On Monday of this week, new video surfaced of NFL football player Ray Rice — perhaps we can say at this point, former NFL football player — seen knocking his fiancée unconscious in a casino elevator with punches to her face. It’s very disturbing, and it undermines his previous story that he slapped her, and she hit her head. When this bombshell video clip released online this week, there was a chorus of outrage, of course, and it has been unanimous. Rice has been suspended indefinitely from the NFL. He played for the Baltimore Ravens, who are playing the Steelers right now. The Ravens organization now admits to a total failure in addressing the situation prior to the video release. The football commissioner himself is under fire right now over the timing of when he was made aware of the graphic elevator video.
Pastor John, from a creation standpoint, we believe God created men and women distinctly. So why do we know inherently that men are not to mistreat women like this, but to protect and serve them? And in this situation, what do complementarian Christians say to Ray Rice?
Complementarians have a very special word for Ray Rice, and the thousands of men like him. So let’s clarify what we mean by complementarian so that the word will land with understanding.
God-Given Care and Protection
Complementarians say men and women are different in deep and important ways, not just physical and surface ways, and that these differences, which God has designed for our good, have profound influence on the way we relate to each other and what roles God wants us to take up.
The word complementarian (spelled with an e in the middle, not an i) comes from being complementary to each other — that is, each being a complement to the other, like in doubles competition in Olympic ice-skating. The moves of the man and the woman complement the other. Together they make something beautiful to watch that is more than just each of them excelling on their own.
This means that complementarians don’t think that all the roles defined for us are based merely on competencies. So in a relationship you don’t just ask: Who is smarter? Or more articulate? Or physically stronger? Or faster? Or a better reader? Or neater? And so on. You ask, more significantly and more fundamentally: Is the man, as man, created by God with a built-in deep sense — an inclination, a disposition, something deeper than cultural, deeper than societal, deeper than upbringing — a sense of responsibility deep in his soul to nurture and provide for and protect and take life-giving initiatives with the women in his life?
Complementarians answer that question yes. Man — as God created him, not as sin has distorted us, but man as man — senses deep in his masculine soul, “It is my special responsibility to show special care for and provide for and protect and be hope-giving and life-enhancing and woman-ennobling in the initiatives that I take in relation to the women in my life,” knowing this will look different from one relationship to the other — say, to the woman who brings the mail to the house, or the bank teller, or the woman police officer, or his wife, or his daughter, or his mother.
But in every relationship, he will know himself to be a man relating to a woman. And he will shape his relationship according to these deep, caring, protective, honoring, initiative-taking, God-given, impulses.
Fellow Heirs of Grace
So complementarians base all of this on the teachings of the Bible — teachings like:
“Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:19).
“The husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23). So lead her graciously, and take initiatives the way Christ does.
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). He gave himself to protect her. He died to save her. So he died to protect your wife.
“No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church” (Ephesians 5:29). So nourish her and care for her and provide for her.
“Honor [your wives] as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7). In other words, don’t let the fact that you could take advantage of her by your superior strength in any way incline you to abuse. Rather, let it incline you to honor her as a fellow heir of the grace of life.
In other words, for complementarians, protection and care and vision and nurture and leading with life-giving initiatives are all ways that God has ordained, in man’s very nature, for honoring women as fellow heirs of the grace of life.
And here is the crucial insight: Men don’t become men on their wedding day. They are becoming men from the day they are conceived as male. Which means that all those beautiful burdens and responsibilities laid on men in marriage by the Bible are relevant outside marriage, before marriage, because men are men and women are women outside marriage. How you play them out vary according to how different the relationships are, but these principles are always relevant, whether the issue is women in combat or women in an elevator, alone with a man.
The complementarian says to Ray Rice, and every other man: your manhood, as God designed you, and as Jesus Christ the Son of God can remake you through a faith relationship with him, means conquering your selfish impulses with the realization that real men don’t hit women.
- Real men protect women.
- Real men don’t use women to provide for their appetites.
- Real men use their strength to provide for a woman’s good.
- Real men are not led by the leash of their own temper, hooked by their nose.
- Real men master their temper and lead women out of harm, not into it.
And where men cease to be such men, real men step in and do what needs to be done.