In the course of any given day, I may receive various questions regarding Scripture or theology. I personally love these as they are chances to reflect with others about what God has revealed and might be making known to and in us. I received the title of this blog post as an email subject line with the following question and, below that, I offer my (perhaps overlong) theological reply. The question emerges from one of my former students who is a pastor.
So I’m hung up on the fun theological question of relational roles and I think over the last couple of years I have gone so far to the point of eglitarian belief where each member is as valuable and has just as much say as the other that I am wondering that I might have gone to a point where I may be missing what it means for a man to lead. I think I was raised so heavily on the “woman submit” mentality, that when I pushed against the idea in the way I knew it, I may have ran from the actual intent of the passage? I guess at this point I am wondering if treating both members as equals doesn’t mean that there aren’t still some roles within a relationship setting? But I’m stuck on how are two people equal if one person gets the final say in everything?
I totally get it. There can be a tendency in swinging positions to ignore the critique of the other/s. In this way, I personally contend for egalitarianism even as there must be distinctions of persons, but not any predetermined roles with the one exception of producing a child in bearing a child [mother] and producing a child without bearing a child [father]. Otherwise, I see no clear distinctions of roles for earning income, determining responsibilities, child care, household care, etc. There is only a mutuality of shared agreements between the parents (when two are present) that allows for mutual loving of each other and any children (or others brought into that sphere of life including family by blood or choice, and the Church).
The call to “submit” is a mutual submission in Ephesians 5:21 that seems inclusive of all who are in Christ. In this fashion, there is no distinction of gender, social class, age, etc. Even as any distinctions are not erased, ignored, or imagined to not exist. All relationships are re-oriented in Christ Jesus as the mediator between every person and every other person, between individuals and groups, and groups and groups. He is the mediator for all relationships. In this way there cannot but be mutual submission to the other as to Christ our Lord.
Now, I read Paul as engendering relations of his historical-cultural-social context/s in how he explains such relations playing out following this mutual submission call. In his context, there are culturally delineated roles of husband-wife, parent-child, master-slave that simply are not our own context/s (we not only do not believe the relation of master/slave ought to still be maintained even if “good”, but we actually believe children have rights as humans…and for the Church we contend they are in Christ Jesus by faith and in this manner we relate to them). Even as he calls for relationships to be specifically faithful in the given context they are found in, there is a sense in which through the movement of his letter to the Ephesians that all relationships are upended, transformed, and made new in Christ in whom all things are being brought to submission and brought into for the redemption that is ours in him. This is the end of all things breaking into the present age in the crucified and risen One.
As to the question of both being “equal”, that is a problem that requires further explanation. Our own western contemporary ideals of what it might mean to be “equal” convolutes the discussion. We really may be far better served not speaking of each other as “equals”, but as those who are “in Christ”. This means we all have differing contexts, histories, cultures, responsibilities, gifts, etc., that are honored and remade in our obedience to the Word. This should not be confused with being “equal”. Equality can suggest all things equal, which seems to ignore our specificity as humans that are different from one another and that somehow in this differentiation we bring glory by the Spirit to the Father. It is not in overcoming our different-ness, but in living by the Spirit in that different-ness that we are conformed (and being conformed) to the Son. It is not the removal of difference, but the sharing of difference as a sort of mosaic of new creation in Christ. This actually honors our different-ness and appreciates each social-historical-cultural context.
As to the question of one individual getting “the final say in everything”, I would say there is only one who does this: God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The only person who does this is the God of Israel, given to and for us, the man from Nazareth, Jesus, and poured out and enjoined in his Spirit. To imagine that one spouse has any “final say in everything” would be for that spouse to take the place of the Lord in the relationship. Neither spouse is the Father, nor the Son, nor the Spirit. Nor should either take the place of such. To do so would be as if the Father simply dictated to Son and Spirit and they obeyed. But this misses that our God, in the bonds of love, mutually submits for the sake and glory of Father, Son, and Spirit. The “final say” in this way is the mutually shared agreement of Father, Son, and Spirit in making all things new. But the model you are speaking of is widely held and believed in the Church even as it is precisely the model Jesus condemned as the world’s way where one lords it over another. This is not who we are, because this is not the God we worship and are being sanctified into the image of.
Does this make sense? What are your thoughts in response? Sorry for the long explanation that is perhaps difficult reading. I’m thinking I will go ahead and post my reply as a blog post (so thank you for being my muse 😉 ).