Are Husbands and Wives Equal? Exploring Evangelical Teachings on Submission in Marriage

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Are husbands and wives equal?

A few days ago, on Facebook, I “fixed” Dale Partridge’s and the post sort of blew up.

Google’s English dictionary defines Infantilization as “to treat (someone) as a child or in a way which denies their maturity in age or experience” and Dale was painting in broad stripes: women are children. So I fixed it.

It turns out some people missed the core thing I was saying i.e men, just love your wives. So what followed was a hot comment section which got so out of hand (many people were actually respectful) that I had to close it off.

Today’s post is Part 1 of what became a small series. Make sure to also read Part 2 and Part 3 and additional thoughts.

One of the accusations leveled against me by some commenters was that I only included the initial part of Ephesians 5:25. That had I included the whole, it would have “confirmed” that husbands are indeed called to lead their wives.

So let me address that.

But first, a bit of background.

I was camp “husband lead and wife submit” for a long, long time. I blogged and taught from that point of view for years.

Until I started studying Scripture for myself (vs. simply repeating what I had been taught.) Until I read books and researched. Until my body broke down and there wasn’t a single Christian platitude that could fix it.

Most conservative Christians are taught to read Scripture without context, with no regard for the culture of the day/how the original hearers would have received the words, with no understanding of the overall purpose of the author, without knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the authorship of a book, without centering everything on Jesus Christ who is Immanuel, God with us.

And then there’s the historical maltreatment and misogyny against women and how it plays into current evangelical and cultural environments.  And let’s not even get started with different Bible translations and agendas.

Many Christians simply grab a verse and apply it to their lives through a personal/modern/cultural lens.

And the way I see it, no wonder we arrive at non-liberating conclusions like Jesus and New Testament authors are all about upholding patriarchy. That Paul and other New Testament writers were trying to maintain hierarchy, not remove it from Christian households.

Are Husbands and Wives Equal? Let’s talk about Saturday’s “fix”

Many people misunderstand non-hierarchical marriages, assuming that it means wives stop submitting to their husbands. What it actually means is that husbands start to submit to their wives. In Christian marriages, BOTH spouses submit.

Are husbands and wives equal in marriage image

That was Paul’s instruction to all Christians, and all Christians includes husband and wife. Men also are to honor and cherish and prefer their partner. Both submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Paul’s instructions to Christian husbands to love their wives were actually a radical departure from the Greco-Roman culture of the day. In that ancient culture, women had little to no rights, and Paul was asking the Christian men to be different, to treat their wives honorably, as equals, by loving them instead of lording over them (which was the norm).

Quick catch-up: I was a complementarian for years. But then I started studying out my beliefs, including teachings on submission and leadership of husbands. I investigated what I believed. And I came to very different conclusions while remaining within orthodox Christianity.

And that’s all I encourage couples to do.

  • Study.
  • Read resources and explore ideas. Yes, even the ones you disagree with.
  • Begin to explore why you believe what you believe vs. just repeating messages and talking points from your past. You’ll be surprised at what you learn.
  • Even if you don’t change your mind, you’ll grow in wisdom and understanding.

I also want complementarian couples to know their beliefs are not harmless. It might be working out for you because you have a good-hearted spouse, but the same views are being used to control and destroy others. And that should gravely concern you.

According to research by Sheila Gregoire and team, many Christians who believe in a hierarchy (i.e husband “breaks the tie” in marriage) actually don’t act that way in their marriage.

Instead, happy and healthy complementarian couples enjoy a healthy dynamic of partnership and mutuality. They are functional egalitarians! And that’s why their marriages are not self-destructing!

(Research by Dr. John Gottman shows that when husbands are unwilling to share power in their marriages, there’s an 81% chance their marriage would self-destruct.)

Read Part 2 of (what became) the Series

Are Husbands and Wives Equal? Further Reading

If you’d like to explore what the Bible and research says about the “Are husbands and wives equal?” type of questions, check out the following resources for further reading. Some of the links are affiliate.

Read Part 2 of (what became) the Series here –>> Men, Why is Being Asked to Love Your Wife an Offensive Proposition?

Marg Mowczko on Ephesians 5

What does complementarianism have to do with Domestic Violence Awareness Month? An Interview by Baptist News with Abuse expert and Clarity Coach, Sarah McDugal

Gottman article on sharing power in marriage

The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended by Sheila Wray Gregoire, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, Joanna Sawatsky

Unholy Fruit | Your WILD Guide to Discerning Toxic Character | Workshop with Sarah McDugal

Are you in a chronically problematic marriage? Or perhaps you know someone who is and you desire to support them. In this Workshop and Checklist, Coach Sarah McDugal empowers your ability to discern the Fruit of an UNholy spirit.

If you have felt confused by the dissonance between someone’s pious  words and their exploitative actions, this workshop offers clarity and  some possible next steps in your healing journey. Click here to check it out.

Sacred Self-Compassion | Webinar + 5-Day Challenge With Sarah McDugal

Learn why self-compassion is crucial to healing, and how to practice compassion on yourself. Sacred self-compassion isn’t selfish – it’s actually a holy act of worship to God.

Sacred self-compassion focuses on wellness and wholeness, which empowers us to serve others and it can be incorporated into your daily routine without making drastic or expensive changes – because it all starts with changing how you THINK. Sign up here.

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