In last week's Theology Thursday, I spoke to the exegetical case for male headship. This week, I want to focus on one expression of how this teaching is applied in a practical way. Too often, those who hold to the complementarian position have a rather monolithic cultural expression of that position, and this approach is what often brings the well-known criticism from egalitarians that sounds a lot like "you guys just want to take us back to the 1950s!"
In short, the monolithic way complementarian teaching is applied in the west often results in complementarianism itself being blamed as the culprit for why women are abused, stereotyped, or raised to be "weak." What follows us a post I wrote sometime ago that demonstrates how the idea of male headship is working itself out in my own home.
Can Complementarian Fathers Raise Strong Women?
I believe the Scriptures teach that in the marriage relationship, wives should submit themselves to the leadership of their husbands, as husbands conversely love their wives by ultimately sacrificing their lives for their brides. That isn't limited to being willing to die for her. It also includes living for her exclusively, and giving of yourself without thought.
The cultural description for this position is called complementarianism, and it is the belief that while men and women are essentially equal image bearers of God, they bear functional distinctions that complement each other. The theological term for this concept is "male headship," and even in many evangelical Christian circles, its about as popular as a Philly steak-laden belch in a crowded elevator.
I dealt with the Biblical and theological rationale for this position last week. Today, I want to address concerns I've heard lately that ask what kind of women emerge from homes that follow this philosophy of marriage and family. Many have implied, and a few more have explicitly stated that male headship teaches women to be "weak."
Well, as the father of a 5 year old daughter, I certainly don't have all the answers. Truth be told, having a daughter has raised many more questions than I had prior to her arrival in our family more than 3 years ago! Furthermore, I acknowledge that I can't ultimately control the outcomes of my children's lives. They will all ultimately make their own decisions. But this doesn't relieve me of my responsibility as a dad to raise them in the fear of the Lord, nor does it justify abdication of setting goals for what I want to help my children accomplish.
I also admit that for far too many, "headship" is ill-defined as something that benefits dad, and it sometimes takes the form of Dad being a drill-sergeant to the whole family. Those guys aren't leaders. They are jerks. And they aren't practicing Biblical headship. Instead, they are practicing a form of chauvinistic, gender-specified fascism. Men, if the way you lead your home makes you more comfortable and your family less secure, whatever you are practicing isn't what the Scriptures call "headship."
So, what is the profile of a young woman raised in a complementarian home? Well, I'm going to do my best to see the following realized in my little girl.
1. I will teach her to love Jesus. This is the most important decision any of my children can make. I want my daughter exposed frequently to the message that she, like the rest of humanity, is fallen in her sin and in desperate need of a Savior. I want her to learn how to share her faith, and how to present the Gospel above the fray of "comparative religions" so that Jesus is truly seen as being offered to the whole world.
2. I will teach her to be well-read and globally aware. I want her to be able to have intelligent discussions relative to science, politics, technology, culture, and faith. And when I say "intelligent discussions," I mean the sort of invigorating talk that will cause her to react with a yawn to tired "talking heads" on TV, or to the over-simplified arguments that are so often given in our current culture-war environment. I want her to know how the world works--not just our country, but the world! I want her to be comfortable having discussions about global issues with anyone on the globe! And, I want to instill a compassion in her that will serve as a "pilot light" to ignite the knowledge she gains into action that will serve others in the name of Jesus.
I want her to be comfortable living anywhere in the world, and competent with the cross-cultural skills that should befit any young person whose prime of life will span the mid-21st century. Most importantly, I want her to develop a genuine love for people of every nation, tongue and tribe. I want her to have fun exploring the world God created and the people He placed in it.
3. I will teach her to fight. Unfortunately, we live in a world where too many young men are emerging as barbarians who have no idea how to treat a woman. Everything from over-sexualized commercials to the trafficking and sex trade itself betrays that even full-blown, tolerant egalitarianism can't wipe away the propensity of some men to treat women like a commodity.
To be sure, I have no problem being her protector, and in the event that her safety is threatened by said meat-heads, I would have no problem using my own bare hands to pound them into a bloody pulp to the greater glory of God and the joy of all mankind. But since I'm realistic enough to know that I won't always be there, I intend to teach my princess how to defend herself. If she needs training that can't be provided by her old man, we will send her to classes. But at the end of the day, I want my young lady to know how to completely and permanently wash out a guy's kneecap, as well as how to be disabling with a groin shot or pepper spray, and if absolutely necessary, lethally accurate with a 9mm.
