Compassionate Complementarianism Part 1: Who Wants to Talk About Gender?

(Eds. Note -- today, we are introducing a new series entitled "Compassionate Complementarianism." We are so excited about this series! Our goal is to post to this series 2-3 times a week for the foreseeable future.  We anticipate it being a defining series for the church, and hope you'll be encouraged and edified as you come along.)


It was after church on Sunday morning and a group of young couples and singles gathered to discuss lunch plans. The guys were huddled together talking about pick-up basketball game plans for later in the afternoon, while the girls batted restaurant options around.

“So where do you guys wanna go?” one of the girls asked, then waited as the guys kept talking sports.

“Ugh, why are guys so hesitant to make decisions??? I’m hungry!” The girls waited another ten minutes, then decided on Mexican for lunch.

“Huh? Mexican?” a couple of the guys responded. “That’ll be too heavy before our game. Let’s just grab a salad at McDonald’s.” And with that they headed out to their cars.

This interaction and many other like them are repeated in Christian circles - churches, homes, small groups, parties - anywhere both men and women are together. Depending on the preferences and beliefs of those present, this scenario might be just fine.

But here’s the question: is it the guys job to “lead” by choosing where a group of people eat for lunch?

Does this seem a little weird to you? Good! But if not, then stay with me.

It was around 1983 and Benny and I were spending the weekend with a couple from our church who had moved to provide leadership on our church’s leadership team. We were unfamiliar with the area and this was well before smart phones that could talk to you about nearby restaurant options. Our new friend (the guy) stopped his car in front of ours to come back to talk after unsuccessfully finding a good place to eat.

“So, whadya think?” he said to Benny.  Benny turned to me.  “Hmmm…Sheree, do you have a preference?” Benny asked.

Later than night he asked us about this exchange, sharing it as a possible (felt like probable!) example of Benny’s lack of leadership in our marriage. He wondered if Benny felt obligated to ask me, either out of concern that I wouldn’t like his choice or due to passivity as a husband and leader.

We want to do a series on Compassionate Complementarianism. ( If you’ve heard this phrase before let us know where we unknowingly stole it from; we think we made it up ourselves).

What is complementarianism and why should it be compassionate?

There are two schools of thought in the evangelical church today. Both say men and women are completely equal in worth; God created male and female with equal value as His image-bearers. Both also see clear dangers in cultural attitudes that elevate males over females, and define women and men as being identical in value to God, society, the church and family. Egalitarians believe that equality in worth also includes equality in function and calling; therefore, there are no distinctions between how men and women operate in the home and church. Complementarians, however, view men and women as having complementary gifts that sometimes result in varying functions within the church and family.

I am a complementarian – and so are the others who will be contributing to this series. We have found joy in embracing what we believe are both Divine gender similarities and differences. Yet we’ve experienced and participated in what we also believe are wrong ways of applying the truths the Bible teaches on this issue; the opening illustrations of this post being perhaps emblematic of such problematic application. As a woman – and especially one who can be feisty, opinionated and has leadership gifts - I’ve encountered my share of confusing and sometimes hurtful experiences over the decades. I’m looking forward to sharing some of that during this series. But I haven’t thrown out the baby of misunderstanding and narrow application with the bath water of biblical truth.

What we won’t be doing is going in to the deep end of the definitions and Bible-basis pool for these terms. People (men and women) smarter than us have done a great job on that (see, for example, this). Along the way we’ll provide resources that have impacted us – but since you’re reading this blog, you’re enough tech saavy to satisfy your curiosities. What we want to focus on is the compassion needed for complementarianism to work between people. Biblical truth is hard to swallow sometimes – and this topic is no exception. But it’s no harder for the woman than it is for the man. We’re all called to love as we’ve been loved; served as we’ve been served; show mercy as we’ve been shown mercy; forgive and we’ve been forgiven. When the righteous commands of scripture to Christ-incarnating love, acceptance, patience and grace meets the often prickly, confusing topic of gender, hopefully things won’t so often deteriorate into whether guys should mow the lawn or take out the trash or manage the family finances while the girls change the diapers or clean the oven or wait patiently for a man to choose a restaurant for lunch.

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