Confessions of an Egalitarian Complementarian
The topic is gender. It’s a minefield. Anyone who dares to step into it must be prepared to be injured. Especially in American academic institutions it’s a minefield. And it is a major point of division among evangelical Christians. I speak from within both contexts.
In academia we are in a time of recovery from rampant patriarchalism and that has led to some over reactions. Two trends are noticeable. First, any acknowledgement of real difference between the sexes—beyond biology and patriarchal oppression—is discouraged. One academic professional society requires facilities where it meets to make all restrooms unisex. Second, insofar as differences between males and females are acknowledged—beyond biology and patriarchal oppression—typically female modes of behavior are to be prioritized. No positive acknowledgment of typically male modes of behavior is permitted. These two trends are in some tension with each other, but both are easily observable in American academia and they filter out into the media, government and business.
On the other hand, many evangelical complementarians insist that power differentials between males and females are rooted in revelation and the Trinity itself. “Male headship,” it is argued, does not mean male superiority but only divinely ordained male leadership. In reality, however, among evangelical complementarians, male headship always tends to flesh out as male domination and female submission.
I stand (sometimes alone) in a middle space, a liminal space (to use academic jargon), between egalitarianism and complementarianism. It’s often an uncomfortable space to inhabit.
At the same time I stand together with feminists in opposing oppression based on sex or gender. Females should have every opportunity to fulfill their human giftedness including entrance to every level of leadership in every profession. (On the other hand I think professions commonly considered reserved for females ought to be opened without hindrances to males. If the profession of engineering would be improved by having more women engineers, then the profession of nursing would be improved by having more men nurses.)
On the other hand, I agree with complementarians that “manhood” and “womanhood” are rooted in creation and are not reducible to biology/physiology or social construction-conditioning. Although they overlap much (and there’s nothing wrong with that), manhood and womanhood, maleness and femaleness, masculinity and femininity, complement each other. Typically men need other men and they need women; typically women need other women and they need men. “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” is not true. Woman is made for man as man is made for woman. The two need each other and complement each other. We should celebrate the difference and interdependence without creating or supporting hierarchy.
We need to overcome our polar oppositions and recognize both man and woman as uniquely gifted by God, equal in every way, interdependent, and yet really different ways of being human.