Being a kid who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, I often spent time watching television with my dad. Our Sunday evening ritual included ice cream at the Tastee-Freeze after evening church followed by curling up on the couch together with a large bowl of popcorn to watch game shows on our black and white set.
One of our favorites was To Tell the Truth. The show featured host Bud Collyer and three contestants who would try to stump a celebrity panel who quizzed them. One of the contestants had an unusual profession and had to answer every question truthfully while the other two competed for prize money by attempting to persuade the panel that they were, in reality, the legitimate contender. And everyone waited in great anticipation for Bud to say “Will the real_____please stand up?
The show was hilarious and of course was the most fun when the celebrities were completely fooled by the contestants! Not telling the truth was pretty entertaining and certainly kept audiences coming back for more. In fact, the show actually ran for 25 seasons, reaching into 6 decades!
I couldn’t help but think of this show last week as I read several articles on the definition of the word ‘complementarian.” As recently as the taping of my first series of podcasts on patriarchy and patriocentricity, I would have happily used that term to describe my own views of gender relationships. But I am no longer able to claim this as a word that describes me because none of the definitions fit what I had once been taught to believe it means! In fact, it seems no one really knows what in the world “complementarian” does mean let alone how it works itself out in everyday life. Everyone is trying to convince the evangelical world that they are the true complementarians!
Just for fun, let’s look at the “contestants” in this “complementarian” game show:
Contestant Number One: Mary Kassian
In an article on her blog last week, Mary Kassian, author, one of the spokeswomen for John Piper’s True Woman conferences, and part of the committee that penned the Danvers Statement on men and women that many evangelical churches embrace, wrote a piece called Complementarianism for Dummies. Since I have read and followed Mary for more than 2 decades, I was curious to see how she would identify the word “complementarian” today. Since she wrote it for “dummies,” I thought she might help me understand what this label means. (It would have been more helpful if she had left the comments open on her website so we could ask for clarification.) She begins by stating:
“Though the concept of male-female complementarity is present from Genesis through Revelation, the label “complementarian” has only been in use for about 25 years. It was coined by a group of scholars who got together to try and come up with a word to describe someone who ascribes to the historic, biblical idea that male and female are equal, but different.”
Kassian then continues by listing several points where she believes complementarianism is misunderstood today, telling us, on one hand, that the committee who chose the term had considered using both the words “hierarchy” and “patriarchy” but decided their new word was a better choice. In fact, Kassian has this to say about “patriarchy:” ““Patriarchy” is regarded as a misogynistic system in which women are put down and squelched. That’s why we rejected the term “patriarchalism.” Complementarians stand against the oppression of women. We want to see women flourish, and we believe they do so when men and women live according to God’s Word.”
She also points this out about hierarchy: “Feminist theorists maintain that male-female role differences create an over-under hierarchy in which men, who are like the privileged, elite, French landowners (bourgeois) of the 18th century, keep women—who are like the lower, underprivileged class of workers (proletariat)—subservient. Complementarians do not believe that men, as a group, are ranked higher than women. Men are not superior to women–women are not the “second sex.” Though men have a responsibility to exercise headship in their homes, and in the church family, Christ revolutionized the definition of what that means. Authority is not the right to rule—it’s the responsibility to serve. We rejected the term “hierarchicalism” because people associate it with an inherent, self-proclaimed right to rule.”
In case there is any doubt as to how this is supposed to look in real life, Kassian assures us that the committee never wanted women to emulate any culture from the past: “In our name-the-concept meeting, someone mentioned the word “traditionalism” since our position is what Christians have traditionally believed. But that was quickly nixed. The word “traditionalism” smacks of “tradition.” Complementarians believe that the Bible’s principles supersede tradition. They can be applied in every time and culture. June Cleaver is a traditional, American, cultural TV stereotype. She is NOT the complementarian ideal… Culture has changed. What complementarity looks like now is different than what it looked like sixty or seventy years ago. So throw out the cookie-cutter stereotype. It does not apply.”
Kassian then concludes by saying “If you hear someone tell you that complementarity means you have to get married, have dozens of babies, be a stay-at-home housewife, clean toilets, completely forego a career, chuck your brain, tolerate abuse, watch “Leave it to Beaver” re-runs, bury your gifts, deny your personality, and bobble-head nod “yes” to everything men say, don’t believe her. That’s a straw (wo)man misrepresentation. It’s not complementarianism.”
