26 Nov 2011

The Author

Renee Ronika received a bachelor's degree in English from Biola University and an MFA in creative writing from Southampton College. She is an English professor, writer, blogger, and the founding editor of The Anthem Exposition, an online writing community for women to share their stories of having overcome any of life’s adversities. Renee, her composer husband, and their two young daughters recently uprooted life in Colorado to live by faith in Phoenix, Arizona.

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Gender Roles As God Intended
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Before I was married, my hairdresser—a divorced man—told me about a woman in her sixties who explained to him the meaning of marriage, the breakdown of gender roles, and the secret to staying together. She could see beyond her husband’s analytical nature. She was perspicacious. It thus became her job to let her husband in on the nuances of others—ticks, sidelong glances, subtleties. Once her husband had been informed of her observations and ensuing opinions, she trusted his judgment. Her husband, a prominent entrepreneur, used her insights to make the best decisions for business, for family, for himself. After forty years of marriage, by operating out of their inherent strengths, they had created a peaceful and thriving life together, as one.

I usually can see a thing before it happens. I believe I was born this way, but I also know that in reconciling with my creator as a Christian, I’ve learned how to harness these gifts for the greater good.

Nearly five years ago, just after my husband Greg and I got married, I was overcome by sadness whenever he reacted a certain way to others. I knew that if this behavior did not change, it would inhibit Greg as a Christian, husband, father, and leader. I believed this revelation was from God, so I told Greg what I perceived. He stared at me blankly. He had no idea what I meant. Without pushing the issue further, I went to bed that night reminding the Lord that He was the one who had prompted me to broach this subject.

The following morning, Greg nudged me awake. He said, “I had a dream last night. The Lord showed me what you were talking about.”

Greg has not exhibited that behavior since.

One of Greg’s fortes is deciphering and explaining emotions in those with whom he is close. His insights have helped me heal from past abuse. I’ve become a more honest, confident and forthright person because of Greg’s influence.

Since we trust each other in these abilities, Greg as the “spiritual leader” of our family is not burdened down by religious expectation to be perfect in single handedly making decisions for our family. Instead, he has the responsibility of seeking God’s wisdom with me. Our relationship becomes a conduit for God’s voice.

Marriages cannot function properly without both spouses operating in their innate strengths—spiritual or otherwise.

It is an absolute necessity for women to speak up in their marriages, not only to enrich their relationships but also to benefit their church communities. The church cannot unite as God intended—and as Christ prayed for in the garden—without women rising up to reclaim their roles. If American Christian culture has found that its marriages and churches are broken or struggling, it may serve both institutions well to reevaluate and reform their philosophy of gender roles.

Just as the church cannot operate effectively without Christ’s initiation, the Holy Spirit cannot carry out God’s perfect will without the church’s participation. The symbiotic relationship between God and His people should be mirrored by husbands and wives.

Regrettably, churches bent toward legalism often teach that God is angry with His people (never mind the sinners), and to merit entrance into Heaven, Christians must restrict pleasures, separate from mainstream society, and be silent before God’s throne. This is not God’s will. God through Christ invites interaction; He establishes love as the cornerstone of behavior; He speaks to His people through the written word, His Holy Spirit, and revelation. He asks, in return, for them to make their requests known to Him.

God created marriage as an earthly reflection of a spiritual dynamic.

However, too many Christian marriages—and churches—have defaulted to Paul’s presumed biblical admonitions to silence women. Instead of looking at the context of Paul’s culture, in which women notoriously overused the gift of speech, we should consider the entirety of the Bible to develop a realistic view of women.

For example, just before Pontius Pilate delivered Jesus to be crucified, his wife had warned him from her dream not to punish Jesus. Had Pilate regarded his wife’s counsel, not only would the Apostle’s Creed have read differently, but Pilate’s fate would have been one of grace, not shame.

With a contrasting outcome in Exodus, the Lord spared Moses’ life because Zipporah interceded to circumcise their sons. She intuited what Moses had not.

Fulfilling Deborah’s prophecy, Jael overrode her husband’s peace agreement, discerning her greater calling, and won Israel’s victory, satisfying God’s will for the Israelites.

During the week of Jesus’ death, a woman poured oil from an alabaster jar over Jesus’ head. Jesus reminded the men who had derided her actions that she was anointing Him for burial. This woman knew of Jesus what His disciples had not perceived—even though Jesus had already alerted them of His impending death.

