Recently, someone in the twitter world called me an “uber-complementarian.” They threw out the term “complementarian” derogatorily, like an ugly handful of mud – akin to calling someone a “racist,” “fascist,” “sexist,” or something scary like that. I had to smile, since I remember sitting around a table with John Piper and Wayne Grudem and others, wracking our brains to come up with an apt label to describe the historic Christian teaching on gender. Oh how quickly labels turn into stereotypes!
The Historic Christian Position on Gender
Since New Testament times, Christians believed that the Bible taught that God created male and female with complementary differences and roles. There was no word to describe this position, since no one had ever questioned it. But about 50 years ago, feminism changed all that. And by the mid-eighties, when Egalitarians and Evangelical Feminists eagerly jumped on the feminist ideological bandwagon, it was necessary to come up with a label to identify this traditional, orthodox, historic belief. That’s when we came up with the term “complementarian.” It simply means someone who believes that the Bible teaches that God created men and women with equal, yet distinct roles. A complementarian is a person who believes that God created male and female to reflect complementary truths about Jesus.
And that’s when I started to be called a gender traitor. And misrepresented by scary straw women. A straw woman is the female version of a straw man. A straw man argument is one that misrepresents a position, knocks that position down, and then concludes that the real position has been refuted. It’s a common, but faulty way to argue against an idea. Anyway, since the term “complementarian” now conjures up such scary stereotypes, I thought it would be fun to parade some of the most popular straw women out across the stage so they could take a bow—and hopefully bow out. Here they are:
(Strike up the scary organ music please!) . . .
Dora the Doormat
Dora the Doormat wears a “step on me please” sign around her neck. She’s a passive, quivering, opinion-less servant who can’t and won’t do anything without being told what to do. Dora can’t even get dressed in the morning without finding out which dress her husband wants her to wear. And she likes it when her husband acts like a domineering boor. Dora has absolutely no goal in life except to serve her man. She invites him to wipe his dirty, grimy, patriarchal feet all over her, so that she can happily clean up the mess. Dora’s sister, Co-dependent Clara, goes as far as to say that complementarians endorse abuse.
Since when does telling men to love their wives as Christ loved the Church support or promote women being docile doormats? Since when does the Bible’s view on unity, partnership, indivisibility, co-dominion and the dignity of male and female as complementary reflections of the image of God even remotely lend itself to this straw woman stereotype? Even the unbelieving, soon-to-be-married young lady working out with me at the gym exclaimed, “Wow, that’s incredible!” when I told her what God expects of Christian husbands. Complementarians do NOT invite, advocate, or endorse that men treat women in a sinful fashion! Complementarians instruct husbands to push for ever-increasing levels of holiness/Christ-likeness. And in my experience, complementarian men are the first to step in to protect women from harm. The claim that complementarity breeds doormats and encourages abuse is both false and reprehensible.
Dipstick Danielle doesn’t have a brain. She threw it in the trashcan when she embraced complementarity. Obviously, only women who have experienced the proverbial feminist “click” and had their consciousness so “raised” have the capacity to think. The rest of us are mindless minions of patriarchy–unenlightened to our repressed condition, party to our own servitude. Dipstick Danielle is close friends with Bobblehead Betty – the straw woman who doesn’t have any thoughts, ideas, or opinions of her own, but mutely nods “yes” to everything her husband says. Scary indeed!
Scripture doesn’t like the idea of “weak-willed” women, and neither do we. Complementarians encourage women to study the Word of God, THINK HARD about how to apply it to their lives, rely on the counsel of the Holy Spirit, seek the input of godly female mentors, examine cultural influences, carefully separate right from wrong, and make wise, informed decisions about how to behave. This is definitely not a brainless process. Complementarity does not support simplistic, mindless, acquiescence. It breeds strong women who can swim against the cultural tide and think for themselves. Thinking through how to apply God’s eternal principles requires brains, backbone, and courage. Complementarians don’t like wimpy women!
Kathy lives in the kitchen. Oh, sometimes she’ll go into the laundry room too, but cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and other menial household chores pretty much defines her existence. This straw woman stays in the house, has no interests outside of the house, and never, ever has a career or employment outside of the house. Her over-riding, life-long aspiration is to bake cookies and keep her toilet sparkling clean. Her friends, Dipstick Dana and Bobble-head Betty, are eager to share tips with Kathy on cleaning techniques, home décor, and where to clip out the best grocery coupons.
