For the past few days, the Internet has been losing its collective mind over a series of events:
- Beth Moore publishing an open letter on the misogyny she has experienced in evangelical churches while in ministry.
- A discussion on whether it is biblically acceptable for wives to divorce their husbands in cases of abuse.
- A Southern Baptist leader objectifying a teen girl in one of his sermons…and also encouraging a woman to stay with her abusive husband.
All of these events have a single root: Complementarian dogma. This brand of theology teaches that man is God’s highest creation; women were simply made to be “helpmeets,”or servants (not what helpmeet means, by the way). Sin further solidified this order by proving women are more rebellious, more easily deceived, unfit to preach, and in need of “godly” male leadership. Anyone who steps outside of this “God-created order” risks physical and spiritual disaster.
And it’s bogus, y’all. In fact, it’s more than bogus. I’ve come to believe Comp dogma is actually a form of blasphemy that’s circulating in our churches today. Here’s why:
- It says the sin of Eve is greater than the work of Christ.
Jesus paid it all, yet women must continue to “pay” for Eve’s sin by being denied full inclusion in God’s Church. Somehow, the blood of Christ can wash away all of Adam’s faults, but can’t seem to get rid of this particular stain.
2. It claims that God is incapable or unwilling to fully forgive women.
God got so mad at Eve for her disobedience that He decided to hold it against the entire female species. Forever. But, somehow, that poses no conflict with the Bible’s redemption message.
3. It encourages abuse because it paints women as inherently lesser beings.
Any time in history that one group of people has claimed that another group is spiritually, culturally or genetically inferior, violence has ensued. Every. Single. Time. Claiming that women are incomplete or potentially dangerous without male leadership means that men will seek to oppress and control them, period. You can preach patriarchy-lite and say that men are commanded to love their wives, but the underlying message that women are inferior will always bring out the worst in otherwise good men. Every. Single. Time.
A bad tree bears bad fruit.
4. It assumes a woman’s call to ministry is always wrong, while a man’s call is always right.
Because conservative leaders are constantly hyping the need for male leaders, any guy who stands up and claims he’s been “called to preach” is automatically taken under wing. Rare is the committee that will closely examine a male pastoral candidate to determine whether he’s going into ministry for the right reasons and whether he has the proper training and character. Hey, he’s a man. That’s all they need to know!
Meanwhile, we’ve got people like Mark Driscoll starting churches because they want to be “famous,” sell a lot of books, and tour the evangelical speaking circuit. And we wonder why our churches are oozing with sex scandals and domestic violence. Many church leaders can’t be bothered to “look for the fruit” because they’re too preoccupied with what pastoral candidates have in their Fruit of the Looms.
In short, Comp dogma ignores the fruit of the Spirit in all women and the critical shortcomings in many men. This isn’t biblical by a long shot.
5. It assumes the command to preach the gospel was only given to (and heard) by Jesus’ (11) male disciples.
We know from the gospels that several women followed Jesus. They financially supported his ministry, witnessed his miracles, listened to him teach, stayed by the cross during his crucifixion, testified to his resurrection and waited in the Upper Room to receive the Holy Spirit. So why do we assume these women weren’t present when Jesus gave the Great Commission? The gymnastics some theologians go through to deny this is truly astonishing. Some have gone as far as to claim that the command (and the required infilling of the Holy Spirit) really was reserved for those 11 male disciples, and that the mission to “tell the world” died with them. Absurd!
6. It claims that the Holy Spirit’s calling and power is limited by gender.
This puts comp dogma squarely in blasphemy territory. Some pastors try to claim that the Holy Spirit will never grant a woman the gift of preaching; others say the Holy Spirit will grant it, but women can’t fully use it. So that means either 1) the Holy Spirit is self-limiting or 2) God would tempt a woman to sin by giving her a gift she isn’t allowed to use.
The Bible says God gives us apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers…but women are only “biblically” allowed to do two out of the five. Maybe. If John Piper allows it. He’s still deciding.
7. It requires twisting or ignoring A LOT of scriptures.
For all the conservative preachers who claim they’re “just being biblical” by denying the full inclusion of women, there’s a lot of picking and choosing of Scripture that’s required to support comp theology. For starters, they’ll insist on a “plain, literal reading” of 1 Timothy 2:12 that’s beyond examining any context, but will study Greek under a microscope to “prove” Paul didn’t give female ministers equal esteem in Romans 16.
How bad is it? Well, a couple of years ago, a few dozen Reformed scholars got together and produced their own translation of the Bible that skews the interpretation of Scripture toward the complementarian view. That translation is the ESV, which is being promoted as the most “faithful” translation of the Bible in today’s churches and seminaries.
Wayne Grudem, editor of the ESV Bible (and co-founder of the ultra-conservative Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood), has gone so far to prove comp theology that he invented a doctrine to claim Jesus is eternally subordinate to God in the Trinity…just like women are subordinate to men in marriage.
To call that troubling is putting it mildly. When your doctrine becomes superior to your deity, you’ve lost the plot.
And this is why I will no longer darken the door of any church that promotes complementarianism.
Please don’t use “female species”. “Women” and occasionally “all women” is more accurate.
She is engaging in hyperbole here, to make her point. It is not intended to be demeaning, but rather all-inclusive to the nth degree and to include the tone of complementarian’s demeaning view that women are not really people, species being more of an animal word, (although, strictly speaking in a scientific sense, humans ARE a species).
Wow, I had no idea this way of thinking was so widespread, thanks for writing about it. Lost the plot indeed.
I am in learning mode. How do you determine if a church promotes the complementarian view? Do you have to attend for awhile? And if so, what I am listening/looking for? Thank you!
The starting point is if they allow women in pastoral or elder ministry. If the answer is no, then you know.
Beautifully written. Another example, imho, of the fierce changes in our cultural thinking, and how some people are terrified of those changes (consciously or not.) Why some men are so afraid that women might actually be peers is something that continues to elude me…
This is perhaps overly simplified, but I think there is something to it anyway. Show me a man (in church or out of it) who has misogynist feelings or a desire to hold women back in life—and I will show you a man who has a serious and sustained childhood psychological disturbance involving his mother.
Southern men, in particular, tend to be momma’s boys. Because of that, one of the things that most terrifies southern boys is the possibility that mother might die or leave them. When they get married, they tend to do a psychological transfer of momma onto their new wife. In effect, the wife becomes the new surrogate momma. The need to take hegemony over the wife and control her is a reflection of the fear that mom will die or leave. This sense of control is what the man needs to box in his wife and create conditions of control that will make it hard for the wife to leave (separation or divorce)—which is the southern male’s worst nightmare. This is where the southern church comes in. It blesses this male fear and reinforces it with the means and a methodology to control both the wife and the fear that she will leave.
Then again—over and above this—some men are just plain mean—no escaping that.
You are so right to teach about the dangers of complementarianism. My father thought male headship meant being a tyrant, and my first husband thought male headship meant acting immature, irresponsible, and stupid. Despite my father’s horrible example, I did not get a lot of this teaching as a child because my mother finally saw the light and divorced my father when I was six years old. We stopped going to church at the same time because I suspect my mother was afraid of the stigma of the stigma of being divorced or something like that. Although my mother didn’t exactly become a feminist, I was influenced by the “girls and boys are equal” rhetoric that I saw on TV, but I still always believed the “yes, Jesus loves me” taught at Sunday school so I never really knew there was any conflict. I didn’t see my father often after the divorce, but he was gracious enough to tell me as a teenager that the bible says women are supposed to obey their husbands (Sarcasm). Boy, did that mess with my head and my budding sense of identity as a woman. I wanted to love God, but I was so mad at Him for putting me in this box. I started to go to church as an adult so I could find the real answers, and all I found was the male headship doctrine my father told me about. I accepted complementarianism unhappily because I thought that was what I had to do to have a relationship with God. I comforted myself with the “husbands love their wives as themselves” verse because I thought it meant there should be some equality in the relationship despite the male head/wife submit aspect of it. I married a guy who presented himself as a godly man, but his immaturity, irresponsibility, and sheer stupidity really put us in a bind financially, emotionally, and every other way that was detrimental to our family as well as myself. And I was supposed to submit to this guy as “the tiebreaker”? NO WAY. I have too much self respect for that. Long story short-I discovered the biblical examples of Nabal/ Abbigail and ananias /sapphira, and I chose to be an Abbigail rather than a Sapphira. And the temper tantrums, screaming, yelling, cursing, punching holes in walls that ensued when I didn’t let him be the tiebreaker!!! The problem is that complementarianism only works if the husband really loves his wife as himself, but if the husband is abusive or an idiot than what recourse is there? Too many churches back up the husband’s headship and try to force women back to abusive marriages-anything to prevent divorce even if the wife ends up dead!!! After I left my first husband, I discovered the egalitarian position quite by accident. I never even knew there was any other teaching than complementarianism, and I wish I would have found out about it sooner. I didn’t automatically jump on board the egalitarian bandwagon, but I found it to be biblical and more in line with what Jesus’ actually taught than complementarianism so it was a big relief to dump all of those false teachings. I love your posts on the dangers of complementarianism. Keep up the good work because there are more women that need to learn the truth about this dangerous doctrine who are living in the spiritual darkness and abuse of complementarianism as I was!!! The truth really does set you free!!!
“Because conservative leaders are constantly hyping the need for male leaders, any guy who stands up and claims he’s been “called to preach” is automatically taken under wing.”
This, all day. We get the benefit of the doubt, even long after we’ve shown our colors, while women never get this benefit.
Points 1 & 2 as well are great, and it’s been an eye-opening realization over the past 2 years.
Jesus’ redemptive work is apparently powerful enough to make a gay man straight, but women remain confined to the supposed effects of their forbearer’s sin.
But wait, it’s not because of sin, male leadership/female submission was God’s order all along from the beginning – it’s how he made us, our design. #what
There are other areas which Jesus’ blood hasn’t seemed to cover and we’re not REALLY new creations or capable of living a new reality. Men and women can’t be friends because it always leads to sex is a notable one.
They pick and choose what Jesus died for, or what areas of life can be redeemed or become new.
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Hi April. Thanks for another excellent article. Yes, I am still out here fighting. I noticed that your writing was a little more “spicy” than usual. It’s a good thing, but I hope that my overly spicy writing has not been a bad influence on you. Just the other day, a highly conservative Southern Baptist angrily accused me of being a “propagandist.” I smiled really big because Samuel Adams—the original American propagandist—is one of my many literary heroes. He and i share one other thing in common—a minimal wardrobe and clothes worn too long.
As I often do with your writings, which really are so well thought out and well written, I have written a short piece about your article on complementarianism at my blog and placed a link to your blog article in it. I hope you do not mind. The Paige Patterson hubbub has been a source of significant recent reader traffic on my blog, and I thought your article would be especially interesting and timely for those folks. The safe link is as follows:
By the way, I was not aware of this issue with the ESV. That was completely new to me—not sure how I missed that bit of knowledge. It always bothers me when people decide to translate/rewrite the “Holy Bible” to make it agree with their own evils and prejudices. You are no doubt familiar with Andy Schlafly and his famously deluded Conservative Bible Project. If not, please Google it. He was cornered into quitting the effort just in the knick of time—right before God was about to fling a bolt of lightning at his hind end.
Much love—and I hope you are doing well.