Despite these biblical proofs, for too long in church history, women have been relegated to the back of the sanctuary—for food preparation, decorating, childcare. Although many women are gifted, even called, to serve churches in such ways impressively, many others can hear the voice of God, perceive His heart’s desire, and express these revelations boldly to the church.

The prophetesses of the Most High God are fulfilling the scripture from Joel 2:28: “Your sons and daughters shall prophesy.” During Pentecost, when the church was united, Peter justified the speaking in tongues and prophesying with this Scripture.

The daughters are here and ready. They just need invitations to speak.

When women take their abilities home, families are restored and strengthened. Husbands no longer seize under the pressure of unreasonable expectations, and wives are not bound under an unjust restraining order. A new generation of children will grow up witnessing their parents in full-effect—at home, in the workplace, at church.

Redefining gender roles in the Christian community may not be as difficult as it would seem. It will be like entering into a world where people are as they were meant to be.

41 Comments
41 Comments
  1. Well spoken. When we lean on God’s truth, it is strengthening to body and soul. Thanks for penning these words for us.

  2. Carefully and thoughtfully written. I really like this: “It is an absolute necessity for women to speak up in their marriages, not only to enrich their relationships but also to benefit their church communities. “

  3. “When women take their abilities home, families are restored and strengthened. Husbands no longer seize under the pressure of unreasonable expectations, and wives are not bound under an unjust restraining order”- I see truth in this statement. Why do you think such distortions of gender roles in marriage and the church exist, even among those whom wish to live outside such distortion?

    • Anna,

      I believe these distortions are the work of the Enemy (Satan) who understands that if men and women operated effectively and harmoniously, churches and marriages would flourish. What better way is there to oppress people than to convince them that they aren’t who they were created to be? We can take all this back in the power of Jesus. This is my dream: to bring Heaven to earth.

      Thank you for your heartfelt response.

  4. “as they were meant to be.” Across the board, don’t you think God is calling us all into our true identities? It is amazing to watch friends from all over the world being led on this journey. Great article, Renee. Perhaps also it is interesting to also consider how women “battle” the silencing under great opposition, oppression from below…your next article?

    • Mrs. Bosman,

      You and Anna have inspired my next article. Thank you. I do believe God is doing a universal work by calling His people back to Himself and into their true identities. A true move of the Holy Spirit typically does spread, yes? I encourage you to keep seeking Him on who He wants you to be completely in Him. Be well and much love.

  5. Powerful and freeing! Amen. Thank you for adding a very balanced and needed perspective on this topic. There are certain articles that all churches need to read… :)

    • Andrea, I’m thankful you found this freeing. That was my purpose for women in writing it. Please share this with anyone you feel would benefit!

  6. Great piece, Renee! I feel like I see a lot of people fighting gender roles. Don’t quite understand why.

    • Thanks, Kerry! I think people fight gender roles because for thousands of years those in power dictated gender/racial/younameit divisions to remain in power. This is especially true in the church. Why give people the tools to overcome when doing so would risk said power-heads to resign power? It’s evil at its most deceptive. If you read the book of Esther in the Old Testament, the King dismissed his first wife Vashti (before Esther) because his cabinet reasoned that if other women discovered that Vashti didn’t get into trouble after not listening to her husband, then ALL women in the land would reason the same, and a giant (!) rebellion (!) would ensue. The trend stuck, and here we are, thousands of years later, with not much change.

  7. This is very well-written and insightful, Renee. I think it strikes me apart from its commentary on Christianity. ALL marriages should operate with this kind of mutual respect, sharing & listening and benefitting from each others’ strengths. Thank you for the reminder :)

  8. Beautifully spoken! We need to tell the stories in scripture of strong women, which really stood out to me here. They are stories I do not hear in church. Thank you for writing this piece.

    • Melody: I’m thankful the stories here resonated, as they ought to. They’re powerful testimonies of what God considers to be true womanhood (why else would they have made it into the holiest of books?). My question to you would be why you think churches don’t highlight these stories more. It’s a worthy conversation.

  9. While I am more than happy to help out with childcare, food and decorating these are not my primary gifts. On some level I always knew that I had more to offer but I doubted the “rightness” of my giftings after too long in a church that told me I was way out of the bounds of what a woman should be. I am free from this now but it is heartbraking to see it happening to women all around me. Thanks for speaking out.

    • Karma, I truly believe suppressing women’s voices is a form of demonic stifling that prevents families and churches from flourishing. You write: “I am free from this now.” I am so glad for this. You have overcome, and I encourage you to speak up as your convictions dictate. Much love to you.

