Complementarian Misrepresentations and Misunderstandings of Non-Comps and of Feminism
I was a gender complementarian from the time I was a kid up until around my mid-30s.
As such, I understand exactly how complementarians think, and why they hold to complementarianism, because I was once one of them.
Comps (Complementarians) hold many inaccurate or untrue beliefs and assumptions about people who reject complementarianism, and they – like many right wing or Republican individuals – also have a lot of untrue or inaccurate ideas about feminism and feminists.
First of all, I should clarify from the start I myself am not a feminist. I have never been a feminist.
Secondly, I have never been a liberal or a Democrat. I am currently not a liberal, nor am I a Democrat.
From the time I was a teenager, I have been a conservative, and up until around the year 2015, I was a Republican (I am currently not affiliated with any political party or movement).
It’s quite important to mention both those points from the out-set because most complementarians (and secular conservatives) assume anyone who does not support traditional gender roles is of necessity a left winger, a feminist, or a SJW (social justice warrior).
Comps and secular right wingers further assume that any and all who do not embrace traditional gender roles must also hate the nuclear family, traditional marriage, children, parenting, or traditional values.
I’m going to clear up a few common misunderstandings or faulty assumptions complementarians (and secular conservatives) have of NCs (non-complementarians) and of feminists.
Not everyone who rejects gender complementarianism (traditional gender roles) is a liberal or a feminist.
Among Christians who reject complementarianism, not all adhere to the same label: some prefer to be known as “gender egalitarians,” some prefer the term “gender mutualist,” and some go by the label “feminist” or “Jesus feminist.”
What the word “feminist” means to Christians who reject complementarianism is not what it means to far left wing, secular, feminists.
There are Christian feminists who reject complementarianism, but who also reject abortion- on- demand and who disagree with LGBT marriages and homosexual sexual behavior.
In other words, Christian feminists (as well as many egalitarians or mutualists) believe much the same things as what gender complementarians do in other areas of theology or social concern.
There are different reasons why some Christians initially reject complementarianism, and in many cases, it does not have to do with being swayed by secular feminism or by culture.
I REJECTED COMPLEMENTARIANISM BECAUSE OF THE BIBLE
In my case, for instance, I first rejected complementarianism because I came to see that complementarian hermeneutics makes the Bible contradict itself.
One passage, for instance, will have the apostle Paul commending women for leading and preaching men, for acting as Apostles, and encouraging women to pray aloud and prophecy in church, while in another, where Paul is writing to a specific church in a specific time frame facing a specific problem, and advises a lone woman at that specific to remain quiet during church services.
So, on the one hand, we have Paul being perfectly fine with women preaching, teaching, and leading men, and speaking up in church contexts, but in another, directing a woman (or group of women) at one church from not doing so.
If there is even one example in the Bible of a woman who contradicts complementarian propaganda, and at that, with God’s permission or approval, that is all that is necessary.
JUST ONE EXAMPLE NEEDED TO COUNTER COMPLEMENTARIAN TALKING POINTS
In other words, I do not have to point to 50 thousand examples of women in the Bible leading, preaching, or being warriors, to show how flawed complementarian views are.
All I need are the examples of Deborah and Jael in the Old Testament (also add in Rahab, who helped Israeli spies), who either led men into battle, or who personally killed an enemy combatant, to disprove complementarian rhetoric that women should only be sweet, soft, passive domestic workers, and that war and fighting are for men-folk only.
Just one example is sufficient to disprove complementarianism talking points – if God allowed even just one lone women in the Bible to participate in war, espionage, and fighting, (and he did in fact do so), that goes to show God does not have a philosophical, foundational problem with women acting in roles that complementarians consider “masculine.”
JESUS CHRIST WAS NOT A COMPLEMENTARIAN
If you look to the example in the New Testament of Jesus Christ, Jesus himself was not a complementarian, nor did Jesus promote complementarian beliefs about women, but he actually contradicted them.
