My straight heterosexual marriage still doesn’t fit the vision of The Nashville Statement

Dear Rebecca:

My wife is a sturdy woman.

This sounds like faint praise, I admit. But it’s nothing less than fact: She’s taller than I am. She’s outweighed me for much of our marriage. And lest that fact mislead you, she’s also stronger than I am. While I was working a desk job early in our marriage, she worked produce at the local grocery store, hefting 50-pound sacks of potatoes and big boxes of vegetables while I typed happily at my keyboard.

Where would we fit, exactly, in the vision of The Nashville Statement?

You see, the underlying idea of The Nashville Statement is complementarianism, the idea that men and women have different bodies and thus different roles in marriage, and that marriage requires this balance of bodies and roles – in the same exact way, every time – in order to be valid in the sight of God.

There’s a photo that went viral this week supposedly, to the minds of its champions, illustrating this principle.


What I want to say about this picture: Good for them. It works for them. In this moment, at least.

It wouldn’t work in my family. I can’t carry my wife. Some of that is the surgeries I had a few years ago – I’m really not supposed to carry anything much heavier than a gallon of milk, to my enduring shame at the grocery store when she lifts everything and I have to just watch. But some of that is: She’s a sturdy woman. Even at my best, I wasn’t carrying her around.

But: Since my surgeries, she’s used her strength a number of times to help me out of baths, to stabilize me when I’m weak, to do chores that I need to let go. We are complementary, just not in the way (apparently) we’re supposed to be.

Matt Walsh, who posted the picture above, writes elsewhere this week: “’Gender roles’ are founded on biology, not bigotry.”

That’s only mostly true, and not true enough for our purposes.

Yes: Men are generally bigger and stronger than women. Women are generally smaller and weaker than men. Generally. Not always.

The problem with complementarianism is that it takes those general truths and insists they govern lives at the individual level, whether or not — as in the life of my family — it may not be practical or even desirable. The Nashville folks tell us we have to live this way too.

But I don’t wanna.

When we started our discussion of The Nashville Statement, I suggested it was the “triumph of learned theology over lived experience.” This is the kind of thing I’m talking about. Theology that doesn’t permit the influence of actual lives is just airless ivory tower hypothesizing. Theology that only permits the influence of lives that affirm it – and disregards counterexamples – is tendentious hypothesizing. Either way: The Nashville Statement doesn’t look like my life, my family’s life, or the life lived by many friends of mine.

I’ll stick with my family and friends.

Respectfully, Joel

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