Gender Complementarianism – A General Response – from a Former Gender Complementarian Who Is Still A Conservative
I was once a gender complementarian. ‘Tis true.
My old-fashioned Christian parents were gender complementarians and brought me up to assume that comp (gender complementarianism) is true.
The churches we went to were complementarian; the man was supposed to be “head of the household,” the wife was supposed to be passive and submissive; women were not supposed to hold “authoritative” or leadership positions within a church.
The Christian books and articles we had around the house were written from a comp perspective.
I was thoroughly indoctrinated in complementarianism from the time I was a kid.
I know complementarianism very well. I understand complementarianism.
I do not intend for this post to be an in-depth response, biblical or otherwise, to gender complementarianism. This is just a general response.
If you are a gender complementarian – as I once was – you are likely a conservative who takes the Bible literally, and you want to please God.
Furthermore, you have probably been told or taught…
-in or by complementarian materials, churches, preachers, or family members, that any other way of interpreting the Bible concerning passages about gender, gender roles, headship, submission, and marriage, are all “liberal” or are “playing loose with the Scripture.”
-There is only one “right” way to interpret the Bible, and by golly, it is the gender complementarian way, which is the only true “conservative” method, and hence, it’s the more “godly,” or “God Honoring,” method, and which takes the Scripture at “face value”
-Further, this reasoning goes, if you reject the comp hermeneutical method of the Bible, you will slide into secular, left wing, feminism and begin doing things that would make most any conservative recoil, such as start supporting abortion on demand and stop shaving your armpits; you will burn your bras.
You will join a liberal denomination that ordains openly lesbian lady preachers. You will want to grow a mustache because you want to be “just like a man.”
You may even start punching helpless, weak, defenseless kittens for fun.
Now, as a woman who is more than likely right wing, conservative, and adheres to traditional values, you are horrified or in deep disagreement with left wingers, the Democratic Party, and liberal social values (such as support of LGBT causes, abortion being legal, etc).
I get all that because I used to be just like you. In some ways, I still am very much like you, only minus a belief in complementarianism.
My reasons for disagreeing with and rejecting complementarianism later in my life have nothing to do with ignorance of what the position entails, a hatred of God or the Bible, and nothing to do with being influenced by secular feminism, nor from motives of hating men, motherhood, marriage, or traditional values.
If you peruse my blog, you will see I have criticized some positions of secular, left wing feminists. I still find some of the secular feminist positions on some topics weird or distasteful.
It is possible to reject gender complementarian views and interpretations but still remain a right winger, a conservative, and to use conservative interpretative methods of reading the Bible.
I rejected complementarianism years ago but did not morph into a man-hating, bra-burning, abortion- and- LGBT- wedding -supporting liberal.
It is more than possible to reject complementarianism but still retain right wing, traditional, or conservative values.
How you perceive some of these subjects may shift and change, and your emphasis upon them may shift, from what they were before if you reject something such as complementarianism, but you’re not going to throw away all your razors to let your leg hair grow, or register for the Democratic Party as a result.
For example, even though I rejected complementarianism, I am still in general support of concepts such as traditional marriage, motherhood, and nuclear families.
However, I now can see, where-as before I was blind to this, that many Christians have gone way, way beyond what the Bible teaches about these subjects to turn them into idols.
Turning marriage, family, and having children into idols ends up hurting, excluding, or marginalizing infertile women, women who are single by circumstance, divorced people, and many others who do not fit the Christian ideal of “married couple with children living at home.”
Just because I realize that gender complementarians (among other Christians) place far too much emphasis upon children, marriage, and “the family unit,” does not mean I am opposed to children, marriage, or the family unit. Those can be fine and wonderful things, so long as Christians keep them in proper place.
You may be surprised that among many left wingers and secular feminists, they are not opposed to marriage, kids, or the family unit, either – they merely ask conservatives to stop defining “family” to mean only a man married to one lady with a child.
Such limitations, liberals say, may hurt or exclude, for example, the woman whose husband dies, leaving her alone to raise their three children. I don’t think that’s a bad argument.
Once I started going straight to liberal sources, both secular and Christian, to read what they have to say for themselves, I find that they are not always as portrayed by fellow conservatives on conservative sites.
Sometimes, the left wing guys make some valid points here and there – does this mean I am left wing? Nope. I am still right wing.
Does this mean I agree with left wingers all the time about every topic? Nope. I still think left wingers are wrong about some things.
THE BIBLE AND COMPLEMENTARIANISM
I am not the sort of ex-Complementarian who likes to nit-pick the biblical text and get into anal retentive, back- and- forth, endless debates about what some koine Greek word means in the New Testament, but complementarians LOVE this stuff (I hate it and find it very tedious).
