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

What Mike Pence Gets Right about Marriage and Wrong about Religious Freedom Makes Him Unfit for Office

I generally consider presidential and vice-presidential wives off limits for discussion, figuring that their lives are terrible enough, though I really struggle with anyone woman who could support either Trump or Pence.

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Above, Mike and Karen Pence wave at the crowd and one of the several inaugural balls this past January. Want to read more about how conservative Christian women understand freedom through constraint? Check me out

You may have heard that Mike Pence never dines alone with a woman who isn’t his wife, nor does he attend events where there is alcohol present without her. If he were someone else, I’d say cool, whatever your marriage needs.  Maybe it means he doesn’t trust himself not to sexually assault women. Maybe it means he doesn’t want to be falsely accused of sexual impropriety. Maybe it means he’s been unfaithful (or addicted to alcohol) before and that hurt his wife, or maybe her father was a philanderer or an alcoholic, and this is his way of addressing any insecurity she might have about lousy husbands. If it was just about them, I would be happy to give Pence the privacy and dignity in his relationships that he has withheld from same-sex couples.

But it’s not just about him. His decision to never meet with a woman alone means that men have had more access to him than women. That means that women have not had an equal opportunity to petition their government–our First Amendment Right. It means the women of Indiana (and now the women of the whole US) are not being treated equally under the law.

I’m sure Pence has his reasons–potentially even good ones–for this personal standard. If his reason is so worthwhile, though, he should have taken pains to insure that it didn’t undermine anyone else’s opportunities or rights. How?

He could meet with no one one-on-one.

If Pence could organize his life so that he never met with a woman alone, he could also have organized it so that he never met with a man alone.

This would have insured that all constituents had an equal opportunity to meet with him.

If that idea seems unworkable–How could he get any business done?–then you understand that his choice made politics unworkable for women. You also now see your assumption that politics is for men, not women.

This is typical Pence, though: willing to make women bear the costs of HIS personal choice. (Ironic, yes, for someone arguing against federal funding for Planned Parenthood on the grounds that taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for someone else’s moral failing.)

But it’s the same logic behind his anti-LGBT efforts in Indiana. An anti-LGBT Christian makes the personal choice to be a florist. She refuses to provide flowers for a wedding of two gay men. If you think that the First Amendment and equality are important, you probably think that the florist is choosing both her anti-gay faith and her job. She is not compelled to either, but the law does mandate that she treats customers equally. She has a choice: defy what she sees as a key point of her faith (Thou shalt not arrange flowers for gay weddings!) or quit being a florist.

You make your choice, and you take your consequences–but you don’t demand that someone else take the consequences of you living out your faith. That’s on you.

And you know who really should understand this, dear 606 readers? Mennonites. Even conservative Mennonites who oppose gay marriage. Because we are asked all the time to make the choice to compromise our faith or live with the consequences. And we do! Our kids get heckled for not saying the pledge. (“You must hate God!” as one sweet child told my daughter this year.) Our grandparents went to CPS instead of war, and our great-grandparents got tarred and feathered for refusing to serve in or support World War I.  Some of us pay the consequence of war tax resistance. The proudest parts of our history aren’t Anabaptists dying for their faith–they are the stories of Anabaptists refusing to let our enemies die so that our faith could be protected.

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Above, a woodcut telling the story of Dirk Willems. A Dutch Anabaptist in the mid-1500s when the faith was illegal, Willems fled a prison guard by crossing thin ice. When the guard fell in behind him, Willems turned back to rescue the man, leading to his own capture and, eventually, burning. 

Pence doesn’t have to be a theologian or a church historian to understand this, though. He simply has to care that his constituents and his colleagues have equal access to his ear. If he did–or if he had bothered to consult with a woman with more insight than the women he apparently does bother to talk to–he would have either stopped his discrimination against women or changed his policy to insure that he didn’t dine with men alone, either. His other choice was to not take a job that would require him to be alone with women in order to guarantee their basic constitutional rights. (Other examples: if you don’t want to look at ladyparts, don’t become an ob-gyn. If you don’t want to pour booze, don’t open a bar. If you don’t want to defend people who have done wrong, don’t be a public defender.) That, not his perhaps unusual marriage protocols, is why he’s unfit for office.

And his selfish, lazy Christianity should have clued you in.