PODCAST: Are We Creating a Strawman out of Complementarianism?

by | Mar 7, 2024 | Podcasts, Theology of Marriage and Sex | 72 comments

Strawman arguments about complementarianism vs egalitarianism in Christian marriage

Who is really a complementarian?

Just when we think we’re finished arguing something, another critique pops up. And honestly–we had SUCH FUN doing this podcast! Keith and I planned it for several days beforehand, going over all the arguments we wanted to use. 

But it comes down to this: When we critique the complementarian (male hierarchy) way of doing marriage, we’re told, “but that’s not really complementarianism.”

So we’re going to dissect it today. And Keith had so many truth bombs it’s awesome!

Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:

Are we being unfair to complementarians?

A man left this comment recently on the blog:

It seems to me that you’ve defined complementarianism so narrowly that your version only applies to people with an unhealthy, unbiblical version of it. Then, not surprisingly, when you apply your data only to that narrow subset of people who (tragically) use the complementarian label as self-justification for their bad behaviour and attitudes, it comes out poorly. Of course it does. You’ve created a ‘straw man’ which is easily taken down.

To suggest that a husband who values his wife’s perspectives, leverages her gifts and strengths, and values her as a precious human being is ‘egalitarian in practice’ (and therefore hypocritical if one claims to be complementarian) is to misunderstand true, biblical complementarianism. It is to critique a caricature, rather than the real thing.

There are of course different ways to act out hierarchy – about which Jesus, and the Bible in general, have quite a lot to say. One does not have to act out hierarchy by “insisting on getting their way” . In fact, to do so would be unbiblical and un-Christ-like. Complementarians believe in heirarchy, yes. But that’s certainly not the only thing they believe in. Your definition suffers from being far too simplistic.

I accept the important research principle you’ve sought to employ by seeking to isolate the key thing you’re trying to measure. However, in defining things and applying the data as you have, it occurs to be that what you’re actually measuring is those who are authoritarian in their belief and practice, rather than those who are genuinely complementarian. And hence, it’s no surprise at all that the outcomes look bad.

Honestly, we had such fun tackling this one this week! We went into a lot of arguments we haven’t used before on the podcast, and Keith will even give you a quick lesson in logical fallacies. Plus a history lesson in American founding documents!

So join in. And share this one around!

Things Mentioned in the Podcast

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Things Mentioned in the Podcast:

Resources about the Biblical Argument for Equality:

Future Speaking Events:
Grand Rapids, MI: 
Sheila and Rebecca will be at Calvin University on March 13 and 14 . March 13 at 4:30; March 13 at 7 pm for a panel discussion; and March 14 at 7 pm. More details here.

Belleville, ON: St. Thomas Anglican Church in Belleville, Ontario is throwing a party for us to celebrate The Great Sex Rescue and She Deserves Better! March 23, 2:30-4:30 pm. Q&A, crafts with toxic books, and more.

Did you like this one (because we had a great time with it!) What resonated the most? 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 husband, Keith.

Keith: Hey, everybody.

Sheila: And we want to talk about something which has come up a lot in the comment section.  And sometimes you get these topics that you think you’ve dealt with, but you really haven’t because more aspects of it—

Keith: It keeps coming back.

Sheila: – keep coming.  And I just thought maybe today we can settle things once for all.  So we are going to talk today about complementarianism versus egalitarianism and my argument that most complementarians are actually egalitarian.  All right?  And before we start that, a couple of things.  When I say complementarian, what I mean is the belief that in marriage a husband is an authority over the wife, and so marriage is a hierarchical thing where the husband leads, the wife submits.  The husband makes the decisions whereas egalitarianism is the belief that husbands and wives follow Christ together and submit to one another together.  Okay.  And there’s biblical arguments that you can make for both.  Okay.  The Bible can be used to defend either.  But we think that it’s stronger on egalitarianism, and that’s certainly according to our data works out infinitely better.  And hey.  You know what?  I’ve created a bunch of merch.  So before we even jump into that, let me just do my little ad.  So if you want to look at all the ways that the Bible does affirm women, we have our be a biblical woman merch.  I’m holding up my be a biblical woman mug right now.  Things like minister like Tabitha, exhort like Phoebe, teach like Priscilla, set boundaries like Vashti, seek justice like Tamar.  All kinds of amazing things that women did, and you can get this in mugs, canvas tote bags, notebooks, everything.  We’ve got be a biblical man.  We’ve got other biblical womanhood merch.  We’ve got they call me Jezebel.  All kinds of fun things.  And when you buy our merch, you help support what we’re doing.  So thank you for that, and buy our courses too.  Another way you can support us is to join our patron, and we’re so grateful for that community of people who give even just $5 a month although some give more.  So they can be part of our amazing Facebook group and also be part of what we’re doing to change the church.  And, of course, if you want to support us in a bigger way and you’re American, you can get a tax deductible receipt for making donations through the Good Fruit Faith Initiative of the Bosco Foundation.  And those things are all so infinitely helpful to us, and we re3ally appreciate it.  And so we will put those links in the podcast notes.  But today I want to talk about this critique that we’ve had.  And to set the stage, here’s what happened.  Back in September, Joanna and Rebecca and I recorded a podcast where we were looking at Nancy Pearcey’s book, The Toxic War on Masculinity and talking about her hypothesis or her claim that complementarian men actually make the best husbands.  And we looked at all the data.  We looked at her scholarship, and we showed that that actually is not what the data shows.  That, in fact, it’s only when complementarians act like egalitarians that marriage goes well.  And when complementarians act like complementarians, things do not go well.  And then recently, all of this got bubbled up to the surface again because Nancy Pearcey was on another podcast where she said that women’s suffrage was a net negative.  So women getting the vote was bad for society.  Yes.  But after that, we received this comment on the blog.  Okay?  So someone went back to my post about Nancy Pearcey.  And this is what he wrote.  And this is what I want us to talk about today.  Okay?

Keith: Sure.  Okay.

Sheila: All right.  So here is the email, which is quite typical of some of the critiques that we get around this argument.

Keith: Yeah.  He does a really good job of encapsulating the argument.  And he presents it charitably to you, but he’s making a good case—it seems on the surface—for his viewpoint, which is good.

Sheila: Yeah.  And then you and I have been talking about this behind the scenes.  And I was like oh my gosh.  We just have to record a podcast about it because you had so much to say.  So here we go.  He says this, “It seems to me that you’ve defined complementarianism so narrowly that your version only applies to people with an unhealthy, unbiblical version of it.  And then, not surprisingly, when you apply your data only to that narrow subset of people who tragically use the complementarian label as self justification for their bad behavior and attitudes, it comes out poorly.  Of course it does.  You’ve created a straw man, which is easily taken down.  To suggest that a husband who values his wife’s perspectives, leverages her gifts and strengths, and values her as a precious human being is egalitarian in practice, and therefore hypocritical if one claims to be complementarian, is to misunderstand true, biblical complementarianism.  It is to critique a caricature, rather than the real thing.  There are of course different ways to act out hierarchy about which Jesus, and the Bible in general, have quite a lot to say.  One does not have to act out hierarchy by insisting on getting their way.  In fact, to do so would be unbiblical and unChristlike.  Complementarians believe in hierarchy, yes.  But that’s certainly not the only thing they believe in.  Your definition suffers from being far too simplistic.  I accept the important research principle you’ve sought to employ by seeking to isolate the key thing you’re trying to measure.  However, in defining things and applying the data as you have, it occurs to be that what you’re actually measuring is those who are authoritarian in their belief and practice, rather than those who are genuinely complementarian.  And hence, it’s no surprise at all that the outcomes look bad.”  All right.  So what he’s saying—and I’m going to give you a chance to argue most of this.  I just want to set the stage here.   Okay.

Keith: Sure.  That’s good.

Sheila: Okay.  So what he’s really doing here is making two points that I want to tackle.  The first is he’s saying, “Okay.  You’re saying, Sheila, that the only thing that differentiates complementarianism and egalitarianism is that the husband makes the final decision, but that’s not the only thing that differentiates them.  And so you’re being too narrow.”

Keith: We don’t understand complementarianism.

Sheila: Right.  I don’t understand, so that’s one.  And then the other thing he says is that when I’m actually measuring how people act out complementarianism I am measuring the extreme authoritarian end of it.  And I’m not actually measuring complementarianism.  Okay?  

Keith: Right.  Yeah.  Because you’re only measuring the people that are unhealthy.

Sheila: Right.  Right.  So I want to tackle both of those things.  I want to tackle both of those arguments.  And just for context, just to let everyone know, we’re not actually going to go in to what the Bible says too much in this podcast about complementarianism versus egalitarianism, quite frankly, because we already have in multiple podcasts.  And we have other arguments to make today.  So I will put links in the podcast notes to our conversation with Philip Payne, to my podcast on Ephesians 5.  We’ve done so many of them.

Keith: Terran Williams is a great one.

Sheila: Yeah.  Terran Williams.  I will put links in the podcast notes to that.  So it’s not that we’re ignoring the Bible.  It’s just that we’ve already covered that, and I’m trying to cover new material in this podcast.

Keith: Well, and we’re also trying to address his specific concerns, which is that we’re straw manning.  Right?

Sheila: Right.  Mm-hmm.  Okay.  So let’s start with that.  So how do we distinguish between complementarianism and egalitarianism?  He’s saying, “Look.  There’s something else that distinguishes the two that you’re not measuring.”

Keith: Yeah.  You’re making a caricature.  This is not what the difference complementarian and egalitarianism really is.  Okay.  So what is it then?

Sheila: Well, he says—he actually gives us some tips here.  Okay.  So he says it’s more than just decision making.  He says it’s valuing his wife’s perspectives, leveraging her gifts and strengths, valuing her as a precious human being.  Okay.    

Keith: Mm-hmm.  But those are not unique to complementarianism.  Those are things that egalitarianism and complementarianism share.  Those are not distinguishing features of complementarianism.  The only distinguishing feature is the authority piece.

Sheila: Right.  What else could it be?  Okay.  Sometimes they say, “Well, a man is supposed to love his wife as Christ loved the church, and he’s supposed to love her as his own body.”  Well, guess what?  Egalitarians believe that too.  

Keith: Yeah.  You don’t need to have authority over your wife to do that.  

Sheila: Right.  Or they might say, “Well, a man is supposed to initiate prayer, right?  As a family.  He’s supposed to lead in family devotions.”  Okay.  

Keith: But, again—and this is the thing is that comes out sounding really spiritual and really good.  But in saying that, we don’t realize there’s a subtext.  Because when you say, “Because I’m a complementarian, I believe men should lead in prayer,” it sounds positive.  But what you’re actually saying is, “I believe women should not lead in prayer.”  

Sheila: Yeah.  That’s often what it is.  

Keith: Because the only difference between—as egalitarians, we believe men should lead in prayer.  The husband should initiate family devotions.  The husband should initiate spiritual conversations.  Egalitarians believe that.  The only thing they don’t believe is that the woman should be discouraged from doing that.  We encourage both.  So the only difference between complementarianism is you don’t let everyone encourage prayer.

Sheila: Right.  Yeah.  You only let men.  So that could be it.  Now I’m not saying that’s what this particular guy believes, but that’s literally the only other thing that I can think of is things like a husband is supposed to lead in prayer.  A husband is supposed to—yeah.  Lead in family devotions.  Sometimes it gets into gender roles, right?  The husband is supposed to earn the money, and the wife is supposed to stay home with the kids.    

Keith: But, again, a lot of egalitarian families practice very traditional gender roles.  

Sheila: Yeah.  We did that for years.

Keith: The difference is that they’ve chosen that together because they both made that decision.  That’s what they want to do.  The complementarian message is women are supposed to be at home.  So even if you don’t want to, if the husband tells you to stay home, you need to stay home.  I mean, again—

Sheila: Not all complementarians say that, but that’s certainly the only other thing that I can think of that they—

Keith: Yeah.  And, again, they say that’s a misinterpretation.  You can’t say that gender roles is an exclusive complementarian thing.

