Complementarian-Egalitarian Myths (Andrew Wilson)

I wish all could reason as well as Andrew Wilson. Here he sketches common myths propagated by opponents, in this case the Egalitarians (E) and Complementarians (C). I’m unpersuaded these are the best terms, and I’m personally much more in tune with the term “Mutuality” and consider myself a “mutualist,” though I’m quite happy to be part of the egalitarians … and there so much to be said… so a question:

Which of these do the most damage for civil conversation? Which of these hurt the church the most?

E1. All complementarians are chauvinists who dishonour women.
C1. All egalitarians are liberals who dishonour the Bible.

E2. Complementarians do not believe men and women are equal.
C2. Egalitarians do not believe men and women are complementary.

E3. “Headship” and “submission” always communicate the inferiority of women.
C3. “Headship” and “submission” never communicate the inferiority of women.

E4. Complementarianism is analogous to supporting the slave trade.
C4. Egalitarianism is analogous to supporting homosexual practice.

E5. The differences between men and women are entirely a result of the Fall.
C5. The differences between men and women are entirely a result of creation.

E6. Women were clearly foundational apostles in the early church.
C6. Women were clearly not apostles in the early church.

E7. New Testament scholarship has concluded that the Greek word kephale (literally, “head”) means “source”.
C7. New Testament scholarship has concluded that the Greek word kephale (literally, “head”) never means “source”.

E8. 1 Timothy 2 is entirely circumstantial, and reflects no creational principles.
C8. 1 Timothy 2 is entirely creational, and reflects no circumstantial principles.

E9. Narrative trumps doctrinal instruction: women in the early church taught and exercised authority over men, so Paul could not have prohibited either.
C9. Doctrinal instruction trumps narrative: Paul prohibited women from teaching or exercising authority over men, so women in the early church can’t have done either.

E10. Scholars agree that the Greek word authentein means “to usurp, domineer or assume authority”, with negative connotations.
C10. Scholars agree that the Greek word authentein means “to exercise authority over”, with no negative connotations.

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  • Jeremy

    I’d say the first four do the most damage. Arguing over scripture is one thing, but those are usually meant to be personally disparaging to the opponent. (2 less so than the rest)

  • E1 & C1 for sure. I’ve seen the sting of both these throughout the twenty years I’ve pastored churches.

  • Joshua Wooden

    Professor, what does the term “mutuality” or “mutualist” do, other than create a different word for the same concept (i.e. egalitarianism) whilst avoiding the baggage associated with the word egalitarianism? If you do, in fact, consider yourself in the egalitarian camp, then in what way are you something distinct from that designation as a mutualist?

    I’m with Jeremy – the ones that are meant pejoratively obviously do the most damage.

  • Simon

    I was going to go for #1 & #2 because those arguments are about the proponents of the position, and not the details fo the position itself. If you think you are arguing with someone abhorrent then you will not really listen to what they are saying.

    But in the end I plumped for #4. Argument by bad analogies, especially when you are analogising yiour opponents position and not your own, never leads to harmony. (Godwin’s Law is the perfect expression of this!)

    I’m afraid the recent film “180”, perhaps with the best of intentions, does this more than anything I have seen recently.

  • Jon Bartlett

    My leaning is towards the words like ‘entirely’, ‘always’, ‘agree’, ‘trumps’. All these convey an unrealistic degree of certainty. I’m strongly egalitarian, but I wonder whether reality is more like an pair of overlapping sets or circles. Complementarians think the circles barely overlap. Egalitarians think they totally overlap. The truth might be that there is an intermediate but fairly large degree of overlap. Men may tend towards one role (perhaps by both creation and fall), women towards another, but there is a big area where these roles overlap and either male or female can act the out.

    Not sure I put that too well, but hope it makes sense! Blessings, Jon

  • Paul W

    I’m not an Evangelical or very familiar with egalitarian or complimentarian discussion. On the surface it doesn’t seem like those terms should be at odds with each other.

    @3 Joshua

    What baggage is associated with the word egalitarianism? Doesn’t egalitarianism denote the idea that all humans are equal in fundamental worth and should be treated with the same dignity? Is there something controversial amongst Evangelicals with that?

    Apologies if the question is overly loaded?

  • Isn’t what is damaging and hurtful the unbiblical belief that Scripture speaks clearly and univocally on the question of male and female? (among other questions…)

  • I think E1&C1 are the worst. We’ve probably all been victims of personal attacks in theological discussions. It has to stop!

  • RJS

    Paul W (#6)

    Complementarian carries the baggage of hierarchy and suppression… even though we as humans are complementary in many ways including in our gender.

    Egalitarian carries the baggage of androgeny with no distinction between male and female. A complete interchangeability if you will. Of course, all humans are equal in fundamental worth and should be treated with the same dignity – thus egalitarian is an appropriate word.

    Some prefer complementarity without hierarchy or mutuality or …

  • Peter F.

    I think both views are based on a misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of authority.

  • James

    Ecclesiastes 7:18 comes to mind in discussions like this.

