Hierarchical Complementarianism Implies Ontological Ineptitude

I'm hesitant to write more about gender roles and complementarianism, but I'm puzzling through some of the responses to my post on Monday Let's Stop Calling It Complementarianism.

The most provocative part of that post was that I claimed that a belief in ontological ineptitude sat at the heart of the hierarchical complementarian position. In describing this I wrote:
Hierarchical complementarianism is founded upon the belief of ontological ineptitude. To say that men and women are "complements" of each other and that men are given the gifts of leadership in this arrangement is to argue that women are ontologically inept when it comes to leadership. That is, women are permanently lacking and incompetent in leadership spheres (ineptitude) because of the kinds of beings they are, namely women (ontology). That is the belief at the heart of hierarchical complementarianism...
In hindsight the word "ineptitude" might not have been best, a bit too strong. But ineptitude does mean "lacking in fitness" and "ill-suited to the situation or occasion." And those are the main ideas I had in mind in picking that word.

Regardless, it's not surprising that many evangelicals objected to the argument of my post.

(There were also objections from those working from a Catholic framework, but traditions with celibate priesthoods are not working, in my estimation, with a "complementarian" position. I elaborated upon this today in a companion post: Some Contrasts Regarding Gender Roles in Evangelicalism and Catholicism. Consequently, when I speak about "complementarianism" I'm speaking of the view held by many evangelicals.)

The basic rejoinder I heard from evangelical readers was that gender roles are rooted in a creational account rather than endowment, that the issue is more about roles, vocations and calling than competencies and giftedness. The hierarchical complementarians who objected to ontological ineptitude were quick to state that they knew women to be very capable and competent in a variety of leadership spheres, but that this didn't really have any bearing upon the roles God set out for men and women at Creation.

I've been pondering that response. I actually wrote a whole post addressing this objection from a completely different direction. But thinking some more I've decided to say something more provocative. This:

I don't think those who are raising these sorts of objections actually believe what they are saying.

Well, they might not believe it consciously, but ontological ineptitude is implicit in the hierarchical complementarian position. So those endorsing the view will need to make a reckoning.

We all believe things we don't think we believe until it's pointed out to us. So let me point some things out.

If you really believe that God's assignment of men and women to their various roles/vocations has nothing whatsoever to do with intrinsic competencies then you are basically claiming that the only reason God assigned the genders to their respective roles is genitalia. Because if there are no competency differences--no relevant distinctives between the genders regarding their psychological and physical makeup--then the only reason left to assign the roles to the genders is anatomical differences. If the relative endowments of men and women aren't relevant to the role assignment then all that is left is the genitals.

Basically, the assignment of gender roles was, in this view, arbitrary. Definition of arbitrary: "Based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system."

To sharpen this point, if the hierarchical complementarian rejects ontological ineptitude--like many are rushing to assert--then they are endorsing the view that God could have changed the roles given to men and women with no real change in how men and women reflect back the image of God. Phrased another way, what is critical in this view is that someone (anyone) needs to be in the "leader" role while the other person (doesn't really matter which) is in the "submissive" role. What reflects the image of God, in this view, is this relationship--a superior/subordinate relation. And the assignment of this relation--who is superior and who is subordinate--is arbitrary, a cosmic flip of the coin. It just happened to be the guys who were given the job of being the leader/head.

Now as should be clear, no hierarchical complementarian actually believes that to be the case, despite their protestations to the contrary. Hierarchical complementarians don't believe that the role assignment was arbitrary and, thus, potentially reversible with no loss of meaning or symbolism. Hierarchical complementarians believe that the genders are "fitted" or "suited" to their roles. The roles aren't reversible. And this means that more is going on and being reflected in gender roles than the role itself. It's not just a superior/subordinate relation arbitrarily assigned by a flip of the coin. The genders are suited to those roles. It's not arbitrary. 

And yet, if hierarchical complementarian endorse this view they face the unpleasantness of my earlier post, that they are, like it or not, endorsing ontological ineptitude. They are endorsing the view that there are ways men are suited for their roles of leadership and, thus, ways that women are ill-suited for those same roles (even though, here and there, there will be exceptions to the general pattern). Ergo: ontological ineptitude.

And yet, some hierarchical complementarians claim they don't believe in ontological ineptitude (see reactions to the prior post, here and online), despite it being implicit in their belief system.

