Home » Complementarianism » Something I have thought about for years

Something I have thought about for years

“Soft patriarchy is described in several recent books. For example Christian America, by University of North Carolina sociologist Christian Smith, finds that American evangelicals speak complementarian rhetoric and live egalitarian lives.” I read this recently in an Australian article on the web. I have felt this often, as well. I watch my complementarian friends and they often live just like egalitarians. It seems that their lifestyle is ahead of their doctrine. Unfortunately, this is not true all of the time.



  1. Comment #21 posted April 2, 2006 at 3:18 pm

    That was definitely my parent’s situation as I was growing up: the talk (and the religious practice) was patriarchal/complementarian, but their marriage was and is quite egalitarian. A while back, I think they finally dropped the rhetoric as well :-)

  2. Lori
    Comment #24 posted April 3, 2006 at 8:40 am

    Hello, everybody! I’ve been visiting CBE’s site for a while, and I’m glad they’ve set up this blog so we can “talk” to each other.

    I was a pastor’s kid growing up in the rural South, so brother, I know all about the complementarian teachings. It’s so funny, though, because my parents never modeled that type of relationship. When I think of them, I definitely think of Mom as being the stronger partner. She did all the financial stuff–balancing the checkbook, paying the bills, etc. She also handled most of the discipline, only coming to Dad as a last resort.

    It’s also interesting that they themselves never really accepted the complementarian view, but they kept quiet about it. I remember when we were getting ready to leave one church, Mom and Dad were discussing his replacement, a woman. “Will the church accept her? Will she be comfortable here? Maybe the church isn’t ready for this.” Of course, being a kid, I absorbed the message that “there’s something wrong with women in leadership,” and “this isn’t an issue we talk about in public.” How sad. Now I’m so glad that my parents have accepted my call into ministry with no qualms. It makes life easier having my family behind me.

    By the way, is it possible to get the link to that Australian article? I would love to read it!

  3. Comment #26 posted April 3, 2006 at 10:56 am

    This work by Christian Smith seems to be a major sociological study of evangelicals [Christian America? : What Evangelicals Really Want. Ewing, NJ, USA: University of California Press, 2002]. I’m wondering if other readers of this blog are familiar with this work and what you think of it.

    Page 2 of the Introduction lays out the nature of the research project, which seems to be fairly massive:

    “The data this book analyzes were collected as part of a massive scholarly research project on American evangelicals carried out by a team of twelve sociologists from around the United States over a threeyear period, from 1995 to 1997. This research included personal, two-hour interviews with 130 churchgoing Protestants in six different locations around the United States. Of these, 65 were conducted with white Christians who attend churches in evangelical denominations or who clearly identify themselves as “evangelical”; 27 were conducted with members of theologically conservative black churches; and the rest were conducted with mainline Protestants. The project also entailed a 1996 national telephone survey of 2,591 Americans, with a large oversample of churchgoing Protestants, which asked detailed questions about faith, morality, pluralism, Christian social activism, and other issues of religion and public life. And this research involved a second wave of face-to-face two-hour personal interviews with 187 evangelical Christians (as well as some self-identified Protestant fundamentalists and liberals) in twenty-three different states around the country.”


  4. Comment #27 posted April 3, 2006 at 11:15 am

    Chapter 5 of Christian Smith’s Christian America? What Evangelicals Really Want is titled “Male Headship and Gender Equality,” a chapter CBE members might want to have read. A couple of excerpts:

    “On the one hand, when it comes to marriage relationships, few evangelicals are committed egalitarians ideologically. Rare is the ordinary evangelical who stands up and fights for full equality between the sexes in marriage as a matter of basic human rights. Most evangelicals are quite comfortable with the idea that the husband should be head of the family. They believe the Bible teaches this, and they very much want to take it seriously. On the other hand, most ordinary evangelicals are also very comfortable thinking about marriage as an equal partnership. They stress the need for mutual respect and participation in the relationship. They conspicuously avoid talk of wifely submission and take great pains to stress that husbands may not rule their families as superiors. Indeed, when most evangelicals discuss the meaning of headship, it has little to do with male privilege or domination, but instead means, for husbands, extra responsibility for, accountability to, and sacrifice on account of their wives and children. And when they describe their lived experiences of marriage, their practices tend to sound more egalitarian than patriarchal.” [p. 189]

    Still, it is clear that evangelicals have not adopted en masse a purely egalitarian marriage ideology. Instead, they have largely integrated an older ideology of headship into newer egalitarian languages and practices. In sometimes amazing rhetorical couplings of gender equality and male headship, evangelicals manage to salvage the symbolic image of the husband as head, while simultaneously embracing and expressing the more egalitarian values and practices of their own tradition and the broader culture— and all of this in the context of lived relationships that appear much more equal in practice than evangelical headship rhetoric would suggest.” [p. 190]

    The research of this study was conducted ten years ago. Have evangelicals changed since then?

  5. Lori
    Comment #28 posted April 4, 2006 at 12:00 pm

    Have evangelicals changed? Not really. I belong to the discussion board of a hugely popular Christian website, one whose membership is overwhelmingly evangelical. If anything, I’d say the debate has gotten even worse. You wouldn’t believe the insulting things I’ve seen posted about women in leadership. And it’s not just criticism based on the bible; it’s rude jokes and just very wounding comments. I find it hugely ironic, since for the most part I am what you would call a conservative, evangelical Christian myself, and yet I’m considered “the enemy” because I disagree on this one issue. I think it’s so sad that the discussion has degenerated to this. I think it must be breaking God’s heart.

