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Should a wife "submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband"? Not according to 69 percent of respondents to a 1998 Gallup Poll. But the evangelical jury is still out on the matter.

Should gender or gifts primarily determine the roles performed by husbands and wives? Have we too readily accepted the tenets of feminism? Have we allowed the patriarchal tradition to limit women?

Two groups have taken opposing stands in this impassioned debate on two fronts: the home and the church. This article focuses on the debate about the home—and on the marriages that live out the two models.

The Beginning of the Debate


Before the 1980s, evangelicals' understanding of gender roles was largely implicit; few theologized about it. Most evangelicals practiced male leadership in the home and in the church, but they tended not to explain it in a way that would get the attention of the secular press.

Since the late '80s, though, two Bible-believing movements—the egalitarian Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) and the complementarian Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW)—have given us a language for the gender debate.

Complementarians talk about headship of husbands as well as submission of wives. Egalitarians speak of biblical equality and mutual submission of the spouses.

CBE was formed in 1987 by members of the Minnesota chapter of the Evangelical Women's Caucus International who withdrew from the caucus after it officially recognized a lesbian minority. CBMW was born later that same year. "Our cause exists because an alternate vision has arisen," president Bruce Ware said at a CBMW marriage conference last year. Both groups say theirs is the biblical view. How do adherents of those views live them out?

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March 11, 2002

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