Is a Label Messing Up Your Marriage?

Right now, there are just two choices: Egalitarian and Complementarian.

Here’s what they mean, according to their own writings:


  • We believe in the equality and essential dignity of men and women of all ethnicities, ages, and classes. We recognize that all persons are made in the image of God and are to reflect that image in the community of believers, in the home, and in society.
  • We believe that men and women are to diligently develop and use their God-given gifts for the good of the home, church and society.

— Christians for Biblical Equality[12]


The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to his people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.

— Article XVIII. The Family. Baptist Faith and Message 2000

And here’s what the problem is – on paper (or on screen) it appears as if both speak to what is true and discussed in the Bible.  Where the problem appears, however, is in the discussion of the following areas:

  • a wife’s submission (Ephesians 5:23),
  • mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21),
  • mutual respect (1 Peter 3:7 for husbands to respect their wives, and Ephesians 5:33 for wives to respect their husbands),
  • preaching by women (1 Timothy 2:12, 1 Corinthians 14:34),
  • the husband being “the head” of the wife (Ephesians 5:23 and 1 Corinthians 11:3) and accountable for the family by God (Genesis 3:9, 11, 17),
  • and women’s roles in the family (Titus 2:3-5)

Because here’s how the writings play out sometimes in extremes, regarding both sides:

Egalitarian – wives don’t have to submit or respect, and the husband is not accountable to God for the family, women can and should preach in all circumstances, and a woman or man can lead, be the primary parent, or not. The marriage is focused on friendship, and there’s an equal division of work, depending on gifting, not gender.

Complementarian – husbands don’t have to respect, mutual submission does not exist, women should not preach or teach or have any authority (some say in business or ministry, or even writing) over men, the husband is in charge, women should be about raising their kids and caring for their homes while the husband works. The marriage is often focused on supporting whatever the husband is doing.

Here’s what I think both sides are afraid of, based on what I’ve read:

Egalitarian – that people will be oppressed or abused if there is authority in relationships (non-equality).

Complementarian – that homosexuality and pedophilia will become accepted by the culture if women are perceived as “not under authority” of the husband.

Given that scholars on both sides have extrapolated to completely negate or over-promote authority, submission, and roles within marriage and the church, I think we’ve twisted Scripture into a new law, because neither of these words are in the Bible, and the way things play out for the people writing about them are a little off base.

I’m not going to start pointing out who says what and debating the merits or issues with each point, because if I wanted to argue with those bloggers, writers, scholars, I’d take it up with them, instead of assaulting them publicly.

I realize I’m speaking in generalities. Hope that doesn’t make you crazy.

And you’ll notice that neither “camp” really wants to talk about head coverings, although some complementarians require them. And some complementarians do not allow their girl children to attend college. For real.

And some egalitarians say women should not respect or submit to their husbands. For real.

And I have a problem with taking PART of the Bible and applying it to mean what we want it to, ignoring other parts of what is written.

Regardless, here’s what I believe…

The Bible is a living document – and the Word speaks into my life moment to moment, depending on what is needed at that time. I also believe the Scripture is 100% true.  I also think Dr. Larry Crabb, theologian and psychologist is accurate when it comes to submission. I also believe I’m not a good fit for either camp.

So I’m coining a phrase. 


It already exists in reference to the “whole foods” movement.

I have an additional definition in mind, however.

And I believe it represents what God’s created and what the Word tells us.


noun \ˈhōl-ə-ˈter-ē-ən\

: complete or full : not lacking or leaving out any part of biblical truth as it applies to marriage

: having all of the Bible verses about marriage



Want to join me?

I hope you do! We’ll continue exploring these things as we travel through The Respect Dare this year.

In the mean time, you might enjoy some of these posts as you read up on what we’re doing, and where I’m coming from:

How Grace and Submission Work Together

How Silence is Can Be a Good Thing

What Submissive Wives are Not

And if you parent tweens, teens, or twenty-somethings, you should totally subscribe to 

Parenting little people? leahsigsmall is who you should follow.

