Let's Stop Calling It Complementarianism

I'd like to share a thought reflecting on Rachel Held Evan's recent post Will the Real Complementarian Please Stand Up?

This is a reflection on the label "complementarian" and why I don't think it's precise enough.

Complementarianism is a label for a softer, nicer version of patriarchalism when it comes to traditional gender roles in marriages, families and churches. But the label "complementarian" obscures that connection because it's not precise enough.

Generally speaking, complementarianism has two parts. The first part is that, according to complementarianism, a man and women are endowed with certain gifts and skills that, when combined in a heterosexual marriage, "complement" each other, two puzzle pieces that fit together to make a whole that reflects the image of God.

This aspect of complementarianism--that a husband and a wife "complement" or "complete" each other--isn't inherently hierarchical/patriarchal because there are egalitarian arrangements where this sort of thing happens all the time. The Apostle Paul's famous body metaphor for the church comes to mind. We can also think of any team or organization where our various gifts, skills and interests are lined up in a way that is "complementary"--you do that and I'll do this because I'm good that this and you are good at that--to get the best result for the group.

If that is all complementarianism was naming then it would be well named. But that's only half of the complementarian position.

The other half of the complementarian position is this: men and women have different gifts that combine to reflect the image of God and God created the man to have the gifts of leadership. That's the critical part. That is, when God divided up God's nature between the genders God gave the attributes of leadership to the male, putting him "in charge."

(Incidentally, I don't think this notion of "dividing" God's nature between the genders is cogent or biblical. Jesus, as a single, reflected the full image of God. Thus, in conforming to the image of Jesus every person, of whatever gender, is called to reflect the full image of God.)

It is this additional bit, that God gave the gifts of leadership to men rather than to women, that carries us well past the boundaries of what might properly be called "complementarian." Because as I've noted, every egalitarian marriage is complementarian in some form or fashion.

So what's the better term? The better term, the one I prefer, is hierarchical complementarianism.

Of course, many hierarchical complementarians might object to this label, but it is more accurate. Specifically, it distinguishes between the sort of complementarianism that egalitarians believe in, what might be called relational complementarianism, from the kind that hierarchical complementarians believe in, a complementing that isn't organic to the relationship (the relative gifts of the husband and wife) but is, rather, a fixed and preordained power-relation with men placed in leadership over women.

This is why hierarchical complementarianism is a form of patriarchalism. 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--ontological ineptitude--that reveals its patriarchal nature.

So maybe we step away from the labels egalitarian and complementarian and start speaking of relational complementarianism versus hierarchical complementarianism. A complementarianism that is organic to any given relationship versus one mediated by a fixed hierarchical power arrangement.

Addendum to Original Post:
As this post moves around the Internet it's getting some particular pushback so I'd like to add some clarification.

Specifically, some have argued that many complementarians don't believe that woman are inept in areas like biblical teaching, pastoral care, or administration. Thus it is argued that I'm attributing a belief (ontological ineptitude) to complementarians that they don't endorse.

Two responses.

First, many complementarians actually do endorse ontological ineptitude. They may not explicitly endorse it, but the belief is implicit in their argument that God differently gifted the genders, that men and women "complement" each other based upon matching competencies and incompetencies rooted in their natures.

Now of course, many complementarians do recognize the empirical reality that women can effectively teach, offer pastoral care and administrate organizational structures/teams. But if that is the case then why are the roles in patriarchal churches and homes assigned the way they are? That is, if it's not based on relative competencies why are men the sole teachers, pastors, and administrators?

At this point, an appeal will be made to a divine and created order, that God placed men in a leadership/headship role and that God did this not to offset/match competencies in men and women but to reflect a divine order or pattern.

In response I would simply say that I don't think that particular view is best described as complementarian. In the comment thread I've floated the label "creational hierarchy" for this view. The view being that men are the "head" not because they are "better" leaders (they often are not), but by virtue of their being men and, thus, creationally assigned to that role. This "headship" is not based on mirroring competencies (the general understanding behind the label "complementairan") but upon a created hierarchy that reflects the nature of God.

Either way, the goal of the post still stands. We need to stop using the generic label "complementarian" for these distinct views.

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135 thoughts on “Let's Stop Calling It Complementarianism”

  1. Excellent points. I've actually heard defenses of complementarianism (by which I really just mean patriarchy) that recognize that some women may be more gifted as leaders than their male counterparts. These arguments also recognize that not all men are gifted leaders, but still insist that men were granted authority by God. Some even quip that this is out of deference to men's fragile egos. It's a rather odd argument that substitutes a form of divine command theory for the assumption of ontological incompetence.

  2. There is a moment when theological fiat (ontological ineptitude) runs aground on empirical reality (the obvious leadership gifts of women).

    I've seen a couple of different moves at this point where hierarchical complementarians try to face that disjoint:

    1. Male Failure (women are good leaders but men are better):

    The basic argument is that woman are leading in various spheres because men have failed to be men causing women to fill the leadership vacuum. And some women are, here and here, good at leading. But across the board things would be better if men "stepped up" and reclaimed their leadership roles. In short, women appear to be good at leading because men have failed to be the God-ordained leaders that God is calling them to be. Women are good leaders, to be sure, but Godly men would be batter. No judgment against good women leaders, it is claimed, just that men would be better.

    2. Creational hierarchicalism:
    Some admit that women are good leaders but say that God still made man to be the leader, even if women in any given situation are the better leaders. But if this is the claim then you are decisively turning your back on "complementarianism." The power relation isn't about complementing gifts (because women are admitted to having the better leadership gifts in various instances) but about a created hierarchy, God just setting man over women in a more arbitrary (e.g., "I don't know why God put men over women, but He did, so that's the end of the story.") than complementary manner.

