PODCAST: Do Complementarian Men Make the Best Husbands? A Response to Nancy Pearcey

by | Sep 14, 2023 | Podcasts, Research | 64 comments

Nancy Pearcey's claim that complementarian men do best
Merchandise is Here!
Instagram Follow Mobile ad

Do complementarian men do best?

That’s what Nancy Pearcey says in her new book The Toxic War on Masculinity! Men who believe that marriage is a hierarchy and that men should get the final decisions (complementarians) do best. 

This is the podcast (and the op ed) that we’ve been wanting to do for months. We prepared it before vacation in the summer, but then finished it up last month and finally got it up.

All summer Professor Pearcey’s book has been the buzz on social media and podcasts, as she’s been making the claim that conservative men who believe in gender hierarchies do best.

But is that what the data actually says?

That’s what we’re looking at in today’s podcast, and I hope we answer this question once and for all, because people keep making this claim–and it does not stand up to basic scrutiny.

Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:


Timeline of the Podcast

0:40 Let’s discuss the ‘Toxic War on Masculinity’
6:20 The data based on outcomes of beliefs
15:30 Male headship in Evangelical marriages
27:25 Hierarchy tied to orgasm rates in women
36:00 Is it rose-coloured glasses?
44:00 Standards for academics
1:14:00 Changing of opinions

What does the data say about Nancy Pearcey’s claims about complementarian men?

Here’s our argument in a nutshell:

  1. Most people who claim complementarians do best are using surveys that include far more than just complementarians. 
  2. Even if you’re only looking at complementarians, there’s a confounding variable here of religiosity, which is so powerful that people who are highly religious tend to better–and in the United States, the highly religious tend to be complementarian. When you control for religiosity, the benefits go away, because it’s religiosity, not complementarianism, causing people to do well.
  3. You can’t measure the effects of complementarianism by looking at people who believe it, because the vast majority who believe it don’t act it out.
  4. When people do act it out, disaster ensues.
  5. People who believe in complementarianism are more likely to have “rose-colored glasses” and rate their marriages and sex lives better than they actually are. 

If nothing else, here’s what I want you to remember:

The fact that complementarians in name only who act out egalitarianism do better is hardly a ringing endorsement of complementarianism, especially when, if complementarianism is acted out, people do so badly.

We then looked at Nancy Pearcey’s scholarship for her book.

At the latter part of the podcast, we looked at the way Professor Pearcey cites things (and what she chooses to use as her sources). We found some really disturbing trends that would simply not pass muster even in writing undergrad research papers in most secular universities.

This is something we’re passionate about. If Christians are going to have an impact on the world, we need to be able to talk to the world. When our standards are so much lower than theirs that we become almost laughable, we’ll never be able to make an impact.

We can do better than this. We must do better than this. There is no reason that Christians should do academia so poorly. Please, let’s call for higher standards for what counts as scholarship in Christian circles. Please. 

Things Mentioned in the Podcast

Do Complementarian Men Do Best? Response to Nancy Pearcey

What do you think? Have you heard ths claim going around social media? How can we get this corrective message across? Let’s talk in the comments!


Sheila: Welcome to The Bare Marriage Podcast. I’m Sheila Wray Gregoire from BareMarriage.com where we like to talk about healthy, evidence-based, biblical advice for your sex life and your marriage.  And I am joined today by my two wonderful coauthors for The Great Sex Rescue and She Deserves Better, Joanna Sawatsky, our statistician and researcher.

Joanna: Hi, everybody.

Sheila: And my daughter, Rebecca Lindenbach, who did our focus groups, who helped write our survey, and who just wrote all the funny lines in the books.

Rebecca: That’s me.  I’m the funny one.

Sheila: You’re the funny one. Okay.  And we are here to talk about a book that was recently published.  I think it was out in June.  The Toxic War on Masculinity by Nancy Pearcey.  And so many of you have emailed asking if I’ve read this and what we think about it, and we’ve been thinking about this for a couple of months.  But we just—we went on vacation, and we weren’t in the right head space.  And so we thought we would just wait until we’re back, and we’re relaxed and able to take a stab at it.  So we are here to talk today about one of the big talking points from her book which is the idea that conservative complementarian men do better.  And so we want to just ask that question.  Do conservative complementarian men do better?

Rebecca: And the reason people want us to look at this book, in particular, is because she’s called the most eminent research scholar in evangelicalism.

Sheila: Yeah.  And I don’t think that’s necessarily the main point of this book, but a lot of the podcasts she’s done, a lot of the media interviews she’s done, that has been the big takeaway.  And you see this a lot of the discussion around this book is isn’t this great that complementarian men do so well.  So we actually want to look into the data on that.  Before we do that, let’s just talk about some of the good things in this book.  Okay.  I really like and appreciate her call for men to be more involved in their families and her call to recapture a biblical view of masculinity and get away from some of the ways that we’ve been framing masculinity.  And so get back to responsibility, engagement with your family.  I think that is such an important message.

Rebecca: And yeah.  Even though she, like you said, she talks about how complementarian men do just as well, her book really does encourage men to act egalitarian.

Sheila: Yeah.  It really does.

Rebecca: Yeah.  It does present egalitarianism in action as the best way.

Joanna: Yep.  I was super jazzed.  She actually described a lot of the stuff that’s really important to my husband, Josiah, and I as a couple.  And it has affected what kind of jobs we’ve taken, where we live, the idea of having a very short commute so that you’re not spending a lot of time in the car because that’s associated with higher rates of stress even though it is often very necessary and having jobs where you have lots of time with the kids and really making sure that work place balance is a big deal, right?  And a priority for your family.  And I really appreciated that because I was like, “Look.  That’s how we live our lives.”  So that was real exciting.

Sheila: Yeah.  You guys essentially sacrificed a little bit of income for a better work life balance.

Joanna: Yep.

Sheila: And that’s a lot of the call she’s making is just to remember the importance of family and remember the importance of connection and breathing life into your kids.  So we really appreciate that.  I think her heart for this book is really good.  It’s to try to—I especially liked what she said about abuse.  I mean she presented a beautiful picture of what it looks like when the church really comes and fights against abuse and stands against abuse.  So a lot of that is really—I thought was really well done.  There were a few things that were kind of odd in her take on history.  Someone wrote a big academic—almost like an academic paper on this.  We’re not historians.

Rebecca: We won’t speak much on it.

Sheila: But I’ll put a link in and just how maybe she didn’t use some historical academic theories quite properly.  So I’ll put a link to that.  And I did find her take on suffrage a little bit strange.

Rebecca: Yeah.  Reading the excerpts of her take on suffrage, I was—eyebrows up.  That’s for sure.  

Joanna: Yeah.  Can I just read one sentence from that section?  Because I think it really exemplifies what we were looking at and kind of going, “Oh, this is odd.”  So on page 100—

Rebecca: Quick little thing just because I know most people know this.  Women’s suffrage is women’s right to vote.  Just in case anyone doesn’t know.

Sheila: Yes.  Yes.  In case anyone is wondering.

Rebecca: We’re talking about women’s ability to vote here with what Joanna is about to read.  Are you ready?

Joanna: Yep.  “In short, women’s suffrage represented a tragic erosion of women’s trust in men to take responsibility for the common good especially women’s good.”

Rebecca: Can I just say something?  This is exactly the problem that I—the reason my eyebrows went up is it’s—why on earth would it be tragic that women would want to have a say in their own future?  My husband isn’t like, “Man, Rebecca wants to have the vote because she doesn’t trust me.”  No.  He loves me.  He’s like, “Yeah.  Your opinion.  You should have one.”   

Sheila: In the broader context, the point that she is making is that when there was a household vote then people trusted men to stand on behalf of the household, and now this wasn’t the case anymore.  But the framing of it—how she talks about suffrage almost entirely from the anti-suffrage point of view is just—it’s just a strange framing.

Rebecca: And I think that it makes Nancy sound like she has an opinion she doesn’t have.  And I think that unfortunately the kinds of people who are anti women’s suffrage, who we know still exist, are going to read this book and see themselves in it.  And I’m not saying that’s Nancy’s perspective.  I think she accidentally wrote a book that she doesn’t agree with in this area.  Personally.

Joanna: Yeah.  I think that what’s really tragic is that it really heavily implies that the only reason that women needed the vote is because black men got the vote.  And that is really problematic, and I don’t think that she meant to write that.  I really don’t.  But I am just personally so uncomfortable with the way that that section was written.  And I wish, frankly, that her editors had done a better job.

Sheila: Mm-hmm.

Rebecca: Yeah.  There were a couple of different—there were a lot of layers there that were just eyebrows.  Eyebrows.

Sheila: So I think while she had really good intentions, there just is some problems with some of the historical framing, with some of the ways that she sort of breezed over history and condensed things that weren’t necessarily linear, and, again, we’ll put a link to that.  But what we really want to talk about is our big area of interest, which is data about outcomes based on beliefs.  Her big thing is that—and she said this many times.  She’s not defending complementarianism.  She’s defending complementarian men because when you look at the data complementarian men do really well.  And that’s the big takeaway that is happening on the podcasts and a lot of the interviews that she is doing and isn’t this wonderful.  And so we want to actually look at that.  We wrote an op-ed that, as we’re recording this, has not been published, but I believe it will be out before this goes live.  And so we will hopefully put a link to that in the notes.

Rebecca: And if it’s not, it will be up on the blog at some point soon.

Sheila: Yes.  If it’s not, it will probably be up tomorrow.  So everything we’re going to say is there along with all the stats we’re going to quote.  But yeah.  We want to look into this idea.  So first of all, big picture things, and we talked about this all ready, so we’re not going to talk about these in as much detail because we did a podcast last year on Josh Howerton’s claims that conservative Christian men do well.  But many of the studies that are claiming this aren’t of conservative Christian men.  They’re of Christians in general.  

Rebecca: Exactly.  It’s like if you said Canadian—it’s like if you took a pool of Canadians, and then you just said, “Well, look Albertans are really happy with the amount of spending happening in Toronto.”    

Sheila: Yeah.  It doesn’t work.  

Rebecca: It’s like no.  It’s like you looked at Canadians as a whole.  We don’t know what Albertans think.

Sheila: Yeah.  And so when you’re looking at a study and people are concluding that conservative Christians do well but the study includes mainline Protestants, Catholics, people from all over the world—

Rebecca: In a lot of these studies, conservative Christians aren’t even the majority.

Sheila: No.  They’re actually the minority.  And so you need to ask that question.  And so we talked about that with Josh Howerton.  The other thing that we didn’t talk about with Josh Howerton which is super important is the idea of a confounding variable.  Joanna, can you explain what that is?

Joanna: So essentially, it means that the correlation between two things that you’re seeing is actually due to another unobserved variable that is not causing one thing or the other.  So do you want to give your example that you had about a confounding variable?    

Rebecca: Yes.  

Sheila: Okay.  Here’s what it might look like.  We’re Canadian.  All right?  And let’s say we belong to a public health initiative, and we’re like, “How do we keep Canadians healthy in the winter when it’s so hard to exercise and the weather is just crappy?”  And we thought, “Well, maybe they just need more fresh air.  So let’s do a study.  And let’s see if fresh air in the winter helps people stay healthier.  So we’re going to measure how many times people go outside in a given day and how that correlates to health.”  And we do that study, and we find out wow.  People who go outside aren’t necessarily that healthy.

Rebecca: Yeah.  The people who go outside twice a day are really great, but the people who go out outside seven, eight times a day they’re really unhealthy.

Sheila: So maybe fresh air actually is bad.  But what we may not realize is there is a confounding variable going on there which is smokers are the ones who tend to go outside frequently.  And so we think we’re measuring fresh air, but what we’re actually measuring is the effect of smoking.  And even if not everyone smokes, smoking is such a huge—has such a huge effect on health that it’s kind of overshadowing everything else.  And so we’re not actually measuring fresh air.  And that can actually be what is going on here in a lot of these studies about whether conservative Christians do well is that we’re not actually measuring the effect of being a conservative.  We’re measuring the effect of religiosity.  So Joanna, take it away.

Joanna: Yeah.  So if you think about church attendance, a conservative evangelical church, people tend to go to church a lot more frequently.  That’s more of a value.  Additionally, the other thing is that in the 90s and early 2000s there was a big push about involved fatherhood in evangelical circles and about spending time as a family.  So it makes sense to me that this would be something that you would see.  But the big thing is that religiosity is so profoundly protective for families, for children, for dads.  And so the more a church brings its people together the better outcomes you’re likely to see.  And so, therefore, those who go to churches that are more likely to be attending frequently are going to have better outcomes.

Rebecca: Mm-hmm.  And what the studies that I have seen have shown, it’s also a bit of a self-selected group of who tends to go to these very fervent conservative evangelical churches.  They tend to be people who are very, very strong—already have a very strong belief in family values.  It’s not even necessarily that going to church gives you a belief in family values as much as people who are very family oriented tend to gravitate towards more family oriented groups such as these specific types of churches.  Right?  You have people who are very focused on helping the community, who want to be a better person, who are open to personal growth, who have strong values about generosity.  All these really positive things that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see yeah.  That will make a great marriage.  Right?  Oh, pro social behavior, altruism, heck yes.  Let’s make that work.  And so they’re more likely to go to these churches, and so they’re going to hear all this stuff about how the man needs to be the head of the home.  The woman needs to submit to him.  And so they might say all this stuff, but they’re altruistic people.  They’re kind people.  They’re selfless people.  They’re willing to put the others first.  They’re trying not to be proud, and so they’re not—they’re going to—just like what Nancy Pearcey says.  They don’t act like it.  Right?  And so this is a confounding variable is we think that we’re measuring conservative—whether someone is a conservative evangelical, but we’re actually not.  We’re just measuring whether they’re religious.  And religiosity is so powerful of a force and Jesus is so powerful that what ends up happening is the majority of people at these churches act like Jesus.  They don’t act like the teaching.  And so that’s why it’s such a confounding variable.  

