While I have significant agreement with Dee with respect to her take on John Piper and his proclamations regarding “gender roles”, I think there is a larger set of questions that this begs:
(1) Just what are we talking about when we speak of “gender roles”?
(2) What does Scripture say about this?
As an endurance athlete–not a particularly competitive one, but one who completes large events–I belong to a cycling club and a triathlon club.
In the cycling club, I belong to a group that does a set of century (100+ mile) rides. The leaders include a husband-wife team. The wife–JBP–is a strong rider and does most of the leading, as she generally serves as the pacer for the group. She’s a badass on the bike. Her husband, BP, is fine cyclist in his own right, but she does most of the leading.
In the triathlon club, we have everyone from hacks like me–who enjoy the swim/bike/run disciplines but who aren’t all that competitive–to very competitive athletes who have qualified for the Boston Marathon and have completed many Iron-distance races, to some who are professional triathletes who are on the edge of qualification for the Ironman World Championships.
One of our best triathletes–EH–is a woman. She is among the fastest swimmers in the club, as she has swam the 2.4-mile Ironman swim distance in well under an hour, and she has knocked out the marathon-portion of an Ironman at a sub-9 pace in near-100F heat!
Are their physical makeups–and they are both very fit–unBiblical? I see no case in Scripture to suggest that there is anything wrong with what they do. (Both are Christians BTW.)
EH’s husband, a physician and Army veteran, is not as fast as EH in triathlon, nor is JBP’s husband as fast as JBP on the bike. In their cases, the husbands are not as dedicated to the sport as their wives are, although they are otherwise good athletes in their own rights.
But what does this have to do with “gender roles”? Everything.
While I am quite the patriarch–although I’m more of a laid-back sort–I see no Biblical requirement that I must be the primary breadwinner in the home.
In the Larijani household, that just happens to be the case. But, if MrsLarijani was the one pulling the bigger bucks, I would be the one staying at home with Abigail and teaching her how to prank everyone!
(A couple years ago, the day after the Air Force Marathon, MrsLarijani and I–unable to find another church to park for the morning–went to an OPC church in the area, The folks were pretty friendly, although they appeared to grimace when MrsLarijani told them that she had a job outside the home. That’s called being ridiculous!)
Nor do I see any Biblical requirement that there be only one breadwinner. In a perfect world, one would always be able to stay at home with the kids, but–let’s not kid ourselves–that is not always possible.
(And don’t come marching in here telling me the story about the homeless mother who homeschooled her kids–who now attend Ivy League schools on full rides–while living in a homeless shelter. The particular is not the general, so if you come here to promote such, I will cyber-flog you without mercy.)
Ergo, I present Gender Role Principle #1: division of labor is a flexible matter, and is up to the husband and wife to work out among themselves.
(The best time to work this out is before the wedding, so that way each will enter the marriage with a sober and realistic understanding of how those roles will likely play out.)
As I say that, some folks may raise the question as to whether this undermines a patriarchal family structure. My answer: of course it doesn’t. The issue of who has the higher rank in the house is not the same the one who has the higher income. You will search the Scriptures in vain for any such principle that equates one’s income to one’s level of authority in the home.
At the same time, it does beg the question of how authoritarian do the Scriptures require the husband to be? The answer: not very.
The positive command that husbands get: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church.” (Ephesians 5); the negative (don’t go there) command: “don’t be harsh with them” (Colossians 3).
Similarly, wives have a command: “submit to your husbands in all things as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5)
While the same passage carries a command of mutual submission, the particulars are commanded differently for the husband (love your wives as Christ loved the Church) and the wife (submit to your husband as to the Lord).
How should that submission work out? My answer: general deference by each, with the husband and wife working in collaborative manner, as the wife gives the husband the benefit of the doubt on the final decision unless there is something obviously immoral, abusive, fraudulent, or otherwise malicious in play.
The husband, while having the higher rank, must take care not to abuse that rank.
That means he ought not make decisions in a vacuum. When he got married, he accepted his wife into the role of help-meet, and that means–unless her faculties are medically gone–he ought to be working with her on their future, rather than being an autocrat.
In other words: husbands, don’t be douchebags.
(Similarly, it is not the job of the wife to veto everything and then demand “mutual submission.” In fact, she should be his “help-meet”, not obstruct him.)
In public, they need to treat each other with respect, not correcting each other every minute. If you can’t respect your mate, then one or both of you clearly have a theological problem.
If you, the wife, cannot submit to your husband, then it is on you to show that, Biblically, you are not bound to submit to him. Is he being abusive? Is he pushing you to go along with something immoral or fraudulent or malicious?
No? Then suck it up and submit to him as to the Lord.
If you, the husband, cannot love your wife, then you need to evaluate your reasons against Scripture? And keep in mind that, just as Hosea went to great lengths for Gomer, Jesus has gone to great lengths for a very imperfect Church that almost never has honored Him well.
In other words, my default answer is suck it up and love her as Christ loved the Church.
That means you ought not undermine each other. If there are issues, then deal with them in the home, not online or on camera. Don’t go airing your crap like a reality TV show.
So, how ought a husband lead?