  3. I think this is a helpful distinction for all sorts of reasons, but one in particular is that it helps with something that isn't your primary target in this post: namely, those marriages which embody very 'traditional' roles but which are not hierarchical. It's unlikely that the roles, say, of a wife as 'solely' mother or caregiver or of a husband as 'primary' provider will simply disappear. But the mere fact of their enduring existence needn't be an automatic aid and comfort to hierarchical complementarianism.

  4. Thanks Richard, great post.

    Your distinguishing line is close to where mine is. I can buy into the idea that any two individuals who partner should aim to compliment each other. However, where I diverge from agreement with most "complimentarianism" as I observe it is where it expects all individuals of a certain gender to submit their skills or talents on the basis of their membership of that gender group. This, to me, is nothing short of sexism.
    Submission of skills and talents should be an equal opportunity game, and not one that eliminates individuals on the basis of their gender.

  5. That's a great point.

    In various locations Jana and I have what looks like a traditional arrangement, especially when our boys were young. I worked and she stayed at home (though now with the boys being grown up she's jumped back into her teaching career). But the situation has always been egalitarian. Two examples.

    Domestic chores. Despite being a "stay at home mom" when the boys were younger Jana never enjoyed cleaning the house. Nor do I. Jana loves to spend time with the boys and she loves to cook. So during her years at home that's what she focused on. And the house was a wreck. A wreck we both owned. If I came home and the house was a mess I never complained. In our arrangement that was shared work. Her job was to be engaged with the boys. That's what she loved and wanted to do. That's what I wanted her to do. Neither of us felt it made sense for her to sit the boys in front of the TV while she cleaned the house for a few hours. We could clean the house together.

    Finances. I made (and still make) most of the money. But Jana has a great mind for budgeting. So she runs the finances. She updates me regularly on how things are going and what she's doing. She also gives me my monthly budgeted allowance. So the money is a shared burden, and both of us psychological "own" it, either in the making (me) or the controlling (Jana).

  6. Were discussing the 15th Amendment today in class. It always amazes kids when they realize that women weren't allowed to vote when the Amendment was passed. I always ask why they think women weren't allowed to vote. I think here's a great explanation.

  7. Maybe its situational hierarchicalism! Should husbands and wives make decision based on situations?

  8. "Incidentally, I don't think this notion of "dividing" God's nature between the genders is cogent or biblical. Jesus, as a single, reflected the full image of God. Thus, in conforming to the image of Jesus every person, of whatever gender, is called to reflect the full image of God."

    As always, this post is full of much food for thought. I'd never looked at things quite that way before - I think I'll be chewing on that particular section for a while :)

  9. Surely then complementarians would never permit gender segregated Bible classes or church groups! They simply wouldn't be able to function -- at least the women-only groups wouldn't! Ha! I will be glad to see complementarians embrace more co-ed activities if they insist on maintaining their belief.

  10. It's a common observation--not confined to feminist politics--that an equal share of women need to be placed in leadership roles because they bring perspectives to bear on challenges that men do not have. I think that's clearly true, and it adds a dimension to "complementarianism." But I've never heard it specified whether or to what extent nature or nurture contribute to those perspectives. Common sense says both, but woe to the poor fool who treads into the question of whether gender-related differences are "natural." But since I have little to lose--not being, for instance, President of Harvard--I'm going to ask the question, because I think there's a tremendous opportunity to promote healthy discussion and productive research, if we can get through the politically deployed landmines.

    A few brief observations (and then I'll bring a point to bear on this post and discussion):

    1. Last week I reviewed over 4,100 front pages of patent applications (2,000-present). I may have failed to notice a few, but I can't recall seeing a single female name. Wow. And every single patent application represents a de facto attempt to lead.
    2. I have been reading my local paper for over 20 years, and without exception females outnumber males in gaining graduation honors by factors of three, four, or five to one. Wow! And every single graduation honor represents a de facto instance of leadership.
    3. Intelligence and ability do not account for these differences, nor is it likely that cultural conditioning and nurturing can.
    4. A clear prima facie gender-based orientation relative to what type of leadership men an women seek--perhaps as determinative as gender is to forming sexual orientation--seems to play out in real life.
    5. That orientation seems to make men eccentric (literally and figuratively) as they seek new and individualistic ways of "leading," while women are clearly easier to socialize and provide leadership more typically within organizational structures.
    And 6, the reason for sexual reproduction (as opposed to asexual) is to provide genetic mixing, which is accomplished by the male gender, which is suspiciously like a specifically sexual expression of the observations just made.

    Now you can throw the tomatoes--and I'd want to if i were reading someone else stating this--but here it goes:
    It seems like a tough job to give females, the job of keeping the males in line...

  11. There is, of course, an elephant in the room of this intra-evangelical discussion - and its colour is pink. That is, this is a gateway debate. Which is why complementarians cannot give an inch to egalitarians - or, in Richard’s more precise terminology, why hierarchical complementarians cannot give an inch to relational complementarians - because if they do, the next thing you know the issue of same-sex relationships is on the table - which is, in fact, the observable trajectory in the wider discussion. Interestingly, there is also an ontology at stake - except that for traditionalists, lesbian and gay people are not just ontologically "inept", they are ontologically disordered.

    There is an obvious analogy here: the discussion of birth control in the Roman Catholic Church, in the sense that it too is a gateway issue. The magisterium cannot give an inch on contraception, because once you acknowledge that there is no necessary moral linkage between copulation and procreation, again, the issue of same-sex relationships will inevitably find its way to the table. As James Alison suggests (through the character “the Duchess”) in his wonderful parable "Nicodemus and the Boys in the Square" (in Faith beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay [2003]): "'That’s the beauty of the [Roman Catholic] Church’s teaching. It’s absolutely even-handed with regards to
    straight and gay. And it means, of course, that any church which does not accept our teaching on birth control has
    no logical position at all from which to forbid gay sex. Once you have accepted the rupture between the procreative and the unitive aspects of sex, the only barrier to complete acceptance of gay couples is prejudice.'"