    “It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes*.” (NIV)

    * or, will follow them both

  • Scot McKnight

    Joshua, “Egalitarian” is about equal rights and therefore becomes about justice in the modern democratic state. “Mutualist” seeks to reframe it from the civil realm to the theological realm. Notice that the Christians for Biblical Equality call their magazine Mutuality. I like that. It recognizes difference without hierarchy. It focuses on other-orientation instead of one’s personal status.

  • JohnM

    I agree with the consensus on E1&C2 – damaging to civil conversation by intention.

    Question: Most of these pairings imply an excluded middle – for E6/C6 I have to wonder, for all practical purposes what could the excluded middle be? Never mind ‘clearly’, since in the end the reality is either ‘were’ or ‘were not’, and if the answer matters one has to assume one side or the other when it comes to application. I will say an either/or here wouldn’t necessarily prove one postion or the other overall, or exlude the kind of overlap Jon Bartlett, #5, is talking about.

  • I’m sure Andrew Wilson typically reasons well, but in this case he’s fallen prey to a typical logical fallacy. Having been in both complementarian and egalitarian circles for some period of time in my life, it seems to me that many (though certainly not all) of the above “common myths” are straw men of the actual arguments they intend to represent. For example, E4 is usually argued in the sense that master/slave and husband/wife passages are discussed in a parallel way by Paul. So, the point isn’t that supporting complementarianism is just as bad as supporting slavery. Rather, it is to say that the hermeneutic necessary to support complementarianism, if applied to Paul consistently, would also support slavery. (See, e.g., Willard Swartley’s Slavery, Sabbath, War, and Women.) Moreover, I don’t know any egalitarnians who believe E1 and E2 as stated above. Their argument is rather than complementarianism itself (regardless of what complementarians believe about it) dishonors women and doesn’t treat them equally. In other words, they say nothing about complementarians themselves (they are not ad hominem arguments), but rather about the objective structural realities (i.e., enforced complementarian just does dishonor the gifts of women and thus treat them unequally). Similarly, I don’t know anyone who literally believes E5, E8, or E9. These are distortions of the actual arguments. (I’ll let a complementarian respond to the C arguments.)

  • John M (#13),

    I think Wilson’s point in E6/C6 is the word “clearly.” He’s making an epistemic point, not a historical one. (Same for E7/C7 and E10/C10.) Certainly, there is a truth of the matter for each of these questions (i.e., there is no excluded middle); however, our ability to know the answer definitively is what is being questioned above.

  • Robin

    D.C. Cramer,

    As a complementarian, I have to say that the “E” arguments, even if not intended to be literal, certainly come across as literal or near-literal. Even on a blog like Jesus Creed it feels like I am frequently being compared to slave-owners, etc. In fact we had a discussion on here a week or so ago where the conclusion of several commenters was that complementarians were so immersed in sin that they would be treated as “tax collecters” essentially and that all of their teaching would be avoided until they repented of their structural discrimination.

    Anyway, you might not intend your arguments to have that degree of umph, but they do.

    The thing that stuck out to me was the same thing, from the other side. Do egalitarians truly feel like Complementarians are arguing along the lines of the “C” arguments, i.e. that complementarians truly feel like egalitarians “are always liberals” or ” egalitarianism is an equivalent of supporting homosexuality?”

  • Robin

    D.C. Cramer or Scot or anyone else,

    In E6/C6 could you explain what is meant by “foundational apostle”? Are we arguing over whether there were women who, in terms on ministry within the local church, were the equivalents of Peter, James, John, etc.? That when the apostles appointing the deacons so they could devote themselves to “word and prayer” that the word/prayer group included some women?

    Or are we merely saying that women formed an important part of the early church, but maybe not exactly on the same level as Peter, James, John, etc.?

  • Batreader

    They are all damaging because no one is listening!! these are hilarious and should make us take a long hard look at ourselves before we discuss either camp behind their back (so to speak).
    Of course, if we did discuss this civilly then we would all end up as convinced complementarians . . .

  • @John M: the excluded middle I had in mind is explained in my article (linked to in Scot’s intro).
    @DC: thanks for your comment! But I plead not guilty to the charge of straw-manning (which in any case isn’t a logical fallacy, just an annoying habit :o) – I could list blog posts, comments, articles, or even books, let alone conversations, which reflect all twenty of the above. Most considered advocates of both positions don’t use them, which I celebrate, but they still appear a lot at an everyday level (again, see my original article for one or two striking examples). My guess is, since most readers here are more egalitarian, they will be more familiar with C1-10 than E1-10; the reverse would be true if this had been posted at, methinks!

  • Batreader

    Oh! And I have a new name for the complementarian position – I prefer the term ‘smoochualist’ . . .

  • MatthewS

    I love the discipline of laying out significant concerns from both sides like this.

  • Andrew,

    Thanks for your kind response. I should have been clearer: you committed the “informal” fallacy of straw manning (informal fallacies being slightly worse than “annoying habits” and slightly less bad than formal logical fallacies.)

