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Thursday, August 1, 2013

How does your own "marriage baggage" influence your thinking on roles in marriage?

It seems that few things spark a furor like the topic of male and female roles in marriage. I've read a lot of posts and comments on this topic, but I'm always amazed at the lack of grace shown on either side of the egalitarian vs. complementarian debate.

Many in the blogosphere hold strong positions  and vehemently defend them. I willingly admit that my own opinions are pretty firmly entrenched, and I'm sure there are times when I've lacked grace in my own writing. I am trying to change my ways.

I have to remind myself that we are (almost) all striving for the same goal: strong, intimate, passionate and enduring marriages. We are all just seeking what works best. That is a good thing! And it's a good thing to keep in mind as we debate the issue.

We All Have Marriage Baggage

A majority of those debating marriage roles write from their own personal experiences. The strongest opinions seem to be held by those with strongly negative experiences.
  • A wife whose first husband was an abusive authoritarian dictator will often argue strongly for equality and against any form of authority. 
  • A couple whose marriage was transformed from constant battle to peace and harmony through the path of submission and headship will sing the praises of such an arrangement. 
  • A husband whose sexless, passionless marriage was saved when his wife decided to no longer refuse sex, will swear that "never say no again" is the only way to go. 
  • A wife whose husband was "checked out" before embracing his role as a loving leader will champion the cause of strong leadership by husbands.
The same goes for what we observe first-hand in the marriages around us. The marriages of parents, family and friends will strongly influence our marriage paradigms.
  • Those whose parents are happily married for 30-40-50 years in a "traditional" marriage, will often lean in that direction. 
  • If your father was heavy-handed and uncaring in the exercise of his authority, chances are you'll swear that any form of authority (and therefore submission) is dangerous. 
  • Have some friends whose marriage fell apart due to a husband who abused his wife or a wife who openly disrespected her husband? Those failed marriages will no doubt weigh into your marriage paradigm.
The bottom line is that most of us will form our opinions by what we have experienced as working (or not) in our own marriage(s) or what we've seen work (or not) in the marriages around us.

What Seems to Work?

So is the whole discussion of roles in marriage simply a matter of figuring out what you think/observe/experience works best in your own marriage? If it's not a question of sin (which I believe it is not), why not just "do what seems good?"

As right and practical and tempting as that seems, what do we do with what the Bible says about marriage?

Of course scripture requires interpretation and application. I believe it's important for us to wrestle with some big, important questions:
  • What did God have in mind when he created the first marriage back in Eden? Does it matter today?
  • What does it mean that he created us male and female and declared it "very good."
  • What are the marital implications of the new covenant and grace?
  • What do words like "head" and "submit" and "respect" and "love" mean in the Apostle Paul's instructions on marriage?
Ultimately we need to come to terms with what the only valid metaphor for marriage, Christ and the church, implies about God's design for marriages - marriages like yours and mine.

I'm convinced that God's heart is for marriage. It's a huge deal to him - big enough that he framed our time-bound existence with marriages as described in Genesis and in Revelation. Long before he sent Jesus to be our bridegroom, even before the dawn of time, he knew he would win for himself an eternal bride. So he set up marriage to be a picture of his loving pursuit of a bride of his own.

In the next few parts of this series, I plan to dig a bit deeper into the issue of male and female marriage roles. I will be talking about things like what it means to be masculine and feminine and why that matters. I'll be talking about how we've screwed up God's original intent and how our counter-reaction to that hasn't really fixed the problem. I'll dig into the data on some current marriage trends and tie that back to the topic at hand. We will look at scripture and parse some Greek.

Over the space of this occasional series we'll look at the topic from many different angles.

As I embark on this far-ranging series, I hope this post will serve as a reminder for us all to be aware of how your own marriage "baggage" influences our perspectives. We should be aware that to more or less of a degree we are all the product of our own experiences, good and bad. But our experiences don't necessarily dictate truth.

Regardless of our past, let's agree together to look afresh at what the Bible says about marriage, to wrestle again with the difficult questions about gender and marriage. It's worth the effort. It matters.

image credit: ampak /


Anonymous said...

"Long before he sent Jesus to be our bridegroom, even before the dawn of time, he knew he would win for himself an eternal bride. So he set up marriage to be a picture of his loving pursuit of a bride of his own."

As we move through life on this temporal plane, it's easy to forget the ultimate purposes. Forces here push in on us everyday and try to get us to forget that.

Thanks for the reminder.

J said...

Excellent start to a series I'm now looking forward to. I have tried in my own life to flip my perspective: Instead of interpreting the Bible from my life, try interpreting my life from the Bible. But you're right, that's not always an easy thing to do.

Paul Byerly said...

Great job showing the things that shape our ideas about marriage!

I was long ago taught that we do well when we run towards something, but we do poorly when we are running away from something. May we all see a clear example to run towards.

Scott said...

Robyn - You are so right. It's easy to slip into the immediate and forget the eternal. Heaven tends to have a totally different perspective. That's what I'm after!

J - Great point about flipping things around. Makes a huge difference!

Paul - You are so right about running to instead of running from. I've heard that before and it totally rings true.

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