Marriage and Jesus' View of Power

After a pause yesterday for Ash Wednesday, I want to circle back to my post on Tuesday about marriage and spiritual formation.

Now, the critique you often hear in relation to egalitarianism has to do with who decides in a marriage when the husband and wife disagree. I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone say, "Well, mutual submission is all well and good, but if the husband and wife disagree who is going to make the final decision?"

There are numerous responses that have been made to this someone-has-to-break-the-tie argument for patriarchal gender roles in marriage. The response I want to make goes back to the observations I made on Tuesday.

Specifically, the "Who breaks the tie?" line of argument--and I heard this argument at church just this week--reveals a poisoned, anti-Christian imagination when it comes to power and leadership.

Power, as the world understands it, resides with the person who has the "final say" in any decision. The person who "leads" is the one who has the final word, the one who makes the final decision.

But that's not power as Jesus understands power. Power, for Jesus, is found in the one washing feet, in the one who serves. That's power as Christians understand it. Power is found in the love that gives its life away on the cross.

So let's go back to the stalemated couple. Husband and wife are stuck, and a decision has to be made. At that point, the worldly, satanic question is to ask, "Who is going to break the tie and have the final word?" Getting to and asking that question reveals just how toxic and contaminated our view of power has become. If you peel the onion back and that's the question you eventually reach--Who will decide?--all you've exposed is the wormy rot at the center of your vision of marriage and power.

The proper, Christian issue about power isn't "Who will decide?" but "Let me serve you." If you peel the onion back and get to, at the core, the man on his knees washing feet, you know you're starting to think and act like a proper Christian leader.

[Clarification: The vision here is about mutual submission. If only one person is doing all the submitting that's not the vision in mind here.]

So that's my answer to the martial stalemate scenario. Assume the couple is stuck. Then ask your question about how they should resolve the stalemate. When you peel the onion back, what question do you find at the core?

Because if the question you ask is "Who will decide?" I'd suggest you pay more attention to the man washing your feet.

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