    I discussed E1-5, and 8 and 9 (granting that “certainly not all” of your arguments are equally fallacious). In none of the arguments I discussed does your original article offer any “striking examples” but instead says things like “some egalitarians argue that . . .” Now, if your point is simply that the actual arguments by egalitarian/complementarian scholars trickle down into these straw man “myths” at the popular level (as your comment #19 suggests), then you might be right. But in that case, it could have been made clearer in the original article that you were arguing with popular myths rather than myths held by the scholars. Unfortunately, it is a bit confusing, since some of the myths are certainly directed at the scholars (e.g., the original meaning of Greek terms, with which most at the popular level would be unfamiliar.)

    As an aside, having studied at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School prior to participating with Christians for Biblical Equality, I’d like to think I’m pretty familiar with both sides of the argument.

  • Andrew: P.S. Since I’ve been a bit confrontational thus far, I should also state that I appreciate what you are trying to do here. Though I think these myths could be stated more precisely and charitably, I do think in general you are naming a significant problem in this debate, and for that I am grateful.

  • JoeyS

    @ Robin,

    As somebody in the E camp, I’ve often felt accused of not caring about scripture by my C counterparts. In that sense, yes, sometimes complimentarians have sometimes accused me of being a liberal because I disagree with their understanding of certain passages. This is not a generalization that fits all people of that orientation but is at least anecdotal. Please don’t hear that as accusatory, though, as that sense did not come from the things you posted here.

  • JoeyS

    I wrote “sometimes” twice in the same sentence….awkward.

  • John W Frye

    Robin #17,
    Paul was not chosen as one of the original 12 disciples who were designated apostles, i.e., one of “the Twelve”, yet Paul was a foundational apostle. In the same way, Junia, a woman, (Romans 16) along with her husband, was outstanding among the foundational apostles. See *Junia is not Alone* by Scot McKnight.

  • Joey (24),

    Your impression is confirmed at the scholarly level by Wayne Grudem’s book, Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? This book should have been openly and unequivocally condemned (or at least challenged) by fair minded complementarians, but to my knowledge, it has not (though perhaps Andrew can direct me to where it has). That this book is endorsed by otherwise fair-minded complementarians is troubling to me.

  • Robin

    John Frye,

    Thanks for the clarification, and just to be sure, do you think that is what is meant in the paragraph above when “foundational apostles” are discussed.

    For example, when I think of “foundational apostles” I think of the 11 who followed Jesus during his earthly ministry, and I think of Paul. I do not think of John Mark or Barnabas or anyone else in the New Testament, including Stephen (since I view him as a deacon but not an apostle).

    In your definition of foundational apostle that includes Junia along with her husband, would you also include John Mark and Barnabas, as well as possibly several others mentioned in the NT. Or is it basically, the 11, Paul, Junia and her husband, and a very few select others?

    If we were broadening it to include Barnabas, John Mark, etc. I would certainly be open to hearing why Junia and her husband should be considered, but if the list were essentially the 11, Paul, Junia + hubby I would be very confused.

  • MatthewS

    I’m still working through this issue in my own heart and mind and often feel like I have one foot in both camps. I like Daniel Wallace’s comment about being egalitarian in attitude (

    If I could name one thing from each side that seems to me to be invisible sometimes to its respective proponents –

    On the complementarian side it seems as if oppression of women (sometimes subtle, sometimes tantamount to abuse) might be invisible. One example might be the Challies piece recently where he explained that women are not welcome to read Scripture in their church services. Reasoning and exegesis are often laid out carefully and often boldly but rarely, so it seems to me, with an acknowledgement of the danger of wrongful suppression, i.e., how this might be misunderstood or misused, or how it needs to be limited or what the danger signals are that it is being taken to an extreme. It’s as if “you can’t see it from my house” is enough reason to believe that we need not concern ourselves with the problem of spiritual abuse of women. Perhaps this would be closest to C3. It can tend to energize the debate in a bad way when one person has in mind all-too-real experiences of oppression or abuse and the other person seems to be pretending such a thing never happens.

    On the egalitarian side, I see it over and over that someone will say something to the effect that men love power and will resort to whatever trick it takes to keep this power. There are in fact men who desire to do right by women in ministry but who struggle with exegetical concerns and wish to be faithful to the text. It hurts conversation, in my opinion, when egalitarians accuse all who lean complementarian of being power-hungry hypocrites. Some who lean complementarian do so with no small difficulty but feel compelled for exegetical reasons. I think this relates to E1 (also E2-E4).

    Maybe I’m just restating what’s already been said but those are two things that I believe I see oft repeated.

  • @DC: thanks for clarifying. At the start of E6/C6 I indicate that I’m moving from everyday and popular level arguments (1-5, like the Taliban example, which I at least thought was striking :o) to more scholarly or quasi-scholarly arguments (6-10), which I hope explains that. I’m sorry if they haven’t come across precisely or charitably, though. I guess part of the difficulty is that the more precise you are in giving examples of particular errors, the less charitable you become …

  • I’m always amused that it is primarily men sitting around discussing women’s fate in the church and their subsequent submission.

    (Hat tip to RJS, however. Grin.)

