Sunday, January 8, 2012

Does Someone Have to "Be In Charge" of Your Marriage?

Christian complementarianism often makes this argument, as explained in the book Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs:

“What your husband wants is your acknowledgement that he is the leader, the one in authority. This is not to grind you under or treat you as inferior. It is only to say that because God has made your husband responsible (review Eph. 5:22-33), he needs the authority to carry out that responsibility. No smoothly running organization can have two heads. To set up a marriage with two equals at the head is to set it up for failure. That is one of the big reasons that people are divorcing today.” page 221

My main issue with that is this: Why must some Christians insist that marriage is "an organization" or should work like one? Marriage is an organic unit, a synthesis, a joining of two into one body. It is, or should be, the best kind of best-friend relationship you could ever have.

Best friends do not need one of them to be the leader. In that case they wouldn't be best friends, they'd be hero and sidekick. One thing best friends never are, is boss and subordinate as in an employment model. As soon as you set up that model, the friendship has been compromised. That's why bosses are advised to never become close friends with their employees, but to always maintain a certain distance.

The Bible teaches that two people who are married become “one flesh,” not “one organization.” Christians through the ages have celebrated married love as a thing of divine (and mutual) oneness. A selection from Richard Cranshaw’s Poem “Epithalamium” from the 1600’s, is a good illustration:

May each maintain a well-fledged nest
Of winged loves in either’s breast;
Be each of them a mutual sacrifice
Of either’s eyes.

Oneness is never about who’s in charge. It’s about selfless giving, about mutual understanding and concern. It’s about the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

Some may here be saying, “All right, marriage is not an organization. But surely running a home and family is? Does not the running of a home require an organization, and thus someone to be in charge?”

To this I would reply that not even in the business world are all organizational models founded on someone being in charge. Partnerships are a very viable business model; one that works well in a very small business with a small membership (any family with less than 15 children would surely fit this definition). When two partners have contributed equally to a venture, and both have equal risk, then neither one is in charge. Because of this, each has great incentive to work for consensus. In a marriage run on these principles, each partner would have a vested interest in listening to and finding ways to compromise with the other partner, so that the partnership would not fail. If a business partnership can work in this way, then a marriage can work as an organization for home management without losing its organic, best-friend structure of mutual love.

Does the Bible ever say, "in any human relationship, someone must be in charge"? If it does, I'd like to see the chapter and verse. I have never read anything that indicated that David and Jonathan, or Paul and Barnabus, considered one of them to be in charge of the other. This blog has already explored how Ephesians 5:21-33 actually reflects the intention of the Holy Spirit to lead Christian marriages out of the husband-rule paradigm of the culture in which it was written, and into mutuality.

If anyone is in doubt, let me ask this: Do you know of anyone who has proposed to his future wife in this manner?

“Honey, I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Therefore, I am offering you entry into an organizational structure in which I am the boss and you the subordinate, and I will always have final say. You may have input, and I will listen to you if I think it’s in our best interests for me to do so, but remember, I am the one who will always decide what is in our best interests, and I will expect you to do your duty and go along with that, whether you like it or not. So-- with that understood, here’s the ring. Will you marry me?”

Do I hear wedding bells?


Mara Reid said...

Yeah, I don't get this obsession with who is in charge. This is a worldly viewpoint that has little to do with anything Jesus said.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

I've watched conservative Christian friends struggle with these roles, some with better results than others.

I look at my parents who will hit 50 years of marriage in a few years, never with a clear leader, but always discussing and communicating.

It is my belief that the leading cause of divorce is poorly thought out expectations. Expectations about what marriage is and expectations about the other person.

Ann said...

Love this.

Anonymous said...

I have never read the Love and Respect book, but it staggers me that he would blatantly assert that the driving factor behind current divorce rates is husbands not being in charge.

Um, okay...what survey, poll or statistic is he pulling from there? It sounds like he just developed that belief in his own head because it happens to fit his view of things. That's kind of irresponsible.

My parents are some of the happiest people I know, and for 35 married years, they have never had a clear leader. All these dire predictions and warnings that this author makes regarding couples "needing" a head become as meaningless as the "wa wa wa" of Charlie Brown's teacher when you look at happy, thriving couples who have no need of complementarianism.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Love the Charlie Brown reference, Anonymous!

