Compassionate Complementarianism: Myths and Misconceptions
March 24, 2015 by Jake Phillips 5 comments
(Eds. Note: this is the second part of our on-going series entitled "Compassionate Complementarianism." You can read the first part of the series here).
As Sheree Phillips mentioned in our opening post of this series, we are not too interested in giving a systematically theological defense and explanation of complementarianism. Others have already done it, and better than we possibly could. In writing about Compassionate Complementarianism, we are simply attempting to highlight how we think complementarianism is meant to be worked out practically, and to distinguish it from the twisted forms used in some sectors of evangelicalism.
With that in mind, I would like to highlight a couple of myths and misconceptions people often have regarding complementarianism. I do not mean to suggest that these myths do not accurately describe anyone who considers themselves complementarian. But it is meant to suggest anyone who these myths does accurately define is not properly interpreting Scripture.
#1: Complementarianism is patriarchal
Perhaps the most common misconception about complementarianism is that it perpetuates already existing patriarchal tendencies within Christendom. It’s an easy (perhaps lazy) generalization. The argument could have two different forms. The first form is something like this: Complementarians believe men should be the leaders in the home and in church. Thus, they believe men are better than women. Believing that men are better (even in some limited way) than women, and then vesting in them authority, means that women are subjugated simply by existing as women. That’s patriarchy; ergo, complementarianism is patriarchal.
This argument suffers from all sorts of logical fallacies, not to mention stunningly simplistic and faulty premises. It also either misunderstands what we mean by “leadership” or misunderstands the relationship between leadership and authority. And it ignores the fact that subjugation of any human being made in the image of God by any one else is inherently sinful.
The second form goes something like this: Lots of complementarians are patriarchal. Therefore, complementarianism is patriarchal.
On one hand, this seems like an even more confusing argument. And of course, its blatant use of the “guilt by association” fallacy makes it seem so. On the other hand, it’s probably a somewhat better argument (even if it’s still wrong). The existence of certain wings of complementarianism that espouse such unbiblical and patriarchal nonsense is concerning; it’s part of the reason for the name of our series. What the argument ignores, though, is the historical existence of patriarchal nonsense in all corners of western society. Any cursory study of a country that did not give women the right to vote for its first 150 years of existence, has never voted a woman to be head of state, pays women less, and generally does not give them meaningful control of corporations, would lead a reasonable person to believe patriarchal tendencies are not the temptation of being complementarian so much as they are the temptation of being American, or being alive.
#2: Complementarians believe men do the work and women raise the babies
#3: June Cleaver is the ideal woman
This is related to #2, but I highlight it because it reveals some of the confusion people have about complementarianism. They confuse a specifically theological belief with a generally normative (albeit declining) cultural value. June Cleaver, and the general idea that the feminine ideal includes staying home, raising kids and making dinner, comes from culture; it has little to nothing to do with the Bible.
#4: Complementarians believe men are more important than women
This myth comes from the value that the person who believes the myth places in the various gendered roles and functions, not from the value that Scripture places on those same roles. Compassionate complementarians believe that men and women are different, that those differences are creational, and that God intended those differences to be expressed in complementary (and thus necessarily different) roles and functions. If you believe some roles have more or less value than others, it says more about you than it does about complementarianism.
Those are just a few. If you think of more, let us know, and we’ll add them to the post.
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