A Bad Decision and the Fallacy of the Role Reversal Argument

Now and then my husband and I make a bad decision. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Sometimes it’s one we arrive at together, sometimes it’s his decision, and sometimes it’s mine.

Recently we made a killer of a bad business decision.

The painful consequences of our fecklessness prompted Jim and me to reflect on our decision-making process and how we can improve it. Our bottom line: we didn’t work together the way we should have. We need to improve our commitment to sharing our gut-level hesitations with each other, to taking more time in conversation before signing on the dotted line.

One thing that never crossed our mind, however, was that our bad decision was due to a role reversal. In other words, we don’t believe that if I would just stay out of it, Jim would make terrific decisions.

We both know that wouldn’t work and hasn’t worked. We both make mistakes at times.

Yet that is exactly how a lot of people read the Bible, at least when the bad decision results from the suggestion of a woman. Clearly, these people argue, the real problem is a role reversal. Not sin or ignorance or foolishness, the true error is a lack of adherence to the God-ordained role men should play in women’s lives.

Their classic case in point is Adam and Eve. When Eve offered Adam the forbidden fruit, so the reasoning goes, she was usurping Adam’s authority. Eve’s more fundamental sin, worse than disobeying God’s command, was reversing her role with Adam’s. Apparently if Eve had made room for Adam to step up when the serpent slithered onto the scene, deferring to his better judgment, things would have turned out differently. Now the whole world has suffered as a result of this reversal of proper gender roles.

It’s hard to say where these people are going with this argument, since the basic idea seems to be that sin is a result of women taking over. If we carry that thought to its logical end, we would conclude that women should just get out of the way and let men lead, and sin would be avoided (at least mostly).

I’m not sure history supports that conclusion.

Neither does Scripture.

If it was a role reversal when Eve gave the fruit to Adam, then it was a role reversal when Abigail convinced David not to murder an entire household. It was also a role reversal when she didn’t submit to Nabal, but instead chose to save his wretched life.

I guess Abigail could have stuck to her role and let the blood flow.

It would also be a role reversal when the Shunammite suggested to her husband that they build a room on the roof for Elisha, when Huldah advised King Josiah, when Deborah spoke the word of the Lord to Barak, when Ruth approached Boaz about marriage, and when Esther saved her people by appealing to the king.

In other words, if the problem is roles, then they apply across the board, both when women suggest good things and when they encourage foolishness. To be consistent in this type of role paradigm, women should never suggest a course of action to a man. Women should never make an independent decision.

Yet women can and do and should make decisions all the time. That is simply part of being human, part of being image-bearers of God. The problem wasn’t that Eve made a choice; the problem was that it was a bad choice.

It’s right for women to influence men, advise them, suggest a course of action, and even give them a piece of fruit. And men should do the same for women.

The problem with the role reversal argument is that it implodes at its ridiculous conclusion. If going along with a woman is wrong, then it is wrong both when the idea is bad and when it is good.

Adam could have spoken up, sitting right there with Eve as he was, and the two of them might possibly have arrived at a better conclusion. That is, after all, what Abigail did with David and what Esther did with King What’s-His-Face.

Speak up, I mean.

And it’s what Sapphira should have done with Ananias and Bathsheba ought to have done with David. These two women played by the rules and the roles, submitting to and respecting and honoring the right guy with the wrong idea, but nobody commends them for it.

Sometimes you can’t get no respect.

You don’t play by your role and you’re blamed. You do play by your role and you’re blamed.

Déjà vu all over again.

Adam could have said, “Hey Eve, remember what I told you God said about this tree? We shouldn’t eat its fruit. I know it looks good and the serpent makes it sound good, but I think it’s a bad idea.”

And Eve could have responded, “You’re right. We shouldn’t listen to this. God has given us so much – really everything we could imagine. Let’s go home.”

Instead, apparently, Eve thought, “Sounds good to me!” And Adam thought, “Cool! I’ve wanted to try this fruit all along. Sure, I’ll eat!”

You know how that worked for them.

This wasn’t a role reversal issue. It was a discernment issue, a desire issue, a sin issue, a relationship issue. Adam and Eve didn’t work together toward what was right and good. Instead they tromped hand-in-hand down the path of pain and destruction.

If only it were so simple. If only women could be passive and simply follow men and all would be well. If only women could wait for men to make the decision rather than trying to influence them, and God would magically protect and bless no matter how ill-advised the course of action might be.

If only.

But it’s not that simple. God set it up so that we would have to work together as men and women, so that we would need both perspectives to arrive at the best conclusions. It’s a fallacy to think men are less likely to make a bad choice, less likely to sin, less likely to be deceived.

The Bible demonstrates that all of us are prone to these weaknesses.

That’s why we need each other, why we need a bit more honesty, and why we need a bit more humility. As couples we need to walk together in truth, advise one another, hold one another accountable, respect one another, and defer to one another.

This simply can’t be a one-way street. When we try to turn it into one, we crash and burn.

If we rely upon traditional roles and authority structures to keep us from sin and harm, we will be sadly disappointed. The Bible shows that it doesn’t work that way.

Jim and I are suffering through our bad decision. And I admit, it’s painful.

We’ve noticed something new however. Instead of getting angry and blaming each other, we’re standing together. We recognize that we were both in on this, both part of the decision, and the fault lies with both.

That’s some consolation.

Maybe even a big one.

Tradition, Teaching and Women in the Church: Podcast with Dr. Juli Slattery

I recently spent an hour chatting with psychologist Dr. Juli Slattery and author Michele Cushatt about how each of us is personally navigating the things we face as women who have a leadership and teaching role in the church. In our Java with Juli podcast Tradition, Teaching and Women in the Church, we also look at the role tradition and culture have played in forming our understanding both of Scripture and of a woman’s place in the church. While you’re over at Authentic Intimacy, you might want to check out some of Juli’s other podcasts and articles that cover a wide range of subjects.

Should Men Listen to Women?

cary-grant-392931_1280Some people think it was a sin for Adam to listen to Eve, that he sinned not only by eating the forbidden fruit but also by listening to his wife. From this they seem to surmise that it is not only dangerous but also wrong for a man to listen to a woman, especially if that woman happens to be his wife.

As support for their view they cite God’s words to Adam in Genesis 3:17:

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you…”

The idea is that Adam fell into a heap of trouble for two reasons: wife-listening and fruit-eating, two equally rash and sinful behaviors. Even though Adam received no prohibition regarding the evils of wife-listening, apparently he should have known. Continue reading