January 17, 2021

“Complementarianism” Is a Sham

'The Top of the Wedding Cake' photo (c) 2008, mendhak - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

UPDATE: Comments now closed.

I honestly don’t get it. Seriously.

I have been hearing conservative Christians talk about “headship” and “submission” in the marriage relationship for over 35 years now, I heard about it again yesterday in church, and I still don’t know what they’re talking about.

Am I that thick-headed, or is this whole subject a sham?

This position has come to be called “complementarianism,” which I think is a horrible designation. Isn’t it obvious to everyone that God created males and females to complement one another? Just look at our bodies. Just look at how sex and reproduction work. Just look how male and female fit together like two puzzle pieces and participate together in that combination to bring life into the world. That’s the “complementary” nature of male and female, the “image of God” spoken of in Genesis 1:26-28.

Fair enough.

But what “complementarians” are talking about is hierarchy; more specifically patriarchy — MALE RULE. The folks with penises get to be in charge and say what’s what.

Rachel Held Evans called them out on this last week with an eminently sane post, saying, “Complementarianism is patriarchy—nothing more, nothing less.” I would go further — in most cases, complementarianism is a purely theoretical construct that bears little resemblance to how most modern love marriages actually function.

Complementarians are advancing an argument about certain ideas, not about actual prescriptions for married life in the Bible, and most certainly not about facts on the ground.

You can see this in what Russell Moore was getting at when he said this at a recent Together for the Gospel conference: “What I fear is that we have many people in evangelicalism who can check off ‘complementarian’ on a box but who really aren’t living out complementarian lives. Sometimes I fear that we have marriages that are functionally egalitarian, because they are within the structure of the larger society. If all we are doing is saying ‘male headship’ and ‘wives submit to your husbands’ but we’re not really defining what that looks like, in a Christ-centered way of discipleship, in this kind of culture, when those things are being challenged, then it’s simply going to go away.”

And it should go away! Because most people, no matter what their ideology, simply don’t live that way. More importantly, you cannot “define what that looks like” from the Bible, because it’s not there. It’s not there.

'chicago wedding, wabash crossing' photo (c) 2010, *m5 - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Together for the Gospel contains the following statement in its affirmation of beliefs: “God has given to both men and women important and strategic roles within the home, the Church, and the society.”

Really? Well, the only place I see “complementarianism” at work consistently at all is in churches that promote this ideology, where women are restricted from preaching, teaching, and holding positions of leadership.

I certainly don’t see it in society, where women can now hold almost any and every position available. [I know there is still a lot of work to be done in this realm; I don’t mean to say the battle is over — but we’ve come a long way considering that less than 100 years ago women still couldn’t even vote in the U.S.]

I don’t see it in husband and wife relationships. Well, I have a few times. For example, I knew a man who would not let his wife get her driver’s license because he thought she should be at home all the time unless he specifically allowed her out. He ruled his family with an iron fist, to the point where she rarely spoke and never did anything without his permission.

However, in the vast majority of marriages — even where it was believed that the husband was the “leader” — what I have seen is a functional partnership. Wives and husbands work out roles and responsibilities together, in a variety of ways. There is no template. I have never seen what Russell Moore is advocating — a “defined pattern” of assigned roles that comes from the Bible.

As a pastor I have also known a lot of men who were not being good husbands and dads, not investing in their families. What should we say to them? Inevitably, the “complementarian” leaders in the church would assert that the answer for those men was that they should repent and become “spiritual leaders” in their homes. They should step up and take responsibility for leading their wives and children in God’s ways.

Which I have always thought is utter nonsense.

What men in that position need to do is honor their marriage vows and begin participating in the lives of their families. The answer has nothing to do with “leadership” and everything to do with love and investment. They need to apologize to their wives for being lazy, selfish adolescents. They need to grow up and become adults. They need to look their wives and children in the eyes and say, “I’m sorry I’ve been emotionally and relationally absent. I’m not going to be absent or uninvolved anymore.”

That’s not leadership. That’s just getting back in the game, back on the field, and being a good teammate. That’s reengaging in the partnership of marriage and in the relationships one has promised to nurture.

Here is what I believe. In terms of practical day to day roles and tasks, in Christ, we are free to organize and live out our family lives as we choose, within the context of the Gospel and the virtues of new life the Spirit produces within us.

If, within one marriage, a husband and wife work it out so that the husband should take the lead in certain areas and the wife in others, that’s fine. If couple number two decides to do it in just the opposite way, that’s acceptable too. It’s a matter of relationship, not defined roles or “Biblical” rules. It’s a matter of wisdom by which we recognize individual strengths and weaknesses, areas of interest and ability, and varied and changing life situations. We work it out together, for the good of our marriage and our family, so that we might honor Christ and bless our neighbors.

The best passages for how family relationships actually, practically work out are not the passages that talk about headship and submission. Those texts don’t give any pattern, any template, any exhortations about how to actually function as husbands and wives in the daily lives of our families. Instead, we should be looking to passages like these:

'Dubrovnik Wedding' photo (c) 2011, Sean MacEntee - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Ephesians 4:25-32
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Colossians 3:12-17
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

These (and many other) texts, addressed to the church as a whole, describe the daily virtues that should be practiced in a “one-another” life — which is what marriage and family is. These are the attitudes and actions we should be living out as husbands and wives. It’s not about who earns the biggest paycheck, whose career comes first, who disciplines the kids, cleans the house, does the finances, or controls the TV remote. It’s not about decision-making. I would hope every husband and wife would be growing in the ability to make important decisions together and come to agreement, and when that’s hard, learn qualities like patience, deference, sacrifice, and loving support of the other in the midst of disagreement.

Christlikeness in marriage has nothing — NOTHING — to do with who “leads” and who “follows.”

It has everything to do with love.


  1. I agree with you 99%. The only place I would differ with you is- that it is there. From front to back. You really can’t deny it. The entire OT and most of the New goes along with the prevailing patriarchal culture. Yes, Paul has a couple versus that seem to go against the grain, but the majority of his stuff is patriarchal. About the only places that aren’t patriarchal are the red letter verses.

    • Yes, Tim, there is a recognition of patriarchal culture in the Bible. But tell me where there are prescriptions giving anyone detailed instructions about how to live in a patriarchal marriage as a Christian. There aren’t any.

      • How about Adam and Eve? Hosea and Gomer? How about Paul in Ephesians 5?

        How much more detail is needed? Christ-like headship is self-sacrifice. It’s not a right at all, it’s a self-sacrificing duty that men since Adam have fled from. It means making the family go to church, it means working and earning a living and protecting them from harm, it means a lot of hard work without a lot of glory. It’s not a right to get one’s own way, that’s the opposite of headship.

        There’s a lot that can go wrong when headship is confused with power, which seems to be the common view of what complementarianism is. Men and women who view it as a power thing are very wrong and confused. That’s why real Christian male headship looks more like a partnership. It’s about who has to sacrifice and who is to receive the benefit of that sacrifice.

        It’s also why scripture uses marriage as a picture of Christ’s relation to the church. Headship is self-sacrificing for the good of the other, and the other accepts the sacrifice with love and trust. There’s an LCMS woman who runs higher things that writes very well on how male/female relations are a picture of Christ’s relationship to the church. It’s not a pointless rule from olden times, but –properly understood as a role of sacrifice for the church—a symbol foreshadowing Christ and the great reversal.


        • Phil M. says

          It means making the family go to church, it means working and earning a living and protecting them from harm, it means a lot of hard work without a lot of glory. It’s not a right to get one’s own way, that’s the opposite of headship.

          And how in the world are these duties any different than what a wife would do in a family? Being married and having children means self-sacrifice from both partners. Do you really think that a man can “make” a woman do anything without power coming into play? That’s a self-contradictory statement.

          That’s my whole problem with this type of thinking. It makes the woman’s role in the family something like a grown-up child who the man is supposed to care for.

          • Consider this: A man doesn’t necessarily have to “make” his wife go to church. Most men who take an active interest in community spirituality find their wives right there along side them. Most women want a happy marriage and will play game even if they have no personal faith. There are exceptions, but rarely. Conversely, when the woman is the more spiritually inclined, how successful is she at bringing her husband along? It almost never happens. The man stays home on Sunday if he wants to, or at best comes and takes his punishment and leaves no more interested than before. This is not a universal law, but a peculiar and consistent tendency I have noticed.

