Where Are the Women Usurping Authority?

by | Jun 19, 2023 | Theology of Marriage and Sex | 108 comments

Submission in Marriage: is there a crisis of women usurping authority?
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Sheila here!

My husband Keith has taken over the blog on Mondays this month for his series on the Danvers Statement, that statement that codifies what those who believe in hierarchy in gender relationships believe.

He’s been thinking through their quadrant of errors for the last few weeks, and is excited to share this. And you all seemed to have really enjoyed the first two, so I know you’ll like this one too!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Let’s talk Error 3 of 4: Female Usurpation.

Of the four errors the Danvers statement identifies, it is clear to me based on how much they talk about it that its followers most fear the one we are going to discuss today: Usurpation.

Imagine you could put on one side of the theoretical scale all the sermons, blogposts, tweets and every other message ever preached against Domination, Passivity and Servility combined. They would be effortlessly outmatched by the offerings about the need for women to submit and not usurp the authority of men.

If you don’t know what I am talking about, let me explain. We are in the middle of a series investigating the four ways the Danvers statement proposes God’s plan for marriage can go wrong. Although Sheila and I believe that God designed marriage as a union of two equals without hierarchy, many Christians believe that God designed men specifically to lead and women specifically to submit.

The Danvers Statement, released by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in 1988, is the distillation of their beliefs. It teaches that things can go wrong in four ways: A husband can err toward domination or passivity and a wife can err toward usurpation or servility. Basically, it suggests a spectrum where God’s perfect plan is the middle ground between opposing errors as shown in the graphic below:

Danvers Statement Complementarianism

But actions speak louder than words and the way believers in gender hierarchy handle each of these errors is extremely telling. For example, the overwhelming emphasis on women not usurping authority versus how often they talk about the other three errors certainly gives clues about their priorities. And in my first two blogposts, I pointed out that while teachers of male authority over women may label domination as an evil, when it actually occurs they either say nothing (such as with the recent video of Steven Crowder’s verbally abusive tirade over his wife) or even worse, send women back to their abusers with the encouragement to submit more as John McArthur tried to do with Eileen Gray.

Similarly, they may talk about the dangers of male passivity, but when they insist that the only solution to male passivity is for men to be in charge and women to submit more, they again show their true agenda.

Today’s topic is “Usurpation”, the first of the two errors women can commit.

The circular logic in usurpation being a problem

The first thing that strikes me is how different this one is from the other three. When I consider Domination, Passivity, Usurpation and Servility, I can’t help but hear that old Sesame Street song playing in my head: “One of these things is not like the others…….”

Put aside the fact that we have different sets of errors for men than we do for women, because that’s not what I am talking about today (but will be in next week’s blogpost). Using the word “usurpation” engages in a logical fallacy called “begging the question”, where you use the assumption of the truth of your position as proof for your position. Unlike the other three errors, usurpation is an error only if you believe there is a power hierarchy that it is possible to usurp.

Barring that assumption, the argument has no weight. While the other three errors are all character traits which arguably have the potential to be wrong in and of themselves, whether you believe men are meant to be in charge of women or not, “usurping” can only be wrong if one assumes that a woman having authority over a man is a bad thing.

Now I fully understand that the writers of the Danvers statement do believe exactly that. But when you are writing a statement to explain what you believe to others who don’t necessarily share your views, you cannot assume your views are true to prove your views are true. That’s called circular logic.

Yet circular logic is par for the course when debating people about male hierarchy along with an astounding ability to effortlessly contradict themselves when they are challenged.

Consider, for instance the review by Kevin DeYoung in The Gospel Coalition’s “scholarly” journal Themelios of Beth Alison Barr’s excellent book: “The Making of Biblical Womanhood”. In her book, Barr argues that “Biblical womanhood”, which pushes this idea that women must not usurp male authority, is just the latest iteration of a long, worldly tradition of men trying to exert control over women. She invites us, rather than assuming patriarchy is God’s plan, to consider that God may have made men & women to be truly equal. It is an extended critique of the mindset that the Danvers Statement tries to convey, which combines historical research with her own personal experience of the harms of “Christian” patriarchy.

And DeYoung’s response? At one point in his review, he argues that Barr may be lying about the harms she suffered, which is bad enough, but he goes on from there to wonder if her “scars get in the way of giving complementarianism a fair hearing”.

Those sympathetic to Barr’s perspective will likely resonate with the personal narrative, considering it one more reason to dismantle patriarchy once and for all. Others, however, might be curious to know if there is another side to these stories (Prov 18:17) and, more importantly, might wonder whether the author’s scars get in the way of giving complementarianism a fair hearing.

Kevin De Young

Themelios, The Making of Biblical Womanhood: A Review

Setting aside his overall lack of professionalism (this is a personal attack rather than a critique of her ideas), the fallacious reasoning is plain for all to see:

“Patriarchy doesn’t hurt women and anyone who says it does can’t be trusted because they are speaking from a place of hurt……caused by patriarchy.”

(By the way, if you follow the link to DeYoung’s review and feel the need to decontaminate yourself afterward, I suggest reading Michael Bird’s excellent response.)

Well, what if you are a woman who doesn’t believe in hierarchy but does not mention being hurt by this teaching? Can you add your voice to the debate and oppose it if you stick to philosophical grounds like Rachel Held Evans or Biblical grounds like Marg Mowczko? Of course not! In both cases, it’s just clear that you just don’t want to submit because of your rebellious sinful nature. You usurper, you!

Why are hierarchists so eager to see usurpation everywhere?

It absolutely enrages me to hear how often and how flippantly women are accused of this. If a woman argues against unilateral submission of the wife to the husband, she is told she is in sin and dismissed.

Sheila has certainly been attacked this way. The shocking double standard this entails is made clear when you consider that they are attacking women who typically don’t have a problem with submitting to their husbands; they just want it to go both ways! For instance, Sheila has posted about how wives submitting to their husbands can be a good thing, but if we take it out of the context of submitting to one other in love, it becomes unhealthy. 

But this is precisely the problem. To advocates of hierarchy, the whole point is that the submission must be unidirectional. Anything else is usurpation. If husband and wife are both submitting to each other, then they are (gasp!) equals. And only a rebellious woman would ever want that.

So here we see the glaring double standard. If a wife wishes to have an equal say rather than being a subordinate, she is grasping and power hungry and clearly in sin. Yet the same is not the case if a husband, not being content with equality, demands to rule over his wife.

What if “usurpation” is the right thing to do? 

Rather than assuming a woman who doesn’t want to be in a marriage with an unequal power distribution is sinful, can we take a second to consider that maybe she is just being wise? I mean, even if we start with the assumption that we will both submit to each other equally, it is extremely vulnerable choosing to put the good of our spouse above our own and trusting they will do the same.

Now in the context of mutual submission, that stretches us in marvelous ways. And as we grow together, both of us trusting and both of us showing ourselves trustworthy, we begin to see there is a beauty in that vulnerability. However, the moment you make that vulnerability unidirectional any beauty evaporates. Even if your husband is a saint, you are in a precarious position indeed if at any moment he is allowed to start telling you what’s what and you’d better learn to like it! Yet a husband’s right to do so is a natural conclusion if you believe submission does not derive from a relationship of equals characterized by mutual vulnerability and care, but from a command of God based on His created order.

That’s not me pushing an agenda; that’s just me being realistic.

And again, I have not found arguments from those who believe in hierarchy dealing with this totally reasonable concern. Instead, the discourse about wifely submission that I have seen in the evangelical church is best described frankly as a “bait and switch”.

The bait is this: “What woman would not want to submit to a godly, Christ-like husband?” With this question, they make the unreasonable seem reasonable. As Christians we value submission. Our Lord Jesus, who Himself was among us “as one who serves” told us that “whoever wishes to be the greatest must be the servant of all” (Matthew 20:25-28). And Paul reminds us to have the “same mind that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5), speaking over and over again about the importance of being humble and considering others above ourselves. So what kind of person are you if you don’t want to submit?

But the switch is this: it doesn’t matter if the husband is Christ-like or not, the wife still needs to unidirectionally submit. And moreover, by “submit”, we do not simply mean to be loving and considerate. No, you must acknowledge and remain under the authority of this man without question even when he has chosen to leave the path of Jesus. Anything less is usurpation.

Emerson Eggerichs, author of Love & Respect, which Sheila has critiqued extensively, is a poster child for the “bait and switch” mentality that goes along with believing in hierarchy. In everything he writes or says, his inseparable pairing of the word “man” with the word “good-willed” drives me bonkers. It just seems like the gaslighting equivalent of a pre-emptive strike to me. Yes, most husbands want the best for their wives, but to insinuate that all men are truly good-willed is a wicked distortion of reality that can only have one end in mind: It is done to convince women that an unbalanced, unjust and inherently dangerous form of marriage Is God’s plan for her. She is painted as being unreasonable if she doesn’t want to surrender her autonomy in her marriage, yet he is being completely reasonable if he demands that she do so.

It’s insane.

Reality shows the ugliness of this doctrine.

Proponents of hierarchy claim that a husband’s sacrificial leadership and a wife’s willing submission paint a beautiful picture of Christ and the Church. It sounds good in theory, but Love & Respect shows how it plays out in reality. The book reveals that a husband can still be considered loving even if he forgets his wife’s birthday (pg 12), leaves wet towels on the bed (pg 13) or sides with their sons if she expects they keep the house clean (pg 243), but if a wife expects a husband to be genuinely sorry when he is thoughtless toward her, it is a sign of disrespect (pg34).

So a wife must realize she is disrespectful when she is hurt by her husband’s insensitivity and yet she dare not call him unloving when he makes her life demonstrably worse?

Call me a usurper if you wish, but I don’t see that as a beautiful picture at all.

Women Usurping Authority: Is there really a crisis of women refusing to submit?

What do you think? Have you heard submission described as something unidirectional? How has it affected you? Let’s talk in the comments!

Keith's Danvers Statement Series

Looking at the 4 ways those who believe in hierarchy in marriage think marriage can go wrong

Plus see the book Keith co-authored with Sheila, The Good Guy's Guide to Great Sex!

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Keith Gregoire


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Keith Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Keith has been married to Sheila for over 30 years! They met while he was in pre-med at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. He has served as Chief of Pediatrics in the Quinte Region, and has been the chair of undergraduate pediatric medical education at Queen's University, and participated in the Royal College examination board for new pediatricians. He is the co-author with Sheila of The Good Guy's Guide to Great Sex, and a new marriage book they're working on. An avid birder, he loves traveling with Sheila all over North America in their RV.

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  1. Mara R

    Trying not to gush here and be stupidly repetitive, but can I say again, how much I appreciate this series?

    I’m back tracking a bit, pointing to the previous two posts on Male Passivity and Domination to link to a friend who tried to address these issues back in the day at a very deep personal cost. She was maligned and accused of such horrible things when she discussed the issues with Bruce Ware’s sermon 15 years ago. It was a sermon that pushed the CBMW and the Danvers into the faces of Southern Baptist. It was a sermon that made wives responsible for the sins of their husbands and husbands helpless slaves to that sin of violence or passivity. It also fueled MacArthur’s doctrine that excommunicated a woman for not going back to her abusive husband.


  2. Mara R

    Love the Sesame Street reference. Besides the fact of it being cute, it hits the nail square on the head. The other three supposed ends of the spectrum together are a feather weight compared to the hefty importance of women not being usurpers. Eve was the first usurper and all women are her daughters and they live to try to usurp their husbands. This is taught. It was taught in the Bruce Ware message 15 years ago. And women usurping are the cause of male sin, whether passivity or domination. When a woman gets hit in a marriage, it is her own fault for being a usurper.