Complementarians do believe that God gave women a unique responsibility to create and maintain a welcoming, nurturing home environment. But that doesn’t mean that women do all the housework, nor that homemaking is the sum total of all they ever do (The Proverbs 31 woman looked well to the ways of her household and also ran a business). Nor do Complementarians idolize the home and value it above that to which it points.
A woman who creates a home does on a personal level what the Church does for Christ on a corporate level; and also what Christ does in His Father’s House on an eternal, heavenly level—She creates an environment that’s welcoming, nourishing, healing, and conducive to life and growth.
Baby popping Bertha
Bertha aims to have twenty-six kids and counting. Popping out babies is her only goal and purpose in life. The more kids she has, the more spiritual she is, so the more the better! Bertha doesn’t use contraceptives or family planning . . . her plan is to have as many as she can, as quickly as she can. Bertha is best friends with Megan the Marriage-Monger. Megan’s only goal in life is to be married. She’s pushing 50, and has done absolutely nothing meaningful in her life except wait for “Mr. Right” to come along.
One of the great meanings of marriage is to bear and raise children for the glory of God. Complementarians welcome children as a wonderful and precious blessing from God. But they understand that bearing biological children is not the be-all and end-all of womanhood. While womanhood normally includes getting married and giving birth to biological children, this is not its ultimate aim. Woman’s ultimate aim is to be spiritually fruitful—to bear and raise spiritual kids.
The unmarried Paul said that singleness was a precious gift from God, and that “each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.”(1 Corinthians 7:7) God gives us different gifts and callings. Marriage is not absolute and neither is conceiving children. It is not absolute that every woman will marry, nor is it absolute that every married woman will bear children, nor is it true that every woman ought to bear as many biological children as she possibly can. What IS absolute is that all women are called to be spiritually fruitful. The Lord wants all women—including single and childless women and women past child-bearing age—to spiritually and metaphorically have a “household” and be the “joyful mother of children.” (Psalm 113:9)
Poor Rita. She has gifts and nowhere to use them. Since her church won’t let her preach on Sunday mornings, her gifts of leadership and teaching are squelched. She is forever destined to sit on her hands on the back pew doing nothing. Silent. Frustrated. Repressed. She’s not into teaching Sunday School, or leading a woman’s Bible Study, or ministering to the homeless, or alleviating the pain of those in crisis, or reaching out to those in prison, or spiritually mothering anybody. She wants to do something really important—not something as menial as ministering to children and women. In Rita’s mind, the only person in the whole church who really gets to minister is the senior pastor—and if she can’t be THAT, then she won’t reach her full ministry potential. Poor Rita. Poor Church. Sniff. Pass the tissue box please.
Hmmm . . . Really? Last I checked, I have leadership and teaching gifts . . . and I am a woman . . . and I am exercising my gifts within a complementarian framework . . . AND there is far more to do for the Kingdom than I, and the myriads of other women I see exercising their gifts, have the time or energy to do. Complementarians believe in the priesthood of believers. Rita, and every other woman, has a responsibility to develop and exercise her spiritual gifts. Complementarians believe that the local church is to corporately reflect the dynamics of a healthy marriage relationship. The two sexes ought to work together in unity, mutuality, and cooperation to further the Kingdom of God under the loving, self-sacrificing guidance of male headship. There is no shortage of work to do. The gospel is too glorious. The needs are too great.
So there you have it! The worst of the illustrious straw woman parade!—There are more, but I’ve identified the ones who most commonly appear centerstage to give dire warnings about what will happen to women who embrace historic, orthodox, biblical views on gender.
Fighting on Two Fronts
A caveat: Standing for truth rarely affords us the luxury of fighting on only one front. Satan will warp truth by bending it to the left and the right. Are there, in fact, “uber-complementarian” people who promote a biblical application that is narrow, rigid, and legalistic? Are there people who would like nothing better than to turn Dora into a doormat, Danielle into a dipstick, trap Kathy in the kitchen, insist that Bertha pop out more babies, and repress Rita? Yes, sadly there are. And I am the first in line to call them to account. But to say that these caricatures accurately represent the views of complementarians is like saying the Unabomber accurately represents the views of environmentalists. So please stop doing it!
If you want to talk ideas, let’s talk ideas. Let’s talk hermeneutics. Let’s talk presuppositions. Let’s talk biblical exegesis. Let’s talk principles of interpretation and application. But stop misrepresenting the complementarian position. Stop using syllogistic fallacies, non sequiturs, disambiguations and fallacies of propositional logic. But most of all, please stop parading out those silly straw women!