  10. “It will be like entering into a world where people are as they were meant to be.” –GREAT finishing touch, and I think this is your strongest point, by far. This is the epitome of equality, whether we’re speaking racially, ethnically, or gender. Great essay, Renee, and congrats on your publication!

  11. Renee, I so appreciate the varied biblical examples of women’s intercession. I think that too often we fixate on one small passage in the Bible to reinforce our own preferences; a broader and more thoughtful perspective like this is so important in hearing what God really has to say about his marvelous plans for us. Thank you.

    • Tamara, I too believe that providing a broad range of examples allows for people to recognize the importance of the issue. When we base a theology on one verse/idea, that’s when distortions arise (see: Paul’s warning women in ONE verse not to speak up in church.). I appreciate your vote of confidence and your insightful use of the word “intercession.” How fitting.

  12. This is well-written and thoughtful. Some great insights!

    I’m not sure about this, though:

    “God created marriage as an earthly reflection of a spiritual dynamic.”

    Actually, God created marriage because it wasn’t “good for the man to be alone.” We may see spiritual truths reflected in the marriage relationship, but I think saying that’s the purpose is stretching literalism a little too far.

    “…Paul’s culture, in which women notoriously overused the gift of speech…”

    I don’t know why people assume this to be true. It seems from Scripture that *both* men and women were notorious for misusing their mouths, in much the same ways. Men aren’t paragons of gossip-free virtue, and they weren’t back then, either. Unless there are historical texts (of the non-misogynist variety) to back up that claim, it’s faulty.

    On the other hand, I loved your use of Pilate’s wife. She’s definitely someone I wish we knew more about.

    • Amy: I believe part of “good for the man not to be alone” includes an aspect of relationship that originates out of God’s best intentions for us. Relationships, romantic or not, can serve as reflections of God’s character. Ephesians 5:22-32 offers Paul’s parallel between Christ and the church and marriage.

      There is a rich understanding in most Jewish history (and plenty of modern day examples) that highlights an outspokenness by women. Also, for the Corinthian church, it is historical that Corinthian women did have a dominant role in society, and many were advocates of pagan worship. In any case, I applied it here as an accepted understanding of culture, but I will search out scholarly articles. Your point is well-taken.

      I, too, would love to know more about Pilate’s wife. She seemed insightful and bold–just the type of woman I’d have as a friend.

      Thanks for your response.

    • I know I’m late, but I wanted to remark that ‘it is not good for man to be alone’ is not gendered in non-english languages, and the words ‘man’ being used for ‘human’ in english does lead to confusion here . In my dutch bible it would say ‘it is not good for the human to be alone’. Only after the woman arrives the gendered word man is used in the story..

  13. Your writing has encouraged my heart. I can’t say that I have integrated what you’ve written, but my heart cries for this truth to be a reality in my life – my marriage – my church! May God continue to raise us up to be as he intended, before the fall in Eden.

    • Ruth, I’m so glad this encouraged you; that was my hope in writing it. I’ll pray the Lord will give you boldness and wisdom in rising up in your marriage, your church, to fulfill your destiny.

  14. Beautiful article. I love how the Lord moves His people. I loved your last statement and I also wonder about it. Do you think it is important to redefine gender roles? A role is a part that is played. In my own life and thinking I’m coming to the understanding that if we live organically, being transformed by the renewing of our minds and walking in the spirit, we will do or be whatever it is the Lord wills. I just worry that if we redefine a role, we will effectively just re-shape the fence that is already around us. Maybe we can do away with roles and just be what God calls each of us to be. I don’t know…these are just very raw thoughts.

    Marriages cannot function properly without both spouses operating in their innate strengths—spiritual or otherwise. Amen! Keep writing and doing this amazing work.

    • Hillary, I have never looked at “roles” in the way you described. I think your analysis–raw, but incredibly lucid–is brilliant and on-point: “Maybe we can do away with roles and just be what God calls each of us to be.” Come, Lord Jesus, come.

      Thank you for your thoughts and encouragement. Indeed, the Lord is moving globally to cause His daughters to rise up and prophesy.