  12. What's even more amazing is that these attributes are supposed to be based solely upon plumbing received at birth. Cast in concrete and with absolute application to all, no exceptions allowed.

  13. I find it interesting that Phoebe (Romans 16) had her own ministry in which she could call upon men to assist her. Paul said that when she does this, you help her! It is also interesting that the "virtuous woman" of Proverbs 31 was an investor, a business woman, and a social worker on the streets. But often this is not observed by men because they only use the frame of reference labeled "traditional woman."

  14. I suppose I disagree with both ‘relational’ and ‘hierarchical’ complemetarianism. The problem is that the relational side sees nothing universal about being male or female outside of what physical appendage you ended up growing. The hierarchical side, in my view, misunderstand the nature of leadership, at least as it ought to be seen from the Christian perspective. Caught between two extremes, it seems that the relational side revels in individualistic differences—taking careful note to the exceptions to the rule; the hierarchical side errs in forcing everything through an over-simplified model—Stepford wives, and the like… I think there are still other options—options that allow for hierarchy and a deeper, more metaphysical allowance for the sexes, and yet leaves the door open to exceptions and outliers—a view that challenges our understanding of 'leader'.

    In the end, the hierarchical complementarians have the more difficult view. For if they are consistent, then they would desire to revoke the right for women to vote or to lead/own a business or something of the like. Either this or they draw up a capricious line between the sacred and the profane, demanding that the church be constructed by one set of arbitrary rules and to leave secular society to enjoy a more fitting logic. As others have noted, it is a hermeneutical problem. The question isn’t did God tell us something about how men and women should relate in the church, the question is what did he mean by it. So, is there a redemptive trajectory or not…?

  15. Richard, I think you are on target here. I have been profoundly dissatisfied with the labels and language of 'complementarian' vs 'egalitarian'. My wife is ordained and we specifically reject male-female hierarchy in church and marriage, so most would say I'm egalitarian full stop. I'm not sure I'm either though, as both seem (at least to me) to import unhelpful modern presumptions. So, I think we need new and more precise language and you've helped with that here. I'm hoping to work my way through to some new language as well as I deal with much of these same issues in my PhD research on Stanley Grenz. Also, your proposal I think resonates with a book called 'Discovering Biblical Equality' that has the subtitle 'Complementarity Without Hierarchy'. http://www.amazon.com/Discovering-Biblical-Equality-Complementarity-Hierarchy-ebook/dp/B00BJFEPU6/ref=pd_sim_kstore_2

  16. Most egalitarians, even under your revised definitions, are not complementarians. It is possible for there to be separate roles for each sex while also having the sexes be relatively equal. Many hunter-gatherer groups seem to have this kind of organizations. But it appears to be rare in more complex societies.

    Most egalitarians seem to believe in the individuals within a couple negotiating different roles within the relationship according to the talents of those individuals. In a very broad sense that's complementarian, but since we're using these labels within the context of discussing sex roles, it is rather misleading to use the term that way.

    So, in general, I think complementarian should be used to discuss social groups with clearly differentiated sex roles, whether one sex is somehow over the other or not.

    Perhaps we could say there are three groups:

    1. hierarchical complementarians
    2. egalitarian complementarians
    3. individualist egalitarians

  17. We can also think of any team or organization where our various gifts, skills and interests are lined up in a way that is "complementary"--you do that and I'll do this because I'm good that this and you are good at that--to get the best result for the group.

    There are problems with importing the modern concept of meritocracy into pre-modern writings. The Apostle Paul wasn't a meritocrat.

  18. I'd add that there is a real question about whether meritocracy actually serves the common good better than non-mobile hierarchalism. Does the supposedly arbitrary actually have a function when looked at from a broader perspective?

  19. Thanks for the link Russell. I need to do a lot more reading in these areas. Mainly I'm just thinking off the top of my head.

  20. I'd be curious as to why you think women were denied the vote for so long in America. And if you think ontological ineptitude had anything to do with it.

  21. I like the terms as you've given them precisely because it might make hierarchical complementarianists squirm, but if you find you need to change those terms for politeness's sake at any point, might I recommend these options: for "hierarchical" you could substitute "ontological," "essentialist," or "category," and for "relational" you could substitute "situational" or "contextual"...though I think you'll be able to use "relational" against "ontological," etc., too.

  22. Changing the term to avoid making them squirm defeats the exact purpose of calling it "hierarchical complementarianism". Plain old "complementarianism" is already a term that they feel describes them and they are comfortable with - the POINT is to make them squirm by using a term that's not inflammatory, but is nevertheless accurately calls out their worldview for what it is, in a way they can't logically escape from.

    If I may say so, while it's understandable that you might now want to make people "squirm", this a legitimate place to pull back from the impulse not to rock the boat, and to embrace the uncomfortableness. Think of the harm that this worldview has done to (literally millions of) women, and then compare that to the desire to be polite.

    I think they can live with "squirming". :P

  23. This is one where it just isn't worth fighting the culture. If I say "blue-eyed people are the leaders" and everyone in the (American) room hears "blue-eyed people are more able, more important, and should have the power to lord it over others"--I can only sigh and say, "Never mind." There is no point having the conversation if it's going to mean such weighted, anti-gospel things to so many people.

  24. I don't disagree morally or politically. I did say that I liked all of that about the original term. By all means, making them squirm is fine by me. What I fear will happen, however, is that hierarchical complementarians will walk away from the conversation rather than submit to being called hierarchical complementarians, and we want them in the conversation (if only to change their minds). If you use "ontological complementarian" instead, they might stay in the conversation, but they'll still be forced to concede that they are saying something more than just that men and women are complementary; they are saying that men as a category are complementary to women as a category. Even this, I think, is a step forward.

