Saturday, December 5, 2009

Complementarian Husbands: Leaders, Supervisors, or Rulers?

I had an enlightening discussion with an ex-military man, who was taking 3 months of leave from work due to the non-leadership style of his supervisor. He told me he had been a leader in the military—an excellent leader. He told me that a leader empowers others to be all they can be. A leader trains others so they can grow and be promoted. A leader encourages others to make their own decisions, and to trust their ability to make those decisions. Leadership is not about nitpicking, ruling, over-ruling, or serving oneself. It is about empowering others to shine, about building their self-esteem. People tend to flock to leaders, because they feel so empowered to be all they can be by beginning exactly where they are.

Supervisors, on the other hand, watch over the minute details of whatever they are trying to accomplish. Some supervisors are kind and try to include those under them in decision-making and in coming up with ways to be more productive. Other Supervisors are all about experiencing and retaining power for themselves. They put limits on those under them. They watch for tiny mistakes. They impose a particular amount and standard of work in a squeezed amount of time. They demand to have the final decision-making power, humiliate those under them for any reason they can dream up, and obstruct them from promotions.

Rulers, whether kings or congress-people, usually focus on maintaining and increasing their power first, and much of their law-making is aimed at accomplishing this goal. The needs of the people are frequently secondary. If they gained their power through elections, they focus on pleasing those who have money to finance their campaigns. At times they ignore the majority of their voters if they think their bread is buttered elsewhere. If they gained power through military might, they favor a few to gain the help they need to intimidate the masses. They make special laws that further limit the freedom of those they rule, thereby forcing them to be subject. Sometimes their rulership is extremely oppressive. Frequently, those they rule have no recourse to stop whatever laws the rulers impose, or, as here in the USA, those they rule have to wait for the next vote to make their voice heard.

Where do complementarian husbands fit in? Are they leaders? Do complementarian husbands empower their wives to develop their God-given interests and talents as individuals? Do they make sure there are no roadblocks limiting their wives from achieving their goals? Or is their focus their own comfort and the pursuit of their own goals? Do they limit their wives to serving as homemakers, husband-pleasers, and child raisers?

The complementarian teaching does advise husbands to be kind, but much more emphasis is placed on telling wives to conform to their husbands, build them up, and help them reach their goals. This means the wives are in the leadership role. The wives are empowering their husbands.

Complementarians are calling the husband’s role “headship” or “leadership,” but in actuality that is not what they teach husbands. They do not teach husbands to empower their wives to be anything other than house-hold help, or domestic slaves. Instead, husbands are given authority to over-rule their wives, which suggests they are performing the role of RULER.

Can rulers be kind? Certainly. But they are still ruling and in control through whatever means necessary to maintain that control. In the case of complementarians, the church steps in to pressure wives to empower their husbands and to be loyal subjects. If husbands do not choose to be kind rulers, many pastors and churches blame the wives, saying they have not subjected themselves to their husbands enough. Just as with the rulers of the world, those under them have no recourse to stop whatever evil laws the ruler-husbands impose.

Ruler-husbands who also perform a supervisory role are often the most damaging. These husbands (it is a shame to call them husbands, because the word implies care-taking and empowering those in their care toward growth, instead of self-centered demanding and stomping on those they at one point claimed to love) look at everything their wives do with a critical eye. They constantly demand more work in a shorter amount of time, look for tiny mistakes, and generally do anything they can to feel a sense of power of over their wives.

Frankly, a pig by any other name is still a pig, and a ruler by any other name is still a ruler. It is time complementarians stop lying to themselves and acknowledge the “headship” and “leadership” they teach is actually rulership.

Waneta Dawn is the author of "Behind the Hedge, A novel,"a story about a woman who grapples with her husband's demands that she submit--no matter what. Please visit

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