Again, I don't think these hierarchical complementarians actually believe what they are saying. Because if they really believed what they were saying they would be claiming that gender role assignment was arbitrary as well as denying that the genders were created by God to be suited and fitted to their respective roles. I don't think any hierarchical complementarians actually believe that, and if they did it's a very bizarre theological position, bordering on nonsensical. And you can verify that hierarchical complementarians really don't believe what they are saying by asking a diagnostic question: "If God left men and women as they are and simply reversed the headship role nothing would change in how the genders reflect the image of God, correct?"

Across the board hierarchical complementarians would say something very much would be lost if there was a role reversal. Because, despite their protestations to the contrary, there is more to their view than a claim about created roles and vocations.  Hierarchical complementarianism, if it is to avoid being nonsense, is also a claim about how the genders are suited to their roles.

Like I said above, hierarchical complementarians might claim they don't believe in ontological ineptitude. But they actually do. And again, by "ineptitude" I mean "lacking in fitness" and "ill-suited to the situation or occasion."

And let me end by saying something conciliatory.

I'm not trying to bash hierarchical complementarians. I'm trying to explain why I, personally, don't believe in it. And one of the reasons I don't believe in hierarchical complementarianism is because I see implications in the position that are untenable for me, on theological, biblical and experiential grounds. It is my considered opinion, partly outlined in the case I make in this post, that hierarchical complementarianism implies things like ontological ineptitude. Which is one of the reasons I reject the view. Others, of course, are entitled to accept the view and all that it may or may not entail.

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45 thoughts on “Hierarchical Complementarianism Implies Ontological Ineptitude”

  1. I'd like to clarify part of the position of the Catholic hierarchy on this, since I think other hierarchical complementarians adopt a similar approach. This isn't to condone their position, but to clarify it, since I still don't think this post represents their position on issues like women priests. The issue is not that women priests would be inept, but that they are impossible. A contradiction in terms, just as much as 2 + 2 = 5. Conceptually, it is equally simple: priests are fathers. Only men can be fathers. A woman priest is as logically incoherent as a woman father.

    So then, what do you say when Anglicans start to have woman priests? You remind everyone that they aren't a church, and certainly aren't the church. Even though they have played around with apostolic succession, they don't have the authority they pretend to have. It is as if a colony had been established on an island, and pretended to be the United States of America. They could follow the American Constitution, elect a Congress, and even elect a President, But that person wouldn't be the President of the United States of America. By the same token, Anglican priests aren't priests in the first place. Or to take another example: suppose the pope woke up tomorrow, declared that women could be priests, and then large parts of the Catholic church began appointing women priests. The Catholic traditionalists would conclude (according to some standards and traditions that have been set out, at least to a degree), that the pope was invalid. They would wait for, or select, a real pope. And in the meantime, they wouldn't simply oppose women priests. They would deny that the women who are acting as if they are priests are even priests. They could even be very kind about it, if they wanted, much as you might be kind to a person who has mistaken himself for a dragon.

    At any rate, non-Catholics will sometimes offer similar claims. In various ways, they will say things like, "It is impossible." You should understand that they do mean this literally, and they certainly believe it. Their position is not only logically coherent...the essence of their position is logical coherence.

    So what do I think is wrong with this? Well, I don't think non-Catholic churches are ecclesial communities. I think they are the church. So I knock out the ecclesial claims at their root. At least in the Catholic case, I think this is rooted in ecclesiological error. But you really do have to go somewhere like that, to contest some of these claims. For them, aptitude has nothing to do with it. For Catholic traditionalists, a woman 'priest' might be more timely, less prone to abusing children, a great leader and listener, capable of leading spectacular building projects, able to preach better than anyone on earth, and faultless in her ability to understand and conduct liturgy, and all of this is perfectly irrelevant. She is a woman. Therefore, she isn't a father. Therefore, she isn't a priest. She is, instead, a brilliant actress doing all kinds of things well. But no, not a priest.

  2. Thanks Dan. Through these posts it has been helpful to see the differences across evangelicalism, Anglicanism and Catholicism. It's a big sprawling thing and it's hard to say something about evangelicalism and have that apply cleanly to, say, Catholics. I probably should be more clear in posts like these that I'm speaking to the evangelical situation.

    But that said, I wonder if the Catholic view ("only a man can be a father") can properly be called "complementarian." The issue is more "symbolic" than "complementing," which also goes to why priests don't marry. Which is to say, the Catholic view needs to be discussed at some point, but its not the view under consideration in this post. Which is think is what you are pointing out.

