Dealing with the tiebreaker

In a few recent discussions about complementarianism, the subject of the tiebreaker has come up. It seems to be something that puzzles egalitarians and complementarians alike. This from my review of Jenny Baker’s Equals

When it came to marriage, the usual awful headship example was trotted out of some shouty moron demanding submission and the right to be the head of a household (p.79) as if that’s what we’re all really like. This was followed up the by the common complaint of why proponents of male headship in marriage are unable to make a decision in a reasonable manner like the rest of us.

Difficult decisions were described as choosing which school a child should go to or what to call the child in the first place or whether to keep the lodger or not (which is an indication of the general middle-class nature of the book). Tricky as these decisions may be none of them should actually be insurmountable for couples willing to do the basics of listening and talking to each other. A much better example was the one given by Clare Hendry in The Gender Agenda (review) about whether a child should be christened or not where the parents hold differing convictions as you cannot very well do both or wet just half the child. Baker offered examples of difference in choice but it is where there is difference of conviction and conscience that are much harder to resolve and do sometimes lead to an impasse without it necessarily being a sign of something ‘unhealthy’ (p.85) in the relationship.

The tiebreaker comes up so often that it is in even one of the five myths of male headship coming in at no 4.

Scripture doesn’t give the husband a “trump card” in decision making. He doesn’t get the final say, according to the Bible. If we follow the example scripture sets, husbands and wives would make decisions together, through prayer.

The odd thing is, that plenty of complementarians would agree.

Aimee Byrd in an excellent post called Does Complementarity Just Boil Down to a Tiebreaker? says

The thing is, everyone is called to submit in the tiebreakers. A marriage is a unity and decisions are made together. But the special responsibility of the husband as head isn’t about a moment in a tiebreaker decision.

Mary Kassian deals with the question ‘Does a husband have the authority?’ and concludes with,

According to the Bible, a wife’s submission is her choice alone. A husband does not have the right to force or coerce her to do things against her will. He does not have the right to domineer. He does not have the right to pull rank and use strong-arm tactics. He does not have the right to make his wife submit.

Instead the work of the husband as Aimee explains is,

As Robert Wall describes, the leader is to continuously “think about the mission, describe it, communicate it, keep it constantly before the group, and develop goals on the basis of it” (Robert Wall with Richard Steele, 1 & 2 Timothy & Titus, 259). This kind of care for the family will nurture mutual submission on all kinds of daily decision-making. And when the big ones come up such as moving for a job, the foundation will be properly laid. The thing about the tie-breaker argument is that it is over simplifying. Men can exercise their muscle and women can exercise their manipulation, which is precisely why both men and women need to heed the exhortation in Eph. 5.

As I’ve said on this blog before

Headship here should not be a ‘decision making trump card’ that makes genuine discussion pointless nor some kind of UN veto that guarantees the man gets his way every time. It is a leadership role that can be exercised whether your personality is an ‘initiator’ or a ‘supporter’ (no need to try to conform to some odd alpha-male stereotype) that humbly seeks to lead the family forward, taking responsibility for the consequences whether it was your choice or not in order that the whole should flourish.

So hopefully that settles the tiebreaker.


* I should point out that some of the questions Mary deals with sound just plain abusive to me, so let’s be very clear about domestic abuse of any kind. As I’ve said before it must be made abundantly clear to the men in the care of our churches that violence against women will not be tolerated.

Photo by Mark Turnauckas

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