  15. This is a lovely article, and so true. Consider one question, though: Given that Paul’s words in Eph. 5:21 & following were spoken originally to men who were already in authority in their homes by the law of the land, and given that Paul never once told men to “lead” their wives, but rather to act as Christ did when He laid down His high position in order to raise the church up to be glorious– what if the Holy Spirit, through Paul, were actually leading Christians AWAY from “because he is the man, that makes him the leader” as a paradigm? What if the Holy Spirit were leading those first-century marriages towards a Kingdom mentality that “there is not male and female, for you are all one in Christ” according to Gal 3:28? In that case, if we continue to follow the leading of the Spirit, then both the husband and the wife can be co-spiritual leaders of their homes, leading the family side by side, each in his or her own area of strength– in mutual submission according to Eph. 5:21. I’d urge you and your husband to give this serious consideration– that the Kingdom of God is not about someone always getting to be the leader just because he’s male. My husband and I are trying it, and it works!

    • Kristen, you write: “if we continue to follow the leading of the Spirit, then both the husband and the wife can be co-spiritual leaders of their homes, leading the family side by side, each in his or her own area of strength– in mutual submission according to Eph. 5:21.”

      This idea is the thesis of my essay. My husband and I are doing this, and it’s working.

      I’m not sure how the miscommunication occurred, but I appreciate your contribution of the Ephesians passage and the idea of Christ initiating/ordaining a new paradigm. Yes, yes, yes, indeed.

      • Renee, I’m so glad to hear it! I think the place where the miscommunication happened was where you said this:

        “Since we trust each other in these abilities, Greg as the ‘spiritual leader’ of our family is not burdened down by religious expectation to be perfect in single handedly making decisions for our family.”

        I saw that you put “spiritual leader” in quotes, but it still looked to me like you were saying Greg was THE spiritual leader of your family– so I thought you were saying that you were giving yourself more latitude to give him input, but the buck still stopped with him. I’m glad that you consider yourselves to both be the family’s spiritual leaders.

  16. I love your last line and hope with you that one day this will no longer be an issue that divides us as the body of Christ. Thank you for having the courage to speak out.

  17. Well, I know that I am very late in commenting on this, but I see a distinct lack of men commenting and I would like to add my own 2 cents here.

    I love this article because it states very well what I have tried to inculcate in my own marriage (and to a lesser extent the larger culture). It is very difficult, and very rewarding. However, I think the gender roles still have a part to play in marriages and in the church. My wife and I by and large operate in this manner, although there are of course times when one or the other (or both) of us fail to live up to this ideal. However, I have found the defined gender roles to be useful. In the home, there has been exactly one time in the last 10 years when I believed that I knew what God wanted for us in a situation and my wife was “uncertain.” Because of her uncertainty, I went back and prayed for an additional 3 months, and I came only under a greater conviction, a greater certainty. I shared this with her and (I believe appropriately), she said, I still don’t know. In further discussion, I said, this is one I’m going to put my foot down on, and I started forward, still praying that God would make things clearer. In the end, God was gracious to remove the problem, so that it ended up not being only my decision. I still give thanks for that.

    This is where I think there is the benefit – In the case of indecision/lack of agreement, there still needs to be a decision made (in some cases). That’s why government by consensus fails. We aren’t always going to be on the same page, and when we aren’t, how do we move forward? I have always viewed this as the reason for the “man is the head of the household.” When things need to move forward and because of the fallen state of mankind, we still have that capacity. As a man, this terifies me, and I struggle to minimize or eliminate the times when this has to be applied. I haven’t been able to completely eliminate it, but clearly minimizing has been somewhat effective.

    In the Church, the same situation applies, although I do not believe that it is a gender role. Regardless of who the leader is in the church, they should have the same fear, and the same responsibility. Women in the pulpit are not fundamentally different from men in the pulpit. Where I get completely stuck is understanding how the marital roles would play out if the husband were in the church his wife was the pastor of, but fundamentally disagreed (after the serious consideration and prayer that should occur) with her on some question that directly affected both the church and his family.

    Anyway, I thought I’d chime in and provide a male voice in fundamental agreement.

    • I’ll reply here to both Austin’s comment and Kristen’s response.

      Austin, thank you for providing a male’s perspective here. It’s most appreciated, especially since you take such loving care to maintain equality in, what would seem, all your relationships.

      In large part, I absolutely agree with Kristen’s points about how you handled you and your wife’s predicament, and what a husband should do if he disagrees with his pastor wife.

      I’ll add that I place a very firm emphasis on the unity brought forth by the Holy Spirit. This is key for marriage and churches. If people operate and abide by this power, I’ve found that there is very little disunity when it comes to spiritual (or practical) matters.

      God desires unity; it’s what Jesus prayed for in the Garden (“…that they would be one.”).

