A listener named Joe writes in. “Hello, Pastor John! I’m a young complementarian man dating a young, evangelical, feminist woman. We are considering marriage. What do you think would be good or bad about a marriage with this dynamic? Would this make a more accurate portrayal of how the church follows Christ? Or would it be a heavier distraction? How do you think a complementarian and egalitarian marriage could work out practically? And how do you think the relationship would suffer?”
My question, Joe, is: Which of you — you or your future wife — will choose to sacrifice your conscience and, with it, your integrity to make the marriage work?
From Courtship to Compromise
There is no doubt: one of you will have to sacrifice a good conscience.
You would enter the marriage believing that it is God’s will for you to fulfill the role of head as you see it laid out in Ephesians 5:22–33. She would enter the marriage believing that it is God’s will that you not assume a special role as leader or head.
You will enter the marriage believing it is God’s will that your wife be subject to your loving leadership, the way the church is subject to Christ in Ephesians 5. And she will enter the marriage believing that there is no such teaching in the Bible, and that God does not expect that of her, and it would be wrong, in fact, to say that God does.
You will enter the marriage believing that God calls you to raise your children in the instruction of the Lord, including his instruction that your sons should be husbands who lead out in marriage and your daughters should be wives who submit gladly to their husbands. And she will enter the marriage believing that God calls you to raise your children to be egalitarians.
It is not possible, Joe, that both of you will be able to carry out your beliefs. They contradict each other.
One of you will have to assume a role that your conscience dictates is wrong. And my question is: Which one of you will sacrifice your conscience — and, with it, your integrity — to make the marriage work?
Martin Luther said, “To act against conscience is neither safe nor right.” Conscience is not an infallible guide to right behavior. But even when conscience is badly informed, to act against it is sin. That is what Paul meant in Romans 14:23, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” The solution to a badly informed conscience is not to go against it, but to transform it with biblical truth. So even if your wife decided to conform to your expectations, she would be sinning, if she still believed in her heart that she was right about egalitarianism and you were wrong.
Now there are many things husbands and wives can disagree about and still have a biblically sound and godly and even joyful marriage. But in matters of biblically informed conscience that affect the dynamic of the relationship at every turn, disagreement of that sort is unworkable. Someone has to give in. Someone has to go against conscience and belief.
Giving in on our color preferences for the carpet or giving in on how many guests should come over for dinner is not a sin. It is a way good marriages work. But giving in when your position is a biblical conviction and a matter of conscience, that is not what Christians do. That is a sin.
So in my judgment, walking into a marriage with this level of disagreement about your respective roles would be walking into a relationship that would be sin to leave and in which someone must sin to make it work.