Mutual Obedience

Julia and I holding hands.

Photo: Jack Burgess

Rachel Held Evans is running a series this week titled One in Christ: A Week of Mutuality. Here’s how she describes it on her blog:

The purpose of this week’s series is to make a case for egalitarianism, (though it should be assumed that people of goodwill and sincere faith can disagree on these issues).  I’m not aiming to spend much time arguing against complementarianism, but rather showing that egalitarianism is a tenable position for Christians, based on scripture, reason, tradition, etc.

(Note: For those unfamiliar with the terms “complimentarianism” and egalitarianism,” Rachel defines them on her blog.)

I touched upon this same subject at the end of March when I wrote about Parenting as a Vocation. I drew parallels between the Benedictine Vows —Stability, Obedience, and Conversion of Life—and the commitments I live out daily as a husband and parent. Here’s what I said about the vow that bears most directly on the complimentarian/egalitarian debate:

Obedience: This is a tricky one, given the traditional view of marriage as a one-way relationship regarding obedience. Not that I would try, but if I ever suggested to Julia that she “obey” me, she would laugh me out of the room. Our relationship is a partnership: both complimentary, in that we bring different strengths and weaknesses to our marriage; and egalitarian, in that we respect each other and acknowledge our common human dignity. But the root of the word “obedience” is the Latin word obedienta, which in turn is derived from a stronger form of the word audiere: to listen. Obedience in the Benedictine sense is before all else a vow to listen, which is the first word of The Rule of Saint Benedict. I need to listen carefully to my wife, she needs to listen carefully to me, and we both need to listen carefully to our daughter. Only by careful listening will we be able to hear and respond to each other’s needs. In the parent-child relationship, of course, obedience can be understood in its more traditional sense: Anna is the child and we are the adults. She needs to do what we tell her to do, but we need to listen to her and understand her needs instead of barking orders at her.

I didn’t have a adjective for this relationship when I wrote this over two months ago; thanks to Rachel I have one now: mutuality.

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