Mars Hill Forum #11 at Smith College: Three Different Equations for Marriage

John C. Rankin (2008)

In my Mars Hill Forum at Smith College in November, 1994, with Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), we landed on the subject of marriage at one juncture. I said that there are only three possibilities in human relationships, symbolized in three different types of marriage:

100-0; 50-50; or 100-100.

In the 100-0 option, male chauvinism is operative (though female chauvinism can also happen as with Jezebel [read about her in 1 Kings 16:29 – 2 Kings 9:37]). Here the man demands 100 percent and gives nothing. This can also be described as “take before you are taken.”

The 50-50 option can be described as “egalitarian,” and is distinguished philosophically from “equality.” In the philosophy of an egalitarian view, the equality of the sexes is defined by an appeal to “sameness.” A woman can do anything a man can do, it is said. Accordingly, male and female roles in marriage are said to be interchangeable (apart from the inescapable reality of pregnancy, giving birth and natural succor).

In the “ideal” egalitarian marriage, each partner pursues career goals, careers defined not by service to the home as in a healthy marriage, but careers, which if push comes to shove, take precedence over the home. Thus, cooking and housework are split evenly if they cannot afford a cook or a maid. If and when they have children, maternity leave applies to the man as well as the woman, and they share 50-50 the work of child rearing. With or without daycare or a nanny, the husband is expected to make the same “sacrifice” of time away from his career, as does his wife. Such “sameness,” as a definition for equality, is thus supposed to remove culturally impose role distinctions between male and female – and lead to true equality.

However, as the research makes clear, this upper middle-class ideal of egalitarianism is not only a myth, it is also a destroyer of families and children. As many feminists complain, when they enter such a 50-50 bargain, they discover that their workloads greatly increase, and their husband’s workload remain roughly constant. As women, they are desirous or willing to pursue a career outside the home, but men are, as a rule, unwilling to share the domestic work anymore than is otherwise the case (though now, with a culture that has become more thoroughly “feminized,” things are more complex). It leads to a warfare between one 50 and the other 50. Namely, 50-50 by definition is a taking proposition, with each party having made an idol of career or identity outside of God and family. By putting such an idol ahead of relationship, each party clamors to protect his or her 50 percent. In other words, the arrangement is based on the “right to take” the 50 percent that belongs to him or her, and if one spouse takes 51 percent, there is war – the opposite of the power to give. And thus, the children take second fiddle.

There is great freedom in a healthy marriage in terms of how income producing work and management of the home are shared, but only when the complementary nature of men and women is affirmed, not when the distinctions are blurred. The irony is that the 50-50 proposition is no different than the 100-0 proposition. It too is “take before you are taken.”

The Hebrew word for peace is shalom, which primarily refers to integrity and wholeness. The only prescription for social peace is the original one of 100-100 in the Garden of Eden. This is the power to “give and it will be given,” where Yahweh Elohim gives 100 percent of his divine best possible to the human Adam, Adam receives the 100 percent and gives 100 percent of his human best to Eve, she receives his 100 percent and returns 100 percent of her human best to Adam; then they together, in the integrity and wholeness as husband and wife, give their 100 percent of their human best in worship to Yahweh Elohim.

This power to give can be seen in the apostle Paul’s language concerning mutual submission in marriage (see Ephesians 5:21-33). Wives are to submit to husbands on the one hand, and husbands are to submit their lives as Christ did on the cross on the other hand, which equals a submission to the wife as the nature of leadership rooted in the power to give. Unfortunately, submission is oftentimes a dirty word for people who have been abused by a forced submission rooted in male chauvinism.

The word in the Greek here for “submit” is hupotasso, which means, “to place oneself under.” People do not want to put themselves under others who will violate them; they do not want to be subject to the power to be taken. We all love backrubs or massages, but are lousy at giving ourselves a backrub. The intrinsic nature of a backrub is “to place oneself under” in order to be blessed by another. This is a classic example of the power to give, and only possible as rooted in trust. We all submit to those whom we trust, receiving the power to give as they exercise it; we all recoil from submitting to those whom we distrust, whose purpose is the power to take.

Hence, two choices – give and it will be given, or take before you are taken. I asked Patricia Ireland if she knew of any better arrangement for marriage or the human community. Neither of us can improve upon this arrangement.