    Also love how you point out the circular logic.
    These guys (and in some cases, women) rely very heavily on the assumption that the Bible commands men to be the leaders. And from this foundation of error, the entire doctrine rests.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m going to have to listen to that Bruce Ware message!

      • Mara R

        Yes, it is a must listen if people are wanting to see the how Shiny Happy People Doctrine, via the Danvers/CBMW, was being fed to mainline denominations.

        In Cindy’s Into to her series, she mentions how horrible the back lash against her was from Ware and Moore.

        Back then, those guys were influenced by the Mark Driscoll Shock Jock method and told people that Egals were basically in same-sex relationships since women were acting like men (being all uppity and thinking they could dare call themselves equal). It was so bad that a religion reporter asked for an interview with Cindy and was all disappointed that she was not the vile Jezebel that Ware and Moore painted her out to be. He was so disappointed that he deemed there was no story. Move along, nothing to see here.

        Moore, if I understand, has since moved on from the SBC, allegedly because of the SBC’s mishandling of their sex abuse scandal. But there is no evidence that he has deconstructed from his SHP doctrine. Watch and wait with this one. Don’t assume he has turned a little more egal.

  3. Jo R

    Who gets to warn against female usurpation? Males.

    Who gets to decide when a female has crossed the line of usurpation? Males.

    Who gets to dole out punishment when females usurp? Males.

    (And also females who are totally under the thumb of males.)

    How extraordinarily convenient to define the game, set up the rules, play the game, AND act as the real-time referee against the other side.

    I’d suggest widespread teaching and reminders that it was the MALE, not the female, who needed company even in pre-Fall Eden, but that would probably get me called a usurper. 🙄

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, this is exactly the problem. You see it vividly in Love & Respect. The man gets to define what is disrespectul.

      • Jo R

        And the husband gets to define what is loving, too, so if the wife says she feels unloved, Hubs gets to set straight her opinions, thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

        In other words, Hubs can never be wrong, and Wifey can never be right.

        But, what else could one expect, since he’s Christ in the marriage and she’s just the church that’s still in her sin.


        • Estelle

          Except they forget that Jesus spent His ministry going around asking people what THEY wanted Him to do for them.

        • Wild Honey

          One of the reasons I struggled through “Love and Respect” and wondered if I was broken. Eggerichs kept having these little lists of “wives, if your husband does such and such you will feel unloved.” Kept telling my husband, “If you did such and such, I’d feel disrespected, not unloved. What’s wrong with me?”

      • Terry

        I admit I’ve always found Love & Respect confusing. How can you have one but not other? And if you can’t, why write a book separating the two?

        But more significantly, I was confused, and still am, by the idea that men need respect more than women do and thus there has to be this economy of constant respect and deference from women toward men (yes, deference IS part of that expectation) — when in reality the entire balance of respect in this world is *already tipped far over toward men and it is *women who need more respect. Because we don’t get much. Men get a baseline of respect that women have to work hard for, if they ever get it.

        When there’s no shortage of respect for men, comparatively speaking, why are we directing even more respect at them? It’s women who aren’t respected. It’s women who are showing both love and respect, as a general thing. Obviously this isn’t universal, but I’m speaking of patterns here.

    • Jane Eyre

      Good point. It’s a rigged game.

  4. Nessie

    Recovering SBCer of several years.

    Unidirectional: absolutely. I was given similar responses when I asked how it could be good and display Christ’s relationship with the Church if the husband was not godly or even seeking after God…
    I needed to understand *I *was wrong because I wasn’t giving him a chance to lead/grow, and I would be in sin for hindering his growth in God. A godly man would consider my thoughts as he decided things but how could he become a more godly man if I hindered his growth in God? (So if our marriage didn’t reflect the Christ/Church relationship, it was because I was sabotaging it.)

    At best, my thoughts, ideas, perspectives, and yes, even wisdom, could be “considered.” His opinion, whether or not it was discerned by God, was what mattered. If I brought up the illogic of it all, they would point to fundie churches as examples of when it went too far. “See what they do? We aren’t extreme like them. This questioning is a lack of humility in you.”

    I don’t believe the frustration I felt was my pridefulness or haughtiness. It was the Spirit trying to prompt me to see how wrong things were.

    • CMT

      “I don’t believe the frustration I felt was my pridefulness or haughtiness. It was the Spirit trying to prompt me to see how wrong things were.”

      YES!! I did not have this same dynamic in my church/marriage that you’re describing, but this sense that *you* must be the problem if you feel uncomfortable with “God’s plan” is so pervasive and so poisonous. Learning that you can and should trust your gut is so freeing.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It was definitely the Spirit, because if we’re supposed to follow God, then we should be following God! Not a man who is obviously not following God. But we seek out God’s will, not our husband’s will. This form of complementarianism is actually idolatry and asks women to violate the second commandment.

    • Bernadette

      When someone believes your proper place is beneath them, then your desire for equality looks like arrogance.

      When they believe women have less human dignity than men, and you insist that their teaching treats women in a dehumanizing manner, they claim you have an ego problem.

      And when you question illegitimate authority (husband’s faux authority over wife) then you have a problem with authority.

  5. CMT

    I so appreciate hearing a man call this out.

    When I was maybe 10 or 12 years old, the pastor at our church was preaching through Genesis 3. His interpretation of Genesis 3:16 (God to Eve: “your desire will be for your husband but he will rule over you”) was that the woman’s desire…was to control the man. Meaning that women in general just have a natural bent to being controlling and “usurping.” This was probably the first time I heard this idea, but it wasn’t the last.

    (Just as an aside, think about the impact of telling an anxious, perfectionistic, people-pleasing adolescent girl that this is just who she naturally is. It’s not pretty.)

    It wasn’t until I was much older that I recognized how bizarrely distorted this interpretation was. The man is the one who’s going to be doing the ruling, but the woman is the one with a control problem?? So much for a plain, literal reading.

    This was a longish time ago, but I heard the same thing from a different guy in a different pulpit about 6 months ago. This time, I got up and walked out of there.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Good for you for getting up and walking out! We need to normalize that.

  6. Cynthia

    Yup. Circular reasoning and using language designed to make it seem like there is a problem where none exists.

    This is obviously a Christian blog and please let me if this is out of line, but I found an Orthodox Jewish blog post that discusses the roles of husband and wife with reference to the first two chapters of Genesis and a discussion of the meaning of the Hebrew terms: https://jewinthecity.com/2019/10/does-the-torah-say-that-a-wife-is-meant-to-defer-to-her-husband/

    The basic message is that one individual making decisions alone isn’t a good thing. We need others. We need more than our own perspective. Sometimes, another person can help us by opposing us, and help us get back on track. We need a diversity of views and healthy debate and discussion to capture the full range of humanity that was created in the image of God.

    Talk of usurping is the opposite of this. It also creates conflict. As a divorce lawyer, I’ve noticed that we sometimes see intense conflicts where a couple will fight over even trivial points, because they think any loss of power means they are vulnerable to harm. Methods like collaborative divorce see better results by making it clear that everything needs to be done on consent, without threats or taking advantage of the other side, and gets couples to focus on mutual problem-solving. If that helps even the worst couples, then the term usurping does the opposite – creating fear of losing power in men who are still married, and turning trivial things that could have benefited from mutual problem-solving into huge power struggles.

    • CMT

      “Sometimes, another person can help us by opposing us, and help us get back on track. We need a diversity of views and healthy debate and discussion to capture the full range of humanity that was created in the image of God.”

      My two cents, this is something Christians could stand to learn from our Jewish neighbors.

  7. Phil

    Keith – the first time I searched up I the Danvers statement I found it written in argument form intertwined with the CBE statement as if it was actually as an argument to egalitarian. A line I like from Andy Stanley – What’s supposed to be Good News for all is only Good News for some?

  8. Rael

    Kieth is single-handedly restoring my faith in the existence of good, reasonable men. When we say, “Not all men….” we mean Kieth 😂

  9. Jane Eyre

    What if a husband, even if he deeply loves God, has his head up his butt?

    Maybe he puts his family (parents, sisters, brothers) above his wife and children. Maybe he doesn’t want to learn to please her in bed. Maybe he struggles with interpersonal communication because that can be hard for men.

    Is she supposed to “submit” to that nonsense because he is well intentioned? Does the line about the road to hell and good intentions somehow not apply here?

    • Kay P

      Intention over impact is how a lot of men (and just humans in general) try to deflect from their actual responsibility in relationships (marriage, parenting, friendship, etc) – but like Sheila always says! Look for the fruit!! If your intentions are “good” but there’s no real fruit, you should look at the actual impact.
      In fact, paying attention to the impact should be part of being well intentioned.

    • Lisa Johns

      When his head is so obviously stuck that far up his butt, can he see God? He’s not well-intentioned and he doesn’t love God!

  10. Taylor

    If we’re talking about “goodwill” as a general idea, in the context of humans talking about humans, fine.

    But making a theology, and supporting it with human goodwill, regardless of gender, has serious biblical problems.

    What immediately came to mind was Jesus saying, “no one is good except God alone.” (And then there’s pretty much the whole rest of the Bible.)

  11. Boone

    I would ask you to consider, a man might be godly, Christlike, gentle, loving and kind to animals. At the same time, and totally unrelated to the foregoing, he could be dumber than a box of rocks. I’m talking can’t find his butt with both hands and a flashlight dumb. To allow somebody like that complete unfettered decision making ability is like watching a train wreck about to happen and you’re powerless to stop it.
    Over the past thirty four years my wife’s intuition has stopped me from doing some things that would have resulted in disaster for us. I was smart enough to listen to her. There have been times when I didn’t listen and had to pay stupid tax as a result. I’m grateful for her insights and value them highly. If that’s a sin, well, one more at this stage isn’t going to matter that much.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Ha! Love it, Boone.

    • Mara R

      Boone, there’s another thing to consider that the CBMW/Danvers people never acknowledge or allow to play a part in any arguments.

      My ex, while he was in his serving God stage, before he gave up and turned into a drunken dirty old man, really tried. He tried to be good. But he was dealing with mental health issues that we were not equipped to deal with. The church was woefully ignorant on that front and had no answers for that.

      Fortunately, we were never part of the Danvers/CBMW crowd or my life and the lives of my children would have been even worse.
      But he went to a Promise Keepers convention and things started to get worse because Promise Keepers was another vehicle to push female subordination.


  12. Kim

    I think one of the keys in this conversation is definitions of terms. I have experienced hierarchists use the terms “honor”, “respect”, “obey”, and “submit” as interchangeable. It erases the ability for a woman to have any healthy boundaries, and also can prohibit her from following Christ first before her husband. If she says “no” or “I disagree” to something her husband says or does, she can be automatically categorized as “sinful” regardless of whether or not she had to choose between following biblical instructions as a Christian OR follow her husband. It’s the ultimate scape-goating to use this language and beliefs of hierarchy. Secondly, I have personally experienced being told to follow my husband’s sin instead of my own conscience before God, with the idea that God doesn’t hold me as a woman responsible because I’m “obeying GOD’S will for me to submit to my husband” and God would hold my husband responsible for leading. As a woman, my submission to a man was more important than following Jesus direct instructions to His followers. It’s LITERAL IDOLATRY.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly! It is literal idolatry. It is telling women to violate the second commandment.