Sheila: Yeah.  And as we’ve said before when we talked about our book, She Deserves Better, this is what we found in that study.  This is what we found in The Great Sex Rescue is that church attendance is protective.  The more you go to church the better you tend to do unless you believe those toxic teachings.  

Rebecca: Exactly.

Sheila: And multiple studies have found that religiosity is good.  The Harvard longitudinal study was a huge one in that.  This is a really, really subtle thing in psychology.  But here’s the thing that I want people to understand.  In the North American context, religiosity is highly correlated with conservatism.    

Rebecca: Conservatism.

Sheila: Conservatism in church.  All right?  That is not as true in other countries.  When Joanna looked at our statistically significant results from—we had statistically significant results from six different countries in our survey of 20,000 women for The Great Sex Rescue.  So we had Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada, the U.S., and South Africa.  What we found is that those how do best—you could basically put that on a scale of least conservative to most conservative.  And the least conservative countries did better.  So the top was—it was New Zealand, the UK, Australia and Canada, who kept switching places, the U.S., and South Africa at the end with a big caveat that in both the U.S. and South Africa we had heavily white populations.  So it’s like while in the U.S. conservatism is so correlated with religiosity that isn’t necessarily true in other places.  But it is true in the U.S.  So in the U.S., when you’re measuring conservatism, you are measuring religiosity.  And it’s like is it actually the conservatism that’s helping?  Or is it religiosity?  And what we tried to do in our surveys was control for religiosity and then we found.  So now we’re left with this question.  If we actually did want to measure the effects of conservative or complementarianism on marriages and who makes the best husbands, how would we do that?  All right?  And there’s one way you could do it is you could just simply ask people, “Hey, what do you believe?”  And that is what the vast majority of these surveys do.  They say, “Hey, what do you believe?”  And lo and behold, people who believe in male headship tend to do really well because of the confounding variable of religiosity.  But here’s the question.  Is that the right thing to ask?  Because if you wanted to study the effect of spanking, for instance, on kids, would you measure parents who believed spanking was okay?  Or would you measure parents who actually spanked?  Right?  It’s not about measuring the belief.  It’s about measuring when you act it out.

Joanna: Okay.  So in 2003, Sally Gallagher, who I just constantly fan girl over—Rebecca and Sheila can tell you how much I talk about her.  She published a book called Evangelical Identity and Gendered Family Life.  And it’s based on the 1996 Religious Identity and Influence Survey and also on her own interviews that she did as part of that initiative.  So the interviews and things happened in the late 90s, early aughts.  And what she looked at is that—how does male headship actually play out?  What does male headship mean in evangelical marriages?  How is it put into practice?  And what is—what do evangelical couples believe would be lost if the idea of male headship were to be discarded?  And what she actually concluded is that evangelical couples, on writ large, practice what she calls symbolic traditionalism.  So they believe in headship, but they actually live out a pragmatic egalitarianism.  So while they may say that the man is the head of the household, they don’t actually live out the man making the final decisions even if they say that he does make the final decisions or that men should.  She actually believes that the presence of this symbolic traditionalism is a way for evangelicalism to have a cultural marker that says, “We are different from everybody else because we believe that men should be in charge.”  But they don’t actually act out the idea that men are in charge because that goes poorly, (a).  And (b) because we can’t have men only being the ones working today because of the economic realities of the world that we live in.  And so it’s an interesting kind of snowballing effect that she describes in the book.

Sheila: Right.  So what she’s saying is people believe in male headship because they want to be able to say, “We do marriage the Christian way.”  

Rebecca: It’s virtue signaling.  It’s literally virtue signaling.

Sheila: Yeah.  And that’s what she found.  Now Pearcey actually acknowledges this, and she does talk about Gallagher.  So what she says in her book is she says, “Committed conservative Christian couples use the traditional rhetoric of male headship”—

Rebecca: In essence, they say they believe in male headship.  Just complicated words.  Sorry.

Sheila: Yeah.  “Yet, in practice these men fit the close relational model favored by progressives.”  So she’s acknowledging that the people who say they believe in male headship actually do the better thing, which is the thing claimed by people who believe in equality.

Rebecca: Yeah.  Exactly.

Sheila: Now here’s the problem.  If you’re claiming that, can you actually say that complementarian men do better?

Rebecca: Yeah.  If you’re claiming that the most committed to the value, those who are the most religious, the most into it, the most strongly are not acting it out—

Sheila: Yeah.  And Nancy Pearcey—and we were in quite a few Twitter debates about this back in June and, I think, early July.  She was saying, “Well, you know what?  Complementarian men—they’re allowed to define it.  They’re claiming that they’re complementarian, and they’re doing really well.  And that’s okay.”  And I have a real problem with that because words have to mean something.  

Rebecca: Yes.  

Sheila: And what actually distinguishes complementarianism from other ways of doing marriage?  How do we measure complementarianism?  And in Twitter, a lot of people were saying, “Complementarian husbands simply believe that they need to love their wife sacrificially as Christ loved the church.”

Rebecca: Okay.  Then you’re egalitarian.

Sheila: Yeah.  Because here’s the problem, you cannot say that as a complementarian value because that is also an egalitarian value.  Another thing that people were really saying on Twitter is, “No.  Complementarianism just means that men and women are different.  We’re going to specialize, and we’re going to do things differently in our marriages because the sexes aren’t the same.”  Egalitarians don’t believe the sexes are the same either, by the way.  And so they’re saying, “Complementarians.  In complementarian marriages, we just mean that women stay home with the kids, and the men work.”  And the thing is that, again, in egalitarian marriages, you can do that too.

Rebecca: Except that you don’t have to.

Sheila: It’s just that you don’t have to.  And I just want to reiterate as well.  Our research for The Great Sex Rescue found that when you act out traditional gender roles that’s fine.  It works well.  There’s no problem with it unless you believe it’s the way things should be.  And as soon as you believe, “No.  We’re doing this because we’re supposed to.  Because this is what we’re supposed to do,” then things start to go funky.  But if you’re doing it because it’s a genuine choice, there’s no problem with traditional gender roles.  They’re actually good.  And that’s what all three of us chose to do.  We all chose to be home with the kids.  So it’s not that that is necessarily a complementarianism thing either.  If we’re going to measure complementarianism, we must measure what distinguishes it from other ways of doing marriage.

Rebecca: Yeah.  There’s lots of different ways of doing Christian marriages.  I mean any time that you have to do any sort of logical syllogism I immediately go to dogs.  Right?  Because it’s the easiest way to do it.  That all poodles are dogs.  Not all dogs are poodles.  Okay?  So all complementarian marriages are Judeo-Christian marriages.  They’re based in the Christian religion.  That’s what it is right now.  Now male hierarchy is different.  But specifically, complementarian marriage that believes God has called men to lead and women to submit.  That’s a Christian marriage.  But not all Christian marriages are complementarian.  So we have to figure out what’s different.  Right?  So if you say, “Well, I believe.”  So I had a Yorkie.  Right?  We did have to just put him down, so everyone feel sympathy for me.  But I had a Yorkie.  And if I get a German Shepherd next and say, “This is my new Yorkie.”  It’s like that’s not a Yorkie.  “No.  No.  No.  I believe that a Yorkie is a friend, who is a dog, who I can cuddle, and who loves me and follows me around.”  Okay.  But that’s still not a Yorkie.  “No.  But this is how I define a Yorkie.  This is what Yorkie means to me.”  It’s like it’s still a German Shepherd, guys.  It’s not anymore a Yorkie because I define it.  This is not a my truth situation.  Right?  If they say, “Well, complementarianism to me means that my wife and I wrestle through things together, and we are bonded, like equally yoked oxen as I sacrificially love her, and she sacrificially loves me.”  Yeah.  Great.  That’s like everyone else.  Then why are you still claiming the complementarian label?  This is clearly a German Shepherd.  It is not a Yorkie.

Joanna: Right.

Rebecca: Right?  But it’s because they have—it would be like if I was still in my sadness and trauma I couldn’t bear the thought of not having a Yorkie.  Right?  So I was like, “No.  I have to believe it’s a Yorkie.  I have to.  I have to believe it.”  Right?  It doesn’t make sense.  Just accept reality, guys.

Sheila: Yeah.  So if we’re going to measure the effects of complementarianism, we have to figure out what complementarianism is and what are the distinguishing features.  Okay?  What makes it a German Shepherd, not a Yorkie?  What makes it complementarianism?  And that’s actually quite easy to do because there’s a lot of statements about it that are quite unambiguous and that define it very clearly.  So for instance, the Danvers Statement, which was the codification of complementarianism as published, I believe, in 1987—’88 or something like that at the inception of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.  It’s been adopted by all the SBC seminaries by most PCA, Presbyterian Church of America, entities by many other organizations as what we believe in about marriage.  You’ll see many churches have signed on to the Danvers Statement.  And it’s defining characteristic—it asserts that “marriage is characterized by a husband’s authority and leadership and a wife’s willing submission”.  Okay?  Emerson Eggerichs, best selling marriage book in evangelicalism, clearly says that there is a marital hierarchy based on a husband’s authority where the husband gets the tie breaking 51% of the vote.  Okay?  So very much about husbands have authority, hierarchy.  They make the final decisions.  The late Tim Keller, widely respected evangelical pastor, he wrote a book, The Meaning of Marriage, where he said that the husband is to have ultimate responsibility and authority in the family.  So the distinguishing feature of complementarianism is that husbands have the ultimate authority.  And that, thankfully, is something that we can actually measure. 

Rebecca: Yes.  It is.

Joanna: Yep.  And it was actually measured in the 1996 study that I was just talking about.  They actually asked, “What does authority mean to you?  Does it mean that husband’s have the final authority?”  And we also measured the inverse.  So we said that marriage should not be characterized by a hierarchy as well in our study that we did for The Great Sex Rescue.

Sheila: Yeah.  And we asked, “Who makes the final decisions?”  We asked a whole bunch of different questions.  So what the 1996 study found is that when women believe that men should have the final decision they are more likely to act that out.  Right?  So you don’t necessarily act it out, but you’re more likely to.

Joanna: But most don’t.  Most don’t.

Sheila: Yes.  And most don’t.  And so in our survey of 20,000, we kind of continued that.  There hasn’t been a really large survey on this since, so ours is the next one 20 odd years down the road.  25 years down the road.  So we found that only 27.8% of women who believe in male headship actually have the husband making the final decision.  But when you do believe it, the fact that the husband makes the final decision increases 3.14 times.  

Joanna: And we also know that unilateral decision making is very bad for marriages.  That’s been really well studied by Gottman, but we also found that as well in our study.

Rebecca: Yeah.  Had a seven times higher divorce rate.  Something like that.  It wasn’t like, “And you had a 2% chance of not being happy.”  No.  Seven times the average.

Sheila: Higher divorce rate.

Rebecca: Yeah.  Than the people who don’t believe that and don’t act it out.

Sheila: Yeah.  And this is right in line with John Gottman.  His research, out of the University of Washington, is—he’s the world’s premier marriage researcher.  And he found—he has a whole chapter in his book about sharing power where he talks specifically about especially religious men who believe that they should have the final decision and final authority.  And he says that when you act that out your chance of divorce is 81%.  So huge.  Now here is what’s interesting.  Nancy Pearcey actually quotes Gottman from this very chapter.  So from the chapter where he is saying that not sharing power is disastrous in marriage—so the point that he is making is that if the husband makes the final decision, that’s really bad.  But then he goes on to talk about how most people who believe this don’t act it out just like we’ve been saying.  And when you don’t act it out, you can actually have a really good marriage.  And that’s what she quotes.  So she says this, “Citing his work and his conclusion that in both egalitarian and hierarchical marriages, emotionally intelligent husbands have figured out the one big thing.  How to convey honor and respect.”  She goes on to claim that labels don’t matter.  See?  So it doesn’t matter if you’re egalitarian or complementarian because as long as you’re emotionally intelligent you can figure this out.  And so we need to stop arguing about egalitarian and complementarian.  That is not the conclusion that Gottman found from that chapter.  And you can’t claim that beliefs in complementarianism are irrelevant by quoting someone who found that acting out those beliefs is disastrous.  And that is what she is claiming over and over again is it doesn’t matter what you believe.  Complementarian men do as well as egalitarian men which I actually think is a funny claim to begin with because the claim they do as well as egalitarian men is kind of like saying, “Yeah.  We know egalitarian men do better.”

Rebecca: Yeah.  It’s like, “Don’t worry.  We can catch up guys.  Why don’t you just join the winning team?”  It’s like, “Hey, if you’re lucky, your marriage might be as good as the people who are doing it an easier way where both of you are loved and respected equally, if you’re lucky.”  Guys, just take the easy road.  You are allowed to not make this harder than it needs to be.

Sheila: I know.  Okay.  Joanna, while we were looking at this book, you actually ran some new stats.  So yay.  Drum roll please.

Rebecca: Yay.

Joanna: New stats.

Sheila: We have some new stats for you that we didn’t—this is the glorious thing about having such a huge data set from Great Sex Rescue is every now and then you figure out a new question to ask.  