  3. Yes, and thanks for making that clear. I do think that other hierarchical complementarians can come from a similar place. I'm not sure if Alastair is Catholic, for example, but his statements about "impossibility" line up with this well. It is interesting to me that I haven't encountered thinking of this sort in my Evangelical church, but it might just be that I haven't noticed. It certainly isn't that the notions of definitions and categories are 'pre-modern'. We all think using definitions all the time. But outside of the Catholic church, it does seem that Christians tend to act more like Peter, when he saw gentiles being blessed by the holy spirit. If Peter had been a good, contemporary, Catholic traditionalist, he would have known to say, "Gentiles are not the chosen people. Only the chosen people can have the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, these are illusory, false gifts."

  4. I'd like to add, here, building on Dan's comment about Catholicism and Alastair's comments about male priesthoods in the comments in my prior post, that I think what we see in Catholicism isn't properly named "complementarian." The issues are more about symbolism than complementing pairs, something that is also highlighted in the fact that priests are to be unmarried celibates.

    Which is to say, if you're coming at this post from a Catholic frame I don't have your view under consideration, in my estimation. I'd characterize and name the Catholic view differently and approach it with different arguments.

  5. I think what is diagnostic here, that the Catholic view is a very different species of argument from the evangelical view, is that there is a disjoint between home and church. In evangelicalism what happens in the home is a model for the church, and visa vera. Men rule in both spheres. But in Catholicism, because of the celibate priesthood, there is no clear mapping. The men "ruling" the church aren't husbands. There is gender symbolism in what's going on, but it's not complementarianism.

  6. I think this should have been made clearer in these two posts.
    As our Protestant traditions are coming to their logical end and we start taking up prayer beads and reading various mystics and monastics, I think it is unfair to simply point your sights only at a certain brand of American
    evangelicalism's issue with male leadership. Otherwise, I was in the process of responding to your post with the following:

    I think this post can be summed up as an inability to think outside one’s own ‘modern social imaginary’. I think we get the picture, Richard: no one today believes that gender has any bearing on social roles or norms—despite the fact that both sexes potentially possess the same exact strengths and weaknesses. Our western, American logic dictates a trajectory of thought that must free and equalize these types of differences. Not in some neutralizing way that destroys gender, but in a ‘relational way’ that subverts traditional ideas and values. This has been going on for a long time. We are all children of this way of being/thinking. It is part of the ‘Happy soul’s’ path of liberation. But we are all blind to it. We can use our orthodox prayer beads and yet be happily unaware as to why this ecclesiology has not ordained women for 2000 years. To us, this this must be an obvious power play of men to subjugate women, and other related conspiracy theories.

    Now if this post was saying that most Protestants are being equivocal in their stance on women and that they often imply ‘ontological ineptitude’, then I think I would whole-heartedly agree. But if we are standing in judgment over the greater tradition of the Catholic and Orthodox church, without an real effort given to understand their real-life metaphysic, then I think this argument simply relays our ‘epistemological ineptitude’.

  7. It should have been made clear. Blind spot on my part. Still, as I'm pointing out, I'm really not talking about Catholicism when I'm speaking about "complementarianism." So Catholics aren't technically on the hook here.

    Though there is another hook I'd have for them. It's just not this one.

  8. the Savior aside, why on earth would anyone get involved with denominational Christianity if they were in fact outstanding in areas that Christians say God didn't define them as capable of.

  9. I'd respectfully disagree, both in the notion of symbolism, and with the implication that the spheres don't map. First, on symbolism: for traditionalist Catholics, this is no more symbolism than a physics formula is symbolism. Sure, it is a system of symbols, but the symbols map precisely onto an underlying reality. In his role as Father, the Priest actually and necessarily mediates the activity of God. When a priest forgives, God forgives. If you aren't forgiven by the priest, God has not forgiven you, in fact. (Maybe a bit of wiggle room, but at the very least, this is the only reasonable way to know that God has forgiven you, except under certain extreme circumstances.) By the same token, the Eucharist is a symbol, but it is also and more fundamentally actually Jesus. For real. And when Jesus says, "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life," he means his real body in a valid Eucharist, which can only be offered by an authentic priest with apostolic succession. For traditionalist Catholics, these arguments all do map onto the home sphere as well. The man is the head of the household, as Christ is the head of the church. The man is the 'priest' of his home, the father. Mary is the mother of the church, but she isn't just a symbol. You can talk to her. She'll do things to help you. She is powerful, much as mothers in homes can be talked to, and do things, and are powerful (but subordinate.)

