The doctrine of complementarianism is not what you’d call “near and dear” to my heart. Truthfully, I find it tedious and even a little infuriating. All the more so because my oldest daughter is a good conservative evangelical and thinks this is the way God intends families to operate. As the word “infuriating” implies, I don’t. Personally, I think it’s a tired update of an outmoded doctrine (biblical patriarchy) which is based on a misinterpretation of scripture.
One of the misunderstood passages occurs in Ephesians. For example, Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M) recently released a memoir in which he states that “The wife is to voluntarily submit”. Ever notice how men who love to quote Ephesians 5:22 always seem to ignore verse 21? You know, the one that says “submit to each other out of respect for Christ”? Funny how that works.
Ephesians is, of course, one of the Pauline Epistles. It’s not an undisputed one, but still. Now, I learned a long time ago that these letters were written to specific people in specific places addressing specific circumstances and that attempting to apply them wholesale to modern life is problematic at best. With that in mind, I began to wonder what the author was trying to say. While I couldn’t really find an exegesis I liked, I did learn that they were part of the New Testament household code which was set up to maintain order in the early church and addressed relationships between husband and wife, parent and child, master and slave. It may have worked in Paul’s time, but it doesn’t cut the mustard anymore.
The idea that women should “submit” to their husbands because due to some taken-out-of-context passages of scripture based on a 2000 year old household code is, in my opinion, ludicrous. It also requires some pretty impressive mental gymnastics. As I pointed out a couple of paragraphs ago, people overlook the part about submitting to each other. They also conveniently forget the parts that tell slaves to submit to their masters. Wait a minute, Paul condoned slavery? I thought the Bible was inerrant, infallible and perfect in all matters, physical and spiritual. Does that mean some parts of it apply to us today and other parts don’t?
Yes, it means exactly that. Believe or not, every word in the Bible doesn’t have to have an application for today’s world. It comes down to interpretation. There are many ways to interpret this complex and confusing piece of literature and I could spend days talking about them. Unfortunately, a lot of them are just as complex and confusing as the Bible itself. What’s an average, everyday Christian to do? Well, when I read the Bible, I try to do so through the filter of love. I can see you scratching your head, wondering what the hell that’s supposed to mean. In this case, it means asking if limiting women to specific roles in life based on their gender show love to women or God? And, I don’t think it does.