I used to be a complementarian.
I believed that a wife was called to submit to her husband. I believed it enough that when I got married and wrote my own vows, I included “obey” in them.
Granted, this was a lot more about the words than any kind of actual submitting. I’m not sure we ever really sorted out what “biblical headship” or “biblical submission” looked like. Mostly we just treated each other with love and respect and if we ran into an area where we disagreed, we’d figure out who felt more strongly about it and let that be our guide. But the label we would have used would have definitely been complementarian.
But there was always one place where mutuality reigned, and that was the bedroom.
When we read 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, everything in that passage screamed mutual submission. We weren’t in charge of our own bodies, but we were to give them willingly, mutually to one another.
Sex. An act where we were told over and over that women are supposed to be givers and men are supposed to be takers, this was where mutuality was supposed to occur. An act where we are at our most vulnerable and exposed, we were to treat one another as equals.
Eventually the questions overwhelmed me. Why would God make me equal to my husband when we were getting it on, but not when we were getting a new car? Why would we submit to one another when we were making a baby, but not when we were making parenting decisions? Why would we be partners in the bedroom, but leader and submissive in the living room (well, unless the kids weren’t around and you know…)?
However, mutuality in the bedroom certainly worked. It meant that we both had power, but that we also both had an obligation to use that power responsibly. It meant that we were both entitled to pleasure, but that we had to be generous with pleasure. It meant that we belonged to one another. We didn’t have to rely on tired stereotypes of how sex was supposed to work with one person as the initiator and the other simply going along for the ride, instead we were free to enjoy it freely, without either of us being forced into constricting roles.
Surely if it could work for something as complicated as sex, it could work in the other areas of our marriage.
We found that stripping off the complementarian label was as easy as stripping off our clothes. Because the truth is, we didn’t have to take our clothes off to celebrate equality in marriage.
Though, damn if that isn’t still my favorite way.
This post is a part of Rachel Held Evans’s Week of Mutuality: One in Christ. Be sure to follow the #mutuality2012 hashtag on Twitter for more participants in this synchroblog.