I am often frustrated in my role as a complementarian¹ woman. I am not frustrated by what God teaches in the Bible about my roles in the home and the church. I am not frustrated in carrying out those roles. I am not frustrated by complementarian men.
I am frustrated by egalitarians – most of the ones who have crossed my path, anyway – because of the incorrect assumptions they make about me and other complementarian women².
And it’s not just that the assumptions are wrong, it’s that the assumptions are often hypocritically, “log in the eye,” wrong. Then, they turn around and use these false assumptions as reasons to fight against complementarianism. But the reasons don’t exist. They’re shadow boxing. Fighting against a ghost. If you’re going to fight for something, your fight should at least be based on legitimate reasons.
I’m under no delusions that this article will change the hearts and minds of egalitarians, but if I could, here’s what I’d try to help them understand…
It’s a spiritual issue.
I know this isn’t going to be popular. I know I’m going to be called judgmental and harsh and any number of other printable and unprintable names, but I’m going to say this anyway because this is the crucial element on which this entire complementarian vs. egalitarian argument rests.
This is a spiritual issue. It’s not an oppressors versus victims issue, it’s not about power or position or circumstances or legalism or casting off shackles. It’s not about any of those visible, tangible, surface level things we think it’s about. This goes beyond the earthly realm and has its foundation in the invisible, spiritual realm. The reason you hold the positions and opinions you hold as an individual is based on one thing – your relationship with God. This is a me versus God issue. Do you love and obey God as a genuinely regenerated Christian, or do you reject Him and rebel against His commands as someone who is still lost?
The Bible makes crystal clear from Genesis to Revelation that people who genuinely know and love God obey Him, and that if you don’t obey Him, you don’t know Him or love Him. Over and over and over again we see this through Israel’s countless cycles of idolatry and the prophets calling them to repentance in the Old Testament, to John’s near broken-record repetition of the theme in the New Testament. Scripture is clear. Love of God and obedience to God are inextricably and irreducibly intertwined.
And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 John 2:3-6
Additionally, if you’re not saved – a “natural man” – the things of God are folly to you. It’s not that you’re smarter or enlightened or have a different opinion than those who obey Scripture. It’s that you’re spiritually incapable of accepting, embracing, and obeying what God has told you to do. That’s why you see those of us who do as fools.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14
Let me say it plainly. If your general trajectory in life is to consistently find yourself angered by, indifferent to, or unable to accept the plain meaning of Scripture, and your heart persists in fighting back against God’s Word even if you’ve been biblically corrected, you are almost certainly not saved.³ That’s not me saying that. That’s a whole lot of Scripture saying that. Regardless of how saved you feel. Despite what you may claim to be. No matter what people have told you about your salvation. God says loving Him equals walking with Him toward embracing, loving, and obeying His commands. And that includes His commands about the roles of men and women.
This is the fundamental reason most egalitarians disagree with most complementarians. It’s usually not that either side doesn’t understand what the other side stands for. It’s that both sides generally do understand what the other side stands for and they reject the other side’s view because of where they are, spiritually.
(Addendum: After I published this article, a few people responded who seemed to misunderstand what I’ve said in this paragraph. Let me see if I can clarify:
1) You’ll notice I’ve used words/phrases (“most egalitarians,” “general trajectory,” “almost certainly,” etc.) indicating that this is a broad, general principle, not something that is universally deterministic about every single individual who has ever had an egalitarian-esque thought cross her mind.
2) I am not saying that holding to an egalitarian viewpoint is what makes someone unsaved. Rejecting the gospel is what makes someone unsaved. What I am saying is that most people who are already false converts gravitate toward the egalitarian viewpoint as a fruit of the pre-existing condition of being unsaved. It is a logical fallacy to turn that statement around and assume I mean the converse to be true.
3) I certainly believe it is possible for genuinely regenerated Christians to have good faith, incorrect interpretations or understandings of Scripture – starting with me. When my husband and I picked out wedding vows 26 years ago, I flatly refused to use any set of vows that said I would “obey” him and only grudgingly agreed to a set that used the word “submit” instead. Embarrassingly, in our wedding video, you can clearly hear me hesitate before repeating that part of the vows. About 10-15 years ago I held a position of local denominational leadership that I’m only now beginning to see I probably, in some respects, shouldn’t have held. One reason for that is that on two or three occasions the position required me to speak to local congregations during their midweek services on a biblical topic which could not be properly addressed without explaining Scripture. Do I think I was unsaved because I thought those things were OK at the time? Of course not. But I’ll tell you this – over time, the Holy Spirit convicted me of those things and I repented. And as I’ve grown in Christ my rebellious attitudes and misunderstandings of those Scriptures and others have increasingly come under submission to God’s Word.
