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:
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.
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.
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.