• The Semantic Games of Gender Complementarians

The Semantic Games of Gender Complementarians

The following post relates with another topic that shows how flawed gender complementarianism is.

I may in the future do a separate post about that other, closely related topic, which is: complementarians cannot agree with each other on exactly what complementarianism is, or how it should be lived, so there ends up all sorts of inconsistencies and contradictions among complementarians.

Complementarianism exists on a scale or contiuum from “soft complementarianism” all the way to a more “hard core” version that borders on patriarchy, and there are stops between those two points.

I think what I write about in this post may be more common place among soft or moderate complementarians than among the patriarchal variety.

Tea Rooms or Restaurants?

I  watched a program on Food network called “Super Southern Eats.” According to one of the program’s hosts, decades ago in the southern United States, it was considered inappropriate for women to own restaurants.

Women who wanted to be restaurateurs had to get around this cultural norm by referring to their business establishments as “Tea Rooms” rather than “Restaurants.”

If you’re interested, you can read more about that at these web pages:

The Rise of the American Tea Room: Serving Women’s Rights with a Cup of Tea

From Patrons to Chefs, a History of Women in Restaurants

Suffrage Stories: Suffragettes and Tea Rooms: From ‘Sheltered Anonymity’ to Sites of Protest (tag – various posts)

So, years ago in the United States, women could not freely own and operate a restaurant themselves – so long as it was called a restaurant – but society was just fine and dandy so long as the restaurant was called a “tea room.”

Complementarians Place Authority in Podiums or In the Male Biological Sex, Not in God or In The Bible

I came across a blog post by a woman a few years ago who talked about her journey out of complementarianism.

It began when she attended a Christian college and started to notice inconsistencies in complementarianism. I have told this story a few times on another blog.

Unfortunately, I did not think to bookmark the woman’s blog post, and after much googling, I’ve not been able to find it. I don’t recall her name, the name of the college, or other details.

Here is how that story went:

A lady on another blog said she was finally awoken to the absurdity and arbitrary nature [of complementarianism] while attending a Christian college as a student.

Every week the students had to gather in a chapel to hear sermons and lectures.

One week, their college had a famous Christian lady author give a speech or sermon, whatever you want to call it, in the chapel.

The woman who was writing the post said she didn’t understand that, because technically, according to complementarianism, a woman should not have been allowed to speak at their school in the chapel at all.

But what the school did in the case of the lady guest speaker was move the big, heavy wooden podium out of the way, the one that was normally used when male speakers were on stage, and replaced it with some feminine, small, girly table with flowers painted on it or whatever.

Which does make you think that complementarians are not investing authority in the word of God (by the speaker on the stage quoting Scripture), but in the type of furniture the speaker stands behind, and in the gender of the one speaking.

So, are Baptist and Protestant gender comps really sola scriptura? You know they claim to be, but they act like authority resides in the male gender or in podiums, not in God’s word.

(Edit.) I also wanted to share another story I read about on another site. I’m unable to provide a link to it. I don’t remember where I saw it.

Here’s how this other story went:

A married woman and her husband were invited to be guest speakers at a church for a Sunday morning service. I believe they were going to give a lecture about how to wisely handle one’s finances.

The morning the couple were to attend this church to give the lecture, the husband fell sick, so the wife had to attend alone.

The people at the church – who had invited her and her husband to teach – were greatly unnerved.

Even though the wife was also a recognized expert at the topic, the church would not allow her to stand at the podium, because they were a very complementarian church who did not believe it was acceptable for a woman to speak alone at a church service (even though her lecture was to be on something about finances).

The church had the woman stand in a room out of sight of the congregants, and a man who worked at the church wore an ear plug piece and stood in her place at the podium and gave her speech for her.

In the backroom, the woman speaker fed him his lines.

I think she said she had written her speech down on index cards – she read the cards aloud to the guy at the podium over a mic, and he repeated what she said, as she stood in the backroom.

She marveled that the church would allow this male speaker to quote her verbatim during the service, but had a problem with her physically standing at the podium. It was a distinction without a difference.

(end story)

My take: if you are fine with allowing a man on a stage during church to repeat verbatim what a woman is telling him backstage through a microphone, you might as well allow the woman to stand on the stage herself and mouth her own lines.

Note that complementarians are not consistent on this point (and on many other points).

From a complementarian site, 9 Marks, is this essay, “Complementarianism in the Grey Areas,” by a woman author named Jodi Ware, which states:

Guest Preachers?

Second, a woman should not be allowed to preach as a guest in a church, even under the “authority” of the elders of that church.

Again, the preaching of the Word is of highest importance in the life of the church, and God’s Word itself clearly limits this preaching to be done by qualified males.

…It is difficult, therefore, to know how we can square the practice of a female guest preacher with this command.

The idea that a woman can be a “guest preacher” under the authority of the elders of the church runs against the ultimate authority of the Lord over his church.

(end quotes)

I’d say that the Christian college of the young woman of whom I wrote of above would be surprised by this. They were just fine with a Christian woman speaker leading a chapel service of a mixed gender audience, so long as she did so behind a small table with floral decor on it, as opposed to the large, wooden podium that male speakers used.

This is one example, though, of how complementarians do not agree with each other about how complementarianism should be practiced.

John Piper

Preacher and Christian book author John Piper has all sorts of rules about when, how, or if women can do anything – preach, teach, or talk to men.

Piper will, for example, say it’s permissible to allow women to teach men, so long as the man in question is reading a book written by a woman author, but he discourages men from listening to that same woman if she were to speak about the topic at hand.

So, magically, a woman teaching a man goes from supposedly being wrong or unbiblical to being acceptable and biblical depending on the medium of expression: spoken word vs. written word.

Piper is able to work-around his own “women shall not teach men” rule by playing games, semantics, or finding exceptions.

On a related note (by Rachel Pietka on Christianity Today):

Hey John Piper, Is My Femininity Showing? The implications of allowing women to teach “indirectly.”


In a recent podcast, John Piper describes acceptable ways for women to exert public influence. As he explains why men can read biblical commentaries from women, but not be taught by them in person, he reveals some profoundly troubling assumptions about women and a dated view of the female body.

Piper—a complementarian who believes in male headship and leadership—endorses women’s commentaries on the Bible because they are “indirect” and “impersonal” venues of influence.

He emphasizes that in reading a woman’s words, he doesn’t see her with his own eyes, conveying particular qualms with a woman looking at him while teaching.

As blogger Rachel Held Evans asserts, Piper’s reasons for preferring an indirect and impersonal encounter with a woman point to one factor: the offensive presence of her body.

According to Piper, the role of a city planner is appropriate for a woman because she exercises authority ensconced in an office at a desk, while a woman teacher stands before him, he says, making him aware of his own manhood and her womanhood. On the other hand, when a woman communicates to him indirectly and impersonally through writing, he can handle it because “she’s not looking at me and confronting me and authoritatively directing me as a woman.”

(end CT quotes)

Also, from Internet Monk:

Complementarian Gymnastics


[Re: John Piper’s “Is it wrong for men to listen to female speakers?” commentary]

Piper’s response is a prime example of the mental gymnastics some “complementarians” must go through in order to hold their position.

John Piper answered this question by saying:

“No. Unless you begin to become dependent on her as your shepherd-your pastor.” [snip remainder of Piper quote on iMonk]

…The position outlined above [by Piper], however, is anything but clear, simple to understand or apply.

It is not wrong for a man to listen to a woman preach or teach . . . but not too much?

It is not wrong for a man to listen to a woman preach or teach . . . as long as you make sure you listen to men more?

….It is not wrong for a man to listen to a woman preach or teach . . . as long as that woman knows her place and knows she can’t speak with “authority” to men?

What is this “authority” Piper is talking about? I thought he believed in “Sola Scriptura.” I thought Scripture is our sole authority.

Is he saying that, ultimately, men are the only authorized interpreters and proclaimers of Scripture? Where is the pastoral role thus defined in Scripture?

