I left the complementarian camp about eight years ago, around the time my first child was born. I’ve been across the spectrum myself, growing up (without knowing it) in a complementarian church and culture, going to college and being introduced to egalitarianism and temporarily considering it, moving back to the comp. position, and then really thinking things through and deciding that patriarchy is the most accurate understanding of human nature.
Interestingly enough, what got me started on the road to patriarchy wasn’t a sermon or a Christian book on the subject. It was The Art of Manliness. Adults didn’t really talk about masculinity when I was growing up. I learned a lot from my dad and a bit from my grandfathers, but there was no system in place to confer masculine virtue; I hadn’t even heard the term before. Virtue? Virtue isn’t male or female, is it? But I learned it really was, and that it was good. I began to realize that maybe men and women are fundamentally different. Maybe we have different natures. And if that’s the case, then while there’s a lot of overlap, there’s distinction, too. We aren’t androgynous beings. We’re men and women, and according to Jesus we’ll be men and women in heaven, too.
I began reading The Art of Manliness around the same time that I discovered William Lane Craig and the wide world of Christian apologetics and analytic philosophy. This sort of merged my pursuits together and I began to really dig into what had gone so horribly wrong in the church that you went from universal patriarchalism to near universal egalitarianism.
I soon discovered the greatest voice in the Christian manosphere, Dalrock. I’m glad the blog is still up; it’s worth reading as much as you can.
With the advent of The Great Hysteria, I began trying to figure out how to strengthen my family against a state that hates its very existence and wants to break it apart to make better little cogs for its wicked engine. I discovered CR Wiley and Michael Foster, and found in them men who were teaching on how to build godly households and stand up against radical feminism and Covidmania.
But this post isn’t about what happened to me, so much as it is a contrast between what I did and what complementarians are doing.
In the past year, I’ve spoken with a few complementarians on the subject, and it’s like we live in different worlds. For the complementarian, sexual distinctions are reducible to the very small, select passages in Scripture which deal with them (which, I suppose, is better than egalitarianism which pretends those don’t exist). Women can’t be elders, maybe can’t be deacons, shouldn’t teach men doctrine as elders, can’t be head pastors, and should mutually submit to their husbands. Men should love their wives. That’s it. That’s the full extent of it.
But what about raising children? What about the structure and order of a household? What about household economics and piety? What about duty and responsibility to your family and community? What about honoring your father and mother? What does it mean to be saved by childbearing? What about the Old Testament prohibitions against androgynous dress and crossdressing? What about Isaiah mocking a nation for being ruled by “women and infants”? What about women in combat? What about the vast difference between what men and women pursue in life? What should we teach young men and women? How should we raise boys and girls? What is masculine virtue? What is godly masculinity? What is godly femininity?
What about men’s health and women’s health? Women are miserable and men are killing themselves at record numbers. Both die old and childless. What about Men Going Their Own Way? The hookup culture? Women marrying later than ever after promiscuous living in their 20’s? What about building a household mission together? What about Paul’s command that husbands and wives should never deny each other intimacy except by mutual consent? What about the fiction of “the gift of singleness”? What do we teach young men and women to prepare them for marriage? What about men avoiding church? What about the fact men are drawn to different things than women? That men choose different interests even in the church than women? What about the feminization and effeminacy in music, worship, preaching style, and even content? What about the vast over-representation of egalitarians in seminaries? What about the effeminacy of the culture in general? The effeminacy that led to things like The Great Hysteria? What about exercise and strength when it comes to masculinity?
The complementarian might have answers to these questions, but they aren’t connected to their complementarianism. There’s a line that separates them. And I’ve found often, they don’t have answers.
For someone like myself who came to the subject of “what roles can women do in the church” by first trying to understand as best I could what makes men and women so different, how radical egalitarianism has blurred the lines, and what the historic Christian view has been prior to that poisonous ideology, seeing someone come to the subject of “what can women do in the church” by just reading a couple of Bible verses seems anemic at best. The Bible presumes we know things that, in our ideological age, we are constantly hampered from knowing. We don’t have an excuse, but it’s still true of most of us that we buy into some of this ideology and it distorts our reading of the text.