    • Jo R

      the idea that God doesn’t hold me as a woman responsible because I’m “obeying GOD’S will for me to submit to my husband”

      I think Sapphira might have something to say about that idea. (Acts 5)

  13. Kim

    I’m going to add a p.s. to my previous comment as well: with hierarchists, pretty much any negative emotion a man has can be passed off as caused by some form of “disrespect” or lack of submission by the woman. And there is literally no accountability for the man in these types of hierarchical relationships. Technically they say the man is accountable to God (eventually in heaven), but he is certainly not accountable to his wife for ANY of his behavior, towards her or otherwise.

  14. Lisa Johns

    Scuse me while I go usurp the husband’s laundry…

    • Taylor


  15. exwifeofasexaddict

    “Well, what if you are a woman who doesn’t believe in hierarchy but does not mention being hurt by this teaching?”
    You might find a woman who doesn’t mention it, but you’d be hard pressed to find a woman who wasn’t hurt by this teaching. And I’m being generous by leaving open the possibility.

    “So here we see the glaring double standard. If a wife wishes to have an equal say rather than being a subordinate, she is grasping and power hungry and clearly in sin. Yet the same is not the case if a husband, not being content with equality, demands to rule over his wife.” THIS!!! I never understood how men could not see the problem with this.

    “Even if your husband is a saint, you are in a precarious position indeed if at any moment he is allowed to start telling you what’s what and you’d better learn to like it! Yet a husband’s right to do so is a natural conclusion if you believe submission does not derive from a relationship of equals characterized by mutual vulnerability and care, but from a command of God based on His created order.

    That’s not me pushing an agenda; that’s just me being realistic.” FIRE!

    The whole bait-and-switch section… so good. But really, Who wouldn’t want to submit unconditionally to a godly man? Me. Because I’m an autonomous human, not a slave. And that’s how God made me. A godly man is still a man. Human, sinner. Not perfect. So no, I’m not going to surrender my free will just because he has a penis and I don’t.

    • Lisa Johns


    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Your last paragraph especially! I want to follow Jesus, because He is Lord. It’s that simple.

  16. Lisa Johns

    How far is it REALLY from the Danvers’ definition of “willing submission” to actual servility?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yeah, that’s what Keith’s going to tackle next week. There is no difference.

  17. Mara R

    “Is there really a crisis of women refusing to submit?”

    About ten years ago some guy visited another blogger’s site. This time an internet associate that was once part of Mark Driscoll’s church. She was discussing Eggerich’s “Love and Respect” and mostly agreeing with it. She received some push back and handled it graciously. But some guy named David came in and claimed that this push back was because:

    ” The negative comments here indicate how foreign that concept [of unconditional respect] is to wives. This is not entirely their fault; the church has dropped the ball on this since forever. Until I heard a Focus on the Family interview with Eggerichs after his book came out, I had never heard any pastor or teacher make that point ”

    He said more crazy crap than this.

    Me, completely incredulous to his claims, wrote a blog post in response. I had to make it a post. It would have been too long for a comment over at her place. But you can get to her place through the links in my post.


  18. Lasta

    Hi Keith,

    As I told Sheila in a response to her post, I’m a Christian man in his 40s with 20 years of marriage. Over the last six years I:

    — Quit porn and masturbation for good after 25 years of addiction
    — Took charge of my emotional health such that, for all practical purposes, I went from being a boy to a man
    — Spearheaded the transformation in my marriage of a dead bedroom to a place we both love
    — Lead an intense “special forces” men’s group in my church for men to go on a similar journey
    — Hired to coach men trying to quit porn and save their marriages in the (non-Christian) coaching program that changed my life

    During this transition, I’ve solidified my view of male leadership in marriage from a surprising angle. The resources that helped me the most were not explicitly Christian, but were rooted in insights from science. Basically, it’s the idea that generous stable male leadership is sexually attractive to women. Traits like competence and confidence, presenting yourself in a way that brings respect from male colleagues, an ability to wield the power of your emotions while not being thrown into a spiral by them, having a mission, etc. — all of these have a role in sexual arousal with women. Put simply, does she feel safe with you, and like she’s going to exciting places in life with you? If not, her body agenda isn’t going to say “OK” to the idea of opening herself up to the danger and vulnerability of conceiving a child with you. This is actually way more important to arousal than just knowing your way around female anatomy. She needs to respect you, in some important senses, to be turned on by you.

    Now, based on an ideological commitment to egalitarianism, you can say that men ought to be turned on by the above as well, being sexually attracted to masculine type-A female CEOs, rather than feminine, healthy, young beauties. But this is the biological toolkit we are handed. There is an asymmetry to what turns us on. For myself, I think the dance is glorious. I love the differences between men and women, and think it’s one of the coolest things about being human.

    So I’ve concluded, lived, and seen flourish in those I coach, that a man stepping into a leadership vocation in marriage is a wonderful dynamic: where he sees his responsibility as to unleash the power of her passion and gifts. I’ve had my wife say, “I wish my friend’s husband from church would join your group; it would change her life.” I guess that puts me squarely in the “complementarian” camp here: directly on the opposite side of a pitched theological battle in the church.

    And yet, Keith, I find myself reading your post here and the ones before it, and concluding: you are completely right. Turning leadership/submission into a rule, rather than an aspiration, ruins it. If we focus men’s attention on the commandment “wives, submit to your husbands,” or even worse, tell them to *make* her submit, we are left with the form of manliness without the power thereto. We turn the scriptural admonitions around gender roles into a shield enabling weak men to stay weak and do harm. Women have a right to test the quality of their men, and they are not obligated to follow ego-driven tyranny that will pull them and their children into ruin. Christ’s sheep know his voice, and will run from a stranger.

    You said in a previous post that, if men are leaders, they aren’t half-responsible, they are 100% responsible. This is right, and furthermore, I don’t think you build strong and generous men any other way. No unearned respect from her. No submission just because it’s the rule. No sex just because she should. No seeing pushback from her as a threat. Anything other than these terms is a temptation to remain a boy and to shirk the hero’s journey.

    There’s a gospel irony happening here: the complementarians, who sought righteousness according to the rule, have found it bring death rather than life. Are the egalitarians, in seeking a righteousness apart from the rule, actually making space to genuinely uphold the health behind the rule? I’m intrigued…

    • Mara R

      Lasta, as one of the snarkier females that comments on this blog, I do not hate what you are saying.

      While usually I press for equality and egalitarian relationships, I’m not tone deaf to the realities that you are sharing.

      I usually stay out of arguments concerning what “head” means in Ephesians 5. There are great biblical scholars that are better equipped and more qualified than myself.

      But when I look at head as source rather than boss, I have considered it to be pretty much the opposite of Gothard’s stupid, effed up umbrella crap. But I don’t really share what I think it might mean. I’m afraid of being misunderstood.

      Instead of it being top down leadership, I think of it as more of a bottom up leadership. Some would say that I’m talking about servant leadership. But most who use that term, use it wrongly and really mean top down leadership. Some women have joked that it meant ‘leader of the servant/wife. Rather I’m looking at what Jesus said, if you would be great in God’s Kingdom, learn to serve.

      I consider it more like the husband being a stable foundation for his family. One who props up and nurtures his wife and children rather than lords over them.

      As a woman who has been divorced for a couple of years from a 30+ year marriage, I can tell you this. It is very hard to be a Proverbs women when you a not married to a Proverbs man.

      Proverbs 31:11a The heart of her husband trusts in her,

      My ex never trusted me with anything and always thought I was there to undermine him when I wasn’t. He was just projecting his narcissistic tendencies on me because he was always undermining me and blaming me and talking bad about me to our children. Yes, I have caught him in that. I would have loved for him to be the right kind of leader that didn’t suck the life out of me and demanded that I live to meet his every need while he couldn’t be bothered to even know what mine really were. (he projected needs on me that I didn’t have. he just wanted me to have THOSE needs because, ultamitly me have those kinds of needs met his need.)

      So, while I can’t speak for all the snarky females here, I can speak for myself.

      I believe that you may very well have good things to bring to this conversation.

      [Darn. Why is Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies” going through my head with the words “All the Snarky Ladies”?]

      • Lasta

        Mara, that’s heartbreaking stuff. I hate it. What a sea of misery modern marriages are in.

        Part of me hates to be as patriarchal as I am. I’d love to believe you could have just doubled down and saved your marriage. But I just don’t see women married to overgrown boys having many good options. I don’t think it works the other way around – I think a good man can take the lead in a way that all but the worst women would find it difficult to resist *wanting* to follow. This is the one time I’m not particularly excited about our sexual differences: seeing women stuck in bad situations.

        One thing that galvanizes me is that my wife was in a pretty shitty marriage six years ago, though I was clueless. And I’ve successfully changed myself, and that has changed our marriage. I think some solid teaching and mentorship by other men CAN change the men and save the marriages, but the church’s tribal knowledge on how to teach boys to become men is terrible, as is our culture at large.

        The cool thing about the process of quitting porn is that (in the words of my coach) it is “the rite of passage for the modern man.” You take that primal/emotional self that wants to act out in destructive ways, and you…don’t hate it. You don’t reject it. You get curious and assume the desires are good at their core. And then you integrate that power and direct it towards your highest loves and longings. As it turns out, the very forces that you thought were the source of your problem end up being the secret power to levelling up your life.

        Now, the cool thing there is that these same skills of self-leadership end up transferring in other areas. So my wife and my kids have all their passions and energies. They’re upset or frustrated about stuff. They have desires. They are clashing. And I look at all that and say, OK – how do I get curious here? How do I unlock the power that they bring so that they each can thrive, and so that our family as a whole goes in a great direction? I love receiving this sort of leadership within my own heart, and low and behold, they love it too. So I think that aligns with what you are saying: bottom up.

        Thanks for the encouraging note, and I pray that God blesses you and restores the years the locusts have eaten.

        • Mara R

          Lasta: “I’d love to believe you could have just doubled down and saved your marriage.”

          I think that the area that you and I would disagree on is this. One of the huge reasons that “I” couldn’t save may marriage was not because I’m female. It’s because of unmanaged or misdiagnosed mental-health issues in my spouse.

          There were other things that came into play such as the male privilege and entitlement culture he ended up working in. Also some family of origin things in me that I’ve been finally able to work on now that I’m not trying to hold together a flailing marriage to Captain Chaos. But mostly I blame blatant ignorance in the church and in our culture and not knowing how to deal with his unresolved trauma and mental health issues.

          When things are reversed, and it’s the female who has the mental health issues, the man doubling down to save his marriage is just as often impossible. I’ve met men who are beside themselves over the erratic and irrational behavior of their wives. It knocks their legs right out from under them. No amount of being a great person or leader can help.

          I guess what I’m saying it this. While I acknowledge some cultural and evolutionary differences in male/female dynamics, I can’t agree with the idea that proper male leadership is the answer. As the others have shared, some of the things you talk about are just men being grown up and responsible for themselves, being an engaged partner, and being caring and nurturing to others. And as long as that is what you are calling men to do, I won’t stand in your way. There needs to be more of that. But I hope that when you call them to that, that you aren’t holding out a carrot of “Do this and you get to be the leader”.

          On many of the site I’ve been on it has been acknowledged that complementarianism or patriarchy only work if the husband in mature, healthy, and wise. If he’s not, the whole thing falls apart.