….Fourth, this passage does not define the audience or setting for this “authoritative teaching” that is being restricted. Complementarians define this by saying it means women can’t be pastors.

But why should it be restricted to that?

The text says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”

If this is a universal command based on maleness and femaleness, should it not include every possible setting in which women teach that may have an influence on men?

Should women be professors and teach the Bible if men are students in the classroom? Should women write books if men will read them? Should women be conference speakers if men will hear them?

The “complementarian” position on women “teaching authoritatively” is a mess. It relies on a series of complex interpretive gymnastics that I find unconvincing.

(end snippets)

 Titles: Pastor Vs. Director

I have read women on other sites say they attended seminary and want to be pastors. Some of them have said that a church will allow them to be in a pastor, deacon, or elder position, but change the title from pastor, deacon, or elder to “director.”

The woman in question ends up with the same set of duties and responsibilities of a pastor (or elder or deacon), but merely with a different title.

Pastor or Director: Does Title Matter? by Carolyn Taketa


Director, on the other hand, is an organizational word that comes from the corporate business world. It speaks of organizing, coordinating, producing, and conducting.

The act of directing is important, even within the church. Yet we live in a Christian culture that differentiates between titles such as pastor and director, often along gender lines rather than job description. Many women function in pastoral roles within their churches, often overseeing large ministries without the title of “pastor.”

How Titles Affect Ministry

Rather than denote job description, titles often indicate hierarchies and culture. This means that simply because they are called “directors,” women leaders may not get the same level of respect, influence, income, or resources for themselves or their ministries.

Women directors may get a smaller office, a smaller team, and even a smaller budget than their male coworkers. Sometimes congregants will even reject a director’s authority and go over her head because they want to talk to a “pastor” who is presumed more capable simply because of his title.

(end snippets)

Some churches will allow a woman to work in a preacher capacity, but slap the title “director” on her role and give her lower pay than her male counterparts.

The Word “Complementarianism”

The term “complementarianism” itself is part of a semantics game.

Many complementarians like to say that the word or set of teachings known as “complementarianism” only denotes that men and women are equal in worth but that God designed them to have different roles.

This is not the full picture, or not an accurate one, however.

What complementarians actually teach and believe in is a complementarianism based on a male hierarchy, that they generally refer to as, or justify under, a phrase called “male headship,” where men get to rule over women, and women are omitted from certain activities merely for having been born women. Women are not truly equal in this scenario, they are only said to be equal.

See this page for more:

Let’s Stop Calling It Complementarianism from Experimental Theology blog


Of course, many hierarchical complementarians might object to this label, but it is more accurate.

Specifically, it distinguishes between the sort of complementarianism that egalitarians believe in, what might be called relational complementarianism, from the kind that hierarchical complementarians believe in, a complementing that isn’t organic to the relationship (the relative gifts of the husband and wife) but is, rather, a fixed and preordained power-relation with men placed in leadership over women.

This is why hierarchical complementarianism is a form of patriarchalism. Hierarchical complementarianism is founded upon the belief of ontological ineptitude.

(end snippets)

The following blog page is by a complementarian person, on a pro-complementarian blog; even complementarians admit that the word “complementarianism” is not accurate or truthful…

Russel Moore: I hate the word “complementarianism” 

In response to someone named Mark Dever:

Russell Moore:
Because complemnetarianism 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 havedifferent 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…

(end Moore quotes)

Ending Notes

If you are a complementarian of any stripe – soft, moderate, or hard core – you really should be terribly embarrassed by all this.

Look at all the ridiculous hoops you guys go through to uphold a teaching that is actually not in the Bible:

Your teachings about what women may or may not do in marriages or church settings are based on things ranging from sexism, assumptions, left-over secular cultural norms, your chosen method of hermeneutics, your comfort level, and tradition – to any combination of all these factors. But there is nothing “clearly biblical” about any of it.