Joanna: Mm-hmm.  Oh, I’m so excited.  We’re working on a new book, and I keep going, “And I will run these stats from the survey that I never thought to do before.  And oh, and also these ones.”  It’s so exciting.  So we decided to look at how acting out hierarchy affects orgasm rates.  Okay.  Because we talked a lot about the 47 point orgasm gap so 95% of men almost always or always orgasm while only about 48% of women do.  And what we found is that 51% of—51.7% of women, who act out egalitarianism, almost always or always orgasm.  So then we’re looking at a 43% orgasm gap.  But if we’re looking at women who act out complementarianism, only 40.2% of them almost always or always orgasm.  So that’s a 55% gap.  And we also found that if you live out male authority, you are more likely to have complete anorgasmia.  So it was 10% of women who practice egalitarianism versus 16.7% of women who live out male authority.  

Sheila: Right.  So in other words, when you practice complementarianism, things go worse.  There is more divorce.  There is less marital satisfaction, and sex is way worse.  So we can’t claim that labels don’t matter when, if you look at the actual outcomes of the belief, it’s worse.

Rebecca: Let’s just take this out of the marriage realm because that often has a lot of preconceived ideas and a lot of emotions around it.  Picture a sorority where all the girls at their rush—they’re told, “How do we keep our skin so perfect?  We all go to bed with blue paint on our face.  And then in the morning we wash it off, and we call ourselves the blue girl crew.”  It’s all cute.  It’s just a thing.  And every time they talk about their skin routine it’s like, “Yeah.  Well, after I wash off my face paint, then I do this exfoliate.  Then I do this toner, and it’s all great.”  And then when they take class photos, it’s like, “Oh my gosh.  The blue paint is making you glow.”  And everyone is always talking about this blue paint.  And then you have a group of new initiates.  Can you tell that I’ve only watched one sorority movie?  I don’t know if I have any of the words right or not.  Anyway, a new group of sorority initiates, and most of them kind of understand that no one is actually using blue paint.  We’re seeing these girls without makeup.  Their skin is not blue.  They are not—

Sheila: It’s just an inside joke.

Rebecca: It’s just an inside joke.  It’s just silly.  It’s like how Grandma says she’s turning 29 every year.  Right?  But it’s a fun way to bond and have a cute little community, and they have the blue girl crew on Facebook.  It’s all cute.  But there’s one little girl, who is like, “Well, I guess I need to get me some dark blue paint.”  And she goes.  She gets the royalist of blue.  She puts it on.  She wakes up in the morning, and she washes it off.  And her skin is covered in blue stain.  So she’s like, “Well, they must just put on foundation and cover up.   So she puts on tons of concealer, tons of foundation.  She makes sure that the blue isn’t really as seen.  And she walks out, and everyone is saying, “Oh my gosh.  You look so great today.”  She’s like, “Yeah.  Gosh.  They can tell.  Yeah.  I’m one of the girls.  I feel so special.”  And it works for awhile until she starts breaking out.  And she’s like, “Guys, how do you spend this much on foundation and concealer?  I’m going through a block of—a thing of concealer a week.  This is ridiculous.”  And they’re all like, “Oh, I just wash off the paint.  And I guess just keep doing your thing.  You look great, girl.”  And no one really gets that she’s actually doing it because none of them would actually do it.  They’re all just in on a joke.  And that’s often how this marriage stuff happens is everyone says things like, “Yeah.  No.  You just got to let him lead.  You got to let him lead.  You got to listen.  You must become—don’t focus on yourself.  Don’t be selfish.  Let him lead.”  Meanwhile, in their marriages, their husband is just nice.  Their husband wouldn’t make big decisions without them.  They don’t have to worry about their voice being heard because they’re married to great men.  And then you have Cindy over here who is married to a man who is happy to have his voice be the only one that is heard, who makes the decisions, who tells her how much money she can spend, who—just very, very domineering and just cruel often.  And what is she supposed to think?  This is why the labels matter.  If we know that teaching that male headship, if it’s acted out, is negative, are the people who are acting out pragmatic egalitarianism, if their churches were preaching, “Hey, you should just love your wife as your own body.  And both of you should have a say, and don’t trample over her,” they’d still go to church.  These are good people.  The only reason to keep these beliefs about male headship around is just to make sure that we’re different from everyone else.  That’s what Gallagher found.  It’s about being part of the blue girl crew, right?  The blue girl group or whatever.  It makes us separate.

Sheila: If people listening are like, “Oh, but what about all of those verses,” we’ve done so many podcasts on this, and I don’t want to go into it again.  But I’m going to link to our podcast with Philip Payne.  And I’m going to link to Marg Mowczko’s website, which you can look up any Bible passage there, and you can look at what she’s written about Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, Genesis 3.  Whatever passage there is.  And so if you’re having questions and saying, “But that’s what the Bible says,” like I said, we’ve dealt with this a lot.  But we will put links so that you can answer those questions.

Rebecca: And I know that one of the things that Nancy is trying to do with this book—because that’s what she said over and over again on Twitter is that she’s not trying to defend one side or the other.  She’s just trying to present quote unquote the facts.  But here’s the problem.  When you present the facts and the facts are if you act out a certain way of marriage, things are bad, then you can’t then also say, factually, that this way of marriage is safe because it’s not.  It’s only safe if they don’t do it.  So if churches are truly allergic to the word egalitarian, if they just don’t want any labels, that’s fine.  I just don’t want to label it.  If we’re all going to be we’re 20 year olds in multiple fluid dating relationships and don’t want to put a label on it, that’s fine.  But if you truly don’t want to do that, then churches can still actively preach against harmful messages.  They can say, “Beware of people who will use the Bible to tell you to dominate your wife.”  They don’t have to say, “Be egalitarian.”  They can just say things like, “People will twist Scripture to tell women to be quiet and become doormats.  Don’t do that.  You guys are a team.”  But they don’t do that.  What they do is they preach, “He’s in charge.  She’s not.”  And then they just kind of hope that people don’t listen to them.  That’s an asinine response.  It’s an asinine response.  It is.  

Sheila: Yeah.  And I wrote an article awhile ago.  Pastors, will please preach what you practice?  Because you know what?  Most pastors—they don’t act out complementarianism, but they preach it.  And while it doesn’t hurt those pastors and while it isn’t going to hurt the majority in the congregation, it is going to hurt the 20% who act it out.

Rebecca: Exactly.

Sheila: And so if 20% of your congregation is going to act it out and they’re going to be hurt by it, then we need to take that into consideration.  And we need to stop saying it doesn’t matter.

Rebecca: Exactly.

Sheila: All right.  Next point.  The other thing when we’re trying to measure complementarianism is that we usually look at what we would call global marital satisfaction outcomes or global sexual satisfaction outcomes.  So you say to people, “How happy are you with your marriage?  How close do you feel in your marriage?”  And then we’ll find that when we ask those kinds of questions often the more conservative people tend to rate their marriages the highest.  All right.  One of the studies that claimed this—and we talked about this with Josh Howerton when he was looking at the IFS study.  And Brad Wilcox, who Nancy Pearcey quotes a lot with regards to these stats, works for IFS.  They said this.  This is what the report’s authors posit.  “It is possible that simply being married is more important to highly religious women which may raise their satisfaction ratings.  They may be more likely to look at their relationship through a rose colored lens.”  So they’re even admitting that yeah.  These women say their marriage is better.  

Rebecca: Do we actually know that?

Sheila: But do we know that because there could be some rose colored glasses going on.  So here’s some new stats for you.  We actually measured this.  We measured the rose colored glasses phenomenon in our study of 20,000.  So Joanna, do you want to try to explain the difference between global and specific measures?

Joanna: Yes.  So we looked at, again, those global measures of how satisfied are you in your marriage, do you feel like you’re close, those sorts of questions.  And we found that complementarian beliefs were correlated with 33% higher odds of having an above average global marital satisfaction.  But then we also looked at specific questions.  So hey, when you’re arguing, do you feel heard?  Do you feel like your needs are as important as your husband’s needs?  And when we asked those specific questions that really are measuring pragmatic egalitarianism, we found that couples who have complementarian beliefs have 35% higher odds of having below average specific marital satisfaction.  

Sheila: So they do better when you ask the big picture questions.  But when you actually hone down and ask the individual questions, the people who say they believe in this do worse.

Joanna: Mm-hmm.

Rebecca: Yeah.  And I wonder how much of that is because when you’re in these circles you’re told so often, “You have to respect your husband.  Make him look good.  Don’t badmouth him.  Your marriage is great.  This is—marriage just takes work.  It’s okay.”  And you’re so taught to not to—to not see your marriage for what it is because you’re so taught to think about things in terms of like, “Okay.  This is just me becoming holy, not happy.  This is just a way that I’m supposed to grow together.”  There is a certain aspect that is true to that.  Absolutely.  But when we see this is the result, where it’s like, “Yeah.  My marriage is great.  I love my marriage.  No.  I don’t feel heard in arguments.  No.  He doesn’t really take my opinion seriously.  No.  I don’t really feel that I matter as much as him.  No.  We can’t really talk about hard stuff.  And no.  I don’t feel comfortable to him in conflict.  But yeah.  My marriage is great.”  That’s what we’re talking about where it’s like these are people who have been primed to always answer, “Yes.”  Like how when someone asks you, “Hey, are you?”  “I’m fine.  How are you?”  You just say that. 

Sheila: Well, and especially because in a lot of these circles, women are told, “Your main purpose and role in life is to be a wife and a mother.”  And so if that is your main role and purpose, then it’s really difficult to admit to yourself that I may not be as happy as I want to be.  And so that can be part of it.  Okay.  We also looked at rose colored glasses when it came to sex.  

Joanna: Yep.  So we asked—if we looked only at women who never or almost never reach orgasm and those women are 22% more likely to say that they’re satisfied with their orgasm frequency if they also believe in hierarchy in marriage compared to women who believe marriage should be equal.

Rebecca: So they’re not actually having better sex.  They just don’t think that it could be better.

Sheila: Yeah.  And is it really a success if women, who believe in hierarchy, don’t think they deserve to orgasm or don’t mind if their marriages are objectively worse?

Rebecca: Yeah.  It’s like, “Hey, she doesn’t orgasm, and she doesn’t like our marriage.  But hey, she’s fine with it.”  

Sheila: Now, again, I got into a conversation on Twitter with Nancy Pearcey about the rose colored glasses effect.  She acknowledges that it exists.  She quotes other researchers, who say it’s actually a positive thing.  And you can actually—there are some positive benefits to rose colored glasses in that you’re more likely to stick it out.  Because you see your marriage as better, you’re less likely to be—to pick at each other for things.  And so these can be positive things.  But if you’re trying to measure, “Do these people have better marriages,” the rose colored glasses effect says that you can’t do that properly.

Rebecca: Yeah.  And we interviewed so many women too who—my question as well with the 7.4 higher times divorce rate, how many of these rose colored glasses women are just 10 years away from waking up and realizing that they are in a horrible marriage and leaving?  Right?  That’s the problem with the rose colored glasses.  They work until they don’t.  Once they crack, there is no going back.  

Sheila: Yeah.  So Nancy Pearcey did say on Twitter that the whole argument is just worn out.  The complementarianism, egalitarian debate is worn out.  Those were her words.  We shouldn’t be arguing about it anymore because you know what? Complementarians do just as well.  And we’re just here to say that that is not statistically true.  The data does not show that.  And you cannot claim Complementarians in name only who act out egalitarianism do well is not a ringing endorsement for complementarianism.

Rebecca: No.  It’s an embarrassment.  It’s literally like, “As long as you’re a hypocrite, it’s fine.”  That is what it is.  And I’m going to be very, very blunt there.  That’s what it is.  As long as you’re a hypocrite, you’re fine.  We shouldn’t have to be hypocrites to follow Jesus.  That’s actually the opposite.  We’re supposed to let our yes be yes and let our no, no.  So if you are someone who says, “I believe in male leadership and male authority, but I don’t act that out against my wife because I love her,” then tell people.  “Because I love my wife, I would never put my foot down.  I would never tell her that she doesn’t have a voice.  Instead I’m just so grateful that God gave me this partner and that we can be iron sharpening iron together, and we’re so much better together than we ever could be apart.”  Say that.  Say that, for pity’s sake.  Don’t say, “Yeah.  I am in charge, and she submits.  And that’s how we have a good marriage,” when that’s not what you do.  We’re not supposed to be liars.  The truth shall set you free.  Let’s just tell the truth, people.  Joanna said when we were doing Great Sex Rescue that what we learned during this book is that you learn 85% of what you need for your life in kindergarten.  Here is one of those times.  Just tell the truth.  If we all told the truth, the vast minority—it’s seriously such a small group who actually acts this out.  Maybe they would wake up and realize, “Hey, the majority of Christians, and not just Christians, but conservative evangelical Christians, right?  The majority of conservative evangelical Christians would never think about making big decisions without asking their wife first.  Would never think of saying, ‘I know you feel that way, honey, but I’m putting my foot down.’”  They would never think of doing these things because of the love they have for their spouse, because of how they grateful they have—in this equal partner, this actually real meaning of helpmeet.  This idea being equally yoked.  It’s such a better picture.  And it’s easier, and we don’t have to lie.

Sheila: Yeah.  Yes.  So that is our plea.  I do think it’s wonderful news that those who believe in Jesus do better.

Rebecca: And I think it’s great news that majority of Christians don’t listen to their pastors about marriage.  That’s great news.  (cross talk) of our job.  That’s amazing news.