          When I was in the throes of trying to figure out if it was possible to live with my crazy ex and trying to cope with the situation using my faith, all I had to fall back on was the Two Greatest Commandments and the Golden Rule. None of the gendered stuff worked. None of the gendered stuff applied. They only made things far, far worse. That is why I have a gut reaction to people flippantly turning to what they think are the “Marriage Trouble Shooting” sections of the Bible. Doing so has caused great devastation. It still is causing great devastation.

          So, while I don’t mind talking to you and hearing your views, and I appreciate you graciousness, I can only agree with some of the things you are saying.

          And as I’ve said above, I’m not hating that you are leading the way in getting men to man up, so long as those men will know how to be as gracious and understanding as you are.

          • Lasta

            Thanks for the feedback, Mara. I have no need to be ideologically dogmatic about your story – I’m sure you’re right that it was such a mess that switching the sexes wouldn’t have made a difference. I suspect I’d agree completely with you about the stuff that didn’t work, and why it didn’t work.

    • Lisa Johns

      May I point out that competence and confidence, presenting yourself in away that brings respect from (respectable people), an ability to wield the power of your emotions while not being thrown into a spiral by them, having a mission, etc., are not the sole prerogative of males? These are the qualities of mature adults. They are authenticity and stability. I strive for them.
      And I am not a masculine type-A female CEO. I am a normal healthy woman.

      • Lisa Johns

        presenting yourself in *a way…
        Darn autocorrect.

      • Lasta

        Strive away, Lisa! Consider my sole prerogative yielded to include you and all your fellow women. 😉

        My point isn’t that these qualities aren’t open to women. My point is that they aren’t sexual turn-ons. If a marriage is going great, where love and energy flows and each partner is living their best life, and you can’t keep your hands off each other…don’t let me stand in your way! But if there’s a dead bedroom, consider that some masculinity and leadership on the part of the man in the recliner with his feet up just might help.

        • Lisa Johns

          Well, I’ll grant you that. I’m about to get out of the dead marriages because the man-child in the recliner won’t do his work, and part of my frustration is that if he would have done it years ago we wouldn’t be in this pass now. It is a two way street.

          • Lisa Johns

            On further consideration though, I will reiterate my point that these are basic adult human qualities, not just male ones. If I were the kind of woman who sat on the couch and whined about being called out, letting emotions pull me into a spiral, then I should expect that no adult man in his right mind would be attracted to me either. The qualities of strength you mention are important to BOTH sexes, and frankly, I’m not too crazy about being told what attracts me or what doesn’t. I will express my own wants and needs, thank you.

        • J

          Hi Lasta,
          I’d disagree that a woman living with competence and confidence, having a mission etc, isn’t a sexual turn-on for a man. In my experience, most men I know get the most turned on when they see their wives doing what it is they love best to do, whether that is a business, a creative art, a job, a passion, a hobby, leading, organising, communicating….so for sure I see this going both ways.
          I’m not taking away from you that when women who have had passive husbands who they have to almost look after as an extra child, suddenly see their husbands taking responsibility for their own life and starting to initiate in family life, that that is very attractive. Of course it is. But likewise would it be if it was the wife who suddenly had the drive and energy etc.

    • Lucie09

      Lasta, I think we can acknowledge that men and women are ‘different’, and respect those differences without claiming that men are the designated leaders in the relationship just because they’re men. I am not married, but the idea of a marriage where I had to be under the unconditional authority of my husband sounds terrifying. I am often treated or talked down to, as if I am a very tall, well-behaved child by some members of my family, and even by some people in my church. I can only assume it’s because I’m not married, because I can’t think of any other reason, except that I look younger than I am. (I’m 40). As such, my opinions are usually not listened to, and if I ever say that I don’t want to do something, I will be pressured to say yes anyway. I now have a lot anxiety if I do say no to someone outside my family, because I’m scared that person will try to make me say yes. I don’t suppose I will ever get married now, but if I did, I can only imagine the potential problems being afraid to say no or voice my opinions is going to lead to. It would be very easy for a man who apparently had ‘godly’ authority over me to take advantage of that. Now, I know that your post didn’t mention the husband treating his wife like a child, but the dynamics of the comp marriage being regarded as such has been discussed in other people’s posts on this site. And I believe that the theme does crop up in complementarian marriage books.

      “Where he sees his responsibility as to unleash the power of her passion and gifts.”.
      Can I ask: why is it his responsibility? And what happens to single Christian women who don’t get married? (There are plenty of us out there!). Are they anchorless, drifty people because they don’t have a husband to ‘unleash’ their full potential??
      Just wondering.

      • Lasta

        I hear you, Lucie. That is very much my point, actually. The only authority a man should have is authority that she willingly gives him, because she is confident in him. But I do think he’s right to strive to be worthy of that authority. It’s sexy as all get out. That’s my “why.”

        This clip gets across a little of the feel I’m talking about:


        The man in the dance is displaying leadership and authority. He’s not being flamboyant and expressing himself, he’s focusing on her and showing her off. To me, this captures the “feel” of good sexual dynamics.

        I certainly hope you are not anchorless and adrift. May God be the wind beneath your wings and let you soar. But insofar as I’m responsible for my marriage and have men who look to me to guide them, I’ll encourage them to lead, because so much good comes from it.

        • CMT


          Thanks for your honest thoughts and dialogue. I have known some people whose complementarian relationships are like yours, and I respect them a great deal, even if I disagree with them.

          You did a lot to improve yourself and your marriage: taking responsibility for your own crap, taking initiative to work on the relationship, being curious and empathetic, prioritizing your spouse’s perspective and needs. These are all excellent things that everyone should strive for. Here’s the thing, though: when a woman, or most men, does that, it’s called being a mature, loving, adult partner. Why is it called leading when a complementarian man does it?

          And, what if it’s the woman in the relationship who starts getting healthy first, and wants to bring her husband along? Is she out of luck? Can she do the things you described as long as we call it something besides leading? If it’s true that she’d have a much harder time getting him on board, than he would if their positions were reversed, why do you suppose that is?

          • Lasta

            I guess I call it leadership because…that’s what it is. Take Sheila’s recent twitter post where she includes this diagram about sex:


            What is the top diagram about? It’s about him doing the things that lead her through an experience. Sheila was lamenting that Tim Little thought the woman could just see to herself and arouse herself. No, she needs him to take charge of things, do it playfully, and not be incompetent. Step up, dude. Be a man.

            Nowhere in all this is the wife expected to move heaven and earth to get the husband aroused and willing. If she does, it’s fun and a lovely treat, but it’s not strictly necessary. Initiating is our job. Because…we’re men.

            Take it to the emotional level. A woman who is flustered and just unloading her emotions can expect a good man to listen, and help her feel centered again. He’s providing some order and framework, and safety. Too much of this is unhealthy, but a little bit is part of the job description for the man. Afterwards she can feel loved and secure. Maybe even sexy. And the man is attracted – he doesn’t feel less turned on because she had to rely on him. But now do the reverse. The guy flies off the handle and spews and rages. The woman might be able to help calm him down. But the whole thing is unattractive. She will NOT be turned on at the end of it. She had to play the mother role, and that shuts the lady part of her down.

            Anything that involves him needing to be strong and her relying on and feeling secure in his strength takes the character of leadership (like the dance video I posted). Especially if there’s any hint of physical danger – being responsible for the safety of the family immediately comes with a measure of authority. “Honey, get the kids in the house and lock the door…NOW!”

            So, to answer your question, because it is natural for the woman to rely on the man’s strength to feel safe, if he gets his shit together and goes on a journey to awesome town, she’s wired to want to go along for the ride. But the reverse isn’t true. He doesn’t rely on her for strength to feel safe, and if he does, he’s an overgrown child that she resents. If he’s a bad man, and she gets her shit together, he may be tempted to just be like “great, more gravy train for me!”

            CMT, I don’t actually *like* this, at least, not when it says that a woman could be out of luck. I don’t want her to be out of luck. I want her to have agency and power. But women do seem to be wired to respond to their men. So I think fixing the man is the biggest win/win.

            Where I do like this is with sex. Showing leadership improves sex, can confirm.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Hi everyone! I just want to jump in to these comments and say something.

            I really, really appreciated Lasta’s first comment (and his others). I think he is someone who is genuinely recognizing what is toxic, and is on a journey. And we want to be a blog where people who are on that journey can come and learn more.

            So even if he’s not 100% where a lot of you are–let’s just make sure we’re welcoming!

          • Jo R


            Thank you for your polite engagement. You really seem to say all the right things, but you also seem to remain firmly in the “husband leads, wife follows” mindset.

            The graphic you reference doesn’t say a husband has to lead a wife through her sexual response cycle. It’s saying he needs to take his focus off his penis and understand his wife’s God-designed body works differently than his own.

            I also dislike the way you frame one spouse helping the other to manage an emotional outburst. You don’t use a specific word when a husband helps a wife calm down, though you imply he’s leading her as a husband should, but when a wife helps her husband calm down, you say she played “the mother role.” 😬

            Your example of a husband warning a wife of immediate danger could easily have the wife doing the exact same thing, as Boone has demonstrated elsewhere in the comments. Or would you question your wife instead of complying if she said, “Get the kids in the house NOW”?

            You seem obsessed with power over, even if you put it in soft-sounding language. But “lording it over one another” is not appropriate behavior for any Christian, even the male ones.

          • Jo R

            “But women do seem to be wired to respond to their men.”

            Or perhaps women respond to men who are behaving as adults, rather than extremely tall three-year-olds.

            Men who realize they need to do more than just go to their job, men who know that they are to be RAISING their children and not just babysitting them once in a while to “give their wives a break,” men who know how to clean up after themselves and others, men who proactively use their eyes to see what needs doing around the house and then do it without prompting.

            Again, simply acting like an adult and, dare I say, a partner.

          • Lydia purple

            I don’t like to call myself an egalitarian nor a complementarian because I think both terms don’t capture the complexity of marriage.

            When we talk about the humanity – husband and wife are equal. This includes worth, dignity, agency, autonomy.

            When we talk about sexuality we obviously complement each other. If healthy it is a mutual relationship that has literal as well as emotional life giving potential.

            I like how my pastor defines authority as “sphere of influence” rather than yielding control over people. In marriage authority goes both ways, because naturally when you are married (or a parent also) everything you do has an impact on your spouse and children by the nature of the relationship. The godly thing to do is to take responsibility and try to maximize the good influence.

            I do think though that there is a mysterious way that a husband and father influences his wife and family. Does that mean he is the boss? I don’t think so…

          • CMT

            For some reason the site won’t let me reply to Lasta or Jo R’s comments below.

            Jo R, I had the same thoughts about Lasta’s comments as you (except the power over bit, I don’t think that’s fair).

            Lasta, I agree with you that emotional maturity can be leadership-if one partner gets healthy and wants to work on the relationship before the other one does. But, the way I see it, either partner can and should take this role when needed. And it’s temporary, since ideally both people would be growing together so BOTH are mature, loving partners. Equally 🙂

            I see you making huge generalizations about differences you see between men and women (sexual preferences, relationship styles and emotional needs). Then reasoning from them that men are meant to lead. I’ll just say my own story gives me a different perspective.

            My husband and I have been in couples counseling for awhile (because I worked on myself for awhile, realized we needed help, and LED the way). Among many other things, we have realized he DOES need my strength. He DOES need space for vulnerability, and safety in our relationship. And maybe I’m a weirdo, but that’s hella sexy to me.