That’s the kind of thing we’re talking about here – the general biblical principle that saved people are on a trajectory of increasing holiness and Christlikeness. Lost people are on a trajectory of increasing disobedience and rebellion (and not strictly with regard to egalitarian ideas). It is possible to be a saved, simul justus et peccator, growing in holiness, desiring to please the Lord, Christian and get some non-soteriological things wrong along the way, in good faith, in the process of growing. What is not possible is for someone to be genuinely regenerated and live in a general attitude of heart-rebellion against God, His Word, and His ways (His ways in general, not strictly egalitarianism) in favor of doing life on her own terms. I don’t know how to make that more clear. That is what the Bible teaches.
4) I clearly made the statement that this article pertains to “most of the [egalitarians] who have crossed my path”. I guess what I did not make clear is that most of the egalitarians who have crossed my path have not been the small minority of genuinely regenerated Christians who have made a good faith error about Scripture’s teaching on the role of women as they’re growing in Christ. That might be your experience, but it has not been mine. Most of the egalitarians who have crossed my path have clearly been of the vast majority of egalitarians who have come to that position, as I explained above, as a result of being false converts. And it shows in their demeanor as they mock the authority of God’s Word in general, lash out in rage, blaspheme, swear, and slander, and generally display the opposite of the Fruit of the Spirit.
5) As I’ve stated many, many times in my articles, the Bible is our authority as Christians, not a pastor or Christian leader who holds a particular position, not your loved ones who are in error but you’re certain they love Jesus, not any church or denominational structure or position that conflicts with Scripture – the Bible. If you are going to argue against a biblical principle, you need to support your argument with rightly handled, in context Scripture, not examples of fallible human beings – however godly or well-intentioned they might be. Scripture is our standard, not people.)
Complementarian women don’t feel
oppressed and downtrodden.
Obviously I can’t speak for every complementarian woman out there, but I can say that of the dozens of women I know personally and the thousands who have followed me online for the last eleven years, and speaking for myself, I have never met a single, genuinely regenerated, complementarian woman who felt diminished, held back, chained up, or walked all over by the role God lays out for us in Scripture.
Do we sometimes sin by thinking and acting selfishly? Yep. Have there been husbands, pastors, and other men who have sinned against us? Of course. Do we have a bad day from time to time? Naturally. But none of that changes our delight in our role itself. Even people who have their dream jobs have nightmare moments, but there’s still nothing on the planet they’d rather do. Nothing that makes them feel more alive and fulfilled. And that’s generally how complementarian women feel about our job – maybe even more so, because it’s not just a job, it’s a calling from God Himself. And nobody has a better Boss than we do.
We don’t need your pity, egalitarians, any more than a kid in a candy store needs to be pitied. And we don’t need to be rescued, just like you wouldn’t think of trying to rescue a child from Disneyland. We’re not sitting around saying, “Woe is me,” and feeling like we’re losing out on life. For us, keeping God’s commands about our role is a delight and a joy, because we love Him:
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3
for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. Psalm 119:47
No one is happier, more fulfilled, or more content in life than the Christian who is living in the will of God by obeying Him. No one is more miserable than a false convert who is trying to obey God through sheer force of will, or a genuine Christian living in disobedience to God’s commands.
And if all of that seems foreign or ridiculous, folly or foolishness to you, unfortunately, you’re bearing out the biblical truth I explained in section 1 of this article.
Complementarian women aren’t brainwashed.
Probably the most hypocritical sexist viewpoint of egalitarians is that they assume that Christian women couldn’t possibly have come to the complementarian worldview via our own study, intellect, will, and choice. We must have been brainwashed into it by sexist, misogynistic, abusive complementarian men. But if we could somehow manage to understand the viewpoint delivered by our egalitarian saviors, we’d see the light, cast off the shackles, and be set free from all that’s holding us back.
I’m not making that up. That’s essentially the diatribe I received from one of Beth Moore’s followers recently (and I’ve heard it plenty of times before). Beth had said on Twitter that the reason she was receiving so much pushback from Christians following her announcement that she would be preaching the Sunday morning service at a local church was because sexist men were just trying to protect their positions and power. To which I responded, “What about the pushback you’re receiving from complementarian women? Are we sexist and trying to protect positions and power, too?” No, her follower angrily replied, you’ve just be brainwashed by those men.
