In 2015, a few months before my wedding, I wrote a blog for the Junia Project titled, 6 Things Egalitarian Marriage is Not. At that point, I had only a theological and biblical understanding of egalitarian marriage. Today, Ryan and I are just just shy of our 2 year anniversary, and I’ve got some egalitarian newlywed experience to offer as a sequel.
Two different, individual people coming together to live as one flesh, come to find, is a process! It’s all too easy to live in the world of “me, myself, and I” when it comes to feelings, thoughts, opinions, and decisions. I continue to learn what it means to be “us”, and that what I do always has a direct effect on my husband.
With that said, these are the relational dynamics that I’ve found to reveal whether or not an egalitarian marriage is underway:
You have Jesus as the head
One of the major differences between egalitarian and complementarian marriage is the concept of “headship”. I have heard my complementarian friends say that, ultimately, the man is the head, and that he needs to make the final decision when necessary. Additionally, many of these friends express concern for upholding biblical authority within the marriage.
Well, rest assured. In an egalitarian marriage, there’s both headship and authority: Jesus. That doesn’t mean, however, that neither of us ever desire to step into the role of “God” from time to time. (Just me?) Before we were married, Jesus was Lord, the one we gave our lives to follow. Now that we’re married, Jesus is Lord, the one we’ve given our lives to follow. The difference now is that we get to figure out what following him looks like together!
You decide together
This one goes hand in hand with having Jesus as the head. In an egalitarian marriage, Jesus leads both spouses into a unified decision. Neither person has more potential to hear God’s guidance better than the other based on their gender. God speaks to everyone, providing an unending opportunity for both spouses to seek and hear him. Whatever the circumstance, if a couple does not collaborate on a decision, it can create a rift in their relationship that widens over time. A decision made because both people feel God wants them to do something has power. What we decide, whether individually or together, affects who we become and where our marriage goes!
We have found Tim and Anne Evans’ book, Together: Reclaiming Co-Leadership in Marriage to be a helpful, practical resource for praying and hearing God together. They talk about the importance of not merely taking turns on who gets to decide, but rather, having the intention and patience to come to decisions together. Their method has helped us be more intentional in seeking God’s guidance.
Wait. Aren’t egalitarians against submission? Well, if Jesus is the head, then no, we aren’t against submission. In fact, we are for submission in marriage. Ephesians 5 (the infamously debated marriage passage) talks specifically about submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (v. 21). We wouldn’t be very good egalitarians if we didn’t submit to each other, now would we?
What does that look like? I think both complementarians and egalitarians can agree, when it comes to submitting to Jesus, we’re loved and cared for. Choosing to obey Jesus leads to life. Similarly, in marriage, Ryan tells me to wear a helmet when I ride my bike to work (safety first!), or I tell him to rest and drink bone broth when he’s feeling ill. We don’t have to submit to these things, but we do because we know the other is looking out for our best interests and has wisdom behind their suggestion.
You grow together
Learning to become one with each other and God has been, hands down, the most rewarding and fulfilling part of the last two years. (We’re planning to live to be over 100, so there are many years to look forward to!) It is exciting that we are on an eternal journey of transformation, of becoming like Christ. This incredible adventure requires growing together.
In an egalitarian marriage, neither spouse needs to be more spiritually mature or strong than the other in order to lead or submit. It is an equal playing field for growth as followers of Jesus. In Jesus’ explanations of the Kingdom of God, he uses agricultural metaphors like seeds (Matt 13, Luke 13), fruit (Matt 7, Mark 4), wheat (John 12), and a vineyard (John 15). All of these describe a process of growth that occurs when Jesus is the source of life. Growing individually and as a couple is a significant indicator that Jesus is the head of the marriage!
You dream together
Bottom line, Jesus is the ultimate dream, the vision. When we give our lives to him, he becomes our lens and our focus. For us, motivation and direction for growing as a couple has largely come from dreaming together about what our life might look like in Jesus. The vision we have for ourselves (or lack of it) influences our daily choices, and our daily choices determine where we end up. Without intentionality in either a shared vision or daily choices, a couple is reduced to two individuals.
Hebrews 12:2 talks about fixing our eyes on Jesus, the perfecter of our faith, who kept his focus on the joy set before him amidst his suffering. Life happens and challenges come, but a couple that dreams together, stays together. In an egalitarian marriage, that dream is both sought together and fought for together with shared responsibility.
You respect each other
I know, I know, respect is for the man and love is for the woman. However, there is truth in Aretha’s famous song (R-E-S-P-E-C-T!). But we don’t have to take her word for it. Let’s look at Ephesians 5 again. Paul is telling the men in this community of Ephesus to love their wives as they would love their own body (v.28). This was a radical concept for this culture! Women were not loved or respected. They were maybe a class above livestock. Maybe. Fortunately, egalitarian marriage goes beyond cultural norms.
Ephesians 5 encourages men, who have cultural power, to elevate women, who have no power, to a place of equal standing as fellow members of Christ’s body (v. 30). A big reason why our society still struggles to view women as equal, capable partners in the world (or the church for that matter), is because they are not fully respected in marriage.
A fundamental aspect of egalitarian marriage is having a deep respect for who each other is and what each other can do.
Yes, men can take care of the kids. Yes, women can be the primary financial provider for the family. But traditional roles don’t have to be switched to be egalitarian. Rather, how roles are determined comes out of respect and is based on who the spouse is in Christ, not their gender.
At the end of the day, egalitarian marriage is not defined by roles, it’s revealed by a couple’s unified pursuit of Jesus, their Lord and Savior, the only head of the Body of Christ.