases, anyway.

    Maybe the church should go out of its way to reorient people’s thinking. It’s no longer about who does what role based on their gender, and it’s no longer about raising women up and hoping men will “figure out” what to do in the aftermath. Maybe it should be about teaching all believers, of either gender, what responsibility looks like.

    This has been such a thought-provoking post. Thanks!

  10. Christensen
    Comment #96415 posted June 20, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    My sentiments exactly. But what do we do with the passage that seems to exhort men to take care of their families first? In Titus 3? Or even the results of the Fall on men and women? These have often been used to tell me that I must provide for my future wife as she serves me her husband and bears children. Women are often taught this ideal sacrifice. I will try to look this up better, but now I’m on a short trip and just thinking about these things while riding the subway.

    Another thought. Yesterday as I was spending time with my girlfriend, we were folding my sun canopy up when I complimented her on being strong. She said she didn’t want to be strong. Society actually holds in contempt women who value being strong while men are considered less of a man if they are physically weak. I think that as men who desire to see the women around us fully encouraged we should gently and lovingly allow our wives, girlfriends and other women to take responsibilities and flex their muscles. I know my girlfriend is physically strong,and she is even more beautiful for not succumbimg to societal pressures and just being fully what God made her to be. Though all in gentleness and love. But it saddens me that ideals in beauty seem to keep women in a state of weakness. Despite the physiological differences…

  11. Don Johnson
    Comment #96416 posted June 21, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Titus 3? Do you perhaps mean this verse?

    ESV 1Ti 5:8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

    This verse is not gender specific.

  12. Comment #96418 posted June 22, 2012 at 9:25 am

    While it is true that there is no gender reference in 1 Tim. 5:8 the immediate context is to the widow who lives in pleasure. So first this is speaking to widows, and secondarily to anyone.

    Christensen, I like your thoughts about strong women. Historically, women have been strong because of the basic needs of life. To my thinking there is only one place in English history where women were put into places of extreme weakness. Facts are they could barely breathe in those silly corsets. :) But generally women worked hard, carried heavy stuff, and used their muscles. This does not and should not scare men, because men’s muscles and basic physical build is stronger than women’s. Even men’s bones and men’s fat is more dense than a woman’s. So a woman’s strengths should never challenge men’s strengths.

  13. Michelle
    Comment #96421 posted June 22, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    You know, dating has got to be tough for a guy who is Christian and egalitarian.

    There are feminists out there who recognize that the gifts of women and men should not be limited because of their sex, and whose beliefs and expectations may line up (largely) with your own, but they may not be christian.

    And then there are christian women who are not egalitarian. What makes egalitarianism really tough, IMO, is that the gender role messages in soft patriarchal christianity mirror the expectations of the culture here in the US and elsewhere. So there are larger cultural messages to work through, as well as through the scripture and the christian subculture.

    So that’s like, double damage in a sense. At my gym, which is an all-women’s gym, one of the weight-training classes is called “sculpt”. I think it’s named that because women are taught that well-defined muscles on a woman are unattractive. Nevermind the health benefits of weight training (increased bone density, anyone?) and the practicality of being able to move objects around or to help move objects around.

    The idea that women are ornamental, soft, and weak(er than men, at least) has been promoted in a number of cultures over the years, and some folks are saying these differences are real and are what God had in mind, and are indicative of a hierarchy of humanity.

    Human beings tend to believe that those with greater (generally speaking) physical strength, whoever is larger, louder, etc., should “win”, aka, be in charge. That’s why we put men in charge. As a respector (and the creator!) of free will, God will work within our systems.

    But neither men in charge nor women in charge is the gospel way, or God’s way. Recognizing that people who are different from us are truly equal is one of the largest challenges facing us, IMO.

  14. Christensen
    Comment #96453 posted July 5, 2012 at 4:48 am

    Don Johnson, yes, that’s the passage I meant. Now, I will point out it’s not gender specific

    Laurie, I like what you wrote about mutuality throughout the Bible. And I am never intimidated by a woman’s strength. Good for her! I have met many women stronger than me, and that doesn’t make me less of a man.

    Michelle, yes, it is hard being a single egalitarian man. I have never dated an egalitarian woman but only soft comps (because I have only met a handful of egal women…at most!). I have been rejected numerous times because of my views on egalitarianism. It was the stated reason. Non-christian feminist women applaud my views until they hear everything I believe as a Christian. My current girlfriend is a soft comp but uncertain of what she thinks and is currently praying and reading the Bible. This is the ONLY struggle for us so far, and I just pray we both humbly seek God’s Truth and wisdom. She loves the fact that I am fully supportive of her gifts and passions. And we have talked about how that will come out after marriage. But, in her words, she grew up in a church where men were taught to lead and women to give up all to serve them, and she grew up with that image being romantic and longed to love her husband that much. Sounds like how Christ gave up all for the Church, a challenge to husbands who were culturally used to taking power! But please do pray for us. Yeah…it’s hard on a single egalitarian man (and I know for my sisters too). But what can I do? I want a full partner as my wife in the sense of a partnership where both are fully contributing and encouraging based on both partners’ individual gifts!

  15. Comment #96455 posted July 5, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    “I want a full partner as my wife in the sense of a partnership where both are fully contributing and encouraging based on both partners’ individual gifts!”

    It is amazing that anyone would think that as less than a perfect relationship desire. :) Seek the Lord with your whole heart and he will guide you. Prayers are gone up for you.

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