  10. I covet any respect you can give me. :-)

    "Symbolic" is perhaps not the best word. Would it get closer if I said their view was more "sacramental"?

  11. That sounds right to me :) As long as you don't mean whatever Sara Groves means by it when she sings: "And it's not just a sign or a sacrament.It's not just a metaphor for love.
    The blood is real and it's not just a symbol of our faith."

  12. If I was arguing against the "ineptitude" line, I'd just agree, although with a twist. God doesn't often give vocations to those who we humans would see as naturally gifted. The headship role is given to men because of their ineptness at it. We have tropes of solitary men and man caves for a reason. In the Kingdom all kinds of things are reversed. We carry each others burdens. If you recognize you are inept (confession) the solution is to look to others and drive the authority to the lowest hierarchical level possible.

  13. I would take this a bit further, in that if it is about genitalia, then it is not arbitrary, because it is about childbirth. I don't know that many complementarians except the more extreme ones would say this, but it's implicit in a lot of the domesticity rhetoric anyway. Essentially, because women can get pregnant, women are not suited for leadership (and maybe not suited for leaving the home at all). It's a position as old as human history, or at least human agricultural history, and it's not especially a Christian position. But if complementarians try to deny that the division comes from child-bearing, they would indeed be back to the arbitrariness you describe.

  14. Yes, this is how I see any ineptitude issue. In my experience, it's not that woman are inept. It's that if not told they have to lead, men sit back and let the women do everything. In scripture, God constantly chooses the "inept" and unexpected to do great things with. People like to retell the story so that they are the heroes, but scripture makes it clear that they are not, but He is. So if the understanding changes that it's not inability that keeps women from leadership, but mens' inability that puts them in it, that at least seems to change the tenor of this argument, even though it's based on the same ontological thinking....

  15. Quick question: do you see any hierarchy within the Trinity, in regards to function and roles but not ineptitude?

  16. I don't like it but - no hierachy at all in the "equality with God something to be grasped" (Phil 2:6-11), "placing everything at the Father's feet" (Heb 2:7-8), or creedal proceeds from the Father and the Son? Isn't this one of those both ands? In substance there is no hierarchy as they share the same substance, but in personhood there is difference?

  17. Great post, Richard. To make it real: If you're a woman who is applying for a ministry job and a man who is less qualified than you and less gifted than you is chosen by virtue of his manhood...it's really, really hard not to interpret that as a comment on your ontological inferiority.

  18. Then this is the "ineptitude" argument from the opposite direction. Essentially, you are saying that women are so competent that there is nothing inspired or God-glorifying about a woman leading because they're good at it anyway. Do you really believe that?

    Even if you do, the fact is that even if male-exclusive leadership is framed in a way to make it sound as if it's deprecating men and not women, the effect of this is that women are left out, our needs and wishes are not expressed or represented, and the church misses out. I don't buy that this makes it okay anymore than I buy that women are the "real" leaders, we just lead from behind the scenes by manipulating our husbands.

    Also, the claim that men don't do anything when women are allowed to lead is simply false, as anyone has been to a church with women in leadership can see.

  19. Guess I am just curious about a few things, and admitting my own theological ineptitude here, but let me pose a few thoughts I had reading this, which are not hard thoughts that I have had before. This is almost a journal of me thinking out loud if you will, so I welcome additional insights I may have overlooked.

    I guess when I look at Genesis 3, I see the nature of the curse being descriptive, but not positively qualitative. I read that man will "rule over woman", but I am not sure that implies 1) he will be good at it 2) women will not be more qualified at times 3) that throwing out complementarianism is redemption. I read more that this issue of roles and gender will be difficult, hence your blog post.

    I struggle with the classic "is/ought" train of thought here as well, being (and if I am reading into what you are saying, please tell me), that because hierarchical complementarianism exists and can be problematic and often times is abused, that it ought not be.

    However, I guess I would say that h.c. seeking redemption and grace to grow is more important to me than trashing the idea. And I think this post is, in some ways, driving us in that direction, but cannot simply stop at the implied ontological ineptitude and utilize that as a grounds for redemption. I would not say that expulsion of a hierarchy is redemption. Now maybe this post is only written to drive home the point of implied ontological ineptitude, but it does have it's own implications as well. I would say a redeemed hierarchy is redemption and I would want to continue to ask the question from that point of view.

    Somewhere, in a comment or in the post, I read something about a woman being passed over for a man who was less equipped for the job. Naming myself as a progressive, but not really sure how this post will be perceived, I would say two things.

