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Which Path Forward Leads to a Happier Marriage: Egalitarian or Complementarian? Part IV

January 19, 2009

Editor's Note: Today's post marks the fourth and final installment to our four-part response to a paper suggesting that egalitarian marriages provide a more satisfying option than complementarian ones. Here are parts I, II and III.

So far we've interacted with the exegetical and definitional features of Mr. Preato's case in his paper Empirical Evidence in Support of Egalitarian Marriages and a Fresh Perspective on Submission and Authority.  We are countering his thesis that the exegetical and empirical data leads one to conclude that egalitarian marriages necessarily are happier and therefore less likely to divorce. In this final post we take up the matter of statistics.

Preato uses statistical data as the linchpin to prove his major premise. In his provocatively-titled work, How to Lie With Statistics, Darrell Huff argues rightly that statistical research can be used to prove almost anything. Most, if not all of the surveys which Preato cites were conducted by scholars in theologically moderate or secular institutions, none of which are exactly noted for their joyful and unfettered embrace of biblical headship. At one point, Preato uses the personal experience of a professor of pastoral counseling as one line of empirical proof of the strength of egalitarian marriages. Theology is best done by painstaking exegesis and a serious engagement with the disciplines of biblical theology, systematic theology and historical theology. Statistics are useful as corroborations, but they must not determine what is normative; that is the domain of Scripture. God's Word makes it clear that men and women are equal in essence and in worth, but are designed to carry out complementary roles.

Further, Preato takes Barna's figures that show the sad (but true) reality of a massive divorce rate among Christians and ties it to social research surveys that ostensibly demonstrate "traditional" marriages to be largely "unhappy." The connection between them, however, seems superficial; the two polls are seeking to answer two different, and very specific, questions. To demand a causal link between them seems artificial. The logic of his argument seems to unfold something like this: Christians have a high divorce rate and a high rate of unhappy marriage. Many Christian homes operate under some understanding of headship. Therefore, headship causes divorce and unhappy marriages. The conclusion does not follow from the premises. 

Interestingly, in his use of numbers, Preato favorably quotes divorce rates among atheists and agnostics (21 percent) as further evidence that marriages which reject what Ron Barrier of American Atheists calls "submissive nonsense preached by Baptists and other Christian/Jewish groups," are "happier." Wittingly or unwittingly, Preato insinuates that a person who high-handedly rejects the God who invented marriage can have a wonderful marriage, though Scripture calls this person a fool (Psalm 14:1). Marriage is ordained by God to exist as a picture of the Gospel (Ephesians 5) and ultimately as a means to shine forth His glory. An atheist cannot do this. This exemplary use of atheist marriages as an argument against headship is puzzling.   

In our previous post we made reference to a sociologist who follows a widely accepted methodology strengthened by careful statistical protocol. W. Bradford Wilcox was interviewed by the Ethics and Public Policy Center and Christianity Today on the question of the kind of marriages that best satisfy and thus endure. Both interviews feature Wilcox's reseach which finds that actively church-attending, conservative Protestant marriages are marked by higher levels of satisfaction and the lowest rates of domestic violence of any group in the United States.

In the end, Preato's article is merely another use of statistical data that proves very little. It is suggestive at best.  Preato asserts that "Churches need a fresh perspective on submission and authority in general and in marriages in particular." No, churches need a biblical perspective on submission and authority; we are a people of the Book, not a people of the poll. God's depiction of marriage as a one-flesh relationship in which the husband exercises headship through servant-hood leads to both marital happiness and healthiness. The numbers are in on this and God's truth is always 100 percent correct.

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