Sheila: Yeah.  Because yeah.  Lots of women stay home with their kids who are egalitarian.  That doesn’t mean they’re complementarian.  And interestingly, in our survey for The Great Sex Rescue—so we surveyed 20,000 women.  And when I talk about our data, that’s mostly what it’s from.  20,000 women for The Great Sex Rescue.  We found that when women act out traditional gender roles, so when she stays home and he works, it’s fine for the marriage.  But if they do it and they believe that this is how it should be, then it’s not as fine.  That starts to—so it’s fine if it’s a genuine choice.  As soon as it’s not a genuine choice, it actually starts to have implications for marital satisfaction.  

Keith: Because taking away people’s autonomy is bad for them. 

Sheila: Yeah.  Exactly.  Okay.  So I literally can’t think of anything else, right?  That complementarians do that egalitarians don’t.  So when they say, “No.  It’s not just about husbands making the final decision.  It’s about more than that,” well, I don’t know what else it possibly could be.  And no one else has told me what else is in complementarianism that isn’t also in egalitarianism.  And so when we’re going to measure egalitarianism differs from complementarianism, the only thing we have to measure is decision making because there is nothing else that is different.

Keith: Well, the other thing you get attacked for too is, for instance, these healthy complementarians, who are actually functionally egalitarians.  You lump them in to one group.  And they say, “Well, if they’re complementarians, they should get the benefit of that.”  So that should prove that complementarianism is healthy when they make decisions together without the husband making it because that’s the way complementarians usually act.  So they should get the benefits of being egalitarian.  

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  So they’re saying, “I don’t get to declare that you are egalitarian just because you function as egalitarian because I believe in complementarianism.  So however I act out my marriage, even if I act it out in an egalitarian way, you should judge that as a complementarian marriage.”

Keith: And give us the points for it.  Right?  

Sheila: Right.  Exactly.  Uh-huh. 

Keith: But the converse isn’t true.  So when a person does something that’s abusive or wrong, using complementarianism as their excuse—because God put me in charge of you—they’re very quick to say those aren’t complementarians.  Because they did something abusive, they’re not complementarians.  But these people over here who are acting like egalitarians, they’re complementarians because we want those complementarians in our group, but we don’t want those complementarians in our group.  

Sheila: Right.

Keith: But they’re accusing you of picking and choosing, right?  And this is the thing that got me so frustrated because I would talk with these people online, and they would say you’re straw manning complementarianism.  You’re straw manning complementarianism.  Now for those of you who don’t know what a straw man fallacy is it’s what the guy in the email said basically.  You set up a caricature of the opposing position which is easy to defeat.  And then you defeat it because it’s easy.  But it’s not what they really believe, but you look like you’ve won the argument because you’ve defeated this caricature.  Right?  And I would get frustrated because people keep saying I’m straw manning complementarianism.  And it’s like am I using a logical fallacy, and I know I’m not.  But what’s actually happening is they are using a logical fallacy.  And the logical fallacy is called the motte-and-bailey fallacy.  And the motte-and-bailey fallacy is basically where you conflate two arguments, one of which is controversial and one of which is more moderate.  And so the controversial argument is the bailey, and the moderate argument is the motte.  And you put forward the bailey, the controversial argument.  And then when people attack you, you retreat to the more moderate position and say that’s what you were arguing all along.  

Sheila: Okay.  So what does that look like?  

Keith: And then when people say—and then they claim victory because you didn’t attack my argument, the moderate argument, because no one attacks the moderate.  So in this case, what’s happening is whenever you attack complementarianism, they say, “Oh, that’s not complementarianism.  Complementarianism is,”—and what does he list?

Sheila: Yeah.  Leveraging her gifts and strengths.

Keith: Leveraging her gifts and strengths, valuing her as a person, all these wonderful, good things.  That’s what complementarianism is.  That’s their motte.  They’re retreating to the motte because the bailey is men are supposed to be in charge of women.  The motte is, well, we think all these wonderful things.  But those are all shared with egalitarianism.  So what happens is whenever we attack your complementarianism, you make it look as much as you can like egalitarianism but still say it’s complementarianism so that we can’t argue with you because we don’t agree with those things.  Of course, we don’t agree with abuse.  But you can’t do that.

Sheila: Okay.  So I have an idea.  

Keith: Right.

Sheila: Why don’t we take them at their word?  Okay.  Why don’t we let them explain what complementarianism is.

Keith: Okay.  Sounds good.

Sheila: Okay.  So we are going to listen in to an interview that Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth did with her husband, Robert Wolgemuth.  And for those of you who remember about a month ago, we did a series on the book Lies Women Believe that was written by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.  So this is that Nancy.  Okay?  And she is talking about what submission is.      

Interviewer: The word submit.

Nancy: Kind of sticks in your throat.

Interviewer: Yes.  Yes.  I don’t know that I can get married.  So what do you say to that?

Nancy: You know what?  I think it’s actually a precious word and something that God intended for our good and our protection.  But to me, the battleground, if you call it that, is in our relationship with the Lord.  If I learn to submit to Him and to trust Him that He has my best interest at heart, that He knows what’s best for me, that’s really where the issue is.  And then when it comes to marriage, first of all, we talk about everything.  We pray about everything.  I’m blessed to have a husband, who is submitting to the Lord and seeking Him and who values my input and my thoughts and gives me the freedom to disagree.  And we do that sometimes pretty earnestly.

Robert: We sure do.

Nancy: If we both agreed on everything, one of us would be unnecessary, right?  But then there are those moments when he just says, “I believe this is—we’ve talked about it.  We’ve prayed about it, but I think this is what God wants for us.”  And then I have to trust the Lord to lead through him, and I can say, “Yes,” trusting that if he’s wrong, which we both are at times, then God is big enough to overcome that.  So I don’t see it—I know it’s a hard word, and I know there are a lot of women in really difficult marriages.  And I’m blessed to have a sweet marriage to a godly, mature, wise man, who is seeking the Lord.  But I’ve got pride and flesh and self that kicks in at times.  But I spent 57 years as a single woman learning to humble myself before the Lord—or trying to.  Not always doing it well.  But also seeing the consequences of digging in my heels and—so I think submission is something for every person.  We all have to submit.  Male, female, women, men.  And so in the context of marriage, it’s really do I trust God enough to work through this man.

Sheila: Okay.  So that’s what she’s saying, right?  He consults with her.  All right?  So he consults with her.  He talks to her.  He gets her opinion.  But then when they don’t agree, he makes the decision. 

Keith: Right.

Sheila: So that is what I am saying complementarianism is.  So let me explain this.  Let me explain how our stats worked, okay?  So we asked women, “Look.  If you’re going to make an important decision in your marriage, how do you normally make it?”  And we gave them a bunch of different options.  And some of them were he just makes the decision or she just makes the decision.  Some of them were he talks to her about it first, and then he makes the final decision.  And then some of them were we just decide together.  Okay?  Now 78.9% of couples, who are Christian, said that they just decide together.  No matter what.  If you consult with your wife first and then he makes the final decision, that’s included in the 21.1%.  Okay.  And those people do not do as well.  There’s a 7.4 times higher rate of divorce among those people.  I’m not just talking about he makes the decision without consulting her.  No.  We’re even talking about people where as long as—even if he consults her, if he makes the final decision, we counted that as uneven decision making.  

Keith: Oh, I know.  That clip—did it just give you the same weird vibe it gave me?  He was talking about how much he values her input and he values her decisions.  And stuff like that.  I’m trying to put my finger on it.  I think, basically, it’s because the concept that I’m getting from that is, well, he’s really where it’s at.  But he lets her influence him.  The opposite wouldn’t be true.  That she listens to him and values his input because, well, his input is the trump.  It’s not like they’re working together, and they listen to each other.  And they care for each other.  It’s very much a one sided kind of thing.  It’s a very unidirectional kind of relationship.  That just gave me a weird vibe, and I didn’t like that.  I think that the two of us—if we really want to be complementarian in the logical sense of the word, not the religious sense of the word, we should complement each other because we each listen to each other’s viewpoints.  Where it’s sort of this mentality in the complementarianism, which is he’s this ship on a course.  And she can influence it.  He’s the ship on the course, and she can influence him.  But he’s really the deal.  And she’s just sort of added on to him.  And I get this all the time from complementarianism.  They deny it all the time, but it’s right here.  That’s the way he was talking.

Sheila: Yeah.  And I think it’s so interesting that—or sad, maybe, that she dismisses.  She’s like, “Okay.  Now I’m married to a good man.  I know there’s a lot of people who aren’t married to good men, and that’s really sad.”   But she would give the exact same advice to those women.  In fact, she does in Lies Women Believe.  That even if you’re married to a bad man, you still submit, and you just need to trust that God will work it out.  So it’s not like this advice is any different if you’re in a bad marriage.  So she gives this lip service to I’m so sorry if you’re in a bad marriage, but you’re still stuck.

Keith: Yeah.  And this is very much like a motte-and-bailey kind of thing, right?  We put forward a very healthy relationship where the person really loves them and cares for them and goes, “This is complementarianism.”  And then when you’re in a bad situation where your husband doesn’t care about you, you still need to believe he’s in authority over you.  But we would never say that that’s right.  But that’s what we do.  It’s a bait and switch.  If it only works in good marriages, how useful a philosophy is it?

Sheila: No.  Exactly.  But also this clip shows that it isn’t a straw man.  You’re saying that we’re pulling up this caricature.  No.  We actually measured what happens when he makes the decisions even if he consults with her first which is exactly what Nancy and Robert describe their marriage as.  So we’re not putting up a straw man.  But I want to get back to this—they’re presenting this as if this is just what we do.  And isn’t it wonderful?  And I don’t think they realize that most people are looking at them going, “Are they okay?  That’s weird.”  Okay.  And this is what I’m not sure that complementarians truly understand.  We’ve been married—I don’t even know how long we’ve been married.  How long have we been married?  Okay.  It’s 2024.

Keith: 32 years.  We’re in our 33rd year.  A third of a century, baby.  Wow.

Sheila: Yeah.  And we just never get into these situations.

Keith: Yeah.  Well, I get concerned when people say, “When we can’t come to a decision together, he makes the decision.”  Okay.  I see problems with that.  If you think about what it’s like in a marriage when you initially disagree on something—because all marriages you have that.  When you initially disagree, you see things one way.  And they see things the other way.  That’s not a comfortable place to be.  Nobody likes to be there.  That’s not a good place.  There’s a lot of tension.  We don’t like it.  Now if you have the egalitarian mindset, you’re going to work it through, and we’re going to get to a decision.  And we’re not scared of that.  If you’re a complementarian though, it’s very easy to say, “Well, we can’t make a decision.  He should make the decision.”  And that’s great because he gets the decision.  He gets to make the decision, first of all, which will probably work out for him.  Right?  And if it doesn’t, he can feel sacrificial because he’s doing what’s best for her.  But either way, he gets to feel good.  And she gets all the tension to go away because the decision is made now.  Right?  So it’s so easy to do that.

Sheila: It’s like your release valve on tension.  

Keith: It’s a release valve on tension in your relationship.  So then the problem is that you don’t build up the skill set to actually work things through when you truly disagree.  And so then what happens is it becomes easier and easier to make those decisions on behalf of the family.  And so what happens is you get into this vicious cycle where you’re scared of this situation where we’re not agreeing, and you don’t ever want that to happen.  And especially for the wives, because we preach at wives like submit.  Submit.  Submit.  Submit.  To get to a situation where there’s tension, an ongoing tension because I won’t agree with what my husband says, is just a horrible place to put a wife when we preach submission so much.  Right?  So just let it go.  Let him make the decision.  It’s a release valve.  The tension goes away.  But then you never develop that skill of actually working it through when you disagree.  And I think that’s what’s happened over 33 years with us is that early on we didn’t do that well because it was hard, and it takes time to learn that.  But we learned it because we assumed that if God wasn’t speaking to both of us then we needed to have more work to do.  If we had the point where at some point I could go, “Well, no.  This is it.  We’ve talked about this long enough.  I’m making the decision,” we wouldn’t have developed that skill set.  And it’s a really useful skill set.