          • The importance of fathers in bringing kids to church and passing on the faith has been shown in empirical studies as well.

            Check out this article based on a swiss study, which found that a father who goes to church without the mother is far more likely to have the children go to church as adults, than a mother who goes to church without the father.


            There is such a thing as the created order and human nature, and with regard to fathers, their actions have different effects on kids than their mothers’ actions. Other than sacrifice for the good of the family, headship means raising kids up in the faith. Mothers do it too of course, but without reinforcement from fathers, cannot do it as effectively.

            Reading the above quotations from these other guys, I see why complimentarianism gets a bad rap. I don’t even know if complementarianism is the same as the confessional Lutheran idea of orders of creation. But it shouldn’t have anything to do with condemning stay-at-home dads, women making more money, women making major decisions for the family, etc. It does have to do with teaching kids the faith and showing Christ-like love.

        • The Previous Dan (TPD) says

          boaz +1

        • One of my pet peeves is this made up word “headship”. ONe would not use ‘bodyship” or ‘armship’. It is one of the problems with understanding what Kephale communicated in the 1st Century. But folks love to take a metaphor too far except when it comes to being a sheep or a “bride” of Christ. (wink)

    • Old Testament refers to the Matriarchs as well as the Patriarchs. Judges lists men but also a woman.

      In Jesus day women could be part of Jesus followers. It was when we started creating Biblical Canon that men’s roles were emphasised .

      Paul sent letters to women and sent regards to them. In fact, women and men worshiped together in the early years of Jesus teaching.

      We need to look at the whold story, not just quote verses that support our position

  2. Sorry Chap,

    Sorry to be rude, but I hit the snooze button about half way through. And if I posted the usual rebuffs you would do the same to me. But you don’t see it b/c you don’t want to see it and it doesn’t fit into your framework. There is an established order, one that all of Christendom recognized as pretty consistent for the better part of two thousand years, but oh well, what did those guys know.

    The whole thing has been a sham. Those bishops at all of those early councils just covered up and constructed a male dominated society.

    This is why there will never be unity in the church because people living with sympathies shaped by the 1960’s and onward will never again submit to authority or any idea that violates their radical egalitarianism sp?

    The orthodox and the Roman Catholics (thank God for both of them) will never change on these matters. And here I’m thinking specifically of women’s ordination. There are, thankfully, many Anglicans who still feel the same way and it’s not because we are monsters who will not let our wife learn to drive (nice straw man there) but because we do not feel that we have the perogatvie to change things without warrant from Scripture.

    Let me know in a decade how this radical egalitarianism works out for the ELCA.

    p.s. we still need to catch a Rome Braves baseball game if you come this way

    • “The whole thing has been a sham. Those bishops at all of those early councils just covered up and constructed a male dominated society. ”

      The above was sarcasm.

      And i also realize that I didn’t really address the idea of complentarianism in marriage. I’m really not one that thinks the male has to earn the most or that even if he stays home and the wife works he is some sort of weakling. What works for folks is their business for the most part.

      I also agree that more men just need to ‘get in the game” as you say instead of showing leadership.

      But i would qualify my above admitted snarky remarks with the above.

      This is my take on a few random things.

      The husband/father is the one who will answer for the spiritual climate of his home. I know if he is a non-believer that changes things, but where he is a believer, he can’t pass the buck to the wife if the spriitual climate in his home falters.

      He doesn’t have to be the main disciplinarian, in fact it’s unfair to the dad for the mom to be always saying “wait till your dad get’s home.” That set’s him up to be the bad guy.

      But let me give you one example. I think most of the time a couple if they pray and are humble towards each other will be able to agree about where to worship. But if it comes down to mom wants to go one place and dad another, the family should go with dad, and again I believe that is b/c it is the man who is ultimataley resposnible for the spiritual climate.

      Now I just stated a pretty mild understanding and practice of male headship but just sit back and wait and see. It will not be enough for some who reject all established order.

      • Phil M. says

        What does it even mean to say “The husband/father is the one who will answer for the spiritual climate of his home”? Does that mean the wife won’t? Certainly she is as much responsible for the climate as her husband is. Women aren’t like dogs that when they don’t behave the way we want them to we ship them off to obedience school. Most people would read what you wrote and think it silly. If others take it seriously, it will just be a license for the man to become an empowered jerk. Both the husband and wife are equally responsible for the “spiritual climate” in a household.

        • I mean exaclty what it says, that the man is repsonsible for the spiritual climate of the home, that when God looks at a family and there is something going on in that household that He will go to the man if he is a believer as to why that is the case. I’m sorry that very common understanding for centuries that each man was to show responsiblity for those whom care he was entrusted is so shocking. I think your reaction probably says more about just how perioulsy low the Christian understanding of manhood has slipped than any thing I could write.

          Thank you.

          • Phil M. says

            That’s just ridiculous. Of course I show responsibility for those I care for, but so does my wife. It’s not an either/or thing. My wife has a free will that’s beyond my control. A husband, for example, is not going to be held accountable by God should his wife cheat on him.

          • The Previous Dan (TPD) says


            You’re making it harder to understand than it needs to be. Male headship in the home is simlar to pastoral headship at church. Your Pastor isn’t any smarter, stronger, better, or more worthy than than you. Your Pastor doesn’t “make” you do anything, he won’t go to hell if you reject Christ, and he isn’t responsible for your every decision. At the same time your Pastor is the “head” of your church and is, to some degree, responsible for what happens there.

          • Phil M. says

            I don’t think that the term “pastor” is necessarily describing a position. It’s describing a certain gifting within the church itself. As far as the leadership of the church itself, that would fall to the elders. Paul doesn’t put someone with a pastoral gifting ahead of someone, say, with a prophetic gifting. The ministerial gifts are placed upon whomever the Holy Spirit gives them to. I don’t see that’s it a good analogy for a family to follow, other than saying that it’s based on mutual submission.

          • The Previous Dan says


            Then take my post above and insert Elder, Deacon, Bishop, or any other preferred church leadership title. The point is still the same.

        • Who ate the apple first? But who had to answer to God first? God knew Adam’s excuse. “The woman gave it to me” was NOT new information for God. Eve wasn’t let off the hook either, she bore some responsibility, but God, and the writers of the NT, assign blame primarily to Adam.

      • Austin, as to your specific example, my position would be, if the understanding that the husband should have final say in decisions like that is what the couple have worked out in partnership and agreement with each other, they should do it that way. After all, I would think that even if one assigns final responsibility to the man for the spiritual climate of the home, one of the most important components of that would be trying to be of “one mind” with his wife.

        • I don’t disagree with that, and as to your verse in Genesis, not to brush it off b/c it is a good thought but it would be a “? so what”, if you point is that God did not intend for their to be a hierarchy (while not willing to conceded that) I would assume you would then go on to argue that since the Ressurection and the correction of the Fall that we should start seeing the effects fo the fall reversesed and one of those would be that hierarchy? I would respond (even though I’m sure you have a way to explain it) that Paul writing after the Ressurection doesn’t seem to write that way ,and neither did the early primitive church.

          • I think Austin is on to something (as opposed to on something)…

            Chaplain Mike, isn’t First Corinthians 11:3 in the Bible any more?

            1Cr 11:3 — But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

            But I’m only 71, what do I know?

            Austin, I live in Cherokee County and every time I go visit my daughter’s family in Alabama I take the Rome bypass and go right past the Rome Braves stadium.

          • Austin, I do believe the NT talks about reversing the effects of the fall and that in the new creation toward which we are moving, male and female will no longer take on the same kinds of distinctions as they do now. But as with many social and cultural matters the NT does not advocate a revolutionary approach to overthrowing all the effects of the fall. Instead, it plants seeds of individual dignity and equality in Christ that work themselves out organically as the church matures and influences the world. In the meantime you also have the matter of living respectable lives in the eyes of the world for the sake of Christian witness. I think many of Paul’s exhortations restricting women or stressing order in various institutions fall in that category.

          • Been there, as someone else already said, that passage also commands women to cover their heads. Must we do that?