I have a few suggestion for where he pulled the information, but I'll be a gentleman. ;-)

Kristen said...

Good point, Anonymous! In fact, from what I've read, one of the reasons the divorce rate is so high among evangelicals/fundamentalists is, apparently, that husbands ARE in charge-- and that in many cases, their wives' lives have become a burden to them in consequence. There's only so much a woman with any sense of self-preservation can take.

Of course there are husbands who have the character to handle with humility all the power that gets handed to them on a silver platter: but those marriages tend to treat husband-rule as a figurehead thing only and be egalitarian in daily practicality. And those aren't the ones breaking up.

The Politics Of Heaven said...


I believe you and the complementarian you quote make the same mistake. You impose the unique qualities of an organizational or associational model upon the separately unique relationship of marriage.

You ask the question, "Does the Bible ever say, "in any human relationship, someone must be in charge"? If it does, I'd like to see the chapter and verse."

It depends upon the relationship. Not all relationships are equal. While David and Jonathan were friends, there may have been no need for any one of them to "be in charge." The relationship of Paul and Barnabus was different. They were conducting the official business of the Kingdom as appointed by the Holy Spirit. And this relationship wasn't formed at the sole initiation and discretion of Paul and Barnabus.

Furthermore, various relationships and their order, if not specifically detailed, are at least implied in Scripture. Employer and employee is but one example.

As I said, not all relationships are equal. You can't necessarily transfer the principles of one onto another, though there may be similarities.

A marriage is definitely unique as is a business. A marriage is not a for profit entity or enterprise. A business is not the fleshly union of two for any purpose.

For this reason, God has much to say about these various relationships. And they are not treated equally in that they are different, with different purposes and designs. It is a mistake to try to transpose the principles of one onto another without valid reason.

Also, there is nothing in Ephesians that would tend to cause one to believe that the Holy Spirit was trying to do anything other than lead into what the Word of God had already revealed about Marriage. And it wasn't what you define as mutuality. The prior revelations and understanding was expanded in the Messiah and His Bride, His Body. And as The Head of that Body, he is in charge of all relationships with His Body.

Kristen said...

Politics, please read my three-part blog post on marriage in Ephesians 5. That sets forth my justification for believing that the Holy Spirit was leading marriage into mutuality. It also explains why I think it's a complete mistake to map husbands to the Messiah and wives to human followers of Christ, and why I believe that is not what the passage is doing.

For the rest, you're absolutely right. You can't impose the necessities of one type of relationship onto another. That's why Eggerichs is wrong. It simply isn't true that someone has to be in charge in every relationship.

But neither is it true that husbands get to act like little christs and lords to their wives-- the only way they are told to be like Christ is that they they are to lay down their power and privilege in order to raise their wives up, which is what the Ephesians passage limits the analogy to. Please read the blog post. I really don't want to have to delineate my argument all over again.

Kristen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kristen said...

Oh, and by the way-- I didn't say marriage was just like a business partnership. I said that the fact that a business partnership doesn't need someone in charge, proved that not every relationship needs someone in charge-- and that two people running a family home was a lot more like a business partnership in size and complexity, than like other organizational models.

Anonymous said...

One of the main reasons I left my last evangelical church was the increasing difficulty in conducting friendships in a hierarchalist environment. "You listen to me, I listen to someone else, I don't listen to you." Uh, seriously?

Hierarchalism is such a hot mess.

Anonymous said...

Sounds reasonable to me. Thanks for your comments on my piece. I guess everybody's talking about this stuff. Why are Christian men trying to be like the Gentile princes Jesus told us not to emulate in Mark 10:42-45?

Anonymous said...

A problem with an authoritative-minded man ruling/being the decision maker over his wife is that it can create an oppressive, suppressive, and oftentimes, a crushed spirit. As well as create an atmosphere of bitterness and resentment. It is diminishing to the human soul. "A crushed spirit who can bear?" Proverbs. However, when a husband knows how to be the humble servant-leader (lead by example?), a wife doesn't feel 'in bondage' and usually responds joyfully because she feels built up and loved. This in turn makes it all the more easily to trust and want to give more of herself - a oneness can then cultivated.

Kristen said...

Anon-- I agree! And even better, the husband can make room for the wife to also be a humble servant-leader, as they lead their family side by side.