Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Taking a look at "headship" in marriage, Part I

I was recently asked to share some reflections on the question of "headship" in marriage.  It's a complicated and controversial question, and one that often leaves us grappling for a sense of how it should be practically lived out.  My response was long, and so I will share it here in stages ...
To think about what “headship” means in marriage, we have to work out a few presuppositions: 

1) What does it mean to receive? Does receiving make someone inferior?

2) Is headship about power?

3) Does a man being the head of the household mean the woman’s role is irrelevant, inferior or unimportant?
After we look at these issues, we can ask what the nature of headship is in marriage. 
I. What does it mean to receive? Does receiving make someone inferior? 
Hopefully we can all agree that love involves both giving and receiving. And both people have to give and receive. But there is also an “order” to love. If two people are dancing and both are trying to lead, then it’s not going to go so well. It will be a bit messy. So, there is a kind of “priority” to one person giving/leading/pursuing and one person receiving/being pursued. Now for ages and ages, philosophers and other people assumed that receiving made someone “less” or inferior. And that’s why for years people thought that women were the “second sex” and were inferior, because they received, so they didn’t have the same “power” and were therefore not as good as men. 

Eventually St. Thomas Aquinas noticed something about God. God is a Communion of Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and God is love. If love is giving and receiving, then that means that in some sense there is both giving and receiving in God. God is perfect. So, if there is “receiving” in God, then it can’t be bad or inferior. 
If we look at Christ, and specifically if we look at Philippians 2, we see that He “received” Himself from the Father, but He is not “less” than the Father. He is “equally” God. And over time, philosophers and theologians were able to see that if Jesus Christ, who is fully God, could receive Himself from the Father and not be any less than the Father, then receptivity does not make someone less. 
So, if we get back to the man/woman thing, we see that a woman receiving/being pursued doesn’t make her inferior. But there has to be an “order” to love, and both giving and receiving. Now, women also give; they don’t just receive. But the way that they receive is also a form of giving. For example, if a man opens a door for a woman, and the woman receives his gift, then she is also giving to the man, by allowing him to give, affirming his masculinity, etc. I think this is a lost art. We tend to want to outgive and never receive, because we are so afraid that if we receive something we are “less,” or it makes us vulnerable or we feel like we “owe” something. 

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