Sheila: Yeah.  It’s kind of like if you’re a body builder, right?  

Keith: Yeah.  If you said to me today, “You need to bench press 400 pounds,” I couldn’t do that.  Right?  But if you work at it, you build those muscles, and you strengthen and train yourself.  You can do it.  

Sheila: 400 is a lot though.  But whatever.

Keith: Well, yeah.  A little bit enthusiastic in my analogy there.  But the point I’m trying to say is if you tell yourself we’re not going to give ourselves the option you will build the muscles.  But if every time you need to use your strength, you do something that’s a quick short circuit for it to take care of the problem then you won’t develop those muscles.

Sheila: Yeah.  And I think this is what I really want complementarians to understand.

Keith: Yeah.  Because then what happens is I think that they think there’s no other way to live life than this because how could we possibly ever do that.  It’s like bench pressing 400 pounds.  I can’t do that.

Sheila: Yeah.  And they don’t understand that 78.9% of people don’t do that.  78.9% of people just figure it out and work it out.

Keith: Yeah.  You’ve had people tell you, “Oh, you make your decisions together.  You can’t do that.”

Sheila: Yeah.  And when they say, “Oh, but you’re going to need a tie breaker,” we’re looking at them thinking, “I don’t.  And the fact that you do says something about your marriage that you may not want the rest of us to realize.”  The rest of us are thinking, “Oh gosh.  Okay.  You don’t have conflict resolution skills, and you haven’t really developed the intimacy that the rest of us have.”  Because if he’s just making the decision instead of you working it out, that is a failure.  And the thing is I don’t even know why they don’t realize that because they admit it.  They say, “Well, obviously, he’s not going to use it very often.  Obviously, the ideal is that you work it out, but sometimes you can’t.”  Well, if complementarianism—if they’re acknowledging that the best is to decide together and that he would be a bad man—  

Keith: It’s not the optimal situation for him to override and just make a decision.

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  And that, in fact, if he were to override her a lot, he would be a bad man then by clinging to complementarianism you’re really saying we reserve the right for him to be a bad man sometimes.  It’s weird.  And this sounds really weird to the rest of us.  I don’t think they—so they’re couching it in isn’t this a beautiful picture.  And we’re like no.  No.  That’s really not because why didn’t you just do the work.  It’s weird.  

Keith: Yeah.  Exactly.  And I think the thing that’s interesting is there’s sort of this mentality that if you both equally came to it and instead of one person having the trump care, you both just came to it.  And you both equally had input that what might happen is you might have a marriage where there’s a forceful woman, who will push her agenda.  And it will go forward, and that would be horrible.  But there’s not that same concern about a man pushing his agenda and going forward.  It seems to me.  Now, again, I’m not trying to—

Sheila: That’s the very definition of it.   

Keith: I’m not trying to straw man complementarianism.  But it seems like there’s not the same weight given to that option.  So if there was a forceful man with strong opinions who kind of bulldozes over his wife, that’s not seen as bad as a woman bulldozing over her husband.  And I think that that’s—the sexism in that kind of—

Sheila: It kind of comes down to this.  Okay.  People often portray the opposite of complementarianism as egalitarianism.  Right?  They’ll say, “Well, there’s complementarianism on one end of the spectrum, and egalitarianism on the other.”  No.  There’s not.  The opposite of complementarianism is not egalitarianism.  It’s matriarchy because complementarianism is just patriarchy.  It’s when men have authority.

Keith: And this is the thing is—

Sheila: And the opposite of patriarchy is matriarchy.  Egalitarianism is the middle.  It’s the middle.  It’s saying, “Hey, we both are going to submit to each other as we follow after Christ.”

Keith: Yeah.  Because we’re saying that—they’re saying—they’re reporting that we are making a straw man.  That we are saying the husband is 100% in control and has 100% authority over his wife.  And that’s not what they actually believe.  But the opposite of that is the woman having 100% control and authority over her husband.  And the middle is where we both have the same authority and power over each other.  And they’re saying that’s not good.  You need to be just a little bit to the side of the guy.  That’s what complementarianism is.  And it’s like not so far that it looks bad, and you all agree this is bad.  But not equal either because that’s not good.

Sheila: But they don’t tell us how far.  So they just say okay.  Equality is bad.  Equality is bad.  And him being totally authoritarian is bad.      

Keith: Not all of them do.  Because, again, I will say this.  Although they say those are not true complementarians, those people would beg to differ.  They would say that they are full complementarians.

Sheila: Yeah.  Well, like Doug Wilson and Dale Partridge.  

Keith: And that the people who are the moderate complementarians are wimping out on the true doctrine.  So anyway.

Sheila: Right.  Yeah.  But nobody can tell us where on that spectrum true complementarianism is supposed to lie.  How far away from egalitarianism is safe and is good?  And they can’t tell you that because as soon as you move away from egalitarianism you are moving towards authoritarianism.  And it’s like you’re still on that spectrum.  Yeah.  Equality is healthy, and it’s the middle.  Okay.  Here’s another thing that I often hear though when I argue this practical thing about how you don’t need a tie breaker and everything is people will say, “Well, it’s chaos without hierarchy,” right?  It’s chaos without hierarchy.  And the reason that God puts hierarchy in place is because God is a God of order, and He cares about us.  And He wants things to work well, right?  And I find this really funny because in most churches the elders’ boards, which tend to be all male, usually function through unanimity.  

Keith: Yes.  Some of the most conservative churches are the most likely to have these elders’ boards where they will all agree to—they have to agree.  A large group of men.  And if we don’t all agree, then we need to pray more because we still haven’t reached agreement.  But you can’t do that in the home with the person you love most in the world, who you spend the most time with, who you know the best, who you’re supposed to be one flesh and you’re supposed to be the—you can’t do that with that person.  

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  It’s really funny.  

Keith: It’s crazy.

Sheila: Okay.  I have a quote for you from the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which is the premiere sort of—I don’t know what it’s called.  It’s not a lobbying organization.  It’s the premiere organization that really is trying to put forward complementarianism.  

Keith: Sort of advocacy.  They’re advocating the complementarian position.

Sheila: Yeah.  And their offices are at one of the Southern Baptist theological seminaries, and so they’re very highly affiliated with that.  Okay.  And so here they were answering a question about hierarchy in marriage and how hierarchy in marriage—someone was saying, well, that obviously leads to her being seen as an inferior.  Okay?  And here is how they answered it.  “Would you feel the same way about a parent/child relationship?  Or of the relationship between an employee and his/her supervisor?  Do you believe we should eliminate all manifestations of relational hierarchy as demeaning to those under the authority of another?  Relationships within authority structures surround us.  We live and work in them every day.  We would have utter chaos without them.  But such authority structures do not entail the greater human value or essential superiority of those in charge, or minimize the human value or imply the essential inferiority of those under their charge.”  

Keith: Okay.  Now before you go on, I know what you’re going to say.  But before you go on to that, this is an excellent example of a straw man argument because what they’re saying is you can either believe what we believe or you can have total chaos.  Egalitarians believe no relationships whatsoever.  Parents and child, employers/employees.  This is a straw man argument.  That’s not what egalitarians believe.  A person who believes in egalitarianism doesn’t necessarily believe in the destruction of all societal hierarchical structures.  That’s crazy.  

Sheila: Yeah.  But it also implies that there’s chaos.  This is what I mean.  They are arguing that without authority in any human relationship there will be chaos.  It’s like don’t you guys have friends that you just have to decide where we’re going to go to dinner.  

Keith: Yeah.  Who is the authority with your best friend and you?

Sheila: Yeah.  This is really, really weird.  But look at the examples.  Okay.  Parent/child relationship, employee/supervisor.  Do you see something about those?  Children grow up, and they will one day not be under authority.  An employee can one day become a supervisor.  But a woman, by nature of the fact that she is a woman and she can’t change that, will always be under his authority by nature of the fact that he is a man.    

Keith: Mm-hmm.  And, again, before you read your thing you want to read, this is, again, motte-and-bailey, right?  The moderate position is there is hierarchy in society, and it’s not all bad.  The bailey is so, therefore, men should be in charge of women.  Right?  No one can argue with the fact that you should be—you’re under your employer, and that doesn’t make you less of a human being.  No one can argue that.  Right?  That’s not what you were arguing.  What you’re arguing is that a wife is under her husband.  That’s a different thing.  And it’s a different thing because of what you’re going to say now.

Sheila: Yeah.  So Rebecca Groothuis—I don’t know how to say her last name.  But she was a prolific writer in the 1980s about biblical egalitarianism.  Really, really amazing woman.  And I just want to read this one paragraph, and I will put the link to this article.  It’s so concise, and it’s just a great article looking at the problems with complementarianism.   It’s just amazing.

Keith: And to preface it, she’s arguing against this idea that is prevalent in complementarian circles that women can be equal in being but unequal in function or position.  So it’s like an employer/employee.  It’s like a child/parent.  But their essential being is not unequal.  Okay.  And that’s what she’s arguing.

Sheila: Right.  Here’s what she says.  “In female subordination, the criterion for who is subordinate to whom has nothing to do with expediency or the abilities of individuals to perform particular functions.  Rather, it is determined entirely on the basis of an innate, unchangeable aspect of a woman’s being, namely, her female sexuality.  Her inferior status follows solely from her essential nature as a woman.  Regardless of how traditionalists,”—or complementarians—“try to explain the situation, the idea that women are equal in their being, yet unequal by virtue of their being, simply makes no sense.  If you cannot help but be what you are, and if inferiority in function follows necessarily and exclusively from what you are, then you are inferior in your essential being.”  Because they’re claiming the reason she’s inferior is because she’s a woman, that’s something that she can’t change.  So if it’s because of what she is that she is inferior, then you cannot claim she isn’t inferior by nature of her being.

Keith: It’s philosophically impossible to be non equal in function while equal in being when your being is a thing that determines whether or not you’re—it doesn’t make any sense.  

Sheila: Exactly.  Exactly.  It’s an amazing article.  She says a lot more than that.  I will put the link in the podcast notes.  I encourage everybody to read it.  Okay.  Here’s the next argument that we hear.  Okay?  But you don’t understand, Sheila, men have it so hard.  We are really sacrificing when we are in charge.

Keith: Because they say you’re presenting these men are railroading their wives and bullying them all the time, that’s not what complementarianism is.   Complementarianism is men sacrificially loving their wives and going the extra mile.

Sheila: Right.  Okay.  And so let me give you some examples of this.  This is from Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by John Piper and Wayne Grudem.  And they say, “Mature masculinity accepts the burden of the final say in disagreements between husband and wife but does not presume to use it in every instance.”  So they’re portraying this as it’s really hard for a man because he bears that burden.  But even they are acknowledging that he won’t use it all the time.  So they’re acknowledging that using it is bad.  

Keith: Or at least implying.  Yeah.

Sheila: Yes.  Yes.  Let’s listen to Robert Wolgemuth.  Okay.  So we listened to Nancy explain their marriage.  Now let’s listen to Robert explain this.

Robert: And it really is good news and bad news for a husband.  The good news is that your wife says, “What do you think, honey?  We’ve talked about this.”  The bad news is the ball is in your court.  And so it really drives you to your knees as a husband knowing that whatever you say, whatever you come up with, after you’ve talked about it and listened carefully to your wife, if there is a situation that you both can’t agree on, then okay.  You make the call.  But that’s a sobering responsibility.  And we have stories of that actually in the book of—

Sheila: All right.  So yeah.  It’s sobering.  This is really difficult.  He’s carrying this really heavy weight, right?

