Complementarianism, a conversation Baptists want to have?


On the ‘Baptist Union of Victoria’s’ Facebook page this week, a series of articles have been posted on the topic of women in leadership. These articles are not written by Victorian Baptists, nor do they, I believe, reflect the formal Baptist position on women in leadership. If that were the case, the BUV would have to give up its affirmation of diversity, and a growing number of Baptist churches would no longer welcome in the BUV family.  However, the publication of these articles is raising questions among pastors, especially the commentary accompanying these posts,

Not all Baptist Churches provide opportunities for women to lead. How is your church doing? “Some sexism is blatant, but most of it is subtle, hidden behind so-called “good intentions.” In many churches, it is hidden behind misinterpreted gender roles.”’

What is your church doing to empower more women to lead?

The last question is useful and important, but unfortunately it is being framed by a particular view that wishes to distort a true complementation position.

Uncritically dumping articles into public space can be unhelpful, and leaves readers wondering whether the BUV agrees with the content of these articles, and whether their churches are meant to follow suit? 

Obviously someone is wanting to generate a conversation, and it is certainly a topic worthy of dialogue. But to avoid giving the appearance that the BUV is driving this, they ought to put their name to these posts, and they should publish articles that fairly represent the views they are so openly criticising.

The most recent post is Kylie Pidgeon’s article, Complementarianism and Family Violence: The shared dynamics of Power and Control. Kylie Pidgeon raises several important questions that deserve proper consideration by the local church, and I grateful to her for doing this. But sadly, the timbre of her message may be muddied due to the parodic character of other articles being promoted. 

In summary, the message being conveyed through this series of posts is that complementarianism means ‘sexism’, ‘gender inequality’ and even ‘domestic violence’. This is a serious accusation and one that ought only to be suggested with the greatest care.

Take for example, the article promoted yesterday, written by Charlie Olivia Grantham, The Case of Subtle Sexism.

Grantham writes,

“male headship are all different strains of the same toxic ideology—sexism. Some sexism is blatant, but most of it is subtle, hidden behind so-called “good intentions.” In many churches, it is hidden behind misinterpreted gender roles.”

But hold on, the Bible teaches and affirms male headship in both marriage and the church. Is the author suggesting the Bible is sexist? Is she accusing God, the author of Scripture, as being sexist? Or with a gigantic and unexplained hermeneutical leap, she can simply denude the relevance of all those passages of Scripture?

Also, Grantham refuses to accept there are countless intelligent and godly women who affirm complementarian theology and practice. In fact, one mature Christian woman, whom I was talking with today, rolled her eyes at Grantham’s suggestion. Is she a sexist for disagreeing with Grantham? Apparently so, as Grantham claims to know the mind of God (even if other women do not) when she says, ’I realized that even if God is calling her to preach, she will never know it because she is blinded by sexist lies fed to her over a lifetime.’

In encouraging woman to take the lead in church, Grantham doesn’t call women to the Scriptures, and to trust God in his word; instead, she calls women to believe in their ‘gut instinct’. What terrible advice to giver anyone, whether male or female. As Christians, is not God in his word an authority over us, and is not our task to trust him and follow his words?

Not only is Grantham’s advice unsound, her presentation of complementarianism is a gross caricature. It’s akin to me pointing to a picture of Bugs Bunny and saying to my kids, that’s exactly what real rabbits are like! Perhaps Grantham is picturing a conservative church somewhere, but it is not representative of any complementarian church I know of.

I remember sitting in a meeting with denominational leaders four years ago, and they all believed complementarians taught that women were inferior to men. I assured them that was not the case, and a church teaching such would be contravening Scripture. But what it showed me is that there is significant ignorance on this issue, and now I understand why, if people are relying on articles like this.

There is such a thing called misogyny, and when it worms its way into the home or the church, it needs to be exposed and thrown out: It is sin. But this is not what complementarians believe or practice. Was the Apostle Paul a woman hater for writing (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, dare we add) 1 Timothy ch.2?

The Bible is adamant on the question of equality between men and women. One is not greater than the other, and neither are they the same. The Bible gives examples of women exercising ministry in the local church and encourages women to serve. We want to learn from them and seek to faithfully apply these Scriptures in our own churches. The Bible also teaches male headship in the home and church; stereotyping or disregarding these Scriptures, only serves to create bigger issues.

