By Corey Farr
There’s a big debate within church circles: complementarian or egalitarian? To summarize without nuance: do husbands and wives have God-given responsibilities to specific gender roles or not? For complementarians, these roles are clear:
Husband: financial provider, primary “leader” of the home, who ultimately is responsible and accountable for all final decisions
Wife: caretaker, nurturer, home-maker, and child-raiser
In complementarianism, both roles are emphasized as equally important, equally God-given, and somehow “equally equal.”
But for egalitarians, these roles (though common) are in no way divine mandates, with everything else being “outside the will of God.” Instead, egalitarians promote a more functional equivalence: both husband and wife are responsible for all the things listed above, and this can and will look different in every situation.
There are lots of reasons why many egalitarians feel complementarianism is degrading to women. Here are some key reasons why I as a single man don’t like the way complementarian gender roles are taught in the church:
Most of the content is centered on marriage, thus reinforcing the unspoken message that singles are not “complete” men/women until marriage
It unintentionally shames those of us (such as myself) whose personalities and interests deviate from many of the culturally-imposed norms of “masculinity.”
It reinforces the over-sexualization of all male-female relationships. Because gender roles are always taught within the context of marriage, men and women (especially singles) can’t enjoy deep and appropriate friendships without raising eyebrows.
It makes strong, hardworking, providing women like my mother anomalies instead of exemplary models for women.
It can and often does fail to challenge the sad stereotype of the emotionally distant father/man, because women are the nurturers.
It deprives many men of much valuable and rich teaching of brilliant female leaders.
It makes what should be a safe space (i.e. the Church) for those struggling with their sexual identity into a very unsafe and undesirable space.
It’s important to emphasize that both sides desire to affirm the equality of the man and women. I don’t think complementarians are ill-intentioned, just wrong to make their position the only one.
I recognize that each of these represents the worst of complementarianism. Blanket statements can’t cover every exception. I have seen many loving, exemplary, beautifully harmonious marriages using traditional gender roles.
But please, if you’re complementarian, try to avoid making it an unquestionable and God-given norm. You’ll hurt lots of people if you do. There’s not “one way to do it.”
Corey Farr is a graduate of Northern Seminary. He is currently located in the Middle East in Lebanon, a tiny country next to war-torn Syria, where he lives and works on-site at a residential facility and elementary school for both Syrian and Lebanese orphans and children at risk. A singer-songwriter and wanna-be author, Corey blogs about faith, spirituality, and poetry at www.coreyfarr.com.