  • John W Frye

    Dear Robin #28,
    You are correct in protecting the special status of the 12, of which Paul was *not* a member. You recall that Judas was replaced by Matthias: “Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven *apostles*” (Acts 1:26). I prefer to call these the original apostles, not foundational apostles. Paul does make reference to apostles (and prophets) as foundational to the church in Ephesians 2:20 “…God’s household…built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” I don’t think too many scholars limit “apostles” in this text to “the Twelve.” So, in my view, Paul is in this group,along with Junia and her hubby, and I would include other people designated as apostles in this foundational group, e.g., Barnabas et al.

  • John W Frye

    Robin #28,
    I say this in view of Ephesians 4:11 (in context) where Paul teaches that the resurrected exalted Christ gives gifted people to establish and equip the church. The original Twelve were selected and commissioned by Jesus in his pre-death, resurrection, exaltation experience. The foundational apostles, on the other hand, are gifts (spoils of war) of Christ’s victory over Satan, sin and death accomplished by his full redeeming work. Link Eph. 2:20 to Eph. 4:11.

  • DC – personal note here, just wanted to say hello, although we’ve never met. Your wife babysat my oldest children a few times when they were little. She was always so sweet. 🙂 Small world, eh? I’m pretty sure she was in highschool then.

  • Andrew,

    I missed the original transition in E6/C6. That distinction is helpful. I would tend to disagree, though, about the disjunction between precision and charitability. It seems that the more precisely/accurately you represent others’ views, the more charitably you can then discuss them (precisely because you have described their view as they would describe it). On the other hand, when you use rather sweeping generalizations, you might find that proponents of one side or the other will respond (as I have) with, “Hey, that’s not what we believe!”

    To be more charitable with egalitarians (again, I’ll let complementarians defend themselves), I would modify your “myths” as follows:

    E1*. Regardless of what individual complementarians believe, complementarianism as a system promotes chauvinism and thus dishonour women.

    E2*. Regardless of what individual complementarians believe, complementarianism as a system does not treat men and women as equals.

    E3*. “Headship” and “submission,” when applied universally and irreversibly to gender relationships as complementarianism does, communicates the inferiority of women.

    E4*. The complementarian hermeneutic is analogous to the hermeneutic used to support the slave trade.

    E5*. The hierarchical differences between men and women are entirely a result of the Fall.

    E6*. The best scholarly historical and textual research strongly suggests that women were foundational apostles in the early church. [I’m not sure what “foundational” is meant to imply here, so I’ll leave that unaltered.]

    E7*. The best of New Testament scholarship has concluded that the Greek word kephale (literally, “head”) means “source” in the relevant passages.

    E8*. Much of 1 Timothy 2 (especially relating to gender practices) is circumstantial, and if/when creational principles are used in the passage, they are being applied to a circumstantial situation in ways that may not be applicable similarly today.

    E9*. Doctrinal instruction cannot contradict narrative properly interpreted: women in the early church taught and exercised authority over men without censure, so if Paul prohibited either and was being consistent with the rest of the NT witness, he couldn’t have meant those prohibitions universally.

    E10*. The best NT scholars agree that the Greek word authentein, when used in the context of 1 Timothy 2, means “to usurp, domineer or assume authority”, with negative connotations.

    I would suggest that my E1-10* more accurately represents the views of informed egalitarians than E1-10. But in that case, it is not entirely clear that these are “myths” after all. Or at very least, some argument is needed to demonstrate that these are myths and not realities.

    Of course, as stated above, it could be the case that you intend to interact primarily with uninformed egalitarians, in which case either (a) that needs to be stated explicitly from the outset or (b) these arguments are straw men, as I suggested.

  • Paul W says “Doesn’t egalitarianism denote the idea that all humans are equal in fundamental worth and should be treated with the same dignity?” and RJS affirms this characterization and raises it to defining status: “thus egalitarian is an appropriate word.” The implied corollary is that complementarians, by definition, do not agree that all humans are equal in fundamental worth and should be treated with the same dignity.
    That is precisely the kind of deliberately blind generalization that Scot is cautioning us against, refusing to acknowledge that “the other side” could possibly value the equal worth and dignity of half the human race. What is really at issue is not equal worth and dignity, which both sides affirm, but the question of whether or how much God has prescribed differences in roles to play in the human drama. To claim for one’s own position the high road of defender of fundamental human dignity obscures rather than clarifies what divides the two camps, and risks making such claimants sound disingenuous.
    Rather than use this blog as yet another field of battle, let’s go back and reflect a little longer on Scot’s very valuable clarifying set of pairs that initiated this discussion.

  • Correction: Andrew Wilson’s set of pairs, re-posted by Scot.

  • Scot McKnight

    DC, isn’t the whole point to exaggerate so they become “myths”? There are good expressions of each, but the problem is the lack of nuance that become mythical exaggerations of the other side’s view.

  • Jon G

    I think I, like Scot, look for a third category. Mutualist sounds pretty good to me.

    I agree with the Egalitarians in regards to treating everybody with equal dignity, but I also agree with Complementarians in that men and women were created to be different.