    One, depends on the role the woman is stepping into, but I would not be opposed to hiring a woman instead of man simply because of gender. But two, and the real point of concern would be for me is "why aren't their any qualified men?" And my concern stemming out of that and the issue with culture would be, in an attempt to grow in giving women opportunities to lead, that we narrowly focus on an issue of narrow-minded, hierarchical complementarians and do not look at the possibility of a co-morbid issue of men failing to rise to leadership.

    And in that case, I do not think that accepting more women in leadership, or in a relationship, is simply and only a matter of accepting what already is- i.e. women are capable now to lead and always have been, and we are just growing to reflect that in society, church, and home as much as I think it's both reflecting that already long-existing reality while losing something, mainly male maturity and growth, in the process, in an attempt to challenge established patterns of gender roles.

    So I do think that a redemptive form of complementarianism is not redemptive if we are losing men's maturity in the faith along the way, and sometimes I do think that the challenges to overreaching, borderline complementarian abuse, are simultaneously creating a destructive cultural byproduct to the Kingdom, in that we lose men as leaders all together instead of acknowledging that men will struggle to lead in various forms, sometimes being too overbearing and narrow minded, sometimes being too cautious, scared, and tentative, and sometimes being lazy and not servant minded. And to me, that's the nature of the curse, and to which we must respond simultaneously with transformative grace.

    Thank you for letting me think aloud here.

  20. There are so many problems with what you have said here it would take me hours to respond. In brevity, first, your assertion that God's relationship to humans is purely external and that he stands over against us is theologically and biblically just wrong. Participation in Christ is a necessary part of our existence for if God was at any point in time not with us, we would cease to exist. God as God pro nobis is by definition more than external. Not to mention the act of creation and all the other acts of God throughout scripture are nothing less than events in the life of the Godhead. Second, your assertion that men have a level of authority over women because of the ability of their genetalia to penetrate them is simply sick, also, unfounded on any level. Third, you lay out so many caricatures and stereotypes as a way of giving ground to your argument that your entire argument falls flat. Just another sad and poor example of men taking the initiative to be the ones who define roles.

  21. Mostly, I like to respond to this sort of thinking with a game that I call "Rationalize any gender role." Here is how you play: choose a gender role, reverse it, and then explain how the telos of men and women make them unsuitable for that role. For example, it is obvious that only men should cook and be in the kitchen, since it involves regular penetration of bowls with stirring spoons, and cutting into things with knives. It would be obscene for a woman to do that! On the other hand, only women should be soldiers, since the home is a container, and the home is therefore the natural sphere of the woman. Defense of the homeland is, therefore, a distinctly feminine role, and all military functions should be restricted to women. And so on. Good times!

  22. Dan, I am disappointed. I would have expected a more considered response from you. Your trivializing comment suggests to me that you have quite misunderstood my point. My point was not about the brute physical action of penetration, considered non-relationally, but about the differing relational meanings of male and female bodies (and by extension persons) in their interactions and on account of their procreative functioning. The interaction of male and female bodies forges our most fundamental human relationships and it is important that we attend to the grammar of these.

    The bonds in which the primary biological ends of our sexually dimorphic bodies and the relational ends of our personhood are brought together are bonds in which the roles played by men and women are quite different. The union between husband and wife involves a bodily asymmetry and the relationship between parents and their children involves an asymmetry between father and mother too. In both cases, the woman’s body is the site of union. In the case of parenthood, the relationship between mother and child is forged through an internal bodily union and the child’s participation in the body of its mother, while that between father and child is forged through the mediation of the wife and an external relationship of covenant commitment.

    This isn’t about which piece goes where, but about the character of male and female persons in their fundamental relational orientations. The sex of the mother is not incidental to the relationship that she bears with her child. She isn’t just a parent who happens to be a woman. She bears a sort of relationship to her child that the father could never possess, because her body and its role in procreation is different. And the bodies, and by extension persons, of women are oriented to the formation of such motherly and wifely bonds. Whether or not they ever marry or have children, their bodies are designed for the formation of these most basic personal relationships and this orientation is closely related to the symbolic meaning of their sex. Mutatis mutandis for men.