Jesus broke with the complementarian, patriarchal convictions of his culture to do things like (but not limited to) teaching women, allowing women to sit at his feet and learn, and he rebuked the male disciples for not taking the word of the female eye-witness when she preached to them of the risen Lord.
NO AUTHORITARIAN STRUCTURES ALLOWED IN COMMUNITY OF BELIEVERS
Jesus told his followers they are not to Lord authority over one another – that means every one, including husband and wife relationships. Jesus did not say, “This ‘no lording authority over each other’ concept is non-applicable to marriages.”
Jesus would not be fine with the complementarian interpretation of “male headship” from Ephesians that renders a husband as a “boss” like figure over a wife, because it violates his earlier teaching of believers not lording authority over each other.
Because complementarians are so consumed with insisting upon, and defending their idea, that men should have authority over women, one can see that they are obsessed with power, power and control over women, and this quest for power over women is also based on sexism and a low view of women, all their rhetoric of viewing women as being “equal in worth” to the contrary.
If complementarian Christians want me to take them seriously, that they consider women equal in worth to men, and their true, underlying motive does not involve sexism or a quest for power, they need to put their money where their mouth is, lay down their so-called claims to authority, and give girls and women full, equal opportunity in church, in life, and in marriage. (And stop arguing or fighting against it.)
I want to see actions, not more rhetoric. I want to see equality carried out in actuality, not more lip service in comp books and blogs about females “being equal in value.” And I don’t mean feel-good concessions, like, “Okay, we’ll let women be elders, but not preachers! We’ll allow women to teach Sunday school classes – but only for women students!”
THE BIBLE’S BIG PICTURE
One over-all message of Scripture is that all are equal in Christ. God plays no favorites – not based on gender, skin color, or ethnic heritage.
God does not hand out gifts of the Spirit based on gender. God does not limit people based on in-born traits such as gender, skin color, or ethnic heritage – but complementarians sure do, when it comes to gender.
There is no male priesthood: women do not come under any man’s authority, not a pastor, not a husband. The Bible says all have access to God the father through the ONLY High Priest, Jesus Christ.
When you take all such biblical passages and themes into consideration, it’s plain to see God does not, and did not, endorse, for all time, a male hierarchy.
COMPLEMENTARIANS DO NOT TAKE THE BIBBLE SERIOUSLY OR LITERALLY
Complementarians claim to “take the Bible seriously” and “literally,” yet they do things such as…
Continue to cherry-pick and laser-focus on one or two verses (such as 1 Timothy 2:12; read here for more), and then mis-apply these culture- or time-specific teachings to insist they are applicable for all persons through all time in all cultures, which unnecessarily limits girls and women.
Some will overlook or water down the passages that mention mutual submission of all believers (such as Ephesians 5.21) to say that such passages apply only to women (or to wives), even though the biblical text itself says no such thing.
The American variety of complementarian will allow traditional American cultural views of women to color how the biblical text is interpreted, but accuse egalitarians of allowing secular views to color egalitarian interpretation.
I’ve had a complementarian make appeals to extra-biblical resources to bolster his position, but when I did the same thing to explain the “why” of the Pauline passages under dispute, he told me that making appeals to extra-biblical scholarship was “liberal” – even though, no, it’s not – it’s a well-used method of conservative Christian apologetists and scholars, and secondly, even though he himself did the same thing
-None of that is “taking the Bible seriously” or “literally.”
It’s not taking the Bible seriously or literally because the complementarians have a male hierarchy philosophy to maintain, an agenda to uphold, no matter when and if the Bible gets in their way. Then they have the audacity to accuse their opponents of having been seduced by culture – they’re absolute hypocrites and intellectually dishonest on this point.
Complementarians also downplay, or else ignore, all the passages, biblical persons, and biblical concepts that do not lend themselves to supporting a complementarian view.
Comps, in contradiction to what the Bible teaches, believe hierarchy and authority “out weigh” the biblical concepts of equality and mutuality, which may explain why they love to constantly appeal to the same small number of verses that seem to (but do not really) support a view that one group must submit unilaterally to another.