          • Chaplain Mike, is your best response to the text on that count? “I don’t want to obey the second half of the verse, so that renders the first half invalid?” But the sentiment is repeated nearly verbatim in Ephesian’s 5. This is my major barrier to egalitarianism: The tendency to explain away verses they don’t like instead of giving sound, detailed exegesis. You know what this sounds like to the complementarian crowd? “Well, this is what God says, but here’s what I think, and I know better.” I know you’ve studied this deeper and have profound convictions based on scripture which have shaped your view here, but that line of defense just raises red flags and sounds the bunker siren for those holding to the other perspective. It just sounds like a direct attack on scriptural authority.

    • As Pattie mentioned in an early comment, male leadership in Roman Catholicism is based on sacramental reasons, not “complementarianism.” I have greater respect for that position. And, in that historic tradition, you at least have one of the most robust recognitions of female participation in Christ’s mission through the vocational orders.

      As I said, I have been dealing with this for 35 years of studying and teaching the Bible, mostly in complementarian settings, and I’ve never, ever been able to come to terms with it. First, there is too much evidence in the Bible itself to contradict it. Second, as I’ve said in the post, no one who promotes it seems to be able to tell me what it’s supposed to look like.

      For example, I wonder, Austin, what you think of Genesis 3:16 — “Yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” That verse has always been a thorn in the side of any complementarian leanings I might have had. I don’t see any way around the conclusion that God is here saying that male rule is one consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin. Neither Gen. 1 or 2 have anything to say about it (unless you draw some conclusion from Adam being created first), and I see nothing but full partnership in the original creation narratives. It is only after the fall that we hear about one sex becoming dominant.

      Like my rejection of Young Earth Creationism, my position on this is not defined by “sympathies shaped by the 1960?s and onward,” though I’m sure you will find that hard to accept. It comes from being troubled by what I see in the Bible itself that undercuts the complementarian interpretation and the inability of its proponents to give any specific instructions about how it should be lived out in the home.

    • Back up there a moment, austin. As a Roman Catholic, I can assure you that I am in agreement with regards to women’s ordination (viz. the ladies in the Roman Catholic WomenPriests Movement who declare they are ‘bishops’ and go around ordaining women ‘priests’ and ‘deacons’ in ceremonies that seem to be mostly hosted by Unitarian churches – no, they’re not priests, no matter if they declare that way back in the 80s some unnamed male bishops secretly ordained them).

      On the other hand, I have never heard anything preached on headship and submission in marriage; until I visited this site, I had no idea what complementarianism and egalitarianism even were (and I’m still not too clear). Yes, I was born in the 60s and grew up in the 70s, the great liberalisation time after Vatican II, but believe me, up till the late 80s the Irish church was still fairly conservative even on the ground and in the parishes, and when we had the lectionary readings from St. Paul’s Epistle about “Wives, submit to your husbands” it didn’t stop there, it went on to include the verses about parents and children – and the sermons afterwards were invariably about how parents and children should live family life as prescribed by St. Paul and in a Christian manner.

      I have never heard any explicit preaching about “The man of the house makes all the decisions and his wife must submit; any complaints by her about her husband are undermining a Christian marriage”. Yes, if the man wants to run the finances, okay – but if he spends money like water, has no idea of budgeting, gets the family into debt – is the wife supposed to submit as the will of God to this, or can she say “You are hurting our family, perhaps some outside help to do this might be good on your behalf”?

      And as far as 2,000 years of the patriarchy are concerned, there have also been 2,000 years’ worth of mother-in-law jokes, nagging wives jokes, hen-pecked husband jokes and more. Look at the Wife of Bath n “The Canterbury Tales” for an example! She prefers the interpretation of I Corinthians 7:4 and Ephesians 5:25:

      “I have the power during all my life
      Upon his proper body, and not he;
      Right thus the apostle told it unto me,
      And bade our husbands for to love us well.
      All this senténce me liketh every deal.”

      I have little to no patience with feminist/womanist/mujerista theologians who like to ramble on about the patriarchy, and I have as little patience with their male counterparts who do the same, only with approval. Goodness knows, I don’t think anyone would have called Pope Pius XII in 1947 a radical feminist, yet in his address to the Congress of the International Union of Catholic Women’s Leagues, yet even he managed to say not “Ladies, stay at home and don’t bother your heads with anything outside that circle, leave it all up to your husbands” but:

      “IV. The Place and Role of Woman in Political Life

      There remains to be considered the domain of political life. In many circumstances, We have already touched upon it. This domain has several distinct aspects: the safeguard and care of the sacred interests of woman, by means of legislation and administration that respects her rights, dignity, and social function — the participation of some women in political life for the good, the welfare, and the progress of all.

      Your own role is, in general, to work toward making woman always more conscious of her sacred rights, of her duties, and of her power to help mold public opinion, through her daily contacts, and to influence legislation and administration by the proper use of her prerogatives as citizen. Such is your common role. It does not mean that you are all to have political careers as members of public assemblies. Most of you must continue to give the greater part of your time and of your loving attention to the care of your homes and families. We must not forget that the making of a home in which all feel at ease and happy, and the bringing up of children are very special contributions to the common welfare. So we rejoice in the fact, which you yourselves rightly recorded, that among rural families, which are still such a large part of society, woman’s work in the home still goes hand in hand with her contribution to the social and national economy.

      Those among you who have more leisure and are suitably prepared, will take up the burden of public life and be, as it were, your delegated representatives. Give them your confidence, understand their difficulties, the hard work and sacrifices their devotion entails; give them your help and support.”

      • Martha, Thank you for sharing this. I’ve spent my Christian life in Evangelical circles, and I find your Catholic perspective on the matter as you stated above helpful…

        Regarding Chaplin Mike’s post, I use to attend a church where headship was defined in a pretty narrow way. Those of us who did not exercise family headship in that particular way were looked down on. Time has vindicated those of us who fell into that supposed “lesser of a man” category. Also the issue was a significant part of our leaving that church when I realized I did not want my daughter marrying anyone who held that narrow view of what “headship” was…


  3. That Other Jean says

    True enough, since patriarchal culture was a way of life in both ancient Jewish and Roman society. But those red-letter verses are the important bits.

    • That Other Jean says

      How did this wind up here? It was supposed to be a reply to Tim, the first comment.

  4. Ah, and here’s what everyone *really* wanted to talk about in the open thread 🙂

    • In all seriousness though, thank you. I used to have naive dreams about “spiritually leading” a woman. Then I started reading the Bible better, and ultimately when I met the woman who would become my wife, I realized “yeah, right…I’m just gonna try to keep up with her.”

  5. I never could get my mind around this craziness…not ever. My husband and I are partners, and no one is “in charge” of the other. That is slavery, not love. He does the stuff that he likes and/or is better at; and vice-versa.

    I don’t have any trouble with a male priesthood (as RC) and never did, even when I was a card carrying member of NOW several LOONNNGGG decades ago. Christ was male and chose male apostles….no big deal. The women were as much involved in the early life of the Church, and it wasn’t a big deal (except to poor ole’ Paul…)

    In fact, I would even say that it is HERESY to have a woman following a mortal man instead of the King of the Universe. It is no different than a white person feeling superior to others due to less melanin in their skin….feeling and acting superior due to a tiny little chromosome. Remember that slaves were property once….just like wives and minor children.

    Icky, immoral, and WRONG!

  6. Husbands are called to love their wives like Christ loves the Church. Christ came in love to serve, not to be served; to suffer and bleed and die.

    If there is anything we husbands are to strive to lead in, it is leading in service and sacrifice, to put ourselves last; not to seek the perceived glory of leadership nor to claim the seat of honour at the banquet.

    And I suppose that that’s something all of us should be doing anyways. 😉

    • And since all Christians are called to lay down their lives for one another, isn’t that the wife’s calling too?

      • Would you let your wife give you the last seat in a lifeboat? The right answer makes you a complimentarian.

        • Only if you tell her she looks pretty! Oh the difference that a single letter makes. 😉

        • bkundrat says

          Agree completely Boaz. If I make jokes about hearing an intruder in the house and saying, “honey you go look!” people laugh because one of the roles of the man, as was Adam’s failed role, is protector. These aren’t roles that nurturing shaped and developed.

          Complementarianism implies male and female specific characteristics. Not things like, “women belong in the kitchen” but rather than both being made in God’s image (God created us male and female), a man and women bring different characteristics of God to the union of marriage.

