Shine, Complementarian Wife, Shine!

My oppressed, non-liberated wife

For a long time I read Rachel Held Evans’ blog. She’s a liberal Protestant who grew up as a traditional Evangelical Protestant.

But as time wore on, her posts centered more and more on a certain understanding of egalitarianism in husband-wife relationships, where the husband and the wife are “equal” (in, it seems, every way). Her goal was to combat a certain kind of complementarianism that many Evangelical Protestants believe in, where men and women have different roles in the life of the family.

This all is reaching its climax with the publication of her book (purportedly) on a year of living “biblical womanhood.” It’s the whole “live something out for a year” gimmick that has been making the rounds in the past several years. I admit that I’m not a fan of it, though I get Rachel’s point in doing it, which is once again to combat a certain kind of interpretive lens that Evangelical Protestants use to understand the Bible.

Her husband, Dan, has come out (bravely?) in showing how he is man enough to support Rachel’s endeavors, so that her voice will not be silenced but will be heard by the widest possible audience.

Through it all one gets the idea that there are two camps: “egalitarians” whose husbands are enlightened, modern men, with liberated women for wives and “complementarians” whose wives are barefoot and pregnant year-round, slaving away in the kitchen, baby on one hip, while pops is sitting on the couch drinking beers and watching the football game, occasionally demanding more pork rinds in between belches.

And I just have to say, this is total bunk.

Complementarianism, properly understood, does mean that husbands and wives are made differently. They are not the same. Their gifts are not the same; their bodies are not the same. The husband is head of the wife. The wife submits to the husband. Yet they are equal in dignity.

Should the husband serve his wife? Absolutely, and on this Dan Evans and I can agree. Should the husband want to see his wife “succeed,” as according to God’s will? Absolutely. And just to prove that plenty of complementarian men do this, observe the following three cases:

The Heldts from Just Showing Up

Brianna is a star blogger, with a blog many times more popular than mine. She’s a great mom, and they’ve adopted several children, yet she goes to conferences, and she writes, and she’s on the radio. And through all of it her husband–a friend of mine–supports her and goes to work each day as an engineer to provide for them.

The Fulwilers from Conversion Diary

Last I checked Jen’s blog was something like 30 times more popular than mine. It’s probably even greater than that now. Jen is a Catholic super-star, with one of the most (if not the most) popular Catholic blogs on the planet. She’s on the radio; she’s giving talks around the country; she’s writing a book; she’s syndicated everywhere except the National Catholic Reporter, she’s on the cover of magazines climbing ladders; and now she even has a TV show.

And her husband sits quietly behind the scenes and supports everything she does.

Katie from It’s Fun to be a Girl

A.k.a. my wife. At this very moment she is making blog posts, planning a national conference for women, writing a book, and preparing to present her signature It’s Fun to be a Girl program to parishes in our diocese.

And ours is a complementarian marriage. (I feel like I should start a video ad campaign like the Mormons do, showing all these cool couples then they look at the camera and say “And I’m a complementarian.”) I am the head; she is the heart. She submits to me. And I serve her in love, as Christ loved the Church.

Granted, I have a blog of my own and have some moderate following, but I can easily see Katie surpassing it and then some in the next few years. I dunno, maybe she’ll become the Catholic Beth Moore (whose husband, incidentally, must be a complementarian yet also seems to have no problem supporting her astronomic success). And I would be happy about that–thrilled!

Because, yes, I want my wife’s voice to be heard, because she is proclaiming the full truth of who women are, something, I am sad to say, that Rachel Held Evans falls short of. And yet Katie cooks meals, and does laundry, and stays home with our children, and all the other things that liberated women see as evils of “patriarchy.” I don’t force her to do these things, she does them on her own accord. And I help when I can, when she needs it, because it’s a big job to take care of the children and make the house a home.

We are one flesh, becoming more and more one heart and one soul.

Protestants, lacking sacred Tradition and the Magisterium, seem to get pulled to two extremes on the question of husband-wife relationship: the “egalitarian” view that tries to explain away or ignore the real differences between men and women, as well as the numerous biblical texts, and the “complementarian” view that husbands rule over their wives like club-wielding neanderthals in a rigid patriarchy. Both extremes have elements of truth but are mixed heavily with error.

And so it is in the Catholic Church that the full dignity and beauty of woman are preserved and upheld, and the full dignity of man is properly understood.

Rachel is right when she shows in her book that “everyone picks and chooses” from the Bible. She does it, and so do her opponents. But what Rachel doesn’t realize is that her picking and choosing is as arbitrary as theirs is, for both are missing the Tradition of the Church and the rightful teaching authority that is guided by the Holy Spirit. The solution, simple but hard, is for them all to leave Protestantism and enter full communion with the Catholic Church.

So I say: shine, complementarian wife, shine! Your husband will support you.

16 thoughts on “Shine, Complementarian Wife, Shine!”

  1. You are hilarious, Devin! And, such a good husband. I trust you enough to submit to you, out of reverence for Christ, because I know that you are an Ephesians 5 kind of guy, namely, you seek to lay down your life for me and purify me in love. Thank you for supporting me as I follow God’s call for It’s Fun To Be A Girl in a way that gives proper prioritization to my vocation as wife and mother.

    1. From the time I read this post this morning, I’ve been pondering it all day. You’ve planted a bunch of seeds for me, Devin. Thank you!