    Basically, I think that with some people you need to proceed in baby steps while wearing kid gloves, because they won't tolerate anything more. You say privileged folks can live with squirming, but you wouldn't know it from they way they (by which I usually mean we) squawk.

  25. Thanks for this. Of course, these semantic still get messy since "relational complementarians" might still believe in hierarchy- that is, that there should be a leader in a household- without thinking that leadership is determined by gender. For example, a couple may look at their respective talents and decide the woman should be the leader. This relationship would still be hierarchical, but the decision was made from a relational rather than a patriarchal premise. So maybe "patriarchal complementarianism" might be even more specific?

  26. Alastair,

    I appreciate your attempt to make us think about social factors other than simple sexism as the reason that, for example, women weren't allowed to vote. However, I'm not sure that the historical evidence bears your thesis out (that women weren't allowed to vote because of the belief that the state should relate to the family, as embodied in the male and that it is "chronological snobbery" to assume sexism as the driving force).

    While I'm not an expert, the literature that I've read from the late 19th and early 20th century against suffrage, by conservative protestants at least, frequently did indeed make the argument woman were incapable of making the rational decisions necessary for proper voting. There was additional concerns, such that if women got to vote it could pit the wife against the husband, thus dividing families and causing the breakup of society but this is a far cry from the assertion that the family was fundamental unit that should relate to the state. If that were the case, it does not show up in the literature that I have read from that time period although it is possible that by the late 19th and early 20th century, the concerns you mention had already been forgotten. And the idea that women were not rational, that there is something fundamentally inferior about them, has deep roots in Western thought and is quite evident in Greek and Roman literature, although less so in actual Roman practice. It is even brought up in the anti-suffrage arguments in support of preventing women from voting. This can be seen as nothing other than promoting a form of "ontological ineptitude."

    Going further back, from what I've read about the founding fathers of the United States (and here I'm really not that well read, so I'm very open to correction), the concern about who got to vote revolved more around whether one had to be vested, i.e., a land owner, in the new country or not. There was not a concern that, say, young, free (white) males should not vote if they had no family but there was concern if they had no land. So, while I wouldn't disagree at all that the kind of hyper-individualism we have today was not valued as much as then, I'm not sure I see that as the driving concern for not supporting women's suffrage.

    From what I've read, the evidence does indeed support the historic belief in "ontological ineptitude" and it seems that this may drive some of the broader social issues, or at least justify them and not the other way around.

    Shalom uvrecha,

  27. This is fascinating, and I'm happy to say it makes me somewhat uncomfortable. Do your descriptions of the original reasons for denying women the right to vote (for example) rely on explicit historical evidence? Or is this a contemporary philosophical explanation that attempts to tease out patterns of thought not otherwise stated openly or perhaps even understood clearly at the time? Or something else altogether?

  28. This is helpful and interesting. Still, I find phrases like this troubling, if not examined even further: "there is something unique about the social location that a man can occupy." From the rest of your comment, I don't think "social location" necessarily means "job category" or "leadership position," but maybe it does. My mind goes to the 'social location' of 'priest', and those who argue that this is a 'social location' that women can't occupy. And then I think of the absurd argument that this is a result of the 'fact' that the priest must image Christ to the congregation, and so, of course, women can't do that. Can you give an example of what you mean by the unique social location that a man can occupy?

  29. My point is to identify the conditions under which women's suffrage became an open question in the first place and to identify some of the reasons why it wasn't generally open prior to that. I am distinguishing between the reasons why it wasn't an open question in the past and the rationalizations given against women's suffrage when it did in fact become an open question. My point is that the patterns of thought that restricted suffrage to men were not primarily aimed against the concept of women's suffrage, but appealed to broader principles of social and political order.

    This is akin to the way that the restriction of marriage to male and female couples wasn't primarily aimed against some perceived possibility of same-sex marriage, but arose from the orientation of marriage towards particular social and religious ends. In both cases, when the orientation and conceptualization of the institution changes, something that was formerly not really an issue suddenly becomes a very live question.

    And, once again, I want to clarify that I am not meaning to attack women's suffrage here. I am just trying to point out that it is a more complicated question than we assume, that past generations may have been motivated by more than mere bigoted sexism, and that perhaps we should develop more awareness of our unwitting cultural assumptions when we approach such questions.

  30. The social location of 'father' is the primary example. Even in the case of adoption, only a man can be a father, occupying a particular gendered relational position relative to the child and not merely exercising generic parenting skills.

  31. Nope, I disagree. Calling it hierarchical complementarianism still obfuscates the unbiblical, harmful and un-Christlike reality of what it is. It is patriarchy. Period. And I think those who promote it *should* squirm.

  32. When looking at Deborah's leadership, rather than merely prooftexting it as support for women's leadership, it is important to recognize just how exceptional and atypical it is within the text and how, even though it occurs at the beginning of the nation's history, isn't seen to temper the norm of male leadership of the nation. It is also important to look at the evidence that the text itself presents us with for reading it as exceptional, possibly arising from male failure, and upholding the norm of a particular mode of male authority.

    Some things to notice:

    1. Israel had 15 judges and 42 regents (between north and south). Of all of these figures, only one—Deborah—was a woman (the wicked Athaliah is not recognized as a queen, but as a break in the succession).

    2. The fact that she is female is underlined three times at the outset ('a woman, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth'). A female judge was noteworthy on account of her sex alone.

    3. She seems to behave differently from the other judges. The other judges go out to judge and lead Israel in battle. Israel comes up to Deborah to be judged. Deborah only goes out to battle at Barak's insistence, an insistence that is presented as a sign of Barak's weakness. The other principal occasion where we encounter a prophetess in the OT, we also see that the people go up to consult her: she does not go out with the message (2 Kings 22:14ff).