          • Phil M. says

            As far as protector goes, I’d say that this idea is appealing to many men, because, let’s face it we all like the idea of being the one who rescues the damsel in distress from the forces of evil. The thing is, though, this rarely plays out in real life. The idea that there are women waiting around for men to rescue them doesn’t play out in real life much.

            Women in general aren’t simply looking for the man on the white horse to come and take care of them. They’re looking for someone who will respect them as an equal, who will be faithful to them, and who will be there with them. There is some sort of protection element at play in that, I suppose. I think of when my wife was very ill and in the hospital. In that type of situation, I felt I need to watch out for her, but if the situation was reversed, I know she’d so the same for me.

            The fact is that we aren’t going to change back to a more patriarchal society. We are really past it many ways now. Women outnumber men in college now, and soon there will be more women in positions of power in the workplace. We need to stop pretending like this isn’t the case and teach young men how to respect these women. We can’t be telling them that the ideal is a situation that likely won’t exist.

          • Phil M. says

            Chaplain Mike,
            I wrote another comment in response to this, and it appears to be caught in moderation.

        • Danielle says

          I think whoever confronts the intruder should be the one who is the better shot. 🙂

          Also, a practical observation: It’s usually better to send two people after an intruder, than one alone. If I’m physically capable, and there’s someone with intent to kill in my house, there’s no way I’m shivering up in bed and playing damsel. That sounds like an excellent way to get my husband killed, and possibly myself too.

          • “I think whoever confronts the intruder should be the one who is the better shot. ”

            A couple I know are a master chef and a policewoman. she would go in first for the intruder although he is good with knives.

            That is why all this stuff gets so ridiculous.

            I am still scratching my head on the assertion a man will answer for his wife’s spirituality or the homes, which I assume includes the wife. My wife is brilliant and teaches me theology all the time. The last thing I want is a child/wife.

      • Yes, but the fact that Paul addresses the husbands specifically with this imperative is not superfluous. Husbands have a calling to lead by modeling this. Nobody would be complaining about abusive authoritarianism if this sort of self-sacrifice was kept in the cross-hairs as a model of good “headship.” He then goes to say, “The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is head of the church…” and “…as the Church is subject to Christ, so let wives be to their husbands in everything.” I really don’t mean to beat a dead horse here, but all I’ve ever seen is egalitarians dodge this verse. I can be convinced with a solid exegesis of it, but it just seems so darned clear and simple.

        • Phil M. says

          Well, in Greek literature, the word that Paul uses for “head” simply means that – a physical head. It’s very rarely used to connote a hierarchical authority structure. You don’t see, for instance, it used to describe a general position in relationship to his troops. It can, however, mean “source” as in the “head of a river”. This reading, to me, makes much more sense all around. I think, for instance, it’s a stretch to say that the Father is Jesus’ boss, but it makes perfect sense to say that the Father is the source of Jesus (what does “begotten” mean if not that?).

          As far as the other issues in 1 Corinthians 11, it seems that Paul’s point there is to simply say that people need to clearly be what they were created to be in worship. Men should look like men, and women like women. They should look like respectable Romans citizens. For a woman to go without a head-covering was essentially saying that she was sexually available and promiscuous (some would even say a prostitute). So Paul is treading a line in Corinth not much different than what he treads elsewhere. Yes, Christians are partaking a renewed creation, but they are still living in the present one. It means paying respect to certain social orders. After all, when newcomers come to a worship service, we want the focus to be on Christ, not on us.

          • Wow. This is some good food for thought. However, it does raise another question: What does it mean to be the “source?” Because you still see the practice of submission in the “source” relationship of Father to Son in the Trinity. This might be more nuanced than a simple authoritarian understanding fo the greek text, but it doesn’t remove authority fromt he picture completely. But if we are to say that a man is the “source” of a woman, what on earth does that mean? The analogy still sticks that Christ is also the “source” of the Church. You wouldn’t say that Christ has no authority over the church (though you might argue that if you visited one 😛 ).

        • Miguel, I was driving home from Chicago today and have missed much of this discussion or was forced to make quick replies on my phone. What I would have said in response to many of these comments is that I would like to go back to a main focus of the post.

          We can agree or disagree about the meaning of “headship” and so on, but my primary point is that this “complementarian” view of people like Russell Moore teaches that there are “defined” specific behaviors in the relationship of husband and wife that should be practiced and seen. But in 35 years, no one has been able to tell me what those defined behaviors are or show me from the Bible where it sets forth specific instructions about how to actually live as the “head” or how to actually “submit” if someone is a wife. People have a lot of ideas and “convictions” but when it comes to the NT, there is precious little practical instruction about how husbands and wives should actually relate to one another.

          That’s why I call all this public posturing about “complementarianism” a sham, and think Moore’s comments about holding to complementarianism yet being a “functional egalitarian” are ridiculous.

        • Buddy, it starts much further up in verse 21 to submit to one another…and even further up where it says ”
          {be filled with the spirit”. None of it matters at all if we are not filled with the spirit.

          The problem is that guys like to translate “head” as some sort of CEO position in the home. It simply was not seen that way in the first century or else Paul would have used arche or exousia. The literal head was seen as the source for the body. As in you get your food, breath, etc from the head. And in the 1st century they thought all thinking came from the “heart”. Sort of changes understanding on a lot of badly understood verses. The man was the “source” for the women in that time. She was considered chattel.

          BTW: What do you guys do with Joanna in Luke 8? I always wonder what the patriarchal crowd does with her.

          • Or Phoebe in Romans 16:1? In the Greek she’s diakonon, deacon, same as the title that Paul uses for men. But, in not-so-great-moments in Bible translation, she has often been translated as “servant”, not deacon, while the men remain deacons…

        • Comps love to throw it out all the time, too, I would think focusing on the 58 “one anothers” would be more productive for both husband and wife.

  7. I am very happily married as my wife and I journey hand in hand. Just wait till I figure out the whole ruling over her thing. I tell her I am going to fully take charge and she tells me she’s not holding her breath. AMEN to this post CM. you could not be more right about the disconnect between precept and reality here.

  8. There are a few select verses upon which the complementarian framework is based. They came to these ideas from a careful scrutinization of scriptural texts and a systematic effort to harmonize them and work out all their implications. That is what Calvinists DO. (Where else does double predestination come from? IMPLICATION.) Calvinists make a matter of dogma out of things that can be inferred from scripture, often to the neglect of things that are more explicitly spelled out.

    The thing is, Calvinists are trying to make a stand against liberals who would rather explain away verses they don’t like or attribute any potential “patriarchy” in scripture to theological err, which is an attack on inspiration. I consider myself a modified, slight complementarian, but only because I’m still waiting to hear a more convincing egalitarian interpretation of select texts that doesn’t attempt to make them say the exact opposite of what they clearly mean. Case in point: Ephesians 5. There are separate, different explanations for husbands and wives. The exhortations here are NOT for “spouses” generally, but are gender specific. Now, where the complementarians go wrong is this: They emphasize the submission of wives to the exclusion of the the male imperatives: Laying down their lives. IMO, laying down your life for your wife is a much more severe command that merely submitting. I’d never object to submitting to somebody who lays down His life for me (despite my obvious failure to live according to that conviction). But the fact remains that scripture does NOT treat gender as incidental.

    For a more generous, less authoritarian take on gender relationships that still deals with the texts, check out:

    • “Laying down their lives. IMO, laying down your life for your wife is a much more severe command that merely submitting. I’d never object to submitting to somebody who lays down His life for me (despite my obvious failure to live according to that conviction). But the fact remains that scripture does NOT treat gender as incidental.”

      And how often have you had to do that—“lay down your life”? Give up a sports game on tv? But she has to “submit” to you every day. Great gig you guys are teaching when you take a metaphor too far. BTW: Makes me nervous when you guys map yourselves to Christ. You aren’t.

      We are to submit to one another as per verse 21. Why is that ignored?