I want her to cherish peace, and stay away from trouble if she is able. But when confronted with a threat to her safety or the safety of weaker people with her, I want her to be able to take care of business. (and for what it's worth, she's already proving at 5 to have the spunk to do it. Just ask her two older brothers!)
4. I will teach her self-awareness. I want her to discover how God has gifted her, and help her develop and use those gifts for His glory. Through everything from choosing hobbies to determining how she will educate herself, I want her to know beyond a doubt who God has created her to be, and I want her to live out the purpose for why she was placed on this planet at this time in history.
Her mother and I are keenly aware of her "life story" from the time she was born until the moment we met her at a hotel in Lanzhou, China. There is no doubt in our minds that God gave her to us for the purpose of raising her up for great things. So, she will need to learn what she is good at, and what she isn't good at. She will need to learn how to check her own gut, and make sound judgement calls based on Scriptural principles applied to her own self-awareness. Whatever she decides to do professionally will be greatly enhanced if she does it with a keen sense of self-awareness.
5. I will teach her discernment when it comes to boys. In some sense, she is in the worst possible environment for meeting boys. As a pastor's daughter, she will no doubt meet a lot of meat-heads who can fake it really well and talk about Jesus in a way that is so convincing that it seems they actually know Him personally. But there is a huge, HUGE difference between men of God and "church boys." And I intend to teach her the difference.
It is unfortunate that in so many churches, young men are allowed and almost blessed to remain immature, unemployed, uneducated, irresponsible, and generally ambivalent about anything in life except their latest high score in Halo. Additionally, many young men are highly capable of employing "church language" to fool a gal into thinking that they are sincere in their walk with Jesus, when in reality they just sincerely want to take advantage of the girl.
Regrettably, the church--the one environment where strong men should be ever present and ready to help young bucks with their needed cranial-rectal extractions--is often the place perceived to be filled with women and weak men. And the result in too many churches can be a minefield of spiritual sounding 30-year-old adolescents who don't have their own act together and are consequently in no way qualified to marry--which means they have no business dating! As blunt and crass as it may sound, most "Christian" young men are absolutely and completely full of crap. Egalitarianism won't fix that problem. Real men of God, taking the lead, will fix it.
Fortunately, my little girl has a daddy who was once one of those young men. I know them well because, well, I WAS one of them. Thankfully, I had strong men who taught me Sunday School and walked with me in life in my church, which helped me more quickly cross over the bridge of authenticity from "church boy" to "man of God." I honestly don't know where I would be today without men like Markley Edwards and Bill Merritt, who were straight and frank with me about what God expects from young men who belong to Him.
By the time she is ready to date young men, I want her "Bull meter" to be hyper-sensitive, because I don't want my young lady married to a loser she has to support one day because he is too busy still being an adolescent idiot. And in the event that said adolescents try to force something on my little girl: well, see # 3 above. :)
6. I will teach her to have a healthy self-image not defined by men, or by women's magazines aimed at men. The percentage of young ladies today obsessed with their body image is astronomical, and sad. So called "women's" magazines--which in reality are no more than rags teaching females how to be everything desired by a middle-aged boy who can shave--simply enhance this crisis of ladies who are implicitly told to interpret the whole of their existence though she shape of their bodies and the aggressive expression of their sexuality.
My little girl knows Dad thinks she is beautiful, and she always will. But there is something else I think fathers should teach their daughters that is far more important; that GOD thinks they are beautiful just as they are. As such, no one else's opinion matters. If they disagree, then they are simply wrong. From our Creator originates all things, including the base definition of "beauty." In light of His all-expansive, multi-ethnic, expression of the concept through a myriad of body types, hair colors, and cultural fashion expressions all around the world, a nearly naked, borderline anorexic Victoria's Secret model shouldn't be seen as the "ideal." If anything, that picture should be beneath our little girls. And any boys who see that picture as the ideal should be beneath them as well.
Our daughters should have a healthy image of themselves as truly beautiful, and they should be given the creativity within Biblical boundaries of modesty to express that beauty in a way that enhances this healthy self-image. Furthermore, she should never, ever change her appearance merely to satisfy a male suitor.