    4. Following on from this, the fact that Sisera would be killed by a woman is presented as dishonourable for Barak. The weakness of Barak is an important context for the prominent role played by the women in this narrative.

    5. Deborah pushes Barak to take the leading role. Barak is the one in command of the army and the people. Deborah is the wise prophetess and counsellor at his side.

    6. Deborah's relationship to authority seems to be less immediate than that of male judges. Deborah does not seem to command directly so much as relay God's commands to Barak. Biblically speaking, ultimate authority is 'masculine', being the authority of the Father. The character of the exercise of authority by men and women differs. The authority of the woman continually gestures to a deeper founding male authority, whether that is the authority of the law, the authority of her husband, father, or guardian brother, the authority of the state or realm, or the authority of God. When there is no person directly exercising male authority in a particular context, leadership may be exercised by a woman. However, such a woman leader always leads as a 'helper', rather than as one to whom the task of primary leadership—as direct symbolization of authority—has been committed.

    The role of Deborah is akin to the role of Joan of Arc, whose authority rested principally upon the prophetic relaying of divine will, rather than the direct symbolization of divine authority. Like Joan of Arc, Deborah is associated with the support and establishment of the male ruler of her people. Both are seen as extraordinary and exceptional figures and departures from the norm.

    While I support women in politics and positions of social leadership, the case of Deborah is very far from the straightforward support for women's leadership that it is taken to be.

  33. Dan,

    My argument was intended to present a more charitable construction of the reasons for the restriction of the franchise. My hope was that, by having to grapple with something more resistant than the mere sexist rationalizations that we would like to tackle, we might come to a deeper appreciation of the historical and ideological contingencies of our political order and, rather than assuming the greater justice of our present order, might actually have to present a strong argument for it. The limitation of suffrage is an avenue from which we can try to understand the thinking of a differentiated society from the inside and on its own terms.

    I get frustrated with the facile arguments presented for most positions, which preach to the choir, rather than engaging the troubling yet enlightening task of wrestling opposing arguments in their strongest form. For this reason, in whatever context I find myself, I tend to play the contrarian or devil's advocate. I often have significant differences with the positions that I am advocating and frequently, unbeknownst to my interlocutors, my sympathies primarily lie with their side of the argument. If a position shows awareness of the potential challenges that can be raised to it and provides a robust response to them, it will win my respect. If it is revealed that it relies largely upon unconsidered assumptions and an unthinking social consensus, it will lose it.

    While I presented the case for voting according to a stake in society and independence of judgment in the best light, the historical reality was obviously extremely ugly. From the very Revolution onwards, America has been powerfully driven by the self-interest of the wealthy. This said, I believe that the principles that guided former understandings of the vote were often wise ones.

    I would seek for a solution less along the lines of a citizen's stipend, which I believe creates a fundamental dependence and claim upon government that would tend to have a negative effect, and think more in terms of reassessing our understanding of which parties have stakes in others. I would favour the devolution of power to more local agencies, in which the stakes of individuals are more immediate, as are their duties. By resisting the alienation of rights from these contexts I would resist the accumulation of powers by enormous governmental agencies in which the say of the individual is incredibly diluted and swayed by dependency and for which powerful and wealthy lobbyists have much greater actual power. Rights vested in more local agencies could be delegated to higher governmental agencies, but would hold them in a greater check. With such provisions, the dangerous potential of universal suffrage would be easier to guard against.

    One of the problems here is our equivocation about the term 'big government'. Big government is commonly spoken of as government that is involved in every area of society. Sweden is a good example of this sort of 'big government'. However, the other sort of big government is government whose power and size makes it capable of dwarfing or crushes that of all other agencies within the society. America is the great example of this. I believe in a relatively small government in the second sense, but I would like to see a much 'bigger' government in the first sense. I believe that the healthiest form of such a government is one that situates power as locally as possible, being widely active throughout society, but highly devolved in its agency.

  34. Thanks Kimberly. So sorry to hear about your loss, but it sounds like there is much grace in the grief. That's a blessing.

  35. I think we are entirely on the same page about government. I actually just wrote something about the distinction between 'limited government' (which I believe Denmark has) and 'small government' (which Syria has, as a share of GDP). Police states aren't very expensive. But libertarian social democracy can be. This is part of why I thought you might like the notion of a citizen stipend: it basically minimizes government agency, in the sense of discretionary action that can be manipulated.

    I definitely appreciate the way you try to read unsympathetic historical actors as sympathetically as possible. That's what I found particularly engaging here. There usually is some grain of insight, some bit of good that really does sustain the wickedness. Pull out the good, and I think the wickedness can be even more easily collapsed. Anyway, that's how I think about it, and I particularly appreciate the way you reconstructed some generous readings in this case.

    At any rate, I would part ways with your particular analysis of dependency and vulnerability to lobbying, in the case of a citizen stipend. In the US, Social Security, for example, is federally administrated, highly efficient, very popular, and not particularly subject to political influence. At root, I think this has a lot to do with the simplicity of the program and the minimal amount of decision making and government agency. Government is a blunt instrument. Laws should be blunt and simple, simple and blunt. But I don't think a citizen's stipend would create any more dependency than we currently have, broadly speaking, and would reduce dependency, narrowly speaking. To clarify what I mean: as I use the word, any society characterized by significant division of labor facilitates dependency. If I were really concerned with dependency, broadly speaking, I would worry more about toasters (or any modern technology) than citizen stipends. http://www.thetoasterproject.org/ Or, speaking even more broadly, I might worry about heterotrophy, and start a true Green movement devoted to its abolishment and replacement with autotrophy. Narrowly speaking, I think dependency involves a lack of agency, an absence of opportunities and requirements for stewardship. By being less parternalistic, a citizen stipend reduces precisely this type of dependency. Maybe you are concerned with dependency on government in particular. But in this case, if you think anyone is particularly independent in this sense, I would suggest they move to Burkina Faso and realize their dream of independence. Maybe you are actually concerned with laziness. If that is the case, I could gladly compare American and Danish labor market participation rates for you. But I'd much rather chat about the slogan "He who does not work does not eat." Slippery slope, that one, since it would seem to imply that returns on investment must be restricted, such that no individual can generate enough from investments to meet their minimum caloric needs ;)

  36. Complementarianism would not at all say that complementing is synonymous with *completing* one another. Not only that, CBMW and it's ilk would never, ever say men and women are "endowed with certain gifts and skills that,..."complement" each other..." Not unlike Paul, complementarians don't appeal to endowment but teleology. It's not about what skills we possess, but *how* God has commanded us to use them. It's about gender roles, not some inherent value or inherent gifting argument. This is a *total* misrepresentation of the position. At least Scot McKnight offers a good argument. This stuff is pitiful.