    Our culture tends to marginalize the significance of child-bearing for women. However, the Bible presents it as a central dimension of women’s vocation (Genesis 3:15-16, 20; 1 Timothy 2:15). This doesn’t mean that each and every woman must bear children, but rather that the bearing of children is an act of immense significance within the biblical narrative and typically seen as the most defining and meaningful act performed by the women within it. While our society, as it generally downplays the importance of child-bearing, will regard this as a marginalization of women, this would be to miss the fact that women bearing children is one of the most central themes of the biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation and that this act places them on the central stage of redemptive history. Irrespective of the many other important things that women do, the most significant is that of bearing children. It is also presented as an act of symbolic relational significance in key passages such as 1 Corinthians 11:12.

    If we take the natural ordering of women’s and men’s bodies seriously, recognizing the asymmetrical forms of relationality that they establish (especially in light of the prominence given in Scripture to procreation relative to our humanity), the sharply differing symbolisms of men and women follows quite naturally. The main reason that we struggle with this is because we have marginalized and resisted the fact of procreation and the orientation and meaning that it gives to men and women, their bodies and their persons, forgetting that it is the reason why we have different biological sexes (and by extension genders) in the first place.

  23. I read you quite carefully. First, if God has stood over and against us then we all have a huge problem. God's primary way of relating to humanity is via the covenant, and what we have in the covenant is God's decision to be a God who would die and rise for us. One the cross we have a God who is not against us and any other conception would be simply an exercise en abstracto. Also, the reference to God as Father is in no way an engendering reference. God the Father is not a "male". God doesn't identify with "maleness" God identifies with humans. To you second point, what does it even look like for God to relate to us prior to the advent of the Spirit bringing us in union with God? And how do you get that men represent the kind of authority you are intimating? Where is that in scripture? I certainly have not seen that. And how can you suggest that God's relation between Christ and the Church is one that is internal and therefore feminine? You can't just pull metaphors out of thin air to appease your preconceived ideologies.

    You may think I am distorting your position, but what I have said is a necessary consequence of your position. It is quite implicit. For the bond of conception to take place a man must penetrate a women. Is that not correct? And your ordering of women to a distinct relationality and assigning of women the distinct ability to be sites and sources of personal communion all stem from the necessary predicate of a man penetrating a woman. Whether or not you intend to have that position is irrelevant for what you have stated requires that for women to be sources and sites of personal communion, they must be penetrated.

    Your use and understanding of stereotypes is not only faulty, but dangerous. I'm hispanic, hispanics are stereotyped as being lazy, however, this tells me nothing about a group of people. It tells me that those observing said group of people are not only shortsighted but lacking in an in depth investigation and understanding of this particular group of people. Thus, maybe your stereotype is a lack of understanding that women who tend to lend themselves toward your so-called male stereotype are lending themselves toward anything at all, they are simply being the humans God created them to be.

    I suggest you reread what you write because you obviously do not understand what you are conveying.

  24. This post is awesome. I go to a church where women are pastors and elders and I am in a marriage that is egalitarian. People obsessed with gender roles and their antiquated view of scripture need to grow up. Life is passing by while some Jesus followers are stuck stressing out over gender roles. And we wonder why the church in America is dying?

  25. I'm sorry, Andrew, I don't think that we will make any progress with hostile and inattentive engagement like this. It would help if you understood me before you started to criticize me.

  26. Good, this is progress. We have clarified that you restrict these claims to the spheres of family and church. Let me just test that first:

    So let's talk about fatherhood. It seems that the sexual teleological distinctive is that men have to effect relationships primarily through law, because they relate to their children more externally. On your reading, lawgiving is therefore intrinsically 'male'. So would you suggest, on this basis, that women are not suited to the role of writing or enforcing laws? Does it lead to deformities in our perception of God when they serve in Congress or Parliament? This is how these claims seep out from the church and familial sphere into the public sphere, so I want to really understand how, and whether, you keep them from seeping out.

    Regarding the aesthetic and empirical tests: look at the ugliness of Franco's Spain. Is that the beauty and goodness you have in mind? Because they were all about this sort of thing. Or find me a strictly patriarchal society that I can look at as an example of goodness and beauty, if you have other problems with Franco's Spain.

  27. That's my understanding. There is clearly deferring in the Trinity, and the pattern is always (I would say explicitly) upwards towards the Father. And of course, no ineptitude of Son or Spirit implied whatsoever.