More on this blog:

Gender Complementarianism Does Not Adequately Address, or Address At All, Incompetent, Loser, Or Incapacitated Men

Gender Complementarian Trinitarian Analogies Do Not Work

Contradictory Expectations For Both Sexes by Christian Gender Complementarians

If You Act Like A Victim, You Will Likely Be Victimized – And: Complementarians Ask Women and Girls to Be Small To Make Men Feel Big

Why Arguments Against Women in Ministry Aren’t Biblical by Ben Witherington

The Shifting Goal Posts of Complementarianism Show How Bankrupt It Is

Yes, Complementarianism Infantilizes Women – and the Complementarian Tie-Breaking Vote Doctrine

Even Warm and Fuzy, True, Correctly-Implemented Gender Complementarianism is Harmful to Women, and It’s Still Sexism – Yes All Comps (Refuting “Not All Comps”)

Christian Gender Complementarian Analogies Do Not Work

Christian Gender Complementarianism is Christian-Endorsed Codependency for Women (And That’s Not A Good Thing)

8 thoughts on “• The Semantic Games of Gender Complementarians

  1. The biggest problems with the Complementarians is not their idea that men and women are different (duh!)

    They are a bunch of nit-picking legalists who think they can improve the Two Commandments of Grace–not with the original Ten Commandments or the rules of the Medieval Catholics–but with their own nit-picky rules and regulations. These save nobody! They hinder evangelism when people see what sour stick-in-the-muds “Christians ” are.

    These people need to read Galatians, slowly and carefully. They are often cold and loveless too.

  2. I know a few SBC churches who consider themselves egalitarian that have female “directors” but they know they would get kicked out of the SBC for calling them pastors. I was a member of one for some time. I finally just left because they were more afraid of not being Baptist than of standing up for what they actually believed. I still find it disappointing.

  3. It’s more than disappointing to me. It’s like the frog boiling in the pot if you stick around such silliness for too long. I don’t care about the gender of the minister/teacher but the quaiity. And if a qualified female is going the job, she deserves the same recognition for it.

    Some of the silliness:

    It’s ok for her to teach if she doesn’t use the pulpit. Sacred furniture?

    She is teaching under the authority of her husband. This was the explanation given for Mrs. Criswell who taught a 300 person mixed SS class that was on the radio! Her husband wasn’t even in the room!

    The gymnastic hoops they jump through are nothing but deceptive. But it’s usually for a powerful and well connected female.

  4. The problem with comp churches’ gender role ideas is that they extend their rigidly inflexible rules (where only guidelines are needed) to specify which virtues AND vices should be strengthened according to our gender.

    Courage is not just a “manly” virtue but a womanly vice. Gentleness is good for a woman but bad for a man. Stubbornness is okay for a man, but for a woman it means she’s a “Jezebel.” Vanity is horribly wrong in a man (it’s silly and weird when a guy dresses up like a girl, plus it means he’s gay– not a righteous wife-beating husband like me.) Yet for women (not just in the Complementerian churches, vanity is strongly encouraged. Obsessing more about our physical appearance than the inner beauty God is slowly perfecting in every man and woman is wrong. Period.

  5. Women and men generally gravitate toward certain career choices. This is neither right nor wrong. Just because certain career choices appeal toward men or women and these genders usually have gifts doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions.

    Female mathematicians, engineers, and composers should not be shamed because their gifts aren’t typical “feminine” ones. Nor should young men be shamed for enjoying the role of nurse (a caretaking role requiring gentleness) and not aspiring to doctor.

    I had a crush on a young nursing student. Thankfully no one could convince him he was gay, and I believe he’s happily married to an elementary student who also loved Bryan’s whacky sense of humor–the fact that he could be gentle as well as strong.

    • Postscript: I often felt subtly shamed by feminists who whined about how there weren’t MORE female scientists/mathematicians/STEM students. It must be some elaborate right-wing conspiracy cooked up by men! (We hates ’em. Grrr.)

      I myself stink at STEM subjects. A lot of women do. Why should we force ourselves into careers we secretly hate and can never excel in? There’s nothing wrong if a woman is happier as a nurse, librarian or paralegal than she would be as a doctor, professor or attorney. A lot of it is actually selfish ambition. According to the Epistle of James, selfish ambition is a sin for either gender.

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