I intend on following this post up with one to two more, (time permitting), explaining how, even when practiced correctly and “biblically,” Christian gender complementarianism is damaging to men and women. (Edit: see the bottom of this post for other posts on this blog I have since published about complementarianism vs codependency.)
Before I could tackle that subject, I felt it necessary to write what amounts to a prequel or two.
Hopefully, my prequels won’t be as bad as George Lucas’ The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, or Revenge of the Sith. But you’re not having to pay several bucks to read this. It’s free. So you can look at it like that.
Even in my current waffling state on the faith, where I am in-between being a Christian and being agnostic (or maybe a deist), and have been that way the last two or more years, my sympathies on these issues (e.g., hermeneutics) are usually with the conservatives.
I am right- of- center on most political and social topics as well. I have never in my entire life been left wing.
Having said that, I do think that believers who are more liberal, or left of center, sometimes have valid points or criticisms regarding some conservative beliefs or conservative understandings of Scripture.
Where I admitted I am not currently a fully sold out, on-fire Christian is the point where many of your avid, conservative Christians will tune out anything I have to say from that point forward. They erroneously believe that only currently devout, completely, on- board Christians are qualified to understand or critique Christianity or various Christian beliefs.
The sad thing about this is not only does that tendency show narrow-mindedness, but you may be in danger of losing even more devout Christians to the ranks of quasi- agnostics to all-out atheists if you don’t listen to what I’m saying in posts like this one – because I am explaining some of the very things that caused me to doubt the faith.
(More and more Women Are Leaving the Church, by the way.)
I used to be a gender complementarian myself and was brought up by Christian parents who believed in traditional gender roles. I realized due to the Bible itself that gender complementarianism is false and therefore abandoned gender complementarianism sometime by my mid-30s.
IT’S NOT JUST ABSTRACT: IDEAS, DOCTRINES, AND THEOLOGY HAVE REAL LIFE CONSEQUENCES
A person’s interpretation of the Bible and choice of adherence to particular doctrines can have concrete fall out in one’s life – and in the lives of others, when or if one decides to promote one’s doctrinal beliefs to other Christians on television shows, at a church, on radio programs, podcasts, blogs, books, or other mediums.
Christians who are overly fond of sola scriptura – and hey, I do respect sola scriptura (but within limits; I refer you to this bible.org page as well as this Janet Mefferd podcast for views on that topic that mirror my own) – tend to go to absurd lengths in trying to diminish the truth that doctrine can negatively impact people’s lives.
The physical and emotional well-being of people take second place, among some Christians, to upholding sola scriptura, doctrine, defense of conservative biblical hermeneutics, and belief in biblical inerrancy at all cost.
The scary thing is that the Christians willing to sacrifice human well-being never seem to ponder that perhaps their interpretation of the Bible is incorrect.
The Pharisees were certain their understandings were correct too, something Jesus had to admonish them about (see Matthew 15:1-9).
On the gender complementarian topic in particular, I keep running across a sub-group of complementarians on other sites who mistake their interpretation of the biblical text for being the biblical text itself.
It’s scary how many Christians think they are 100% correct on their understanding of what the Bible says, and there is no getting them to open their minds to consider that maybe, just maybe, they have misunderstood.
An example of this can be seen in the Tim Challies review of Ruth Tucker’s book about Christianity and domestic abuse, where Challies writes:
- “The first weakness is related to the fact that to some degree Tucker defines an entire theological understanding out of her own experience. She understands her ex-husband to be a complementarian and in that way an exemplar of this theology as it takes root and advances to its logical conclusions. Her understanding of complementarianism is inextricably bound up with her own experience, yet I found her marriage unrecognizable as a truly complementarian union.”
- (source: Jesus Creed: Ruth Tucker Responds to Tim Challies)
Thus, Challies oh so conveniently side steps the very real life consequences gender complementarian teachings and attitudes have on real life, flesh and blood people.
And speaking of Tim Challies:
- Stuck With Their Noses in the Text [on Internet Monk site: Re: Tim Challies’ Tone Deaf Review of Ruth Tucker’s book on domestic violence]
That so many women (and some men) have stepped forward in books or blogs to explain the detrimental affects complementarianism has had upon them should be a warning sign that something is deeply amiss with complementarian interpretations of the Bible.
Instead, these testimonies are brushed off as supposedly being nothing more than placing emotion or experience “above the Bible.”