I do not engage in that sort of debate, or much debate at all. I hate arguing with people.
If you are a complementarian who is sincerely interested in learning why Non-Complementarians (such as biblical egalitarians and Christian mutualists) think what they do about the Bible and gender, you will have to take the following steps:
In order to start reading the Bible and understanding it from a new, but no less equally valid and conservative manner, you will have to:
Be open, really , truly open, to considering that gender complementarianism may be incorrect.
Just like Abraham was willing to give up his all by sacrificing his son Isaac on the altar when God asked him to, be willing to sacrifice what you think is the truth of complementarianism to find out what is really true about what God says or believes about women, marriage, leadership, authority, and submissiveness.
Stop interpreting the Bible with a male hierarchy assumption in place and stop filtering all the text through such an assumption. Stop assuming that it was God’s design or will for men to be in authority over women.
You will be amazed to see how once you stop assuming male authority in the Bible, you will notice that passages that comps use to defend it simply is not there in the text (they are reading it into the text, assuming it is there – it’s eisegesis)
Stop heavily focusing on the few “gotcha” or “clobber” verses to influence how you interpret the rest of the biblical text.
When you fixate so heavily on the “a woman shall not teach” or “wife submit to your husband” verses, it makes you overlook the forest for the trees.
You end up ignoring or watering down the many passages that conflict with complementarianism, the passages which show God-approved women who were teachers or leaders of men, such as Deborah in the Old Testament, or Junia the apostle in the New.
Take the historical and cultural background of the text you are reading into account, which is something conservative Christian apologists regularly do and in other contexts besides gender role studies.
Taking the cultural background or time period of the text into account to interpret it is not a “liberal” practice.
Because I am here to tell you that some of the content you are reading in the Bible is not all meant to be timeless directives for all Christians every where, down to the present-day United States (see this page: Identity Mapping for more on that).
You need to be willing to open your mind anew and read the text anew. None of my points above, 1 through 4, are “liberal.” All are perfectly valid and conservative.
Consider reading a copy of the book The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight (who gets chewed out on a regular basis on his blog in the comments by some homosexual dude for not affirming homosexual sexual behavior):
Be aware that the same interpretative method you are using to understand the Bible about gender and to defend complementarianism is the same one that white Christians have used in the past to defend slavery – and specifically, white Americans owning black people. Please see these links:
(Link): Slavery, Apartheid and Women
If the Bible can and has been used by Christians in the past to defend something so loathsome as slavery and racism, it should give you strong pause to consider that maybe, just maybe, Christians of today are using the Bible and their interpretation of it to support sexism (with complementarianism being sexism under another label) – and neither racism or sexism was God’s design or intent for humanity.
At any rate, there are, however, other conservative Christians who are Non-Complementarian who also enjoy nit-picking the Bible.
These biblical egalitarians and biblical mutualists have written many books and articles explaining how certain verses do not mean what you think they do and what you have been taught repeatedly over your life, to assume they mean, by famous Christian complementarians, or by your local complementarian pastor.
Some biblical egalitarian work is very academic in nature, while some of it is easily accessible for the lay person.
This brings me to my next point. Most complementarians I come in contact with will not seriously consider the works of biblical egalitarians or other Non-Complementarians.
Just a week ago, I asked a complementarian lady on Twitter to please visit some biblical egalitarian sites I gave her links to, and she out and out refused and told me that I needed to “repent and accept Jesus.”
(Even though I accepted Jesus as a kid and rejecting complementarianism is not something a person needs to repent of. No, it’s not, it’s really not. Complementarianism is not part of the Gospel or ‘the faith handed down once for all to the saints.’)
This Twitter woman’s condescending assumption, which lacks biblical support, is that if one does not agree with complementarianism, one is a flaming heretic or unsaved. But her mind was totally closed to even looking at content I pointed her to.
My problem with this is multiple. First of all, I grew up in complementarianism. For years and years, I was a comp.
However, a lot of complementarians that I’ve seen, have never bothered to read egalitarian literature first hand.
I am more than familiar with complementarianism views, because I used to be one myself, and every so often, I will still read some of their articles.
Some complementarians may read rebuttals to egalitarian work by complementarians, such as Wayne Grudem or John Piper, but these men tend to offer distorted views of egalitarianism, or egalitarian arguments.
Ergo, I would encourage you to go straight to the horse’s mouth and read egalitarian sites for yourself.
Don’t rely on John Piper’s, Wayne Grudem’s, The Gospel Coalition’s, Mark Driscoll’s, CBMW’s (Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s), or Al Mohler’s descriptions of biblical egalitarians or biblical egalitarian arguments.
