Friday, December 12, 2008

The Dance of Headship

The husband is the head of the wife. --Ephesians 5:23a

Headship in a marriage covenant is often misunderstood. Many people see the verse above and are immediately turned off. It is unfortunate because these words are very important when read in context. Here is the full verse, along with a similar one:

For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. --Ephesians 5:23

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. --1 Corinthians 11:3

Clearly, the husband and the wife are both under some type of leadership. The wife is being led by her husband, her husband is being led by Jesus, and Jesus is being led by God the Father. Many women are upset that Scripture tells them to be led by their husbands for one of two reasons: 1) They want to lead instead of being led, or 2) They want to make every decision together, 50/50, completely equally.

We came across this issue in my Family and Gender Seminar course in college. I proposed an analogy that helped some people understand the roles that God calls husbands and wives to: dancing.

The man is the leader on the dance floor and the woman follows the man step for step. The man is responsible for any mistakes that occur in the dance routine (just ask any professional male dancer and he'll apologize even if the woman makes a mistake when it is clearly her fault) but he takes responsibility for the mistake because he is the one that should be leading her in the correct way. This does not mean that she does not have her own responsibility to do her part in the dance, it is just a different responsibility. It's like the responsibility that completes the "leader/follower" diadic interaction. They are both equal because they are just two people dancing, but in order for it to work, one needs to lead and one needs to follow. There can't be two leaders or two followers. That's what makes it an efficient interaction by avoiding conflict and confusion.

The problems occur when they do not work together. If the woman does not want to follow the leader, then the dance doesn't work and it looks ugly. The same thing happens if the man leads the woman in a way that she doesn't want to follow. Communication and compromise between the two dancers is the key to dancing successfully.

They both need each other and it is a balanced relationship because it takes each one and their contributions in order for the dance to become a beautiful work of art. The same thing occurs in marriage: If one does not lead and one does not follow, then confusion and conflict occurs when it doesn't have to.

There will always be inequality no matter how hard we try to make things equal. One person will always be more controlling or more of a "leader" in a relationship, so why not use that to an advantage? We can see that this "inequality" in dancing (one is a leader and one is a follower) can be used successfully in order to make something beautiful. However, if this inequality is abused (and in marriage it too often is) it can cause obvious problems in the interaction, resulting in dancing that looks horrible (as does the marriage).

God created us differently in order for us to use our unique attributes in different ways. In God, there is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and each of them are equal. Yet, they each have unique attributes and also are all One at the same time. Marriage is very similar: Christ, the husband, and the wife all must be united together in God's perfect leadership structure. In order for it to succeed, however, husbands and wives must lovingly desire to fill our God-given roles with humility, sacrifice, and patience. After all, dancing is hard work! So is marriage.

Photo from