Complementarians are refusing to deal with the very real negative outcomes their teachings are having on people – and on the church as a whole, since 50% of the church’s population – women – are being excluded from positions of influence based on their gender alone.
I’ve been seeing more and more editorials or comments on blogs by Christians linking complementarianism to either causing domestic violence or to its perpetuation. That should give complementarians a strong pause to reflect that perhaps there is something very wrong with complementarianism, but they only dig their heels in more and insist complementarianism is very godly and biblical.
People’s lived experiences do not always line up the way Christians say or think they should.
People’s lived experiences do not always line up with particular Christian interpretations of the Bible.
I had to point all this out recently to a commentator on Spiritual Sounding Board blog who was scolding me for saying I believe much of the gender role constructs in our society, even the ones by Christians, are socially conditioned.
I at no time stated I think that men and women are totally identical, but the individual whom took issue with my post chose to read those views into my post.
Many Christian gender complementarians believe that all, or the majority of, girls and women should fall into, or enjoy, certain activities or attitudes (here is just a sampling of gender expectations many complementarians hold for girls and women):
- The majority- to- all females should marry, have children, should enjoy being around children, should “feel” maternal, should want to cook casseroles (i.e., should participate in stereotypical “house wife” activities), be a stay at home mother, should like pink, should like floral patterns on clothing, should be quiet, passive, and soft spoken
The Christians who feel that those are the only proper, godly roles or pursuits for girls and women think they are basing these on the Bible, when, in fact, they are basing much of these views on their own personal preferences, families of origin, and/or secular social views of the female gender. (See, for instance this blog page for more: Biblical Womanhood or Cultural Womanhood? on CBE’s site).
I really cannot recall, off the top of my head, any Biblical passage insisting that all girls and women every where, for all time, must wear pink, like to bake cookies, watch the Martha Stewart show, want to play with Barbie dolls, or marry.
In other cases, complementarians are taking verses that apparently were intended to be applicable only to particular persons in specific churches 2,000 years ago and insisting all people, right down to all nations in 2016 and beyond, should be living them out.
If you were to ask the average gender complementarian to come up with a list of traits or habits that differentiate men from women, you’d likely see things such as “women and girls are emotional, like flowers, are quiet, neat, proper, and maternal,” while boys or men might be described as “messy, loud, assertive, brave, they like sports.” I’ve yet to see any gender complementarian cite where the Bible states as such.
In yet other essays I’ve seen where a complementarian tries to define what makes a man a “biblical man,” the qualities listed often times – such as “bold follower of Jesus” – can just as easily be applied to women.
When complementarian churches try to lure in more male attendees, they will do things such as advertise they are giving away free firearms, Bar-B-Q grills, or tickets to monster truck rallies to any men who enter the church: these are all things or pursuits that are considered stereotypically masculine.
The fact that complementarians refuse to grapple with or address is that there are indeed girls and women who are not maternal, who don’t want to marry and have children, who don’t want to cook, who do not like the color pink, or who don’t want to knit, sew, or bake, or do any of the other things they think God designed women to do or enjoy. Some women not only have no desire to knit, sew, cook, or baby sit, but they are not good, talented, or skilled at any of those endeavors.
Some complementarians will pay lip service to respecting women who remain unmarried and childless, but the truth of the matter is belied in the attention they pay to unmarried or childless women: which is about zero, nil.
Almost any time I have heard a sermon or read an article or blog post by a complementarian that deals with gender roles, it is invariably pertaining to wives who are mothers.
Or else, such complementarian sermons, articles, and books assume that any woman reading or listening wants to be married; wants to be a mother; or that the woman reading or listening will in fact be married or be a mother some day.
Complementarians generally do not consider that some women never wish to marry, might want to marry but not be able to find the right partner (and hence remain single until death), or that some women may choose not to be mothers, or are infertile and incapable of conceiving.
I seldom see or hear gender complementarian articles, sermons, or blog posts that address women who never marry, or who are child free or childless, nor do I often see content about divorced or widowed women. The vast majority of complementarian material revolves around motherhood and wifehood.
I want to remind any readers: I was raised in a gender complementarian family, which I will likely address in more detail in a future post.
My parents were devout Christians who very much believed in traditional gender roles. (My father remains living, but my mother passed away several years ago.)
I don’t recall my parents using the phrase “gender complementarianism,” but they agreed with all or most of what complementarians today are teaching about gender roles and marriage. My mother believed that the husband is the leader in the family – she believed in the “male headship” nonsense that complementarians advocate.