          • Nessie

            Thanks for engaging gently- quite a few guys have taken other tactics.

            I do have a bit of pushback on your descriptions of men’s vs. women’s “emotional level”… I don’t believe it’s fair to equate, “A woman who is flustered and just unloading her emotions,” with “guy flies off the handle and spews and rages.”

            If I spew and rage at my husband (your male description), no, he is not attracted to me. If my husband unloads his emotions on me (your female description), I am more attracted because he has just been vulnerable and shared with me, increasing our bond. So it isn’t really an equal or fair comparison.

            As for the qualities you call “leading,” I have thus “led” my family for a couple decades now. While yes, it would be nice for my husband to take more initiaive, I don’t consider that “leading”… it is more that he isn’t dumping everything on me alone. It is more that he is my partner and acknowledges I should not have to take on all the responsibility solo. It’s sharing the load.

            What you label as “leading” most of us here see simply as “healthy adulting,” so maybe that is some of the disconnect or pushback. And much of what you describe as being attractive to women is also what my husband finds attractive about me, as others have shared, too.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Great analysis, Nessie!

    • Angharad

      “…generous stable male leadership is sexually attractive to women. Traits like competence and confidence, presenting yourself in a way that brings respect from male colleagues, an ability to wield the power of your emotions while not being thrown into a spiral by them, having a mission, etc…

      Now, based on an ideological commitment to egalitarianism, you can say that men ought to be turned on by the above as well, being sexually attracted to masculine type-A female CEOs, rather than feminine, healthy, young beauties. ”

      I’m interested that you make the equivalent of a man who is competent, confident and in control of his emotions = a woman who is a ‘masculine type-A female CEO…rather than feminine’.

      Can I suggest that both women AND men can be attracted to partners who are competent, confident, in control of their emotions and with a mission to fulfil? Having these qualities does not automatically make a woman into a ‘masculine type-A CEO’! And as someone who is neither young nor healthy and who has never been beautiful, I’m glad that my husband is able to be attracted by these qualities instead!

      • Lisa Johns

        Lydia Purple, I love how you express that! Thank you for sharing!

      • J

        Love this response Angharad. Great call on calling out the inconsistency in description.

        Lasta, firstly I’m glad you are interacting in a calm, gentle way. We appreciate that. Gentleness is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Not something that men need to be afraid of or run away from. It’s something Christian men can embrace even if its going against the grain of the culture we live in, that has a very simplistic black and white idea of men being macho and in charge, and women being under the man in some way as an inherently female quality.

        Why would you see a woman that God has gifted with leadership qualities, think of biblical examples like Deborah, Ruth and Priscilla, as fit to be described as ‘masculine type’. I understand you may be drawn to these over simplifications of male and female personalities because maybe it fits your own and your wife’s personalities. But think of those many other men and women for whom the personality they have been given by God doesn’t fit a tight “male lead and initiate and women submit and be in some unexplained way ‘all feminine and nice'”?

        I’m a woman with a natural personality to initiate, to have drive, to lead, and to enjoy that. That is my happy place. I’m not remotely masculine. I’m thoroughly feminine. And all my life as I’ve lived according to my giftings I’ve seen men get attracted to that. They seem to like a woman who is independent, not obviously clingy or needy, and who just lives her life. I married a man whose natural personality is to be in the background. Who tends more towards passivity. And while I fully encourage him to do more initiating and some leading, I think our marriage would be pretty awful if I didn’t use any of the natural gifts God gave me. IN our sex life, for me to initiate is the most natural thing in the world. That’s how I’m wired. Imagine if I had ever come across teaching that told me I somehow, mostly, shouldn’t initiate because that’s not how I was made. Despite knowing in every fibre of my body that I was made to initiate?

        • Lasta

          If something is working for you, keep doing it! I truly don’t see gender archetypes as having absolute claim on any of us. I’m not interested in repressing women. I’m not interested in telling them what to do. At all. Even a little bit. Not just because I know that’s “wrong”, but simply because it absolutely doesn’t interest me. I do have a lot to say about men.

          There’s some real defensiveness about basic intersexual dynamics, so I suppose I won’t push further there.

          • J

            Hi Lasta,
            THanks for interacting so openly. We do appreciate it and we know all of us are always on a journey on these things.
            I think maybe some of the defensiveness you perceive is honestly just exhaustion from dealing with some of the kinds of views you have expressed, over a lifetime as a woman. Women are dealing everyday with not just the rude kind of out and out sexism that is expressed in the world, but also with beliefs that make life harder for women than God intended, and sometimes those come from men who are otherwise kind and good and friends of ours. It can just feel exhausting trying to constantly say ‘no, what you’re saying actually isn’t right, and I know, cos I’m a woman and what you just said doesn’t fit the natural way that God made me at all!’
            When you say things like ‘Initiating is our job. Because…we’re men.’ Then you will get pushback, because firstly I believe that is not a true statement. I believe God made women just as much to initiate as men, both in jobs, at home, in sex, in all domains. If you look around the world you will see women happily and naturally initiating everyday. Believing, for example, that sex is meant to work primarily with the man initiating and the woman receiving would be to deny women so much joy and fun, and to make it so much less equal than it is meant to be.
            I agree with you where you talk about the context of a man who has stopped initiating, stopped leading at all, needing to renew his life in those areas. No woman wants to do all the work! But to me, you go too far if you then suggest he should go from doing no initiating and leading to being the initiator and the leader. And that the woman is in some way not equal in the area of initiating and leading. Do you see what I’m saying? When men are passive, that is a problem that needs fixed, but the answer is not to go straight to a situation where the man is THE leader, the only leader, as that very quickly leads to domination, the other problem.
            When you are teaching these men not to be passive in their homes, can you also teach them that both spouses are responsible for initiating and leading in the home, and both are also responsible for submitting sometimes when their ideas and desires clash with their spouses? it can only work if both are willing to fulfil both roles; leadership and submission. If the man is the only leader, what woman would want to be in a relationship like that? How could she quench her Holy Spirit led ideas and dreams for a lifetime?
            You may think I’m overreacting and that any good complementarian man in practice would of course go against his theology and beliefs, and let his wife bring ideas and plan things etc. And many do. But I have seen so many occasions where the poor wife gets crumpled by really bad theology. Friends of mine had to leave the missionfield as he felt she was acting in a rebellious way by wanting to lead family devotions sometimes. She didn’t want her kids growing up believing a woman shouldn’t be allowed to do those things. And so they divorced very sadly. And in that particular case it was complementarian theology that led to that divorce.

          • Lasta

            Hi J,

            I guess my concept of leadership isn’t one that says, “my job, not yours” but rather “my job, join me.” I meant what I said about unleashing her gifts. If she wants to teach the kids scripture, then she’s doing that with my authority, and I want to make sure she has the resources and support to do it well. I’d think of leadership in this case as “presiding” over her leadership – even if it’s just the knowledge that I’m aware of it and I can jump in if I’m needed or there’s a problem. Maybe the glass ceiling of that umbrella still feels oppressive? In any case, sorry about your friend – I hate divorce so much.

            As far as initiating sex, my goodness – you think if I come home from work and my wife is laying on the couch in a whipped cream bikini I’m gonna complain?

            I do think men initiating sex in the average case is just biologically normal. Even with spiders, one of the most female dominant species on earth, where she’s twice his size and eats him if he does anything wrong, the male still initiates sex with the female. So if there’s no initiation, it’s the man’s job to fix the problem. If initiation flows like water, great!

    • Lasta

      I appreciate Sheila’s welcome, and really all of your engagement. I hope none of you feel the need to pull punches for my sake. Unfortunately, I do think we’re probably exhausting the medium of a blog comments section here, as we are hitting the depth limit of the comment trees.

      It’s interesting the testimonies of how deeply women have been harmed by this oppressive culture of being under their husband’s thumb in the church. I’m not denying it. I just haven’t seen much of that in my own life in evangelical churches (I know, “must be nice to be a maaaaaan, and never have to see it”). But what I have seen almost no end of is men who have been told “you’re the spiritual head of the family,” without having the slightest notion of what that might mean in practice (except “omygosh never EVER abuse that role”). It’s like a surgeon who has never been taught to use a scalpel except “goodness, do no harm!” And the men are simply checked out. Meanwhile the wife is run ragged, doing all the things and worried about all the things, and every time she asks for a decision or engagement just gets a, “whatever you want is fine, honey.” That’s what I see ALL THE TIME.

      My wife leans pretty egalitarian. So do the wives of men in my church. The first time I shared about my story on this, two men who heard me went home and told their wives, who then lobbied the pastor to silence the conversation. The fear of undermining gender equality is strong. The pastor, for his part, is very supportive of woman’s ordination, and yet he says he’s never seen men respond to anything like they are here. And the wives of the men in the group I lead absolutely love the changes. They don’t need to be bought into any of the philosophy of the path a man needs to take toward manhood. They aren’t wine makers, they are wine tasters, and it’s good stuff.

      My dear wife warned me that the word “leadership” would be triggering, and I’d love to use another one if it were available to me. But it’s seeing all my family’s problems as my problems and seeing myself as in charge here that has made the difference, so I can’t really do without it. Note that this is entirely internal; I’m asking no one to yield to my role for the sake of the role. The core insight though is that I didn’t get my life changed by becoming a better generic human being — that simply didn’t work. It was absolutely crucial that I went all in on stepping into manhood specifically. Quite frankly, though I haven’t gotten into it, this is THE reason the church has failed spectacularly in fighting porn addiction in men: they are treating it as a generic sin rather than a failure of building manhood (and thus repress our fierce primal masculine sexuality rather than integrate it). I know the gendered language doesn’t land with y’all, but do believe me that for me (and the men I work with), it’s like water to a parched soul, or like seeing clear eyed for the first time.

      My message to Sheila and Keith is simply that, for someone like me who is all-in on flourishing as a man, and on seeing that as involving a leadership calling for men (so not necessarily your target audience), your message rings really true. I think my wife and I will read your “Sex Rescue” book together. If you all are interested in this kind of conversation with a “complementarian” (I don’t really know what the hell I should call myself), I’d be open to it as I’m formulating these ideas.

      • Jo R

        Any chance you’re picking up “manhood” from Ephesians 4:13? The Greek word is about “maturity” rather than “immaturity” or even simply “being an adult male.” (And given that so many Christians use “manhood” as a euphemism for “penis” when talking about sex… Ooh, just no.)

        Many of us women would be pretty happy with a self-motivated, responsible grown-up as a partner, who is even half as interested in his wife and her life experience as he was during the dating and engaged stages of their relationship.

        • Lasta

          Goodness. I’ve never heard that used as a euphemism outside romance novels. Don’t worry, when I talk about penises, I’m a straight shooter: firm, direct, and to the point. 😉

          I mean manhood in contrast to boyhood. Its human maturity applied to the hallmarks of a high testosterone biology: sexual aggressiveness, violent physicality, fierce competitiveness, and an insatiable appetite for status. Those drives have to be integrated so they can do good rather than harm. It includes all the human maturity in the word “adulthood”, but has enough of a distinct character to deserve it’s own word IMHO.

          • Jo R

            So how would you define “womanhood”? Maturity with high-estrogen distinctives? What traits would you ascribe to such women?