    Tim Keller puts it as “like-opposite”. He would say that men and women are created to complete each other so that they can (in CS Lewis terms) “dance” in a way that reflects the Trinity. I wouldn’t go towards the Trinity reasoning, but it does make sense to me to think relationally here. Furthermore, Keller, as a Complementarian, would say that, because we are all fallen, we should NEVER say what roles should be filled by men or women on our own. The two exceptions being where God has given us a safe haven to do so and laid it out explicitly – in the church and in the covenental bond of marriage. I’m more inclined to agree with the latter than the former, but I’m still open to my mind being changed.

    For now, Mutualist seems a nice solution to me.

  • RJS


    You misinterpret what I said – which was not to imply anything at all about people holding to other positions, just that complementarian and egalitarian are both useful terms that are distorted by baggage.

  • Scot,

    As I understand Andrew, he arguing that both egalitarians and complementarians have their respective “common myths” (i.e., myths held by many in each respective camp) about the weaknesses of the other side’s views and the strength of their own view. Thus, a “common myth” held by egalitarians, according to Andrew, is that “All complementarians are chauvinists who dishonour women” (E1), while a “common myth” held by complementarians is that “All egalitarians are liberals who dishonour the Bible” (C1) (i.e., the myth of the weakness of the other side’s view). And another “common myth” held by egalitarians, according to Andrew, is that “Women were clearly foundational apostles in the early church” (E6), while a common myth held by complementarians is that “Women were clearly not apostles in the early church” (C6) (i.e., the myth of the strength of one’s own view).

    I agree that both E1/C1 and E6/C6 are “mythological exaggerations,” but my point is that as far as I can tell, E1 and E6, while certainly myths, are not myths that are “commonly held” by egalitarians. In other words, Andrew himself has created the myth that egalitarians actually believe the myths he has presented! And I don’t think that is what he intended to do.

    Now, he could have made his argument this way: Informed egalitarians and complementarians have real differences with each other, but they often exaggerate their disagreements by believing that the other side believes nasty things about their views or is overconfident with their own views. Moreover, since some on the radical fringes of each side do believe these nasty things about the other side and are overconfident with their own views, these “mythological exaggerations” can trickle down to those less informed about the real issues and can thus cause those less informed to believe that the differences between these views are as exaggerated as these myths would suggest. I get the sense that Andrew’s argument really is something like what I’ve stated, but as I’ve argued above, he doesn’t make his argument with the kind of careful nuance and precision necessary to actually help bridge the divide (or at least lead to mutual learning) between these respective camps. Instead, this will lead to more egalitarians saying, “Yeah, those complementarians do think we’re liberal, don’t they?!?” and complementarians saying, “Yeah, those egalitarians do think we’re chauvinist, don’t they?!?” Or, “Yeah, those egalitarians/complementarians are overconfident in their arguments, aren’t they?!?” Thus, despite the good intentions, we are led to more “myths.”

  • Brilliant. Thanks Scot and Andrew.

  • The first two. Attacking your opponent is irrational, cheap, and obstructive. Start an argument with those, and you’ll convince no one, except make them more entrenched in what they’d already decided. (And offend anyone on your own “side” who know better.)

    And it’s ungodly. It’s disrespectful toward people God loves, assuming you know their motivations and their sins, and reducing both down into simplistic terms.

    It kills the debate before debate even starts.

  • @DJS, yes, you tried to be even-handed in your clarification of Paul’s inquiry about the “baggage” associated with the two terms. So my noting that you affirm and elevate to defining status his “tentative” characterization of egalitarianism as the defense of the full value and dignity of all human beings may not do your intentions justice. I apologize if so.
    Paul’s post appeared to have a certain stealth to it, employing a tone of “Gee whiz, I don’t know anything about this, but to me, a simple newcomer to the discussion, it appears obvious that . . .”, and that is what set me off. “Disingenuous” refers to a strategy of pretending to naiveté, in order to achieve a desired effect. Often it involves pretense of ignorance of a particular topic, to grant more apparent objectivity to observations put forth by said innocent. Paul W presents himself as outside the discussion looking on, an honest broker, if you will (“I’m not an Evangelical or very familiar with egalitarian or complimentarian (sic) discussion”). Then he makes the seemingly ingenuous observation that to a neutral party, the egalitarian position seems self-evidently what any Evangelical would naturally espouse: “why would there be any controversy in that?” But his language betrays him (Would anyone writing in the 21rst century, apart from someone steeped in the King James Bible, be familiar with, let alone employ, the word “amongst” ?)
    But now I am doing what Andrew Wilson suggests we all should foreswear doing: attributing motives to those with whom we differ, rather than sticking to the issues and data themselves. I repent.

  • I find myself struggling with whether or not some of these are even “myths” in the sense of being factually incorrect. I will readily concede that most of these are stated in such a way that few on the side said to espouse the view would agree that such a view fairly characterizes that view. And I’m very much a proponent of articulating viewpoints in such a way that fosters dialogue, which at a very base level means stating your opponent’s view in such a way that they would agree you’ve articulated their view fairly.

