Since the late '80s, evangelical Protestants have been arguing among themselves about male headship in marriage. They have divided into the complementarians (who call for distinct gender roles) and the egalitarians (who call for couples to discover and negotiate roles and responsibilities in marriage). These two groups have often seemed to be engaged in what academic psychologist Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen has called "proof-text poker." Each side hopes their "hand" of biblical citations will trump the other.
In recent years, male-headship advocates have taken increasing care to condemn abuse and to portray male headship as servanthood—all the while maintaining that the Bible commands men to take a leadership role in marriage. The effort seems to be paying off. (See the interview with W. Bradford Wilcox on page 44 regarding his new book, Soft Patriarchs, New Men.)
Now comes Does Christianity Teach Male Headship? The Equal-Regard Marriage and Its Critics. This collection of 11 essays lacks the polemical tone of some earlier books. This is due in large measure to the fact that most of the writers are more intent on solving a social problem than in winning an argument.
Headship as responsibility
Co-editor David Blankenhorn sets up the problem. Blankenhorn, who advocates for fatherhood in a father-impoverished culture, recalls interviewing a group of African-American Pentecostal women at their church on the south side of Chicago. He asked the women, "Is the father the head of the family?" They all said yes. When he asked them what that meant, they said, "Working hard to support the family financially … leading the family in prayer at meal times … and … taking the family to church on Sundays." Blankenhorn pressed them: Aren't women ...1