Sheila: But please, can we just start preaching what we practice?  Because we can’t claim that complementarianism doesn’t matter when you act it out.  It does.  And it really—it really bothered me that Nancy Pearcey used stats to bolster her argument that it doesn’t matter from materials that were actually showing the opposite.  And I think that that showed a lack of integrity, to be frank, in how to handle data.

Rebecca: Well, and the only way that this doesn’t matter is if you don’t care about the women who are abused.  That’s the actual problem.

Sheila: And we know she does.

Rebecca: That’s the thing.  

Sheila: We know she cares about women who are abused.  And so—

Rebecca: Yeah.  But as a larger point, why would we keep complementarianism around?  The image of us being different from the world is more important than making sure that women are not abused in our circles.  That’s really it.  But let’s talk about the—you were talking about the stats.  We’re actually going to talk about some of this research because this book has been heralded as an academic masterpiece.

Sheila: Yeah.  This book has really been praised for its scholarship.  And so I know this is a super awkward conversation.  But as people who are really trying to raise the bar on what counts as scholarship in the evangelical church and we want to call the church to be able to engage the dialogue in the wider culture, I think this is a conversation we need to have.  And so this is going to be a little bit of a tricky one.  And, again, we really do think that Nancy Pearcey meant well in writing this book, but there’s some significant issues with her citations.  And we’re just going to mention a few to give you a taste of it.  But Nancy Pearcey—in her bio, she says this, “She’s a former agnostic, who was hailed in The Economist as America’s preeminent evangelical Protestant female intellectual.”  So she’s been hailed as this intellectual.  She’s had several jobs as a scholar in residence.  And that’s how she is most frequently referred to is as a scholar.  She earned her BA from Iowa State University, a MA in biblical studies from Covenant Theological Seminary, and she did additional non degree study in philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto.  And she has an honorary doctorate from Cairn University.  Okay.  Before we get going on this, all three of us have degrees from secular universities.  At the time when I went to Queens University, it was ranked two in Canada.  I don’t know what it’s ranked now.  But it had, I think, the highest—you needed the highest marks to get in.  It had one of the most stringent admission policies.  It didn’t admit very many students.  

Rebecca: It’s still up there.  

Sheila: It’s still up there.  Yeah.  Rebecca went to University of Ottawa, which is known as one of the Ivy Leagues of the north.

Rebecca: I don’t know if it is.  I mean all of Canadian universities kind of are because we don’t have that many universities, right?  So all of our universities are much high—this is one of the tricky things being Canadians talking to mostly Americans is it’s hard to describe—

Joanna: Oh, I can.  I can do it.  

Rebecca: You can?  Thank you.  Thank you. 

Sheila: Yeah.  Because you’re an American.

Joanna: Okay.  So essentially, Canadian universities are like the flagship state schools in the U.S.  So think about comparing the University of Nebraska to the University of California to Penn State to Ohio State.  Right?  There may be slight differences.  Some are going to be a bit more selective than others, but they’re all very strong schools.  And there you’re looking more at the difference between departments than you are the difference between the different universities.

Sheila: Yeah.  So Waterloo is incredibly strong for sciences, for instance.  

Rebecca: And the University of Ottawa—the reason I wanted the University of Ottawa is because it’s a very strong school for psychology.  

Joanna: Whereas if you’re talking sciences, University of British Columbia is incredibly strong in biology.  As is U of T.  Yeah.  U of T is also premier for its public health school.  But in the States, you have the flagship state schools.  You also have lots of private universities, which can vary quite a bit in what sort of education you’re going to get.  And then within the state schools, then there’s also a lot of smaller state schools.  In Canada, you have your large universities, and those are called university.  And then if you go to a technical school where you can still get a Bachelor’s in nursing or other Bachelor’s level study, those are called colleges.  But they would be more like your state schools that aren’t the flagship state schools or smaller arts colleges.

Sheila: It’s like the show, Community.  If you watch the show Community.

Rebecca: It’s not though.  We don’t even have those.

Joanna: No.  It’s a bit stronger than that because it’s more—community colleges would be below that.  Yeah.  It’s just a difference.  There’s only really two tiers in Canada.  There’s only 30 million people in Canada.  And that’s a very big difference than 300 million like you have in the States.  So anyway, that is—  

Rebecca: So just saying, that’s why it’s just a little awkward to talk about that kind of stuff.

Sheila: So we’ve been to secular universities.  Joanna, you went to—

Joanna: I graduated summa cum laude with a microbiology Bachelor’s of Science from Ohio State University where I received a full ride academic scholarship.  1 of 15 that the university gave out to my freshman class.

Sheila: Right.  And so we all—all three of us received scholarships and academic awards.  My graduate studies was completely paid for from all the awards.  So we’ve all done that.  I TAed for four courses.  So I marked papers at the university level.  Three first year courses, one third year course.  So I have marked sociology papers.  Rebecca—

Rebecca: I worked with my university as an academic writing help advisor when I was in my second year of university, and I was working with Master’s level students.

Sheila: Yeah.  And a lot of what you did was specifically teaching about citations.

Rebecca: I did.  I taught people how to do citations.  I taught how to actually write research papers.  I taught people how to find research that they needed.  

Joanna: I don’t remember how many courses I TAed, but it was a lot.  So I did biology, biochemistry, public health.  And then within public health, I did environmental public health, statistics, and some epidemiology stuff was also in there.  Anyways, I don’t remember all of it.

Sheila: What I’m trying to say is we—

Joanna: There’s a lot.  

Rebecca: We just know a lot of research stuff.  

Sheila: Yeah.  And—

Rebecca: Joanna knows a scary amount of research stuff.  I’m going to be honest.  

Sheila: Before we get into this, let me just say.  There’s a really influential book.  It just had its 25th anniversary, I think, two years ago.  It was reprinted.  It’s called The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.  And The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind is that there isn’t one is the author’s thesis.  Basically, he’s trying the anti intellectual movement in evangelicalism when it started and what’s happened now.  And he really mourns this because he says that because there is such anti intellectualism we are no longer able to talk to the wider society.  See?  He says, “Catholics and mainline Protestants stayed in the universities.”  So you still have Harvard Divinity School, for instance.  Right?  You still have Catholic theologians.

Joanna: University of Notre Dame is one of the best schools in the U.S.  And it’s a Catholic university.

Sheila: But they stayed in the conversation.  They stayed in academia.  Think about C.S. Lewis at Oxford where he would go for a pint with all the other professors and they would talk.  And there’s so much benefit from professors who are theology professors talking with professors from other disciplines.  You’re able to influence ethics and medicine and all this stuff because you are there.  

Rebecca: But also you’re submitting yourself to the same standards that the secular universities are expecting of their—

Sheila: Right.  And so you’re still in that conversation.  And his point is that Catholics and mainline Protestants stayed in the conversation.  Evangelicals took themselves out of that conversation and started their own universities.  And Christian universities really vary.  There’s some amazing ones.  And there’s some not so good ones.  But one of the things that really bothers me about specifically this book is that it’s being touted as a scholarly book.  And I am telling you—

Rebecca: It’s not.

Sheila: – as someone who has marked sociology papers, there are some significant issues where anyone who works in academia would see the holes in this.  And the fact that we think in evangelicalism it’s good.  So we want to go over five big picture things.  We’re not going to go over all of her citations.  Just five big picture things.  Now for those of you watching on YouTube, she has a lot of footnotes. 

Rebecca: Yeah.  She does a great job citing her sources.

Sheila: A lot of footnotes.  And so you can look at this book and think, “Oh wow.  She has so many references.  This is amazing.”  What she doesn’t have in these footnotes is peer reviewed journal articles that are relevant to what she’s talking about.

Joanna: Mm-hmm.  Yep.  She has one.  There’s a few.  There’s definitely a couple of them, but they are few and far between.  And whenever I came upon them, I rejoiced.  My favorite one was she had one really good one about how commutes are stressful, and I was like, “Yes.  This is why I live close to downtown.  Ha, ha, ha.”  But primarily, she’s citing a lot of news articles.  She cites a number—a good number of academic books so books put out by Oxford University.  And those would be considered peer reviewed.  Typically, her sources—they are quite old.  I got the sense in reviewing her sources that she developed an amazing catalogue of facts and sources awhile ago and did a super good job.  

Rebecca: What do you mean by awhile ago?

Joanna: 20 years ago.  

Rebecca: Like the early 2000s?

Joanna: Early 2000s, early 90s.

Sheila: A lot of stuff is 90s.

Joanna: A lot of her stuff is cited from the 80s and 90s.  So I suspect—that’s what I think happened.  I have no evidence of that.  But she’s not quoting more recent scholarship.  And specifically there, it would be in historical citations.  

Sheila: Yeah.  And this is the thing.  There is such a wide breadth of peer reviewed work right now on how beliefs in male hierarchy affect marital outcomes, and she’s not citing any of it.  So she’s not—she just doesn’t do the systematic literature review, which would be required in any scholarly work like this.  Is let’s look at what is actually being said in the literature right now.  

Rebecca: Yeah.  If you’re claiming to do a thorough review of the academia of the time—say, “Here’s what research says about stuff today,” then you absolutely have to do the systematic review.  If she had come out and done her own thing, I don’t necessarily know if you would need a systematic review in the same way if it’s like, “Hey, here is what I found,” right?  That would be different.  But she’s saying, “This is what the data shows.”

Sheila: But we did our own thing, and we still—we still did a systematic review. 

Rebecca: Oh, we also did a systematic review.

Sheila: And we have lots of peer reviewed studies in both Great Sex Rescue and She Deserves Better looking at what other people have found about orgasm rates or about some of these other marital outcomes.  And so that is a problem.  So that’s number one is she has not done a systematic literature review.  Number two is when she does cite studies she doesn’t tend to cite the study.  She cites newspaper articles talking about the study.

Rebecca: And that’s such a problem.

Joanna: At one point, she cites a TED Talk, which was just a little funny.  No.  It was really quite odd to review all of those and to find the number of times that were citing a news article about the study instead of citing the study itself.  And, again, she does do it correctly a couple of times.  So she’s clearly capable.  She is an intelligent woman.  She can absolutely do it.  And so it was disappointing to me that the news articles were cited so frequently.  

Sheila: Yeah.  Now, Becca, what did you teach when you did—about this?

Rebecca: Oh gosh.  I got this all the time because I dealt with a lot of Master’s students.  But I also dealt with a lot of first and second years, who are just kind of figuring out how to do academic writing.  And they almost always, especially my little psychology ones—so I was like, “Buddy, you can’t misrepresent us like this.”  But they’d come into the academic writing help center with a paper about the effects of emotional neglect in the first three years of life.  And they’d have these—this huge long reference list.  And it would be Psychology Today.  And it would be kidshealth.au where it’s like an op-ed on there.  I’m like, “Okay.  No.  No.  No.  These are great jumping off points you found interesting, but you actually have to track down the study because it is notorious how badly things are misrepresented in news articles even in things like Psychology Today.”  If you read something in Psychology Today, there has been so many studies on how badly misrepresented the average thing of research is on there.  You actually have to go to the source itself.  You can’t just cite the news article, or it means you didn’t do your work.  It means you literally read someone else’s summary of it and were like, “Yeah.  That sounds about right,” and then you cited it instead of actually going to the article yourself, making sure they did it properly because news articles are not peer reviewed.  So you don’t know—yeah.  No.  You go ahead.

Joanna: I have a story about this.  So I did some additional graduate work in biochemistry before deciding that that was not my thing and moving on to public health.  And the laboratory that I was in our—the professor, who ran the lab, had been in a class when he had preschoolers at home.  And he was teaching biochemistry.  And he said, offhanded to the class, that maybe kids eat their boogers so that that boosts their immune system.   And he got a big laugh.  And then a student came up to him and said, “Hey, could I write up a piece for the newspaper for our university about how you think and you have this theory that eating your boogers helps the immune system?”  And he said, “Sure.  Whatever.  Go ahead.”  And so they did.  They wrote it up.  And then do you know what happened?  That was really funny.  It was pretty click baity.  And it got picked up.  It got on Jimmy Fallon.  And then every week or two we would get phone calls in our laboratory that did not study children eating their own boogers.

Rebecca: But probably there were these things saying, “Researchers out of this found that.”

Joanna: Yeah.  And so they would say, “Hey, could you update us on how your research is going?”  And we’d be like, “No.”  

Rebecca: Well, and that’s exactly the problem, right?  Because we know—and by we, I mean the research community—knows that research dissemination through pop media areas is abysmal because, first of all, they don’t care about the same stuff that the researchers care about.  And the stuff that researchers care about is what Nancy should be caring about here.  It’s going to be the less sexy, less flashy.  It’s going to be just the cold hard facts of what’s going on.  But additionally, journalists are not trained in scientific writing or scientific—

Sheila: Well, some are, but most are not.  Yeah.  Yeah.

Rebecca: The majority of journalists.  And even if they are, they’re not trained to the same extent of the researchers doing the job.  Right?  You’re not doing four years in microbiology to then be able to be a journalist.  You’re doing some courses—

Joanna: There are some really awesome science writers out there.  It’s an awesome career path.  But that’s not who we’re talking about here especially when we’re talking—yeah.  Exactly.

Rebecca: (cross talk).  We’re talking about some op-ed in a newspaper by an editor who thought this new study was really interesting.  It’s not the same as peer review because, again, if Johnny is writing for even The Washington Post, you don’t have a panel of experts reviewing what Johnny wrote, going through it, asking him for revisions, looking at the methodology, making sure his assertions of what they did matches up.  There’s nothing like that.  Johnny just writes it.  

