Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Role or Rank?

Role or Rank?One of the basic tenets of Complementarianism is that men and women have equal value and worth as human beings made in the image of God. Complementarians also state that men and women have different roles in the home and in the church. Some even say that men and women have different roles in broader society. To be clear, when Complementarians use the word “role” what they really mean is “rank”.

Dictionary.com gives a definition of “rank” as “a number of persons forming a separate class in a social hierarchy or in any graded body.” Complementarians have effectively graded and divided the church into two main classes: #1 men and #2 women.

Complementarians (such as John Piper) claim that men were created by God to be the leaders and have spiritual authority. And they claim that women were created to be responsive and submissive to this all-male leadership and authority. This is not a difference in tasks to be performed. Rather, it is a difference in rank or status, with the lower class serving and submitting to the higher class (cf Eph. 5:21).

The Bible, in fact, says very little about gender-based tasks, activities or roles. Moreover, the Bible has enough examples of women with spiritual authority, who taught, advised and led men, to call into question the hierarchical concept underpinning complementarianism. Complementarians, however, seem intent on dividing the church along gender lines.

Generally speaking men and women have some basic differences, but we also share many more things in common. As Christians, men and women share many profound things in common. We share our common faith and hope, our relationship with Jesus, and our fellowship with each other. And each of us shares the responsibility to love our neighbour and minister the gospel of grace, healing, hope and forgiveness. Our varying abilities to love and to minister are not fundamentally tied to gender. (See 1 Corinthians chapter 12 and Ephesians 4:7).

The body of Christ should function as a unity, and not a social hierarchy.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26-28

This post was inspired by, and borrows from, an interesting comment that my internet friend Bob Edwards recently posted on his facebook page.  Bob Edwards (Msw) is a counsellor, social worker and the author of “Let My People Go: A Call to End the Oppression of Women in the Church.” His book is available at Amazon and at www.equalityforwomeninchrist.com


Related Articles

Bible Women with Spiritual Authority
Is motherhood the highest calling for women?
Gender Division Divides the Church
Complementarianism: A Traditional Belief of the Church?
The Complementarian Concept of the Created Order
Gender Roles and Speaking Ministries in the Church
25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women

Kevin Giles has written an article on the misuse of the word “role” by complementarians which Philip Payne has posted the article on his website here.

Posted January 14th, 2013 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Marriage, , , ,

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

34 comments on “Role or Rank?

  1. Sophie says:

    Yes, it’s rank not role. If, within the diversity of complementarian thinking, the only consistent difference between men and women is that men must lead and women must submit, then we’re talking rank not role.

    “…they claim that women were created to be responsive and submissive to this all-male leadership and authority. This is not a difference in tasks to be performed.” Yes exactly. The more patriarchally-inclined types give women a difference in tasks, too, but the central idea of women submitting to men is still a rank not a role. This is why no form of heirarchical complementarianism, however soft, will ever be acceptable to me.

  2. Marg says:

    Sophie, I was having an interesting conversation with a young man the other day about so-called “gender roles”, and he said that some women have a problem with “gender roles” because they have a problem with authority.
    *sigh*
    I replied that the problem wasn’t one of authority but of hierarchy. And he was stumped.

    I think we are on the same page with this. 🙂

  3. […] Complementarians hold to the view that men and women are “equal in being” but “unequal in role”; a view that I fail to see as logical. While Complementarians believe that men and women are “equal but different”, I maintain that men and women are “different and equal – no buts”. […]

  4. […] Complementarians insist that men and women are equal, but they also believe in a gender hierarchy where men have authority and women are to be submissive to male authority. […]

  5. Kate says:

    “As Christians, men and women share many profound things in common. We share our common faith and hope, our relationship with Jesus, and our fellowship with each other. And each of us shares the responsibility to love our neighbour and minister the gospel of grace, healing, hope and forgiveness.”

    Yes, yes, and yes. I completely agree with you.

    But when you put words into complementarians mouths: “When Complementarians use the word “role” what they really mean is “rank”.” that is completely unfair.

    Role and rank are two different things, and to say that a complementarian means one thing when saying another is an invalid argument. Respond to what they are saying; don’t make up what they are saying.

    I do not think that having different roles equates to having different ranks. As a mom, am I superior to my daughter? Of course not. But I certainly have a different role than her. A teacher has a different role than her students, but that does not make her superior. A CEO has a different role than her employees, but that does not make her better.

    • Irene says:

      Actually, yes it does make you superior, at least in authority. A teacher is superior to the student in knowledge and authority. A CEO is superior to her employees in authority, as well.

      • Marg says:

        Hi Irene,

        I agree that parents have authority over their children until they are capable adults. There are several verses where children are told to obey their parents. On the other hand, women (or wives) are never told to obey men (or their husbands) in the Scriptures in their original languages.