            There are a number of us who, for example, hate makeup, hair messing, skirts and dresses, shopping, cooking, and other “desirable” or “preferable” or “usual” “feminine qualities,” as defined in the church or in secular society. Who like power tools, who’d rather hang out with the guys at get-togethers and talk about what the men are talking about, who major in non-caring degrees like engineering (as opposed to nursing or social work), who think “dressing up” means switching from sneakers to cowboy boots to go with jeans and a t-shirt.

            Would such a woman be sufficiently estrogenic in your worldview?

            No sarcasm, just genuinely curious, because I have felt completely out of place at all the churches I’ve attended as just such a woman. Not interested in women’s ministry and hanging out with most other women, because the conversation always winds up on kids, fashion, and meal planning. I’d much rather be talking about the latest space launch or newest fighter jet, or how much fun a Saws-All and a Scag mower are.

            Women like me are quite often seen as problems, because we don’t fit in the little box the church tries to force all women into. Fortunately, for my own mental and spiritual health, I just don’t care anymore. 😉

          • Mara R

            Jo R, briefly, I also fit into the category of not quite female enough for many churches, or society as a whole.

            I was a late reader, which for boys is expected, but for girls means they have a learning disability.
            I excelled in math and science and could have gone into engineering like my dad and my younger brother but STEM didn’t exist back in my day. And my parents were too busy dealing with their own issues to be aware of what I was capable of.

            I feel very sorry for the young people today who don’t fit squarely in what is expected by strict gender roles. I feel that strict gender roles are the beginning of what is causing their confusion, not the solution. Strict gender roles can make ‘anomalies’ like you and me uncomfortable in our own skin. But that’s just me from my personal experience.

            While I feel out of place as a female, I never wanted to change my gender. I did have children and I loved being their mother rather than their father (Believe me, I know there father. Nobody would want to be him). But my children joked about me being “Robot Mom” because I wasn’t emotional like their friends’ mothers.

            Anyway, as one who also doesn’t quite fit, I also wonder about these things.

          • Lasta

            Jo, your description of yourself reminds me of my mother. She’s exactly like that. In her case, I think we would have preferred a *bit* more nurturing from her, and I think part of the problem is that my Dad was so overpowered by her strong will that she didn’t get the presiding hand that would have helped her direct these gifts (or maybe he just checked out for other reasons). For all that apparent “masculinity” from her, she is driven by a lot of anxiety and need to control, and I think more masculinity from my Dad would have tempered that. In exactly none of that do I wish she didn’t love the things she loves.

            As far as being one of the boys, I’d want to welcome you into the club. The trouble isn’t you fitting in there. The trouble with gender roles would arise if you try to out-compete us (hah – I can lift more chairs than any of you men!). That puts men in an awkward position, as many male status competitions have a mating element to them (the football star winning the game and going home with the lead cheerleader). If they lose, they are shamed by losing to a woman. If they win, they feel ashamed by rubbing it in a woman’s face. There’s no honor – it’s a lose/lose. So your challenge would be to join the club, but watch out for the lose/lose trap in competitive situations.

            Just my opinion. You are NOT accountable to me.

          • Jo R

            Do husbands and fathers ever need to control or dial back their guiding hand? Is it possible they might run roughshod over wives and children, and that that isn’t acceptable? Or do men never commit such an error, simply because they are men?

            How do men ever lose to or do worse than another man in a situation? If losing to a woman is crushing, why can’t the MEN realize that their maleness simply does not make them inherently better at everything? I’m not stupid enough to not realize most men are physically stronger than most women, especially in the upper body, but physical strength isn’t the be-all, end-all anymore. Lots of women are going to be better at some things than lots of men are at those things. Maybe men should get over themselves instead of trying to have their egos stroked by women who hold themselves back.

            I’d settle for men (and women) who treat competent adults as competent adults, whether or not someone is male or female. I’d like PEOPLE to realize that people have different gifts, talents, abilities, experience, education, practical knowledge, and other traits that make each person uniquely valuable, rather than putting up a fence that says “Men here and women there” just because of peeing posture.

            I can’t think of ANY post-pentecost woman who is praised for being a wife and mother, nor can I recall that any NT women are described in terms of beauty (unlike Sarah and Rachel, for example). But Paul praises LOTS of women by name and uses the same ministry-working words to descibe them as he does for the men he names.

            Putting people, especially women, in boxes to suit other people’s, especially men’s, egos only cripples both the women and the men.

            Please stop doing it.

          • Lasta

            Seems like I’m arguing with every bad thing that’s ever happened to anyone here, Jo. Of course men can go wrong! Of course we can be controlling and need to quit. Of course competence should be king. Of course we shouldn’t cram people into boxes and not let them walk out.

            Maybe don’t assume that just because I see some important generalizations means that I want to pave over every exception? Some people may want to do that. Not me.

    • Anonymous

      Hi again, Lasta,

      “So I’ve concluded, lived, and seen flourish in those I coach, that a man stepping into a leadership vocation in marriage is a wonderful dynamic…”

      What many of US are saying is that WE have concluded, lived, and seen ourselves and many of those we love beaten down for the very idea you are claiming to be so wonderful. Do you feel your lived experience is so much more valuable or right than our lived experiences? If so, that is at the very heart of why so many of us have been deeply damaged by the toxic idea of male leadership.

      At first I thought you were trying to encourage men to step up. But you are describing the stepping up of ADULTING, not LEADING. Even with your dancing scenario, you made it about how the man is the one doing the work to showcase her talents which strips her of the fullness of what she has done. Leading, presiding, whatever word you flip to next, it still seeks to give you partial credit in pretty much everything. It comes across as a bit of a power play which is in many cases at the core of porn addictions. The more I see you try to justify male leadership, the more I feel there may be some deeper things you haven’t quite finished addressing in your porn recovery. Maybe that is presumptious of me, but I would say it’s no more presumptious than you telling us women what we are attracted to or implying we are the exceptions.

      I appreciate that you’ve engaged thoughtfully and civily. I hope I haven’t gone too far (but you did say not to pull any punches.) If I have, I do apologize. Yet I surely wish you could see how the more you try to get us to understand the wonderfulness of male leadership, the more you belittle and invalidate what many, many women have gone through.

      • Lasta

        I think what I’ve experienced and am leading other men in is wonderful. I don’t think the stuff y’all experienced was wonderful. What I was taught in evangelical Christian circles about manhood was almost completely useless. Are you sure I’m talking about the same idea?

        • Anonymous

          And there’s the big difference… “What I was taught in evangelical Christian circles about manhood was almost completely useless.”
          What we were taught about womanhood in the same circles was downright abusive- spiritually, sexually, emotionally, psychologically, financially, even physically.

          Jo R, Angharad, and Mara have given much better responses (specifically on June 23’s post) than I can about these things but your replies have a lot of, “Are you sure…” which has often been used to gaslight women, starting with the devil in Genesis. Not calling your use evil, but if you are truly open to learning, you may want to note that many of us have been abused with that line of questioning.

          I understand you truly feel you are speaking of something much different. But a man must tread on such a precise, miniscule line to keep it (what you’ve described) from turning unhealthy, and it doesn’t take much to slip right off into abusive. Since you’ve described basic adulting but keep calling it leading, then you aren’t understanding what we are saying. Your insistence to call it leadership simply because you are a man IS why it becomes so dangerous.

          As for the word archetype- seeing as the word origin is rooted in specimens being based on an original model, I’d argue that Eve- the way she was initially created- wasn’t concerned with wearing pretty dresses or bothering with makeup. 😉 What you are sharing/expecting of women (in your own words) is a stereotype. The more women I get to really know, the more I realize the stereotype is what guys say they are attracted to, not what many women actually are. Which places a LOT of women into the “exception” box you seem fond to reference.

          At the end of the day, I hope you consider counseling the men you work with to be a bit more flexible in their ideas of manly or womanly because if you hold fast to the stereotypes then the concept of “male leadership” can become abusive so very easily. The many women who have been abused by it are working hard to prevent any more women being abused, so of course you should expect pushback.

          Signing off for my son’s surgery. Take care.

  19. Lindsey

    Thank you for sharing all this. I think you are spot on with this stuff. As a woman married to a man who does similar I can attest to it working beautifully.

    While it is certainly important to highlight the things that don’t work well and not discount what some women have walked through, it is also important to highlight that there are men that do it well, so thank you for sharing your experience and shedding light on that.

  20. Perfect Number

    A lot of great points in this post! Especially this – “If a wife wishes to have an equal say rather than being a subordinate, she is grasping and power hungry and clearly in sin. Yet the same is not the case if a husband, not being content with equality, demands to rule over his wife.” And also the part about the “bait and switch.”

  21. Ati

    Excellent Keith!! Also there are no examples given in Scripture of women who usurped manly authority. Its not a theme, nor is it in reality.

    Btw, the more soft complementarians are now using the word ‘responsibility’ instead of authority cos its sounds nicer. But the idea is the same.

  22. Lasta

    Hi Keith,

    At this point over half the comments on this post are women responding to me responding to you, which in incentivizing bad behavior on my part! I’ve really enjoyed the interaction. It’s so earnest and engaged. I sense a hunger for someone who loves traditional gender roles to addresses concerns rather than dismiss them. A blog comment is probably not the best place to post an alternative to the Danvers statement, but let’s YOLO. Am I stumbling on a Hegelian synthesis that captures the strengths of egalitarianism and complementarianism while avoiding the weaknesses of both?

    Here we go. I read your article to my wife, and we had a great time coming up with labels to an alternative spectrum that is rooted in the way we actually have seen ourselves and other couples go wrong, and the dynamic that we think works best for most couples in the middle. It’s not egalitarian, in that we think men and women are different and are not best served by pursuing an interchangeable single role. But it’s not complementarian in the sense of the Danvers statement, in that we’re not trying to assume Paul’s recommendations to the Ephesians is THE defining framework for all male and female interaction.

    I’m on vacation at the beach spending hours building epic sand fortresses with my boys below the tide line, and I love watching the waves slowly batter it to bits. In the same spirit, hopefully this exercise will be enjoyable to all involved!

    According to the Thursday morning 21st anniversary breakfast discussion between Lasta and his wife

    Disengaged ————- Presiding ——- Egotistical

    Disempowered —— Flourishing —— Anxiously Controlling

    Here’s my unpacking of these terms:

    Disengaged: the man doesn’t have a sense of ownership in the marriage. He is checked out. He puts his emotional resources into things he feels invested in, like sports, hobbies, work, or politics. He’ll show up for things, and even be affectionate, but he doesn’t take on any of the mental load of actually running the family.

    Presiding: this is the sort of leadership that feels right to us. The man sees the family as his ship to captain. If something isn’t running well, that’s HIS problem. He does the dishes, not because he’s desperate to please his wife, but because he is proud of his family and having dirty dishes left unattended is beneath the dignity of the family. He doesn’t see himself as a servant (though he will serve), but as a leader who is confident in those he’s leading to fulfill their calling well. So he may actually be passive at times, if his wife and children are in their element and thriving. He’s supportive of them using their gifts. But he’s looking at the high-level issues, anticipating problems before they happen, and steering people’s gifts toward win/wins instead of discord and conflict. He’s not afraid of hearing about problems or receiving suggestions. If his wife or children flat out refuse to follow his lead, he realizes there is something incomplete about his mental picture and he gets curious. For all that, he does have a sense of authority, and in an emergency he’s ready to snap to and face danger head on, protecting his family and sacrificing himself.