Both of these gals are part of our blogging team at Greater Impact.

Can’t wait to hear what you think of our new word – and any other thoughts you have on the subject! Where are you at? Are you in either camp?  How do any of these words play out in your marriage? I’m considering doing a small series on this – if you contribute below, I might contact you for more info and include your story in a guest post! 🙂

Love to you,




titus 2 women leadership

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

9 thoughts on “Is a Label Messing Up Your Marriage?

  1. I think if it was realized that both of the assigned rolls given by God (wives to respect/submit and for husbands to love sacrificially) were servant rolls, this debate could finally be put to bed. The healthiest marriages seem to mostly be the ones where each are focused on their own roll rather than the roll of their spouse.

  2. I love your new “label” wholetarian! I would have to put myself there if anything. I also hate labels! Frustrates me how “experts” can only look at one section of the Word and base an entire belief without looking at the Bible in it’s entirety on the subject. Both sides have good points in moderation, but in the extreme miss the mark In How God truly designed marriage. I love the freedom of Biblical submission. I’ll never forget that sense of freedom when I finally “got it” and understood submission is not being a weak minded doormat to my husband! It was being a partner with him and a friend! Wow! We have biblical designed roles but have freedom to crossover roles as needed. We work together and serve together. But he is the head of our family and there is wonderful freedom in that!

  3. I like what you have going here Nina! (Especially the “whole” construct) The basic premise and works well, worked fairly well, submission, pleasing… looking up to, hoping for, but the part missing here is the world. The outside and how this moves in sometime. How does a husband protect his wife? This is not yet anyway, a in a physical sense because most reading here are on a computer, in a “home” well sheltered and provided for. When evil knocks… how and who is suppose to protect, honor and cherish? Respect plays heavily into this realm, because it is the building blocks of what is to be protected.

    • Oh, Sandra.
      The world is so loud. Yes. And the onslaught is constant. Yes, respect generates honor, often, although sometimes wounding is so deep that nothing, not even respect penetrates. Most “average” folks, however, reap the benefits of love and respect. Worth doing.
      Love to you, so glad you are here!

  4. I believe male and females are complementary; however, I do not believe a hierarchy is necessary to have a godly marriage and do not function within a hierarchy in my marriage. I have read enough to know, the following is a gross mischaracterization.
    “Egalitarian – wives don’t have to submit or respect, and the husband is not accountable, women can and should preach, and a woman or man can lead, be the primary parent, or not. The marriage is focused on friendship, and there’s an equal division of work, depending on gifting, not gender.”

    1. Wives do submit and respect. It’s just not unilateral.
    2. The husband IS accountable to the wife. It’s just not unilateral.
    3. There is no “primary parent”. Mom and Dad both have responsibility for the children. How that looks will depend on each couple’s circumstances.
    4. Friendship is important. I am not sure what you mean of “focused on,” but I assure it is not in an ordinate measure. The emphasis in egalitarianism is equality of personhood.
    5. I don’t know that there is a way to measure “equal division of work.” I have not read that is even on the radar of Christian egalitarians.

    Would you please provide examples of the teaching you have outlined?

    Additionally, there are plenty of egalitarians who talk about head coverings pointing out the disconnect in interpretation and inconsistency in application among complementarians, as you noted in your post.