Further, don’t refuse to seriously contend with biblical egalitarian material because you start with the assumption that egalitarians are LGBT-supporting, left- wing- voting Democrats who don’t take the Bible seriously and who steal candy from babies.
You’re going to have to shelf the preconceived ideas and biases you have against Christian biblical egalitarians and mutualists.
I will say that some self-professing Christians who say they are biblical egalitarians (or who at least say they reject complementarianism) do dance with SJW and liberal views, but there is a huge number who do not subscribe to liberal views.
There are plenty of conservative, complementarian Christians who believe wild, outrageous things, such as the following:
(Yes, indeed there are in fact some complementarians who believe one or more of the following – I am not making these up but have seen complementarians actually advocate these views in their books and blogs. You can use Google to find examples of complementarians teaching these things):
- Women should not have the right to vote
- Christian girls should be put into arranged marriages, where the parents get to choose the girl’s husband (see link)
- Women should not work as police officers or in any occupation where they may have authority over a man (see link)
- Women should live at home under their father’s care and headship unless and until they marry, even if they are still single at 35 or 45 or older
- Women should not attend college
- All women, even single ones, should be under all male authority, even under one-way submission to their younger brothers, men at their secular jobs, etc.
- No woman, not even married ones, should ever use birth control, because the woman’s uterus will become a “tomb for fetuses” (see link)
- Women should not have the right to divorce their husbands ever, not even if the husband commits serial adultery, or is physically abusing her and may murder her (see link)
- Slavery – white Americans owning black Americans – is ethical and wonderful (see link or see this link)
If you are a far, far right wing conservative complementarian, you will see nothing wrong with the items on that list but consider them “biblical.”
However, if you are a more moderate, mainstream complementarian, you are probably thinking, “Some of the stuff on that list is nuts! Crazy! Sexist!”
- By the way, for a few blog posts by more “moderate” complementarians who even think the fringe complementarians are nutty, see this post, or this post
I agree. The items on that list are sexist, crazy, and weird.
How would you feel if I assumed up-front that ALL complementarians agree and believe everything on that list, and then refused to look at any and all other complementarian materials based on the assumption that they are all godless, sexist conservatives who hate women?
See, I don’t assume that ALL complementarians support arranged marriages, insist that women should forgo college, should not work as police officers, or condone racism (slavery of black Americans).
So, why, if you are a complementarian, do you insist on assuming from the out-set that all or most biblical egalitarians are man-haters, Democrat voters, supporters of Christian bakers having to make wedding cakes for homosexual weddings, and so on, and then refuse to visit egalitarian sites to see what they have to say?
If you’d like to read more about how or why some conservative Christians disagree with complementarianism, their critiques of complementarianism, and their arguments in support of biblical mutualism / egalitarianism, there are many good books available on that, as well as sites such as:
(Link): Christians for Biblical Equality
(Link): Junia Project
The Junia Project blog even discusses those nit-picky verses complementarians like to drone on and on about such as:
(Link): Defusing the 1 Timothy 2:12 Bomb
(Link): Five Myths of Male Headship
(Link): New Life Blog
Please stop demanding of me “biblical proof” for my position – there is plenty of biblical support for biblical mutualism, if you care to study the topic for yourself and look into it.
But I’ve found most of you complementarians who Tweet at me on the Twitter aren’t interested in knowing why I believe what I do.
You run immediately into assumptions, such as, I must be a liberal, I take the Bible non-literally, I must be an un-saved heretic, I hate the Bible.
You’re more interested in defending the truth as you already see it – complementarianism – rather than considering your interpretation of the Bible on this topic may be totally wrong.
You don’t want to read biblical egalitarian arguments against complementarian interpretations of the Bible in links I point you to, no.
I’ll say it again: I rejected Christian gender complementarianism several years ago, but I remain right of center on politics and social values.
Upon rejecting Christian gender complementarianism, I did not transform into an abortion-supporting, cigar-smoking, hairy, liberal feminist. If I could do it, so can you.
A former gender complementarian who is still a conservative
My rejection of complementarianism came about years and years before my current faith crisis hit. So that’s irrelevant.
I’m still a conservative, and in- so- far as I believe in the Bible still, I am more in agreement with more conservative views of it than I am with the liberal ones. (I am open to reading critiques of conservative hermeneutic methods, however.)
Any doubts I have about the Christian faith were brought about by other concerns that have largely nothing to do with the gender role debate or with liberalism (such as: prayers that go unanswered. Why did God heal you of cancer after you prayed for a healing, but God allowed my mother to die from cancer, in spite of all my prayers for her?, for example).