First of all, he needs to be humble with respect to his rank. Even if she knows more than he does, he can still seek wisdom and understanding and be prayerful and humble. He can go to his pastor or his small group. He can ask his wife about relevant Scriptures and bounce questions off her. He can foster a collegiality that will pay off. He can research issues on the Internet, as good, conservative Bible commentary is plentiful.
And if she has any semblance of godliness, she will respect that humility.
Secondly, he needs to pick his issues that are worth standing firm on. Everything is not a life-death issue, and most of the time there is room for middle ground. And sometimes, decisions can be deferred–tabled–until each has had sufficient time to deliberate. BTW: most of the time, if you feel rushed, it’s probably a good idea to slow down and get your bearings.
At the same time, when you must be decisive, you need to stand your ground. There have been a few–and I do mean a few–times where I have had to mince no words and say, “God put me in charge; you accepted my leadership when you said, “I do”, and right now you need to follow me on this.”
That is rare. In 8 years of marriage, we’re talking less than once a year.
Thirdly, stay off the hard fastball.
Jesus administered a hard smackdown on his Disciples only one time that we know of, and that was his rebuke of Peter. While Jesus was very direct in His teachings and admonitions, hard rebukes were the exception, not the rule.
If she gets easily-offended, then ask her, “Given that this issue must be addressed–and given that it is my responsibility to confront the matter rather than let the fox roam in the vineyard–how can I ask it in a way that does not push your buttons?” (I’ve done this before.)
Sometimes she has an answer, other times she doesn’t. In those cases, I just say, “Look…I’m going to keep addressing the matter as I need to. If you have ideas on how to do this, we can keep having that conversation.”
(I tend to prefer the soft curveball for her, while reserving the high-inside fastball for almost everyone else.)
But as for “gender roles”, it’s not a question of who is stronger, although–as a general rule–men are physically stronger than women.
It’s about what God commanded.
So far, I’ve focused on gender roles as to how they ought to play out in the marriage, but we still have a remaining matter: what about gender roles within the Church?
- Are women allowed to teach? If so, whom?
- Are women allowed to preach? If so, in what capacity?
- Are women allowed to hold particular offices, such as that of deacon or elder?
- To what extent are women permitted to participate in the ministry of the larger Body?
With respect to Church offices, at first glance it appears that there is a default principle, in 1 Timothy 2:
I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
In that, you have a guiding principle: women are generally prohibited from teaching or exercising authority over men.
Does that, however, preclude them from all teaching? If so, that would fly in the face of some of the most uber-patriarchal churches in America, as the ranks of children’s church, Awana, and women’s classes are dominated by…women teachers.
I would submit that the context merely precludes them from such roles with respect to men. In the context of the Garden, Adam–who was with Eve when the serpent engaged her–did not make any effort to correct Eve in the conversation. He did not interject, even though he knew the command. In fact, he went right along with her and ate of the fruit–as she was deceived–even though he knew better.
The curse of the garden, in turn, included a Patriarchy that is dysfunctional: she would have the desire to have what he has, and he would have the desire to squash her at every turn.
Paul was addressing that dynamic: that is why women are precluded from such offices–particularly overseer–in the Church. It’s not a preclusion from all teaching or authority, just that which involves any form of leadership over men.
Again, this has nothing to do with physical strength.
Nor has this anything to do with how smart anyone is.
Nor has this anything to do with “cultural context”, as the reasons given are theological and not cultural.
It has everything to do with (a) Creation and (b) the Fall.
Some might ask how this squares with what we see in Scripture, as women served as prophets (Deborah, Miriam, Huldah, Anna), judges (Deborah), and deacons (Phoebe, Priscilla).
I would suggest that it squares just fine.
Prophets were messengers from God, and were not in positions of authority. The good kings–David, Solomon, Uzziah, Hezekiah, Josiah–consulted them and heeded their advice. Bad kings–or kings that started good and went bad–ignored their advice and/or terrorized them altogether.
Judges were political, not spiritual, leaders who arbitrated cases on behalf of their fellow Israelites. At the time, the spiritual authority was vested in the priests, and women were precluded from that office. There was one instance where a woman ascended a throne in Israel: Athaliah. And that went badly for her.
One prophet–Miriam–challenged the authority of Moses, and was stricken with leprosy.
In the NT, Phoebe served under Paul’s leadership, and Priscilla worked in concert with her husband Aquila. The dynamic between them with respect to Appolos would be akin to MrsLarijani and myself working with anyone in my small group.
(I’m the teaching leader in my small group, although I tend to be low-key in my style. In other words, I don’t go running around saying, “shut up, I’m in charge here!” I’ve been with the group for years, and have proven myself over time. They defer teaching authority to me, but I’m careful not to abuse that. MrsLarijani is an active participant with me, although she doesn’t do the teaching.)
I guess what I’m getting at is this: in a marriage, there is lots of room for flexibility with respect for “gender roles,” even if you are a patriarchal Neanderthal like myself.
Ditto for within the larger Body, with one caveat: women are precluded from positions where they are over men.
The problem, however, is when folks like Piper insist on particular gender roles, especially in marriage, even though there is plenty of room for liberty–even within an otherwise patriarchal structure–for a husband and wife to work that out between themselves.