Disclaimer: In no way by responding to Mary Kassian’s series on complementarianism am I affirming or claiming to agree with her on the following points. I do, however, think she makes some valid points that are necessary to address in order to further this often dead-end conversation. I invite you to read through the full series here and to continue the conversation on your own blogs or in the comments.
In part one of this four-part series, I share the first two steps in how to bridge the gap (or rather, chasm) in the heated debate between egalitarians and complementarians in the Christian church.
First, listen to how complementarians and egalitarians frame their positions.
The first red flag in this debate between complementarians and egalitarians is that complementarianism and its derivates are not words in standard English language dictionaries. For those of you who think that this is petty, Google “complementarianism” yourself. Scroll down. Click on the next page. And the next. Not there yet? How about Googling “complementarianism definition.” Even then there is no textbook definition, rather a host of different faith-based and other explanations of the position. To operate on the same assumptions as complementarians in the context of the Christian church, we need to consult some additional resources:
- Wikipedia defines Christian complementarianism as: “The theological view held by some in Christianity and other world religions that men and women have different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and elsewhere. It assigns leadership roles to men and support roles to women, based on certain biblical passages. One of its precepts is that while women may assist in the decision making process, the ultimate authority for the decision is the purview of the male in marriage, courtship, and in the polity of churches subscribing to this view.”
- The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood describes complementarianism as the belief that: “Men and women are equal in the image of God, but maintain complementary differences in role and function. In the home, men lovingly are to lead their wives and family as women intelligently are to submit to the leadership of their husbands. In the church, while men and women share equally in the blessings of salvation, some governing and teaching roles are restricted to men.”
- Retha at Biblical Personhood defines several types and varying levels of complementarianism, from soft complementarians to hardcore biblical patriarchalists.
Now Google “egalitarianism.” At least according to my latest search, the top item was the Wikipedia article. The second was the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy definition. The third was the dictionary definition from Merriam-Webster. According to the third source, egalitarianism, which was coined in 1905 and derived from the French (égal, equality), is defined as:
- A belief in human equality, especially with respect to social, political, and economic affairs.
- A social philosophy advocating the removal of inequalities among people.
- Wikipedia defines Christian egalitarianism as: “All people are equal before God and in Christ [and therefore] have equal responsibility to use their gifts and obey their calling to the glory of God. [They] are called to roles and ministries without regard to class, gender, or race.”
- The organization Christians for Biblical Equality defines egalitarianism as: “The equality and essential dignity of men and women of all ethnicities, ages, and classes. [All] persons are made in the image of God and are to reflect that image in the community of believers, in the home, and in society [and] are to diligently develop and use their God-given gifts for the good of the home, church, and society.
But more often than not, these messages are tweaked just so, adding to the confusion and mess that this debate already is.
- Mary Kassian states that complementarianism reflects how “God created male and female to display complementary truths about Jesus and that this involves male headship in nuclear and church families.” She also states that “complementarity fosters mutuality at a far deeper level than sameness does.” Both are loaded statements in which there are both concessions to more conservative folks (“headship”) and to more progressive folks (“mutuality”).Take note of these buzzwords. You’ll see them again in how egalitarians define their positions.
- Rachel Held Evans defines egalitarianism as the belief that “Christian women enjoy equal status and responsibility with men in the home, church, and society, and that teaching and leading God’s people should be based on giftedness rather than gender.”
- Or as commenter Angie in Kassian’s part one of the series explains, “Egalitarian means affirming or promoting equality. Egalitarians believe in complementarity, mutuality, [and] reciprocity, but not hierarchy, especially in marriage. Egalitarians are complementarians without hierarchy.” (emphasis mine)
At this point, you may want to interject, “Egalitarians do not believe in sameness!” or “Complementarians do not support women being unequal!” I completely understand the urge and far too often have failed to hold my tongue – or rather, the Tweet button – in these instances. And while I earnestly believe that the tide is turning on patriarchy, that doesn’t mean we need to tear the losing side down. As my father says, we need to kill them with kindness. But also, from a more strategic standpoint, we need to listen and learn from their perspectives in order to more effectively challenge them.
So for now, if you can, let’s hold our tongues and turn the other cheek. There are plenty of opportunities at the end of this step-wise process to challenge the other starting in part two of this series: understanding that each side wants to appear in the best light possible.