The complementarian trying to talk about women in the church is like a man focused on a drop in the ocean and claiming to understand what it is, where it’s from, where it’s going, and what holds it in place. It’s a tiny fraction of the real subject, and while it’s better to scratch the surface than to not even bother, this is a subject where scratching the surface can be very misleading. It requires more work than that.
The fact is, the roles of women in the church is a tiny practical result of the vast underlying truth that is the fundamental difference in the natures of men and women.
You ask some great questions here, and I look forward to more of this.
On the subject of “What can women do in church?”, I have been greatly helped in expanding my sense of what that might mean by changing the question to “What can women do within the Christian community?” When we examine the various spiritual gifts still available, it seems to me the vast majority of these are more useful among members of the Body of Christ in small groups in the home or community than they are in a once- or twice-a-week formal gathering of the saints.
The vast majority of these spiritual gifts — helping, administrating, service, exhorting (other women and children), contributing, faith and acts of mercy — are as open to women to build up the people of God as they are to men. Hospitable women can find no end of opportunities to serve the church in these ways.
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I think reframing the question is excellent. I found a Christian apologist a while back who was delving into this subject and women flooded him with questions that were all some variation of “but what is MY role in the church?”
I think we also undersell the role of women as mothers and the ones who raise up the next generation. And I imagine the average pastor offering gender-neutral advice can’t help men or women. If Adam sensed he was all alone and needed a helpmate before the fall while living in perfect communion with God, it’s amazing to me how many Christian leaders think marriage is merely a lifestyle choice rather than a norm (issues of modern marriage/divorce/courts aside).
I agree with you about hospitality as well. I think men have elevated teaching/preaching so high it’s like telling women “you can’t be part of the band, but you can be a groupie”. Just looks lame. But teaching/preaching isn’t about the spotlight and the spotlight isn’t the point anyway.
I think this might be quite compelling if I were entirely clear on what, exactly, the contradictory philosophies are that you identify as “complementarianism” and “patriarchalism”. Just off the top of my head, I should have guessed that a complementarian was one who held that the masculine and feminine roles are two essential halves of a whole, neither of which is more noble than the other, while a patriarchalist held that all authority is ultimately derived from fatherhood – but that can’t be right, since those two theses are perfectly compatible with one another. (Unless, of course, one were to assert that authority is the only source of nobility – but that seems an unnatural thing for a Christian to say, to put it mildly.) A clarification would be much appreciated.
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This is a good distinction, and while I’m tempted to go and say “Go read Dalrock’s entire blog”, I’ll try to summarize it here:
Complementarianism is a new word invented in the late 80’s by Wayne Grudem and John Piper. They didn’t like the term “patriarchy” because, after third wave feminism, it was an ugly term to culture. But they went further than that, and in their work (Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood), while they mention sexual distinctions, they reduce real roles down to those explicitly defined in the New Testament.
The patriarchal view holds that men and women are different by nature. God made men and women so different than they are the fundamental division of humankind. Patriarchalism means “father rule”, but it does so on the basis that men are, by nature, rulers in the home, culture, church, government, etc. Mothers have their own very important roles to play, but they are distinct. Again, these flow out of our natures.
Complementarianism on the other hand, especially in its modern forms, holds that there are distinctions in roles for men and women in the church (mostly prohibitions on women), and that there are some basic biological distinctions between men and women. However, it sees the differences between the roles as belonging primarily to special revelation. God said things about what women couldn’t do in the church, and so the real reasons are in the mystery of His will. We just don’t know. There’s nothing about women that makes them inferior to men in those roles, it’s just God’s seemingly arbitrary choice.
Again, patriarchalism begins with human nature and general revelation (and the Bible too, but not exclusively). Complementarianism begins with the Biblical prohibitions; it uses the Bible exclusively.
The label “complementarian” is misleading because it doesn’t mean that natural distinction that you are using it to mean. If it did, I’d agree. I’ll point to at least a single of Dalrock’s many posts on the subject because he has some good representative quotes from Grudem, one of the founders of the complementarian concept:
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