  9. Okay…..

    Here’s my take. I think a lot of this is a knee jerk reaction to feminism. It also spooks me because evangelicalism today is choking due to many secondary issues becoming primary. Does it really need more of that? But what gets me is that many hold on to this claim about a “woman’s proper role”. I would suggest that the motivating factor is not scripture but a desire to control. Scripture has been used in many questionable ways over the years, and with this issue I wonder….do many Christian leaders consider it in light of historical and cultural context? The United States of 2012 is not Palestine of 40AD. Do many male Christians feel that threatened? I mean you can have women work in the transportation industry, carry a gun in full armor in Iraq or Afghanistan, etc…but they have their limitations in a marriage or church? 😯 So since men can’t control women in the business world, IT companies, science, etc.. the last place that they can control women is in the evangelical church. But other questions also apply…consider?

    Does this apply to single women?
    What about women in relationships?
    What about women in abusive or domestic abuse situations?

    Where are evangelicals going to draw the line?

    Who knows…maybe for some of these fundys the only purpose a woman has is to be chained to a bed popping out at least 3 kids a year! 😉

    • Eagle,

      I’m very sorry your journey in churches left you so bitter. But I would insist that there are a great many Christians who are married to very succesfull bright women (like myself- it’s a pretty poor man indeed that can’t marry up) who insist that there are proper roles for each gender in the church and family not because they want their wives “chained to beds popping out three kids a year” a comment which i find offensive (and not much offends me and I’m not one to likes to claim I’ve been offended all the time) but one that probably says more about your own baggage, extensive as it seems, than it does about the people you so easily besmirch. I would also say that to a vast number of Christians both male and female who are committed to an orthodox understanding of scripture and tradition, and especially to those who hold a high view of the sacraments, it matters very much that these roles are properly filled. Furthermore, the church is not the business world, or the military (another venerable instituiion that radical egalitarians have trashed) and I hope it never becomes either.

      • Actually my comment about a woman popping out 3 kids a year was an attempt at humor. Why can’t people just respect each other? Why does the man have to be the head? What happens Austin if you find yourself handicapped and unable to provide financially for your wife. In the name of compliemtarism then what? Collect welfare and have the wife stay home becuase the husbands deems it? Or are we going to reflect on that modern age and realzie that both are equal. Youc na still worship Jeuss. From my recollection of the Bible Jesus was not a complemntarin. He took orders from Mary and Martha. He had no problems having a prostitue showing him affection and wiping his feet. Jesus, I would suggest, showed more respect for women that Russel Moore has. As a man i ask…why do so many men feel threatened?

        • “What happens Austin if you find yourself handicapped and unable to provide financially for your wife. In the name of compliemtarism then what? ”

          Yep. And it does happen. Then what? You are not fullfilling your “role” and both are diminished by such shallow beliefs in “roles”.

          You guys have not seen decent exegesis because you are not reading outside your sphere. It all goes back to Gen 3 and a very bad translation of teshuqa. It was translated as “turning” until about 1300’s when a monk named Pagnini changed it to desire and people blamed women for wanting to control men so they responded by lording it over.

          The truth is that Eve ended up “turning” to Adam instead of God and because she did that, he ruled over her. Why we still have women wearing burkas today. It is sin. And Eve chose to look to Adam instead of God. Sorry guys but we are not that special.

          In fact, if you think about it our leadership qualifications (as you term creation order) from Adam are as follows:

          Defying God
          Blaming Eve
          Blaming God for giving him Eve.

          What did Eve do? She admitted she was deceived.

          So, not sure why the penis means we are to be in charge of the womanfolk whether it is concerning things of God or the home. They really are pretty smart, ya know.

  10. Perhaps the name calling has to end and caricaturing has to end (it’s not that egalitarians “don’t get it”, it’s that they don’t want to listen). I agree that complementarianism as it has traditionally been understood needs some serious nuancing, but at least they don’t attempt to pit this passage against that one. They try and reconcile the “one-another” passages with scripture passages like Ephesians 5:22, rather than ignore the ones they don’t like because it may not be culturally palatable. They should be commended at least for that.

    Having said that – because I had too that that because people like Evans and yourself are hell-bend on keeping this debate polarized – perhaps there can be a middle way?

    What Is A “Functional” Egalitarian?

    • Derek, I look forward to reading the article when able, and I commend you for trying to find a via media. Just to make one thing clear, though, the ONLY reason I write about this is because I’m tired of the persistent, public shouting from the other side that goes far beyond what I critique them for in this post and actually questions one’s commitment to the Gospel if this issue is “compromised.” If you read the rest of the article about Moore and Piper, et al, that’s exactly what they say. If they would stop making such incendiary and schismatic remarks publicly, I doubt if I’d write much about it at all. It’s hard to stay silent when culture warriors are lobbing grenades over the wall at you constantly.

      • I have no beef with you there regarding Moore, Piper and probably Driscoll too. They too are hell-bent on keeping this debate polarized. P.S. I’m blown away by your comment response. Not at all what I expected and I’m glad your motive is that and not out of some need to slam complementarians everywhere.

        Peace 🙂

      • I’ll grant you “incediary” but not “schimatic” in fact I would insist that at least as far as women’s ordination goes it is those who insist on WO to be the one’s acting in a schimatic fashion

        • Not schismatic? Really? In that very same article, Piper says that you don’t have to be complementarian to be “be saved,” but that “sooner or later” egalitarians are “going to get the gospel wrong.” Well, at least Piper’s not so indiscreet as to call egalitarians unsaved, but saying that we’re going to “get the gospel wrong” seems, as they say in the biz, to be a distinction without a difference.

          Thanks, John. Your low opinion of my faith and suspicion over my eternal destiny are duly noted.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            In that very same article, Piper says that you don’t have to be complementarian to be “be saved,” but that “sooner or later” egalitarians are “going to get the gospel wrong.”

            That remind anybody here of Ken Ham and Young Earth Creationism?

          • Susannah says

            Good line from Megan. I may have to quote this one.

            “Thanks, John. Your low opinion of my faith and suspicion over my eternal destiny are duly noted.”

        • Austin, we’re not talking about women’s ordination in this post. We’re talking about people who say folks who believe as I do are compromising the very Gospel, thus placing me outside the pale of acceptable doctrine. That is schismatic.

  11. Just thought I’d express what appears to be a minority opnion about this topic. I realize it’s not PC to talk positively about hierarchy a marriage, or to say that families should be patriarchical. However, that is what I believe. I believe that while men and women are equal before God, God has created men and women to fill different vocational roles within creation. I believe the sacrament of Marriage is hierarchical just as the Trinity is hierarchical, with the Father as the “begetting One” and the Church is hierarchical, with Christ as its head. I know hierarchy isn’t a cool concept in our modern culture, with its emphasis on total equality in every aspect of life. But I do think hierarchy is a part of God’s good creation, and as such it needs to be reclaimed and understood properly in the context of the Gospel. And to be clear, I am not a complementarian (I don’t think – I’m not sure exactly what that is), reformed, or fundamentalist.

    • I don’t think that the view of the Trinity as a hierarchy is accepted theology. I think the dominant and pervasive view of Christian theologians has been that the three persons of the trinity are co-equal and co-eternal. Begotten is not the same as made or inferior to or positionally below; indeed, that belief has resulted in some serious abberations.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Didn’t St Nicholas of Myra punch out Arius over one of those “serious aberrations”?

      • Yes, historically the church has understood the relationships between the members of the trinity as hierarchical. Hierarchical does not mean that the Son or the Spirit are inferior to the Father, or less God in essence. But the scriptures are clear that the Son submits to the Fathers will. The Church has understood this as how the trinity relates within itself from eternity. This is patristics 101.

        • Clay, what do you do with John 5:18? Dude, Even the Pharisees got it and it made them furious

          • Dude, what do you do with 1 Corinthians 11:3?

            Did you read what I wrote, none of which contradicts John 5:18?

  12. I don’t quite agree with your entire thesis, but I do sympathize with much of it.

    One kink in the armor of complementarianism is the conservative side’s near-complete rejection of the strong command of head-coverings as a culturally irrelevant curio. If the culture around us has altered in this or that way and we feel confident to ignore certain Biblical directives because of that, all cultural changes should at least be considered in the same way.

    Male “headship” could very well be a result of the (necessarily) patriarchal days of old. Who decides to maintain male dominance yet reject head-coverings?

  13. Thank you Keith. Great post. My heart breaks when I see gifted young women (and men) flock to the cool, hip churches that will do nothing to help them live fully into God’s full call on their lives.