Hhhhmmmm, so, if we are to believe Mary Kassian, patriarchy, traditionalism, and hierarchy are not to be confused with complementarism. I am wondering if her friend and fellow speaker at TW conferences, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, knows this. Nancy is a big proponent of traditionalism, militant fecundity, and stay-at-home women. Is Mary Kassian the real complementarian? I am also wondering what our next contestant makes of this!
Contestant Number Two: Russel Moore
Russell Moore is the dean of the School of Theology and Senior VP for Academic Administration at Southern Baptist Seminary. He is also an apologist for complementarian relationships but here is what he has to say about the word complementarian:
“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 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 this kind of culture, when those things are being challenged, then it’s simply going to go away………If complementarians are to reclaim the debate, we must not fear making a claim that is disturbingly counter-cultural and yet strikingly biblical, a claim that the less-than-evangelical feminists understand increasingly: Christianity is undergirded by a vision of patriarchy. This claim is rendered all the more controversial because it threatens complementarianism as a “movement.” Not all complementarians can agree about the larger themes of Scripture—only broadly on some principles and negatively on what Scripture definitely does not allow (i.e. women as pastors). Even to use the word “patriarchy” in an evangelical context is uncomfortable since the word is deemed “negative” even by most complementarians. But evangelicals should ask why patriarchy seems negative to those of us who serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God and Father of Jesus Christ.”
Then, in an interview with young and restless pastor Mark Dever, Moore also states: “I hate the word complementarian. I prefer the word patriarchy…… because complementarianism doesn’t say much more than the fact that you have different roles. Everyone agrees that we have different roles, it just a question of on what basis you have different roles? So an egalitarian would say, “Yeah, I’m a complementarian too, it’s on the basis of gifts.” I think we need to say instead, “No you have headship that’s the key issue. It’s patriarchy, it’s a headship that reflects the headship, the fatherhood of God, and this is what it looks like, you then have to define what headship looks like…”
Getting a bit more specific in how he actually sees his definition of complementarianism playing out in the real world, he says “It is noteworthy that the vitality in evangelical complementarianism right now is among those who are willing to speak directly to the implications and meaning of male headship—and who aren’t embarrassed to use terms such as “male headship.” This vitality is found in specific ecclesial communities—among sectors within the Southern Baptist Convention, the Presbyterian Church in America, the charismatic Calvinists of C.J. Mahaney’s “sovereign grace” network, and the clusters of dispensationalist Bible churches, as well as within coalition projects that practice an “ecumenism with teeth.”….These groups are talking about male leadership in strikingly counter-cultural and very specific ways, addressing issues such as childrearing, courtship, contraception and family planning—not always with uniformity but always with directness.”
So, if we are to believe Russell Moore, the true word to describe men in their relationship to women is “patriarchy,” one of the words that Kassian says they rejected when they coined complementarian. And in fact, Moore “hates” the word complementarian! He also seems to be at odds with Mary over views of militant fecundity and other practical applications. Is this the guy to believe? Is Russel Moore the real complementarian?
Contestant Number Three: fill in your own blank with Mr. or Mrs. Patriarch
This was a tough choice since the movers and shakers within the patriocentric movement all claim “complementarian” and “patriarchy” at the same time. In fact, repeatedly they have made the point that there is no difference. It is interesting, however, to see some of their differences in application bubbling to the surface time and again.
When Sarah Palin was nominated as the VP candidate in 2008, for example, Voddie Baucham went on CNN to explain why those who believe in the truth of Scripture could not vote for a woman to be a civil magistrate. Doug Phillips agreed, stating that male leadership extends beyond the home and church and into the public sphere. But James and Stacy McDonald supported Sarah Palin, as did John Piper and many others who are complementarian, err, patriarchal, err, hierarchal, oh, I don’t even know. The Bayly brothers, PCA pastors who are sort of in a world all their own, have stated they wouldn’t even want to take a speeding ticket from a female police officer and, to their credit, they have moved away from the “complementary” label in favor of pure patriarchy in the past couple years. At least they are consistent.