Keith: And I think this is great because it’s—what happens is people argue this is not fair to women because men get to be in charge.  And men go, “Oh, no.  No.  It’s not a benefit to men to be in charge.  It’s a weight.  It’s a burden.  It’s something hard for us.”  And then the women say, “Okay.  Well, then let’s not have that.”  And they go, “No.  No.  No.  We can’t change the system.”  The system doesn’t—it’s not that the system is unfair to you, women. It’s actually unfair to us men, but we have to keep it unfair to us men by us being in charge.  And this is all unironic.  And it just drives me crazy.

Sheila: Yeah.  If they truly thought that this was a burden that they didn’t want, then they would give it up.  And I mean yeah.   You could argue, well, they think that the Bible—they just want to stay true to Scripture.  And like I said, you can be true to Scripture and be an egalitarian.  We do have those links in the podcast notes.  Okay?  So I know that this is where some of these guys are coming from.  But I don’t think that’s all of it.  I think there is an element where they know they’re getting a good deal, but they have to excuse it by making it sound hard.  And so I want to read to you this excerpt from Fierce Marriage.  They have a podcast.  Ryan and Selena Frederick.  I think those are their names.  If you want to know just what is the typical evangelical marriage advice, they’re a great example of it.  Okay.  And here is how they describe it.  Here’s how he writes it.  He says, “Husbands, leading your families in a loving, Christ-like way is a massive privilege and a huge responsibility.  Unfortunately, leadership can be hindered by a wrong understanding by either the husband or the wife of what that means within marriage.  If a husband leads and loves like Christ, the wife will feel more honored, cherished, and blessed than ever before.  The key is “like Christ.”  So, how can a husband lead most lovingly?  One, lead sacrificially and selflessly.  Men, what is the call to “love like Christ” if not a call to take up our cross and die to ourselves?  Death to self is the clearest expression of love shown in Scripture.  Dying to ourselves means putting our family’s interests before our own.  Many men would die a physical death to protect their family, but will you die to your own selfishness daily to lead them?”  Now my question is why do you need those last three words?  To lead them.  

Keith: To lead them.  Yeah.  Exactly.  

Sheila: We all agree that we’re supposed to be loving and serving one another.

Keith: Yeah.  Well, and here’s the thing is too is you’re supposed to love your wife like Christ.  Lead like Christ.  It’s like are women not supposed to act like Christ to their husbands.  We’re supposed to be like Christ to each other.  Why does it have to be leadership?  I don’t understand that.  I don’t understand why that’s so essential to them.

Sheila: Yeah.  And also note too when he keeps talking about how you’re supposed to lead your family, he is putting the wife in the same position as the children.  And this is something that a lot of them do.  So there was a clip that went quite viral in early February by Jonathan Leeman, who is a SBC pastor, and I think he’s the editorial director of 9Marks, which is a complementarian church planting organization.  And I just want to play this for you on complementarianism.

Jonathan: A husband’s authority is what I would characterize as an authority of counsel, not an authority of command.  Both kinds of authority there is the right to make commands, and the person under is called to submit, right?  So wives are called to submit in the same way children are called to submit.  But the difference between authoritative counsel and authoritative command is that there is no enforcement mechanism.  No discipline mechanism for a husband.

Sheila: That is just—and then he goes on to say that there is no enforcement mechanism.  He says that you can use the rod on a child which is problematic in and of itself.  And we do have some podcasts on spanking.  But you can’t use the rod on your wife which I mean I guess I’m glad he said that.  But yeah.  So a husband, according to him, can command both children and their wife.  And the wife is supposed to submit.  And she submits in the same way that a child does.  The only difference is he can’t make her.  

Keith: Yeah.  And this is not us caricaturing complementarianism.  This is a guy—this is what he’s saying.  

Sheila: No.  He said this.  Yeah.  Yeah.  Again, he’s an SBC pastor.  Yeah.  This conflating of you’re going to treat your wife in the same way you treat your kids.  That’s what we so often see when we hear these calls to lead.  Okay?  Okay.  So he goes on to say—this is Fierce Marriage again.  “Lead with vision.  Vision is simply knowing where you are and where you’re headed.  As followers of Christ, what is your ultimate destination?  Husbands, gain a vision for where you’re headed as a family by understanding God’s word and the specific call of the gospel on your lives.”  Why doesn’t that apply to women too?  

Keith: Absolutely.

Sheila: I mean do you remember what happened to Pontius Pilate when he didn’t listen to his wife’s vision.

Keith: Literally.

Sheila: Sometimes she might have a vision for the family.  The idea that only he has a vision.  The problematic part of that is, first of all, he’s not listening to his wife when he should.  But the other part of it is when we teach women you’re not supposed to have the vision she stops praying.  She may pray for other things.  But she doesn’t seek the Lord out about that.  And that’s not healthy either.

Keith: Yeah.  Well, what happened to two are better than one?  Right?  That’s the whole wonderful thing is I have a vision for where our family is going to go and you have a vision.  And the wonderful thing is that we weave those together.  We make something really beautiful.  

Sheila: Yeah.  Exactly.

Keith: That’s a beautiful picture.  This is not a beautiful picture to me.

Sheila: Yeah.  Okay.  Number three, “Lead humbly.  Christ took the form of a servant.  How can you serve your bride and family best?  How can you lead them closer to Jesus by how you serve them?”  Again, why are we picturing the husband as being the one who needs to lead the wife closer to Jesus rather than both of you.  Spur one another on to love and good deeds.  Be iron sharpening iron.  There is so much in Scripture about how together we are going to spurt one another on, and we’re going to help each other get closer to God in the way that we act.  This is not something that just husbands do.  And to assume that he is always going to be in the position where he can lead the wife closer to Christ is so totally problematic.

Keith: Well, and the amazing thing is that when he has the expertise or the skills in an area, okay?  Then he’s the leader, and he leads in that area.  And when she has the skills and the expertise in an area, he leads by supporting her and expressing those skills and things.  It’s all mental gymnastics to prop up the idea that he’s in charge rather than just admitting you’re egalitarians.  When she is right, you admit she’s right.  When he’s right, you admit he’s right.  When she has the strength in this area, we follow her advice because she knows more than I do.  When I know more than you do, we follow my advice because we know I know more than you do in that area.  But they have to frame it as he is the leader even when she’s leading.  She’s leading under his support.  He leads her in her leading.  It’s crazy.

Sheila: I know.  Okay.  Last point that he makes.

Keith: Sorry.  Sorry.

Sheila: No.  It’s all good.  Last point that he makes.  “Lead with follow-through.  

Many husbands, like me, tend to fizzle out.  Why is that?”  What is he fizzling out about?  I don’t even know what he’s talking about. 

Keith: Yeah.

Sheila: So you’re trying to lead and then you fizzle out.  Well, then don’t try so hard.  Just be a team.  But whatever, okay.  “For me, it’s usually because I’m relying on my own strength and not God’s.  Doing right things only comes from a life, heart, and mind transformed by the good news of Jesus.  It is only when we’re fully captured by the gospel that we can consistently bear its good fruit.”  So husbands—

Keith: Yeah.  Again, it’s just another way to make you feel guilty for not measuring up which is what they do all the time.  You didn’t follow through.  And if you relied on God, you’d be able to.  And that’s the thing too is when you’re complementarian and marriage doesn’t work it’s because you’re not relying on God enough as opposed to the fact that the structure doesn’t work.  

Sheila: Yeah.  But look at what he’s saying.  Okay.  So he’s saying that when you lead you got to be dying to yourself.  Every day you need to feel like you’re dying.  You’re going to fizzle out because it’s so hard.  And I’m just looking at this.  I’m like life doesn’t need to be that hard.  I don’t wake up thinking, “Today I am going to die to myself.  It’s going to be so difficult because I’m going to love and serve my husband.”  

Keith: And I don’t wake up going, “Oh, the burden of caring for Sheila is so heavy on me today.”  It’s not even in my thoughts.

Sheila: And I do sometimes wonder if the reason that they portray it as such a burden is to—is so that they can sell it.  This is such a burden.  We’re dying to ourselves.  We’re being so sacrificial, so, therefore, you need to let us lead.  

Keith: Maybe.

Sheila: It’s a way of justifying it.  Anyway, it’s just all weird.  Okay.  But then they can say, “Oh, but wait a minute, Sheila.  We have to lead because God holds us more responsible.”

Keith: Yes.  That’s one I’ve heard before too.  Right.  Yeah.  I don’t know any Scripture for that.  The only Scripture I know of where a husband and wife both did something is Ananias and Sapphira, and I don’t think that Sapphira got a pass because—her husband didn’t bear a worse punishment than her because—it even says it was his idea.  And she followed him along.  And they both got zinged.  So I don’t know how that comes from Scripture.

Sheila: No.  And what does it even mean?  What do they honestly think is going to happen?  How does God actually hold him more responsible?  It doesn’t make any sense.  And I think that is a lot—a  big burden that a lot of men do have actually especially if you have kids who aren’t following God.  You think that God is going to judge you or be angry at you for that.  And I actually think that’s really sad what that’s done to men.  You think about the parable of the prodigal son.  And in that parable, the father represents God, right?  The father was a perfect father.  And yet, the son still messed up.  So I think the idea that husbands are going to have to answer one day for all the sins that their wives or their kids commit, that’s just—that’s a lot.  And it’s not Scriptural.

Keith: Yeah.  I don’t see that as biblical.  Yeah.  At all.

Sheila: Another argument that they give is that, “Well, Sheila, we need to understand that the picture of hierarchy is so beautiful, and it gives us a picture of the Godhead.  And this is how the husband loving the wife and leading the wife and being in authority shows the world what God is like.”  I don’t even know what they say, but you know what I mean, right?

Keith: I know the concept.  The concept is basically that the husband has authority over the wife, but he doesn’t use it for her harm ever.  He only uses it for her good.  And so it’s a picture of Christ.  Christ is all powerful, but He gives His life for us.  And He cares for us even though we didn’t deserve it sort of thing.  And it’s supposed to show that picture.  The problem with that is that in this little passion play because that’s basically—what a passion play was a way of showing the truths of the Scripture in little story in the world.  So this passion play basically says that the wife is the church and the husband is Christ.  And I have some real problems with that.  We’ve talked about it in previous podcasts about how a lot of the people who preach this kind of stuff—it’s very easy to slip into what’s basically idolatry.  The husband is—husbands can get their wives ready for Jesus.

Sheila: Yeah.  Or like John MacArthur.  The husband is the savior of his wife.

Keith: The husband is the savior of his wife.  All this kind of stuff.  It’s so easy to fall into that.  To me, two people.  To me, the Garden of Eden story—Genesis 1—that is a beautiful story, right?  Male and female created He them in the image of God.  Right?  So the two of them together equal go forward together, each of you with the unique giftings that God has given you to together chase after Jesus and create something beautiful.  To me, that is a beautiful picture.  But the idea that one person could really mess the other person up, but they never will is not a beautiful picture even if it never went wrong like it so often does.  

Sheila: I know.  And the idea that this is also a picture of the Godhead because that’s what they say a lot too, right?  And they mean—

Keith: Well, and the eternal subordination of the Son comes into that and all that kind of stuff.

Sheila: Which is actually a heresy.  Which was resurrected in the 1970s where Jesus is eternally subordinate to God the Father.   And the reason they resurrected this heresy is because they needed to have a reason for women to be subordinate to their husbands without it meaning that they’re not equal.  And so they resurrected this heresy, and they can say, “See, Jesus and God the Father are equal, but we know that Jesus submits to the Father’s will.  And so, therefore, there is no reason for women to say I shouldn’t need to submit in a way that my husband doesn’t submit,” right?  But that was actually a heresy that was defeated at the Council of Nice.  

Keith: Well, and the other thing too is let’s imagine that the Godhead was that.  That Jesus is eternally submitting to the Father, but He’s totally equal with the Father.  So what you’re saying is that there’s this weird spiritual thing which we cannot understand with our mortal minds ever and we’re going to take that and we’re going to put it among human beings who we know are fallen and will hurt each other.  And we’re going to say you’re in a position where you can be—you have to be subservient to me forever, but I’m never going to use it against you.  And if I do, you really have no recourse.  It doesn’t make any sense, right?  

Sheila: No.  It really doesn’t.  

Keith: And, again, it’s making the ideal case of complementarianism that he never uses his power against her to say that complementarianism itself is good.  But that’s not what we’re arguing.  We’re not arguing in the ideal sense would it not be—would it be harmful.  We’re arguing in the day to day, boots on the ground what happens in marriage who say they believe this, even the mild ones, there’s downsides.  Women feel like they’re less likely to express themselves.  Men feel this incredible burden, which they’re meant to be sharing with their wives.  But they feel like they’re supposed to bear all by themselves.  All these things.  And in the most extreme cases, it causes really, really bad things.  

Sheila: Yeah.  Yeah.  And, again, we weren’t the only ones who found this.  John Gottman.  When men don’t share power with their wives, 81% chance of divorce.  This is just all over the literature.  Just having authority in marriage, having hierarchy in marriage is not good.  It is antithetical to intimacy.  And it just is.  And you can try to argue it all you want, but it just is.  And the really beautiful picture is two people being able to come to an agreement because you pray together, because you serve one another, because you listen to one another, and because you’re both following after Jesus.  Why isn’t that a beautiful picture?  I really don’t get it.  And I think that’s what it all comes down to is when you come to the Bible, okay?  I admit that there are arguments you can make from the Bible for complementarianism.  Most of those arguments are based on single verses taken out of context, but there are arguments.

Keith: I would push back a little bit.  I think that you can make a case for hard complementarianism.  Right?  That the man is in charge from the Scripture.  The soft complementarianism this guy is purporting, right?

Sheila: Where he consults with her—yeah.

Keith: All that stuff.  I don’t as strong a case from the Bible for that.  I see there’s a case for you are both are equal.  And so those things are valuable because you’re both equal.  But I don’t see it coming out of complementarianism.  You know what I mean?

Sheila: Yeah.  Because there is no verse that says, “Hey, he gets to make the final decisions but only if he consults with her.”  There is no verse that says that.  If you’re assuming that the Bible says he is in authority, you can see that.  And I can see out of the Bible saying that you’re equal and that you follow after Jesus and you obey Jesus, not man.  But yeah.  There isn’t anything in Scripture that says, “Hey, you’re supposed to consult with your wife first, but then you still get to make the decision.”  That’s not there.

Keith: Yeah.  And I think this is the thing is that people often portray egalitarianism as not biblical and complementarianism as biblical.  And they sort of—that’s their default.  And so they think that that’s the way it is.  So they say egalitarians are reading stuff into the Bible that isn’t there.  But they’re not realizing they’re reading stuff into the Bible that’s not there too, right?  Now I’m glad they’re reading this stuff in about valuing her perspective and that she is actually equal in her being and all that kind of stuff.  I’m glad they’re reading that.  But they are reading that in there.  That’s not explicit there.  So the idea that you have to submit to your—the idea that you have to consult with your wife first is not a verse.  It’s a concept, right?  All we’re saying is the concept comes from the idea that God made men and women to be equal and together to reflect the image of God, right?  And I just find it so funny because they say, “Well, you’re reading into the Bible egalitarianism that’s not there.”  And it’s like if you have a hierarchical mindset you will see hierarchy in those verses.  I have an egalitarian mindset, and I see equality in those verses.  We read the same verses.  We see them differently.  It’s not that I’m twisting the Bible to make what it say what I want to say.  It’s just that we are both coming with different perspectives.

Sheila: Yeah.  And I want to say.  I do believe that complementarians—well, not all.  But I do believe that many are truly seeking out from Scripture what God wants, and they’re like I don’t know how else to see it.  If that’s you, please listen to some of the podcasts.  Please read Philip Payne.  Please go to Marg Mowczko’s website.  Because if you honestly want to believe egalitarianism but you’ve been told your whole life that complementarianism is true, there is so many great resources that show you that actually when you look at the life of Jesus, when you look at how Jesus actually acted, when you look at how Paul acted towards women the case for egalitarianism is so strong.  And the case for complementarianism pretty much falls apart because it’s based on only a few verses.

Keith: Yeah.  And the thing is that people bump up against those verses, and they go, “Oh, oh, well then egalitarianism can’t be true because of this verse.  This verse looks like it’s saying this.  Therefore, all of egalitarianism can’t be true.”  But it’s like we interpret what the Bible means based upon knowledge outside the Bible, right?  When the Bible says the sun rises and the sun sets, when the Bible says the foundation of the earth is firm and it cannot be moved, I read that differently than they read it 1,000 years ago because I know the earth is going around the sun.  And that’s what’s happening.  I know that.  And I bring that knowledge to the Bible, and I see the Bible through that lens.  That is not a bad thing.  That is me using knowledge in the world that God created to interpret the Scriptures that He has given us.  It’s not a bad thing.  And the idea that there should be equality between men and women and bringing that to the Bible is not an assault on the Bible.  It is not an assault on the Bible.  That is the way that God has baked the universe, and I want to see that in His Scripture.  And when I see something that looks like it’s not fair or looks unjust, the fact that I have a check in my spirit is not a sign of my hard heart.  It’s a sign that this doesn’t make sense.  I need to look deeper into this.  Right?  And I find it so fascinating that the United States is the hotbed of this complementarian thought, right?  Because you, Americans—so we’re Canadians for those of you who are new to the podcast.  You, Americans, your nations was founded on an idea.  We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.  That was your foundation.  All men are created equal.  But the foundation wasn’t from the Bible.  It was from this truth that we find self evident.  The appeal was to the fact that it is self evident.  It is self evident that it is healthy for a husband and a wife to work together as complete equals.  That is self evident.  When you come to the Bible and you see something like the husband is supposed to have authority over the wife, for you to go, “That doesn’t make any sense,” it’s okay for you to say, “That doesn’t make any sense,” because it’s self evident.

Sheila: And then you can research like, well, what’s another way to see that.  And part of the problem is people have looked at Scripture and we read things into it that isn’t—that aren’t there.  And then we think, well, we can’t believe any other way.  So we look at the work head, and we think it means authority even though the Greek word for head that Paul used was deliberately not the word that meant authority.  There was a word that meant authority.  He didn’t use that one.  And so we read it differently because we’re reading it in English, because we’re 2,000 years after the fact.

Keith: Well, and culturally.  Culturally.

Sheila: Yeah.  Somebody said—oh, it was the funniest meme.  It’s like in 1,000 years researchers are going to be looking back on social media, and they’re not going to know the difference between bootie call and butt dial.  Right?  Yeah.  There are translation issues.  There’s culture issues.  And so sometimes we’ve got to go back to what is it that we know about God.  What is it that we know about the nature of God?  What is it that is just self evident?  And it is self evident that love—God is love and that seeking after God together is what is the most beautiful thing.  And when you know that, it’s okay to say, “Hey, I’ve been taught different stuff going to church my whole life.  But I got to look at this differently.  I got to look more into this because this isn’t right.”  

Keith: Mm-hmm.  If you follow complementarianism, then the husband has to love the wife in a fundamentally different way than the wife loves the husband.  I mean that, to me, is manmade regulations.  I mean it should be simple.  Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Right?  It should be very straight forward.  We should follow the simple teachings of Jesus, and that leads us toward equality in my mind.

Sheila: Yeah.  It just does.  And that brings us to our call and why we really wanted to do this podcast because people say, “Why is it so important to you, Sheila, to prove that most complementarians act like egalitarians?  Why can’t you just take it at our word that we are really complementarians?”  And here is why.  Because when people act out complementarianism, it hurts people.  That’s where abuse flourishes.

Keith: And so what happens is you get these things all the time.  The stuff we talk about that people call straw men.  These are actual people writing to you.  Because my church taught complementarianism, my husband and I looked at marriage this way.  And these are the bad things that happened to us.  And then you present that, and people attack you and say, “That’s not really complementarianism.”  Instead of saying, “How did those people get to think that that was complementarianism?”  Right?  Why are people attacking egalitarians rather than the complementarians who are apparently giving you guys a bad name?  Do you know what I mean?

Sheila: Yeah.  Why are you spending all your time arguing with us about what—about how complementarianism is really beautiful instead of going after the complementarians like John Piper, like John MacArthur, who says that husbands are the saviors to their wives?  Like Doug Wilson.  Like John Piper saying that you’re supposed to endure abuse for a season.  Why are you not calling them out?  Why did we hear crickets from complementarians when last month Jonathan Leeman said that wives are supposed to submit in the same way that children do and that husbands have the right to command their wives?  Why did we hear crickets from you then?  And so if you really want to defend complementarianism, if you really think it’s a beautiful picture then go after the people that are making it not beautiful rather than going after us?  So that’s number one.  But number two is—please here me on this.  When you are healthy, when you are in a marriage where you honestly do value each other’s opinions and where you do function as equals but you tell people that you’re complementarian because you want people to believe you still follow the Bible and you don’t think egalitarians can follow the Bible—and so you’re like, “It’s really important to me to keep this word.”  Then you are giving legitimacy to a framework of marriage that hurts people because we know it does.  Abuse is higher.  Divorce is higher.  Marital satisfaction is lower.  And so if you care about the people in your circle, then please reconsider that.  Because you’re giving credence to other people acting it out in reality.  When you say that you agree with the word, even if you don’t act it out, then you tell other people that they have the freedom to actually act it out.  And that’s going to hurt people that you know.  It could hurt your sister.  Maybe your husband is a great guy.  And maybe your husband would never actually make the final decision.  And so you’re out there preaching complementarianism, but your sister marries someone who isn’t a great guy.  What is that going to do to her?  And I have heard from so many parents whose daughters married a bad man, and that has been what has made them think about how they’ve taught upon complementarianism.  Real people around you can be hurt.  And so what we’re asking is please, please, please preach what you practice.  If you are healthy because you are equal, because you mutually submit to one another, because when there’s a disagreement you work it out because you go to God in prayer because you serve one another, because you love one another, and that’s what your marriage is all about, preach that.  Don’t preach hierarchy because hierarchy hurts.  Can I end with the wonderful Beth Moore?

Keith: Sounds good.

Sheila: Okay.  So Beth Moore got into an argument with someone on Twitter. Well, actually, the other person was arguing with her.  Beth Moore was being mega, mega gracious.  It was amazing.

Keith: She’s awesome.  I don’t know how she does it.

