Last week, the Christian section of the blogosphere erupted with posts about the role of women in Christianity, and after reading many of these posts I’m left with lots of questions about the Complementarian movement. (For those of you just joining us, they’re the group that thinks women should take a submissive role to men.)
I must say that I envy Rachel Held Evans, the blogger who started last week’s blog topic. With the sleight of her hand, she got the blogosphere talking about this topic, and even my own writers were stumbling over themselves to meet her deadline. (Why don’t they meet my deadlines with that sort of enthusiasm?)
Anyway, here’s some of the issues that you complementarians out there need to work out:
1 – You’re Inconsistent. You claim that women shouldn’t act in authority over men, but it happens all the time. (For example, every married complementarian man that I know asks his wife for permission to do everything. The domestic implications are never taken seriously.) Women who can’t be preachers or music ministers are allowed to become missionaries and take up those leadership roles as long as they are in other countries. And the churches that espouse complementarian beliefs have women speak from the pulpit as guest speakers or lead worship for the church once in a while without anyone complaining. I am told that this is different because these women are “acting under the authority of a man.” Well, if that’s the case, then we should be able to promote women to senior pastors as long as the president of the association is a man, right? Since none of these things exist in the Bible (senior pastors, denominational associations, worship leaders, etc…) we are all just making up our own rules.
These inconsistencies exist, in my opinion, because the complementarians can’t make heads or tails of this issue any more than the rest of us. They’ve set up some rules but can’t back them up absolutely, so they bend those rules with ad hoc explanations and expect us to ignore the problem this creates. But if it’s OK for women to be in authority sometimes then why not at all times?
2 – You’ve Confused Your View with Patriarchy. Is the 1950s housewife something your church believes in as an icon of womanhood? Is that Biblical, or just traditional?
The ideal woman, according to most complementarians.
Of course, it’s not Biblical. The Bible describes the ideal woman in Proverbs 31, and, among other things, she buys land with her family’s money without discussing the deal with her husband – she’s that good and she doesn’t need his advice or approval. Can you imagine a complementarian husband coming home to find that his wife had purchased a house or a field without his input?
The ideal woman, according to the Bible. (image)
3 – Stop Assuming that Egalitarians Don’t Respect the Bible. Every single defense of complementarianism I’ve seen includes a phrase like, “we complementarians take the Bible seriously,” or, “in these situations we must turn to the Word of God and not our social agendas,” or, my favorite, “egalitarians simply are not submitting to God.” These are childish character attacks, and I don’t see why every defense of complementarianism needs to be limited to an assumption that no one else respects the Bible. Your Egalitarian friends are Bible-believing Christians, like yourselves, who are not convinced that the Bible agrees with your views. (Besides how would you like it if I accused you of using your views to keep women in line? Surely, no one would use complementarianism as an excuse for their own bigotry, right?) You like to say that “it all comes down to how we read the Bible,” but you’re wrong. The Bible passages about women are confusing, and people with the same hermeneutic approach will come to different opinions.
4 – The Bible Never Says that Women in Ministry is “Not Ideal” or the Result of Men Not “Stepping Up.” When women do ministry work in the Bible they are praised for it, and there are no caveats that say that the women were only there because the men were absent – that’s something that complementarians like to throw in. I’m told by complementarians that if men would “step up” then women would not have to do ministry work, but that’s not a real argument – it’s just rhetoric. (If cats would “step up” then men and women wouldn’t have to do things, but that doesn’t prove anything.) Of course, that argument also insists that women, for some reason, shouldn’t have to work. Once again, that’s not Biblical. The Bible does not ask men to shield women from responsibility.
This is especially funny to me, because the complementarians are always accusing the egalitarians of following social agendas (those uppity femenists!) rather than the Bible, but I see that complementarians are merely imposing Father Knows Best into their theology.
“You’ve got your cultural traditions in my theology!” “No, you’ve got your theology in my cultural traditions!”
5 – There’s No Reason to Oppose Women Having Careers. I read the entire Bible as a teenager looking for answers, and I was very surprised to find out what was not in there. Why would anyone insist that a woman should stay home while the man works? There’s nothing in the Bible about that sort of thing. Again, this is a chauvinist, patriarchal fantasy. Some Christian leaders teach that women should avoid working to stay at home with the kids, but they are only giving us their opinions based on their own Leave it to Beaver Nostalgia – the Bible does not limit a woman’s career choices.
OK, I’m done, and I hope to never discuss this again because (1) I like this site to be appealing to non-Christians and this is the sort of topic that drives the away, and (2) I’m tired of typing the word “complementarian.” I mistype it every time.
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)