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.
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.