Home » Complementarianism » Where’s the Line? A Personal Journey Toward Equality

Where’s the Line? A Personal Journey Toward Equality

A while back a friend asked me my thoughts on gender issues and, particularly, a certain prominent “complementarian” organization. Here’s what I had to share about my personal journey:

In high school and college I was a sure “complementarian,” based on arguments such as those of such of the organization alluded to above and the biblical texts often cited to support such views. I remember having arguments with one of my egalitarian professors about how he could possibly view this issue otherwise. Then in my second semester of seminary in a New Testament epistles class taught by a prominent complementarian scholar, he presented his soft complementarian view, concluding that each of us should decide what the biblical line is for women’s leadership and empower women in every area up to that line (but not to cross it). So, I started looking through the biblical texts. Of course there are those couple of Pauline passages to deal with. If these passages are to be universalized, they seem to indicate that women should be silent in church and keep their heads covered. Certainly that is not the line. So, what is it? Throughout Acts and elsewhere, women seem to be empowered to teach others, including men (e.g. Apollos). Is the line preaching to other men in church? Perhaps, but the first century church had nothing like the polity of our churches, with a clear “senior pastor” and weekly “sermons.” People met together in homes and read the Word and discussed it. So, the preaching pastor line seems somewhat artificial too.

In the end, I found myself having much difficulty finding that elusive line. Even strong complementarian churches often allow women to become missionaries, which more often than not includes teaching men. This strikes me as a clear double-standard, if not downright racism (i.e., it’s okay for foreigners, but not for us).

Since I couldn’t find a biblical line, I took a different approach. I tried to find a solid theological basis for the view. Suddenly my perspective radically changed. I simply couldn’t find a compelling theological reason for not allowing women to teach. Complementarians are fond of quoting their two or three key texts, but they fail to provide the theological motivations underlying those texts. They appeal to Genesis as well, but what exactly is that supposed to teach us theologically? Adam and Eve weren’t preaching to each other. How was I to ground my view that women can’t teach men in the fact that Eve was created second? Does it teach that women are intrinsically spiritually or intellectually inferior? No. That women are incapable of exegeting the Greek or making a solid homiletical outline? No. But they were created second, so that must mean something, right? As best as I can tell, it teaches that they aren’t superior. As Paul continues in 1 Cor. 11, women came from man, but man is born of women. Thus, they are not independent of each other.

Rather, when looking at the entire scope of the gospel message, I think we see some overarching theological themes emerging: unity, equality, and freedom in Christ. Sure, the complementarian will say that “in Christ” we are equal (salvifically), but still we are not equal in authority or whatever. But that doesn’t seem to be the whole of the gospel message. I think we find in Paul’s epistles his reaction to the over-reaction by some to the gospel message. Onesimus becomes a Christian and realizes his equality with his master, yet instead of letting Omesimus continue on the run, Paul sends him back to his master with the message that they are brothers. Some of the women in these early churches realized that in Christ, they no longer have to be held down by social oppression, so they go overboard and start a ruckus in church meetings. Paul writes to tell them to settle down, reminding them that, after all, their new freedom doesn’t make them intrinsically better than men. Rather, he reminds them that like Eve, they are prone to sin (just as like Adam, men are).

All that to say, I respectfully disagree with much of what the complementarian organization has to say. I used to view things precisely through that lens, but I now find that the message of the gospel is much more radical than they are willing to admit. Now, does that mean that women don’t make better mothers and men better fathers? Of course not. On the other hand, do I feel unduly influenced by “liberal feminism” when my wife goes to her job, and I do some of the housekeeping? Of course not. My wife’s position in the professional world and my chores at home do not in any way contribute to the break down of family structures and society. And there isn’t much that complementarians could tell me that would cause me to think differently.

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9 Comments

  1. Don Johnson
    Comment #104961 posted September 13, 2013 at 9:36 am

    The very fact that those who believe in gender hierarchy cannot even agree on where the line is shows that the verses involved are not very clear.

  2. CO2
    Comment #104962 posted September 13, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Paul also wrote in 1 Corinthians 7 that it is better not to marry. If people want to pick and choose what verses of scripture to universalize, try doing it with this one.