  37. "First, many complementarians actually do endorse ontological ineptitude. They may not explicitly endorse it..." Way to represent us in the way we would represent ourselves. Want this discussion to progress? Try intellectual honesty on for size. If you just want to win, keep twisting our views to fit your arguments.

    Have you even read "Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood" by Piper and Grudem? I'd be shocked to hear you say yes. SHOCKED.

  38. Ya know, this is exactly the kind of response I've come to expect. It's not helpful, it's insulting, it speaks in generalities, and hyperbole. And by the way many of us HAVE read the book - well, I could only take it in small doses - but found the scholarship wanting in more ways than one. Want the discussion to progress? Try respect and listening. You've just reinforced my convictions and made me realize I don't need to read these comments any more, to thanks for that!

  39. This is the part that I find genuinely helpful: 'By showing how resistance to women's suffrage could be driven by
    something that is far from mere illogical bigotry and might even be a
    'thinkable' position, I want to expose the historical and social
    contingency of a lot of the assumptions that are at play in these

    I find it helpful not only in understanding past forms of oppression, but current forms. What we now consider unacceptable and abusive was once common sense, even reasonable, rationalized common sense. This gives me hope that a great deal of what we still consider common sense will also be seen to be unacceptable and abusive in similar ways, before too long. I think I am considerably more comfortable with your line of argument because I don't consider contemporary liberalism to be 'the end of history' or the pinnacle of moral development. While large relative gains have been made in a lot of areas, there has also been some falling backwards, and all of this falls impossibly short of the Kingdom.

    I'm even highly sympathetic to your deeply gendered readings of scripture. I think there are real spiritual insights that can come from a sustained reflection on gender in scripture. Still, I don't see these reflections leading to the practical conclusions you draw, about men in church leadership, for example. To take one example, I've always found references to the trinity as an example of marriage, and thus gender hierarchy ,to be particularly theologically muddled. Either you take the traditional understanding of the Spirit as male, and there is no gender map, but a model of marriage based on love between three male persons. Or you play with the idea of Shekhina, which is fascinating, but then you arrive at a radical image of gender equality, while preserving the awkward three-way dynamic. And then you have the traditional caveat that God the Father is not to be read in a remotely literal sense, with Mormonism providing a live example that you can use to see how you'd like a literalist reading of God's Fatherhood. I've always found that efforts to take this all seriously, which I applaud, start to get very queer very quickly, in the best possible sense of the word...unless you hold it all quite loosely. Still, when a man in a very feminine robe tells me the trinity is the model for marriage, and then sternly warns me that women can't be priests, I can't help but feel he is missing something obvious and essential in the semiotics. And I can't help but feel that God is laughing at him, hoping that someday he might get the joke and learn to laugh at himself.

  40. As we are both dealing with the conditions under which something would remain, for the most part, an unopen question, the evidence that both of us will rely upon is for the most part indirect. My claim is that the prevailing concepts of suffrage, of the state, of the family, of their relative jurisdictions, and the practical realities of family and state would be for the most part sufficient to keep it such, without a need to depend upon the assumption of 'ontological ineptitude', no matter how prevalent that belief was in the society in question.

    My assertion could be falsified if it were demonstrated that the prevailing views and social realities were insufficient to render women's suffrage a largely unopen question, without dependence upon the assumption of ontological ineptitude. This would necessitate careful examination of the prevailing views and practices. Conceptually analysing and imaginatively inhabiting them, we would have to judge how ideologically coherent the society can be regarded to be when ontological ineptitude is not assumed. Obviously, history is not a positivistic science, so we are relying upon interpretative judgments guided by informed historical sensitivities, not hard and fast proofs or disproofs.

  41. Creation based subjection was created by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, who translated Aristotle's works into Latin and created Summa Theologica, which synthesizes Aristotle with medieval theology. None of the church fathers taught creation based subjection (except Augustine, who used Plato's soul-body dichotomy, but it caused more confusion in his theology that most will admit.), instead they taught that subjection was the result of sin, which was coded into the Latin Vulgate in which Jerome changed Genesis 3:16 into "Under the man's power/authority (Latin potestas) will you be and shall rule over you.

    Because Thomas Aquinas by necessity used Jerome’s interpretation of Genesis 3:16 in the thirteenth century, he believed that the subjection which began after the Fall was a proper punishment for the woman’s sin. In the Summa, Thomas wrote, “As regards family life she was punished by being subjected to her husband's authority, and this is conveyed in the words, "Thou shalt be under thy husband's power." (Gen. 3:16)”[1] In the same section, Thomas answered the question whether a wife was allowed to give alms without her husband’s knowledge.

    I answer that, anyone who is under another's power must, as such, be ruled in
    accordance with the power of his superior: for the natural order demands that
    the inferior should be ruled according to its superior. Therefore in those
    matters in which the inferior is subject to his superior, his ministrations
    must be subject to the superior's permission.[2]

    Thomas argued further that although the wife is “equal in the marriage act,” she is under the husband’s authority according to Genesis 3:16, and therefore not allowed to give alms without her husband’s permission.

