“Women can’t be pastors, it’s not biblical.” This statement and similar ones were drilled into my daughter Teagan’s head on a near-daily basis at her fundamental Christian school. At the time of her enrollment years earlier, I inquired about the school’s doctrine and was given a copy of their “manifesto,” a nonpartisan list of “we believe” statements that most Christians would agree are central tenants of the Christian faith. It told me nothing about the interpretive lens through which they viewed the Bible. The principal assured me our theological beliefs would not be too far apart, so my husband and I sent our daughter and son to the school believing it was our best option at the time. But the red flags were almost immediate.
We attended an open house at the beginning of Teagan’s sixth-grade year. After explaining the homework policy and handing out the class syllabus, the female teacher asked, “Is there a father here who would like to close us in prayer?” As a new recipient of my local minister’s license, there was definitely “A MOTHER HERE WHO WOULD LIKE TO PRAY!” That retort reverberated in my head at a piercing tone, but I remained frozen, feeling like a second rate citizen whose prayers were not as potent as the man standing beside me.
The school was relatively new in the community when our kids began attending; they were still adding grades and staff positions with each new year. An all-male board was assigned to govern the school, a female principal oversaw the elementary students, but only men were interviewed and hired to fill that role for middle and high school. Eventually, a new position was created to oversee the entire academy and a man was hired for that position too. If it isn’t clear by now that only men were permitted in positions of influence, here is your final clue: all speakers for banquets, special occasions and graduations were also men.
Women bring something to the table that is absent when the association is all male. Prohibiting them from taking their rightful and God-given place in the world creates a blind spot that permanently impairs the collective whole. Women are sixty percent of all college graduates and sixty percent of master’s degrees are held by women, but only three percent of fortune 500 CEOs are female. Half the church is women, but they have been intentionally excluded from ordination in various mainline church denominations, ministerial teams, elder boards and positions of leadership in private Christian schools (such as the one my kids attended) simply because they are female.
This “all-male” preference originates from complementarianism, a view also known as “soft patriarchy.” Some of the chief influencers of the movement have acknowledged the word patriarchy carries a negative connotation therefore they use “complementarian” because it is a gentler term. Let’s take a closer look at complementarianism and its contrasting viewpoint, egalitarianism. I will start with basic definitions in this post, then continue the discussion on misunderstandings about egalitarian theology in the home, church, and world in tomorrow’s post. It is important to note that not all complementarians see things exactly the same nor do all egalitarians see things the same way. There are dissenting opinions within these groups, but these are the basic beliefs.
Complementarian and Egalitarian Theology Defined
Complementarianism: The word complementarian is a relatively new term, appearing only in the last 25 years or so and therefore does not appear in the Bible. It holds that men and women are created equal in personhood, but were created for different roles in marriage, family, and church. Practitioners of this view believe men are primarily the providers, protectors, and leaders of the home and the Bible requires the wife to submit to her husband. This view places the husband at the head of the household.
According to the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, complementarianism “affirms that men and women are equal in the image of God, but maintain complementary differences in role and function. In the home, men lovingly are to lead their wives and family, as women intelligently are to submit to the leadership of their husbands. In the church, while men and women share equally in the blessings of salvation, some governing and teaching roles are restricted to men.” Key Bible verses in support of this view are Genesis 2:18, Ephesians 5:21-33 and 1 Timothy 2:11-13. I will address the interpretation of these passages in another post.
Egalitarianism: This term is also known as “mutuality” and like complementarians, they believe that men and women are equal in worth. Egalitarians believe that women enjoy equal status with men in the home and church. There are no restrictions on women in the church as leadership is based on giftedness rather than gender since the Holy Spirit is capable of pouring out the same gifts on women and men. Practitioners of this view believe in mutual submission and co-leadership with Christ at the head of the home.
According to Christians for Biblical Equality, egalitarianism holds that “all believers without regard to gender, ethnicity or class must exercise their God-given gifts with equal authority and equal responsibility in the church, home and world.” Key Bible verses in support of an egalitarian view are Ephesians 5:21, Galatians 3:28, Romans 16:1-7, Colossians 4:15, 2 John 1:1, 13, Acts 16:13-15 and other passages as well.
Kassian, M. Complementarianism for Dummies. Retrieved from: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/complementarianism-for-dummies/ on January 27, 2020.
Retrieved from: https://cbmw.org/about/danvers-statement on February 2, 2020.
Retrieved from: https://www.cbeinternational.org/content/cbes-mission on F