  28. I'll allow you the prerogative to tell H-C's what they really believe. I wish, however, that you would reconsider whether the idea of arbitrary restrictions on authority-roles is inherently "nonsense." Most of the world for most of history has believed that certain authority-roles come from a specific tribe/ family. I think that any ancillary belief that this tribe/ family was always more gifted/ suited was a minority voice. Often, people reflected on the fact that if the same person had been born into a different family, he would clearly be well suited to leadership. I take this to mean that if nature/ fate/ God had decreed to reverse families (or genders), nothing would be lost. In the OT, there is not a hint anywhere that Aaron's line is more gifted at anything. The question then becomes: is the possible loss of talent in leadership by restricting leadership to a specific family/ tribe/ gender, really that great of a loss? And are there any possible gains in basing leadership on something more "arbitrary" than giftedness or ability?

  29. A meritocratic society is incredibly ugly inasmuch as it morally underwrites deep inequities and inequalities. A society with more fixed social stations and roles has the advantage of preserving the crucial concept of the 'unfortunate' and the sense of one's station in life conferring duty towards others. Your station in life is not a right or entitlement arising from your abilities and skills (we forget to ask where these came from), but an unmerited 'gift', which involves a profound responsibility to serve others.

  30. No, that imputes something I didn't argue. First, it is easy to look at the bible and find all kinds of competent women glorifying God. Likewise every congregation that I've been a part of that would fall apart without the service of women is still doing the Lord's work. I guess the second thing I'd say is that I come from the Lutheran branch, and we have a pretty strong clergy/laity divide, especially in my sub-section that does not ordain women. My experience might be closer to the Catholic that Dr. Beck has spelled out, because the idea that women are not represented is not true. We have women elders and women on the church council. Everything a layman can be called to do, so can a lay woman. (That has taken time, but it did so everywhere.) What I would argue is what every pastor (and many social scientists) would tell you - when the father is engaged spiritually, you have a great shot at the entire family being engaged. Likewise, a male Sunday School teacher is a special thing and it is rarely because of teaching skill.

    I'd like to understand your experience that you could say that when women lead men don't do anything. From my perspective, the effort given to keep men involved is extra-ordinary. You can call that effort, affirmative action for men. Also from my experience, call it lingering misogyny, call it sexism, call it what you will, but I've observed it time and again, as soon as something is seen as female dominated (not shared leadership of laity, but say 1 man and 5 women, or something where every face of leadership is female, which would be easy in most churches I've been around), men will not take part or will actively opt-out.

  31. I think that most of the arguments regarding trinitarian beliefs are actually disagreements over linear mechanics. My favorite analogy is the one with water. It can exist simultaneously as solid, liquid and gaseous states and yet no one state has preeminence or is in hierarchy over the other.

  32. Melissa,
    I am inclined to agree that gender roles have been largely defined by Protestantism through a lens of procreation. Even if it is generally true that most (and please understand that the word 'most' does not mean all) girls and women have no desire for anything beyond domicile and progeny, it does not take into account those whose talents and giftings do not fit the mold so to speak.

  33. Is it possible that excluding women from positions of leadership is not oppressive in itself--but that excluding women from leadership in a mobile meritocracy is indeed oppressive? It may be that in another culture, or in another century, we could cast lots for a leader and restrict that role to men without implying that anybody is inferior. But in our culture, in our century, the very fact that we are trying to find the most "qualified and gifted" person means that we must be open to including women in leadership. Just a thought. My question is whether it is some combination of our culture's assumptions, and our churches' practices, that seems so deeply oppressive. Did all-male leadership always seem this oppressive, in other cultures and in other centuries?

  34. Gents, thanks very much for this conversation. It really sheds some light on a very difficult
    issue, at least for me. I wasn’t able to articulate any fundamental argument regarding
    gender roles. The ‘ontological ineptitude’-argument didn’t seem very appealing,
    at least not in the way it was presented to me before (with its emphasis on the
    inability to perform certain tasks or have certain responsibilities without
    making exactly clear why a female CEO or teacher could not perform the tasks related
    to these professions in church). Alastair, you certainly shed new light on this
    by your argument that our identities, and with it the identities of our
    relationships, are deeply entangled with and rooted in our complete human
    being, body, mind and spirit (if a distinction between those do actually make
    sense). They shape by definition the way in which we as male or female humans can
    represent or symbolize the different aspects / dimensions of the idea Relationship
    in its various forms. Up to this point I have two questions:

    1. You summarize the identity of the
    male relationship to its kin with the two concepts 'law' and 'covenant'. What
    exactly do you mean with this? Is it the fact that a male has had no physical
    union with the child during pregnancy and therefore the relationship needs to
    be enforced/mediated externally by law and covenant? To me it seems that also
    in the male relationship with its kin, there is a physical dimension in the
    concept of “blood ties”. Half of the genes of the child are the fathers. Even
    without law and covenant the father has a deeply physical tie to its offspring,
    as can be seen in the animal kingdom. Would this notion broaden the symbolization spectrum of the male?