    Egotistical: He feels that he should be in charge but is deep down pretty insecure. He’s constantly wanting confirmation that he’s doing a good job, and he sees pushback or challenges from his wife as a threat to his authority. When she’s upset, he doesn’t listen, and tries to “solution” her as quickly as possible. It’s all about the showy forms of “being the man” or “being the head of the household”, masking a weakness within. He gets upset easily at slights or the appearance of disrespect. If things start to spiral, he tries to solve it with anger.

    Disempowered: She’s pretty trapped. She doesn’t feel like she has a say in the things that matter to her or affect her life and those of the children. She has to bottle up her concerns. She has dreams and gifts but feels she has to let them go to be a dutiful wife. She may see things that can be improved but is afraid of saying anything because she knows it’ll just make her husband upset and he’ll shut her down.

    Flourishing: She’s living her best life. Her children are thriving, she’s active and engaged. She’s certainly busy, but she’s not run ragged. She has the freedom and support to engage in self-care, to feed her soul, to have friendships and even be engaged in ministry. She’s not at all afraid to bring concerns to her husband, or to spearhead solutions as she sees the need for them. If he pushes in another direction, that isn’t threatening to her because he’s proven himself dependable in the past and is listening to her attentively. If it makes sense for her to work outside the home, she’s been able to work that out in a way that doesn’t leave her racked with guilt and trying to do it all, because there’s a solid plan based on reality. She feels safe, fearless, and free.

    Anxiously Controlling: She has no confidence in her husband, and feels like if anything is going to happen, it depends on her. She can’t check out like he can, or one of the million things she imagines going wrong will happen. She stifles efforts by her children (especially boys) to push the envelope or do anything dangerous. She’s constantly resisting her husband doing anything new that might pull him even further away. Her anxiety is the constant companion of everything in the home, the determining factor for anything being allowed to happen. They all quietly resent her, even as she desperately tries to protect them.

    • Jo R

      “He doesn’t see himself as a servant (though he will serve), but as a leader”

      Pretty sure Jesus would have something to say about this, but then again, I’m justa woman, so I’m undoubtedly completely misinformed.

      “But he’s looking at the high-level issues, anticipating problems before they happen”

      What if his personality is detail oriented, not big picture? What if HER strength is big picture?

      “If his wife or children flat out refuse to follow his lead, he realizes there is something incomplete about his mental picture and he gets curious.”

      He gets curious? In an ideal situation, maybe, but most men are simply going to appeal to their self-given authority. What do their wives and children do then? If they appeal to an elder or pastor, stats say the spiritual authority figure will back up the husband.

      Perhaps you’re unaware, but ALL of the books I read as a new Christian (trusted Christ in 87) and new wife (married in 88) basically said being “disempowered” was God’s will for me. I had to sink my entire self into my husband, go along with him in whatever he wanted, lift him above myself at every turn, erase myself completely. Oh, it was not worded in such blunt language, of course, but I was desperate to be obedient to God, and it was quite clear that that was the underlying message.

      And your underlying message is the same. You put it in nice, lovely terms, but even you are offering an iron fist in a velvet glove. Which means there’s still an iron fist behind it.

      If I were a single twentysomething reading this blog (along with Sarah McDugal, Ngina Otiende, Patrick Weaver, and others), I would never get married.

      Digging myself out of the three-decade-plus pit over the last 2.5 years has been HARD, and I’m married to a genuinely good guy who never believed any of this crap for either me or himself. But all the books, sermons, and Bible studies told me he really was this way, so I better conform, chop chop. Because I trusted these people, with their gloss of learning and authority and expertise, I wasted DECADES. Decades of pain, suffering, stifled growth and maturity, peace and joy, because I kept trying to cram my starfish-shaped self into a tiny little cube-shaped box. Can you even begin to put yourself in my shoes?

      I am not alone in recovering from this perversion of who God is and what He wants, and in this comment section, you’ve found yourself fallen headlong into the swamp of countless women’s actual, real, lived experiences. If you and your wife are happy in your understanding, great! We’re glad for you. We really are. But all of us here are trying to heal, to get ourselves out of muck we should never have been in in the first place, because we were put here by “God’s spokesmen.”

      Please stop trying to keep us in the swamp. No amount of Lysol will clean it up.

    • Joy

      Genuine questions for Lasta (who I am glad things are going well for):

      1) You are on the blog of someone who has researched the impact of complementarian theology as taught/internalized by Christian women. This research has shown negative impacts. Have you read through her blog to discover what those negative impacts are? I recommend her stuff on why you should care that certain theological views hurt others even if you are happily living under them.

      2) Has it occurred to you that the way Sheila frames complementarianism—the various things you disagree with—is actually what complementarianism is to most marriages? That your niche take in complementarianism is not really what’s happening for most people? Are you really a complementarian if you disagree with a lot of how it plays out in real life?

      3) This is genuine, and I’m not trying to be any sort of negative way here but: Why is there so much emphasis from you on the fact that this sexual dynamic turns you on? Is that a popular way to phrase this for men who are coming out of porn addiction? Is there perhaps something that men who have a history of porn addiction have in common that makes viewing things through this dynamic exciting or somehow especially helpful? Again this is a genuine question—it comes off as very strong. I’m not sure where this comes from but I feel like it has impacted your view on things immensely. There is an overemphasis on how titillating it is to have a power dynamic in the marriage and a single overarching story that seems to be applied to all marriages in terms of what works for people.

      4) The way you rewrote the Danvers statement spectrums—What would complementarians you know in real life think of that? It would be interesting to see what people who are complementarians think of it. Sheila has uncovered a lot of negativity in complementatianism, so truthfully you are going to need to come at her with research instead of a rewritten version of the Danvers statement to be anywhere near comparable to the thought and work she’s put into this over the years. She has seen the harm and is not looking for a new way to explain things to make it better on paper because the fruit of it is harmful to people in practice. For those who have not peered into the depths of harm that complementarianism caused and still hold a rosy view of it—they may be the ones interested in describing their situation differently than the Danvers statement.

      • Lasta

        Hi Joy,

        1. I’m interested in reading “The Great Sex Rescue” with my wife after these interactions. After seeing the way I would reframe the Danvers statement, and the fact that I find myself in near total agreement with Sheila’s criticisms of various complementarian or adjacent evangelical teachings to women, do you think I need to fully own the sins of complementarianism?

        2. Good question. That’s something I’m exploring here.

        3. I think you may misunderstand the role that exploring sexual attraction played in my journey. My focus isn’t on what turns me on (that’s actually pretty simple for me, as it is with most men), but rather what turns women on about men. The journey was: I quit porn, and it didn’t magically fix our dead bedroom. I then went on a journey, with a lot of secular and scientific sources (since I was disillusioned with the church after seven years on the mission field) to see what I could change to fix that. What I found was a journey toward something adjacent to complementarianism: what turn women on in men is a good first order approximation to *masculine* virtue. I applied this to my life over 5 years, and turned my entire marriage around (sex being in the end the LAST item to fall into place not the first). So yes, it impacts my views immensely. That what I’ve discovered is from secular sources, and yet has both an affinity with traditional gender teaching in the church (not necessarily modern evangelical complementarianism) AND what Sheila is critiquing about complementarianism, is fascinating and confirming to me.

        4. I’m not sure what they would think. So far I feel like y’all may be better conversation partners. I certainly rooted for Sheila over Tim Little – I completely agreed with her. I wrote a pretty critical review of Michael Foster’s “It’s good to be a man” for example. In the end, Sheila cares about science and research, and thus has an openness to new information. That’s been crucial for me. Even if I have an affinity for some type of complementarianism, the fact that they can be utterly intransigent and uncurious makes me a little worried about the chance for good dialogue. Who knows though, I’m eager to try.

        • Jo R

          Please list which virtues are masculine and which are feminine.

    • Elleira

      Lasta, this is very interesting – and this whole dialogue is interesting because people are coming at it with different perspectives.

      I’m assuming that your “Presiding” and “Flourishing” categories are the ones you consider ideal, and that’s what I’ll base my reply on.

      First off, they sound pretty good. It sounds like both parties are respected, listened to, and supported.

      The thing that I want to point out is that what you’ve described in each category is what (I think) many women have experienced in reverse. That is, mothers have been the ones to “[think] if something isn’t running well [in the family], that’s [HER] problem. [She] does the dishes, not because [she’s] desperate to please [her husband], but because [she] is proud of [her] family and having dirty dishes left unattended is beneath the dignity of the family. [She’s] not afraid of hearing about problems or receiving suggestions. If [her husband] or children flat out refuse to follow [her] lead, [she] realizes there is something incomplete about [her] mental picture and he gets curious.” (How many women read all these marriage and parenting books and blogs when things aren’t working… or even when they are?… they’re curious and filling out their mental picture.) 

      Because the home and family have been presented as the woman’s responsibility and her area of leadership (ish), all of what you have said for the “Presiding” category applies to tons of women on a regular basis.

      I totally understand that you, as a man, are taking responsibility for your role in your family. And again, these things are great. However, framing it as the “male gender role” does not make sense because for so long these things have been pushed as the female gender role. But, even though women have taken the lead in caring for families (and I literally mean the emotional caring, not that they’ve necessarily been “allowed” to make all the decisions even though they may have done all the research – I see your other categories!), their actions have not been labeled as leading. But then, when the father does those same things, it’s called leading and he’s applauded for it.

      So, although I get you taking responsibility and I definitely appreciate it, I think this is why almost everyone replying to you is saying “But women. But we do this too. All the time. It’s part of being an adult.”

      I think there is room to say that a father’s leadership may look different than a mother’s – and of course been marriages things look different. But it’s not fair to take the things one half of the population has been expected to do and so has been doing, re-label it, and then ascribe it to the other half of the population. Better to acknowledge what the half has been doing, label it, and tell the other half that this is valuable and to get in on it because we need their perspective, input, participation, etc.

  23. Mara R

    “He doesn’t see himself as a servant (though he will serve), but as a leader”

    This is problematic.

    Nothing against you personally Lasta, but this does seem to be a theme among men. Even male Bible translators. The thought of being a servant seems to be terrifying to them. Even though Jesus does call men to be servants, just like women. It’s easier for women. We are more used to it. But this doesn’t give men a pass.

    Concerning Bible translators when dealing with the word for deacon. When it is in reference to a man they translate it “deacon”. But when it is in reference to a woman, they translate it “servant”. Even though it is the exact same word in both cases. So there is something very fishy about it.

    Lasta, as a Christian man, you are called to be a servant, just like Jesus washed the disciples feet. All Christians are. Male and female.

    Not trying to be judge-y here. But you might want to reconsider your abhorrence of the word servant in reference to men and why that is.

    As far as the whole spectrum thing you have, I do like it much better than the Danvers spectrums. I think yours is closer to the truth than theirs. But still not 100%

    I also appreciate the work you are going through to think these things through.

    • Lasta

      My priorities were pretty pragmatic — what is attractive to women about men. Theological justifications were secondary, because I was pretty burned by the church in general. I know the kind of man that the evangelical church produces. It was me. And I was a special kind of nice guy / bad man combo who thought he was a godly husband. I deeply regret the fifteen years of bad marriage I gave my wife.

      My faith has been healing, and I do care about theology more. But, for example, even if St. Paul is demanding that Ephesian women submit, if I think that is bad for women today and bad for building great men that turn the women on, I may end up saying “well, that advice probably isn’t the best for us in the 21th century.” I respect scripture a great deal, but interpretation and application across the centuries is a tricky thing.