    But, just to take the first example: “All complementarians are chauvinists who dishonour women.” While that clearly is an uncharitable way of putting things that I can’t imagine any complementarian saying treats them fairly, I think that the egalitarian position from which that statement springs would be more along the lines of “because of the ways that complementarianism limits the contributions of women in expressing the gifts they’ve been given by God, it dishonors them.”

    My reformulation is still pretty all-encompassing, and I know complementarians would dispute it’s truth. I thus wouldn’t ordinarily use such a statement in a debate with a complementarian, if only because they don’t have the eyes to see what I think they’re doing.

    But I’ve yet to be convinced that the statement (my reformulation, especially) is not correct.

  • Mark (#46),

    If this were Facebook, I’d hit the “Like” button on your comment. It says succinctly and clearly what I’ve been trying to articulate less succinctly and clearly in my numerous comments above.

  • I think one of the more simple questions could be: how can we have different beliefs and still get along? Is it even possible?

  • KLE

    Having just completed a study of this topic for the church I pastor, I found this post enlightening. It is difficult to determine which of the myths are most damaging. On the one hand you have relational bombs such as name-calling which are totally out of place (1,2,4). On the other hand you have exaggerated claims of scholarly consensus (6,7,10). Some things need to be stated as “most likely” rather than “certainly”.

    More troubling than these “myths” was the experience I had in seminary. Those who attempted to defend a complementarian position were shamed for not being open to “diversity”. They were not chauvinists, nor was their speech demeaning to women. They were wrestling with what the Bible says.

    The official stance of the school was “we don’t take a position on women in ministry, we simply grant degrees.” The whole thing made me rather cynical about the entire status of academia. Follow the money…egalitarian schools have twice the potential students to draw from. Sad to be that jaded, I know.

  • KLE

    I think we can get along. Would you agree with me that this is a non-essential doctrine? Would you agree with me that all of change our theology regarding non-essentials over time? If so, we can all tone it down a bit. Are you seeking to follow God and submit to the Bible? So am I. Are you willing to agree with me that as we seek to follow God we need to work at maintaining relationships while trying to figure out the non-essentials? Me, too.

    I personally believe that the role of elder is reserved for men, and I don’t think that the most fruitful ministry for you is in that role, but I want you to hear my heart.

    HEAR ME ON THIS, SARAH: I want you to go for it! Serve the Lord with everything you have! May multitudes be come into the Kingdom through you! Preach it! Fan into flame the gifts God has given you!!! Be obedient to the Bible and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Be faithful to HIM. One day it will be a great joy for me to be with you in the great multitude singing His praises forever.

  • My wife and I read Ephesians 5:21-33 and preached a sermon on it at our wedding. She preached while I washed her feet and I preached while she washed my feet. What we argued essentially is that hierarchy becomes meaningless when the greatest is supposed to be servant of all. If servanthood means anything at all, then servant leadership IS submission. If I love my wife as Christ loved the church, then my goal is to empower her to live out her call. That’s what a pastor does: stand under those whom God has called us to support in their lay ministry. But if I’m only submitting to my wife in this way and not letting her minister/submit to me, then I’m like Simon Peter refusing to have my feet washed. We both need to wash each others’ feet. It doesn’t have anything to do with whether she’s better at some things and I’m better at others. The one who is concerned with maintaining his kephale (head) status in a household sabotages his own journey of discipleship and remains a worldly gentile who “lords it over others,” because to be a disciple of Christ is to be a diakonos pantou (servant of all) just like He was.

  • Made it would be clearer if we used mutuality and patriarchy as the two positions.

  • Which of these do the most damage for civil conversation? Which of these hurt the church the most?

    Coming at your questions, Scot, from the angle of my training and work in reconciliation, I’d say that the questions themselves don’t harm us for the asking, but the resulting anger, bitterness, lording-over and divisive ways people abuse their understanding, knowledge and perspectives on them harm the church, terribly. I’ve heard all 10 of them used against other women and myself, continuously, like an artillery barrage. I’ve also worked with folks who don’t hold the same views as I do, and we’ve held one another in mutual respect and honor, seeing the integrity and love of Christ at work in the other. The harm comes when we imagine that the Bible’s message is ever held in our hands to damage, demean, caricature or curse others made in the image of God, and that our views, education, degrees, credentials ever trump loving our neighbors and speaking “only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that [our] words may give grace to those who hear.” (Eph. 4)

  • Like Holly I always find it humorous that it is predominantly men weighing in on this topic.

    I saw one mention I’d this as a non-essential issue and all I can say is that it may seem so from a position of freedom. But for those of us having our God-ordained gifts stiffled it feels VERY essential and very much worth the argument.

    Also I think it is interesting when the trinity is used as a justification for complimentarianism. The interesting element to me is that this camp is generally the most offended by the idea of the feminine nature of God or a discussion of the female characteristics of God by which he created women in His image.

    Very interesting discussion.

  • Paul W

    @4 Gene,

    The personal characterization was not necessary.

