Part 1 of a 7-part series on Complementarity & Mutuality

In this post I want to explain how complementarians view mutuality. We believe that complementarity and mutuality are compatible concepts that coexist in the relationship between the LORD God and Jesus Christ. And if they coexist in the Godhead, then it makes sense that they coexist in the people God created to display His glory. Complementary differences actually foster mutuality. What’s more, though distinct roles under-gird the male-female relationship, they ought to fade into the background, eclipsed by the spectacular beauty and unity of the dance. Cha Cha Cha

According to CS Lewis, turning from role-sameness (egalitarianism) to role-distinction (complementarity) is like turning from a march to a dance.

I like the analogy.

I realized just how apt it was many years ago, when my husband and I took some ballroom dance lessons.

From a March to a Dance

Have you ever watched a skilled couple perform a dance? Once, I had the opportunity to watch a professional dance troupe perform at the Sydney Opera House in Australia. The male and female of each pair danced as perfect counterparts. They made the most intricate moves, spins, and lifts seem effortless. It was breathtakingly beautiful. For me, the performance on stage testified to the passion, mystery, and wonder of the real-life dance between the sexes. I was mesmerized.

When Brent and I started our dance lessons, we discovered just how difficult it is for two people to move as one. Our efforts started out as a clumsy, comical disaster. We stepped on each other’s toes, bashed heads (both literally and figuratively), pulled in opposite directions, and annihilated the steps and timing. It was painful and frustrating.

But over the weeks, under the tutelage of our instructors, we slowly learned some rudimentary dance steps. Brent learned how to lead. I learned how to follow. It’s the complementary roles that undergird the mutuality and unity of the dance. (Who knew?) That’s the paradox of dancing. And that’s also the paradox of complementarity.

The Paradox of Complementarity

Since the 1970s, egalitarians have upheld role-interchangeability (“sameness”) as the path to mutuality. Sadly, they’ve often framed the conversation in such a way that the word “egalitarian” is indivisibly coupled with the word “mutuality.” They’ve thus presented a false dichotomy: An egalitarian is someone who supports mutuality; a complementarian is someone who doesn’t.

The problem has been compounded by the fact that some complementarians seem to shy away from using the term mutuality. Perhaps they would rather avoid the word than attempt to extricate it from egalitarian connotations. That’s too bad, because both the egalitarian effort to redefine the word, and the complementarian hesitation to wholly embrace it, obscure a profound biblical truth: Complementarity fosters mutuality at a far deeper level than sameness does.

Complementarity Fosters Mutuality

The dictionary defines mutuality as “the quality or condition of reciprocity.” Mutuality simply means that an interaction is reciprocal. Each party gives and receives something from the other. It’s not a one-way relationship. That’s not to say that the people are the same. Nor that they give and receive exactly the same thing. Nor that they do so in the same way. Mutuality doesn’t require sameness. It can occur between people who have different things to offer. In fact, difference actually creates a powerful impetus to reciprocate. If the differences complement one another, they naturally foster mutuality and unity.

For example, if I have some vanilla ice cream, and you have some vanilla ice cream, then what would the point of us sharing be? But if I have vanilla ice cream and you have chocolate sprinkles, then chances are we’ll be motivated to reciprocate. We’ll unite our ingredients and turn them into a delicious ice cream sundae we can both enjoy.

Complementarity, mutuality, and unity are not incompatible concepts. They go hand in hand.

In the Image of God

Complementary parts, joined together as a mutual, united whole, are nowhere more evident than in the nature and character of God. The LORD Yahweh, the First Person of the Godhead, has a different role and function than the Lord Jesus, the Second Person of the Godhead. The LORD Yahweh sends and the Lord Jesus goes. Though equal in being, the responsibility to lead rests on the LORD Yaweh’s shoulders, while the responsibility to respond rests on Christ’s. Though they have complementary roles, the clear teaching of the Bible—and, according to the Great Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4, also the distinguishing feature of God’s nature—is that our God is “ONE.” (See also John 10:30) A profound mutuality and equality exists. The unity and indivisibility of the Godhead eclipses the difference in the role and function of the individual members.

And so it ought to be with male and female.

Male and female were created in the image of God to shine a spotlight on the nature and character of God, and to tell the Jesus story. This leads me to conclude that complementarity and mutuality can and indeed should be evident in the lives of men and women who have been redeemed. What’s more, it leads me to conclude that that the over-riding characteristic and focus of Christian male-female relationships ought to be unity. Complementary differences contribute to this goal; but do not contain it. This is a critical point that we dare not overlook.

Like a Beautiful Dance

It’s like the dance analogy.

Since Brent and I are amateurs, our dance movements are mechanical and clumsy. His efforts to lead and my efforts to follow are awkward, highly noticeable, and not always effective. But this is not the case with an experienced dance couple. As they embrace their roles, they learn to move together as one harmonious unit. It becomes increasingly natural and effortless for each to do their part. And as they become better dancers, their complementary responsibilities take a backstage to the breathtaking beauty of their dance. The mutuality eclipses the complementarity. Do the roles still exist? Yes, unquestionably. But ultimately, the roles aren’t the primary focus. Doing a great Tango or a lively Cha Cha is.

As complementarians, we must never lose sight of the proverbial “forest for the trees”. We will get things wrong if we forget why God created men and women as counterparts. It’s not so we can obsess and argue over our differences or our division of responsibility, or spend our lives micro-analyzing each step. Rather, it’s that we might shine a spotlight on His glory by displaying the unity, joy, and sheer wonder of the dance.

This Post is Part of a 7-Part Series

Are authority and  submission an erotic necessity?  Does complementarity create one-way relationships? Is sex something a man does to a woman? Those were the hot questions that prompted this 7-part series on complementarity and mutuality. You can browse through the articles on the post slider below, or head over to see all the posts in the series.

Complementarity: No One-Way Relationships Here [Intro]

Does complementarity create one-way relationships? Is sex something a man does to a woman? Those were the hot questions that prompted this 7-part series.

Complementarity: Mutuality is the Cha Cha [Part 1]

Complementarity fosters mutuality. Complementary male-female roles take us from doing a march to doing a dance. Cha Cha Cha!

Complementarity: The Red Pill or the Blue Pill? [Part 2]

Complementarity versus mutuality is oft presented as an either-or scenario. But that’s a false dilemma. It’s a pill we don’t have to swallow.

Complementarity: The Game Winning Plan [Part 3]

Though different, men and women have mutual obligations toward one another. Complementarity AND mutuality are part of God’s game-winning plan.

Complementarity: Sex in the Shadowlands [Part 4]

Living in the shadowlands means that everything good -like sex- points to something even better. So just imagine the fireworks that are still to come!

Complementarity: Necessities for God-Glorifying Sex [Part 5]

Christ’s ideal for sex is exceedingly stringent. So stringent, that it left his disciples’ jaws dropping on the floor. So what are the “erotic necessities” for God-Glorifying sex?

Complementarity: More Necessities for God-Glorifying Sex [Part 6]

Complementarity provides the context for the best pleasure-filled fulfilling sex a human might experience. It’s the winner. Bar none. Hands down.

Complementarity: Seeing the Forest for the Trees [Part 7]

When it comes to complementarity, it’s important not to miss the forest for the trees, but it’s also important to keep the thesis nailed to the church door.