  3. Wendy
    Comment #104963 posted September 13, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    If you claim that I Tim 2 is universal based on its reference to creation, then you have to prohibit women from holding authority over men in the secular world as well as in the church. If it was a mandate given at creation, doesn’t it apply to all creation? But not many complementarians dare to prohibit women from holding authority over men everywhere. Why would God allow women to have authority over men in the secular world but prohibit it in the church? I am indebted to J.G.Brown for this insight.

    • Linda
      Comment #104965 posted September 16, 2013 at 1:18 pm

      I have yet to have that explained from a Complementarian! Now mind you, I was educated at a Complementairan college for both my B.A. and M.A. degrees. Prior to that I was in a false religion for 20 of my adult years that taught complementarianism (without the label) and so already presupposed it was biblical truth. No one could explain why I could be a manager over 40 men and women in my secular job, yet when it came to my love for the Word, that had to be something I only could teach to women or children. For many years now I have put that on the back burner but am now compelled to theologically deal with this issue and form a belief based upon God’s Word and not on me reading into Scripture that which it may not even proclaim.

      • Comment #104966 posted September 16, 2013 at 6:42 pm

        LInda…you will love the journey as you explore what the bible teaches in this area. It will be liberating and full of new things to learn.

      • Riani
        Comment #104982 posted September 22, 2013 at 6:28 pm

        It is simple really. The going interpretation of what happened in the Garden of Eden was “poor Eve” was deceived by the serpent and it was “horrible Adam’s” failure to protect her that led to her fall. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Romans 5:12 The serpent also chose to speak to Eve as opposed to Adam. He clearly knew that woman had a penchant for power because you know women are so “powerless” and since men are essentially women’s lap dogs, we have a disaster in the making. Instead of deferring the conversation to her husband, Eve decided she could handle it herself. Adam was probably dumbfounded at her rebellion and seeing how her eating didn’t kill her on the spot, must have made her smarter than him. To reclaim his pride he ate. Honestly, he should have instead banished Eve from the garden himself after she ate it and saved God the trouble. A woman is in a much greater position to destroy a man than a man is the woman. Women bring men down from the inside. Men bring women down from the outside. Seeing as how women are more feeling based it is not surprising why women are denied leadership positions. That is how gay marriage crept us on us. People care more about their twisted notions of love than what is right. The western world has been feminized into thinking making people feel good is all that matters. Once again we see what happens when the feminine is not kept in check. It leads to sensual sins.

        • Comment #104983 posted September 23, 2013 at 6:40 pm

          Riani,
          Popular interpretations are not necessarily accurate interpretations.
          1. There is nothing said about why the serpent chose to speak to the woman thus anything we surmise should be based on something else in Scripture. And nothing is said about women having a “penchant for power”. Certainly, at that point in history neither the man or the woman would even know what “having a penchant for power” was all about because they were pure, innocent and without sin. Sin did not enter the picture until they both disobeyed God.
          2. It is unfortunate that most of what you have written is full of a certain distaste and disrespect for women. Also, many assumptions are made that have no base in Scripture at all such as an idea that women are more feeling based than men, your ideas about men and women destroying one another, etc.

          If you have been hurt by a woman, know that God will heal your heart and soul as you seek Him and in the right timing. Some things hit us more deeply than others. But God is able to work good out of all of them, as we love and trust the Lord.

  4. Karla Holton
    Comment #104964 posted September 14, 2013 at 9:10 am

    Very well written!! Thank you!

  5. Comment #104976 posted September 18, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    Great post, David. Many of us who are now Egalitarians began our Christian journey with views similar to your own. In my case, when I was a Bible college student, I was a “Soft Complementarian” in my freshman year, but by my senior year I was a convinced and active Egalitarian. In my junior year, I became involved in an international student ministry at the Baptist church I was attending at the time, headed by Dr. Robert K. Wright and his wife Julia, who were co-directors of the ministry. They were not only Calvinistic Baptists like myself, but both of them were well-versed in Scripture, theology, and apologetics, and both challenged me to really think through my position about men and women. I did so, and came to discover, as you did, that Complementarianism is not as Scripturally warranted, nor as rationally consistent and coherent, as its current champions would lead us to believe. Hence my change of heart and mind.

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