What I do not generally do is get involved in nit-picky debates with complementarians over things like “what does the word such- and- such mean in Koine Greek.” (Although other conservative egalitarians have already done this work. It’s online, if you care to search for it.)
THE COMPLEMENTARIAN PRESMISE IS FLAWED AT ITS VERY BASE – NO NEED TO ARGUE OVER SPECIFIC BIBLE VERSES
I personally avoid such argumentation because it’s tedious, but more importantly, I don’t believe it’s entirely necessary to debate, argue, or defeat complementarians on their preferred cherry-picked verses, because the problems with their view are flawed at their very premise.
The only people who want to argue for hours or days on end about the koine Greek behind certain verses are either….
- nerdy, geeky egalitarians who enjoy such things,
- deeply insecure complementarians,
- lazy complementarians, or
- complementarians who continue to read the Bible in a very ignorant, simplistic manner that assumes male hierarchy (even though male hierarchy is not condoned or advocated in the Bible – as Custis has written, patriarchy is the backdrop of the Bible, not the message of the Bible) and refuses to consider the cultural context of the verses and all the implications of that context to the modern reader
Concerning the Bible, I believe in looking at the forest, not the individual trees.
Your average complementarian, however, cannot break away from the single tree, whose bark they are constantly obsessing over, to step back and see the entire forest. This is because complementarians view the Bible in the wrong light (a topic for a future post, if I have the time or interest).
The complementarian position, when relying on cherry -picked verses, stems from a mis-reading and mis-application of the Bible.
Generally speaking, complementarians do not view the Bible in whole – they don’t see concepts and themes; they see verses in a stand-alone, isolated sense.
Complementarians pluck one verse here, another from there, and deduce from one or two verses (ones frequently ripped from their cultural context) that it supports their peculiar gender theology.
I picked up on this sloppiness, incoherency, and contradictory nature of complementarian biblical interpretation as I became older.
In other words, I came to doubt complementarianism and see the hypocrisy and inconsistency in the comp view based on a reading of the Bible alone.
I have to point that out because there are many gender complementarians who assume that the reason a Christian rejects comp is due to secular culture or from feminism. Complementarians tend to view a rejection of comp as being based on nothing but, or primarily upon, cultural concessions or cultural accomodation.
I was not influenced to reject complementarianism from secular culture or due to feminist influence. The same holds true for many other people who rejected comp.
FEMINISM IS THE BOOYGEY MAN OF COMPLEMENTARIANISM
I have never identified as a feminist in my entire life.
On this point, some secular or Christian feminists (that is, ones who do use the label “feminist”) get angry.
These feminists will insist, “but the dictionary definition of “feminism” simply means treating women with equal dignity as men, and affording women equal opportunities,” and so on. They will ask, “Do you not agree with this definition? What is so horrible or wrong with that?”
Well, yes, I agree with the standard dictionary definition of “feminism” as far as it goes, but one thing such feminists don’t seem to notice or grasp is that the word “feminism” (or “feminist”) comes with baggage to a right winger, and I am a right winger.
To many secular and Christian right wingers, ones who believe in complementarianism or in traditional gender roles, what usually springs to mind when they hear the words “feminist” or “feminism” is a…
visual of a butch lesbian with a shaved head who supports abortion, who hates the nuclear family, who always votes Democrat, who hates all men, who burns bras, and who marches in obscene or weird vagina costumes in anti-Trump street protests.
That is the stereotype of feminists many conservatives hold, whether feminists like it or not.
In the past few years, I have left my right wing bubble to spend more time on liberal and secular feminist blogs, forums, sites, and on my other social media, I started following a lot of liberal and feminist accounts and people, whether news sites, or individuals.
It’s been quite eye-opening.
I would say I’ve come to see, since getting to know some liberals and secular feminists personally, or lurking at their forums and blogs, for years, is that my fellow right wingers sometimes misunderstand or misrepresent them.
