Husband – Leader Or Servant?
Does the Bible teach men are to exercise loving leadership over their wives in marriage as opposed to self-giving love within a relationship of mutual submission? Women over the centuries have been subject to abuse at the hands of men. Advising men the Bible suggest their wives are to be submissive to them in a way men are not to be submissive to their wives can be, I believe, abuse-provoking. Based on man’s track record, it seems the last thing men need over women is any type of authority. One person wrote to the editor of a newspaper “…it’s been bothering me since 9/11. What’s the difference between the strain of Islam that proscribes gender roles and its counterpart in Christianity that does the same thing, albeit with a different set of prohibitions?”
Which intuitively sounds safer and more biblical, that men should lead or serve more their wives? Why would marriage/gender roles be different than Jesus’ emphasis in His earthly ministry to crowds, which was much more about service than who is in charge? Greatness was achieved through servanthood. (Mt 20:26-27) By Jesus’ example did He come to lead or serve more? I have seen a great deal of pain coming from the notion that the husband is the spiritual leader of the woman in marriage. As well, many women are denied the privilege to exercise their spiritual gifts in the church because of one particular biblical passage (I Tim. 2:11-15), which is highly debated among evangelical scholars. Finally, like the person above in the newspaper article, many people are not interested in a faith or God who teaches husbands have more authority than their wives when it comes to decision making in the relationship. It is nonsensical. Frequently, the woman is far more competent in certain areas of the relationship. Do women, and not men, need permission from their spouse to make certain decisions because of some advised hierarchy?
I understand many do not abuse what I will refer to as a “loving leadership” model as opposed to a “servanthood” model of love. This is not the case though for many husbands who believe they have any kind of authority over their wives in marriage. Furthermore, many women become confused, frustrated, and alienated from God when expected to be submissive to their husband in a way their husband is not submissive to them. The argument that you are equal but have less authority probably didn’t do much for slaves as well. In relationships when one has more authority than the other, abuse is possible because of human nature. There are more checks and balances when under authority of one’s government or church leadership. But, even church leadership doesn’t have authority over one’s personal relationship with Christ and their individual decisions. Christians are under the authority of Jesus the Christ.
Genesis 3:16 describes what happens when sins enter relationships. Men will attempt to rule over women. God is describing problems not prescribing roles. Curses are warnings, not counsel for God’s plan. History confirms God’s prediction that man’s natural tendency is to dominate or rule over women. Why would God ordain husbands to have authority over their wives when He predicted as a result of sin that men are susceptible to ruling over women? To appoint man as authority over woman can encourage dominance on the man’s part and dependence on the woman’s part. Submission is a way of life for all Christians. A system of mutual accountability is always a healthier pattern for marriages. We know why men take to leadership like glue. Who doesn’t want to head up an organization of two where difficult, personal decisions have to be made?
Do we need male leadership in marriage or unselfish men who have the heart of a servant? (Eph. 5) Many men may be too quick to assume an impasse in a marriage cannot be solved through normal conflict resolutions means, especially when they think they are suppose to provide leadership in decision-making. One prominent Christian leader was quoted as saying when asked if a man and woman have equal responsibility in marriage: “Yes, However, when there is a final decision that needs to be made and they can’t arrive at one, the man needs to take responsibility.” Why not allow the partner who has the most expertise with the matter at hand to make the final decision or some other creative manner? This is the environment less conducive for domestic abuse and the other atrocities women face at the hands of men in our society. I have been married over twenty-seven years and I have not encountered one impasse that could not be solved in ways other relationships solve differences. But, I didn’t always think this way until believing in a servant than leadership model in marriage.
Finally, the fact that God is referred to as Father predominately in Scripture does not suggest males have any special authoritative or leadership roles. The gods of the nations in biblical times were described as either male or female. By contrast, the Jews did not speculate about the “masculinity” of God. The biblical authors used whatever term appropriate for the audience they were writing to. Likely, part of the reason for more male references is the mainly patriarchal cultures the writers lived in. For more in depth treatment of the biblical passages relevant to this discussion, one can refer to the chapter on God and Women in my book God May Not Be Your Problem! – Images Of God That Cause Unbelief or Despair