  14. Thanks for this post. I came from a home where my father was verbally and emotionally abusive. It never made sense to me why the church told us that he just needed prayer to become the “spiritual leader” and then it would all be okay. Didn’t seem logical or Christlike to me. I appreciate your comment about how those guys need to start participating, get back in the game, on the very basic level…Complementarianism has always bothered me because I’ve seen first hand how it puts women in a very vulnerable place…

  15. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    I’ve been following this whole thing for some time at Rachel Held Evans & Wartburg Watch.

    Just as “Intelligent Design” has become a new coat of paint for Young Earth Creationism Uber Alles, so Complementarianism (eight syllable theobabble) is a new coat of paint for Male Supremacist.

  16. “I certainly don’t see it in society, where women can now hold almost any and every position available.”
    “I don’t see it in husband and wife relationships.”

    Both irrelevant. There are many practices within the culture and within the church that are unbiblical. You suggest complementarianism among them. But what is the arbiter of such issues?

    If you believe the Scriptures evolve in such truths then your position is credible.

    If you believe God instituted a “partriarchal” system and that has not changed, including Scriptural teachings, then your position is at odds with the Scriptures.

    It all depends upon your view of Scripture.

    • Jack Heron says

      But remember that God instituted something else – ourselves. We say God is just, understanding that our justice is an echo of His. We say that God is loving, understanding that out love is an echo of His. If something revolts our idea of justice and love (say, patriarchy), is that not evidence that it might also revolt God? Put another way, if we are made in God’s image, isn’t looking at God’s image a good way to find out about Him?

      • “If something revolts our idea of justice and love (say, patriarchy), is that not evidence that it might also revolt God?”

        Ideas of justice and love vacillate among cultures and individuals. If there is no absolute arbiter, then subjectivism is absolute. In effect, what I believe is true.

        • Jack Heron says

          Only if those using their subjective viewpoints are alone in their heads. If there is one source of good, and we have an ability to perceive it (and what else does ‘made in His image’ mean?), then our subjective views all reflect, to a greater or lesser degree, the objective fact. Cultural variations reflect our varying inabilities to do the job properly – and also the fact that the great Mystery that is God and His Goodness cannot be so easily comprehended as we would like – not this side of Armageddon, anyway.

          On the contrary, if this is not permitted, if we all declare that our judgement can tell us nothing about God then we wander down the arbitrary road of Gnosticism. Evidence is not evidence, things which revolt us are holy, good is not good. Pick your dogma from the shelf and never wonder about it. In effect, what I believe is true.

          • Variations are not limited to cultures, they occur regularly within all of us. But you still have not presented an absolute measuring stick wherein we can juxtapose our subjective views.

            “then our subjective views all reflect, to a greater or lesser degree, the objective fact.”

            That is a very curious statement which reflects my previous supposition that subjectivism becomes absolute truth to each individual if there is no absolute truth. And if there is absolute truth, but it cannot be uncovered or ascertained by us, then its existence is irrelevant.

            Is there absolute truth, or is all truth empirical and a prisoner to upbringing, environment, intellect, deception, serotonin imbalance, or a mixture of all of these. In effect, if we have no ruler, that any length constitutes one foot. (to a greater or lesser degree)

          • Jack Heron says

            That’s the point, Ricky. We don’t have the measuring stick with us. It’s there, all right. With God, the other side of Armageddon. The Supreme Fact, the One who will judge the quick and the dead – the only One who *can* judge. But it’s not here. Not in my head, not in yours. I saw a picture of the measuring stick once, before I came into this world. An image of goodness is in my soul, and in yours. But we’re fallen, and that image is not clear.

            None of us here knows the truth. None at all. And so we have a range of responses:

            1. Give up. Not productive.
            2. Pretend there isn’t an absolute truth. Foolish for reasons you obviously don’t need explaining.
            3. Acknowledge there is an absolute truth and imagine that we’ve found it in its entirety.
            4. Acknowledge the existence of an absolute truth, admit our understanding is at very best imperfect and try to find as much of it as we can.

            Number 4 is the one I advocate and number 3 the one I think a lot of people fall into. The existence of an absolute truth does not imply that we know it. That Christ is infallible does not imply that Christianity is. That Scripture is inspired does not imply that the reading it is enough. Remember, we see as through a glass, darkly.

            My point is that either God’s sense of justice (or love, good, charity etc) and ours is related, or it isn’t. If it isn’t, I don’t know on what basis we can think anything about Him at all. If it is, then that’s one more guide to understanding Him.

    • Rick, my primary point does not rely upon “my view of Scripture.” It relies upon the fact that Scripture is SILENT about the actual behavior that is being required by complementarians.

      • Joseph (the original) says

        CM: i think the theme of your perspective is being lost in the ‘biblical’ barricades being erected…

        i too have a hard time understanding the aritificial role assignments complimentarians make in the absence of clear scriptural lists of do’s & don’ts…

        the definitions & line-drawing is almost laughable as there are going to be exceptions in a marriage relationship regardless of gender. these unique qualitities of every marriage based on the personalities of the couple, their personal faith, their upbringing, etc.

        i do imagine there are situations where well-meaning Christians attempt to ‘correct’ the ‘unbiblical’ arrangement if so-called role assignments are perceived as being off-kilter.

        yet there are other arguments of a theological notion that actually do insist on toeing the Christian Company line. Saturday worship for one. YEC another. proper wardrobe selections & use of makeup. gender dominance is still being championed today, but i think it is used more as an excuse rather than a self-sacrificing example of agape…

        woe to the young couple where the male expects ‘the wife’ to kowtow to his God-given headship. starting out with those artificial expectations no more godly than all role expectations that must be reshaped within an atmosphere of love & mutual submission…

        interesting spectrum of responses though. i would like to see a list of what the minimum role limits would be that supposedly has its Golden Seal of Divine Approval upon it. and where they will be universal, quantifiable & easily regulated by the male leadership in the churches claiming such jurisdiction…

      • Chaplain Mike, to further your point, scripture is silent on a lot of details. Notably, “Honor your father and mother.” There is no commandment more important than this one pertaining to human relations, but how do we do it? Is there a list of things that we MUST do to fulfill it? Is there also a list of things that we must NOT do, to avoid violating the commandment? No, there is not. In developing the Talmud the rabbis spent a lot of time hashing this over, even getting pretty humorous about it; but in the end scripture remains silent and we’re to work it out between ourselves and our parents and God.

  17. I don’t have time to read all the comments so forgive me if this has already been addressed: I wanted to ask Chaplain Mike what does it really look like then for a man to be the head of the wife as Christ as head of the church? Why is the word head used at all? I realize the head and the body are one unit and there are implications there (for instance a husband isn’t some separate entity that should do his own thing while the wife just nods and follows). But the scriptures still assign this word “head” to the husband. And I’m wondering what you believe this means practically or even figuratively. Are there not distinctions between headship and membership? I would love to hear your thoughts. I have had this discussion recently with someone who finally admitted that she just “did not like that word submit.” Well, I don’t always like it either, nor do I like the word sin or fallen. But what do we DO with the word since it is there in the Bible and what do we do with the phrase, “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is head of the Church.’ since it, too, is there in the Bible. I will say finally that I believe Christ is the head of the marriage and both spouses are to be submissive to Christ. This should be everyone’s bottom line no matter what the other quibbles are.

    • I would like to know this as well. Because I dont really consider myself a conservative Christian by any means but have always felt the roles of man and woman in a Christain marriage are fairly clear in scripture, now how that all works out in each persons marriage may look different here or there depending on situations and what not. But my understanding is that a marriage is reflection of the Gospel and of Christ’ relationship to the church and should show that to the world around by the husband lovingly sacrificially leading his wife/family and the wife responding and helping equip him to do so. I believe that was Gods design because Paul explains it that way and simpley because of the obvious differences between a man and woman. If you were to put an able bodies man up against an able bodied woman in a competion of strength or fighting someone I think most ppl would bet on the man winning and I would say most chances they probably would why because men are more equipped to protect and defend then a woman is. To say that part of scripture doesnt matter just because of this or that or culture would really make one guess where do you draw line on what scripture stays and what doesnt. I find the biggest problem is because of the fall we have gotten a really screwed up picture of what that should look like. You end up with apathetic men who do not want to provide or lead their families or are extemely passive when doing so and on the flip side you have woman who want to completely lord over their husbands and families this goes all the way back to the fall and creation.

