It was a first for me. The couple started their wedding by summarizing their pilgrimage to God and to each other — through Latin dancing.
Those of us who knew anything of their story recognized some of the moves they had worked in. These were two strong individuals and Latin dancing, a shared passion, was an ideal medium to tell their oft stormy story and its happy conclusion.
Then came time for the sermon. The pastor, an old friend, spoke from Ephesians 5: 22-33 and as all of us pastors do when we reach verse 22 “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord”(NET), we acknowledge how difficult it is for a modern audience to hear this in an age so sensitized to sexual discrimination.
The evangelical world is very divided over gender roles. The “complementarians” point to passages that seem to teach so clearly the leadership of males in home and church (1 Timothy 2:12-15; 1 Corinthians 11:2-4)). They point to the Trinity as a key source of their position pointing out that just as God the Father and God the Son are co-equal yet have different functions, so it is with men and women made in the image of God. Men and women have equal value but different functions. One of the functions of the men is to provide leadership. On the basis of their different roles men and women complement each other.
The “egalitarians” on the other hand point out to passages that say that in Christ, there is no longer male and female (Galatians 3:28). They point out that under the headship of Christ each one should use whatever gift they have been given to serve (Romans 12:3-8). If you have the gift of leadership then lead, whether you are male or female. Besides biblical leadership is not hierarchical. It is group leadership, and home and church should be led by leadership teams of both sexes.
This is a heated debate especially among evangelicals in the U.S. We in Asia are sometimes shocked to see the kind of name-calling that goes on in this debate. We are astounded that one’s stand on gender issues is used as a mark of orthodoxy and that whole bible translations come into being as a result of this controversy. The nature of gender roles may be a matter of controversy. The call for charity is not.
Because evangelicals put such a high premium on Scripture the hermeneutical task must continue. We need to know what the Word actually says but we also need to know how to dialogue with others who do not see the issue as we do. And no name calling please. (I do not know whether to laugh or to cry when I hear the translators of the TNIV Bible accused of having caved in to radical feminism. Bruce Waltke, one of my professors from Regent, is one of the main translators and he is as complementarian as they come.)
I suspect the debate has been too man centred. After all, the main divide is not between man and woman. It is between human kind and God. And so the debate as to how a husband and wife should relate to each other cannot be divorced form the question of how they both are to relate to God.
In Latin dancing as in most types of formal dancing, the man is expected to lead. And the woman responds best to a partner that she trusts and respects. But really both man and woman are led by the music. The man’s leadership in dancing is to help both him and his partner respond best to the music. In one sense it is the music that leads. (I first came across this metaphor in one of Larry Crabb’s books.)
Therefore instead of always being concerned with the question of whether it is the man that is the head of the family or whether there is some dynamic cooperative leadership of both man and woman, why don’t we first say that it is God that is the head of the family.
And while we continue to wrestle with whether the Scriptures support the complementarians or the egalitarians, or whether another position that synthesizes certain elements of both positions is closer to the Word, let us help all our people, including our husbands and wives, better hear the Divine Music. If all of us give ourselves to hearing and obeying the Word of God and aspire to grow in Christ likeness there should be more harmony in all our relationships including our marriages.
The over riding consciousness should not be “who is Boss” but that God is Boss and whatever my theological position on gender roles I am first and foremost a servant, a servant of God and a servant of my spouse (John 13: 1-17).
As I reenter the dance of marriage I am struck afresh by the wonder of having someone you love commit themselves to love you and to cleave to you. As we approach our first Valentine’s day as husband and wife I am deeply aware of the fact that even on my best day I don’t deserve Bernice’s love and that I can never be good enough to be the leader and husband she deserves.
But we are very conscious that we belong to God and that as a family and as a couple we want to give our lives for His purposes. These are the overriding concerns of our lives. Daily we seek to hear the Divine Music and respond accordingly.
So Ken and Shirene, thank you for being brave enough and creative enough and skillful enough to express your lives together through dance. Ken you were given the mandate to lead the family. But if both you and Shirene give yourselves to hearing and responding to the Divine Music your dance will continue, and it will continue to be beautiful, and it will continue to be a blessing to you and to those privileged to be in your lives.