Making the rounds in the Interwebs the last few days has been a blog by Sarah Bessey, in response to a new book by Candace Cameron Bure (or as all of us 90s kids know her – DJ Tanner). It has sparked a lot of discussion, especially as Bure describes her submission to her husband’s leadership in their marriage. It warranted a further interview with the HuffPost where Bure elaborated more on her position. Denny Burk at Boyce College offers a great response to Bessey, where he lays out the task that what is really at stake is a question of biblical authority.
I echo Burk’s concerns, and because of a desire to be consistent in applying Scripture as it relates especially to the home and church, must advocate for and promote a complementarian view of gender roles. My wife wrote extensively on this for her Ph.D. dissertation, and the working definition of complementarian gender roles she used came from Wayne Grudem, “God created man and woman equal in value and personhood, and equal in bearing his image, but that both creation and redemption indicate some distinct roles for men and women in marriage and in the church.” For her, and for all of us who hold to a complementarian view, the idea of “equal yet functionally distinct” is at the core.
Words carry a lot of weight, and often a lot of baggage. The word “submission” for many conjures the image of the overbearing husband who demands his wife to follow whatever hair-brained idea he has. And with that comes the image of the 1950s housewife who isn’t allowed to have an opinion, and whose primary job is to look pretty and bake brownies. Words like “patriarch” convey the idea that women are less than men, and that men need to say “Let me ‘splain to you little sweetie.” Let me be clear, the baggage is well-deserved. There are far too many cases where these words have been abused, misused, and twisted. But, because a term is abused or misused does not discount its legitimacy.
John Piper offers a great insight into his book with Wayne Grudem Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood
I have a few concerns with Bessey’s article, and I’ll list them below:
1) Submission is not subservience nor is it inferiority – Submission within the home is instead the gracious response to Christlike and humble leadership. The relationship between a husband and wife in Ephesians 5 is used as an analogy to describe how Jesus relates to the Church. The greater emphasis is on the husband to provide Christlike love and care for his bride, just as Jesus did/does for His Bride. Bessey describes this: “A woman who is held back, minimized, or downplayed is not walking in the fullness God intended for her as an image bearer.” But that is not the case at all, beginning back in Genesis 1-2 where Adam and Eve are both created in the image of God and made with authority over the creation. The order in Creation, where God lays out a picture of male headship, is not a result of the Fall as Bessey argues. Paul lays this out in 1 Timothy 2 as the foundation for understanding gender roles in the church and home by pointing to the pre-Fall creation of Adam first and then Eve. It does not diminish Eve’s standing as an image-bearer, nor does it give Adam the right to superiority over Eve.
2) Male leadership is not a dictatorship – There are some who misuse this, and consider male leadership to be “Woman, make me a sammich!” Rightly, this should be rejected. Bessey describes the husband in a complementarian view as “absolute head of the home,” which is not an accurate portrayal of a biblical understanding of marriage and gender roles. Good leadership in the home comes from the humble leadership of a husband who is pursuing Jesus and seeking the best for his wife. It is the apex of unselfish leadership. Guys, Jesus calls us to sacrifice everything for our wives, and our leadership in the home is not for us to get glory or feel big & strong, it’s to make Jesus famous and make our wives look good.
3) Mutual submission is not a loss of male headship – Paul speaks to this in Ephesians 5:21 “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” To that I would say yes and amen. Leadership in a Christian ethic is not determined by power, force, or position. We are called to humble submission to one another, creating mutual deference. An example of that is if you’ve sat at a 4 way Stop and you’re trying to wave through the people waving you through. It’s seeking the welfare and better of another. But it is not the dissolution of complementary gender roles and male headship. Guys, let me be clear with you first – you don’t get to make decisions without your wife’s input, consideration, and even rebuttal. Just because you think it’s a good idea to drop $15,000 on a luxury cruise doesn’t mean anything if your wife gets motion sickness in a desk chair. That’s stupid. Mutual deference/submission is the pursuit of the better of another, and the putting of another before yourself. My wife has right of refusal for our family decisions, so she can push back if something is a bad idea – that’s not diminishing my role as head of our home, that’s walking in wisdom.
4) Getting to Bessey’s position is hermeneutical origami – The path for Bessey is a path that leads ultimately to the reworking and rewriting of Scripture in its plain meaning. As she starts to explain away the text as recorded to explain away the original meaning and intent, by introducing a difficult-to-maintain arc that opens the door for new revelation, and by insisting we have advanced beyond the ethic of Scripture to a modern ethic, she has created a figure out of paper. You have to twist, fold, hide, and work around so many issues in an egalitarian view of gender roles that there is little left of what was originally there. Perhaps the biggest hurdle to this hermeneutical origami is the analogy of marriage to the Church used in Ephesians 5. An egalitarian position does not hold water to this, because we would then have to connect the dots and say that Jesus then submits to the Church. The implications for that are far-reaching, we lose a sovereign Lord and open the path to open theism. We lose an effectual Savior where “no power of hell, nor scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand” to one that is left to our whims.
Bessey’s own description of her marriage, as they are pursuing Christ together, is much closer to a complementarian view of gender roles in the marriage than she would like to admit. But that is how God designed and intends for marriage – the pursuit of a husband and wife together towards Jesus. The words of Joshua come to mind, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” I’m so thankful for marriages like theirs that is focused on Jesus, and while we would disagree sharply on many issues, both of us would affirm that our marriages have made us more like Jesus. I love this quote from Bessey at the end of her article “Christ is meant to be the head of our homes, and within marriage, we are meant to submit to one another.“
So while we would disagree and rightly discuss, push back, and continue the discussion, we are still part of the same Bride who will one day be reunited with the Bridegroom who will come back to claim His Bride and bring Her to a place of forever joy. And one day, all our discussion of submission, gender roles, and the church will be laid before the Lamb who will forever be the leader, husband, father, and friend that we cannot fully satisfy here.