Thoughts on gender hierarchy and roles.

I watched a John Piper video once that so inspired me to throw a hanger across my bedroom.

Oh how it made me angry, his promotion of gender hierarchy, of perpetuating marriage protocol based on rigid gender roles. Of one gender better, stronger, smarter than another. Piper, who was Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis for more than 30 years, is a proponent of hierarchical marriage (he calls it “complementarian”), a source of stress and indigestion for egalitarians.

In marriage, according to the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (the CBMW, of which Piper is a member), “wives should forsake resistance to their husbands’ authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husbands’ leadership.” “Adam’s headship in marriage,” according to the CBMW, “was established by God before the Fall, and was not a result of sin.”

And then there are gender roles.

“Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order,” says the CBMW, “and should find an echo in every human heart.”

These are thoughts about that:

  • “God did not command men to dominate women. He predicted it as the sad consequence of original sin.” -Sr. Helena Burns

  • In “Barne’s Notes on the Bible,” Barnes says women are “more subject to infirmities and weaknesses; less capable of enduring fatigue and toil; less adapted to the rough and stormy scenes of life” and “the God of nature has made her with a more delicate frame, a more fragile structure, and with a body subject to many infirmities to which the more hardy frame of a man is a stranger.” (Cue stress and indigestion.) But is a woman’s being less capable of enduring fatigue and toil and less adapted to the rough and stormy scenes of life innate, or is it learned? Most adults coddle female toddlers who trip and fall, and tell male toddlers to shake it off. Is that because girls innately can’t take it and boys can, or because girls are set up not to take it and boys aren’t? Is it because men have more “muscles” than women, or because husbands – under whose authority women exist in hierarchical marriage – let their wives lose the ability to use certain “muscles” because they don’t permit their wives to use them?
  • In a YouTube video about how women are to submit to husbands who are abusive, Piper says it’s ok for a wife to say no to her husband. But before she can say no, he says, she has to say this: “Honey, I want so much to follow you as my leader. God calls me to do that, and I would love to do that. It would be sweet to me if I could enjoy your leadership.” It is, then, the very men who assert females are weak and males are strong who can’t take “no” from a woman unless she strokes his ego first.
  • Indeed it stings when somebody says “no” or “I disagree with you.” But it is not proof a man isn’t masculine. It is proof he is human. That a wife never just says no to her husband when no is appropriate doesn’t say he is manly. All it says is he can’t take no. Not saying no (or refusing to take it) enables a person to avoid conflict, and pain and emotion, and as a result, to avoid growing (as a human, and as a spouse).
  • I am not hostile to submission. I am hostile to complicity in the maintenance of fragile egos, to the forfeiture of authenticity, and to abuse.
  • A wife has to trust that the decisions her husband makes will not violate respect for her, for life, for love, for God, in no particular order. In that light, “submission” is not a burden. It’s relief of a burden. A woman can make decisions, but in marriage, she ought to be free because of trust to share the load with her husband, to let him handle some of the stuff so she can handle the other stuff.
  • Teamwork, not dominance.
  • It is inefficient, in my opinion, for a married couple to have a completely inflexible set of gender roles. Do what you’re good at doing, and what you like doing. (Dear future husband: Please like to cook.)
  • Love trumps protocol. Every time. And if it doesn’t, it isn’t love.
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Click here to read the rest of the CBMW’s core beliefs.
Click here to watch John Piper’s video on submitting to abusive husbands. (Trigger warning.)

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

  • Oh don’t even get me started with this stuff. It makes me so angry and sad. What you are expressing here is one reason I am a feminist, as well as why I view this as an issue of justice not just “preferential” theology.

  • “Husbands, love your wives AS CHRIST LOVES THE CHURCH and gave up his life for her…love your wives AS YOU LOVE YOUR OWN BODIES.” Ephesians 5:25, 28 (Why, oh why, does this always get left out? It comes, like, RIGHT AFTER “wives, obey your husbands.”) I had an awesome male Catholic prof at a super-orthodox Catholic college say: “Hey, technically, if the guy isn’t acting like Christ toward her, she doesn’t have to ‘obey’ him.” It’s not a one way street.

    • Why DOES that part always get left out? So does verse 21 (submit to one another)!

  • Aw now I have a bad dose of indigestion! Who comes up with this stuff? There is a Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood!? Man that beggars belief. They’re trying to over interpret the Bible I think.

    Your final statement is 100% correct “Love trumps protocol everytime.” And Sr. Helena Burns comment above is awesome.

  • Well said! Perhaps you’d like to join the conversation at Equality Central Forum:

  • I recently wrote a blog post on this subject titled “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord,” what does the Bible mean? If you’re interested here’s the link:

    Take good care and thanks for sharing your thoughts,


    Yes, a million times yes. Too many Christians prefer to ignore the difficult fact that the Bible is often contradictory, due to its multi-authored nature. We all love to accuse each other of cherry-picking our favorite parts, but the truth is, unless you employ doublethink, you have to accept some parts of the Bible and either reject or interpret differently other parts. For me, I rely on verses that promote love, grace, equality, and justice.

    I’ve recently written my thoughts as a Christian feminist, if you’d be interested.