A second set of reflections by Marilyn Johnson, a complementarian, on a hot-off-the-press volume entitled Marriage at the Crossroads.
Here, I’ll focus on the soft-complementarian model. The Tracys (p. 66) state that the “essence of male headship involves initiation, protection/provision and honoring/empowering in the unbroken context of oneness and love.”
This definition highlights the three aspects of the soft-complementarian model that are often overlooked by egalitarian critics. First, the overarching theme is that the husband is to act out of love for his wife and with an awareness of the organic unity implied by the head/body metaphor. Second, in contrast to older complementarian models that emphasize a husband’s authority over his wife, the emphasis in the soft complementarian model is on the husband’s exercise of authority on behalf of his wife. His authority reflects the fact that God has given him a tremendous responsibility - to protect his wife and to provide for her.
She is to submit to him, because if she refuses to “yield to her husband in love, then his ability to care for and protect her can be significantly compromised.” Finally, a husband is to honor his wife and to empower her. Just as God calls him to Kingdom service, God also calls her.
Although a wife is to submit to her husband in love, the Tracys point out that her submission is not without qualification. Here, the couple cites an earlier academic paper by Steve, which argues that a wife should not yield to her husband in “circumstances in which submission would violate a biblical principle (not just a direct biblical command), compromise her relationship with Christ, violate her conscience, compromise the care and protection of the children, enable her husband’s sin, and entail submitting to any type of abuse.”
I’m taken with the Tracys' presentation of the soft-complementarian model and any differences I mention below are primarily a matter of emphasis. I want to begin by saying that I applaud theTracys for their explicit qualifications to submission! Let me repeat that – I applaud the Tracys for their explicit qualifications to submission! I also applaud the Tracys for emphasizing the importance of husbands’ empowering/honoring of their wives. Had the Tracys left off at encouraging husbands to empower their wives, I would have reservations. But the empower/honor pairing does a good job of capturing the nuances of the soft complementarian perspective.
Like the Tracys, my husband and I are a two-career, professional couple. My husband empowers me to serve outside the home. Many wives, however, feel that their primary call is to serve in the home. “Empowerment” language can leave these women feeling inadequate. Here, the corrective is the Tracys’ dual emphasis on empower/honor. Husbands are to esteem honor their wives for the difference their wives make in the relational realm. Here, I would have preferred a more explicit discussion of the many paths that women feel called to take.
I believe that I differ from the Tracys in that I’m comfortable with explicit use of the word “hierarchy” to describe my marriage. My understanding of submission is that hupatasso is a military term with a hierarchical implication. I am to voluntarily place myself under my husband’s protection. I agree with the Tracys’ emphasis on “authority of love” and “authority on behalf of.” I also agree that a husband is never to compel his wife’s submission. Nonetheless, from the perspective of the wife, “authority on behalf of” implies acceptance of “authority over,” a distinction that becomes clear in the event of a stalemate.
Finally, although a minor point, I would have liked to have seen a stronger emphasis on the relevance of provision/protection in the contemporary context. With respect to provision, even in a dual-career marriage, men and women tend to view work very differently. As Emerson Eggerichs points out, husbands feel a burden to provide, whereas wives are more apt to see career as a choice.
With respect to protection, we often acknowledge that it is rare for husbands to be called upon to physically protect their wives, thereby forgetting that a woman’s safety is daily dependent on the existence of a Judeo-Christian ethic that emphasizes the protection of women and children. We find it easy to deemphasize the importance of protection and provision in industrialized Western societies. But, when either is lacking, a wife’s anguished cry is a testimony to the fact that the world is “not the way it’s supposed to be.”
Emerson Eggerichs, Love &
Respect: The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs
(Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004); Aída Besançon Spencer,
William David Spencer, Steve Tracy, and Celestia Tracy,
Marriage at the Crossroads: Couples in Conversation About Discipleship,
Gender Roles, Decision Making and Intimacy (Downers Grove: IVP Academic,
Emerson Eggerichs, Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004); Aída Besançon Spencer, William David Spencer, Steve Tracy, and Celestia Tracy, Marriage at the Crossroads: Couples in Conversation About Discipleship, Gender Roles, Decision Making and Intimacy (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2009)