Sheila: Yes.  But it was a conversation related to Elisabeth Elliot and the fact that Elisabeth Elliot was in this abusive third marriage to Lars Glen that we talked about on the podcast a couple of weeks ago.  And in the midst of the conversation, this is what Beth said.  Okay?  “The distorted dogma to which I was referencing was my own belief that submission meant having almost no control over my own life or decisions in a marriage.  That what a husband wanted was what God wanted no matter how it seemed contrary to the ways of Christ.  That I would honor God by putting up with anything.  I have been married for 45 years and love my husband deeply, and we have been far healthier people this side of a distorted view of marriage.”  Yeah.  You’re far healthier on this side.  So come on over to this side, people.  You can still believe the Bible.  There is so much—there’s actually more scholarship at this point on egalitarianism than complementarianism.  Come on over to this side.  The water is nice.  We’re having fun.  We can laugh together.  We’re equals.  We’re friends.  We seek after God together.  And you can do that and still be biblical.  So will you please come over to this side?  Because too many people are getting hurt.  This isn’t just an argument.  This isn’t just semantics.  This actually matters, so let’s do this right.  Okay, church?  So that’s our call for you today.  Thank you for joining us on the Bare Marriage podcast.  Please check out our podcast links in the notes to other podcasts where we have talked about the biblical basis for this.  And I will put other links to amazing people like Marg Mowczko where you can see if you have specific questions about certain words.  Terran Williams, who was on the podcast—gosh.  When was it?  Last fall.  Talking about how he changed from complementarian to egalitarian.  He has a great response to some of Mike Winger’s videos especially a recent one about 1 Timothy 2:12 and the word authenteo.  So that’s a really good video.  I will put the link to that there too.  But this stuff matters, people.  So let’s investigate it because you can change the cycle for the generations of your family that come after you.  Imagine what will happen in your church, in your kids’ lives if you change from believing in hierarchy to actually preaching that, hey, we’re going to serve one another.  And we’re going to seek after Jesus together, and we’re going to do life together.  Imagine how your kids will be different too.  That’s really a beautiful picture, and we can get there.  So we encourage you to come on over to this side.  And we’ll see you again next week on the Bare Marriage podcast.  Bye-bye.

Keith: Bye.

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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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

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  1. Jo R

    How can hard comps, or even soft ones, justify their treatment of wives and women on the basis of a handful of verses compared to the scores of verses that describe general kingdom behavior and attitudes, plus the real-life examples of Jesus and Paul?

    Honestly, the only justification I can think of is that these people consider that those kingdom-life verses apply only to how men treat other men. Men are therefore free, based on a half-dozen verses, to treat women as the men see fit.

    How does demanding a hand job or blow job from a woman puking because of her period or recuperating from a pregnancy demonstrate the golden rule, or love is not self-seeking, or consider others as better than yourselves, or when did we see you hungry or thirsty or naked?

    How does inflicting pleasureless penetration on a wife fulfill the second most important commandment? Comport with it being better to give than to receive? Treating the person with whom you have the closest relationship in this life the way you want to be treated? Fulfilling your marital duty to the person in the relationship who has the multiple-orgasm-capable clitoris? (If men had a clitoris, pretty sure they’d want alllll the orgasms they could get, rather than being told to settle for “emotional closeness.”)

    Why are so many people trying to hold up the pagan, emperor-worshiping, men-can-kill-their-wives-with-impunity first-century Roman Empire society and mores as God’s perfect will for His people?

    • K

      Jo R – I’ve said it before – but I’ll say again – I enjoy your voice in the comments section…

      Full disclosure, I haven’t listened to the podcast (I’m swimming in legal paperwork) but I wanted to second your motivating thoughts in terms of the gender discussion overall.

      I wish this book was expanded and dealt with things more rigorously, as the underlying issue is THE issue, as I see it.


      When we focus on gender and how the genders relate to one another – along with labels at the start of the discussion, those labels come with baggage and presuppositions.

      Starting with a kingdom perspective could (and should) bring more clarity to the issue than “rights and responsibilities”.

      (P.S. response to a previous comment you made – no I don’t work for the men in black – I crawled off my own mothership some time back, but the details seem a bit hazy … 😉😂)

    • Jo R

      Thanks, K! Glad to be helpful.

      Zawn is covering the patriarchy from the secular angle today as well, and the comments on both the FB and Substack are worth the read too. (Langauge warning as usual for her, plus a warning that she starts her discussion with men asking for open marriages [it backfired big time 🤣]):


      (Substack link in the FB post)

    • Terry

      Perfectly explicated. Thanks.

    • WebbGurl

      Because it Works. We were not questioning this messed up this hero worship of men. They used women’s desire to follow “the gospel” as a leverage They could do any wicked or abusive thing they wanted and we’d still “pray/fast/stay/submit.”

  2. Laura

    Love, love, love this podcast as always! My mother overheard this and said that it is necessary to know how to resolve conflict by talking it out. Complementarianism does not really teach about that because they (comps) are so hung up on the importance (idolatry) of male hierarchy. When people are not taught how to properly and healthily resolve conflict, relationships become toxic and unhealthy. This here I why I am hesitant to attend marriage ministries at my local churches. What I am learning with my fiance is that we talk things out and pray about them. Whoever is more affected by the outcome of a decision is the one who makes that decision.

  3. M

    Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: “we are surrounded by authority structures, we would have utter chaos without them”. Sheila:” Don’t you guys have friends?” Laughing my butt off.

    Also, what is their answer for business partners? Or co-teachers? If business partners can function without a CEO, I’m surprised they think a loving marriage can’t.

    • Lisa Johns

      BM&W: “We are surrounded by hierarchical relationships — such as parent-child and employer-employee…”
      Me: Since when is one partner in a marriage a child? Or since when is a marriage meant to be a transactional contract where the benefit one partner earns is based on fulfilling employment duties?
      These people are sick.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        It really is ridiculous when you think about it.

      • Cynthia

        I had an immediate ick at the thought of it too.

        There are rules against having sexual relationships with someone if you are in a parent-type relationship (even if no blood relation, like a foster parent), and most companies won’t let bosses date direct employees. Why are they holding up as an ideal the type of relationships that are banned?

    • Marina

      I have the feeling that the answer to that “Don’t you guys have friends?” question is “No.” or at least “No actually healthy friends.” On a slightly lighter note, I feel like there a joke in this about the only way these writers could convince someone to marry them. “Oh, don’t worry. All men are like this. It’s not like we’re immature/unhealthy/slightly (or very) scummy…no, nothing wrong here…”.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        It does honestly sound like that. “This is how all marriages function, so you can’t expect anything else!”

  4. CMT

    This is an excellent discussion.

    I completely agree with Keith’s point that the man-as-tiebreaker model short-circuits learning healthy conflict resolution and negotiation skills. It happened in my marriage (although more because I thought I wasn’t supposed to rock the boat than because my husband expected to be able to overrule me). The muscles get atrophied, so to speak.

    And, if you’re constantly trying to avoid something “bad” (like the tension of a disagreement with your spouse), your fear of that thing actually increases over time! The longer that goes on, the harder it gets to change the avoidant behavior. My husband and I are working our way out of that rut, but it’s hard. We were doing things one way for 10+ years. I wish we had known right from the beginning that there was another way!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It is hard to work your way out! I’m glad you’re on the other side now, but it can be a hard slog!

    • Jany

      Avoiding the “bad,” increased fear, harder to change. Yep. Short-circuited indeed. What conflict resolution and negotiation skills? After 30 years we don’t have ANY! I’m not sure where we would get them at this point, or if he would even be interested in getting any. Totally in this rut.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, Jany, I’m so sorry!

  5. NM

    Loved this discussion! It seems very clear in Paul’s discussion that he wants husbands to lower themselves to their wife’s level, in a society where husbands definitely outranked wives. Jesus did the same – lowered Himself to our level so he could have relationship with us.

    Today, women have the same legal status as men (in most places anyway) and comps are like, “Hey guys! We have to climb back up to the top so we can lower ourselves!”

    I can just imagine Paul face-palming and saying, “My dudes, women have achieved equality now, which is what I was trying to get you to do in the first place. Putting yourselves back on top is a completely redundant step.”

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      This is it exactly!

  6. Marina

    Not going to lie, the more I see of these “experts” writing, the more I think about my Dad and grandfathers, who were NOTHING like them. If anything, if these people tried to claim to my face that my relatives were like what they claim…well…they would get a very “un-womanly” rebuttal! (I might remember not to simply punch them….maybe….).

  7. Terry

    The Crossway site with Leeman’s article about husbandly authority — I read a number of articles there to see where they’re coming from. They believe in male headship, men earning the money to support the women, that 1 Corinthians 11:2-3 (the head of Christ is God, the head of woman is man, etc.) is a line of authority from God –> Christ –> husband –> wife. I grant you these articles were *far more gracious and accurate than complementarian articles usually are. But still teaching their version of a hierarchy, unwilling to call it egalitarianism or to say that husband and wife are functional equals.

    • Jo R

      1 Corinthians 11:3 says in part, “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of the woman, and God is the head of Christ.”

      Note the clause order here is NOT the order needed to show a hierarchy, which, as you worded because that’s how they’d word it, would be “God –> Christ –> husband –> wife.”

      Paul instead (and, I would say, deliberately) orders the clauses as “Christ -> man, man -> woman, God -> Christ.” Do they really think Paul is stupid? That he cannot construct a logical argument? Have they READ Romans???? 🤣

      If Paul wanted hierarchy with men over women, he would have put his three clauses in the proper order, either the descending “God is the head of Christ, Christ is the head of man, man is the head of woman” or the ascending “woman is headed by man, man is headed by Christ, Christ is headed by God.”

      So why didn’t Paul use either logical order to show the chain (really, chainS) of hierarchy?

      Because “head” in the Greek, kephalē, does not mean “boss.” It refers to origin or source, or to the thing on top of your shoulders (shoot, even English has “trailhead” and “the head of the river,” referring to the source or starting point). Let’s go back to the verse AS PAUL WROTE IT, and swap out a non-anatomical word.

      “Christ is the SOURCE/ORIGIN of every man, and the man is the SOURCE/ORIGIN of the woman, and God is the SOURCE/ORIGIN of Christ.”

      This makes tons of sense. Because now we see that the three clauses are actually historical events put in chronological order. Jesus, the Christ, was the creator per Colossians, so He made the first human. Using part of that first human’s body as source material, He made the woman. Then much later in history, God (Greek theos) overshadowed Mary via the Holy Spirit so that she conceived Jesus, who is the Christ or Messiah.

      If one knows what kephalē means in Greek (source/origin or thing on top of your shoulders), then one starts to question the choice of “head” in these clauses. “Thing on top of your shoulders” doesn’t make logical sense (“God is the thing on top of your shoulders of Christ”????), so it couldn’t possibly be that the translators chose “head” instead of “source” or “origin” because they knew that everyone would subconsciously think “boss,” right?


      (Thanks to Marg Mowczko for pointing out this issue.)

      • Nessie


        Brilliant. It’s too bad females never use logic. 🤣

      • Taylor

        ” … leverages her gifts and strengths …” from the guy’s comment. Um, dude, your slip might be showing a wee bit there. It’s assuming that her gifts are his by proxy. Just another way to say “I am entitled to use her because I’m a man.”

        And he doesn’t examine how complementarianism affects women. He just claims that it’s biblical, and as long as it’s biblically practiced, it’s right. If that’s true, I would be interested in hearing him explain why complementarianism is biblical and good, and slavery is unbiblical and bad.

        I grew up in complementarian teaching, and still have friends that practice or say they practice that model. For couples who actually practice male hierarchy (rather than those who say they do, but practice equality) in every case I can think of, the women don’t seem fully themselves. Like there’s a part of them that’s deeply repressed, even when they have husbands who appear kind, loving, and involved. And it makes me sad.

        • Jo R

          “It’s assuming that her gifts are his by proxy.”

          Natch, because she’s just another household appliance that makes his life easier.

      • NM

        Ooh that’s so cool! When they are all “source,” with Christ at the beginning and end, it’s just a big circle of unity. Now THAT is a beautiful picture and lines up so much better with the rest of scripture.

        ”‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’“
        ‭‭Acts‬ ‭17‬:‭28‬ ‭NIV‬‬

        ”There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.“
        ‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭4‬:‭4‬-‭6‬ ‭NIV‬‬

        Not to mention that seeing it as a chain of command would absolutely require believing in the heresy of Eternal Subordination of the Son.