If egalitarians can’t see how arrogant, hypocritical, and sexist it is to stand on a pedestal and declare that they’re the ones who will empower women, ensure that women are heard and valued for their independent ideas and unique contributions, and then turn around and condescendingly assume that women who have used those very independent minds they themselves tout to reach a non-egalitarian conclusion are brainwashed, I’m at a loss as to how to explain it. It’s like trying to prove water exists to someone who’s sitting in a lake while drinking a glass of ice water.
Complementarian women are not brainwashed into our worldview. We are convinced by the study of Scripture and our love for God that His plan for men and women is best, beneficial, and a blessing.
Complementarian women aren’t
limited or lesser, we’re specialists.
Oh, that poor cardiologist! He’s so limited in his profession. If only he could be a General Practitioner!
I just feel terrible for that guy – he only practices civil law! He doesn’t know what he’s missing by not also practicing criminal, personal injury, estate, real estate, corporate, family, and malpractice law!
If you ever had the misfortune of hearing someone say something so ridiculous, you’d probably think she was a little off her nut. In the professional world, we normally regard specialty positions as more prestigious than more generalized positions (not that that’s right – general medicine, law, etc. are equally important). Specialists usually go to school longer and have a unique skill set for a unique segment of the population. General practitioners don’t have the luxury of focusing on a more narrow field of study. They have to be a jack of all trades – all things to all people.
But somehow, for egalitarians, that concept doesn’t translate to complementarianism. In the complementarian church, male pastors, elders, and teachers are the general practitioners. Women are the specialists. We specialize in discipling women and children, because we have a unique, God-given skill set for ministering to that unique segment of the population. God has given us the luxury and freedom to concentrate on this population He has called us to serve without the added burden of also having to teach, disciple, and oversee men.
It’s much the same in the complementarian home. The husband is like the CEO of the family. The buck stops with him. Every. single. buck. The house. The wife. The kids. The car. The yard. The bills. Everybody’s health. The extended family. The spiritual leadership. Church involvement. Provision. Decisions. Everything is ultimately on his shoulders. This leaves the wife free to specialize in being the COO of the family – day to day, boots on the ground operation of the household – an equally important position, which, again, she has a unique, God-given skill set for carrying out. While she and her husband certainly work together, God has given her the freedom and the luxury of passing everything that’s not under her purview up the chain of command for someone else to deal with. If she needs something in order to do her job, she has someone to turn to to provide it.
The egalitarian worldview looks down on women who specialize in discipling women and children in the church and being the chief operating officer in the home. Our teaching only has value if there are men in the audience, which reeks of sexism. As if men are the standard, the high bar to be set, the only ones whose mere bodily presence can validate a woman’s teaching and suddenly make it worthwhile. Who cares about teaching women and children? Men are the important ones. Our role at home is only a worthy and important one if we’re the ones calling all the shots at the macro level. Never mind that things actually have to get done and be overseen at the micro level in order for every member of the household, including the CEO, to live, grow, and flourish.
Specialties aren’t limiting or lesser. There’s an equally prestigious and necessary place for GPs and specialized medicine. For general law and specialty law. For CEOs and COOs. For complementarian men and complementarian women.
The egalitarian view does not value women as women. It only values women who are cheap knock-offs of men. Complementarians are the ones who value women as a separate, and equally significant, unique creation of God – not measured by how well we can imitate a man, but measured by how well we live up to all God created us to be as women. And we’re supposed to feel oppressed, limited, and lesser by that? We’d have to be brainwashed to love a worldview that values us for what we are, not for clawing and scraping toward some impossible standard and state of being God never created us to reach?
When you set men up as the standard and tell women they have to measure up to men to have any value, what you are is not egalitarian. What you are is sexist.
No thanks. I’ll take the complement.
¹Thanks to the advent of everything-but-the-pastoral-office “soft complementarianism” I should probably add an adjective, like “biblical complementarian,” but I’m not ready to concede the term yet. Complementarian means you embrace the full biblical teaching of the roles of women and men. If you compromise on that, you’re a functional egalitarian. We only need two terms.
²Egalitarians make incorrect assumptions about complementarian men, too, the main one being that they’re sexist, misogynistic, even abusive. Please. I’ll let complementarian men speak to that themselves, or this article will be way too long.
³Sometimes people who are genuinely saved worry that they’re not. If you’re concerned about your salvation, I encourage you to work through my study AM I REALLY SAVED?: A 1 JOHN CHECK-UP, and make an appointment with your pastor if you need counsel.