        Let me reiterate that one day the student may become more knowledgeable than their teacher, and one day an employee may become the CEO. It happens all the time.

        Moreover, teachers and CEOs only have a functional authority limited to their school or workplace. They are not superior human beings possessing an overall higher, permanent, and unchanging level of authority.

        What Complementarians wrongly believe is that men are always the ones with authority in every situation because of an intrinsic and permanent design. If that is true (thankfully it isn’t) that makes men truly superior to women, and puts them in a higher rank or class than women. And there’s nothing women can do about it.

  6. Marg says:

    Hi Kate,

    I’ve read your comment, but I still think that “rank” is an appropriate word.

    One day a daughter may become a mother. One day a student may become a teacher. One day an employee may become the CEO of the company. But, according to complementarian ideology, women can never become leaders or spiritual authorities of men. They believe that all men – by default of their sex, and not because of their abilities or maturity or life experience – are to be the leaders and authorities of women.

    John Piper has said many times that the main difference between men and women, and between masculinity and femininity, involves leadership and subordination, so I think the word “rank” is particularly apt.

    (I don’t know how old your daughter is presently, but I would be surprised if leadership and submission defined your relationship with your daughter, especially if she is a capable adult. And I’m pretty sure that you would not be averse if your daughter taught you things, including spiritual things, either now or in the future when she is older.)

    I am aware that complementarians don’t use the word “rank” – I am not putting words into their mouths. I am just making an observation – an honest observation. Complementarianism is hierarchical, and this fixed gender hierarchy means that men hold different positions in society, in the church and in the family compared with women. Thus men and women are effectively divided in two different ranks or classes.

    If you can think of a more apt word that “rank”, I’d be happy to use it. I have no desire to be antagonistic.

    Sincere warm regards.
    Marg

  7. Don Johnson says:

    Yes, complementarians use obfuscation with the meanings of words, very Orwellian. They make up their own language to mask what they are really doing, altho they will admit it once you pierce their flowery language. The best way to deceive others is to deceive yourself so that you actually believe the deception.

    A believer is to be a plain-speaker, Jesus told us this.

  8. Marg,

    After reading Kate’s comment, I decided to post a comment to this one. You know I really love reading your posts! Lots of good thoughts come from them. I agree with you and I would like to expand on this from my particular view point as I spent 27 years in a military style organization and 41 years in the Churches of Christ, who are very complementarian/border line patriarchal. I think the word rank and role are really basically interchangeable because the complementarians see Rank (specifically as in command structure) within the Role (as in a more general definition of leadership ability).

    Rank is basically a military term used in organizations that rely on a military or hierarchal style of leadership (eg: Army, Police, Security, team sports, etc). Role tends to be more civilian/social and less specific in command/hierarchal structure but is STILL a descriptive of rank within those areas.(eg: corporation positions, volunteer organizations, churches, etc).

    From the Dictionary.com: RANK
    1. a. A relative position in a society.
    b. An official position or grade: the rank of sergeant.
    c. A relative position or degree of value in a graded group.
    d. High or eminent station or position: persons of rank.
    2. A row, line, series, or range.
    3. a. A line of soldiers, vehicles, or equipment standing side by side in close order.
    b. ranks The armed forces.
    c. ranks Personnel, especially enlisted military personnel.
    4. ranks A body of people classed together; numbers: joined the ranks of the unemployed

    From the freedictionary.com: ROLE:
    1. A character or part played by a performer.
    2. The characteristic and expected social behavior of an individual.
    3. A function or position. See Synonyms at function.
    Synonyms: capacity, position, responsibility, duty.

    Rank would be an honest description of the role of the patriarchal male in a patriarchal family, a general in an army, or a police chief of a police force. Role implies the same exact thing by defining a more general class of leadership with associated follower who does not have leadership capabilities and fits very well into the complementarian views.

    The word “rank” in it’s common use is brutally honest. It is to the point. It describes who is in command within the organization by order of the individual’s particular amount of power to make decisions that cannot be questioned or reversed by anyone under that particular person in rank.

    The word role, as used by complementarians, is dishonest at best because it is never equated directly with rank, although they describe the role of men as leadership, a position of rank. They use it in the sense of power for males but they lie about the word when it is about women because they then use it to say women are equal to men. They then use role because I think they really believe that will keep women happy while defining them to non-ranking positions within Christianity by saying they are equal but their role (rank) is different. They are essentially using the word ROLE as a synonym for RANK but they will NEVER equate ROLE and RANK because they do not want to appear patriarchal.

  9. Marg says:

    Thanks for this, Wiley. So role and rank are synonymous. I had a looser definition of role in my mind than the definitions offered by the Free Dictionary. Your comment is interesting and persuasive.

