RWC Part III: Marriage Support

Marriage hands

(This post will make more sense if you have read the first and second parts of this series.)

I would like to repeat my statement that I have loved the churches I’ve attended, and I have deeply respected all my pastors. They have, without exception, been seekers of the face of God, and they have, without exception, sought to teach the Word of God to His glory. I will be vague in this section to protect identities.

As I said in the first post of this series, Brian and I believe that roles in the church are filled based on gifting, rather than gender. We believe that marriage is to be lived out as all Christian relationships are – with each person seeking the good of the other and submitting to one another, each humbly seeking the role of servant, as Jesus lived on Earth, and not that of Ruler, as Jesus is in Heaven. We reject the idea that Christian men are supposed to submit to everyone around them except their wives.

We would have liked some counseling at one point in the past couple years as we went through an unbelievably difficult and stressful year. We were going through the very worst time in our marriage. But we knew we couldn’t go to our pastor, as it was extremely clear from our first weeks in our church that it is a very complementarian church. And sure enough, some dearly loved friends of our DID go to our pastor for counseling.

As soon as the pastor realized that this couple believes in equality in marriage (equality in submission as well as leadership), the pastor dropped the planned counseling session, refused to acknowledge or address the actual problems they were having, and spoke only to the woman of the couple, saying over and over that she must submit to the leadership of her husband. One example that he used was, “If you had a black belt in karate, and someone came into your home, should you go out to deal with him, or should he? Your husband! He is the man of the house and responsible for protecting you, no matter how much more qualified than him you are!” All that he cared about was putting the wife “in her place.”

How is this useful? How can we accept this? How can we benefit from someone who holds such a radically different view of women (and men, for that matter) than we have? Brian and I strongly believe that PEOPLE were created and given a job, that sin broke the world and the curse established the ruling of men over women, that that led to serious destruction, oppression, and tragedy in the world (and still does), and that Jesus came to redeem us and set us free from the curse. How can we benefit from counseling or marital teaching from someone who insists that we must live under the curse as if Jesus never freed us – and who will only talk about that until we say that we agree?

How can we let our sons be taught this?

And so we go through life attending complementarian churches, trying to live our marriage in mutual submission, as we believe the Bible teaches, with no known examples of such a marriage in our church, no instruction, and no access to truly Biblical marriage counseling beyond that which we can find in books and websites, written by people we do not know and cannot watch in daily life. (We do have friends who live this way, too, and older couples that we suspect, heh heh – but most of the younger couples feel constantly like they’re experimenting and finding their way too. So we can encourage one another – but we cannot really mentor or be examples to each other. And they are mostly in other countries, anyways.)

Thank God that He is all sufficient and that He meets our needs and binds our wounds – that He gives us freedom and love Every Day, and that He is not limited by the inevitable failings of our precious churches.

If marriage is the most important human relationship, are we really OK being in churches that do not offer support and encouragement to ours?

Do we want our sons growing up in churches where they might hear people (that they love and respect and see as role models) tell us that our marriage is “backwards” or “sinful” or that I am “alpha” or that Brian is “beta”? (We have been told every single one of these things already, by complementarian people who love us. It’s not at all out of the question that our children might hear these things.)

I know that many other couples face these same issues. Are we OK with this?

Published by Nikki Holland

I am a Quaker wife, mother, pastor, and writer. I work as the country branch director of a fabulous NGO in Belize City and I recently graduated with an MDiv from Earlham School of Religion. I love my family, and I love my community.

11 thoughts on “RWC Part III: Marriage Support

  1. Wow. I’m surprised at the pastor’s comments to your friends. I know some couples who are very much complementarian, but they still recognize that based on personality, education, and spiritual gifts that everyone has their own strengths. They believe that as a woman submits to her husband that he should encourage her to thrive in her gifting and strengths and in the areas that he has weakness. So as an example, if the wife has had more Biblical education and training, as she submits to her husband who is the spiritual head of the home, he would encourage her to utilize her teaching by having her lead/teach family devotionals.

    In my opinion, that could be a valid way to live out complementarianism, if one lived under the conviction that that is what the Bible taught. But the way that pastor explained it to your friends is not certainly not an appropriate or healthy approach to complementarianism.


  2. I find your positions very interesting. I am definitely Complementarian in my views, not because of how I grew up, but because of what I read in Scripture. Do you think Jesus and the church are equals? Jesus was very specific about the parallels between husband/Christ and Wife/Church. (Eph. 5) These parallels cannot be interchangeable and the church is certainly not equal with Jesus. All through the scriptures and even in your own words, the church is referred to as the bride of Christ… Again, it would be heretical to call the church Jesus’ groom. Why? Because the church is, and MUST be, submitted to Christ. — and this heiarchy of sorts is not a result of sin as you suggest… It is the struggle for power that is a result of sin not the distinct positions of authority as husband and wife, if you study Genesis 3:16 more closely you should discover this.

    Please understand, I am not a male supremacist. I believe women to be suited for almost any and every role they are gifted to fulfill, excluding Pastor/Elder. I see women as deaconesses, worship leaders, and teachers (of men and women). And, in the home I do not view the Bible’s teaching as a master/slave scenario. Eph. 5 teaches a sort of mutual submission and love, one for another, but is clear that the husband is the head. There is no mistaking that.

    There is no need to disdain this order that God gave. He instituted it, and has every right to. Just as He had the right to choose Israel as a people for himself. God set up an order… It has no impact in terms of value. So, equality is not the issue. Order is. Politically incorrect or not, God designed it that way intentionally, and as His bride, we must submit to Him.

    Thanks for your posts.


    1. Hey! Thanks for your thoughts! I was also raised with these same views, and realizing that these beliefs I grew up and started my marriage with were cultural and not actually Biblical was extremely painful for me – but freeing, too. I feel confident that if you really study these verses (including the ones in Genesis, particularly the word used for Helpmeet and the order of the curse), you will be able to find the great freedom in Christ that complementarianism cannot provide for anyone.

      About the Church and Christ being equals – do you think husbands are told to act like Christ while He was on Earth, while He was a submissive Servant and laying His life down – or while He is in Heaven reigning supreme?

      Perhaps reading my post about Bible translations and especially tomorrow’s post, which will include some resource suggestions, might be helpful. I’m also working on a post about the difference between a complementarian marriage and an egalitarian one. I hope you come back to read it! 🙂 (I did a quick search – this post might be interesting for you to read:


  3. There is no doubt that the work of ministry and service in the church is determined by the Spirit, “as He wills.” The Holy Spirit gifts and empowers both men and women in the church to accomplish the Great Commission. The church that allows people to minister in their spiritual gifts, both men and women, as the Spirit wills, manifests the living, active presence of Jesus in powerful, life changing ways.


  4. I’ve noticed a pattern in churches with restrictive or repressive attitudes toward women. The churches that restrict a woman’s role, or downright demean women, typically teach doctrines that are off base. The more repressive they are toward women, the further their doctrines are from the truth of God’s Word.


  5. I can relate to your blog post ! My hubby and I have left complimtarian churches behind and have found refuge within the United Methodist Church. The UMC is egalitarian. I encourage you to try to find another church with more like minded folks.


    1. Thanks! We live in Mexico right now. I’m not sure how likely it is to find one here, but… I think we’re going to look. 🙂


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