        Something I was never explicitly taught growing up in church, but I think is vitally important to these discussions, is that when Jesus was simultaneously God and man, he was a bit at war with Himself in the garden of Gethsemane. His divine will was in perfect unity with God the Father. It couldn’t be any other way if you believe Jesus is fully God. But he was also inhabiting a human body with a human brain, which very much did not want to die a gruesome death. It is that human will that He had to wrestle to submit, and that was a temporary situation.

        • Lisa Johns

          That is beautiful.

  8. Angharad

    Love this one, especially the way Keith just calmly demolishes one argument after another with faultless logic.

    And Sheila’s comment “Don’t you guys have friends?”

    But is anyone else creeped out by that Wolgemuth clip? I mean, the guy is not only almost squashing his wife by sitting on top of her, but he’s got one arm round her pinning her right arm to her side and his other hand clamped onto her left wrist so that she can barely move… And the anxious way she kept checking in on him when she kept talking about her ‘sweet’ marriage and ‘godly’ husband…I’m getting serious control vibes from this guy and he is NOT someone I’d want to encounter in a dark alley.

    • Lisa Johns

      Yes, I noticed that. Pretty creepy.

    • Laura


      I had to rewatch the Wolgemuth clip and yep, I do notice he has full control and dominance over his wife. She sounds a bit uncomfortable when she talks. It’s like she’s nervous and feels like she’s supposed to act a certain way (meek and subservient). The whole video of them is just plain cringey and creepy.

    • NM

      Agree, it was very creepy. He was intimidating for sure. I used to do the looking-at-my-husband thing when I was still steeped in comp. My husband noticed it when we were leading a Bible study and he told me to stop. He said, “you don’t have to look to me for approval when you’re talking!” I cringe so hard now at the way I used to be.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I definitely got those same creeped out vibes!

  9. Amy A

    I totally agree with your theories about why they make it sound like men are burdened in complementarian relationships. I think another reason is probably tied to the over-spiritualization of suffering. If people are hurting, it’s seen as holy, so they use that language to manipulate people into staying in toxic structures.

  10. Mara R

    I’ve been so busy lately.
    Sheila, as you welcome your grand baby, I am also welcoming my first grand babies, twin girls!

    But I was finally able to listen to this podcast. Still need to read all the comments.

    But your question at the end. Why don’t Comps go after those in their own camp that are doing it ‘wrong’?

    Because in the end it truly is about control.

    Back in the day I was involved in an online convo with a Patriarchy dude who was trying to influence us wayward egals. He made a startling assertion that I addressed here.


    But I want to give the rest of the story in a follow-up comment.

    • Mara R

      The rest of the story that came out in conversation was that this man was abused by his mother. And he hated all abuse and wanted to protect women and children.

      His solution was patriarchy, where he could be in a place of power and could do so.

      When I pointed out the possibility that he clung to patriarchy as a way to protect himself and force his world to comply to his philosophy of peace and safety, he didn’t like it.

      But it was obvious that his devotion to patriarchy was based out of his little boy fear of not being in control in a hostile world.
      However, he absolutely couldn’t understand that maybe women might also want control over their own lives for the same reason.

      So why won’t they go after their own. Because male control must be maintained for whatever reason. In that man’s case it is out of fear and the unhealed trauma of abuse.

      • JG

        You are right. Control and fear go together. The ultimate manipulation tactic is to say that if we don’t agree with patriarchy then we are rebelling against God and his word.

      • Nessie

        I’ve missed your wise words, Mara R! Congratulations on the granddaughters!

        I’d wager many men that promote patriarchy as the only right way have undealt-with trauma, or rather incorrectly dealt with trauma. They’ve dealt with it by hiding from it and trying to control it, as you said. I think they fear having anything come against the institution they feel has kept them safe. In cases such as this man, they have to mentally block and dismiss any hint of suggestion that what they hold dear might cause the very damage of which they are afraid. An outright statement that what they believe is harmful probably stirs up past trauma and possibly kickstarts a fight/flight/freeze response.

        For the women in patriarchy, if all your decisions have been made for you your entire life, then the idea of having to wrestle with that process and the weight of that responsiblity can feel overwhelming. Of course it would feel chaotic and scary to risk leaving that and having to learn new skills, such as decision making, dealing with consequences of said decision, etc.

      • Amy A

        My mother was abusive too, but I am emphatically egalitarian bc that’s just what makes sense

  11. Cynthia

    Agree about needing to develop conflict resolution skills, but being egalitarian is also about giving up power struggles.

    Many fights are ultimately not about a specific issue, but are about asserting power. In some of my divorce cases, people will fight over trivial things because they fear losing control and being trampled if they give in on anything.

    Real egalitarian decision-making is about saying that both need to agree, period. If this is the commitment, then agreeing with a spouse doesn’t mean losing power. You aren’t looking to score points, you can just collaborate to figure out how to deal with any question. You can also recognize they each of you have strengths, and BOTH of you are necessary.

    Patriarchy, on the other hand, creates power struggles by teaching men to constantly be anxious about whether they are “leading” and having their wives submit. Someone who isn’t a control freak can find that his manhood is being questioned by other men.

  12. kathy

    Keith said something so interesting when talking about if a comp marriage isn’t going well then they just say they need to rely more on Jesus, instead of looking at the marriage model as the problem. I think this is exactly what we tend to do when sin issues arise…we point the finger at something else (anything else, in this case the marriage model) instead of calling out what the sin issue is. Why not go straight to the sin issue itself? It reminds me of failed parenting styles. Such and such parenting style didn’t work for me so it must have been that style that is bad so I’ll try a different one. Or perhaps it is a sin issue that needs to be dealt with in yourself before you go deal with the sin issues of your child. I’m not sure changing the style of your marriage is going to work out well long term if the sin issues themselves are not dealt with. Just seems like sin as a whole is being very overlooked in these discussions. It might be more helpful to get to the root of the problem (sin) instead of trying to figure out which label for our marriages is going to come out the winner.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Except, Kathy, we know that certain marriage styles do worse. That’s the point. It’s not just sin; it’s also the system. In a system where her voice mattered just as much, she could call him out on sin. In complementarianism, she can’t in the same way, and so sin is enabled.

      That’s actually the point. One system enables sin more than the other. That matters.

      • kathy

        It’s not just sin? Sin is exactly what it is. Even if something enables sin, it’s still sin you’re dealing with. We know that 100% of us have sin issues and his statement still completely avoids the sin issue which is the root of the problem. Keith is still pointing to another thing to blame rather than the sin itself. It’s not being addressed at all when this is very foundational for Christianity. I can put any name in front of my marriage that I want to but nothing will change if there is no heart change. If a man is not giving his wife a voice as you are speaking about in the example above, switching systems should not be our response, realizing the corruption of our hearts and dealing with our sin issue should be the first thing we do.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Kathy, I’ll try again. One system enables sin; one does not. Sin will be GREATER in one system than another.

          We have evidence of this from research.

          If you want people to not sin as much, you need to look at the system.

          To explain it in a different way: rates of sexual assault, of theft, of murder are not identical. If it were merely down to individuals, then they would not be different across cultures, across countries, across jurisdictions. But they are. Why? Because some systems make things more common, and some systems make things less common.

          • kathy

            Sheila, I would encourage you to take off your research/statistics hat for a bit and really think about this from a faith stand point. Think about the basics of Christianity and what we know about sin. You are giving way too much power to the system and giving way too little recognition to the issue of sin. I do hope you take some time to think on this.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Are you aware how much the Old Testament calls out systems of abuse and corruption? And how much Jesus did? Just look at how Jesus explained the gospel in Luke 4. The gospel is not merely getting into heaven. The gospel is also part of what we pray in the Lord’s prayer–that God’s will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. You’re missing an awful lot of Scripture and the breadth of the gospel. Seriously, just go reread Luke 4, and reread what the prophets are talking about, and what Jesus is railing against the Pharisees for.

          • Kathy

            “If you want people to not sin as much you need to look at the system”. That statement right there is a substitute of the Gospel. It’s flat out wrong.

        • Lisa Johns

          Kathy, practically speaking, calling out the system makes us aware of what we are doing in a way that generalizing the issue to “it’s just sin” will never do. If you want to keep it just to a discussion of “sin,” then what practical steps are you going to recommend to people to be able to change their marriages for the better? Calling the spade the spade has its place, but when you want to explain exactly why it’s not chopping wood, you need to explain why, for chopping wood, you need an axe. Calling the problems in marriages “sin” — which they are — has its place, but when you want to explain exactly why marriages aren’t functioning the way they need to, you need to explain that the system that has resulted from our sinful adherence to dominance vs. submission has made it impossible to create an atmosphere in which love and loving service can thrive. This is the practical step that Sheila has recommended. Do you have one that can add to it?

    • Jo R

      If one parent wants to homeschool the kids and the other doesn’t, where is the sin? There’s a disagreement, but there isn’t a sin.

      Suppose the parent that wants the kids to be homeschooled would not be the parent doing the homeschooling. The other parent is therefore forced into being the homeschooling teacher. Is that sin? Sounds like it to me.

      One system gives one spouse the ability to make decisions that override the other spouse. Another system encourages two spouses who disagree to come to a mutually satisfying resolution.

      In our homeschooling example, the husband can, in one system, force the wife to homeschool—or not—because he’s the man and gets the final say. In another system, the husband and wife would figure out jointly what to do. Perhaps they realize one child will have a known, good set of teachers this year in the public school, but another child really needs one-on-one time in a quieter environment. So the spouses mutually agree to send one kid to public school and homeschool the other.

      When the child in public school this year changes schools next year, maybe that child will be homeschooled because the next level of public achools doesn’t have good teachers in that grade. And by that time, the other child may have developed enough to go to public school and be fine. Again, the parents talk it out rather than the husband always getting the final say.

      Again, there are LOTS of non-sin situations where there is just plain old disagreement due to tastes, preferences, needs, and other factors. It’s THOSE situations mainly in view.

      But when there is actual sin—substance abuse, adultery, porn—in one system, the wife is debarred from saying anything to her husband, because her speaking up is BY DEFINITION disrespectful, questioning his leadership, and unsubmissive. How is that good for either the wife or the husband?

      In the other system, the wife may not like speaking up, and the husband probably won’t like hearing it, but shouldn’t the person we’re closest to in this life be able to speak into these sins, to have a reasonable expectation of challenging that sin?

      If not, what’s the point of women signing up for marriage to men who can literally, in the men’s eyes anyway, do no wrong?

      • Kathy

        Sheila you are flat out missing the gospel and telling others to substitute a system for it. Change your system folks and then your sins will all be fixed. Own it, you wrote it. You said it and what’s worse is you don’t see the fault in it. It’s sad. Could NOT be further from the truth.

        • Lisa Johns

          Kathy, please see my comment above. If you want to fuss about how this is done, please offer some practical ways to address the problem rather than quibbling about what it’s called.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Kathy, I keep bringing up Bible passages and Scripture. Think about it this way: For three years Jesus preached “the gospel” before He died. What do you think that gospel was? Jesus told us in Luke 4. Please stop accusing me of missing the gospel when you won’t even comment on the Scriptural arguments I’m making.

  13. Jo R

    When a system prevents the one sinning from being called out, then, yes, that system enables sin.

    Note that in complementarianism, EVERY single thing that the husband doesn’t like about the wife can be labeled as sin, even if it’s simply a matter of taste or a preference. The wife has literally zero recourse if the husband is actually sinning even in a major way, like substance abuse, adultery, or porn use.

    Egalitarianism just gives the wife the same rights and privileges that husbands have. It does not give her the same ability to sin with impunity like the husband has under complementarianism. Instead, she can hold him to account, just like he can hold her to account.

    Your statement makes it sound like you believe people do nothing but sin all day long. If that’s your starting point, then life must be very unpleasant indeed. Very hopeless. Very heavily burdened, not a light yoke, and no abundance. Is that what you call the gospel?