My mother told me on more than one occasion as I was growing up that my father does not think girls and women are as intelligent as boys and men.
One evening, back in the 1990s, when my mother and I were watching the news together, a piece on Hillary Clinton came on.
I think Hillary announced at that time she might in the future run for President of the United States. I’m a lifelong Republican (who is unhappy with the current state of the GOP), so I’m not thrilled with Hillary, who is a Democrat.
However, when my mother said she didn’t believe that women should run for office of POTUS, I asked her why not. I cannot remember my mother’s exact answer, but it had something to do with her believing that women are not as tough, intelligent, or as capable as men to hold political office.
I may have to circle around in a future post to cite examples of how gender complementarian views I was taught in childhood, my teen years and 20s negatively impacted my life.
For those Christians who think the written word should always supercede personal experience, or who don’t think personal experience is a legitimate barometer of the truth of one’s interpretation of Scripture, they are, oddly enough, in violation of the Bible they say they take literally.
After all, Paul the apostle wrote:
- If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13)
There we have, in 1 Cor. 13, taught that if your beliefs or practices are not loving, are not producing love, they’re likely in error.
Your doctrine, which you may cling to so voraciously, might be harming people, which is not loving. You should consider that perhaps your doctrine or interpretation is in error – not those pointing out to you that their experiences shaped or influenced by your doctrine are in error.
Gender complementarianism definitely had harmful repercussions on me, and I was brought up under the soft, gentle, biblical variety of gender complementarianism, as opposed to the false, un-biblical, wrongly implemented sort that complementarians claim is “not REAL complementarianism.” I will address that in a separate, upcoming post at a later time.
It’s quite easy for complementarian women who live cushy, middle class lifestyles in affluent nations to preach or advocate complementarianism, and it’s obviously easy for many Christian gender complementarian men to promote complementarianism, since, in many ways, they are often more benefitted by complementarianism than harmed by it.
I recall the lepers and other untouchables and riff raff of Jesus’ day who suffered greatly and unnecessarily because the Pharisees’ interpretation of the Scripture and perverse devotion to doctrinal purity; how the Pharisees wanted a woman to remain in pain rather than receive a healing, because they thought Jesus was violating their doctrine of ‘no work on the Sabbath.’ Jesus rebuked those Pharisees.
If you are not being harmed by a doctrine, it’s quite easy to dismiss other people’s testimonies of having been injured by it. You’d rather show loyalty to your particular doctrine than consider, via hearing of other people’s negative experiences with it, that you may have it wrong.
Edit. March 29, 2016
I was just reading on a Christian egalitarian site a comment by someone who said she read a well-known work by complementarians (containing essays by various complementarians), and she noticed that many of the authors used anecdotes to “prove” that complementarianism is true or that it works.
In other words, many of the complementarians were using their personal experiences to defend complementarianism.
Having read that did bring to mind examples I’ve seen of that very thing as well.
I have seen complementarians on other sites use their own marriages as an example that complementarianism works or is true. (An aside: I’ve noted that in all the examples I’ve ever seen of complementarians who point to their marriages that the marriage they describe is mutual or egalitarian in nature and complementarian in name only.)
There is a complementarian man, Ken, who posts frequently to another blog I visit. This person will appeal to the personal experience he had to argue in favor of complementarianism and against egalitarianism: he has mentioned one church he went to had two or three women teachers who taught beliefs he felt were false. Due to this personal experience, he then extrapolates that all women are false teachers, and that egalitarianism is false.
Complementarians indulge in use of personal experience and personal anecdote quite a bit, yet they will condemn non-complementarians who mention their own personal experiences to illustrate an idea or argument.
The bottom line still remains true, whether complementarians like it or not: doctrine can and does have real-life consequences on people. Our personal experiences, our lives, are influenced by what we believe and what we are taught.
For additional reading (other sites):
Silent No More: Exposing Abuse Among Evangelicals (on CBE. Mentions Ruth Tucker’s book and the inadequacy of complementarianism to address domestic abuse)
Diversion: a Response to Melissa Kruger by Nate Sparks
On that page, Sparks addresses Kruger’s negative review of Ruth Tucker’s book on the link between domestic abuse and complementarianism, where in Kruger tries to critique the book in part because Tucker makes an appeal from personal experience
There Are No “Biblical Men” on Patheos blog, by Brandon Robertson
The Masculinity Myth: The Real Reason Men Don’t Go to Church on Patheos blog, by Douglas Bursch
Other Posts (this blog) about Complementarianism and-or Codependency: