What happens to marriage when a couple becomes egalitarian?
He was working at a large church in Cape Town, South Africa when he was assigned the task of writing up their position paper defending complementarianism. So he began to research–and his life changed. This podcast is less about why he changed his mind, and more about the effects on his life and ministry, and I found it absolutely refreshing and hopeful and beautiful.
He came to the realization that the choice of allowing only men to be church leaders means you’re chopping off the voices of women at a decision-making level. A church leadership team can make as many as 50 to 100 decisions a year, and when you add that to the level of influence held by the person preaching at the pulpit each Sunday morning, complementarianism has cut women’s voices out of these two key moments to help direct a congregation of believers.
Eventually, God led him to become the pastor of a new church – one where women’s voices and influence were openly embraced at every level. It was a refreshing change, and one he happily accepted. For the first time in his adult life, Terran was serving alongside women and learning to appreciate the diversity and wisdom that comes with bringing women to the table.
How Did His Wife Feel? And How Did It Impact His Marriage?
Interestingly, Terran embraced egalitarianism, or mutuality, before Julie did. She held on to her own complementarian beliefs right up until he began to write his book and asked her to edit it for him.
Reading her husband’s book was the encouragement she needed to start her own journey into the world of egalitarianism. She checked all of his claims against Scripture and, in the end, had her own ”ah-ha! Moment” that mutuality was God’s design for marriage after all.
She was so fully on board with this new way of seeing the church and marriage, that she wrote the forward for her husband’s book, How God Sees Women.
Now, here’s where things get interesting, and what I really want to highlight today.
One thing we’ve come to see through our studies and research is that many married couples who profess to be complementarian are actually egalitarian in function. It’s the way it has to be if a marriage is going to be healthy. Terran and Julie were no different; although they believed in the complementarian system, their functionally mutual relationship allowed each of them to develop their own beliefs in their own time, and it seems that this freedom to disagree and challenge one another is the very thing that led both of them to embrace a theology of mutuality.
But in listening to Terran’s story, it became clear that there was another element going on. Being “complementarian in name but egalitairan in practice” is still different from being fully egalitarian–as Terran and Julie found when their beliefs changed.
As Terran shifted in his theology, he let the “trump card” over his wife fall and stopped seeing Julie as merely his helper or assistant whose role is to support him, raise the kids, and keep the house running. She was a woman with her own unique voice, gifts, and strengths that God wanted her to use.
Terran experienced an extremely emotional moment when it all clicked for him that he and his wife were equals, and not meant to exist in a hierarchical relationship. In our interview, he described it as seeing Julie for the very first time, with tears in his eyes, as his ezer kenegdo – a partner who is strong when he is weak.
Julie also found herself shifting away from thinking of herself as Terran’s submissive wife and “muscled up” to walk at his side as his equal. She even became the main breadwinner of their family after Terran left his pastoral role at their original church – a situation that many complementarian couples struggle with.
You may also enjoy:
- Do complementarian men make better husbands? Our podcast with a comprehensive look at the data (plus our op-ed condensing the argument)
- What’s wrong with wanting to submit to my husband?
- What does it mean to “obey like Sarah”? The first post in our submission series!
Julie’s switch in beliefs meant a shift in expectations
Even though they were “egalitarian in practice” earlier, there was still further to go. Certainly Terran didn’t make decisions alone, but what he described in the podcast reminded me of so many interviews we’ve done. When women feel as if their husbands are supposed to be the leaders, they often don’t value their own views or opinions as much, and so just don’t express them–or even explore them.
When Julie realized that her opinions held as much weight, she started expressing them more. It wasn’t that they weren’t practising egalitarians before; it’s just that she had still been holding back.
That’s what I found so fascinating about this conversation–when you embrace mutuality for real, suddenly women start valuing their voices more (and I wrote more on the phenomenon of not valuing your own voice in my post on “What’s wrong with wanting to submit to your husband?”)
It wasn’t just expectations around decisions, either.
Julie also communicated her need to see Terran show up in a whole new way in their family. While Terran was a present father prior to embracing mutuality, there were still assumed gender roles in their marriage. Terran, as father, was expected to merely be the provider and spiritual leader, while Julie assumed much of the childcare and the role of supportive wife. Terran has since been growing in his understanding that a theology of mutuality means that husbands and wives are equal team members in running the home and raising children.
I found this conversation fascinating and healing, but I wanted to comment on this part of it today: What would it mean for the church to not just be egalitarian in practice, but also egalitarian in belief? How might that mean that women “show up” in their marriages more, and that men “show up” as active partners?
I could see the joy in Terran’s face as he told the story of his marriage. I just want that joy for everyone–fully seen, fully valued, fully partners.
What do you think? Is there a difference between “complementarian in name only” couples and fully egalitarian couples? How would we measure this? Let’s talk in the comments!