I still do not agree with some liberal or feminist perspectives, but in some areas, they are misrepresented or misunderstood by gender complementarians, conservatives, and Republicans.
There is a segment of left wingers and feminists who have some very nutty, objectionable, or repulsive beliefs. I don’t dispute that.
But, I noticed, there are quite a number of liberal, feminist ladies on these other sites who are married to men, who have children of their own – so they’re not quite the man-hating, children-hating, nuclear- family- hating harpies other conservatives, Christians, and Republicans had led me to believe.
Contrary to right wing radio host Rush Limbaugh (someone who I used to listen to daily for years and enjoyed), not all feminists are “Femi-Nazis.” Some are, yes, but not all.
Complementarianism does not so much stand in support of anything as it stands in opposition to.
Complementarians are against common tropes or worldviews that conservatives dislike, distrust, or are afraid of, whether we are talking about abortion or the legalization of homosexual marriage, or whatever other topics conservatives dislike.
Perhaps one of complementarianism’s biggest scapegoats and boogeymen is feminism.
I would assume and hope if you are a Christian complementarian, that you support the equality and equal rights of girls and women.
I would hope that you, if you are a Christian complementarian, stand opposed to things such as sexism in job hiring, domestic violence, rape, sexist humor, and so on.
You comps say you are opposed to those things: one of your favorite (and yet unconvincing) mottos is that you consider women “equal in value to men, just not in role.”
Feminism, as practiced and advocated by liberal, secular feminists, seeks to make the world a safer and more fair place for girls and women.
Secular, left wing feminists are opposed to sexism in job hiring, and they are opposed to domestic violence, rape, sexist jokes, women being treated disrespectfully, and so on, and they try to bring attention to these causes or get new laws passed to protect girls and women, if needed.
Those are all laudable goals. There is nothing anti-biblical or un-biblical about those pursuits.
Sadly, I think that the secular, left wing feminists have more often been in the forefront at addressing sexism against girls and women when conservative Christians are either…..
- slow on the up-take on these matters, or
- behave as if these issues are no big deal, or, in yet other cases,
- some complementarians seek to keep the status quo intact
– some comps are opposed to girls attending school or having careers outside the home, for instance (just like Muslims who practice Sharia, for example – those Muslims also will not permit women to hold jobs or attend school).
None of this is to say that secular, liberal feminists never get anything wrong.
Quite often, I see many secular, liberal feminists either abusing, misrepresenting, or demonizing conservative, pro-life, or Republican women, or not allowing such women to participate in feminist marches, or, they do not speak up when they see their fellow liberals attacking pro-life women, or conservative or Republican women.
Sometimes, liberal feminists ignore or downplay sexism against women as carried out by Muslims, due to political correctness.
Many liberal feminists are willing to put the safety of cis women at risk by advocating for bills to be passed that would make it easier for cis men, who are rapists, to pose as transgender, so that they can access bathrooms to rape women.
I can definitely see where secular, liberal feminists drop the ball on different topics, even ones pertaining to the safety and well-being of girls and women.
Despite their flaws, though, not everything secular, liberal feminists believe or fight for are things Christians would, or should be, opposed to.
Here I point you to an article on a conservative Christian blog for more:
Perhaps Feminism Is Not The Enemy – New Life Blog
Not everyone who disagrees with complementarianism is a feminist or a liberal. There are conservative, Bible-believing Christians who have rejected complementarianism on purely biblical grounds.
Not all feminists – not even the left wing, non-Christian variety – are all man-hating, baby-hating shrews or kooky wackos. Some are, yes, but not all.
For some reason, my fellow conservatives like to fixate on and mock the extremists in the feminist camp, rather than deal seriously with the views of the more moderate, sane ones – and yes, they do exist. I’ve read their blog posts, comments by various ones in comment sections on blogs, editorials on professional magazine sites, etc.
Complementrians needs to get over this mind-set that someone who disagrees with the complementarian interpretation of Scripture is liberal, a feminist, or “doesn’t take the Bible seriously,” because that is simply not the case.