Egalitarian Figure Skating

A blog post was written and disseminated this week in which the author uses figure skating as an example to Christians of how the relationship between a husband and wife should be. The article claims that in pairs figure skating the “gold [medal] goes to that couple which has most mastered the skill of male leadership and female support.” The author believes figure skating to be a beautiful example of what theologians call complementarianism. Complementarianism is the belief that “God created men and women equal in their essential dignity and human personhood, but different and complementary in function with male headship in the home and in the Church”[1]

Is that truly how figure skating is though? I am, by no means, a figure skating expert. I’ve never even strapped on a pair of ice skates. However, I have a feeling that things are not always as they might seem. So, I want to push back a bit on Rev. Ensor’s post. Leadership is not always what we see on the outside.

First, leaders are not always the strongest. It is a common perception that the strongest people are always the leaders. We saw this at play in Bible times when the people of Israel wanted a king. They chose for themselves the strongest person to be their king. They chose Saul. But Saul was not a good king. God’s choice for king was David, a shepherd boy, who was the youngest and smallest of Jesse’s sons. And David turned out to be a great leader. Just because the male of the figure skating couple appears to be the strongest does not mean that he is or should be the leader.

Second, sometimes leadership involves skating backward. When we lead, we can’t always see where we are going. We often have to focus on those we are leading and trust that we’ve set the right course and that the others know the vision well enough to keep us going the right way. Vision is not always about seeing clearly every step of the way. In this respect, I see pairs figure skating as a great example of sharing leadership. Each person in the couple must take turns leading. They must be united in their vision.

Finally, leadership requires submission. It seems a common misnomer that submission is a response to leadership, but I view it as a critical part of leadership. A good leader knows when to press and when to submit. To me, this is what makes the beauty of figure skating. One minute the male is pressing and the female is submitting, then the next minute the female presses and the male submits. It makes for a beautiful dance on the ice. The same is true in a marriage. Spouses take turns submitting to one another and it creates a beautiful dance.

Rev. Ensor, thank you for your article because it caused me to reflect on this important issue and it allowed me to see an even deeper beauty in my marriage and in the dance of figure skating. Even though we disagree on what we see when we watch these couples skate, I definitely agree with you that it “displays the strength and beauty of unity.”



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