Joanna: Yep.

Sheila: And, again, when I was marking papers, we just didn’t let people do that.  

Rebecca: No.  Absolutely not.

Sheila: They had to cite the actual study.  This is not proper academic—

Rebecca: They had to actually read the actual study too.

Joanna: I am a huge fan of Ed Yong and Riley Black, who are two amazing science writers.  But, again, that’s not—you can’t cite their write ups of a journal article in an academic environment even though they are excellent at their jobs.  

Sheila: And the reason this matters, again, is because scholars looking at this book, in the secular world—if we want to actually engage with the secular world and tell them why Jesus matters, we have to do it to their standards.  And we’re not.  We’re simply not.  Okay.  So that’s number two.  So she didn’t do a literature review.  She often cites newspaper articles instead of the actual thing.  The other thing that she does is she—when she is talking about whether or not complementarian males do better, she tends to use only one source or one primary source which is Brad Wilcox from the Institute for Family Studies.  My very, very first paper in sociology—it was 1988.  I’m at Queens University, and I am writing about the state of the church in Canada.  And at the time, there was a professor at the University—I believe it was Saskatchewan. Reginald Bibby.  Who was Canada’s foremost expert on evangelicalism and religion.  And my paper was full of Reginald Bibby.  Okay?  I had his books.  I had his journal articles.  Everything I wrote was by Reginald Bibby.  And it was a good paper, and my TA got back to me and said, “Okay.  Look.  This is really well written.  This is really well organized, but I got to dock you a lot of marks because you cannot write a paper with only one source.  You have to look at what other people are saying too and especially what his critics are saying even if you’re just simply going to acknowledge his critics said this.  But this is why we don’t have to listen to them.  But you do have to engage with them.  You do have to admit that they exist.”  

Rebecca: Mm-hmm.  One of the big things that we talked about in psychology a lot in my lab especially but just in the psychology department as a whole was we wanted to get away from homogeneity of thought.  Right?  So you didn’t actually want to only listen to people who said one thing because then you were in an echo chamber.  And so for us, it wasn’t even only that we couldn’t listen to—we couldn’t only cite on person.  We really had an extra thing because there’s different branches of psychology.  So if you are talking about something from a developmental perspective, you had to look at it from both—from all the different types of developmental theories.  Right?  If I’m doing a research paper on theory of mind development and how to—and the best practices for something—I don’t know.  I’m making stuff up as I’m going along.  But you have to actually look at it from multiple different angles.  It can’t just be like a bunch of different people who all think the same thing.  Nancy Pearcey’s work is exactly—is a great example of why we shouldn’t do that because Brad Wilcox has been really, really well critiqued by people.  The IFS studies have great critiques out there.  There’s tons of peer reviewed evidence that shows very opposite things in some cases.  In some cases, it affirms what Wilcox has found.  In other cases, it takes it further.  And if she had challenged herself to the same standards as I was held to in first year and you were held to in first year—and I know she knows about these standards because she’s been at these universities too.  Right?  If she had held herself to that standard, we would have not been in this mess where you have one primary source.  You’re giving just an echo chamber’s information of, “Yeah.  This is all good.  It’s all hunky dory,” and completely ignoring all of the other research that’s out there that’s actually showing, “No.  It’s not so hunky dory.  Not hunky.  Not dory.”  

Sheila: And interestingly, she even ignores some of Wilcox’s findings.  He was involved in the study, which found that men are most likely to be abusive if they believe in headship.    And they’re least likely to be abusive if they’re Christian and they don’t.  But she doesn’t mention that.  So it’s like she only mentions the Wilcox stuff when it agrees with her.  And so that’s a problem.  So that’s number three.  Number four, Joanna, do you want to take it away about the today issue?

Joanna: Yeah.  As I said, Sally Gallagher’s book that came out in 2003 is amazing, and it’s based on data that was collected in the late 90s and early 2000s.  Very frequently Pearcey will say, “Today,” and then she quotes an interview subject that Sally Gallagher quotes in her book.  

Rebecca: When I think today, I think before I was born too.  Well, some of her interviews were from before I was born.  

Joanna: Yeah.  I think they were mostly done in the late 90s.  When you were in diapers.  

Rebecca: Before I was potty trained.  My apologies.  And that’s today, guys.

Joanna: That’s today apparently.  

Sheila: And she’s calling this today.  Now let’s think of what was happening.  Let’s think of what’s happened since 1996.

Rebecca: Yeah.  Pre 9/11.

Sheila: Pre 9/11.  

Rebecca: Justin and Brittany were still together.  

Sheila: Pre the Internet.  Okay?  The Internet was just in its infancy.  

Rebecca: Call of Duty hadn’t come out yet.  

Sheila: Yeah.  No Internet porn.  

Rebecca: Not really.  The pornpocolypse was in 2006.

Sheila: 2006.  When people got high speed Internet.  

Rebecca: Social media started really in 2008.  

Sheila: Social media was 2008.

Rebecca: MySpace was before then.  But it was really 2008.

Sheila: Yeah.  Think about all of the changes that have happened in the last 20 to 30 years.

Rebecca: And changes that would directly influence how we see men.  I mean even if you think about violent video games and pornography.  Even just those two things.  How can you talk about research that doesn’t address either of those and consider that today?

Sheila: Yeah.  Now Sally Gallagher’s research is really important.

Rebecca: It’s really good.

Sheila: But we need to see it in historical context now.   

Joanna: And it would be really great if she was quoting it and saying, “And these are some focus groups that I did to update them.”  It wouldn’t even have been hard to do a couple of focus groups to just corroborate those findings.

Sheila: It was also largely before purity culture.  It was before the conservative resurgence in the church.  Christianity, itself, has changed profoundly since 1996.  Purity culture was just coming in.  The conservative resurgence was largely—what?  ’98?  ’99?  In the SBC.  So this was not even there yet.  There were still female professors at Southern Baptist Seminaries in theology at the time.  

Rebecca: Yes.

Sheila: There were egalitarian professors in Southern Baptist seminaries at the time.  And they were all kicked out after this.  So evangelicalism has changed significantly.  And yet, she’s not acknowledging that.  You just can’t do that.  I don’t know how to explain how bad that is to do.  

Joanna: Mm-hmm.  

Rebecca: It’s just complete misrepresentation.  It’s complete misrepresentation.  And it’s so unnecessary.  This is why I just get frustrated.  It’s just so unnecessary.  There are so many great studies out there that she could have done Sally Gallagher as a part of her historical discussion and then talked about how that’s changed today.  But she didn’t because Sally Gallagher’s results are a lot more convenient to the conclusion of the book than what’s happening today.  What’s happening today blows the conclusion out of the water.

Sheila: Well, not really.  I mean her conclusion is still that it’s—

Rebecca: No.  But the idea of what it means to be a conservative complementarian today is different than it was in the 90s.  Again, while women still had positions of authority in the most conservative spaces.  Well, not like the IFB, but the most conservative mainline spaces.  Where, again, we didn’t have the Internet porn problem that we have today.  We didn’t have—everything is so different.  And this is why you’re not supposed to cite sources that are older than 10 years for up to date stuff.  And you definitely can’t do that if there’s more recent stuff available.

Sheila: Yeah.  Exactly.

Rebecca: Which is, again, one of the other problems, right?  So there are some times in this book where she’ll say things like, “Since 2012, research has demonstrated something.”  But then she only cites stuff from 2012 even though there’s other stuff available from 2014, 2018, 2020, 2022.

Joanna: Or we don’t even know if there is.  I presume there is because she says, “Since 2012,” but I don’t know because she didn’t cite it.  

Rebecca: Goodness gracious.  And there are some that we’ve seen.  There were some about church attendance where it was 2014 stats, and there was one from 2018 that she could have cited instead.  By the same group.  By Barna, I believe.

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  So she’s just simply saying stuff that’s out of date when there isn’t a need to.  And, again, this doesn’t—this wouldn’t work in any academic—any normal academic situation.  This would not be considered high scholarship.  That would get you marked down in a first year course.  A first year course.  And what bothers me is she actually teaches in graduate school at a Christian university right now.  I find this really, really problematic because how are we supposed to have a positive effect on our culture if we can’t even talk their language and if our standards are so much lower.  

Rebecca: Yeah.

Joanna: Really interestingly—so she has a discussion, and she talks about how Christian fathers are so much more involved.  And she does earlier in the chapter cite a couple of studies—Brad Wilcox’s book, Soft Patriarchs, and then also another study about how evangelical fathers spend more time with their kids.  And then a few pages later, she says, “Hey, remember this.”  And then she talks about all of the things that this means, but she doesn’t cite evidence for any of those very specific things.  And then she says, “Here are my examples of how Christian fathers are rejecting careerism, and they’re way more involved in their kids’ lives.  And blah, blah, blah.”  And she says—the evidence that she gives is a couple of dads from Sally Gallagher’s research and then a man, who she knows.  It’s like—

Rebecca: Oh gosh.

Sheila: It’s anecdotes.  Yeah.  And she quotes from anecdotes in Gallagher’s book.

Rebecca: From the 90s.

Sheila: Which were focus group interviews.  They weren’t part of—you can’t say Christian dads are 34% more likely to do something.  It’s just, “Hey, she talked to this Christian dad, who says that he does this.”

Joanna: Yeah.  And she did have a couple of those citations earlier in the chapter but not in this particular part.  So it was just very strange.  I didn’t really understand it.  She also had a moment where she quoted herself instead of quoting John Chrysostom.  Or she quoted John Chrysostom, and then, instead of the citation going to John Chrysostom’s sermon where the quote occurred, she quoted her own book, which presumably has the quote cited.  I’m not sure.  But I found the quote within five seconds of Googling which was really interesting.  It wasn’t hard to find.  And I totally get it.  If you’re quoting from some obscure magazine that is no longer available, go for it and quote the secondary source.  But it was just very strange to see so many quotes of primary sources where the secondary sources were actually quoted when it didn’t need to be done.

Rebecca: Yeah.  Because typically, you’d cite the secondary source if you’re citing someone else’s interpretation of something or someone else’s commentary.

Joanna: Or if it’s a historical piece that has been archived that would be very difficult to actually get your hands on the original, and it hasn’t been digitized.

Rebecca: Exactly.

Sheila: Yeah.  It just isn’t proper citation.  I can’t explain this enough.  Okay.  Last one that we want to talk about is how she presents a lot of scientific data.

Joanna: Okay.  So I found this really fascinating.  This is something that you guys can do at home.  So you can look and see how recent are the citations, right?  Are we citing things that are really old?  Or is it more modern?  That’s an easy one to look at—look for.  Are we citing newspapers?  Are we citing peer reviewed journals?  Easy peasy to look for.  But really interesting one—so she has discussion about male anger and how men are angry, but they don’t realize how angry they are.  And so, therefore, we need to just have compassion on the angry dudes, who are scaring us.  It’s a very strange point.  

Rebecca: It’s a take.

Joanna: It’s a take.  But she has a lot of scientific points about how women have more pain receptors, and women feel more fear.  But she doesn’t cite journal articles. She cites a marriage book by Patricia Love and Steven Stosny which—or Stosny.  Sorry.  And then she has this quote that she quotes from their book specifically, and I just thought it was really funny.  “The males of all species of social animals have deeper, more resonant, voices specifically designed for roaring.  The angry male voice gets deeper, louder, and more menacing because it is designed to invoke fear of physical harm whether he wants it to or not.”  And so I read that, and I was like, “Roaring.  All social animals.  Hmm.  Have we heard of bees?”

Rebecca: Have we heard of mice and naked mole rats and stuff.  I don’t know.  Maybe they squeak deeper.  But yeah.  Bees, ants.

Joanna: No.  Actually, naked mole rates squeak based on the queen of the colony.  I Googled it because I Googled list of social animals.  And the naked mole rats popped up, and I Googled their roaring.  And they don’t roar, but they do squeak.  And it’s squeak is determined by the queen.   

Sheila: So it’s completely the opposite of what these guys say.  Yeah.

Rebecca: Oh my word.  But also lionesses roar.  Lionesses roar too.  Women roar.  

Sheila: They also do the hunting.  And this is—I mean it’s just a little throwaway line, but it’s like she cited—she did a scientific finding without citing any actual scientific sources citing a marriage book instead.  And the scientific finding isn’t even true.  

Joanna: And it’s logically not.  It’s obviously false.  If you think about, “Wait.  What are social animals?  Do they roar?  Ants do not roar.  Okay.”

Sheila: Right.  And, again, and I want to read—as we wrap up, I want to reiterate I do believe that she really meant well with this book.  I think it’s an important conversation that we need to have which is what is God-honoring masculinity.  How can we encourage that as a church?  How can we encourage that as a culture?  How did things get off the rails?  How do we fight against abuse?  These are all super important, and I’m glad she’s starting this conversation.  And she’s doing what a lot of people haven’t done which is she’s trying to trace the roots of it through history.  And it’s a really ambitious project.  A really, really ambitious one.  The problem that I have is that it just isn’t done to normal scholarly standards that would pass even a first year university check in most secular universities that are good.  And when I see so many Christians praising this work as being scholarly, it makes me really worried that we aren’t going to be able to engage with the broader culture because we can’t even work to their standards.    

Rebecca: Yeah.

Sheila: And we need to do better, people. 

Rebecca: And we can do better.  That’s the thing.  We can do better.  There are Christians who are doing better.  

