First, A Note on Responsibility:

Before I ever get into the nitty-gritty on women’s roles, I’m careful to frame the entire topic in the idea of responsibility. We’re essentially in a conversation about whether and how men’s and women’s God-given personal responsibilities differ in our communities. Remembering this keeps both sides fair.

It is my firm belief that conversations around authority, leadership, submission, and followership of all kinds could be drastically clearer if we first defined the power at play. It is with power and ability that we are made influential and/or authoritative over folks in our lives, and because of that influence we have to effect change (with or without a designated position), we are responsible for the outcome of that change. When God grants us power or gifts, He comes calling for results. Recognizing and harnessing privilege for God’s glory is the crux of our Kingdom work.

So first off, treating the complementarian position as one primarily concerned with men’s responsibility is the fairest angle of approach. I’ll not pave the easy road from power to abuse as if having power essentially leads to harming with it. Cruddy argument. To take issue with the abusive practices and perverted mindsets of domineering men who misapply their equipping for leadership is not to take issue with complementarianism itself or headship itself. As headship bastion John Piper puts it: “Headship is not a right to command and control. It’s a responsibility to love like Christ: to lay down your life for your wife in servant leadership.” Same goes for men and women heading up the church family.

The solution to the problem of ungodly men is more of the “God” not less of the “men.”

Secondly, as we look at Genesis for gender role commentary with responsibility heavy on our minds, we’re going to come to many more instances where it’s possible to point out, “Look! Adam is especially responsible for Eve here! He has a unique obligation!” I myself pointed and exclaimed for years.

But!

Every time we think we’ve found some sort of obligation (responsibility/accountability/duty), we must also look for some sort of coinciding ascendancy (power/influence/ability/gifting/station/anointing.) It is power that begets responsibility, and this order is essential to a study on executive hierarchy between the sexes. When God grants us power or gifts, He comes calling for results, true. But the question, “What did you do with what I gave you?” hinges on something having been given. If the greater, unilateral responsibility we find for husbands in Genesis is genuine, then we’ll also find some sort of upper hand or greater ability that makes it possible.

While there is no respected complementarian to my knowledge who teaches that women are made more morally corruptible, with less spiritual depth, or with lower potential to know God and be transformed more like Christ, it isn’t a huge leap to hear such implications in the belief that men (be that husbands or male church leaders) are especially responsible to spiritually lead, develop, and discern for their families in ways women just aren’t. Men and women are different, of course. And thank God for that, because diversity makes the Body stronger. But which male attribute, exactly, is the gift that God grants to men alone that makes them most able to respond (response-able) to a calling to spiritual leadership? (or service, depending on how you look at it.)

Fairness to the egalitarian camp means we validate this question and sincerely investigate the answer with them. We don’t summarize the question as an angsty “How dare you?!” We see the heart many investigators like myself come with: one full of questions like “Who am I?,” “What am I here for?,” and “How do I honor God’s investment in me?”

From here, I’ll start with the best answer complementarianism has offered in its interpretation of Genesis 1-3 to explain how exactly men are made responsible for their respective women: Gen. 2:15-16.

2 Responses

  1. Forgive me if I’m misunderstanding, but you seem to be saying that God gives responsibility to those that are most worthy of it. If that’s the premise under discussion, I have real problems with that.

    God’s election typically lands where humans would never expect it to land. Think about the choosing of the Levites for their special role. Was it because of some moral superiority? No. It was actually because of moral failings on the part of their ancestor. Are they portrayed in the Bible as being of especially high moral character? Not generally. There are notable Levites like Moses and Samuel, but there are many who failed.

    Think about God’s choosing of Israel. What does Deuteronomy say?
    “The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.” (Deuteronomy 7:7)
    “Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.” (Deuteronomy 9:6)

    Any search for an attribute that explains God’s choosing is a misguided search, in my opinion. God often chooses the weakest, the smallest, the youngest… in short, God chooses the exact opposite of what humans would choose.

    Apologies if I’ve misunderstood. God bless.

    1. Hey hey! Great question.

      I’m not saying God only activates the most worthy. If our worthiness had anything to do with our participation in God’s world, we wouldn’t be here at all.

      I’m saying God doesn’t “give” responsibility” just like that. The state of being responsible is the product of God’s gifts and God’s expectations. He “gives responsibility” by blessing us, sometimes in ways that are unique from others, and therefore has unique expectations of certain people.

      The Israelites weren’t at all worthy but they were still particularly privileged among all humanity: the very presence of Yahweh went with them and He handed them the laws of life most fulfilling. To say nothing of the resources He provided them. Why? He expected that they’d use their gifts to be a light to the nations. (*sad trumpet*)

      I think that’s what we really mean when we call Israel “responsible.”

      (To your point about the Levite tribe, it was set aside to be especially responsible for Israel at the moment it was closer to God and more responsive to His will relative to the other tribes, which were rejecting the gift of God Himself through idolatry and embarrassing themselves before the other nations with their partying rather than being their light. Free will in the mix means sometimes we become especially responsible because everyone else refuses to be at all.)

      I can’t explain WHY God chooses to gift certain people things that other people don’t get. I’m just stoked that He bothers to invest in our thick-skulled selves at all. But I do think we can explain HOW God raises leaders/servants with those gifts. Telling the story of what God adds to the weakest, the smallest, and the youngest to bring them into influence is exactly what we’re here for!

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