  18. Austin, I don’t see that the Bible gives a husband a “trump card” to get his own way– though I appreciate that, since you believe it does give you one, you exercise it with “fear.” That said, in the situation you describe, I think my husband and I would have handled it just as you did– except that we wouldn’t have said it was because he was the male; rather that it was because he was the one who believed he had a clear leading from the Holy Spirit. Conversely, if I had been the one with a clear leading from the Holy Spirit, and my husband was uncertain, he would have gone along with me, trusting my relationship with God as I trust his. We believe that is what “submit to one another” in Eph. 5:21 is all about.

    If we had a situation (which has never arisen) where I felt strongly led in one direction and he felt strongly led in the opposite (not just uncertain), then we would pray some more and not act until we were sure why we felt so differently and what could be done about it. We simply don’t believe one spouse has a God-given right to override the other, however carefully and fearfully. However, when a couple does believe the husband has that right, it’s wonderful when he is as careful as you are. When he is not, the wife is up a creek without a paddle. Many wives find themselves in this situation when a husband is not mature enough to handle the power the church tells the wife she is required by God to give him.

    I think the Holy Spirit, through Paul, was leading first-century Christian marriages in the direction of empowering wives who had been little more than slaves, to be raised up to be beside their husbands. We misunderstand that now because our marriages start out looking very different. We have to be careful not to go backwards towards that first-century norm, thinking that that culture is endorsed by God simply because it’s the culture first-century Christians had to live with.

    With regards to church leadership, the New Testament shows that a plurality of leaders was the norm in the early church, so I don’t think it’s a good idea to have one sole person, man or woman, leading the congregation. In short, I think leadership by consensus is not only not inherently a failure, but is anticipated and expected (under the leadership of the Holy Spirit) by the NT, and there’s no reason why one person should be able to impose his or her will over the whole congregation.

    However, if a church decision were going to be made that affected one church leader’s family, and not any other family in the church, I think it becomes a family matter and not a church matter and is for the affected family to decide. If it affects all families in the church, then the church leaders should take that into consideration but not allow one family more say than another in the congregation just because they’re the family of a church leader.

  19. A refreshingly irenic article and good comments.

    But I think it needs to be emphasized that the whole focus on “roles” is misplaced in the Body of Christ. The various parts are all of one substance, one Body, and while the parts are many and varied, none of them reports to another but only to the one Head. The eye does not need permission from the hand, and the nose cannot be the decision-maker for the foot. Being gift-focused rather than flesh- or role-focused is how this Body was designed. This cooperative model is starkly contrasted with the world’s chain of command.

    But putting the focus on roles tends to create something I call “benevolent lording over”; people redefine “lording over” into “serving” as long as it’s benevolent. But the question should not be *how* one person holds the trump card, but *whether* they hold it. It also elevates the flesh to the position of greatest importance, since only the flesh and nothing else is what determines who holds that trump card.

    In addition, even if this is all done very nicely and amicably, one is hard-pressed to explain how it differs in practice from egalitarian relationships. How does “designated tie-breaker/spiritual leader” taking his wife’s advice look or function differently from just letting the most gifted or convicted person lead depending on the situation? It seems to me that we put a cardboard crown on the head of the man and call it his spiritual leadership role when in reality the wife is actually leading at the moment. It’s like the mystical “covering” many believe a pastor holds over a congregation; somehow, magically, if a pastor declares that a woman is under his “covering”, she may be allowed to stand behind the sacred pulpit and actually teach, preach, or prophesy.

    I think all of this effort to retain the language of exclusive male leadership while practicing shared leadership is sincere but not quite honest, for lack of a better term. It could be described as “double-minded”, not by intent but by default. We know deep inside that to be truly equal we cannot use the flesh as a criterion for leadership, yet we often find it difficult to break with deep-seated traditional roles or perhaps misunderstand the Biblical teaching on the matter, so we try to fit these two conflicting principles together like jigsaw puzzle pieces that don’t quite match.

    Personally, I see the scriptures teaching absolute functional and ontological equality, so I have no conflict to wrestle with. My husband of over 20 years and I have truly complemented each other, deferring when the other is best qualified and leading when the other needs us to. I stayed home to raise our kids because I wanted to and my husband’s job could support us. Yet I am the lifelong Bible student and better qualified to lead in spiritual matters. He is no less of a man or a Christian for submitting to my spiritual leadership, and I am no less of a woman or a Christian for submitting to his provision of our physical needs.

  20. I was reading another article when I saw this one. Not a coincidence at all. I gad a drwam last night. Prayed about it and received confirmation through your article. Thank you.

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