Joanna: Yep.  And I think it’s difficult when we discover that we’re wrong.  Right?  People don’t typically change their minds.  There’s lots of research on people’s opinion changing, and it’s pretty rare actually.  What tends to happen when we see a large societal change in viewpoint is that actually people who held the opposing view died out.  That’s—

Rebecca: It’s seriously hard to change our minds.

Joanna: Mm-hmm.  It’s really very difficult.  It takes a lot of courage.  A lot of courage and a lot of bravery.  And so what I just want to encourage folks who are listening and who are thinking, “Wait.  What are they saying about complementarianism?  Or how would I engage in culture?”  To actually engage in the scholarship in a deep way is risky.  Right?  Because it means that we may have to change our minds on something.  Maybe a very deeply held belief is going to be found to be not the case.  And so I just want to encourage our listeners that Jesus says that He is the truth.  And so if we’re following Him, we’re going to find truth.  And we know from Joshua, that the Lord, our God, will be with us wherever we go, and that, therefore, we can be strong and courageous.  And I just want to encourage folks that if we follow Christ we will come to truth and that we can rest in that.  That he is our Good Shepherd.  And I got the sense from reading the book that Nancy is very conflicted.  And I don’t know this.  This is what I got—a sense from the book is that she is conflicted and that she is dealing with a lot of cognitive dissonance.  And I just hope that she’s able to find a place of peace and rest. 

Sheila: Yeah.  And I hope that people will continue her work.  I’m glad she’s started this conversation.  And it’s an important one, and I hope we can continue it.  But Jesus calls us to use our gifts and to use them well.  And so let’s raise the bar because this world desperately needs Christ.  Religiosity is such a profoundly positive thing.  And the world doesn’t see that.  The world sees religion largely as a negative thing a lot of times.  We have so much to offer, but we can’t do it unless we raise our standards. 

Rebecca: I’m just tired of Christianity and the Gospel being something that is laughable to people in the secular world.  I firmly believe that we are called to be ambassadors of Christ.  That is something that I actually—I feel that very heavily that my job as a Christian—part of my job is to represent Jesus to people who don’t know Him.  And what happens when I show up to an engineering meeting with the picture of a house I drew in fourth grade?  I’d be laughed out of the room.  And that’s what we’re doing here.  And it’s hard because these are conversations that I’m sure everyone listening agrees.  We have to have these in the general culture.  We have to figure out this whole problem with toxic masculinity that’s going on.  We really do have to have this conversation.  And if the thing we’re bringing to the table is biased research, a complete lack of modern evidence, and us just kind of cherry picking stuff that makes our point and ignoring the parts of the research that we cite that directly opposes our viewpoint, we can’t tell the world that we care about honesty, integrity, or truth because we’re showing none of it.  And that’s why I get so mad about this stuff because I see this directly as a facet of our ambassadorship of the Gospel, of Jesus.  And I see it as us dropping the ball over and over again because instead of submitting ourselves—and this is what submission means.  Instead of submitting ourselves to the same standards that we hold other people to, instead of submitting ourselves to the checks and balances and being humble and recognizing that maybe our biases might be clouding our judgment, instead we say, “Well, they all must be wrong.  And I’m just going to look for the stuff that I agree with and call it research.”  I’m not saying that’s what necessarily happened here, but it’s hard to make a case that it isn’t because there isn’t a single opposing modern journal article from the last five years—or last 10 years, let’s say.  I don’t know how long she’s been writing this book.  I highly doubt it’s 10 years.  It was shocking.  And it’s saddening.  And I think that in the next iteration of this conversation I think we can hold ourselves to a higher standard.

Sheila: Yeah.  I really hope we do.  Just think of the difference between how C.S. Lewis was seen and how modern Christian scholars are seen.

Rebecca: And I don’t disagree with it.

Sheila: C. S. Lewis was widely revered in the Oxford community.  And today’s evangelical Christians are not because we aren’t holding ourselves to the same standard.  We need to do better, and I believe that we can. I believe that we can.  So please you know what?  Go to universities.  Take the hard courses.  Don’t shy away from secular university.  Secular universities often have amazing Christian groups on campus.

Rebecca: That’s where I met my husband.

Sheila: Yeah.  That’s where I met mine too.  And the people that go to Christian groups on secular campuses are often really, really, really strong Christians.

Rebecca: And I know there’s this huge misconception that the secular world hates Christians.  They actually don’t.  I used to have lunch with my—the most progressive, your stereotypical leftist professors that my Baptist youth group would have warned me about.  I used to just go and have lunch with them and just talk about ideas like how much do we owe the other person.  And is there a God?  And we just talked about it.  What they don’t like is Christians like this who say, “Well, I can do this too,” and then don’t actually do it well.  They like Christians who think.  They like Christians who aren’t brainwashed frankly.  And so just be a non brainwashed Christian.  Don’t be afraid of the outside world.  Because with Jesus, this is nothing to fear.  There is nothing to fear, guys.

Sheila: Yeah.  And we can have a tremendous impact.  So let’s just not steer away from scholarship.  And let’s be wise about where we go to school.  Make sure that whether it’s Christian or secular you’re going to a school that has good academics.  Make sure the professors that you’re studying with have peer reviewed papers that they’ve published.

Rebecca: And not peer reviewed in your theological group’s journal.  

Sheila: What would count.  And let’s do better because the culture needs Jesus.  And we are Jesus’ ambassadors.  And so we need to be able to speak the right language, and we need to hold ourselves to the same standards.  So yeah.  So I know that was a heavy one.  Thanks for listening to this edition of the Bare Marriage podcast.  Really appreciate it.  Again, we will put links to our op-ed so hopefully they are out now.  We have two of them coming out.  I think one is coming out tomorrow, and one, hopefully, yesterday.  But we will put links to those.  If not, just look for them.  I will post them on social media.

Rebecca: They will be on the blog.

Sheila: Follow me on Instagram.  And then next week we’re going to take on, I believe—we’re going to look at the book, For Women Only, and we have another downloadable One Sheet.  So that will be a great one to listen in on.  So thanks for joining us, and we’ll see you next week on the Bare Marriage podcast.  Bye-bye.

Rebecca: Bye.

SDB Coming Soon Desktop

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

Related Posts


We welcome your comments and want this to be a place for healthy discussion. Comments that are rude, profane, or abusive will not be allowed. Comments that are unrelated to the current post may be deleted. Comments above 300 words in length are let through at the moderator’s discretion and may be shortened to the first 300 words or deleted. By commenting you are agreeing to the terms outlined in our comment and privacy policy, which you can read in full here!


  1. Cam

    Do you think there might be a confounding variable with the Gottman statistic about 81% divorce for those whose husband had final say? Or even with the orgasm data point that was made. I thought it more likely for the orgasm stat but definitely wondered for both.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      There are certainly lots of things going on for both, but we do know that divorce is more common for those who act out complementarianism, and female orgasm is less common. It looks like it’s largely because of communication patterns that are set up when a couple believes that his opinions matter more than hers do.

      • Cam

        I know y’all touched on Nancy not using research to support opposing views. I’m wondering if you have ever spoken to the comp marriages that do well?

          • Cam

            So I thought you said somewhere that comp marriages are those that the husband has the final say? Is this not your view? That’s what I was basing my question off of.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Yes, that’s what authority based marriages mean–where husbands have the final say and exercise authority.

          • Cam

            You would call us comp then. I guess I’m just trying to figure out if you refuse to acknowledge that comp marriages CAN do well or not? I know you talked about labels in the podcast. This is another issue with the labels because you would label my marriage as a disaster which is untrue. Do you not have an open mind about comp marriages and maybe there’s a spectrum?

        • Lynne

          There for sure is a spectrum, but also, understand that Sheila isn’t talking about YOUR marriage per say, but the group of marriages as a whole and what statistically that whole group is going to present. You can for sure keep a comp marriage going in an okay way for decades. My parents are an example.
          Could their marriage be better or could they be happier and healthier? Yes. How could they get there if they wanted to? What belief would correct the trajectory that they are on? From the data we know that mutuality and their voices equally being heard would be healthier. Maybe my mom is fine with my dad making the final decisions or for the struggles they have had when she wanted or needed to do something for her own health care but he disagreed.. maybe he would be slightly LESS happy if his voice were less important than it currently is.. they function as one where the husband is that one and the wife is more of a shadow. At first maybe that is easier and better but that trajectory over time can wear at a person and be objectively unhealthy.

          There are levels.. and also the trajectory can put a person farther from health the longer they travel. For instance we can sacrifice our own well being pretty well right at first, but over time we can grow more unhealthy and unable to love others if we keep neglecting ourselves. So should we just continue to be told to neglect our own health? No because that isn’t helpful long term. The comp message can work at first and especially for people who do NOT want to dominate the other, but over time it can just be leading people into unhealthy ways of relating that grow more and more damaging the longer they stay on that path.

          That has been my own observations and experience as well as what the data shows. So we can believe the data and change or we can keep arguing that the belief (tree) is right and good now matter the evidence (fruit) it is producing.

          • Lisa Johns

            Lynne, whoa, you said your mom needed to do something for her “own health care” and your dad disagreed? Does that mean she went without treatment that she needed?! And she’s OK with that?

          • Lisa Johns

            …and I just read the rest of your comment. Sorry, I should have finished it before I replied! You made some really great observations!

          • Lisa Johns

            …and then I finished reading your comment. Sorry, I should have done that before I made mine! You clarified my question completely!

          • Lindsey

            Lynne, I too think there is a spectrum. I imagine the frustration Sheila feels about people saying they are comp but then acting egal is the frustration I feel when people say all comp marriages do badly. And to address what you said, I have not seen Sheila make distinctions on that. Even on her Instagram this week it’s a general statement that comp marriages end in disaster. I just think if that’s frustrating for her, she can probably understand the frustration from the other side and could consider making that change since she preaches that words do matter.

            As far as the data, it can be great and helpful. Do you believe that the data you speak of has captured all marriages? If we are realistic about this, we can understand that the data has not captured all marriages. You have seen specific situations play out with comp marriages, and I have seen very different. We can acknowledge both. Are we ignoring the good fruit on the side of comp marriages that do well? Because we should be paying attention to the fruit right? If two people are submitting to Christ first and then practicing hierarchy within their marriage and they have an outstanding marriage then it should be acknowledged, perhaps even learned from. I can attest to having moved a few times and being involved in multiple church communities that this is not as few and far between as is made to be in this space.

            So, I would say look at the data but while you keep a realistic view in mind regarding that data. In other words, if we know that the data doesn’t capture the whole picture, then we can come to the conclusion that the information needed to make such a determination isn’t available and cannot say all comp marriages are bad or end in disaster. Even if it’s just Cam above and myself (spoiler, it’s not) who can attest to comp marriages doing very well, the distinction should be made. And truthfully, as Christians, we should be celebrating the marriages that do well! We serve a God who among many other things is immeasurable and all powerful. Be careful not to put more weight on data than on the Creator God we serve who is capable of things we humans sometimes just can’t wrap our minds around.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Lindsey, the data says that when men act out authority over their wives (the definition of complementarianism), things go very, very badly.

            If acting out authority over your wife tends to go badly, then perhaps we need to rethink having authority over your wife–especially since Jesus said that exact thing in Matthew 20:25-28!

            Again, please listen to this podcast on the misuse of statistics. Just because you don’t fit a trend does not mean that trend is not very real. I mean, would you let your kids ride in a car without seat belts? Likely not, because you know seat belts save lives, right?

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Here’s another point that I think we often forget: Let’s say that you are one of the rare couples that can function with a husband in authority over the wife, making the final decisions, and you’re okay.

            You raise your kids to think this is normal.

            And what happens to your kids’ marriages? What happens to your kids’ faith? Highly religious kids who grow up believing this are more likely to deconstruct their faith compared with highly religious kids who grow up being taught mutuality. What if your kids follow the words you have taught them, and they end up in a marriage where the husband is domineering? Will you be happy about that? Because if kids follow your words, that is highly likely to happen.

          • Cam

            Sheila, you made the point about seat belts saving lives. If someone is wearing a seatbelt incorrectly or buckles their child into a seatbelt incorrectly would you mention that that could impact the results of the data? That that could highly impact the person’s safety? Perhaps it is worth mentioning that how biblical headship plays out in the marriage highly impacts the marriage. Perhaps what people are saying is biblical headship is actually not biblical at all. This is another great reason to make distinctions.

        • NM

          I have some thoughts on your questions. I don’t think anyone ever said ALL comp marriages are a disaster. But statistically they are more likely to go poorly.

          Second, how long have you been married? I believed strongly in male headship when we got married. For 15 years I thought it was working well, and I convinced myself that the discomfort I felt when I let him have the final say was normal. Then I started having anxiety symptoms. Five years on we have shifted together to fully egalitarian and it’s hard to even explain how much healthier our relationship is.

          Also, just anecdotally, there are a whole lot of women who get fed up after 30 years when the nest is empty and realize they can’t live without their voice being heard anymore. It’s really sad. So just because it’s working now doesn’t necessarily mean everything is great.

          • Rebekah

            I agree with you. I certainly believed my husband should make the final say and lived like that for years. However, I was increasingly dissatisfied by our relationship but didn’t feel like I should be. I felt something was wrong with me for not being able to submit willingly and then be happy with it. I realized, over time, that my husband was becoming entitled and expecting more authority and expecting me to submit more. I realized how disrespected and useless I was when I, the researcher, would discover solutions to our children’s issues but not be listened to, at all, by my husband. He just went on his own thoughts (no research) and insisted that he was right. We couldn’t even have a discussion about it. I realized that I was useless in our relationship and began to feel like a slave . . . the only purpose I had was to serve my husband, it seemed. I would have said that complementarian marriages work early on in on our marriage, but after 20 years, I would have definitely disagreed with that statement.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            That’s interesting, Rebekah! I hope you’re in a better place now.

