I should have realized it long before; I should have recognized the signs. But I didn’t. I suppose I was so lost in my own ideas that I didn’t notice. My husband and I were both raised in complementarian or patriarchal homes. We were taught that the man was the head of the home, the priest and leader of the family and that the woman was to submit to his leadership. He was wise to take her counsel, but the ultimate decision lay with him. He, as the man, made the final decision. And the wife submitted.
Soon after our 8th anniversary, we began homeschooling our children. The homeschooling community is, by and large, staunchly patriarchal. I threw myself into the whole scene. Women were to be raised to be keepers at home; there would be no careers for my daughters. I still remember my 5-year-old daughter throwing herself on the couch in tears when she realized I didn’t support her desire to become a doctor.
During this time, I was staunchly against women in any type of leadership, particularly in the church. I even wondered at what point it became unbiblical for me to teach my own sons. I wrestled with the hypothetical dilemma of voting between a male Democrat and a female Republican. On one home school social media site, I argued vehemently with a gentleman (oh, the irony) that women should not preach; the Bible was clear on it.
I discussed this with my husband. He thought it ridiculous that women could share on a topic behind a podium on a Sunday evening but she could not deliver the same topic behind the pulpit on a Sunday morning. I argued with him. “The pulpit is different…it’s holier somehow.” He wasn’t convinced. To him, it revealed the absurdity of man-made rules. “It’s a sermon…she’s preaching…she’s teaching men. If it’s OK in the one…it’s OK in the other.”
We agreed to disagree and I continued my journey into patriarchy. But despite my most valiant efforts, I failed miserably. I couldn’t measure up to the expectations patriarchy placed upon me. I was slowly dying inside. My husband was discouraged by my journey. He felt like we were heading in two opposite directions. I thought this was what he wanted: a submissive wife who took good care of him, his children, and his home! But he did not like watching his wife slowly die inside, and the whole system did not sit well with him.
He wanted a wife who was equal to him, not under him. A few years later, I got involved in ministry outside the home and went back to school. While I enjoyed every bit of it, I felt guilty because he was home with the kids while I was off doing ministry. This was not the way things were supposed to be!! I’m supposed to stay home with the kids while he does ministry. Yet, he delighted in seeing his wife blossom and develop her gifts. His wife was coming alive again!
I began to realize that while I was miserable at domestic skills and stereotypical female roles, I excelled in at least one that was reserved for men: preaching and teaching. Teaching and preaching made me feel as if I was born for this. My soul came back to life!
This started me on a different journey. I began wrestling with this whole “women in ministry” thing. How could something forbidden to women bring me such life? Why was I so talented at something God didn’t permit me to do? One of the first books I read was Powerful and Free by Danny Silk. In the book, the author describes some of his wife’s sentiments, including being uncomfortable with a model for marriage in which the husband has absolute veto power. This means that, in the process of making a decision, the husband can choose whether or not to seek or follow his wife’s counsel. This didn’t feel right to me and I shared it with my husband. What value was there in my opinion anyway if he could veto it anytime he wanted??!!
He had no clue what I was talking about. “Absolute veto power? I don’t have absolute veto power.” “Yes you do. You can decide if you’ll follow my ideas or your own. You get to be the one who decides if my advice is worthy of following. You get to choose whether it’s my way or your way. I don’t have that choice. You have the veto power on any decision. You get to make executive orders that I have to follow. I don’t have that power.” But that didn’t describe our marriage to him. It was the marriage I had tried to create, not him. He would never consider making a decision on which we did not agree.
On that day, I realized I had married an egalitarian. My husband truly believed in gender equality; he wanted me to have equal say in decisions. If we couldn’t come to an agreement, one of us, and not always the same one, would defer. I would defer to him or he would defer to me. To be honest, he’s probably the one who defers more often. There are times I lead…and times he leads. There are situations in which I submit…and those in which he submits. There are decisions I make…decisions he makes…decisions we make.
In my foray into patriarchy, I didn’t see the impact it had on my husband. It’s obvious that patriarchy demands certain things of women and I was not that woman. But it also demands certain things of men…and my husband was not that man. He leads, but as a servant and co-leader, not as one with final authority. During that time, he felt like he was not the man I wanted or needed him to be. He didn’t have a big vision or goals or dreams or mission that I could get behind and support.
Patriarchy and complementarianism forced both of us into boxes that didn’t fit well.
Now I’m the one with dreams and goals and visions and he supports me. He is my biggest fan. When I feel like quitting because it feels selfish to take so much time away from family, or because the house is always a mess, he’s the one who encourages me to keep going. He comes alongside me in ministry. He loves to hear me preach. He also critiques my preaching and teaching, helping me improve. If the day ever comes when I pastor a church, he will be as glad to see that as I will be.
It took a while. Egalitarianism is such a loaded term with lots of negative baggage. But, after years of doing my own thing, I finally submitted to my husband’s leadership and became an egalitarian.