  • David Fraser

    @51 Morgan,
    I think the centrality of love and servanthood that you talk about is fantastic and biblical. Do you mean that talking about headship as a status to maintain in a marriage is what headship actually is, or that it is a misunderstanding of headship? I think a complementarian position would be that headship IS a calling to servanthood, which needs response by gracious loving leadership (and not a status to be maintained).

  • JohnM

    Leah & Holly – But then I’m always amused by “ is predominantly men weighing in on this topic” objections 😉

    Seems like it is predominatly men weighing in on most topics, which is something to think about in itself.

  • RJS

    John M,

    Why do you think it is mostly men on this issue and most of the others? What is the significance of this?

  • Richard

    @ 54

    “I saw one mention I’d this as a non-essential issue and all I can say is that it may seem so from a position of freedom. But for those of us having our God-ordained gifts stiffled it feels VERY essential and very much worth the argument.”

    My thoughts exactly when I read that comment. Thanks for expressing it.

  • So I have a question. I was speaking with a pastor the other day asking his view of women in leadership. He stated he is a complementarian… then went on to say egalitarians who have a “liberal view”… and I found myself offended. Aren’t there other words than conservative and liberal to describe each side? (He described his view as conservative and mine as liberal). I do not think of myself as a liberal… especially theologically. I think I am being true to Scriptue (hence more conservative) because I believe in mutuality.

    Any different words?

  • Why are women silent on this and other places online? I know women are reading this. I know you have opinions. I know you talk amongst yourselves. As long as we (women) continue to merely speak up on women’s blogs and within female circles, our voices will not be heard and we will continue to be relegated to … “women’s issues”

    That said, I don’t have the energy and time to debate on blogs about my value as a woman or my right to be treated fairly and well in the church. Nor do I have the confidence to articulate my convictions here where the verbal sparring is intellectual and scholarly, and utterly rational.

    That said, this is one of the most important themes for me personally as a person of faith. Living in a EFCA church I am always wrangling internally about these things and writing about them (on my blog). I can tell you that no one wants to talk about it (in real life), no one wants to because they are afraid. It’s fine to have these theoretical discussions here but they don’t accomplish anything if pastors are unwilling or don’t know how to talk about them in the church.

  • JohnM

    RJS #58 – As to why men speak up more, my answers are partly based on observation and partly speculation; Qualifiers are intentional:

    a. One difference between men and women is men tend to be more openly assertive, for better or worse.

    b. Men are generally more confident about their opinions. Whether that confidence is well grounded or not might be another matter, but men don’t worry about it so much.

    c. Women are more sensitive. Or nicer. But they’re bothered too much by disagreement with and criticism of their opinions.

    d. Men generally just plain care about the questions more. For whatever reason most women don’t seem as interested. They seem to be interested in other things; things that, right or wrong, seem to men to be lighter matters.

    e. More men are paying attention here so naturally you hear from more men. See d. above.

    The significance? I’m inclined to think the gender differences alluded to above are not entirely owing to culture, but are owing at least as much to inherent nature. The differences also go a long way toward explaining why even now more men than women are in leadership positions, in the world and in The Church. If women aren’t as interested why do we insist on trying to pound square pegs into round holes? This isn’t 1960, the issue has been pressed, and hard, for decades.

  • RJS

    Thanks JohnM,

    It is likely that nature plays a role – although I think less of a role than you probably feel. Your a-d are interesting, and all related. Some of this difference is almost certainly nature – but some of it is adaptability … we learn to adapt to survive or thrive and one way we adapt is by learning to respond in “acceptable” manners.

    The issue has been pressed for decades – but really only for my lifetime or a bit more for the most part. Within many spheres I think we are on the cusp of a real change because there is the kind of critical mass of people that levels the playing field. You seldom hear a man complain that he couldn’t work for a woman any longer, but this was common when I was young. The church – even Christian academia – lags behind though…

  • P.

    JohnM – could you give more specifics on point d. because on the face of it, I’d have to disagree quite a bit that women aren’t as interested in the questions.

  • JohnM,

    I would disagree with much of what you said (from a woman’s point of view).
    A – may be more of an issue, but mostly because women are often shot down and called the b word or angry people if they are too assertive.
    B- many men may are confident and your qualifier is noted. But many confident women are just tired of the same old same old defending themselves and being called “liberal” or unChristian or not Biblically based. It gets tiring saying them same thing and being discarded.
    C- not bothered, just tired of not being thought of intelligent or academic or learned (this blog not withstanding)
    D – It is not to say women are less interested in this issue. In fact,it is of great import. But refer back to the above responses for this one too.
    E – not that men are paying more attention, its just that women are washing clothes, working, taking care of kids, cleaning, cooking, shopping, etc. etc. to be on the computer all that long. For me, I pick and choose what I have time for and as much as I love this blog, I do not have time to be involved as I would like.

    That being said, WE DO CARE, probably more than men since it is the subjugation of women and the mistreatment of so many that is at stake with this issue.

  • “I’m inclined to think the gender differences alluded to above are not entirely owing to culture, but are owing at least as much to inherent nature. The differences also go a long way toward explaining why even now more men than women are in leadership positions, in the world and in The Church. If women aren’t as interested why do we insist on trying to pound square pegs into round holes?”

    And here, JohnM, you have missed the mark. It most certainly is cultural and a patriarchal position. Women do care. Women want to use their God-given leadership talents. How many “conservative based” theological denominations would “allow” a women to BE in leadership? Teach men? I can treach men at the university where I am a professor (and don’t tell me what I teach isn’t theological or Biblical bcause it is) but would not be allowed to teach in most churches. Do you know how hard it is to find a church that is both theologically conservative and affirming of women in leadership? If you know of any I’d love to hear.

  • JohnM

    P #64 – When I mentioned observation that wasn’t just in reference to this blog or this topic. For example, I’ve noticed in Bible studies that men are generally more interested in discussing, even debating, topics. I don’t say women are totally disinterested every time, just less than men by all appearance. Relatively speaking women seem to prefer more emphasis on the relational aspects of the group. I know how much that sounds like a stereotype, but it is what I’ve observed first hand.

    Kate Johnson – Part of my point was that it is not only in theologically conservative churches that male leadership is predominate. Even in progressive churches where female leadership is fully affirmed and encouraged, and has been for a long time, men still hold the majority of senior leadership positions.

    If affirming of women in leadership AND theologically conservative is important to you check out the Assemblies of God. I believe there are some fairly conservative churches in the wesleyan-holiness tradition that also fit the bill. It is my understanding that the Evangelical Presbyterians, no liberal church I think, at least leave it up to the individual congregation. Probably other possibilities I haven’t thought of – anybody else willing and able to help Kate here?

  • Hector

    Re: (Would anyone writing in the 21rst century, apart from someone steeped in the King James Bible, be familiar with, let alone employ, the word “amongst” ?)

    I know people that use ‘amongst’ all the time, at least in the idiom ‘amongst yourselves’, and aren’t Christians of any flavour. Moreover, you can be steeped in the King James version and not be an Evangelical. I’m certainly very far from being an evangelical, and the King James is my preferred version (as it is, I’m told, among many Orthodox and Anglo-Catholics).

    Re: I’m more inclined to agree with the latter than the former, but I’m still open to my mind being changed.

    Interesting- I’m much more viscerally opposed to ‘male headship’ arguments as they pertain to marriage than as they pertain to the ministry/priesthood. I’m pretty much agnostic about whether women can be priests, but I have little doubt that any kind of male headship in marriage/relationships (as a general rule, not in every individual instance) is a bad idea.

  • Taylor

    The only downside to being a ‘mutualist’ is the implication that the other side are therefore ‘exclusivists,’ which doesn’t necessarily advance dialogue although I suppose it’s a better term than ‘patriachist.’

    Personally, I’m for the term litrugical complementarian, inasmuch as I see the issue symbolically rather than value driven (think Levites, lineage of Jesus, N.T. Wright on marriage, and I’d add certain elder qualifications as well).

    As to the most damaging, I’d go with E1/C1 and E3/C3; they’re used so frequently. Reading through the comments, I noticed variations on those implied the most frequently.

  • JohnM, thanks for the interaction. Yes, the EPC is for women in leadership, but sad to say any in my area are not. Since they leave it up to the church, each can decide for themselves. And yes for the Assemblies of God. We have some very fine friends who are husband and wife and co-pastor. So I should have been clearer in that most theologically conservative exclude women from leadership, but not all. Where I live it is very difficult to find. And my visceral reaction to your comments took over and my anger at the way women are mostly treated (and because I see the results over and over in my ministry). Back to your statements, I have been thinking and I do think some of what you say has a ring of truth, BUT.. and it’s a big but… I think women are acculturated to be the way they are. It’s a man’s world.. and we have been t9old over and over our place in it. So sometimes it is easier not to enter the fight, much to our (and the world’s) detriment.

  • Also? Usually women are not even allowed into the conversation. You have to keep coming back to it, keep speaking up. Men (in real life and often on blogs) will speak right around you as if you have said nothing, or will pat you on the head and insinuate that you have “outbursts.”


    Men don’t think that women are interested in theology, or that women know anything about theology.

    I like to ask men “so, who do you read?”

    They look at me blankly, say, “Um, well, I like to read theology books.”

    I say, “Yeah, so….WHO do you like to read?”

    They say, “Um, well, you probably don’t know them, but I like NT Wright and Jimmy Dunn…”

    And I say, “Oh, yeah! Me too!”

    And if they are nice guys, we can finally have a nice conversation. But by and large – they just can’t believe that a woman is interested in the Church or in theology, and they don’t know what to do with her.

    Now, I can’t talk on the same level as DC and RJS and Scot above, but I can grasp the general parameters and where the rubber meets the road on these topics, so to speak.

    It’s interesting, isn’t it ladies? Thanks for adding your voice, everyone. I’m such a big chicken, so afraid to come back and see the responses to my words. I’m afraid I’ll get laughed out of the com box.

  • RJS


    I think you hit on some important points here – and points not always appreciated by those who haven’t had similar experiences.

    I use initials here – which deflects most of it – and simply write in my own voice. It is harder to do it (speak in my own voice) in face to face interactions, unfortunately.