Complementarianism is a scam.

Complementarianism is a scam. November 23, 2013

I’m still reading through the book Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. Dr. Eggerichs is, obviously, a complementarian–meaning he believes that men are the heads of the household and are the providers and protectors, while women’s job (all marriages in Eggerichs’ world are one man/one woman) is to submit and nurture and care for the home.

Dr. Eggerichs’ does this thing that complementarians love to do now-a-days where he tries to convince folks that his way is actually good for women. In order to compete with feminism’s and other gender justice movement’s promise of equality and fullness of life, complementarianism attempts to reframe it’s position to make women think that this is what they really want. This is what will really give them equality.

He starts where most complementarians start: Of course we’re all equal…in Christ! We’re all equal…as heirs to salvation. We’re all equal…in God’s value of us.

We’re all equal…in non-tangible ways that have nothing to do with our every day lives. In heaven, once we’ve escaped our gendered bodies, then we’ll be equal! In God’s eyes–God who looks at the heart and not the gendered body–we’re equal!

But when it comes to the here-and-now, to our daily, bodily lived experience?

I love the “Equality…in Christ” line. By love, I mean, that line can go to hell, thanks. When complementarians say “we’re all equal…in Christ,” they’re really saying, “We’re all equal…but…” It’s always followed by “buts,” by reasons why our equality in Christ doesn’t apply to our roles in the home, to our opportunities in the church, to our places in the world.

Some interesting wording usually follows the “Equality…in Christ” line.

Like the phrase “First among equals.”

This is Dr. Eggerichs’ way, in Love and Respect, of showing how he believes in “equality…but.” Men and women are equal (non-binary people, of course, do not exist here), but the husband is “first among equals.” (pg. 53)

Why do men get this status? What earns them the right?

Because men are willing to die for their wives, that’s why. Eggerichs’ believes this is an innate trait of all men, as evidenced by the male-driven culture of the U.S. military (pg. 50-51). Eggerichs’ does not believe women have the same trait of willingness to die for others.

He states over and over again that dying for others is a man’s game.

He erases the countless women who also serve in the military, who’ve died protecting their loved ones, who risk their lives/health by giving birth, etc., and he subtly sets up a hierarchy of morality here…

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NIV)

Though Eggerichs says throughout his book that women, not men, are experts at love, here he implies that women are not capable of the greatest love–only men can achieve such spiritual heights. 

Because husbands have this great willingness within them, women should submit to their husbands in gratitude and for her own protection. In return, her husband will treat her like a well-guarded treasure.

Women are equal…but they are not “first among equals.”

Eggerichs’ words are nothing new. The whole “Men are FIRST but it’s okay, because they might have to die so it’s not really a privilege” thing is popular among complementarians.

It’s clever though, really, if you think about it.

As my husband, Abe Kobylanski, said after I read him lines from Love and Respect, “How often do U.S. Christian men in white suburbia have to die for their wives? It’s not like this is a weekly chore like taking out the trash.” 

That’s a pretty good gamble for men like Eggerichs whose families likely don’t face the threat of outside violence on a daily basis. All they have to do is say, “Sure, I’d die for you.” And until that hypothetical, extremely unlikely day comes, their potential willingness to die earns them a place as the head of the household.

I’m not interested. It’s not a fair trade.

I’m not going to give someone unconditional respect for life on the off-chance that they might someday die for me. Especially since, practicing this mindset, nearly died for an abusive partner that I felt I had to respect unconditionally.

That’s not a fair trade, complementarians. Quit trying to scam us.



**Note: Changed the title of this post shortly after publishing it to something that I think better reflects my point. I don’t think most complementarians try to scam women into submission. But the system works that way regardless of intentions or motives.

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  • Tim

    Sarah, this is excellent. That whole “Women are equal, but …” line gets me every time. It’s like they’re saying, “We love women, but we don’t think they should …”. My response is, “If you loved women you’d get your ‘BUT’ out of there.” Too many comps are more intent on telling women where to park their butts than they care about living in the gospel of freedom. (Galatians 5:1, right?)

    Your husband Abe’s response is a hoot too. Mind if I borrow that regularly and often?



    P.S. My take on the fallacy of biblical womanhood/manhood (if anyone cares):

  • Agni Ashwin

    Complementarianism is just another version of that old heresy, Arianism.

  • Kristen Rosser

    The whole thing is completely self-contradictory. If men are morally superior to women in this area of willingness to die, then women are not equal to men in their eternal nature in Christ. Complementarians need to stop giving lip service to equality and admit that these teachings show that they really believe women are inferior.

  • This is troubling on a number of levels. Here’s one unexplored in this post:

    I take it that “willing to die” is a euphemism for “willing to kill” (based on his use of the military as evidence), which means that he’s inscribed violence into his definition of manhood. This, of course, plays into the narrative that those of us who practice nonviolence are in some sense “emasculated” (to use a Driscollian term) since, although willing to die for our spouses, we aren’t willing to kill.

    • sarahoverthemoon

      “Willing to die” almost definitely means “willing to kill” here. The author also talks about how men love guns, and how boys play with toy guns and pretend to shoot their friends as examples of healthy “manliness.” Scary.

  • Alice

    Ugh. Dude, go back to math class. Equal means equal! This “equality in the next life” idea is mighty convenient. “Sorry women, racial minorities, slaves, poor people. You’ll just have to wait in line for the next life while we lounge on our privilege couches. Hey, get me more potato chips while you’re at it.”

    Whatever happened to “On earth as it is in heaven”? Also, the implication that non-Christians have no hope of equality is troubling.

    Also, when complementarians try to mansplain to women what they REALLY want, I just have to roll my eyes.

    • Also, when complementarians try to mansplain to women what they REALLY want, I just have to roll my eyes.

      Yes, this. Can they be any more patronizing than that? As if I could possibly know some random woman’s actual needs and wants better than she knows them herself.

  • Kristen Rosser

    But why would the New Covenant, which consistently brings across the theme that the lowly should be raised up and the powerful lay down their power, be the opposite regarding this one relationship? Why, instead of reading that husbands are to act like Christ did for the church when He laid down His power and glory and came down to raise the church up, should we read that men are to be in charge, be served and obeyed and raised up by wives? And that this is the price they get to exact for “protection”? That isn’t the gospel, and it isn’t how kingdom of God people are supposed to treat one another.

    • Joe Mike Tkach

      Where do we read that men are to be served? Most of the complimentarians I’ve listened to talk more about the husband’s service. I haven’t read Eggerich yet but I can’t see anybody in their right mind saying that husbands are supposed to “exact” respect from their wives. Rather, they are supposed to earn it by their sacrificial love of their wife and families (as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her). I think marriage affords us the beautiful opportunity to mirror the relationship of the trinity. Getting married in a couple of weeks and the #1 things that has stuck w/ me from premarital counseling went something like, “If you feel that [she] isn’t respecting you, you don’t call her out on it, you exam yourself and find ways to love her better.”

      • Kristen Rosser

        Eggerichs actually talks at length about “unconditional respect” from wives to husbands. If she doesn’t give unearned respect, she’s not obeying God. From there to the man “exacting” respect is just a semantic difference, really.

        And while it’s often true that husbands are told to serve, wives live their entire married lives under the expectation that they serve, that service is what their role is all about. For a man to be in charge means that his wife serves him. For a wife to stay home and take care of the children means that she serves him. For a wife to cook and clean and do laundry means that she serves him. That’s just a given. It doesn’t need to be said in so many words, because it’s just a fact of life.

        • Joe Mike Tkach

          “For a man to be in charge means that his wife serves him.” Respectfully, I disagree. Why would it be considered service for a wife to do laundry, cook and clean but not for a man to fix a car, do yardwork or unclog the toilet? While I don’t think that there as clearly set gender roles as most complimentarians do, I do think that this author and most egalitarians have a poorly formed perception of the opposing view.
          Complimentarianism shouldn’t work out in a husband having tyrannical rule over his wife, if it does, it’s sin. It should work itself out in two people being submissive to God and loving each other (one by sacrificing, the other by submitting when there is a genuine difference in convictions) and making decisions as a team. I would argue that if a complimentarian wife feels oppressed by her husband, then he is in sin; her lack of submission is a reflection of his lack of adequate and fitting love / sacrifice.

          • Kristen Rosser

            Well, of course it’s serving when a man fixes a car, does yard work or unclogs a toilet. Why would you think it wasn’t? But his “role” encompasses more than service– those are just little things he does, but his “role” is really all about leadership. On the other hand, her “role” is all about submission, about doing what someone else wants– i.e., it’s about service. That is the complementarian teaching. Husbands have to be reminded to serve while leading– because leadership is not, on its face, about service. Wives don’t have to be reminded to serve while submitting, because submission and service are so very close to the same thing.

          • Joe Mike Tkach

            “leadership is not, on its face, about service.” I completely and totally disagree. I think service and sacrifice are a part of the essence of good leadership (Secular as well but especially biblical). It seems to me that we’re just operating w/ different definitions of what good leadership looks like.
            “Officers eat last.”

          • Kristen Rosser

            So if he serves her, it’s good leadership, but if she serves him, it’s submission?

            Seems to me like service is service, and there’s no command anywhere in the New Testament for husbands to lead their wives. Still, I’m glad you emphasize love, service and sacrifice. I just don’t see what it has to do with a divine right to be in authority.

          • Joe Mike Tkach

            I don’t see a divine right to be in authority. I see it as a command God has given his covenant people of how we are to live. Purposed to make our family units a reflection of the gospel and God’s love for us. And I’m glad you emphasize Love as well, it was one of Christ’s favorite things to emphasize:)

          • Kristen Rosser

            I have a problem with this whole “marriage is a reflection of the gospel” thing. I think that verse in Ephesians is being completely misinterpreted. Marriages are not a picture or reflection of the gospel– rather, marriages (and specifically, first-century Greco-Roman marriages, the different dynamics of which we tend to overlook) were to look at the specific picture of Christ and the church painted in Eph. 5 to imitate. And that picture is of Christ laying down His position and power and status and authority, in order to raise the church up to glory. That’s part of the gospel, but it’s a limited part. Husbands never were intended by Paul to relate to their wives like little gods and saviors, and wives aren’t supposed to relate to their husbands like little followers and worshipers.

            However, I’m glad you don’t believe you are in authority over your wife by divine right. 🙂

          • Joe Mike Tkach

            I think that because so many “complimentarians” have swung so far to the right that egalitarians have an unrealistic picture of what biblical complimentarians actually believe. They effectively practice Eph 5:22-23 without the context provided by verse 21 that commands us to submit to each other. The questions we need to ask is how “the church submits to Christ” and how “Christ loved the church.” He talks more about how the husband is supposed to submit than how the wife is… but they’re different. As a Christian husband my #2 priority (after my relationship w/ Christ) is my wife’s relationship w/ Him. If I’m “leading” in such a way that she feels like a servant to me… I’d argue I’m not actually leading at all and am in sin. Lastly, Paul calls this whole bit about the gospel and the church a “profound mystery” so I won’t pretend to understand it perfectly… I’m just going to try to follow as he leads in my relationship with my wife. God bless and thank you for the stimulating conversation.

          • Kristen Rosser

            Thank you as well, Joe! But you must realize that there’s a wide range of “complementarian” thought out there, from what you’re describing all the way into what’s also known as “hard patriarchy.” I still think there is freedom in Paul’s teachings for husbands and wives to lead together, and also to each take the lead at different times according to individual needs– but what you’re describing is not something I actually have all that much problem with. God bless.

  • Ironically enough, I suspect that it’s statistically more likely for a North American man to kill his wife than to die for her, since (in Canada, at least), about half of murdered women are killed by their current intimate partner ( Wonder what Eggerichs does with that statistic.

  • BT

    Doesn’t it remind you of the book “Animal Farm” a bit? One phrase has stuck with me for nearly 40 years now without EVER going away, even though at the time I hated the book

    “All animals are created equal. Some are more equal than others.”

    Hates the book then, love it now.

  • Bethanylynn

    That whole phrase, “separate but equal” has always bothered me! It contradicts itself. Thank you so much for writing this post! I love the comment as well about violence being innate to masculinity. We do so much damage with that line of thinking! To say that is anti-male sentiment. Do we really not believe that men are capable of more? Violence is learned behaviour. Anthropologist have shown that there were societies that existed with no or very little levels of violence. The other thing that bugs me is that comps constantly deny the sexism and discrimination that is at the core of their beliefs about women. Put is this way. If we taught that black people are to be subordinated simply by virtue of their skin color and that white people are natural leaders with innate authority over blacks….we could be called out in SECOND on being racist! But yet, they don’t see that its the same logic that propels their subordination of women!!

  • ellen

    Thank you for writing about this. I come from a culture that loved this book and taught it like it was gospel. I was even told once that I was disobeying God if I didn’t follow this model in my relationship with my boyfriend. I wasn’t even married at that time. When I did get married, these ideas harmed my marriage. I had it in my head that my husband was supposed to be things that he wasn’t rather than seeing him for who he truly was. It was actually traumatic to realize that the teaching in this book is bullshit. I felt false guilt for abandoning these teachings. I blamed myself for not seeing the lies sooner. I realize now that I did my best with the tools I had at the time. When I Google-searched for criticisms of this book, I only found a handful (this was before this blog post was written). I think it’s important to criticize books like this so that people can get exposed to different ideas.

  • Christina Nicole

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! I want to say so much more, and yet that sums it up. Complementarianism, even without the moral issue, makes no logical sense and isn’t really supported anywhere, except by a man who had a history of murder and was heavily influenced by first century Jewish and Roman culture where women were considered lower than cattle. It doesn’t make logical sense if you look at the world (for the simple fact that not all men can be leaders, or it would be chaos. It is much, much more common among both genders to be followers, and if this theory is true, then every man would be the perfect match for every woman, and everyone who has ever spent any time around people at all can attest that this is clearly not true, and there are other reasons too.) What I don’t understand, is where the hell did it come from, and when did it start being a thing, and why does everyone seem to subscribe to this bullshit?