      • Again this may look completely different for different situations and places in life that ppl find themselves in and there is much grace and freedom to work these things out in our marriages and which person may have strengths that the other does not. but that doesnt take away from the obvious differences and roles that God created and established with the first marriage and I dont believe it has changed since then.

        • Susannah says

          One answer to what this looks like is that it will always be changing, and the husband and wife must always be working to respond in grace and love. I was certainly the physically weaker partner when I was pregnant; my husband is often physically exhausted and working to overcome chronic pain from his long term health problems. So “physically stronger” is not always a good measurement.

          We both have different strategies for planning for the future and we both have a voice in the family budget, as it should be. And with 75% of American mothers working outside the home, I’m not sure that male-only “provider” is a luxury most of us can afford.

          Further more, you mention “obvious differences and roles that God created”, but ten years into our marriage, we’re not clear on what those are, other than being willing to get up again this morning, and clean up the apple juice that our little one dumped on the carpet, and throw in a load of laundry so everyone will have socks tomorrow, and run logistics for the upcoming weekend, and sneak a kiss in the kitchen, and listen to each other gripe about work. And choose grace and love. And choose it again, and fail often, and forgive, and keep going.

  18. Jack Heron says

    But surely, Chaplain Mike, we must all have the exact same roles within our families! Just as we all listen to the same Approved Christian Music, all like the same Good Manly Things (or Modest Womanly Things), all hold the same Biblical Political Opinions and all use the King James Bible. God obviously intended marriage to reproduce, in each instance, the homogeneity and iron rule of the heavenly kingdom. If people don’t fit into traditional roles, they must be bent to fit them – any suggestion that a marriage is a developing relationship between two individuals is absurd!

    As C.S. Lewis no doubt intended to say, ‘How faithfully, repetitiously alike all the great saints are! How diverse and fascinatingly different all the great sinners!”

  19. I don’t know when they started calling it complementarianism, but that was a stroke of rhetorical genius. I hate it for the direction it’s taken this whole thing, but as a communicator, I’d like to shake the hand of whoever came up with that idea. Pure rhetorical genius.

    Other than sounding much better than “patriarchy” or other similar terms, the term is also genius because it successfully pees all over the ideological territory that women and men (particularly in spousal relationships) tend to have complementary strengths and weaknesses. “Well, gee. It seems obvious that spouses have a complementary relationship! I guess I’m a complementarian!”

    It’s as if the Republicans renamed their party “The National Defense Party” and suddenly everyone said, “Well, it seems obvious that we need a strong national defense. I guess I’m a republican!” Or as if the Democrats renamed their party, “The Feeding Poor People Party” and suddenly everyone said, “I’m totally for feeding poor people! I guess I’m a democrat!”

    • Jack Heron says

      In a way, they already did: “Oh! I believe in democracy!”/”Oh! I’m in favour of non-monarchical government – a republic, even!”.

      And you’re quite right. Look also at the names chosen by differing sides regarding abortion: who isn’t in favour of life? Who isn’t in favour of choice?

  20. sowarrior says

    Some questions for egalitarians……

    1. If you see a man/boy open a door for a woman/girl, and you also notice that he doesn’t do the same for another man/boy are you offended by this? If not, why not since he is obviously is treating the genders unequally?

    2. When you hear of a hostage situation in which the kidnappers are asked to let the women and children go does it offend you that women are treated different in that situation than the men are?

    If your answer to those two questions is not YES, then I suggest that you are a selective egalitarian.

    • Phil M. says

      These examples you cite are red herrings. The first one is a purely cultural construct. I wouldn’t be offended in any case, really. The fact that we as a society have a rule that says it’s good manner for men to hold doors open for women has no bearing on what a “Biblical” marriage should look like.

      Second, again, this really doesn’t mean much. “Women and children first” is a principle that has carried over from our patriarchal past. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the reasoning behind it doesn’t come into play as much. I think many women would be reluctant to actually leave in the situation you describe.

      • sowarrior says

        I’m addressing the larger issue of Complimentarianism and Egalitarianism. So the two examples are not red herrings. A true egalitarian should be offended at both examples I mentioned.

        • Phil M. says

          Well, I think true egalitarians are busy fighting other battles. The fact that a woman typically gets paid less for doing the same work as her male counterparts, for example, seems to me to be a much bigger issue than the fact that a guy feels the need to hold a door open for a woman. Personally, I’ve never been involved in a hostage situation, nor do I know anyone who has.

        • Susannah says

          1. Can’t remember the last time I saw a man open a door for a woman, because of his gender and her gender; we usually just open the door for whoever is holding on to more bags or small children. And we open the door for the elderly, of course, and anyone on crutches. I assume a man or a woman can open doors for whomever they like.

          2. Hostage situations are upsetting as they are, and I can’t think that I stop to sort it out by gender. They’re bastards for taking hostages. Why stop to sort out cultural norms?

          Maybe you have other examples, but these don’t strike me very strongly. There certainly is a debate to be had here, so maybe there’s more to it.

    • To answer your questions:
      1- I hold doors fro both men and women. I consider it to be polite and an acting out of putting others first.
      2- There seems to be some very interesting misconceptions about what egalitarians think. Just because I don’t believe that men and women have different functions in the home, I do believe that I am called to love my wife sacrificially. Would I feel offended, No. Getting kidnappers to release hostages is a matter of negotiations. Often, kidnappers will release women and children and the infirmed first. As I said, it is often used as a negotiating tactic.

      One thing that has ticked me off about some complimentarians is that there is an assumption that somehow we would not sacrifice for my family. If I were you I would get to know some egalitarians and talk with us. You might be surprised at what you learn.

    • Danielle says

      OK, I’ll bite.

      1. Men Holding Open Doors: The ritual of men opening doors for women is the byproduct of a gender system with which I disagree. I think it is unnecessary and it symbolically upholds social views to which I dissent. So if a person were to ask me about the issue, I would say, “No, you don’t need to open doors for me. I don’t subscribe to the idea and I won’t be one bit offended if don’t do it!”

      However, I’m not offended at any individual who holds a door open for me. They’re trying to be nice; it would be nasty of me to throw the gesture back in their face. So I accept it, because the comfort of the other person is more important than any victory I could gain by rejecting their gesture. This is a minor issue, and it is merely a byproduct to the economic/religious/social forces that define “gender.” Its not a battle worth fighting.

      2. Hostages. The stakes here are higher, and yes, I am uncomfortable with the assumption that the women go and the men stay. Again, on an idealogical level, its offensive because for your humanitarian stance toward women to work out, I have to accept the notion that women are grouped with children; that is, to warrant this protection, I have to trade something that should not be relinquished.

      On an individual level, I think its admirable that there are men who would want the women to go. However, as a potential releasee, I am not morally comfortable with the idea allowing such a person to swap themselves for me. I see no difference between myself and the other person that justifies me in allowing them to sacrafice themselves. So it is noble for the man to stay, and beastly of me to let him do it.

      If I had the power to select who goes, and I had the time to sort it out, I suppose I would try to figure out who had dependents at home, and release them first. So I would keep the younger, single people in the room, and I would send married people with kids to safety. That is, I would try to minimize the suffering caused by the looming massacre.

      But really its the whole situation that is “offensive”; in such a case, there are no morally good options, only terrible ones.

      3. War: One might move to the relatively unlikely situation of hostage-taking to the more common and deadly problem of warfare. Here, again, I might ask: Should the women be protected from the draft? That’s a very admirable idea. Except for 2 things:

      a. There are indirect consequences of making the social claim that one group of citizens (men) should be asked to serve the state while another (women) should not. The result, down the line, may be that these groups are consequently unable to make the same return claims on the state. Rights are linked to obligations.

      b. If a half million women are not drafted, then a half million men are drafted in their place. And I cannot morally justify saving a half million women by handing a half million men over to the slaughter. And I will not, and should not, use their sense of honor to accomplish that massive slight of hand; dare I use that even stronger potion, religion?

      (A caveat: historical circumstances may demand other solutions; I’m speaking in general terms. For example, it’s no surprise that people in a continual state of hack-and-slash tribal warfare would develop a social system in which men go out to battle, protect women, and practice polygamy in order to pair as much of the female population to husbands as possible.)