Then there is the issue of women working outside the home. Phillips believes that the home is the only appropriate sphere for women through all the seasons of her life and admonishes even daughters to remain home until given in marriage. In Passionate Housewives Desperate for God, published in 2007 by Vision Forum and written by Jennie Chancey and Stacy McDonald, the authors lay out what they call a “fresh vision for the hopeful homemaker,” the role they declare is “the glorious picture painted for us in Scripture.” They use phrases like “rightful place in God’s created order,” “God-ordained womanhood” “biblical directives to women to be wives, mothers, and keepers of the home”, “our respective roles given to us by God” “God has created women to fulfill the unique role of homemaker. That’s all we need to know to rest in our callings.” “God has given women a sphere that is naturally and wonderfully their own to manage and wisely govern.” “Why is God’s role for women so important? Because God says when we reject it, we blaspheme His Word.” “We can walk confidently in the role God ordained for us since the beginning of time.” And “homemaking is a woman’s “glorious duty.” All of these phrases make it clear that being a wife and mother in the home is God’s undisputed calling for all women without any qualifications or exceptions; this is the only standard for real complementarianism.
If there is still any question about the role of women in God’s eyes, Jennie Chancey explains why not being a homemaker is a sin in an article she wrote for Vision Forum in response to Pastor Andrew Sandlin who has critiqued these teachings on several occasions. She said: ““What truly amazes me is that Rev. Sandlin can state so confidently that the Bible does not call a woman leaving her God-given, home-based occupation for work outside the home “sin”..…. blasphemy is sin, whether it is spoken verbally or lived before a watching world.” Please do not miss what is being taught…The role for women is being a housewife and not being one is blasphemous and therefore a sin.”
However, it seems that while Jennie believes a woman has only one role, that role doesn’t include voting. Or does it? She authored a piece for Vision Forum on her opposition to women’s suffrage, yet campaigned for presidential candidate Ron Paul and worked hard on her own husband’s political campaign, admitting in a 2008 news piece that she does, indeed, vote. Apparently Jennie is as confused as I am when it comes to being a complementarian. I would like to see these girls sit down with Mary Kassian and give us their consensus!
And as if the complementarian waters are not muddied enough, William Einwechter whose articles are often featured on the pages of Vision Forum (many will recognize him as the pastor who advocates stoning rebellious youth) believes that there are two point complementarians, those who say hierarachy of men over women applies in the home and church only, and three pointers who say it applies in the civil or public spheres as well.
Confused? I know I am. Are any of these patriarchs or patriarchettes the real complementarian?
Perhaps it is time for someone to ask “Will the real complementarian please stand up?”
Some random after thoughts on why this matters:
Men and women are most definitely different from one another and they most definitely are complementary to one another, that is, they complete each other, filling in the spaces that each other leaves blank. “You complete me” is really one of those famous movie lines that is quite profound!!!
In biblical terms, being a “help meet” means a wife comes alongside her husband in spiritual battle, each complementing (filling in the gaps for) the other to advance the message of the Gospel. It also means that we need to be ever mindful that the practical application of these things looks different in each and every marriage, each relationship. God mysteriously makes a husband and wife one flesh and how that one entity functions as one should not be tweaked by experts or well-meaning do-gooders who, for whatever reason, want every marriage to look just like theirs. There are too many stories of marriages strained and even broken via dogmatic teachings of complementarianism. It is just as true within homeschooling marriages. Beware.
We should never forget that Christian husbands and wives are also brothers and sisters in Christ and that that relationship is the one that will go on throughout eternity. Living together in harmony and in true representation of what it means to be a Christian encompasses living out the one another commands in our marriages and in all relationships we have. Why is this never ever mentioned in these discussions? Submission is a two way street, not just for wives and not just for marriages. What part of “submit to one another” isn’t understandable? This concept seems to be a hang up for an awful lot of people. Why?
And here is my biggest concern about this label that no one really knows how to explain or apply in practical terms…..it is now being interlaced with the Gospel message. It is no longer just Doug Phillips who has declared that one must believe, teach, and live “biblical patriarchy” to be faithful to Christ. Now mainline pastors and conference speakers are telling us that the very Gospel itself is at risk if we don’t adhere to their particular brand of complementarianism, a term that even they cannot define. This sort of nebulous instruction and confusing rhetoric only sets people up for failure.
I am waiting for an explanation.
While we wait, here are some awesome resources to get your wheels turning!
follow up to this article: more complementarian schizophrenia, this time from Tim Challies