      Speaking of Ephesians 5 kind of guys … here’s a podcast from Fr. John Riccardo that provides a brilliant analysis of that often misrepresented and misunderstood Scripture. I know you two are busy, but this really is a must-listen take on the topic.

      And here’s the corresponding handout to the podcast:

      Thank you both for your witness and ministry. God bless!

  2. Rachel H. Evans is certainly preoccupied with gender and roles. But in Christ we are one. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.”

    The answer is found in the freedom that Christ has won for us on His bloody Cross. Not in a certain denomination or church.

  3. Pingback: I Shine!
  4. Thank you Devin for an excellent article. Do you have any perspective whether the “complementarian” idea is more or less prevalent in Catholic families than in Protestant? I don’t mean to focus overly on the “submission” side of the two-part equation but it seems that Catholicism has an appreciation for submission by all members at all levels as more of a natural, built-in characteristic. Submission occurs out of a sense that it pleases God to show humility in submitting to authorities He has instituted, whether you agree with them or they’re smarter or “better” than you or not. Protestants naturally resist submission in my opinion, whether it be to Popes or to current day church leaders who might try to enforce church discipline, etc….egalitarian views would seem to me more naturally to arise in this Protestant context.

    And yes, of course, there’s just as much humility and worshipful service required by the male side in complementarian marriages…of a different nature but one we must take seriously. Thanks to God for my wife’s patience with me as I try to hold up my end!

    1. Jeff,

      Catholics on the whole seem a lot less aware of this issue than Protestants do. But among strong Catholics, a more complementarian (husband head of the wife but also including mutual submission) is the norm in my experience.

      For Catholics, women cannot be priests, so that whole line is shot down. But in Protestantism (obviously) women have been fighting to become pastors and in many denominations have succeeded. So you have the traditional Evangelicals trying to combat that movement, which they see as anti-biblical, and it makes for a stronger emphasis on their interpretation of complementarianism. And on balance, that can sometimes lead to extremes, abuses, domination, patriarchy, etc.

  5. You two are such a great witness! Yes, the Catholic Faith is very balanced. I agree with Katie that it is certainly easier to submit to your husband when you trust him. I am also blessed with an Ephesians 5 man. Shine on Rose Family, Shine on!

  6. Ok, just to clarify:

    are you saying that your marriage and these other marriages in particular hold to a more complementarian-ish view of marriage, or are you saying that the Catholic Church’s ideal model of marriage is more in line with comps? Or neither?

    1. Elizabeth!

      Yes to both.

      I think the Catholic Church’s teachings in this regard are closer to the average Evangelical beliefs on complementarianism, YET they also embrace the true things in liberal Protestantism’s belief in egalitarianism. E.g. Women’s gifts are valued and they are encouraged to shine, submission is mutual, etc.

  7. Devin,

    I read this the other day and smiled, Michelle and I have always had a complementarian understanding of Marriage. Others have tried to read different views eisegetically into scripture, but their arguments never got much traction with either of us. I think the saddest part is just how badly it can be mis-represented by some, I’ve heard various protestants make a mockery of the whole thing, and end up sounding more like the Taliban, than some American Christian.

    The only nit is that I don’t think you need Tradition to understand how a complementarian relationship works (it can’t hurt), it’s pretty clearly spelled out in Scripture. And I know a number of protestants who correctly apply it, and are wonderful role models in this area.

    Good article, and something we both fully agree on…


    1. Paul,

      To you it’s pretty clearly spelled out in Scripture, yet lots of faithful, Bible-believing Protestants end up misinterpreting it and going to a bad extreme (as you pointed out). Other Protestants explain the verses away as purely culturally conditioned ideas that are no longer binding. So that’s the conundrum with saying it is clear from Scripture. Of course, you know this argument.

      That said, my experience in Protestantism was also positive, with all my friends having a proper understanding of complementarianism. So I think that is widespread. But you also do have various Bible churches, pastors, and denominations that have a skewed, male-dominating interpretation that can become abusive and influences their congregations.

      In any case, glad we agree on this!

  8. One thing I have noticed is that Catholics and Protestants often use different words to mean the same thing and that the same words often have different meanings.

    What Ms. Evans is talking about when she says “complimentarianism” is the very patriarchal system with rigidly defined gender roles often based on gender stereotypes. The opposite of this is “egalitarianism”, where the couple is more free to determine their own roles in the relationship.

    Catholics, however, tend to see “egalitarianism” as it is defined in the secular world, meaning that there should be no difference between men and women. “Complementarianism” to many Catholics is not about rigid gender roles, but one that celebrates both the masculine and the feminine and the unique gifts of both. (Or as the French say, “vive la difference!”) The idea of rigid, theologically defined, gender roles in a marriage is a completely foreign concept to most modern American Catholics.

    What this means is that while you call your marriage “complementarian” because you and your wife do have specific roles and these roles do coincide with traditional gender roles, Evans would probably call it “egalitarian” because you are supporting your wife’s work and you do help out around the house.

  9. Just a.couple more.questions. ! Why do you think God would offended if a.women spoke? Do you think God likes.women at all? deficient that they must shut up and submit? Thinking they need heads to order.rthem? What is your opinion on God’s dislike of.women? hearing from you.

    1. I don’t think God is offended when women speak. God loves all women; He created them, and His greatest creation is a woman, Mary the mother of Jesus Christ.

      Angela if you want to express disagreement, it’s best to first understand what the other person actually believes, rather than importing your own assumptions about what they believe, which bear little relation to the actual reality.

      As it is, your questions are insinuating and ridiculous.

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