The blog dispute of the week in the Protestant world was waged between the conservative Reformed Protestants from The Gospel Coalition and liberal/emergent Protestant blogger Rachel Held Evans and her followers.
At issue is the division between Protestant complementarians and Protestant egalitarians. The complementarians believe that God made man and woman differently, and this means they have different roles (or that a hierarchy exists between them, whether in marriage or ecclesial settings). The egalitarians believe in “mutuality” where Christ has leveled the differences between males and females (“there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” – Gal. 3:28).
From a Catholic perspective, each side has some things right and some things wrong. My wife has just published a post that explains this here. The Church’s teachings avoid either Protestant extreme. And in my own marriage I have seen the truth of these teachings bear fruit.
My wife is the visionary in our family, the big dreamer. And she has the charism of administration I’m the details guy who dreams small and thinks of all the obstacles. In a very real sense my wife’s gifts are the ones typically found most valuable by the head of the group (whether a family or organization or business). So we have had to figure out how to work together in a way that her God-given talents and gifts find their fulfillment an expression in our family (and beyond).
And sometimes that means she sees something that we should do, a direction our family should go in, before I do. As the heart of our family, she is listening closely to the Heart of Christ. And being the visionary, she wants to go for it promptly.
But I move more slowly. Cautiously, and hopefully prudently. And so a tension arises where we have to pray and talk and work through where we believe God is leading us. That could be with moving our family somewhere, how we are rearing our children, how we are living our faith, etc. Important stuff.
We have learned over the past six years to be patient with each other, to value each other’s gifts. Often we have found that the direction Katie believed we were being led in was indeed where we needed to go. But the timing wasn’t right until we both came on board with it. And occasionally I don’t get the go-ahead from my reason or from God, and I have to tell Katie that I don’t think this is what we should be doing, or at least, not yet.
As a couple, we have endured some difficult and even hellish times. I will not elaborate. But like soldiers who have been through battles together, fighting side-by-side, an unspoken love and respect has grown.
Am I the head of our family? Yes. Katie and I both affirm that without hesitation. Is she the heart? Again, yes. But is there a mutual respect for the other as equal in dignity? Absolutely.
We have both found ourselves through the sincere gift of ourself to the other.
This is the Catholic teaching that we have lived out and found to be completely true. I as the man am the initiator of the gift, and my wife receives the gift and in doing so gives me the gift of herself. A mutual exchange of gifts.
My wife describes it likes this:
Pope John Paul II taught that a man initiates the gift of self and that the woman welcomes the gift and from it, gives life (we are not necessarily speaking of babies here; new life that can be spiritual, as well). The man is called by God to protect the gift, to lay down his life for his bride in imitation of Christ, who offered himself as an oblation for His Bride, the Church.
The woman is not a passive recipient; she is an active welcoming party who nurtures and protects the gift, but even here, our words are limited because, in another sense, the man and woman offer themselves to each other in such a way that their gifts flow in mutual self-donation.
It’s hard to describe all this, because we live it; and we are so close to it. But it’s one reason why reading the angry dust-up in these Protestant blogs seems so insensible to me. Then I remember that they don’t know. They have only part of the truth, not the fullness of it. And the truth they do have is intermingled with inaccuracies and errors ranging from mild to serious. It’s largely not their faults, either. They are working with what they have.
But what Protestants lack is the Church’s living river of Tradition, enlivened and guided in its course by the Holy Spirit, who sails the Barque of Peter through the Scylla and Charybdis threatening to whelm the ship on either side.
This isn’t something that we Catholics have come up with through our cleverness or faithfulness. Rather it is God’s faithfulness to us in His Church that has kept the ship from foundering into errors. That’s why I shake my head when I hear a Protestant claim we Catholics think we are something great. No, we haven’t done it of our own accord, as Christ showed when Peter went from the rock to the stumbling block in short order.
The Catholic Tradition preserves the revealed truth of God: that man has been made male and female, equal in dignity, and that the differences between us are truly beautiful. Through Christ, man and creation itself have been redeemed, and no talk of domination between husbands and wives has any place whatsoever. Christ does not dominate His Bride, the Church, but gives Himself for her. She is His mystical Body, and He is her Head.
I’ve argued with folks from the Gospel Coalition. And I’ve argued with Rachel and her followers. Sometimes I’ve been personally attacked or treated with ridicule by them. But I continue to weigh in at both forums in hopes of helping them see, by God’s grace, that the Catholic Church is true and therefore will free all of them from the slavery of error found in both extremes.
May Christ unite us in the fullness of the truth!
Feel free to add in the beautiful ways you and your spouse discover God’s direction for your family. Constructive comments are welcome as well.