I'm a female pastor, and people often ask how that plays out in our home. Jeff and I do not live into traditional gender roles. I worked hard to earn a master’s degree and pursue a full time career/vocation, while Jeff has made many sacrifices to be the full time caregiver of our four children. Trading and sharing and mixing our gender roles isn’t always easy for other people to understand, nor is it always easy for us to navigate.
Inevitably throughout the day, I’ll be in the coffee shop working on a sermon, and someone will ask, “Oh, is Jeff babysitting today?” Jeff is a master in the kitchen and cooks a meal almost every night of the week. Fridays are my day off and my night to cook. Fridays also happen to be pizza night (coincidence, I think not!). If Jeff is the one picking up the pizza someone will ask, “Dad’s night to cook, huh?”.
Jeff takes our daughters to school, to practice and gets them ready for church on Sunday mornings. He puts ponytails in their hair, he buttons complicated dresses and he changes diapers. He helps the girls with dress up clothes and holds their baby dolls. When I leave for a conference, I don’t bat an eyelash about how the kids will survive while I’m away for a few days. Everyone ends up fed, bathed and in bed by eight-o-clock. It’s rather uneventful when I’m away. On the other hand, when Jeff is away, I usually call for backup and order out every meal, skipping bath time more than once.
We are asked on a regular basis, “Jeff is the spiritual leader of your household though, right?”
Actually, he’s not. And neither am I. But, if one of us were going to be, wouldn’t it be the one who has taken master’s level classes on spiritual practices, spends time experimenting with different forms of prayer and could talk about the Bible until she’s blue in the face? Even still, neither of us are the spiritual leader of our house.
There was an article recently at christianpost.com about Kirk Cameron, child actor turned preacher, and his teaching about wives following their husband’s lead. Cameron has traveled to over 200 churches with this message. What’s really frightening is what his sister, Cameron Bure has to say about marriage. She has said that she would follow her husband’s lead even if she knew it would hurt her family. This is dangerous thinking for all kinds of obvious reasons that I hope I don't have to explain.
Complimentarians believe that the Bible teaches women to submit unconditionally and completely to their husbands and husbands to be the leader of their house. Where does this idea come from? It's usually based on Ephesians 5:22-24,
“Wives submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”
The interesting thing about this passage is that the word submit isn’t even in the Greek New Testament. I'm not kidding, it's not there! It’s assumed from verse 21 which states, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Jesus taught that the greatest commandments were to love God and love others. Jesus came to tear down barriers that divide race, class and gender. The good news isn't about a weaker, more sinful sex looking to the perfect, more divinely reflective one. Christianity is about mutual submission to one another, because we are all equal parts sinner and saint.
Something else that needs to be understood when reading the New Testament, is that the Romans occupied the land. They dominated the world, and the way they did so was through peace (Pax Romana). Their vision for peace was to kill and destroy anything in opposition to their vision. There were Greco Roman household codes which worked to maintain total authority of the government, and you didn’t dare challenge them (Again, Pax Romana). The Apostles “advocated this system, not because God had revealed it as the divine will for Christian homes, but because it was the only stable and respectable system anyone knew about,” according to Women’s Bible Commentary. Ephesians 5:22-24, Colossians 3:18-19 and 1 Peter 3:1-2 are not the prescription for a Christian marriage, but Paul and Peter were working within a particular time and culture. They were doing their best with what they had to work with.
So you might be wondering, if I’m not the spiritual leader, and Jeff isn’t the spiritual leader, how does this work?
In Luke there’s a story about a couple walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They had gone to Jerusalem to celebrate passover, which was typically an extravagant and joyous occasion. Jewish people gathered from all around for this pilgrimage festival. The weekend quickly took a turn for the worst. There was a man who many believed was going to lead a revolt against the Romans. They believed he was the messiah that had been prophesied, they believed he would redeem their nation. Instead of leading them to freedom, Jesus was killed on a cross. Instead of remembering how God led them out of slavery in Egypt, they were reminded of their present enslavement to the oppressive Roman government.
That was Friday.
On Sunday, Cleopas and his wife (in many circles it is believed Cleopas’ companion is his wife) were walking home from Emmaus. Let’s call her Mary. The weekend hadn’t gone anything like they had planned. They were talking about everything that went wrong. They were discussing what life would be like now, now that their hope was gone, now that their leader had been killed.
While they’re walking, a man joins them, and when they approached their home they invited him in. It was getting dark, and it wouldn’t be safe for this stranger to continue on his journey. Hospitality was an incredibly important part of the Jewish faith. It wasn’t a spiritual gift, something you did if you were good at, or an excuse to not invite people in if you weren’t. Hospitality was part of their faith. After all, “do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Or in this case, Jesus himself.
It was customary to offer bread to the guest, and food for their animals as well. And so, Cleopas and Mary offer this stranger bread. The head of the house was the one who would have broken the bread and shared it with the table. So what is the biblical example of headship here? Who takes the loaf and shares it with the table? Cleopas? Mary? Not in this story. Jesus takes the bread. He assumes the role as head of the house.
Jesus is the head. Jesus is king. Jesus brought us the kingdom, he set it in motion so that we could live it out. The kingdom is at work in our world. It is popping up all over. We can pledge our allegiance to that kingdom, or we can pledge our allegiance to the kingdoms of our world. We can submit to no one and live as individuals however we want, which is how our culture encourages us to live. Or we can follow this broken vision of Christianity that encourages women to submit to their husband even in situations that put her and the lives of her children in danger.
Fortunately, Jesus shows us a third way.
Jesus shows us exactly how this plays out in the kingdom as he assumes the role as head. He takes the bread, he gives thanks, he breaks it and he shares it. And so Jeff and I express our gratitude for one another, we set aside our personal need for power and control and we share our life; we share our leadership; we share our roles as we live in the kingdom.
In Genesis 1:27 God created humans, male and female in God’s image. Women were not made in an inferior image. It’s a few chapters later when this all gets confused. Instead of the man and woman looking to God to inform their identity, the man looks to his work and the woman looks to her husband to define their value, their role, their purpose. Because of our bent toward sin, men and women are on a quest for purpose, but we're looking in all the wrong places. Our shared purpose is to make God’s kingdom a reality in our world.