    In the thirteenth century, equality as a created order was still recognized, wherefore Thomas had to answer the argument whether the woman should have been created before sin, because her subjection begun after the Fall.

    “Further, subjection and limitation were a result of sin, for to the woman was it said after sin (Genesis 3:16): "Thou shalt be under the man's power"; and Gregory says that, "Where there is no sin, there is no inequality." But woman is naturally of less strength and dignity than man; "for the agent is always more honorable than the patient," as Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. xii, 16). Therefore woman should not have been made in the first production of things before sin.”[3]

    Thomas answered, “as regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten [i.e. an impotent male].” But “as regards human nature in general, woman is not misbegotten, but is included in nature's intention as directed to
    the work of generation.” He concluded that the woman’s subjection is twofold: sin causes a subjection which is “servile, by virtue of which a superior makes use of a subject for his own benefit,” but the subjection from creation is based on reason which predominates in the man, for good order can only be preserved if people are governed by those who are wiser.[4] In other words, because the woman is a defective human being, she cannot possess the man’s reason, wherefore her subjection from Creation is due to her body, while the subjection which begun after the Fall was caused by her sin.

    Theologians refuted the first part of the twofold subjection in 1970s (Genesis 3:16 as God's commandment), but they kept the creation based subjection. Now, the only thing we need to do is to rid ourselves of Aristotle's inferior woman, and the debate would end tonight.
    [1] Thomas Aquinas, Summa
    Theologica, Second part of second part, Question 164, Article 2.

    [2] Ibid., Question 32, Article 8

    [3] Ibid., First Part, Question 92, Objection 1

    [4] Ibid., Question 92, Answer to Objection 2

  42. I've read "Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood." I even wrote a book about it, for I found several internal contradictions, and other fallacies. (I'll spare you from reading the book, you can read about them here: http://reconnectedhumanity.blogspot.com/2013/10/recovering-biblical-manhood-and.html) I always thought it odd that Piper and Grudem didn't compare notes when they edited the book. I even sent CBMW a note on their FB page asking how this could be. Their response? They deleted it. It really didn't surprise me, for how does anyone explain that the writers so vehemently denounce the opinions of the other writers in the SAME volume? You want intellectual honesty? How about trying to read something from the other side of the theological spectrum, that way you wouldn't have to be so upset about a subject that really isn't all that upsetting.

  43. It may be pitiful, but to clarify a bit.

    Most if not all "complementarians" wouldn't overtly endorse ontological ineptitude. So it's not particularly illuminating to say that we can't find that view articulated in various writings, books and sermons. But the view is often implicit.

    For example, how would someone like Piper or Grudem answer questions like these:

    1. Is it possible and even likely that a woman in their church or home can be the most gifted preacher and expositor of the gospel?

    2. Is it possible and even likely that a women in their church or home could be the most talented and competent leader?

    We can ask a series of questions like this, and it would be illuminating to get their answers and to gauge the degree to which they equivocate. For example, let's say they answer #2 in the affirmative, that a woman in a particular marriage can be the stronger and more capable leader. Would that answer come with a commentary that this situation was, at least partly, due to a failure on the man's part? That something, some aspect of cultural disorder or his sin nature, was preventing this man from being and becoming the more capable leader he should be? That is, is there any shame at all for men being the least competent leaders in their home or church?

    My point here is to simply note how discussions about "role" often bleed into discussions about "competency."

    But let's grant that someone like Piper and Grudem do make a clean and clear distinction between role and competency. Let's say that they reject 1000%, with no equivocation, with no appeal to cultural decay or sin, this notion of ontological ineptitude. Let's say what you say is true, that it's 100% teleology and 0% endowment.

    The clear implication of this belief--the rejection of ontological ineptitude--is that women can be and frequently are the more able, talented, gifted, competent and capable across all spheres of church leadership, from biblical exposition to pastoral care to administration. That no matter what sphere of service we name in the church--because you reject ontological ineptitude--women are just as capable and often more capable then men.

    Another way of framing the firm rejection of ontological ineptitude is to say that there will be husband and wife pairs where the woman will be the more able, talented, gifted, competent and capable leader in the marriage. That when it comes to leadership there will be men who are less able, less talented, less gifted, less competent and less capable when compared to his wife. And most importantly of all: There will be no shame about this for the man, none whatsoever. No shadow of being a "man fail." None at all. Because like you've said, we've turned our back 100% on ontological ineptitude.

    Now if all that is granted by Piper and Gurdem, if they never shame men for being the less capable as leaders than women are at home or in the church, and I have a hard time thinking that would be the case, then the argument goes like this. There will be times when the woman is the better leader as the male is an inept leader, but the male should lead anyway. And the reason for this is because of God's creative plan for gender roles, which have nothing to do with endowment.

    If that's the view then it already has a name: patriarchy. A created, hierarchical order. There's nothing "complementarian" about that view, no obvious and direct sense of how the genders are "complements." Because you'll have situations, if you reject ontological ineptitude, where women are submitting to incompetent male leaders (at home and the church). And this submission isn't "complementing" that leadership, it's just submitting to it. In this instance "complementing" is just a euphemism for obedience. So let's just call it what it is, patriarchy. As I said in the post, let's stop calling it complementariansim.

  44. On this note, I will have to leave the discussion, as I have a rather full few days ahead of me. Thanks to everyone for the interaction. Hopefully, most immediate objections are at least engaged with to some extent somewhere in my comments.

  45. This is one of the major problems in communication: progressives and traditionalists inhabit radically different universes. It really does come down to cosmology.