    • 🙂 Angie! 🙂
      So as I read through this, I thought, “What DID I mean?” 🙂 So the thing I meant to contrast, as you will note by my obviously 7th grade writing style is simply this: that there are differences in perceptions on both sides, and the end place is a perception based on copious amounts of reading on both “sides.” I also mean, “husband is accountable to God,” not the wife, because God holds him accountable first in Genesis. Trad Comps will say that mom should be the primary parent, but the thing they can’t explain is the deference to Dad, which doesn’t fly, and if you have teens, you totally have probably experienced this. 🙂 Regarding the friendship stuff, I’ve read tons of egalitarian writings about marriage and friendship, but not many about submission (wife to husband and why that might matter sometimes) or respect (again, wife to hub style) and here’s the thing – neither of those things even come into play if the husband is a mature Christian man. Because then he’s dying to self, trying to love his wife well, and this is all just a non-issue. 🙂

      For what it is worth, you are also right in that there is mis-characterization, which was a bit intentional, and what I mean by that is there are a ton of negative characterizations on both sides – complementarians often write about things such that women experience oppression and a destruction of a healthy identity (one extremely popular writer even goes so far as to say a wife’s life should be completely about her husband such that she is his “shadow” – and that’s not Biblical, nor is it Biblical to say women shouldn’t blog, or write, or even lead in business, but leading complementarian theologians actually teach this. I’ve also seen many egalitarians often write about things such that the Word itself is something to be questioned – given that many egalitarians support gay marriage and say that it is Biblical, this causes the complementarians to reject everything an egalitarian might have to say, which is also not a good idea, because the friendship passages and mutual submission passages apply in marriage. 🙂

      I think there are positives and negatives to both sides, because there are extremists on both sides – and it is tough to fetter out where the Bible ends and extremism starts. Both claim women and men to be equal in the eyes of God, but how that plays out is different, depending on what “side” you’re on. Obviously I’m not claiming either. 🙂

      I don’t have specific articles, just tons of time reading a lot of them on both sides – so know that I agree with what you said about complementary, although I would add that God holds the husband accountable as “head” because of that word meaning “leader of tribe” multiple times in the Bible and because of Gen 3. 🙂

      AND, for what it is worth, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve “had to” (chosen to do the thing he wanted to do instead of what I thought was best) go along with what my own husband has wanted against my own wishes, after expressing myself a few times in a respectful way – and sometimes God’s shown him he was wrong, and sometimes, God’s shown me I’ve been wrong (one of those stories is in The Respect Dare – about Scout camp, actually… 🙂 )

      Here’s my thing: I need to trust the Word. So I have consulted translators, scholars, and PhD’d theologians to understand how they take the Word. Without exception that I’ve seen (not saying one doesn’t exist, but not that I’ve seen) the Word is to be taken as such: The OT is about God’s Character, the NT is about the new covenant. And Jesus set the world upside down. On everything. 🙂 The gospels are different from the letters to the churches – so I need to take the letters to the churches in a context in which they were written, not as the historical accounts the gospels (Matthew Mark Luke John) were meant to communicate. So that’s what I do, until I’m told differently by people smarter than I am in this area, or by God Himself. I don’t mean to speak for anyone other than myself. 🙂 And I encourage you to do what He wants YOU to do over anything I ever suggest.

      And in lieu of one of the more recent questions I’ve had also, NO, I am not adding to the Word. 🙂

      Glad you are here, baby!

      And thanks for the clarifying questions – I’ve seriously never had a blog post that’s been edited more than this one! Literally had someone accuse me of ignoring several scriptures, so I added those in, too. 🙂

      I hate labels.

      But you knew that already.

      Love to you,

  5. I think the link to what Dr. Crabb says about submission is not working. I got a 404 error message when I clicked on it.

    As to the head covering my husband and I think of it metaphorically. A wife covers her head (husband as head), cover him when praying so your connection to Christ is direct and not through your husband.

    He prays with his head uncovered, (Christ as head), nothing between him and his head. He has a direct connection to Christ.

    It’s a little hard to put the concept into words, but maybe you get the idea. I’m not sure exactly how biblical that concept is, but it makes sense to us.

    • Thanks for letting me know about the link, Trixie – I think it is fixed now! 🙂

      Interesting thoughts on the head covering stuff! 🙂 I REALLY hadn’t ever thought about them like that. Maybe I will research the topic one of these days! 🙂 Thanks so much! 🙂

      Love to you, gorgeous!!

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