Absurd or Accepted?

Master Bryan is pretty good as far as masters go.

He isn’t very demanding, for instance. Last night when he arrived home an hour after I did, he noticed the leftovers from a previous meal on the counter and (gasp) retrieving a plate, he filled it with a couple of pieces of remaining pizza and some cold brussels sprouts. He then skillfully popped his plate in the microwave and heated his own dinner.

Afterwards, even before taking an extra moment or two to relax and unwind from his busy day, he logged onto the Internet to work on getting a new phone for me up and running. About an hour later, he had yet to move onto anything else and instead continued to spend his short evening ensuring I will have a working phone at some point this week (if all goes well—if not—help, Sophia!).

Master Bryan never expects me to wash his clothes or pick up after him. And even though he is the one who creates numerous spreadsheets to track our household income and expenses, calculating with precision our savings percentage and how much any analyst claims we will need or retirement, he does not make decisions about our finances as if I am an invisible partner in this relationship.

From what I can tell Rachel Held Evans, the author of A Year of Biblical Womanhood also has a master husband who seems pretty reasonable. He apparently didn’t even like the month when Rachel called him “master,” feeling it a little weird given his preference for mutuality and equality. He even was willing to help her in many facets of her year-long project of learning how to be a biblical woman. For example, he drove her to the edge of their small town in Tennessee where she prominently displayed a sign—Dan is Awesome—for all the passersby to see (her attempt to fulfill the biblical injunction to praise husbands at the city gates).

Based upon the anecdotal evidence of Bryan and Dan, it seems safe to assume contrary to Suzanne Venker who recently reported in an article for Fox News that men today are not interested in marrying feminists—by which she meant those who do not act like women should, in her opinion—there are men who value independent women, who are not intimidated by strong women who have opinions, ideas, and dreams, and who are interested in cultivating life-long commitments with liberated women.

Yet, establishing the possibility that men exist who do not and would not warp some kind of presumed biblical injunction to their supposed advantage is not really the issue. There probably are a good number of men living in what some call complementarian marriages who treat their spouses with love and respect even as they believe only they hold the responsibilities for decision-making and spiritual guidance as some kind of head-of-household male authority.

Rather, the problem is deeper than practical issues of day-to-day life in light of presumed biblical mandates about roles. The challenge we need to consider is two-fold: what is the Bible and how should we read it?

Until Christians begin to take seriously the pedestal they have created for Scripture, elevating it to a place of divinity, there will never follow the rigorous scholarship and critical thinking that needs to accompany any serious consideration of what the Bible might mean to people who living more than 2000 years after it was compiled. If we decided to study the Bible in light of its context, for example, we would need to explore the letters where we find the most appalling statements about hierarchy within marriage relationships as a radical departure from Jesus’ way of treating women and indeed even a change from Paul’s early assertion that “in Christ Jesus there is no longer male and female….” What we, as readers, need to make of this considerable shift is critical and yet seldom receives any attention. Further, the related notion that the New Testament letters only reveal half of any conversation should give us pause in thinking we have the sum total of anyone’s thoughts about a subject or that such instruction was intended for anyone beyond the community to whom it was written.

Finally, until Christians move beyond pulling isolated passages out of context and making them some sort of divine decree for all times and places, we will continue to see absurdity in someone calling her husband “master” and holding up a sign at the edge of town to sing his praises all while embracing without thought the more sinister claims that God has designed women as inferior to men, intending them to be secondary in all things except cleaning and cooking and having babies.

You see, if I call Bryan “master,” you chuckle and think I’m crazy. If he and I assume he should make all of our decisions including where we go to church, where we spend our vacations, where we should live, then the absurdity disappears and we all go back to our comfortable patterns of patriarchy.