  21. The Previous Dan (TPD) says

    REALLY? You who have so beautifully expressed what pastoral servant-leadership should look doesn’t get it and thinks that Complementarianism = Patriarchy = Male Rule?

    Simply put, complementarianism should look very much like pastoral care within the family unit. The fact that there are abuses doesn’t delegitimize complementarianism any more than abuses delegitimize the pastoral position. Also, just as the Pastor isn’t always the strongest, smartest, and most talented person in the church, the husband isn’t always in the home either.

  22. Aidan Clevinger says

    “The sternest feminist need not grudge my sex the crown offered to it in either the pagan or the Christian mystery; the one is of paper, and the other of thorns” – C.S. Lewis

    ^I am a complimentarian, but not of the kind that you seem to describe in this post. I am a complimentarian because I hold men to a higher standard on some of these issues; men are responsible to protect, cherish, and provide for their wives, to do everything possible to make them both happy and secure, and to love them as Christ called the Church. Women are, of course, obligated to sacrifice for their husbands – but the heaviest blow of that command falls on husbands. I’m a complimentarian because I think that if you don’t know how to treat a woman right, how to honor and respect her and put her good before your own, then I don’t think you’re a man.

    Is that a sham?

    P.S. I’m also a mean old traditionalist who doesn’t believe in women’s ordination, so I suppose that could be labeled in the “sham” category. I’d understand that.

    • earthling says

      Hi, Aidan.

      What you say sounds very honorable, and you don’t come across as having anything but honorable intentions.

      But it provoked a number of questions.

      Why are men to be held to a higher standard on some of these issues than women? Based on what?

      I can’t figure out how or why women aren’t equally responsible to protect, cherish, and provide for their husbands and famliies, to do everything possible to make them both happy and secure, and to love them as Christ called the Church.

      I can’t figure out how or why women are obligated to sacrifice for their husbands. (you state it as if it’s a self-evident truth — based on what, pray tell? don’t those in a love relationship sacrifice for each other?)

      How is it that the heaviest blow [of these resonsibilities] falls on husbands.

      Aidan, I would suggest that your perspective is more rooted on cultural norms (the notion of chivalry) and christian rhetoric than on truth.

  23. A sham? I did not realize one of the Three Stooges was a complimentarian! 🙂

  24. Brian C says

    I think my biggest problem with this argument is the understanding of partnerships. In virtually every other sphere of human endeavor, partnerships are not typically equal. In far more cases, there is a senior partner and a junior partner. The junior partner is not excluded for contributing, nor are they without authority. You may argue that this is neither “fish nor fowl”, but I would argue that it represents a reasonable way to address the unity of the marriage at the same time as headship. I am not personally interested as to which side claims this application into their model.

  25. The chief problem I have with the kinds of complementariansim I see touted most of the time is that they tend to put at the center not love and mutual submission but a system of organizing people out of which it is hoped that love and mutual submission will flow. That gets it rather backwards from what I’ve seen in strong marriages (and in scripture). In those relationships, love and mutual sibmission come first and foremost, and all else flows from that. Who does what and who is in charge of what is an outgrowth of that center, but it is not itself the center.

  26. Where I am, the complementarian message has a bigger focus on husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the Church, not demanding submission. My dad riding his bike to work so that Mum could use the car.

    Whatever ‘system’ you want to use, love is the way.

    • earthling says

      Then why bog it down with the term “comrplimentarian”? Yes, love is the way. (although that word means so many contradictory things I’ve come to loathe it)

  27. Has anybody considered that Paul might have been wrong on a few things? Like slavery maybe? Did Paul tell Philemon that it was wrong to own Onesimus or did he try to talk him into merely giving up his rights over him as a favor? And just how does nature teach us that it is disgraceful for a man to have long hair? Is it really “better” to be single than to be married, Paul? (Unless of course you’re burning with passion).

  28. For all the ink they have spilled, the fact that the majority of complementarians in the US were willing to vote in 2008 for a party ticket that included a woman who could potentially have become Commander in Chief of the most powerful nation in the world suggests to me that the game is already over. They just haven’t acknowledged it to themselves. Rest assured, however, that daddy’s little girl has been taking notes all along.

    For all I know, following an untimely tragedy Palin may have surprised us by becoming a decent President. Any suggestion that she could have fulfilled her duties while at the same time being a “submissive” wife to the First Dude will necessarily be met with a blank stare of biblical proportions, however.

    Or maybe we should just check in with Queen Elizabeth and her hubby. They seem pretty traditional, come to think of it.

  29. This is why I hate Christianity. By clinging to this tradition, and ascribing authority to it, you remain mired in controversies that the more progressive wing of society has long since moved on from. No sensible person believes in “complementarianism” any more than they believe in slavery. And now that we’re fighting for gay rights, who is the biggest obstacle to progress? You got it–Christians. Even if Christ really existed, and taught all these things, I would revile him for it, not bend the knee to this kind of authoritarian bigotry.

  30. anonyMouse says

    Patriarchy is not just evidenced in the husband-wife relationship, but also in the father-child relationship. I remember one pastor telling the congregation that when his not yet 3-year-old daughter wouldn’t eat her McDonald’s hamburger he took her out to the car and spanked her. One time we had a family from this same church over for dinner and the father insisted that his 7 year old daughter eat everything on her plate, including one food that she obviously disliked. The child literally gagged with every mouthful and I was afraid that her whole dinner would end up splashed across the table. This is patriarchy abused, not leadership.

  31. Victorious says

    Just because patriarchy was prevalent throughout scripture doesn’t mean it was God’s intent any more than slavery was God’s intent simply because it was prevalent throughout scripture.

    Paul begins a correction of both of these abuses.

    1) Giving the wife full authority over her husband’s body and commanding the husband to fulfill his duty to his wife. In this chapter, the playing field is leveled and equalized by mutually empowering both husband & wife.


    2) Sending Onesimus back to Philemon with an admonition to change his relationship with him from one of master/slave to one of brothers. This changes the relationship between the two to a mutually equal footing.

    These situations and scriptures (among others) contradict the notion that Paul was endorsing the continuation of the very prevalent, very unjust practices involved in hierarchial systems. He encourages, rather, a system of “one-anothering” thoughout his letters.

  32. I’m a pastor in a mainline denomination, 16 years experience now. We ordain women in my denomination and have for 60 years. Over half of the leaders in my congregation are women. If anything, in my church the problem is passive men who don’t want to do anything but barbeque or write checks. God forbid they should actually work in the mission store or help with the youth or children.

    In my denomination, the ongoing controversy is homosexuality and has been now for 44 years. Every single time there’s a denominational meeting, it comes up. Feelings are hurt, the majority crows over their latest victory, etc.

    I frequent a lot of good websites and blogs like this one, looking for inspiration and ideas. I’ve noticed that the neo-evangelical / emerging sites (or however you would describe yourself) seem stuck on this egalitarian / complementarian controversy just as the mainline sites are stuck on the LGBT setting.

    And here’s how I’ve come to feel about all the arguing and scripture-rattling.

    I have pews full of people who don’t know their Old Testament from their New. They never pray unless they’re asking God for something they want, like little kids with their Christmas list for Santa. They know little to nothing about reconciliation. They seem to be resistant to any teaching that doesn’t have immediate practical application (“Four Ways to Manage Finances Like a Christian” etc). Forget any reasonable discussion of eschatology; it’s Raptureville or nothing.

    In short, I am very very weary of never-ending controversy and bickering over things that look more and more like a distraction, a subterfuge from the enemy. I’ve seen my African and Philippino brothers and sisters watch our ecclesial antics and shake their heads in disbelief. Then they go home and figure out how to get clean water and subsistence medical care for their members. Lifestyle preferences and the battle of the sexes are not on the radar.

    No doubt I will be accused of downplaying the honest concerns of many western Christians. That may be, but that doesn’t change the fact that these are the issues of wealthy Christians who don’t live in fear of their lives from radicals of other faiths.

    So we argue on, while the world burns down around us. God help us.

    • I’m tired too, Reed. And as I said to an earlier commenter, I probably would not say much about this, at least in an argumentative fashion, if others were not so intent at making this a “gospel” issue. I usually cry out when someone tosses a grenade in my direction.

      Having said that, I think your comment is a good way to end this discussion. Comments closed.