Complementarianism is not some strange and archaic practice belonging to pre-enlightenment era of history, it is a view held by many churches today, including Baptist Churches, and it is a position held with broad historical precedence and deep theological warrant. When I have time, I am keen to lay out these arguments in another article.

Having said this, I know thoughtful Christians who have done the hard work of exegeting the Biblical texts and have landed in a different place to myself. I disagree with them on this matter, but I still love them and we partner together in ministry ventures. 

Even among complementarians there are some differences. For example, New Testament theologian, Michael Bird, holds to a complementarian view of marriage, but not for the church. John Dickson is okay with women preaching in his church, although they do so under the authority of the church’s leadership. Some churches have male elders but encourage male and female deacons. At Mentone, we praise God for the many women who serve in a multitude of ways, including on staff and as deacons. We would be a far lesser people without their godliness, gifts and love in service.

It is disappointing to see this issue raised in such an unhelpful way. I’m sure it is probably just a super keen staffer wanting a conversation started. At the moment the BUV is an exciting people to be part of, with many encouraging things happening, and so this is a rather unfortunate incident. Hopefully we can do better in the future.

5 thoughts on “Complementarianism, a conversation Baptists want to have?

  1. Hi Murray,

    Did you see this?!Complementarianism-and-Family-Violence-The-shared-dynamics-of-Power-and-Control/x8n1k/57425bae0cf2d0f13cecb808

    Some important things to hear and practical things to put into action for those of us in complementarian circles.

    “The dynamics of power and control within a church need to be thoughtfully, thoroughly and regularly evaluated in order to ensure that the needs of women are not neglected (and not just evaluated by men!).”



  2. What was complementarianism 60, 90, 120 years ago? Pretty much non-existent. Most of it’s teaching dates back to the last 30 years. Which is why my grandparents didn’t recognize it when it was first introduced in their churches. To them, it sounded more like a 1950’s black and white family sit-com like Leave it to Beaver or Father Knows Best. They questioned the wisdom of it – “What do you do if your spouse gets injured or a debilitating disease?” “What checks and balances are there on a husband’s power over his wife?” “What does it offer single people or child-free families?”
    The churches I’ve attended all had different complementarian policies. In one, women could not take up offering or serve communion, in another, they could. In one church all teachers had to be men, but in another a woman could teach under her husband’s authority only, and any women who were gifted to teach who didn’t have a husband were forbidden from using their gifts at all. In my youth group, the (male) youth pastor forbid girls from leading prayers whenever there were boys in the room; “God really wants to hear from the boys.” He would say. So the girls just stop praying because God didn’t want to hear from them.
    I’ve seen articles from complementarian circles say that “in general, among male-female relationships among singles, single women should defer to single men in a way that stops short of full submission.” The problem is that the word ‘defer’ can mean ‘to submit’. I’ve read others that talk about mutual submission meaning that instead of a husband and wife submitting to each other, a husband ought to submit to Christ and a wife ought to submit to her husband.
    I really don’t think complementarianism is the answer, only Christ is the way, the truth, and the life – and even if Christ is thrown into the teachings as a mascot, Jesus himself said very little about the things that complementarianism talks about, almost all of it’s teachings are derived from the epistles. As I understand the concept, Paul constructed it to be a kinder, gentler version of patriarchy in the world in which he lived, he wanted husbands and wives to stop seeing their marriage as a business arrangement and start treating one another with respect. Since in the ancient world, there were laws about what families had to look like, Paul told them how to ‘look’ like secular relationships, but behave like Christian relationships. His advice about slavery, for example, eventually resulted in it being turned inside out and upside down. In the same passages where he told slaves to submit to their masters and masters to see themselves as slaves, he told wives to submit to their husbands and husbands to love their wives. I don’t think Paul meant for Christians to put the ‘pause’ button on complementarianism, but rather to continue to live humble lives together, for husbands to lay down their power like Christ laid down his authority, and for wives to be equal to their husbands in every way. After all, we know that there will be no marriage in heaven, that means no complementarianism either.

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