      What I meant in that passage is that Jesus isn’t our servant. He’s our lord and teacher. However, he teaches us a new way of having authority — by being willing to wash his disciples’ feet. But if our conclusion is “Jesus is my servant, he has to do whatever I say,” we’ve got another thing coming. The only reason any of this matters is that I tried the butler energy during those 15 years of bad marriage, and it didn’t work. More recently I tried the captain energy, of taking ownership and full responsibility, and doing “servant” tasks with my head held high…and that did. The distinction mattered in my journey, was way more attractive to my wife, which is why I recommend it to other men.

      • Mara R

        And yet Jesus also says this to His disciples:
        Matthew 20:25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;

        I understand looking at the cards that our culture and evolution has given us. But the teachings of Jesus fly in the face of our culture. I am not saying that you can’t be a leader in your family. And if this works for you and yours, it’s not my job to say that you are wrong for the very practical ways you and your wife work this out.

        However, wanting to teach this as the Christian doctrine for all couple for all time is reaching way to far.

        Please note that Ephesians 5 was written to a culture the was steeped in patriarchy. Roman patriarchy, no less, one of the worst kinds. It didn’t look much like the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
        Ephesians 5 was meant to turn the household codes of the day on their heads. Using it to say that God wants men to be leaders of their wives is a dishonest use of scripture.

        Understand. I’m not saying that YOU are dishonest. You learned these teaching from somewhere else through a chain of dishonest Bible exegesis. I believe you are very honest and pragmatic. But be careful about using an epistle that appeal to the Roman Patriarch to submit to his wife as she has always had to submit to him as evidence that this is the Bible teaching male leadership in the home. And be careful about reading too much into Paul comparing the Roman Patriarch to Jesus. It was to bring the patriarch attitude down, not prop it up. It was to lower the mountains and life up the valleys, not maintain the status quo in kinder, more gentler way.

        • Lasta

          Mara, I wager I’m every bit as burned by the Evangelical Christian “be a nice guy and a dutiful servant” thing for men as the average commenter here is by the “submit to your husband” trope for women. So probably best for me to disengage on that point. Your critique of my use of the word “servant” in a negative way is well taken. I should word things differently for a Christian audience.

      • Angharad

        You’ve repeatedly referred to “what is attractive to women about men” in your comments on this blog. The really interesting thing is that many of those who have responded to your comments are women and are saying they don’t find these things attractive…yet you continue to claim that they are.

        Just because something works for you, it doesn’t mean it will work for all men. Just because your wife finds certain things attractive, it doesn’t follow that all women will find the same things attractive. And if you insist on these things, then you will get pushback – because nothing is more annoying than being told ‘all men like…’ or ‘all women like…’ when you don’t fit that stereotype.

        Like some of the other women commenting on this post, I’ve also never fitted the ‘stereotypical Christian woman’ mould, and as a result, I’ve often felt like a second-class Christian in many churches. It took years to accept the gifts that God had given me because I had so many Christians telling me that He hadn’t actually given me those gifts, He’d given me totally different ones (that I didn’t possess at all).

        If the way you live your lives is working for both you and your wife, that’s wonderful, but please don’t take what works for one specific Christian couple and insist that all couples must be the same as you – because we’re not!

        • Lasta

          They aren’t saying that women aren’t attracted to them. They’re saying that those are just generic mature adult qualities, and that men are every bit as much turned on by them in women. Plus that there are always exceptions. I’ve said many times that I don’t see this as dogmatically prescriptive, but I don’t think we’ll get anywhere, and it wasn’t really the conversation I was interested in having.

          The one thing I was interested to begin with was the curious intersection between what y’all say is toxic for women in the church and what I say men need to develop and flourish as men. I thought that was a really cool alignment of interests.

          • Anonymous

            Hi Lasta,
            You claim traits many of us view as “healthy adulting” are the essence of male leadership while claiming that females having those traits are “masculine type-A female CEOs, rather than feminine, healthy, young beauties. But this is the biological toolkit we are handed. There is an asymmetry to what turns us on.”

            Hmm… Wives are attracted to husbands behaving as adults. Husbands are attracted to wives behaving as adults. I’m not seeing a lot of asymetry there. Yes, we can nitpick down to minute specifics, but your ideas haven’t been focused on nitpicky details either. When we bring things up, you claim they/we are the “exceptions.” We are telling you we are not, and you rather dismiss us, which the church has already done a thorough job of doing.

            FWIW, I am thoroughly turned off by the idea that my husband would think he has the responsibilty (and thus can receive the accolades) of “letting” me succeed. I am turned off by my husband feeling like he has “allowed” me to flourish. We don’t need men to “allow” us to flourish- we just need men to stop stepping on us. We are also made in the image of God and have access to His strength and thusly are capable of great things. But if we can achieve them, we still lose because men strip us of being able to say “look at the work God did in and through me- isn’t He amazing?” because our husbands “allowed” it to happen. “Look at the work God did through us that *I* allowed to happen!” Perhaps you are conflating pride in your wife doing a job well done with thinking that you had a (leadership) hand in that.

          • Lasta

            I don’t want you to feel dismissed. I must admit I don’t feel terribly heard myself.

            How confident are you that I want to strip anyone of being able to say “look at the work God did in and through me- isn’t He amazing?” Are you sure that I think of my wife’s accomplishments as something I “let her do” or “allow”?

          • Anonymous

            I won’t feel the least bit dismissed if you don’t reply. 🙂 It is no skin off my back. I won’t be replying much after this anyhow because my kid is having surgery in the morn.

            FWIW, I hear you on the frustration of not being heard/understood. It gets extremely infuriating after the first decade or two. Most of us here have had that problem for years, but it’s been one of the least of our worries.

  24. Cee

    I haven’t read this entire post, because near the top I was dumb-founded…for the first time when it comes to this husband leadership/wife submission narrative. It was so en-grained in my head from a young age, I didn’t question it in a logical way. But just now I had a profound question…how exactly is a husband supposed to lead a wife? How about pregnancy…can he lead her there? How about birthing a child? How about nursing? How about her hair/makeup/dress choice? How about the way she parents her children, particularly when he’s not around? How about her giftings and skills…how can he lead her where she is more gifted than he? What about in her personal relationship with the Lord? And what if she’s further along than he spiritually? Honestly, this makes NO logical sense. Husbands are so blessed that God created women (their wives) with the ability to lead themselves…to be pregnant, to birth a child, to nurse, to raise those children in her feminine way, to function in her job(s) apart from his “leading.” Its actually comical to think we as conservative, evangelical women have not laughed people out of the pulpit who preached this. It’s scientifically unable to truly be done. What is able to be done is dominate. That is the necessary “end” of husband leadership…domination. No husband can lead a woman…he didn’t design her or understand the ways she is uniquely equipped to be female, Her Father/Creator did and if we recall in the beginning…there was a time where it was just God and Eve…Adam was asleep. This makes me laugh. Eve was ok with her Father…and her Father was ok with Adam sleeping. Mutual willing submission is the only way any of the submission talk could make sense. Neither wives nor husbands can truly lead the other. We are created to lead ourselves and given the ability to do just that.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Well said, Cee!

    • Jo R

      “We are created to lead ourselves and given the ability to do just that.”

      Hmmm, that, well, that sounds a bit, or a lot, like, wait, what’s it called again, self-control.

    • Nessie

      “…how exactly is a husband supposed to lead a wife? How about pregnancy…can he lead her there? How about birthing a child? How about nursing? ”

      Oh my goodness, that is amazing!! It truly doesn’t make sense.

  25. Mark

    Reminds me of a discussion on another blog:
    Love one another… Yup!
    Be devoted to one another… Yup!
    Give preference to one another… Yup!
    Accept one another… Yup!
    Serve one another… Yup!
    Be kind to one another… Yup!
    Submit to one another… Well, it doesn’t really mean what you think it means. You can’t really submit…

    And that’s why I think the word “submit” has been hijacked by the Evangelicals. If it isn’t something that all people can do to all people, (as Keith says, it’s not unidirectional!), then we have to question why we’re told to do just that! If submission is something that can be bidirectional, then it cannot have the meaning that complementarians use of some sort of necessary hierarchy.

    And, to the comment about translations. It’s so true – we would be better off, in my opinion, if there was a wooden translation, like “servant” or “messenger” always applied, versus translators saying deacon or angel based on how they want us to read it.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly! Well said.

  26. Terry

    There was a comment upthread, from June 22, that I couldn’t reply to, but it was disturbing and wasn’t addressed, that I read. I’m bringing it up not to single out this commenter, but because it’s such a strong example of the “equal in value but unequal in function” theology that complementarians teach in an effort to insist that women and men in complementarian relationships are equals.

    “If she wants to teach the kids scripture, then she’s doing that with my authority, and I want to make sure she has the resources and support to do it well. I’d think of leadership in this case as “presiding” over her leadership – even if it’s just the knowledge that I’m aware of it and I can jump in if I’m needed or there’s a problem.”

    This commenter, Lasta, tries here (I’m not judging his intentions, just what he’s saying) to straddle the nonexistent line between “my wife is my equal” and “I’m the leader of my wife.” Here in home spiritual practices, as in other areas, he wants to say his wife is his equal, but also that she functions only with his authority and that her leadership is something he presides over.

    An equal wouldn’t be teaching children scripture with someone else’s authority, but with their own, as Priscilla and other women did in the Bible. If she’s teaching scripture with his authority, but he’s not teaching scripture with her authority, they are by definition not equals. It is intellectually dishonest to argue otherwise.

    This is a good example of what “soft” complementarians teach, and it lacks internal logic and internal consistency. Historically, religious men have taken charge of women because they believed women were actually inferior. As inaccurate as this was, it was at least internally logical: I’m serving an inferior person with my leadership because they can’t function as well as I can function.

    Today we have complementarians setting up a system of explicit inequality, calling it “complementarian” as if it’s about two equals with strictly different abilities who serve each other equally with those abilities, and then declaring it a relationship of equals. The term “servant leadership” came about because complementarians realized that male headship needed to be more palatable, hence the complementarian idea that men leading women is actually a service to women. (See how that implicitly admits that complementarians do believe women are functionally inferior? — They “need” to be led in a way men don’t “need” to be led. If women don’t need to be led, then men leading them isn’t a service to them.)

    This is patently dishonest and misleading. I don’t believe all complementarians are *trying to be dishonest or misleading; probably many of them haven’t thought about it. But that doesn’t change the inaccurate meaning of “complement,” and it doesn’t change the actual effects of inequality. Calling it equality doesn’t change it into equality. Such is the case with saying your spouse teaches scripture “with my authority” but also trying to portray your marriage as a relationship of equals.

    It’s time for complementarians to engage on what they believe are the real merits of complementarianism — and to do that, they have to be honest about the inequality that is inherent to it. If they’re not willing to do that, it’s very difficult to engage on it with them because they don’t even admit to the foundational part of the system. It’s not unimportant. It’s not minor. Men being nice doesn’t make inequality equality. These are a starting point for discussing complementarianism as it actually is.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Well said, Terry!

  27. Holly

    Oh my! I know this is old, but I’m so excited that I came to the same conclusion. You put it more eloquently- “usurpation is an error only if you believe there is a power hierarchy that it is possible to usurp.” But I have been thinking just about the definition of usurp. It absolutely does not mean to “exercise,” it means insurrection and overthrow. By that definition, a woman exercising is not usurping, but a woman who usurps is basically abusing and silencing her husband. Big difference. I’d say it’s a sin for a man to usurp authority over a woman.


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