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On Feminine Fridays: Confessions of a Complementarian (part. 2)

Earlier this year I was at a talk where a well-known speaker made a throwaway comment about women that rather wound me up. He was talking about the need for pastors and church leaders to be good at conflict (able to rebuke, and challenge, and say the hard stuff) and ‘women aren’t good at that, and that’s why they shouldn’t be pastors’.

I don’t think he necessarily thinks that, not seriously, but that type of comment from within the complementarian circle is not entirely unheard of, and leads me to one of my great frustrations, and the topic for this part of the series:

I wish more ‘complementarians’ thought a bit more about what that means.

The word ‘complement’ is pretty key.

The Bible says a couple of things about women that I think apply to this conversation:

  1. Women are equal to men.
  2. Women are different to men.

I don’t think that God loves men more than women (or vice versa!); I don’t think that the Bible teaches that; and don’t think that being a complementarian means you have to think that. But I think that if you were to ask some complementarians why they believe what they believe, and follow their arguments down the logic path, then that’s quickly where you end up.

Rather than ‘the Bible says that God has created us with equal dignity but different roles’, it becomes: ‘women can’t lead a church because they aren’t good at conflict’, or, ‘because they aren’t very logical’; which can easily lead to ‘because they’re not as clever’, or ‘because they’re more sinful’.

Not long ago, John Piper gave a talk in tribute to J.C. Ryle entitled, The Frank and Manly Mr Ryle – The Value of a Masculine Ministry. Do follow that link to read the whole talk, but allow me to quote a couple of paragraphs from his introduction:

God has revealed himself to us in the Bible pervasively as King, not Queen, and as Father, not Mother. The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son. The Father and the Son created man and woman in his image, and gave them together the name of the man, Adam (Genesis 5:2). God appoints all the priests in Israel to be men. The Son of God comes into the world as a man, not a woman. He chooses twelve men to be his apostles. The apostles tell the churches that all the overseers—the pastor/elders who teach and have authority (1 Timothy 2:12)—should be men; and that in the home, the head who bears special responsibility to lead, protect, and provide should be the husband (Ephesians 5:22-33).

From all of this, I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel. And, being a God of love, he has done it for the maximum flourishing of men and women. He did not create women to languish, or be frustrated, or in any way to suffer or fall short of full and lasting joy, in a masculine Christianity. She is a fellow heir of the grace of life (1 Peter 3:7). From which I infer that the fullest flourishing of women and men takes place in churches and families where Christianity has this God-ordained, masculine feel. For the sake of the glory of women, and for the sake of the security and joy of children, God has made Christianity to have a masculine feel. He has ordained for the church a masculine ministry.

The language of the second paragraph assure me that Mr Piper means well, but unfortunately, his first paragraph leaves me feeling intensely frustrated, and excluded. He’s essentially said that God is a man, that humanity is ultimately male, that all of the important people in the Bible are men, and that leaves me as an outsider, with no place in the faith, or the church.  Apparently I am not created to languish, and this masculine faith is going to lead to my ‘fullest flourishing’, but I don’t feel flourished. Not one little bit. I feel like it would all have been better off if I were a man, because being a woman is useless and meaningless. And I hate that.

It all comes back to the key word again: complement. Complementarianism says that the differences between men and women are good things, because without one another we can’t work. When God created Adam he said ‘It is not good for man to be alone’.  God creates Eve because no other created being will do as a partner for Adam. They really are made for each other. Men can’t do it all alone. But when I read the quote from Piper that’s not the sense I get.

From him it’s clear that women need men – to lead us, to protect us, and to provide for us –  but the reciprocity is a little murkier. It doesn’t seem that men need women at all – except, presumably to have babies, and so make more men.

That doesn’t seem particularly complementary to me.

And I’m also pretty sure it’s not true.

Tune in next week to think more about complementarian stuff, but in the meantime, please let me know what you think – agree or disagree, I’d love to hear!

In summary: not flourishing.

This entry was published on June 1, 2012 at 10:09 pm. It’s filed under Feminine Fridays and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

3 thoughts on “On Feminine Fridays: Confessions of a Complementarian (part. 2)

  1. Hi lovely. This topic tends to get my heckles up quicker than you can say “John Piper” but it’s interesting to hear you write your thoughts out. I’d use the label “egalitarian” to describe myself so we have some differences in our stances, but I agree with a lot of your frustrations with the complementarian position.
    I’m interested to hear if you are going to unpack the “men and women are different” statement. I find that it tends to be an easy one to toss out there but a harder one to define…
    And finally, have you read any of Rachel Held Evan’s writings? She is egalitarian and has written a lot on the topic, most of which I love and fully agree with. She writes better than I could, so maybe check our her blog if you haven’t already…

    • ellidhcook on said:

      Hey, yep I have read Rachel Held Evans. Her stuff on the John Piper comments was really interesting, and I particularly appreciated her ‘call to arms’ to men to respond to what he’d said. There were a lot of excellent posts!
      I might do some unpacking of the ‘different’ stuff, but not anytime soon I think. I guess because the series is less of my reasons for why I’m a complementarian and what I think that means, and more about my particular frustrations with it. I’m not after persuading or converting anyone (especially not you! 😉 ) so I’m not sure whether I’ll go much into the nitty-gritty of what I think it means and why I think it, but, well, never say never!

  2. Pingback: On Friday: Defining terms. | surrounded by clouds

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