  6. Comment #31 posted April 4, 2006 at 9:17 pm

    As a male I too have often run smack into the wall of denial / resistance among my evangelical bretheren (and sisteren too, unfortunately!). There is some painful food for thought regarding our fears collectively here. I think a sociologist could have a field day asking and prying amongst evangelicals regarding their resistance to even asking questions, much less coming up with conclusions that might even possibly vary from the traditionalist (or not so traditionalist in many cases, such as slavery or the nature of the Trinity’s relationship within the Godhead) line.

    Unrelated fields where this combination of “a deer in headlights” and/or almost rabid response could include the theology regarding Creation in Genesis as illumated by modern science. I’m not wise enough, or informed enough, to offer some totalistic harmonization of evolution and Scripture. But I sure would like to hear more evangelicals at least discuss the possibilities of such a thing, rather than savage Darwin and other evolutionists (unfairly, I might add!).

    Evolution and Egalitarianism are two quite different things, and may have no immediate connection. But what disturbs me is the anti-intellectualism reflected in much of the evangelical response to both.

  7. Comment #34 posted April 4, 2006 at 10:47 pm

    Lori, You asked me for the web address of the Australian article I got the quotation from about Christian Smith’s book. If you google in his name as well as egalitarian in quotes, you can get it. I fully agree with you, that God’s heart breaks for you and anyone like you who simply takes a different view on this idea of women’s equality and are actually considered in “moral rebellion” [to quote one complementarian teacher directly.]

  8. Lori
    Comment #35 posted April 5, 2006 at 2:01 am

    It wasn’t until I got finished last night that I realized I never talked about evangelicals and marriage. Sorry about that.

    In regards to that, I think it’s fascinating to see what people say versus how they live. I attended a very conservative church for years, one whose denomination is very adamant against women in leadership and very pro-headship/submission. And yet, in all that time, I never heard my pastor preach about it. Not once. And I never heard anybody talk about it. I don’t know whether they just accepted it as a given and so saw no need to discuss it or what. I just know that they didn’t.

    And yet on that internet forum I talked about, it seems like that’s all they discuss, at least the submission part. In the couple of years since I joined, I can’t tell you how many discussions I have seen about submission. It’s almost like they have this compulsion, this need, to talk about the subject and analyze it over and over. I, too, would to see a sociologist explore this phenomenon, because I think it’s fascinating.

    Oh, and Jon, it’s interesting that you mention sisters being deluded. I can testify to that. In my experience, women have been some of the strongest advocates of headship. That’s also something I would love for somebody to explore.

  9. Lori
    Comment #44 posted April 6, 2006 at 10:47 am

    I waited to make the following response because I wanted to be careful about what I said. I must say, Jon, that I, too, have noticed a real spirit of anti-intellectualism, at least among the evangelicals with whom I have dealt personally. The most common attitude I have encountered can be summed up as the following: “the bible says it right there in plain English so if you don’t accept it you’re in rebellion.” If you try to point out things like context, culture, original language, etc. then they just dismiss you. I have literally had people do that. I remember talking to one woman on that website I mentioned. When I talked about the things I listed, she just said, “[Major advocate of headship] said on his website that evangelical feminists like you would try to confuse the issue.” No attempt to rebut my points; no attempt to argue for herself. She just parroted what this “expert” told her to say. I have also had men do the same thing.

    This is another area where I would love to see research done. Where does this resistance to actually studying the bible come from?

  10. Lori
    Comment #51 posted April 7, 2006 at 5:07 am

    “Christianity Today” magazine has just released the results of a poll they took last autumn, about Christian couples and their financial habits. Here are some quotes.

    “Even though the majority of the husbands in these dual-income households bring home the larger paycheck, our respondents feel that both spouses should have equal input into financial matters. In fact, 56 percent of them answered “equal” or “depends on the topic/situation” when asked which of them has the better financial judgment, and in half of all the marriages represented, the wife handles the day-to-day finances.”

    “No doubt trust and honesty are enhanced by the fact that the majority of these couples share all their bank accounts, and both paychecks in dual-income marriages go into a common household fund.”

    “When it comes to making large purchases, more than 8 out of 10 of these couples discuss and pray together about the decision….”

    Ramsey [survey respondent quoted at the beginning of the article] says there is a “huge danger” in one spouse making purchasing decisions independently of the other. “When you got married, the pastor said you were one. So if only one of you is making the purchasing decision, you’re using only half your brain, which means you’re more likely to make mistakes.”

    So, let’s see. Most Christian couples share their money, and the decisions about what to do with it, equally. Yet, many of the couples still feel that the husband must have the final say in any decisions. Am I the only one seeing a contradiction here?

  11. Comment #53 posted April 7, 2006 at 10:39 am

    Hi Lori,
    Thanks for the input from the new poll. That was my point exactly in the original post. Unfortunately, there are those husbands who actually decree a weekly “allowance” for their wives. Yes, I have actually heard that word.

  12. Comment #1557 posted June 15, 2006 at 7:11 pm

    I too see a contradiction there. Thank you for sharing this poll with us. For a wife to receive a weekly “allowance” would be so humiliating. She works as hard as he does.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: