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Concerns about Complementarian Teaching

Complementarian Teaching

My internet friend and fellow egalitarian, Don, recently shared his three main concerns with Complementarian teaching on the Equality Central Forum. I think Don has hit three nails squarely on the head with his observations.

Don’s Concerns:

  1. The Complementarian paradigm tells men that they are in a special position of having more authority than women, particularly in the home and in the Church.
  2. The Complementarian paradigm tells women that they are in a special position of having less responsibility than men, particularly in the home and in the Church.
  3. The Complementarian paradigm provides and promotes a masculinist interpretive approach to the reading and teaching of Scripture, including the Scriptures that are only incidentally gender related. This is because Complementarians want to the Bible to be consistent on gender hierarchy, so any Scripture that might be used to dispute gender hierarchy gets addressed and redressed.

One of my biggest concerns with Complementarian ideology (which is not unlike Don’s first two concerns) is that Complementarianism continually separates the genders into two distinct groups and assigns each group with different roles and qualities that are spuriously designated as “biblical roles”. This separation and segregation does not promote unity. Moreover, some people are simply not gifted or capable, or called to, the roles which Complementarians have assigned for men and for women,

Mary Kassian, a well-known Complementarian who believes in specific gender roles, claims that, “Men were created to reflect the strength, love and self-sacrifice of Christ. Women were created to reflect the grace and beauty of the Bride he redeemed.” (Source) While this sounds lovely, especially to those who are inclined towards a patriarchal view of gender relations, the Bible simply doesn’t teach this. All Christians are meant to exemplify Christ’s love, grace, and self-sacrifice. And, as Christians, our strength comes from God and is magnified in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:10).

It seems to me that Complementarians simply don’t get the counter-culture of the Gospel where the first will be last and the lowly are the greatest, and where equality, unity, and mutual submission, rather than a gender hierarchy and division, are the ideal.

While the roles which Complementarians espouse may may suit some individuals and some couples, “one size does not fit all”. Not all men are leaders, for example. Moreover some men, thinking they have been ordained by God to be leaders, wreak havoc and hurt with their misguided sense of authority and entitlement on powerless women and children who have been taught that man is the leader. Which brings me to another major concern . . . Complementarian teaching leaves way too much room for the abuse of women and girls.

The Church must promote the full equality of men and women which entails shared authority and responsibility, and mutual submission. We must stop thinking of women in terms of their subordination and/or availability to men.

I truly believe that the Church, and even the world, would be in much better shape if godly Christian men and women could minister together as equals and be treated as equals. If the western, Evangelical Church could embrace the counter-cultural values that Jesus taught, and lead the way in promoting equality within the family, church and society, I believe that there will be some overflowing affect that will benefit women of other cultures where the subjugation of women is particularly oppressive and even brutal. I am personally saddened that the Christian church is not leading the way in demonstrating and promoting equality.
Towards Biblical Equality – My Story

What are your main concerns about Complementarian teaching?

Related Articles

Jesus’ Teaching on Leadership and Community in Matthew’s Gospel
Complementarianism: A Traditional Belief of the Church?

Reading the Bible with a Masculinist Bias
Wayne Grudem on What Women Should Do in the Church
The Complementarian Concept of the Created Order
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority

Posted June 7th, 2011 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Marriage, Equality in Ministry, , , ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

6 comments on “Concerns about Complementarian Teaching

  1. Anna says:

    My biggest concern is the control the man has over every detail of a woman’s life and the woman can’t escape. Most Comps teach that there is no area of a woman’s life over which the man does not have authority. Does this mean he can decide who she votes for, how she spends her own money, what doctors she sees, whether she works or not, what books/blogs she reads, who her friends are, what she eats, what she wears, etc.? This is scary stuff. The man has no incentive to treat the woman well. He will control her (although he will claim he loves her like Christ loves the church) and she can’t even divorce him. I doubt
    the pastor will help, either.

    I am also concerned about how they lie and claim that men and women are equal with different roles. I really believe that I could count on one hand the complementarians who truly believe that.

    Finally, I am concerned about the people (both men and women) who leave the church over these teachings.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Anna,

      These are valid concerns. I know Christian women who are treated oppressively by supposedly Christian husbands. It is heart-breaking.

      And the lie about women being “equal but different”, when they really mean that women are subordinate does my head in. It just doesn’t make sense.

    • Cassandra Wright says:

      A bit like one church we attended that had women elders, but taught male authority. I asked how did the women elders decide how to vote on an issue. She did have to ask her husband or the pastor, or wait until everyone else voted? At first the pastor tried to laugh me off – doncha love that!! Then he tried to talk his way around it. Then he changed the subject. I like what Paul said to the Corinthians – that a women should have power over her own head!

  2. Sarah says:

    What I am concerned about is that the logical progression of the complimentarian teaching on headship and authority eliminates any woman’s experience of God (scriptural understanding, spiritual insight or inspiration or wisdom) unless it is given the authority of a man. By default it is saying that only men have the capacity to be in the most intimate relationship with Him. If a woman’s experience of God is not valid unless it is given credibility by a man with spiritual authority (her spiritual head), her faith is dependent on a third party. This is, blasphemous to the gospel, and does become an issue of salvation. It IS a gospel issue. A woman is not defined by which ever man a complimentarian model places her under; her father or husband or senior pastor. She is defined by Christ, and Christ alone.
    Apologies if I have misrepresented complimentarian teaching … I welcome a complimentarian clarification.

    • Marg says:

      I used to think that “gender roles” was not a gospel issue, but I have changed my mind. I know of some prominent pastors and writers who state that abiding by complementarian gender roles is tied to salvation (e.g. Prof Jim Hamilton; Mary Kassian; John MacArthur). But they are wrong.

      Moreover, the Bible shows us that God often bypassed male guardians and spoke to directly to women, even in patriarchal cultures.

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