Photo by Albert Bredenhann
I’m an avid dancer.
I’m an avid many things actually… just professional/amazing nothing.
In the wake of my ever spontaneous sister, I learned early on as a young teenager to enjoy the passionate fun found in embracing the flings of a ‘new’ hobby or craze. Since, I
was am horribly uncoordinated in coping with flying projectiles, I avoided sports like the plague and tagged along as her faithful partner in crime into all sorts of random capers – navigating international airports together as preteens, discovering the back ways to the bus-stop by cutting through crowded Bangkok slums, illegally participating as foreign child laborers at a factory in our Thai neighborhood (to supplement our allowance of $5/month), fending off the wild stray dogs that terrorized our street, stamp/coin collecting, mall-ratting, bible studying, starting up and heading up a bi-lingual youth group in our church, reading, knitting, singing, evangelizing, eating Papaya Salad as spicy as a local would, swimming, tromping all over Bangkok’s out-door shopping scene, ‘accidentally’ finding ourselves late at night in a strictly forbidden (by our parents) red-light district area purely out of curiosity, not to mention a multitude of other adventures. And so it was that I got into dancing and figure-skating… er, woops, I mean ice-skating of course.
With that unnecessary rambling back-story out of the way, I’ll move on to attempt to make a somewhat haphazard analogy that I’ve recently stumbled upon in my contemplations regarding gender roles and complementarianism. You may recall an early on post where I question how embracing gay relationships conflicts with my previous understanding of Scripturally prescribed gender roles in a relationship. A complementarian approach would say: one man and one woman in a marital partnership together is unique and beautiful God-ordained relational joining that prescribes gender-specific roles of leadership and submission, love and respect, in order to reflect “[God’s] trinitarian nature, his covenantal love in marriage, and his authority and submission in the church” (Nick Bogardus, The Resurgence). My entire life, I’ve been raised in light of this view of scripture and to this day still tend to view relationships with this perspective as my default… which has created obvious hiccups when I consider what same-sex relationships should look like.
And now finally, to my analogy. On a relational/interactivity level, two people in a marriage relationship should be able to ‘dance’ or ‘skate’ in unison time to their joint life soundtrack. One leads, one follows. One supports, one leans. One pursues, one responds, There’s a dynamic play of interactivity that when done right results in a beautiful synchronistic movement in response and interpretation of a greater musical scheme. Just as in dance, men and women fill culturally prescribed roles in relationships. However, depending on the dance, these can vary greatly. In fact, more often than not, responsibilities are switched and re-matched. In Swing or a lot of types of Ballroom, the man initiates and guides the woman through a variety of movements. He must lead delicately with careful sensitivity to her style, and she must learn to respond to the slightest guiding hand movement. However, pair-skating is quite different. In order for pair skating to work, the woman must lead while giving the appearance that the man is still leading. In reality, he’s just a support to help her shine. She sets the tone and direction, deciding on where to go and when to turn. He must think two steps ahead and try to predict her decisions so he can be there in full support to keep her balance intact. Both situations require a careful interactivity and specific role fulfillment… but these roles look incredibly different for the different circumstances/situations.
As I’ve researched and read various books and blogs, I’ve come to note two specific problems with my previous understanding of scripture as it pertains to complementarianism. I neglected to take broader historical and cultural context into consideration. 1. Scripture prescribes these gender roles from a heterosexual speaker to a predominantly hetero-normative audience. Since holistic monogamous same-sex relationships weren’t even on the radar, no instructions were offered specific to that situation. 2. The culture in which these roles were given was a male-dominated and male-run society that didn’t allow for female independence or identity apart from her father/husband/master/brother/male-relation.
Have I neglected to consider that maybe complementarianism isn’t the only structure that might be scripturally appropriate within relationships for modern society?
Perhaps like the dancing/pair-skating analogy, gender roles in relationships are more fluid, changing with different cultures and circumstances while still achieving the same end-goal: a harmonious, God-honoring, mature, and ever-growing relationship between two individuals. I’m not attempting to debunk or replace the long established tradition of the complementarity model. Rather, at the risk of sounding relativistic, I’d like to postulate that perhaps there isn’t a set modality that can be prescribed to all couples universally. After all, every couple functions differently based on each individual’s gifting and personality. Perhaps while complementarity may work best for some couples, other couples work better in light of a mutual-submission or egalitarian relational approach? I honestly don’t know. Its a new concept to me that needs more thought.
There are so many other paths that this conversation could take. What about the scriptural analogy of God and his bride, the church, being reflected in marriage between men and women? What about headship and submission? How do we know that it was only a cultural prescribed phenomenon rather than one that is rigid and must be strictly adhered to? What about the fact that men and women do seem to balance each other from more than just a biological standpoint, but also emotional and mental? Can two people of the same gender ‘complement’ each other in a similar way? All great questions for a future post… or a different blogger. And thus I end rather inconclusively I’m afraid. Please feel free to comment/email with links to any other articles sources pertaining to this subject matter. I’m continually seeking to expand my understanding and would love to hear your thoughts.
For a much more scripturally conscious exploration of this topic, check out this post by Missional Theology.