7. I will teach her how to be a voice of wisdom. Though I don't believe God placed the burden of ultimate responsibility on women in the home or the church, I also reject the idea that male headship means that a woman's voice isn't to be highly valued. I don't want my daughter bearing burdens God never intended her to bear. But I do want her to be a meaningful contributor, and valued ministry partner with those who are charged with that burden.
I can't count the times I've been "saved" by no more than a gentle touch of my arm by my wife, who pulls me back from the edge, and speaks great wisdom by giving me a broader perspective I did not previously have. Honestly, the churches I serve has been spared plenty by my hand because I have a godly wife who headed my stupid ideas off at the pass! (And I'm not the only one who realizes this. See Ed Litton's post here.)
I want my daughter to be a voice of wisdom like her mother, and I want her to use that voice frequently, whether it is a work, or at church benefiting her pastor, or at home benefiting her husband if indeed God grants her a spouse.
8. I will teach her that she doesn't "need" a man. Too many women are encouraged to find the lion's share of their future as beginning on their wedding day. To be sure, its a big day, and certainly a major milestone that should last a lifetime. But there is a previous step to this vision that is all-too-often missed in many Christian homes: If she doesn't know herself, and isn't confident in herself, marriage won't fix the problem. It will make it worse.
I recently met a new leader at one of our churches. She is my age, gainfully employed as a professional, confident in her role and calling, and has never been married. She isn't some rabid feminist with a chip on her shoulder, and she isn't bitter toward men. She simply learned who she was in Christ, and accepts that she can fulfill that role faithfully without a husband. And she is right!
It is true that most women will get married, and most will want to get married. That's OK. At the same time, our daughters should be taught that they don't "need" to get married--at least not in the same way that they need food, shelter and clothing. Our daughters have a greater daddy than us in their Heavenly Father. If they are Christian, they have a husband in His Son, and they have a protector/provider/empowering affirming presence in His Holy Spirit. I want my little girl to know that she is already complete, and doesn't need a spouse to be complete.
If God grants her a husband, then that is a wonderful thing that she should cherish, and in that event, fairy-tale day dreams about the wedding day are fine. If however, she ends up like Lottie Moon and foregoes marriage for the sake of a greater mission; well, she will be in good company!
9. I will teach her that men who can accept all of the above might...might be worthy of her submission. Simply put, I will teach my daughter that men who are too weak to lead a strong woman--men who are intimidated by strong women--aren't fit to be husbands. Typically, these kinds of men manifest in one of two ways: they are either the obvious "wimp" who never makes a decision and leads the way, or he becomes a "dictator" in his own home; overpowering the voice of his wife by intimidating her because, deep down, he is afraid to admit that sometimes, she might be smarter than he is! I believe that wives should submit themselves to the leadership of their husbands. I also believe that women who want to become wives should choose carefully to whom they will submit.
Candidly, this is the point where mate selection breaks down almost irrevocably in our culture. Cultural pressures encourage young women to try and get the guy with the prettiest eyes, the best hair, or the hottest car. Books and movies marketed to teen girls enable such surface-level criteria for establishing a long-lasting relationship. I won't keep my daughter from those movies. I'd much rather see her roll her eyes in disgust after seeing one. But the only way that will happen is if Dad teaches her how to think critically and deeply about the kinds of relationships she develops. If you can't see yourself ever trusting the leadership of a particular young man, then you shouldn't marry him. And if you aren't going to marry him, then you have no business dating him!
10. I will teach her that it is up to her. From a purely statistical standpoint, there is a 90% chance that one day, my role as provider and protector of my daughter will come to an end on her wedding day. More than likely, sometime within the next two decades I will escort her down an aisle, and give her to another man. In that moment, she will become his responsibility. In the meantime, I can give advice and counsel. I can offer my blessing on her relationships when I believe they are wise. And, I can warn her when I perceive her to be going down the wrong road. But ultimately, it is up to her to decide who she marries. Ultimately, it is up to her whether she gets married.
Additionally, her own life decisions regarding education, career, and calling require the guidance of two parents who love her very much. Yes, my wife and I want a complementarian daughter. No, we do not want to raise a "doormat." We want to raise a strong woman. And by God's grace, and especially within the gender framework we believe He has designed, we believe we can.