Part 2 of a series on Complementarity & Mutuality

This is the second of a 5-part series on Complementarity & Mutuality. In the rhetoric surrounding gender roles, complementarity versus mutuality is often presented as a “red-pill-or-blue-pill” either-or choice.  But that’s a false dilemma. That’s a pill we don’t have to swallow.


In the movie, The Matrix, the main character, Neo, is offered a choice between swallowing a red pill or a blue pill. The blue pill would allow him to remain in the Matrix, an illusionary computer-generated world. The red pill would lead to his escape out of the Matrix and into the real world. It was an either-or scenario. He couldn’t have it both ways.

The rhetoric in the Evangelical world often frames the discussion about gender roles in “either-or” scenarios. Women are led to believe that they only have two choices:  They can choose to swallow the red pill of mutuality OR blue pill of complementarity. Not both.

I’ll never forget being interviewed for a cover story of a prominent Christian magazine in the early 90s. The reporter, who could barely conceal her hostility, phrased her first question like this:  “So, do you believe in male leadership or do you believe in women in ministry?” She wanted me to be the poster child for the “CON” side of a PRO/CON argument for women in ministry. Great. As if.

Either-Or. Red or Blue.  Hmm. Which to choose? Which to choose? . . . The snarky part of me felt like going all “tit-for-tat” on her and firing back, “Do you believe in asking stupid questions or do you not understand the fallacy of the false dilemma?” But that wouldn’t have been nice, and it probably would have done little to correct her impossible rhetoric.

False Dilemmas

Presenting two options as if they are contradictions or contraries, when in fact they are not, is a common logical fallacy. It’s called “the false dilemma,” because the “dilemma,” or need to choose between the two options, is “false.” This fallacy is also known as the “either-or fallacy” because it makes you think that your options are limited to either one choice or the other.

I’ve encountered a lot of either-or fallacies about complementarianism over the years, all of which make me want to respond with a super-exaggerated eye-ball roll or exasperated head-thunk to the table. Because unfortunately, when there’s a false dilemma, the discussion is biased before the respondent even opens her mouth. She’s put at a disadvantage simply in the way the question is framed. For example:

  • Are you a complementarian OR do you believe in mutuality?
  • Are you a complementarian OR do you believe in reciprocity?
  • Are you a complementarian OR do you believe in unity?
  • Are you a complementarian OR do you support the equality of women?
  • Are you a complementarian OR do you support women’s rights?
  • Are you a complementarian OR do you support in women in ministry?
  • Are you a complementarian OR do you support in women in leadership?
  • Are you a complementarian OR do you encourage women to use all their spiritual gifts?
  • Are you a complementarian OR do you support the personhood of women?

Please. Give me a break. Complementarians believe in mutuality, reciprocity, unity, equality, women’s rights, women in ministry, women in leadership, women using spiritual gifts, and the personhood of women just as much as egalitarians do. All of the scary either-or scenarios I’ve listed above pose false dilemmas. But honestly, if I had an air mile for every time I’ve heard the discussion about complementarity framed in such terms, I could take several trips around the world.

And that’s even not to mention all the straw [wo]men arguments and outlandish accusations that complementarity supports abuse and rape. But alas, I digress. . .

To be fair, egalitarians could likely come up with a “false dilemma” and “outlandish accusation” list of their own. Sadly, there’s no shortage of complementarians who use false logic and inflammatory rhetoric. It’s a common malady.

In this post, I want to aim toward a more authentic discussion. I want to expose these false dilemmas and encourage folks to try to avoid them in conversation. I want to firmly stake the claim that complementarity and mutuality are NOT either-or concepts. Indeed, the exact opposite is true. Complementarity embraces mutuality.  Complementarians desire mutuality as much as egalitarians do. Our point of difference is not mutuality (equality, reciprocity, unity, etc. etc.). Our point of difference is our respective views on the means whereby this will be achieved.

  • Complementarians claim we achieve mutuality by embracing God-given male-female role distinctions.
  • Egalitarians claim we achieve mutuality by embracing the fact that no such distinctions exist.

The question is definitely NOT about which viewpoint upholds the dignity, honor, full personhood, and mutuality of woman. They both do. We merely disagree on the route the Bible says we must take to reach the destination. The disagreement is no small matter. Though I won’t unpack it now, I believe the crux of the debate—and the essential difference between comps and egals —ultimately boils down to a difference of approach in the way we view and handle the Word of God. I’ll say more about that  some other time.

Acknowledging the Both-And

Complemetarians believe that God created male and female to reflect complementary truths about Jesus. Role distinction and mutuality in a redeemed male-female relationship reflect characteristics of the Godhead and of Christ’s relationship to the Church. Yes, practically, this involves males stepping up to the plate to head up both individual and corporate church families. But no, this does not logically necessitate wooden, unilateral relationships in which men boss women around like commandos bossing around minions. On the contrary, complementarity solicits cooperation, togetherness, and mutuality. It calls for a profound reciprocity.

Authors of the Bible acknowledge the BOTH-AND.  When they discuss distinct male-female roles, they almost always frame up the conversation within the context of male-female mutuality. For example:

  • Before rewinding the tape and zooming in on gender differences, the Genesis Creation account emphasizes that male and female were both created in the image of God and that both were given dominion over the earth. (Gen. 1:26–28)
  • In Ephesians 5, Paul correlates the relationship between a husband and wife to the relationship between Christ and the church. He advocates distinct gender-based roles, but emphasizes the “one flesh” and “one body” nature of the relationship. . . He emphasizes that “we (male and female together) are members of his (Christ’s) body.”
  • In first Corinthians Chapter 11, Paul points out differing roles in the Godhead and draws a parallel to the husband-wife relationship:  “the head of every man is Christ, the head of the wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” Later in the passage, he emphasizes male-female mutuality: “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.” (1 Cor. 11:3,11-12)
  • After directing wives to submit to husbands, Peter is careful to direct husbands to honor their wives. He reminds readers that men that women are “heirs together of the grace of life.” (1 Peter 3:1-8)

We would do well to mimic this pattern. Complementarians ought to clearly acknowledge the “both-and” nature of complementarity and mutuality when we speak of gender roles. To fail to do this paints an incomplete picture. In male-female relationships, as in the body of Christ as a whole, our differences ought to be the foundation and catalyst for a profound unity and mutuality. (More about that in my next post, when I talk about “The Game Winning Plan.”) Furthermore, if you egals truly want to have an authentic conversation with us comps, you too need to acknowledge the “both-and” nature of complementarity and mutuality. Otherwise, the discussion will in effect be over before it can even start.

So the next time you hear someone pit complementarity against mutuality (or any of the other false dilemmas), kindly point out the fallacy of their rhetoric. . . And maybe  suggest that they donate an air mile to my account. 🙂

Because when it comes to complementarity and mutuality, we don’t have to choose between the red and blue pill. The choice isn’t “either-or.” It’s quite clearly “both-and.”

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.