  10. Their theory of ‘God given’ always threw me personally.

    When something is God Given to me it is automatically clear, and not something that can’t be taken away from you.

    For example, if you have someone that has a gift when it comes to art – or more specifically lets say drawing. This gift was always present, and yes it can improve in time with practice, etc. That gift of drawing can’t be taken away EVEN if someone permanently took the pencil and paper away – or any other media. This gift will never leave. It just IS!

    So if men were created to be as these men state they are created for that also could not be taken away, and all the harping against feminism, etc. is basically fruitless. Its a total waste of time. Women can’t take away what God created. It’s a lack of faith to say some human could take away a gift you claim God gave you.

    The way they describe it? It would be plain instinct. Like a cat bathing themselves, or a wild animals capturing DINNER! God created them this way, and it just IS!

    The fact they have to continuously bang away at these ‘God Given’ roles SHOULD show them maybe they were not so God given! So – YES – it does make it more RANK than ROLE to me!

  11. Marg says:

    Great point, Hannah!

    If something is a “given” it should be clearly seen as a reality and fact. But the reality is that not all men are leaders. Some men are lousy at it!

    And I just don’t get why complementarians are so concerned about who the leader is in marriage – why they keep banging away at these ‘God Given’ roles (as you put it.) Why does a married couple need one person to always be the leader? An organisation of more than a few people may need a leader, but two capable adults simply do a hierarchy to function better. In fact I would say that a hierarchy between two equally capable adults hinders effectiveness, affinity and mutuality.

    • Jan says:

      I agree with you that a “hierarchy between two equally capable adults hinders effectiveness, affinity and mutuality”. In the book Outliers (by the same man who wrote The Tipping Point) there is a story of the Korean Air Line’s terrible safety record and how it was corrected. It turned out that as the black box conversations in the cockpit were studied, that the co-pilot and crew were so extremely deferential to the authority of the pilot that when the pilot was over tired and stressed and making poor decisions, the lower ranked crew members gave their advice in very subtle hints and insinuations instead of being plain and straightforward with him. Their extreme respect for authority hindered communication and the result was a tragedy. The way this problem was corrected was to forbid speaking Korean in the cockpit and to lessen the differences in rank, so that the crew of the airplane worked together as a team. I think it is the same way in marriage and in church. Right now my church is searching for a new pastor (because our pastor died last year) and basically, the only ones involved in this are the men. As a single woman in the church, I feel that I have no voice. Without the input of half the church, how can the best decision be made? In marriage, too, husbands can make poor decisions when there is no balance of power.

      • Marg says:

        This is such an interesting anecdote, Jan. Thanks for sharing it.

        I am truly sorry that you have no voice in your own church community. It is not right.

  12. Bob E. says:

    I agree with Wiley regarding the complementarian use of the word “role.” It sounds “nice.” I think that is the whole point of using the slogan, “equal in value, different in role.” The fact remains, however, that in complementarian thinking men lead and women follow. There is, in reality, a hierarchy here. Rank might not sound very nice, but it certainly seems to be accurate. People often attempt to rationalize injustice by couching it in polite language. One step towards positive change, I think, is challenging the language. “Equal in value, different in role,” is a poor rationalization for social inequality.

  13. Marg says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Bob.

    Given that “role” and “rank” mean the same thing, “role” does sound more polite and acceptable than “rank”. But “rank” is the clearer, more comprehensible word in my opinion, and thus more clearly and succinctly expresses the true nature of complementarianism.

  14. […] As Christians we all belong to the same family; and we all belong to the same body of Christ. We should be encouraging, and appreciating, a diversity of functions in the body without promoting or enforcing a division of rigidly prescribed roles or ranks (1 Cor 12:4-31). […]

  15. […] Role or Rank? […]

  16. […] Working Women in the New Testament Gender Obsessions: Emphasizing our Differences or Similarities? Role or Rank? Instant […]

  17. […] distinctions based on ethnicity, class, or gender (Galatians 3:28). As Margaret Mowczko notes in Role or Rank, “The body of Christ should function as a unity, and not a social […]

  18. Zama says:

    I think the focus is on complimentarian’s use of language as opposed to their interpretation of scripture on how they came to teach the doctrines they are advocating is unfair. What in scripture are they misunderstanding? I am more interested in how their critics interact with their understanding of scripture than their use of language which seems to be the main focus from the author and those agreeing with the author of this blog. Scripture is our guide not doctrinal persuasions based on what should or shouldn’t be. I agree the body of Christ should function as a unit but as the bible guides us on how to go about it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2009–2016   Margaret Mowczko | Powered by WordPress

More in Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Marriage
Gender Roles and Speaking Ministries in the Church

Does the New Testament teach that men and women have different roles in church based solely on gender? Are some ministries too important...

Close