    2. You introduce the helpful concept ‘thickness
    of relation’ as a criterion for the necessity of congruent gender symbolization
    (if relational thickness is high, gender articulation has to be high as well). You
    name the family and church as two domains with high relational thickness and,
    as a consequence, the (required) high levels of gender articulation as well. Could
    you elaborate a little bit more on this ‘thickness of relationship’ concept?
    Because it seems you want to put church and family on the outer edge of a scale
    in order to explain the necessity (either descriptive or prescriptive) for explicit
    gender articulation in those domains. But what about the army (a ‘band of
    brothers’), sports, or even business in which a lot of church people will feel
    closer brother-and-sister-relationships than with their brothers and sisters in
    church? There is, I assume you would argue, of course a difference between an
    army (a contract between a sovereign and its subordinates) and a family. But is
    there, in perceived reality, a difference between ‘brothers in arms’ and ‘brothers
    in Christ’? And if not, would it be bad reasoning to say: ‘We know from experience
    that explicit gender articulation (i.e. men are in charge) does not lead by
    definition lead to flowering of the flocks and we see in other reality domains
    thickness in relationship which do not require strong gender articulation (although
    the army is perhaps not the best example). In contrary, in our culture explicit
    gender articulation creates such strong negative connotations that we should
    avoid it, perhaps for a while, in order to restore the ‘thickness of
    relationships’ we are longing for in our church life? Let us re-discover this ‘thickness
    of relations’ concept by not taking the high-way immediately but by taking a
    small detour instead?

    OK, this is just some very limited thinking of a lay person interested in the deep ways of
    our Lord. Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

  35. The differences between our sexed bodies become more significant when we relate them to the ends of those differences. It is the neglect of those ends that leads to much of the modern confusion about gender.

    Yes, it's the fact that these bodily differences have an intrinsic meaning, a particular purpose, that makes them significant.

    Statistical differences in abilities between men and women certainly are important, and often serve more essential differences, but, in themselves, statistical differences only justify an "equality of opportunity" type meritocracy.

    But that's not what we're talking about.

  36. Thanks. And thanks for asking the first question, in particular. I was going to ask something similar (if much less nicely :)) In my mind, I think this is an example of how Alastair's reading of sexual difference is itself really questionable. I don't think men have a significantly less fundamental or physical relationship to their children, and I don't think their relationships are fundamentally mediated by law. I think you could just as easily argue that women's relationships to their children are more fundamentally mediated by law, within a Biblical framework, or outside of a Biblical framework...if that's what you wanted to do.

  37. These are the issues I have with your argument:
    1. Gay couples have been parents in the last few decades. So two women can raise a child together, and a "Father" is not essential. They make good parents. All of the reputable studies show that.
    2. God has some maternal qualities, wouldn't you say? And God uses feminine or maternal phrasing to talk about the self. So I don't think God is necessarily masculine.
    3. You say that, by nature, a woman cannot be a priest. But many churches do have female priests. And they do a good job.
    4. There simply seem to be too many inconsistencies with your statements. First, you list all of these traits that men have, but claim that women have them as well, sometimes more so. And for some reason, you believe that means men should be priests and not women.
    5. I know men who are much more empathetic, compassionate, loving than I, as a woman, am.
    6. By insisting that God's relationship with us as paternal and not maternal, what are you saying, in turn, about the way a father should interact with his wife?

  38. If you do actually support women being able to work, that means you also support men being at home more, taking care of children. Which means taking care of children is not an inherently maternal task, or something that women are naturally better at. Once again, I point to gay couples. Men raise children together, and no mother is needed to make a good family.

  39. Assuming meritocracy exists in any real form presumes that our society creates equal opportunities for everyone, which is provably untrue.

  40. Why should is it a bad thing to be incompetent at something you’re not made to be computer at? Are men ontologically incompetent because they weren’t designed to be mothers? It seems that the main point assumes that not being made to lead in the church or home is somehow a slight on women. It seems this assumption says more about our values than it does anything in particular about women. If we valued submission more highly than authority, then we would be suggesting that men are ‘ontologically incompetent’ wouldn’t we? As a complimentarian, I reject precisely the assumption that the teleological differences between the sexes can be mapped onto a hierarchical value system even if in certain spheres they can be mapped onto a hierarchical authority system. It just doesn’t follow that difference = deficient.

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