  2. Codec

    You have no idea how much I relate to what you said about C.S Lewis. It is as if after the Satanic Panic christians decided to just bail from making engaging content. It is a shame really. C.S Lewis, J.R.R Tolkien, G.K Chesterton, Poul Anderson, and more were all super influential authors both of fiction and nonfiction.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      They really were! They were influential in academia, in culture. But we bailed and created a whole separate society that just doesn’t interact or influence the main one. It reminds me of Josh Butler saying he wrote his weird sex book (remember the one about “the most holy place” and ejaculation being the Holy Spirit?) for undergrads who listen to Ariana Grande and love sex but feel empty. And I’m thinking–why do you assume anyone like that would ever read this?

      • Hannah

        Just to note a bit of complexity with CS Lewis – he developed his academic career before he became a Christian / had a conversion experience. His expertise and teaching was in literature. His Christian writing was a side thing which came after that experience. There were people who were more critical of CS Lewis and said he should stick to what he was good at and stay out of religion. This is from AN Wilson’s biography of Lewis but it’s years since I read it so while I’m confident general gist is accurately it’s definitely a paraphrase.

        • Angharad

          Yes, I’ve read a lot of criticism about his Christian writings too – but I think it’s possibly because people feel uncomfortable with a ‘non theologian’ (i.e. not Bible-college trained) talking about theology! Personally, I have found his spiritual writings extremely helpful and thought-provoking, although his use of imagery and metaphor doesn’t work for everyone – and is one of the things that makes a lot of Christians twitchy about his work. For example, he wrote a book called The Great Divorce which is a kind of allegory of heaven & hell, and a lot of people were up in arms because they took it literally and said he was teaching heresy. But it was never meant to be taken literally in the first place!

          • Hannah

            There was also quite a lot of criticism from the secular side of things, which was more what I had in mind. Absolutely his work was really helpful for many people.

          • Angharad

            It’s not surprising that some of the secular crowd didn’t like his stuff either – a lot of intellectuals dismiss faith as being for ‘ignorant’ or ‘naïve’ people, so having a man of Lewis’ genius writing Christian apologetics would have been hard to stomach, since they could hardly dismiss him as being poorly educated or stupid!

          • Lisa Johns

            It was because of reading The Great Divorce that I even became a Christian. I’ve had a soft spot for Lewis since forever!

  3. Jo R

    Perhaps the reluctance to use secular research is just another manifestation of the belief that “the Bible has all the answers we need for every problem in life.”

    (Yeah, that thought is quite easy to disprove. Here’s just one example. We are told to feed the poor, but it has no recipes for making bread or soup or anything else.)

    As Sheila has pointed out repeatedly, surveys and research of all kinds are a major way to determine the quality of fruit when it comes to various teachings.

    Why are we so afraid to look for truth? When we find truth, isn’t Jesus there already?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly, Jo!

  4. NM

    I think this was my favorite podcast ever!! You were all on fire. Thank you for doing what you do with excellence, truth and kindness.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you so much!

  5. Nathan

    I may be unclear on what “complementarianism” is. I always thought it was related to male hierarchy, but not exactly the same thing. I’ve always defined complementarianism as gender roles being pre-defined. That is, women are designed to do A, B and C within the marriage and family, and men are designed to do X, Y and Z, no matter what your skillsets and talents are.

    For example (using our favorite fictional couple of Marcia and Donny), Marcia has degrees in accounting and finance, and Donny barely made it through high school, and he creates a disaster just trying to balance the checkbook. But in the marriage Donny handles the money because that’s how God wants it.

    Is that correct?

    • Laura


      That’s about right. In some comp circles, they teach that husbands (regardless of their financial skills) are supposed to manage the money even if their wives are more qualified to do so. At one of my local churches (one I used to attend where the former pastor was a male chauvinist who would not let his wife wear jeans or red lipstick), the pastor’s wife would teach a course on biblical womanhood every year. In that class, she taught that husbands should handle the checkbook because being a submissive wife means to be submissive in everything. A friend of my mom’s took that class and thought that because she was married, now her husband (who is poor at managing money) should manage the money. I’ve been asked to take that class and I always say, “No thanks.” I’m not going to take lessons on how to be a biblical woman from a pastor’s wife whose husband is dominating.

    • Cam

      I honestly think there is a spectrum of comp. Just my opinion. I know plenty of amazing comp marriages and I have heard of ones that aren’t great too. I think it’s important to recognize both.

      • Nathan

        I’m sure that’s true. I handle the money here, for example. Not because of my body parts, but because I’m mathematically inclined. I don’t keep Mrs. Nathan in the dark, though. She knows all the usernames and passwords to our bank accounts, credit cards and retirement account. And she can look at our budget and expenses any time she wants to do so.

        When it fits, I’m sure it works great. It’s just that in cases where the wife is better at money, a comp marriage can cause problems. My sister in law handles the finances in her marriage, for example.

        • Cam

          Yes what you said about your own marriage is how my husband and I do things as well, regarding the finances.

          But we are considered comp (I believe) because my husband has the final authority but if I was the one who was better at finances, him being a husband who always has my and our best interest at heart would say I can take the reigns on the finances. I am medically trained and most of the time we align on medical decisions but he still gets the final say even though I’m the ‘expert’ and it has always worked out beautifully and even the few times he has ‘overruled my decision’ it has worked out in our favor. I know that he has our family’s best interest at heart and prayerfully considers decisions so I happily leave the ball in his court. I know this isn’t the reality for all comp marriages but certainly is for some.

          • Marie

            Why would you put the word expert in quotes? It sounds like between the two of you, you are the trained medical expert with no caveats.

            I come from a childhood that was deeply influenced by comp marriage teachings and examples. One of the effects of such a lifestyle, even when the marriage is acceptable to both partners, is the effects on the daughters or the young girls in the community who look to marriages like you described yours to be as ideal relationships. When the young girls and women consistently see intelligent, educated, compitent women overruled by their husbands – even when those instances are few and far between – it sends the message that in the most extreme situations, the wife is ultimately unequipped to make hard descisions. Since the husband feels comfortable overruling the expertise of his wife – even if everything works out – it shows that he ultimately feels that he knows more than her or is more spiritually qualified to make those decisions than her. It shows younger women that under the extreme stresses of life (and there are often many), they cannot trust themselves to make ultimate decisions for their own lives, solely because they are female. The reason that this is perceived this way so often is because spirituality is part of everything in a Christian’s life, so if the husband has the spiritual authority to override years of expertise and knowledge of his wife, then nothing the young girls can ever do in their own lives will qualify them to rise above that status. It severely limits the confidence and abilities of young growing women who believe that this is their God-given place, especially since marriage is held in such high regard in the church.

            I don’t mean to disparrage your individual marriage, since I don’t know anything about it other than what you’ve said, so I hope my response isn’t taken badly. I just want to show you how the relationship dynamics that you descibed might have deeply damaging effects without a couple’s immediate knowledge.

          • Angharad

            I’m interested to know why your husband, who says that he doesn’t know everything, would not follow your advice on medical matters when you have medical training and he does not. I know that you said you left the medical profession 8 years ago, but you are still going to be more qualified and knowledgeable than someone with no medical training.

            It’s this kind of thing that makes me twitchy about comp marriages. If my husband overrode my expertise in my field, it might cause us minor inconveniences, but it wouldn’t be hugely costly. But a husband who is willing to override his wife’s expertise in medical matters could actually end up causing serious harm – or even, in extreme cases, death.

            I’m really glad that in your case, when your husband has overridden your decisions, it has worked out. But what about all those cases where it doesn’t work out? What about those situations where the wife knows that the husband’s decision is going to cause harm to herself or her children? I have a lot of comp friends who maintain that they are ‘guiltless’ in these instances because their husband takes responsibility for the decisions. But that is rubbish. If you let yourself or your kids get harmed because your husband makes the wrong decision when you disagree, that is on your shoulders just as much as on his – if not more, because maybe he thought he WAS making the right decision, but you knew he wasn’t.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Exactly, Angharad. We can’t sit idly by while our husbands hurt our kids or do long-term damage to the family. That is on us. Jesus said that His sheep know His voice. Women can hear God, and Jesus is our only mediator.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        The thing is that the definition of complementarianism is a husband being in authority over the wife. And we know that doesn’t work well. If people don’t believe in that, they’re not technically comp, and it would help so much if people stopped using that word if they didn’t practice authority. By using that word when they don’t mean it, they’re telling others “hey, authority works because that’s what we do!”–even when they don’t. Words need to matter, so if people are practising mutuality, then we should say so rather than using the word complementarian to describe our marriages. Again, we explain this issue in the podcast!

        • Cam

          Marie, I say ‘expert’ because I resigned from the medical field about 8 years ago therefore I’m not up to date anymore and don’t know that I consider myself an expert if that makes sense.

          This is where I really wonder how much close mindedness exists here in this space. There seems to be almost outright refusal that comp marriages can go well. Is it totally unacceptable here to say that some comp marriages do well but some do bad or is that too open minded?

          As far as my marriage…you are right, you haven’t seen my marriage so it is tough for you to understand. As some one who grew up with a similar marriage I can tell you as a daughter I was not negatively impacted in the way you have assumed happens. Truthfully, by the grace of God and not because my husband and I are exceptional beings, I would argue that our marriage is the greatest on the planet, no exaggeration. We straight up defy Sheila’s stats (gasp!). I can also tell you that I am surrounded by other marriages that function similarly and I can’t think of better marriage examples to follow after (also defying Sheila’s stats!). These couples are abiding in Christ and are raising children, some who are now adults, who love God and live their lives to glorify Him, and have even modeled their marriages after their parents. Maybe what’s happening is people don’t want to acknowledge that comp marriages can be good due to pride. Maybe people want to put God in a box and say it can’t be done. I do not know. I don’t particularly care. I’m just here to tell you it can and does happen.

          Let me give you a glimpse into what I saw as a child and what my children see…they see two parents following after Christ and submitting to Him first and foremost. They see my husband loving me as Christ loves the church, sacrificing for me and our family daily, and pursuing me. They see me JOYFULLY submitting to my husband, being kind, loving, and respectful towards him. They see us serving one another. My husband prayerfully considers everything. He actually doesn’t claim to know everything but he knows the One who does and takes things to Him. For my kiddos, they are taught that their identity comes from Christ, not who makes a specific decision in a relationship. Side note here but I think this is a great point to Nancy’s book. Are we talking about nominal Christians or Christians who are actually abiding in Christ?

          My husband having the final say has nothing to do with me feeling incompetent (I assure you I am no victim, never once have been!) or not trusting myself to make decisions. This is actually incredibly freeing for me! I am willfully and again joyfully submitting to my husband. This is the picture of marriage. This is the picture of Christ and the church. That Marie, is the message I want to send to my kids whether anyone else agrees with it or not. My aim is to please Christ.

          I don’t think this is a message though that wants to be heard in this space though so..

          • Hannah

            Hi Cam, just to query your phrasing that you ‘defy’ Sheila’s stats… Stats by definition look at a population. You are referring to your marriage which is one data point only and by definition cannot nullify statistics from surveys of thousands of marriages. Sheila and colleagues are very careful to use precise numbers (noting Joanna does the stats because of her expertise but Sheila and Rebecca are careful to use them accurately). Also, stats are rarely all or nothing. Take the example of marriages being more likely to divorce where the husband does not share power. This does not mean that all marriages where the husband refuses to share power will end in divorce – just that a much higher number of non-power sharing husbands will get divorced than power sharing husbands. But there will be people who do and don’t get divorced among the power sharers and the non-power sharers. So a marriage like yours would simply fit into the ‘atypical’ bracket. However when there is such clear data as is outlined in the podcast, it is dangerous to tell people they can just ignore the statistics. Your husband treats you with respect. Many complementarian men don’t. Sheila and her team see the fallout from the large numbers of complementarian men like this. In my view complementarians should spend their energy telling others to be really careful about who they give this kind of power to, and raising awareness of the problem of abuse. Explaining how to avoid ‘bad’ complementarianism (which is horrific and frighteningly prevalent) is better than downplaying it to boost one’s own team. It’s great that you’re happy in your marriage. That one marriage is not the general population.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Well explained! We also go over this concept at the beginning of this podcast where we’re talking about the stats on spanking, and how so many people say “the stats are wrong because I disagree.” Here’s why that’s not okay.

          • Angharad

            Cam, no one is saying that you can’t be happy in a comp marriage – just that statistically, it is much less likely.

            I’m reminded of the guy who told me that protective clothing and precautions were unnecessary when using a chainsaw because he had ‘used a chainsaw for years without all that rubbish and been ok’. He was completely ignoring the large numbers of people who also ignored the safety advice but who ended up either severely injured or dead. Just because you do something potentially harmful and survive it, it does not mean that the thing itself is not harmful – it just means you were one of the fortunate minority who got away with it.

          • Sarah R

            To add to Angharad’s point: I spent a lot of my life swimming out of my depth at every beach I could, confident in my swimming abilities and cocksure that I would be able to get out of any danger without a problem. That worked … until I was 27, and almost drowned. Now I’m a lot more careful at the beach. Defending comp marriage when we know statistically that it’s more harmful reminds me of swimming out too far and ignoring warnings that the tide can change suddenly and without notice, because well, we’re all right. You might well be all right. I hope you are. But there are safer ways to enjoy the beach.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            I did that, too, Sarah! I went swimming in Mexico and didn’t realize how strong the current was!