    • Jo R

      (Sorry, should have been a response to Kathy’s comment of March 11, 2024 at 9:15 pm)

    • Kathy

      Jo R, you are putting your faith in the system and saying it has the power to change the sin. That again is a substitute for the gospel. Changing systems doesn’t change hearts. And you are underestimating sin and the condition of the human heart. If you’ve been listening around here though this makes sense because this isn’t the first time Sheila has shared unbiblical information.

      Sheila spends a bulk of her time calling out other people for their supposed unbiblical teaching and then she cannot acknowledge and be held accountable for her own misunderstanding and teaching. That is a pride issue. Again, look at the root issue, the sin itself.

      • Jo R

        I said,

        “When a system prevents the one sinning from being called out, then, yes, that system enables sin.”

        If a Christian cannot call out another Christian when such prevention is caused by a system, then yes the system needs to go. The sin still gets called out, too, as the two action steps are not mutually exclusive.

        No one is saying to not call out sin. What we are saying is that some schools of thought gloss over sin, even heinous sin, if the particular sinning person happens to be a married man and the person doing the calling out happens to be the woman married to him.

        Does iron sharpening iron only apply to how men treat other men? Are women supposed to follow their husbands into the abyss of not calling out their husbands’ sin, the way Sapphira did with Ananias?

        Are women really supposed to remain silent in the face of the husbands’ sin? One school of thought enthusiastically tells wives to shut up about their husbands’ sin, and one doesn’t.

        This difference does not seem hard to comprehend, nor does it seem hard to comprehend that ignoring sin is, in its effects, the same as condoning sin.

        How is condoning sin the gospel?

      • Jo R

        You said,

        “Jo R, you are putting your faith in the system and saying it has the power to change the sin.”

        Not at all. No system can change the sin.

        What’s happening is one system muzzles wives about pointing out their husbands’ sins, and the other system removes the muzzle so a wife can mention her husband’s sin the same way the first system allows a husband to mention his wife’s sin.

        Neither system can change THE SIN itself, only the ability of one of the parties to bring it up for discussion.

        I don’t think you’d say the complementarianism “changes a wife’s sin.” It gives a husband the ability to point it out, but the husband remains powerless to actually make the wife change. But complementarianism actually prevents a wife from pointing out her husband’s sin, which allows him to continue in that sin. If he noticed his sin himself, then he’d do something about it, right? But what if he is unaware? Who will make him aware, if the person he is married to is prevented from raising the issue? His coworkers, fellow churchgoers, neighbors, and friends will not see his behavior behind closed doors, so the person I the best position to point it out is his wife. He also likely treats his wife in ways he’d never, ever treat any of the people in those other groups. So again, is the wife really supposed to just keep her lip zipped? She’s the only one he can sin against with complete impunity?

        THAT’S the gospel? I think not.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Just a note: Kathy is being deceptive in her comment. Over the last few days, this person has commented under FOUR different names, even though it is the same IP address. She is trying to make it look like the disagreement with my blog is bigger than it actually is. She has been banned.

  14. Terry

    I keep checking back every day! Where is the transcript? I read fast, so I prefer to read things since I can set my own speed (it’s hard to speed up what you’re listening to and still get the full effect). I’m so excited to get into this one!

    • Jo R

      Right above the box that says “written by Sheila Wray Gregoire.”

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m sorry! We’ve having some behind the scenes issues with health problems with the staff, and it’s taking longer than usual.

  15. Mara R

    Sheila: “If you want people to not sin as much you need to look at the system”.

    Kathy: “That statement right there is a substitute of the Gospel. It’s flat out wrong.”

    No. Kathy. Sheila is not substituting a system for the Gospel. She is pointing out that the Complementarian System is defective and not a good representation of the Gospel.

    The Egalitarian System is a much better expression of the Gospel. Because in Egalitarian systems, the emphasis is on the words of Jesus that say, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

    The Comp system completely loses these Gospel Words of Jesus in marriage. Instead of the Golden Rule and the Second Greatest Commandment being applied to marriage you get: “Men must be treated one way and women must be treated a different way”. Due to lack of time, I won’t go into the many thousands of examples of the Comp System subverting the Words of Jesus due to a misunderstanding and misapplying letters Paul wrote to specific churches to try to help them apply the Gospel to their very dark and very dangerous times.

    But yes, systems and teachings can be wrong and misguide many causing greater harm and greater sin. And the Comp system is one such false teaching and false system that subverts the Gospel.

    • Lisa Johns

      And to be clear, Kathy, no one is saying that the right system will save us. What is being said and discussed here is how systems either adhere to the gospel or put a millstone around the necks of those seeking to honor Jesus and His desire for our marriages. Jesus clearly said, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. He did not make an exception for married men and the way they are called to treat their wives. I wonder how many of them would love it if they had their every word overruled the way many complementarian wives do in their daily lives?

  16. Spock-ish

    I knew motte-and-bailey as a castle but not a fallacy, and it makes great sense here! It also seems like a Venn diagram, where there is overlap between complementarians and egalitarians, such as a desire to follow Christ. The problem is complementarians want credit for that part where egalitarian and complementarian overlap! You cannot evaluate two things like complementarian and egalitarian on the parts where they are the same, and I love the way this podcast easily breaks down the fallacy.

  17. Thoughtful Christian

    [Editor’s Note: We don’t allow comments greater than 500 words, let alone one that is longer than the typical blog post. If you have that much to say, you are welcome to write your own blog post on your own blog. We also don’t allow comments that disparage our research methods in ways that are inaccurate. If you are going to discuss our research methods, please use accuracy about what we did, rather than make assumptions. I won’t allow myths about our methods to be shared here.]

  18. Susanna H

    I’m totally with you guys but I do have a follow up question about your methodology:
    Did you run stats on ONLY the group of survey respondents who said “We talk about it together and then he makes the final decision”? I have to think that those people in isolation probably do better than the ones who have the man decide without much discussion or input. I wonder if they would perform close to as well as “we decide together.”
    None of that makes that a more defensible position that mutual egalitarianism, but it does give some credence to your earnest emailer who feels he is in a good marriage. Maybe he is, even if we disagree with his premise and his message.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      There wasn’t a significant difference between those ones and the ones where he just decided. It was such a small number where he just decided, too. So it’s still really bad!

      • Susanna H

        Thank you! I’m not terribly surprised that this was the case but wanted to check in and be sure I had your info straight. Thank you for your work!

  19. Felicity

    So no place where head = responsibility?
    I’m thinking of Ephesians 5. It’s how I have always heard it used. If not leader then certainly responsible.

    I really liked this episode. There are so many more pieces to complementarianism that I’ve been around. Which kind of decisions are left to whom.
    In more conservative circles The husband gets the big decisions and its “loving” to “just give it to her.” (the small decisions)
    In the church I got married at there were small, medium, and large decisions. On the small ones coming together on a decision didn’t matter because the decisions were small. Unity was not achieved. The medium decisions were the ones where you learned to discuss, disagree and come together. And the husband got the final say if/when they didn’t agree. In the large decisions you had to come together and make a final decision together because “marriage is not slavery”…Ephesians 5 moves onto slavery and they made a point to distinguish that. lol
    At my sister’s church all the decisions- even the tiny ones were to be made together. The only authority the husband had was to make sure that both spouses agreed.

    The beautiful picture of the gospel was always the husband sacrificially dying for the wife and the wife willingly submitting to him. Or the wife willingly submitting to her husbands loving leadership. . . I remember a sermon that went so deeply into the Christ and the church analogy- with the husband and wife that it was very obvious that this kind of sacrificial love from the husband was not possible without God. That it was really obvious that it would not happen much. But once the depth of this kind of ideal Godly love was explained it would indeed be much easier to submit wholeheartedly. I’m trying to say a God like love and a God like submission would pair well….but too often this Christ like love is replaced by “loving leadership” which distorts the picture. Leadership is not the word used at all. The word head is and I have heard the word serve used. …Makes me think of Jesus saying to his disciples don’t be like the world who lords leadership over others and officials who flaunt their authority over those under them. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant. Mark 10 :42-43.
    In Ephesians 5 you never know what will be emphasized. I’ve heard a sermon on mutual submission, the husband loving, the husband leading, the wife submitting, and on the two becoming one.

  20. Terri

    I found this episode intriguing and enjoyed listening to the arguments. I’m wondering if you can cite your source where Nancy Pearcy said that women getting the vote was not a net gain. Leslie Vernick had her on her podcast and I enjoyed listening to her talk about her new book. Also, are you aware that while on Daniele Hage’s podcast last November she stated, “When husbands do not involve their wives in the decision-making, their marriages are 81% more likely to break up”? She was quoting John Gottman. So it would seem like Nancy Pearcy would agree with your research. I’m confused why you would disparage her.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Sure, it’s in this podcast, and you can see the clip here.

      In this podcast, Beth Barr and I, along with Tim from The New Evangelicals, go over the whole section in detail where she’s talking about women’s suffrage.

      The problem is that her big thesis, that she claims over and over again on podcasts (as she did on Alex Clarke’s here too) is that conservative complementarian men do the best. That it doesn’t really matter what you believe about male hierarchy, because those men act the best. But what she fails to say is that they only do well if they DON’T ACT OUT their beliefs. As soon as people act out male hierarchy, bad things happen. You can’t say that men who follow complementarianism do best if you do not also acknowledge that they don’t do well when they act it out. She’s legitimizing a theology about marriage that is actually destructive when actd upon. That’s my issue.

      • Terri

        Thank you! Yes, I found the New Evangelicals YouTube video and watched the whole two hour discussion. It’s given me a lot to think about.

        Any thoughts on Dr. Lina Abujamra’s book, “Don’t tell Anyone You’re Reading This: A Christian Doctor’s Thoughts on Sex, Shame, and Other Troublesome Issues”?Are you familiar with her?

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I haven’t looked at it, I’m afraid!

  21. Jules

    I have been wanting to comment on this podcast since I heard it. Thanks for sharing!

    I appreciate all of the critiques that Sheila and Keith provide. They are truly so thought provoking and helpful. I have been in the complementarian world my whole life and am at the moment sorting through where I stand on the whole debate. Regardless of where I end up, it is clear that some of these extra-biblical things that many complementarin people just roll with are down right ridiculous. It seems that the more the complentarians try to provide practical application points the more silly it all gets (ie,. you can command your wife, but you just can’t spank her?!?)

    One thought that I had in regards to the comment to which this podcast was addressing is that it is written from only the male perspective which may not be the whole picture. Perhaps this man believes that he values his wife’s perspective, leverages her gifts and strengths (hopefully for their marriage union and just just for his own personal endeavors), and values her as a precious human being. But, is his wife still a doormat? Perhaps if she has been told that she has to always yield her preferences for him, never push an issue, love and encourage him even if he’s doing nothing to demonstrate love or care towards her then it may seem like the marriage is going great to him, when really it isn’t.

    A man may feel like he is valuing his wife’s perspective because he does ask her opinion, while the wife may feel like he listens and then ignores her opinion unless it suits what he wants to do. A man may feel like he leverages her gifts and strengths, while the wife may feel like he simply uses her gifts and strengths for his own benefit. A man may feel like he values his wife as a precious human being because he does indeed have good thoughts and feeling towards her, while a wife may feel like he doesn’t love her at all because he does little to nothing to demonstrate love towards her. But, since the wife has been told that she is supposed to always have a calm and gentle spirit, never push an issue, be his helper (ie,, put him and his preferences first), etc. it may go entirely unnoticed that she doesn’t feel appreciated or valued at all. In her world, their marriage is completely one-sided while in his world things are going great.

    All to say, I think that it is easy for men to think that they are treating their wives wonderfully when their church is teaching their wives to say very little and to die to themselves as they continually place themselves under their husbands authority.

    Food for thought for all of those men that think everything is going great 😉


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