Home » Gender Equality » Role or Rank ?

Role or Rank ?

One of the basic tenets of Complementarianism is that men and women have equal value and worth as human beings made in the image of God.  Complementarians also state that men and women have different roles in the home and in the church.  Some even say that men and women have different roles in broader society.  When Complementarians use the word “role” what they really mean is “rank”.

Dictionary.com gives a definition of “rank” as ”a number of persons forming a separate class in a social hierarchy or in any graded body.”  Complementarians have effectively graded and divided the church into two main classes: men #1 and women #2.

Complementarians (such as John Piper) claim that men were created by God to be the leaders and have spiritual authority.  And they claim that women were created to be responsive and submissive to this all-male leadership and authority.  This is not a difference in tasks to be performed.  It is not really a difference in roles either.  Rather, it is a difference in rank or status, with the lower class serving, and submitting to, the higher class (cf Eph 5:21).

The Bible, in fact, says very little about gender-based tasks, activities or roles.  Moreover, the Bible has enough examples of women with spiritual authority, who taught, advised and led men, to call into question the hierarchical concept underpinning complementarianism.  Complementarians, however, seem intent on dividing the church along gender lines.

Generally speaking men and women have some basic differences, but we also share many more things in common.  As Christians, men and women share many profound things in common.  We share our common faith and hope, our relationship with Jesus, and our fellowship with each other.  And each of us shares the responsibility to love our neighbour and minister the gospel of grace, healing, hope and forgiveness.  Our varying abilities to love and to minister are not fundamentally tied to gender. (See 1 Corinthians chapter 12 and Ephesians 4:7). The body of Christ should function as a unity, and not a social hierarchy.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  Galatians 3:26-28 (NIV)

c) 14.01.12 Margaret Mowczko and Bob Edwards

This article was first published at newlife.id.au



Facebook: Facebook


  1. Susan Howell
    Comment #98643 posted February 24, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    Thanks for a good post. I am so tired of hearing that men and women are equal but have different roles. There is no way these supposed different roles, or as you point out — ranks, are equal. It reminds me of the “separate but equal” argument used in support of racially segregated schools. We know that segregated schools were anything but equal. The same is true for the supposed equality we see among complementarian men and women.

  2. Comment #98663 posted February 25, 2013 at 7:06 am

    Absolutely spot on! Thank you.

  3. Don Johnson
    Comment #98666 posted February 25, 2013 at 9:07 am

    The language that Complementarians use is very carefully selected to OBSCURE what they are actually saying, so that it sounds nicer than what it really is. A role is something that one does for a season and then stops doing; however, a woman cannot stop doing a (supposed) woman’s role, so right there you know that the word “role” is being used in a non-standard way. So the article is correct that “rank” is more correct, but even a rank can change, one can get promoted or demoted, but there is no possibility of a change in rank for a woman, she is a PERMANENT subordinate just because of her gender in complementarian thinking. This is very similar to claiming that the Bible teaches that someone is a PERMANENT subordinate just because of their skin color.

    • Comment #98671 posted February 25, 2013 at 12:23 pm

      Yes. The word “caste” is even more accurate than “rank” to describe what complementarians really mean.

      Excellent post!

      • Michelle
        Comment #98696 posted February 26, 2013 at 7:17 pm

        Bingo! “Caste” is the perfect word. Thank you!

  4. gwallace
    Comment #98672 posted February 25, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Marg, you’ve touched on something really important – that differing roles would not be a legitimate basis for justifying a male-centered leadership model in the home or the church. Using the word “rank” is so much more descriptive of the complementarian view – and the antithesis of the models for gender relationships that Jesus and Paul demonstrated. “Rank versus role” is going to be a very useful way of explaining the limitations of complementarianism. Thank you for this!

  5. Liz Trevor
    Comment #98680 posted February 25, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks for a great post Margaret. I also appreciate Don’s comment about the PERMANENCY of such titles, as if God has ‘cast’ women inescapably in the subordinate ‘role.’ This thought takes up Kristen’s comment that perhaps ‘caste’ is an even better word to describe the complementarian position because to be born in a certain caste is irreversible. In those cultures there is no empathy from a higher caste because of their belief in reincarnation and karma associated with the wheel of life. In this respect complementarianism is really distasteful in that there appears to be no empathy with what it means to be a spiritually gifted woman locked into an irreversible role of being an assistant to men in both marriage and church leadership. To believe, or imagine, that God has ordained that women be permanently in this irreversible position is Biblically untenable, as Margaret has ably demonstrated.

  6. Neo
    Comment #99056 posted March 8, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    Men don’t want egalitarianism – it’s emasculating. Why do you think so many men sink into porn? They are sick of their short-haired, slacks-wearing domineering woman wanting to rule, and not respect their lead. Men are wired to be leaders, and if not respected as leaders, then to heck with it, porn.

    • Comment #99062 posted March 8, 2013 at 4:35 pm

      Hey Neo, thanks for chiming in. I’ll have to respectfully disagree with you. As you can see from all the men commenting on this blog, you can see that they do, in fact, desire full equality with their spouse, and/or the women in the church. Indeed, some men are very active in campaigning for women’s rights. And I am very thankful for this, as it breeds unity and hope for the future of the church.

      Of course, not all men desire equality (yourself included, presumably). However I doubt that this drives them to pornography. Porn has been around for a very long time (consider John Donne and the Earl of Rochester from the 16th and 17th centuries). It’s popularity shouldn’t be blamed on the women’s movement.

      As to ‘men being wired to be leaders,’ well, some women are ‘wired’ to be leaders too.

      Furthermore, we are all, men and women, required to be followers, to submit and to give up our earthly authority – because the first shall be last, and the last shall be first. Men are not allowed to cling to power. That is not Christ-like.

    • Liz Trevor
      Comment #99148 posted March 10, 2013 at 8:32 pm

      Neo, I don’t know whether you will come back, but as an egalitarian male I would like to make some sort of response to your generalisations. Firstly, not all women who are taking their stand for Biblical equality are short haired, slacks-wearing domineering women. And, even if they were, they are no less feminine. The women that I am familiar with have a wide variety of hair styles, dress smartly as suits the occasion and are far from domineering. If anything they project far more of a servant heart in leadership even though they are incredibly gifted in their respective areas of ministry.

      As to this being an excuse then to view pornographic images I fail to see the connection. Rosalind has proved that pornography or erotica has existed long before the advent of the strident feminism that you have described. It is a strange anomaly to me to hear someone say on the one hand that men are wired for leadership while on the other, if disrespected, they will inevitably resort to viewing pornography? Surely if men were so leadership geared they could show a lead and resist the temptation.

      Pornography is an insidious evil that has the potential to destroy both men and women who become addicted to satisfying their sexual impulses in this unhealthy and sinful way. As frail humans we don’t need excuses to explain away our addictions but we do need the power to overcome them. The battle is in the mind and can only be won as we bring every thought into the captivity of Christ. Resisting the temptation as from the evil one who parades around as a roaring lion looking for people to consume because they have indulged their lusts instead of clinging to God.

      • Comment #99182 posted March 11, 2013 at 8:41 am

        i think mr neo’s comment sums up the comp position perfectly without the nicey-nice pretensions i usually encounter—i appreciate his honesty, if nothing else

        • Comment #99183 posted March 11, 2013 at 8:43 am

          p.s.—-this kind of attitude, sugar coated or not, is the reason that i am completely fed up with organized religion

          • Comment #99197 posted March 11, 2013 at 2:10 pm

            Stereotyping; discrimination; prejudice; oppression; all in the name of God, Science and Good Sense has been lived out here in South Africa during the apartheid years. Whites were wired for leadership. Skin was the issue. Pigmentation the decider. And now body parts? From East LA? – the US? And organized religion is the problem? Lost for words in Johannesburg.

    • Comment #99199 posted March 11, 2013 at 2:25 pm

      Neo I find your post rather funny. Jesus did not have short hair nor did he wear pants nor was He domineering. Was He then, as a man, not wired for leadership?
      I also fail to see the connection with porn; or is that some random excuse?

  7. Comment #99060 posted March 8, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    Hey! I linked to this article in honour of International Woman’s Day :)

    I think you’ve captured well how demeaning all the guff about ‘equal but separate roles’ are. It’s impossible to be truly equal whilst being kept in a restrictive, inescapable role (or rank, or caste). It’s ridiculous for the complementarians to claim that.

    It always reminds me of Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm.’ You know, about ‘all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’

  8. Comment #99248 posted March 12, 2013 at 9:16 am

    xana mccauley, i’m sorry that you misunderstood me—i dont agree with neo, i only find his lack of pretension a relief—i escaped an abusive church not too long ago, and was absolutely bewildered by the pretense of niceness, while people demanded all kinds of money and free labor from me, and subtly threatened me with hell if i didnt comply with every single request, reasonable or not

    come to think of it, i have seen neo’s name floating about before, and i think he may be a troll

    • Comment #99302 posted March 13, 2013 at 6:29 am

      Hi. I apologize. And I am deeply sorry for your experiences. I am presently reading Red Letter Christianity by Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne. They address the hypocrisy in all of us – Christian and non-Christian. The one thing that stood out is that the Church is sometimes a hard place to belong to, but it is also the best place for us to come to know Christ. Shane in his radical way says: ‘the Church is a whore but she is my mother’. I will pray for you tonight in my community (Hands of Compassion) – that through your pain you will come to liberate others. God redeems everything.

  9. Comment #99464 posted March 15, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    An excellent post, Margaret. Keep up the good work.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: