How Complementarianism is like Slavery

How Complementarianism is like Slavery May 16, 2021

Photo by Jack Sparrow from Pexels

I work on assembly line.  There are about 40 jobs on the line that I work on.  Each person does their job and are greatly encouraged to stay in their lane.  Since Evangelicalism is a part of my past, I asked the team leader “Do you assign certain roles to men and certain ones to women?” She said, “No, we try to fit the person to the job.”  In other words, there are no gender roles, just like there are no ethnic or racial roles on the assembly line.

But complimentary philosophy goes even further than stereotyping women into certain jobs in society, the church and the home.  It also keeps alive the practices of the past in assuming that women cannot have any authority over men and should only aspire to certain things.  I hope you saw that the team leader was a woman.

The trouble with complimentary philosophy is that after it assets that man and woman are equal, it digresses into the exceptions.  They are equal, but the man has authority over the woman and even over her body.  They are equal, but she must submit to him.  Some take these assumptions even farther to assume that she should submit to him sexually even if she doesn’t want to.  She should get her teaching only from her husband and only serve certain roles in the home, church, and society.  Some groups go so far as to limit the occupations she should have to only a few (like nurse and teacher).

When I look at this from an outsider view, it reminds me a lot of slavery.  In the United States, slavery was limited to white people dominating black people and most likely considered complimentary.  It was assumed to be the way it was supposed to be.  It was even fairly easy to find validation for slavery in the Bible and certainly it was the way of the world at that time.  Slaves were not considered equal because they had their role to play (they did the work and slave owner ruled them).

Here are just a few observations about how complimentary philosophy / theology is not fair or equal.

Like slavery, the man essentially rules over the woman.  His will is supreme and, ultimately, she is required to do whatever he wills.  She may have a say, but she can always be overruled.

Like slavery, she will never even be considered to lead the man.  She is always the follower no matter how inept the man is or how brilliant her ideas are.

Like slavery, she will never fully get credit for the work she does.  It will always be under the umbrella of his care and she may be praised for jobs done per instruction but never fully honored or appreciated.

Like slavery, she has an extremely limited voice.  She cannot speak in church as a pastor or teacher.  She cannot even lead studies where men are present (only other women and children).

Like slavery, lordship is valued and honored for the man, but she will always be bossy or disobedient if she speaks her mind.  Even though Jesus denounced lording over others, complimentary philosophy promotes it.  While Jesus and Paul promoted equality of all races, positions and genders, complementarianism does not.

Like slavery, violence toward women is eventually accepted.  Many under this assumption, ultimately believe they can force their wife to have sex with them because it is her role.  Some religions even promote beating their wives to keep them in submission.  A woman who disagrees too strongly or doesn’t obey her husband is seen the way some theology views other people (worthy of death).

Like slavery, men are exalted as supreme simply because of the classification they were born into.  Women were also demoted to a lower station because they have a vagina and are sometimes a little weaker physically.

Evangelical Christians generally assume no one will take this too far.  But, similar to slavery, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Because men feel they are led by a higher ethic (it’s in the Bible or another holy book), they feel exonerated for their behavior.  After all, if God put them in this role, they ought to exercise it.  It’s like a license to steal.

I’m not going to spend any energy on wrestling with the Bible verses because most people already know what they say.

Just like we eventually realized slavery and racism were wrong, it is time to release ourselves from the shackles of this broken philosophy.  Men and women don’t have roles in society and the church.  They have gifts and talents and words to speak and songs to sing.

Why not free ourselves to climb to new heights by acknowledging all the voices?

Why not embrace all people as capable of leading us to a new tomorrow?

Why not realize that diminishing one group will never elevate the larger group?

We must realize that subduing any group only brings down the whole?

As you may know, I see the American Evangelical church in sharp decline, mainly because it has tried to subdue women and minorities and others it disagrees with.  It became powerful and was corrupted by its own power.  It became good at recruiting new members, but then never became what it could have been and now is going through a dying process that may end in its mortality.

I do have hope for the future, but we have to move away from misogynism, racism, homophobia and all the other philosophies created in our fearful minds.

We must be brave enough to experience new ideas that make us feel vulnerable.

To be genuinely great, we must embrace equality for ALL.

Be where you are, be who you are,

Karl Forehand

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Karl Forehand is a former pastor, podcaster, and award-winning author. His books include Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me About the Father’s Heart and The Tea Shop. He is the creator of The Desert Sanctuary podcast. He is married to his wife Laura of 32 years and has one dog named Winston. His three children are grown and are beginning to multiply!

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4 responses to “How Complementarianism is like Slavery”

  1. “Even though Jesus denounced lording it over others, complementary philosophy requires it.”

    That is the critical flaw in complementarianism. And for the theologically astute among them, the only way out of that dilemma is to teach the “eternal subordination of the Son” – which was long ago condemned by the Church Fathers as heretical.

  2. Great points here. I do believe in progressive development in societies and their subgroups. But, unfortunately, I imagine some significant numbers who will follow the natural human tendency to “lord it over” whomever one can, thus keeping the complementarian dynamic around for many.

  3. Jesus was especially not keen on the self-righteous lording it over those they considered sinners, despicable, deplorable, irredeemable…

    And sure, differences between men and women have been exaggerated and over-applied and abused. But they exist. My wife has given birth to children. I have not and cannot; the plumbing is different in a way that works together fine, as created, but is not the same (tho taken as a whole, a lot of it overlaps, a lot is pretty much the same.) And we think and care differently–I react to an alarm clock differently from how she reacts. Denying these differences is a plain lie, and we know who is the father (!) of lies. Working out these differences in a way that honors triune Jehovah and one another is not as simple as making men lord (huh?), nor as simple as saying men and women are the same (which “equal” is too often boiled down to). So complementarianism of some kind has to be the zone where the best answers are, however short of them one or another answer may fall.

  4. Nice points, I would add that the best answers come when we are unsure what the answer are, that way we keep searching for what is ultimately true and best instead of relying a what we already “know.”

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