The young adult group at my church recently began a three-part discussion series on biblical manhood and womanhood. Using John Piper and Wayne Grudem’s book, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, as a kind of framework, we started to explore what the Bible says about the relationships men and women have with each other and what those relationships should look like according to Scripture. There are three traditional views in the Church of male/female relationships and roles. The hierarchical view says men are of more value than women, and men are called to leadership. The complementarian view says men and women are equal in value, but they are different in their roles. The egalitarian view also says men and women are equal in value, but they are identical in calling. Each view uses Bible verses and particular interpretations of Scripture to support their beliefs, and you may see all three views represented in the congregations of some churches.
Prior to the first discussion, I thought about each view and what I believe to be true. As we prepare for our second discussion, I am still attempting to process my thoughts on the issue and haven’t reached any solid conclusions. I feel like time to think about this matter has produced no answers – only more questions. Below are my thoughts and the sense I am trying to make of them. I welcome your opinions on the subject, whether about my perspective or your own beliefs, and any answers you may have for my questions.
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Complementarianism is based on the belief that men and women were created to complete each other. The strengths of men fill the voids left by the weaknesses of women, and vice versa. Because of the strengths generally seen in men, they are suited for some roles better than women. Likewise, women do some things better than men because of the strengths they generally have. One of man’s strengths is that of leadership; in complementary fashion, woman is called to submission in a way that honors and affirms man’s leadership. In Piper and Grudem’s definition of “mature masculinity,” they state that men are called to be the heads of their households as breadwinners, protectors, and the primary disciplinarians of their children, among other responsibilities. They define “mature femininity” as the “freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.”
Exegetically (that is, according to the critical interpretation and explanation of the Bible), I think a complementarian view is most accurate. I feel like I am supposed to hold a complementarian view, but I struggle with it in practical application. Piper and Grudem write that when one examines the issue of biblical manhood and womanhood, we ask, “Does the Bible really teach this view?” However, we may also ask, “Is the vision beautiful and satisfying and fulfilling? Can I live with it?” Can I be obedient with delight? It is because of this second question that I do not believe I can call myself 100% complementarian. I do not think I can whole-heartedly – and joyfully – adhere to the beliefs of the complementarian view.
If I marry one day, I would like a household characterized by a complementary relationship in which my husband takes initiative to be a leader of the family. However, I struggle to desire the same submission in other contexts. I have been a leader since childhood. During group assignments, I would step up and take charge of the project. Teachers appointed me to leadership positions. In college, I was hired to lead on campus as a Residential Assistant. Even now, I am helping to lead this discussion series on manhood and womanhood. As someone who is used to leading, I find the expectation to submit and be led a little challenging.
I am also left wondering how complementarian belief views the appropriateness of female leadership in various contexts, especially in the secular workforce. Piper and Grudem say that “a situation in which a female boss has a male secretary […] will put more strain on the humanity of both parties…” So is it wrong for a woman to be in a position of leadership when there are men capable of filling the role? For example, is it wrong – perhaps even sinful? – for a corporation to be run by a female CEO instead of an equally qualified male?
In the Church, many denominations believe that only men should be elders and clergy, and women should not be pastors. Having been raised in the United Methodist Church, where I was taught and led by both male and female pastors and spiritual leaders, I find this particularly difficult to accept, in spite of Paul’s message to both Timothy and the Corinthians about women not teaching but learning in quietness and submission (1 Timothy 2:11-15; 1 Corinthians 14:34-36). I think of Paul’s word in 1 Corinthians 12, verses 4 – 11:
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
Does the Spirit distinguish between male and female when giving spiritual gifts? If it is possible for a woman to receive the gift of teaching, is that woman limited to teaching in non-pastoral settings with only children or other women? I struggle with this somewhat defining aspect of complementarianism, women in spiritual leadership, having been led by female pastors and knowing women who are currently in or pursuing pastoral positions at their churches. Each of those women feels called by God to such roles. Are they wrong? Does God ever call women to be pastors? I just find it difficult to believe that someone who seems to have been equipped to lead others spiritually is not allowed to do so because she has also been equipped to carry a child. I have been told that having a woman lead a church as pastor threatens and undermines the masculinity of the church’s men, who ought to accept the responsibility and burden of leadership. But I ask this: is it not the same Spirit that reveals Truth to both men and women? Why are men specially called to share that truth with congregations when women are not?
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I used to think I was a complementarian with egalitarian “leanings,” but now I wonder if it is the opposite. I agree with both views that men and women are equal in value. I believe that men and women do complement each other. The strengths of men and women balance the weaknesses of the other. In relationship, the strength of a man is tempered with the gentleness of a woman. I also agree that certain tasks or roles may be fulfilled more successfully by one gender or the other based on qualities they generally have.
However, I hesitate to speak in generalities. As someone who defies multiple stereotypes, and as someone who has lived and worked with social minority groups (e.g. male ballet dancers at a summer dance program, international students in college, etc.), I have learned to be mindful of the individual – the exceptions to the rule. I am reminded that we have also been gifted and designed differently from one another as individuals. Though gentleness is a characteristic generally seen in women, a man can be gentle. Though strength is a characteristic generally seen in men, a woman can be strong. A role may be filled more successfully by women in general, but a capable man can also find success in the same role – and vice versa. Because of individual differences, I don’t think our callings are limited by gender but by the unique qualities and gifts we have each been given by God.
These are the beliefs I have determined I can live with, but it is right? Now I must begin the process of reconciling what is biblically true with I can obey without grudge until I reach something that is both right and good.