          • Cam

            Hannah, I think you hit the nail on the head about “bad complementarianism”, however Sheila does not differentiate that a bad and a good exist. I appreciate that you recognize that though. My point is that another experience does exist. Why is it not recognized at all? Sheila seems to be saying that I disagree with the stats but what I am saying is that there is more in that “atypical” category than you realize. Does 20,000/30,000 women capture all marriages? No, we know that that number does not represent all married women. It can be helpful to look at other people’s experiences and learn from them. In order to do that though, it must first be recognized that other subjective experiences do exist.

            And another thought to explore is perhaps even the “bad” is in fact not biblical at all. The Bible does not tell men to abuse their wives so there are certainly further points to discuss here and deeper conversations to be had. I just don’t see those deeper dives into it here in this space and I can’t figure out why. Speaking to opposing views doesn’t weaken one’s arguement. I think it actually creates space to learn from one another.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Cam, what I can tell you is this: complementarianism claims that a husband is in authority over their wife. The way that this is acted out is that he makes the final decisions in important matters. Multiple studies have shown (not just ours) that this is disastrous.

            If you don’t live this out, then that’s great! But you’re also not likely complementarian.

            And, yes, it doesn’t necessarily mean that every marriage will be bad. But the stats are so, so much worse and so stunningly worse that it is a big concern (seriously, nothing showed as big an effect size on ANYTHING that we measured except for couples making the final decision).

            As we discussed on this podcast on spanking, sometimes you’re actually not in a position to judge whether you’ve been harmed or not, because your baseline may actually be quite different from other people’s baselines.

            So while there certainly may be exceptions, and some people may be doing well, the stats are so overwhelmingly negative that I think it’s actually a public health issue where we need to teach and educate about this. It’s like how bad smoking is; no, not everyone will develop lung cancer, and not everyone will develop heart disease. But why risk it when it has been shown to be so damaging? And in this case, there is a perfectly good and healthy way to do marriage that is in line with the Bible and in line with Jesus that tends to result in flourishing outcomes.

        • Cam

          Angharad, are the husband and wife both submitting to Christ first? This is what we are to do. A husband who is walking with Christ isn’t going to make a decision for his family that causes harm. Again, distinctions are not being made here.

          And Sheila why can’t a husband also know God’s voice?

          I can’t help but think this type of thinking puts the Holy Spirit in a box. If a husband is submitting to Christ and his devotion belongs to the Lord you do not think the Holy Spirit working in and through him that he is able to make wise decisions for his family, decisions that are truly in the best interest of them because he has sought the Lord?

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Because most people who are following the Holy Spirit would never, ever want to have authority over the person that is supposed to be their equal in every way. They would resist the whole idea, because, as Jesus said in Matthew 20:25-28, it goes against the gospel. Most people who follow Jesus and who want an intimate marriage would never, ever want authority to be part of that marriage.

            Again–doesn’t mean that your marriage is bad. Just that overwhelmingly the kind of people who want to exercise authority have major problems. And the kind of people who follow Jesus wholeheartedly and have healthy marriages stay far away from any idea of authority in marriage and function as a team.

          • Bernadette

            He can over-ride her because he’s the man. She must concede when they disagree because she is the woman. How is this a good thing?

          • Cam

            Sheila, thank you for acknowledging that not every comp marriage does poorly. I know things get lost in text over these platforms at times but I do appreciate you seeing and saying that.

            I sometimes wonder if there is an understanding of authority equaling oppression and why that would be the understanding. I think if we look at God’s Word we can see that through Jesus being our authority that it doesn’t equal oppression. The world may tell us it equals oppression but God’s kingdom is different from the world. The verse in Matthew you spoke of is regarding the mother requesting her sons to sit at the right and left of Jesus, not marriage. Then we look at Ephesians when Paul is talking about marriage specifically. I love the metaphor of marriage to Christ and the church. Christ is the authority over the church and the church submits to Him. This is God’s design.

            If we go back to the seat belt example, seat belts are designed to keep us safe. What if the data started to show that seat belts were ineffective? A huge safety concern? Then it turned out that people were using the seat belts incorrectly. Do we then throw out seat belts altogether and say they are all bad? No, we teach people how to use them as they were intended. Use them correctly and then they protect us. I think the next step in this conversation should be to teach people what Biblical headship does not look like (examples of abuse, domineering man, authority=oppression) then teach them what Biblical headship does look like. I think if we can understand what God intended Biblical headship to look like through His Word (not how some teachers have twisted that) then it’s easy to see that these men of God (those who truly are) do not want to be in authority for the sake of authority, it is to be obedient to the Word of God. My husband follows Jesus wholeheartedly Sheila, and he also seeks to be obedient to Him and he acts out authority in the beautiful way that Jesus does to the church to me and we are able to still function as a team. God has blessed my marriage so so richly! This is a testament to God’s good design, His goodness and His grace to us as His children. I hope that this serves as encouragement to you and your audience here.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Cam, the metaphor of Christ and the church is about unity, not authority.

            This does not mean that Christ does not have authority over the church; but this is not what the passage is talking about.

            Jesus also saves us; but our husbands do not save us. Jesus paid the price for our sins; our husbands do not pay the price for our sins. Saying that the relationship between husband and wife is like Christ to the church in regards to unity does not mean that it is like Christ to the church in every way.

            Jesus being in authority is not wrong. But that doesn’t mean that husbands are in authority over wives. That’s the central issue. And there is such a better biblical interpretation than authority that actually leads to flourishing marriages as the norm, as opposed to seeing it in authority way which tends more towards unhealthy marriages.

          • Jo R

            I think another issue is that lots of women (like me) can gut out the “He makes the final decision” type of marriage for a decade (or two or even three). But at some point, a woman just cannot any longer take totally erasing herself, giving until she is absolutely empty, and otherwise turning herself into an empty shell.

            And then it all goes to hell.

            For those who are saying their comp marriage is good, I’m curious how long they’ve been married.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Technically, complementarianism is the belief that husbands are in authority over wives. We talk about it in the podcast, but we also explain in our op ed that dropped this morning!

  6. Laura

    People who claim to be complementarians but don’t really act it out say they are comp or that they believe the husband has the final say in everything because they want other Christians to think they are following the Bible to a T. I’ve been told if I believe any differently than what their interpretation of Apostle Paul’s words were then I’m disobeying God and as a woman, I’m in rebellion. It does not help when I have tried to explain that the time those words were written the culture was patriarchal and influenced by Rome. When Paul gave these instructions, he was writing to specific churches.

    I like that you all pointed out that this is virtue signaling when people claim to be comp but do not act it out. I just want to say, “If you all really acted it out, do you think you would be happy? Resentful because your husband has all the say?”

    I’m thinking back to that women’s Bible study I attended years ago where the women were virtue signaling by saying they obeyed their husbands, never said no to their husbands, and waited on their husbands hand and foot. I’ve been around these women when they interacted with their husbands and no, they were not the meek, submissive wives they claimed to be. In fact, one of them was very dominating toward her husband who had a laidback personality.

    I love the passion Rebecca had at the end of the podcast!

  7. Talitha

    Great discussion! I think there is a great cognitive dissonance for complementarian men who really love their wives. They love them AND (should) have authority over them, but often these two ‘rules’ conflict. So they choose the way of love which is great. Some very hard comp men might argue that to show your wife love, you have to lead her with a firm hand (Douglas Wilson) but this is not what happens mostly in practice.
    Im so glad you take this deep dive into research and speak with clarity!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I think good-hearted men honestly would never act it out, even if they feel they have to say they believe it!

    • Lisa Johns

      “Lead her with a firm hand…”
      Yes, we’re so strong willed and ignorant, and the only way to ‘love’ us is to CONTROL, by god! Aren’t you glad you’re not Doug Wilson’s wife?!

  8. Kay

    Jumping in to comment though I have not yet listened to podcast yet, but this “lead & love idea” I think comes from the result of the fall (husband will rule over you) and the notion that “one day Jesus will come back”, BUT once we are believers with the holy spirit….. we don’t have to wait for heaven— we get to experience & LIVE OUT the new creation NOW! So what was top down because of sin, should now be husband & wife side by side.

    Hope that makes sense!

  9. Willow

    “But if you’re doing it because it’s a genuine choice, there’s no problem with traditional gender roles. They’re actually good. And that’s what all three of us chose to do. ”

    I have complex thoughts on gender roles which probably belong in another thread. Simple version is that I feel people who do not conform to “traditional” gender roles find it hard to fit into most Abrahamic religious communities, especially more observant ones. In my experience, if people do not conform to traditional gender roles, they either put on an act that they do conform, in order to fit into their religious community (church, synagogue, mosque), or, they are true to themselves but struggle to find a religious community where they are accepted.

    A good example is my childhood friend’s parents. Her father is a pastor. Her mother started out as a pretty, petite nurse who appeared to all as the perfect pastor’s wife. They married young and had two children young. As soon as the two little girls started school, my friend’s mom went to medical school. She then did her residency shifts at night, slept during the day while the girls were at school, and cared for them like a “stay at home mom” all their at-home waking hours. When my friend started high school, her mom started working as an ER physician and quickly rose to the top. By the time her kids were in college, she was being headhunted to lead large ER departments. She was recently recruited by an Ivy League school to stand up their entire, new emergency medicine educational department.

    Her husband is still a pastor. He preaches complementarian “theology” and sociology. Both of them will tell anyone who listens that he is in charge. He talks about fishing and movies and “guy things.” His wife is the “girly” one. In all of his stories and sermons, she is the “perfect wife” – and to all visitors, she seems that way. She did all the interior decorating of their home (she also designed the entire custom-built home from scratch!). She makes the meals from scratch. She still, in her 60s, is pretty and petite and charming. She knows how to act within the system, though. At one of her previous hospitals, her colleagues nicknamed her the “Velvet Fist” for how she was eventually able to get her way (which inevitably was the smartest solution) while coming across as sweet and subservient to the men in charge. And she truly is very kind and thoughtful.

    I think it is so fascinating that my friend’s parents essentially have this huge act going where they are pretending to adhere to strict gender roles, which fits his role as pastor and makes them very socially popular in their church community. It is not how they truly run their lives. Yet, if she came across as a strong feminist who makes all the money, designed their house, makes the household decisions, and whose career has driven their family for decades, the denomination they are part of would boot them out incredibly quickly. Luckily, both of them seem to be happy to play the roles.

    I guess what I’m saying is this: Men and women who are happy in (or playing at) the roles their religion has assigned them tend to be happy overall. But people who chafe at the roles their religion assigned them – even if they are very devout – are not so happy, and often either leave the religion/religious community or end up with symptoms like unhappy marriages, depression, suicidal thoughts, etc. So maybe, it’s less about comp vs egalitarian and more about who is happy to live out their assigned role, and who is not. Plenty of men are also unhappy with the role that religion assigns men. Maybe even more men than women are unhappy with that gender role, because historically, more women than men have attended evangelical churches. I don’t see that Jesus defined gender roles, yet, adherence to strict roles and behavior for both males and females seems so core to most modern Abrahamic practices.

    • Bernadette

      It’s peer pressure. That’s the push for traditional gender roles, in my opinion.

      • Jo R

        With a big dose (in some cases) of “Well, I wanted to do XYZ instead of marrying and having kids, so why should the next generation have the choice to pick XYZ or even ABC?”

    • Lisa Johns

      I love your description of the dynamic there; it makes perfect sense. It’s how I think many women in such circles try to live life — being perfect at playing the role, and trying to do it ALL. Your friend’s mom is a phenomenally strong personality, apparently. Reading about what she accomplished made me exhausted just thinking about it! lol!

      A recent observation in my life: attending a wedding shower for my future daughter-in-law, arranged by all the women in her church, which is VERY complementarian. The atmosphere was interesting; I characterized it as “a bunch of complementarian women pretending to be THRILLED to be running the kitchen.” The amount of affectedness in that room was pretty overwhelming. Yeesh.

  10. Lisa Johns

    I love your description of the dynamic there; it makes perfect sense. It’s how I think many women in such circles try to live life — being perfect at playing the role, and trying to do it ALL. Your friend’s mom is a phenomenally strong personality, apparently. Reading about what she accomplished made me exhausted just thinking about it! lol!

    A recent observation in my life: attending a wedding shower for my future daughter-in-law, arranged by all the women in her church, which is VERY complementarian. The atmosphere was interesting; I characterized it as “a bunch of complementarian women pretending to be THRILLED to be running the kitchen.” The amount of affectedness in that room was pretty overwhelming. Yeesh.

  11. Jane Eyre

    “Those rose-colored glasses are present in the bedroom, too. When we look only at women who never reach orgasm, for instance, they are 22% more likely to say they’re satisfied with their orgasm frequency if they also believe in hierarchy in marriage compared with women who believe marriage should be equal.”

    Option 1: get men to understand that their wives should be reaching climax. (I am assuming for the sake of argument that women actually have orgasms – LOL I wouldn’t know.)
    Option 2: relentlessly brainwash women into believing that they don’t deserve more out of life and marriage.

    Let’s try the same thing with a dislocated shoulder. Fix and rehab the shoulder… or spend inordinate amounts of time and energy convincing patients that dislocated shoulders are normal, healthy, and better than fully-working shoulders.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *