Complementarian Danger

Posted by Karen Soole Karen Soole
"These kinds of ridiculous standards are the reason that I am not Christian anymore!"
" I read out stuff from this book and couldn't believe people still thought like this so I read it aloud to my flatmates and we rolled about laughing"

The above statements are from two conversations I had this week. Both refer to teaching given by Christians who come from a complementarian position. One was referring to a blog that has been set up by an American maverick who goes as far as to suggest that if a wife refuses to have regular sex with her husband she is sexually immoral and her husband has grounds for divorce. I don't think I need to address the multitude of problems with the mindset on this blog. The other was referring to a popular book by a well respected Christian leader (who will remain anonymous). Both of the issues, as I dealt with them, reinforced my conclusion that complementarians need to be very careful indeed when it comes to teaching about gender. It is tragic that young women who come into contact with the gospel are being offended not by the teaching of Christ but by the teaching of people who are pushing scripture much further than scripture goes itself. It is worse than tragic when those young women reject Christ on grounds that have misrepresented Jesus and what it means to follow him.

In some complementarian settings there is such a concern to exercise what they understand as biblical manhood and womanhood that in practice they mandated behaviours that scripture does not mandate. It reminds me of the pharisees who in their concern to keep the letter of the law developed a whole range of rules and regulations and in doing so lost the heart of it altogether.

People talk of godly femininity as though the bible has lots to say about what it means to be feminine. We need to be careful here and I think we have made a major mis-step when we think that the bible describes femininity in terms of characteristics that women should uniquely aspire to. By way of example women are encouraged to be gentle (1 Peter 3:4); but there are more calls for all believers to be gentle (Gal 5:23, Eph 4:2, Phil 4:5, Col 3:12, Tit 3:2, 1 Pe 3:15) and particular instructions to leaders (1 Tim 3:3, 6:11). If we package up gentleness as a female thing we are losing the bulk of the bible's teaching on the subject! The reality is that the bible does not talk about  gender characteristics. It does not teach that women are naturally receptive, desiring to follow and men are naturally leaders; it does not teach that men crave adventure and women desire to be cherished; it does not teach that men have active sexual appetites and women have no libido's. I could go on but I will resist.

The bible does not teach us about gender difference in terms of masculinity and femininity - these are not biblical concepts. It does teach us that men and women are created different but it does not pin that difference down in gender terms. The bible leaves room for us all as individuals to express our wide range of personalities within the confines of the call for us all to be holy, and as such it describes us in terms of our roles in relationships. It teaches us what it means to be a mother or a father, a husband or a wife, a parent or a child, a church member or a church leader (it actually does not have loads to say about all of these either). Complementarians believe that there are two crucial roles women are called to - to submit to their church leadership and, if they are married, to submit to their husbands (the word 'submit' deserves a blog all of its own so I will not unpack that today). These roles are tough enough for young women to get to grips with without having to deal with the pressure of all the 'complementarian plus' baggage that comes their way e.g. you must not exercise leadership in any way over any man; being submissive means never expressing what you think or feel; you must be a stay at home mum (if you have kids).

Gender and sexuality are live issues today - young women are thinking through what it means to be women. Debate rages in the media, social media, in our universities and schools. Complementarians can join in but they must throw out all concepts that are not biblical - there is no scope for laziness or complacency here. The young women I talk to need to hear that bible really does have a credible message for women and to see that God is good. When we call women to follow Christ we must be clear that it is Him we are pointing to not a fantasy of Christian womanhood. They threw out cultural traditional female roles a long time ago. That is not what matters - it matters that they do not throw out Jesus.