    Progressives, religious or otherwise, tend to live in a modern universe devoid of inherent meanings, forms, essences, and purposes. Sure there may be a kind of a soul attached to the chunks of matter, as well as a God on the outside who provides a sort of meaning to it all, but the universe itself is mostly made up of chunks of matter devoid of inherent meaning: sex is just a fairly arbitrary arrangement of atoms and what really matters is who we are as individuals. Some moderns may concede that there are statistical differences between the sexes, but they still strongly prefer that distinctions be made as much as possible on the individual level. Most progressive Christians at best kinda sorta maybe get the premodern view, but usually have a pretty incomplete understanding and don't usually take it all that seriously as a legitimate basis for making decisions. Our host seems to be one of these.

    But if men and women's differences in bodily form contain deep inherent meanings, then it is not in any way inherently unjust to treat men and women quite differently in many (not all) respects simply because they are men and women. Specific instances of different treatment can, of course, be unjust, but the individual's character and talents are certainly not the only relevant criteria.

    On the other hand, traditionalists often live and breath in this kind of premodern universe, so they often assume other people can just see these forms and purposes in the world, when in fact those concepts are deeply alien to the modern mindset. In fact, the gap may be completely unbridgeable.

  46. I know that Doug Wilson has said that there are quite a few unordained women he would prefer to listen to than quite a few ordained men, but that he is still doesn't think women should be pastors.

  47. No, the kinds of essentialist distinctions between men and women that complementarians base their arguments on are utterly pervasive in premodern thought. In fact, they're pervasive in the Bible.

  48. Hmmm... so why do we find church father Jerome saying: "And that after displeasing God she was immediately subjected to the man, and began to turn to her husband.” (Against Jovinianus, Book I, 27). Why did God subject the woman to the man AFTER sin, if she was already subjected to the man BEFORE sin?

  49. Interesting points. Tell me, what about the man's body makes him the natural leader? Aristotle thought it was because the woman's reason lacked authority (although he never said why). Sociology debunked that myth a century ago, so now the inferior woman argument doesn't fly anymore. If our physiological difference mandates that the man must lead, what in the man makes him the better leader, for who follows a Nabal into folly?

  50. Thursday, you sound like you're giving a stock answer without engaging the article. Do you think that women are ontologically inept when it comes to leadership? This seems to me to be a crushing blow to complementarianism, and yet you brush off the post without addressing this point, instead attemptong to make the argument about progressivism and conservatism so that you can denounce the liberals, who have no absolutes.

    Well I'm not a liberal at all, and I think this article makes a great point, which you have failed to engage.

  51. thouse who obesevre the world according to the law are under a curse,the law is our tutor to bring us to faith,but when faith comes that which is partial will disapper,why?beacsue the participants surpassed the law and are one

  52. I agree with Greg. What is this "premodern universe" and its "forms" other than Plato's philosophy? What are the "purposes" other than Aristotle's ideas about men, women, and slaves, as found in his book "Politics." I think Thursday is absolutely correct that the forms are alien to modern poeple since few read Plato, but most know about the "forms" through Augustine's theology whose thinking was influenced as much by Plato as it is by Paul. Do we really need to continue to include Greek philosophy in our theology or are we finally able to return to the truth?

  53. Ok, so why don't we look at this argument. Should we listen to people who are incompetent, or should our leaders be competent? Luther thought so for he wrote that incompetent men were not allowed to assume the office of preacher. Why don't we?

  54. Griffin, since I assume you have "Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood," why don't you go and look for yourself?

    On the meaning of "ezer": Ortlund: p 104, Grudem: p 87, Frame: p 227, Footnote 19, p 507
    On deacons: Schreiner: p 220, 504, Knight: p 353
    On Genesis 4:7: Grudem: p 409, Piper: p 409, 42, Ortlund: p 109
    On 1 Cor 14: Carson: p 152, Knight: p 351

    All these writers contradict each other. How can this book be the one people turn to, when the writers don't even agree with each other?

  55. am reading "the Full Rights of Sons" Katherine Stegall, would highly recommend this for complementarians seeking a more complete theology, and egalatarians seeking to reach out to complementarian friends and acquaintances. It is very palatable for even the most fundamental hierarchical complementarians.
    The problem with the way we are addressing this issue (both camps) is that we are neither of us looking at the even bigger picture.

  56. Thanks for taking the time and energy to respond with this level of depth. While there would be plenty of room to quibble about various interpretive points, I can appreciate the beautiful edifice you have here. It is a nice enough edifice that I'm willing to take it on as a kind of essence.

    Still, let's suppose we do take this all on board. In this case, the female role is that of the body of the church, representing Christ completed in this sense. This maps rather nicely onto general observations about the way spectators and crowds are feminized, particularly by authoritarian leaders, who adopt the masculine role. This can't exist without some basic gender-bending...the men in mass are the feminized body, even if it is a group of brothers observing the priest administer the sacraments. Given that men are already feminized in this ritual, I don't see why women can't be masculinized. In other words, I embrace the feminization of men as the body of the church, facing the priest, even if this might be confusing if taken in the wrong way. By the same token, Theologically and liturgically, I have no problem embracing the notion that women would become masculine as priests, since the practice has always involved gender-swapping. According to your grand narrative form, I am intrigued by the idea that this would constitute a sort of retrograde motion: it would be atavistic, in the sense that your narrative points toward the dissolution of priesthood into a universal femininity. I think there is something truly valuable there, a deep sort of insight. And yet, I think there should be space for this to play itself out...in part because I don't quite embrace the atavistic reading of this story. (I also believe in an even less teleological account of M. Scott Peck's 4 stages, and that discussion could map onto this one if we wanted to chat forever :)

    Liturgically, I would suggest that female priests, within this symbolic system, also represent a reconciliation of laity and priesthood that is badly needed in the Catholic Church. Not that it is going to happen in the next 1,000 years. But after a few centuries of dysutopian post-humanism, I suppose anything is possible ;) At the end of the day, I read the type of analysis you provided here by temporarily imposing a fact-norm split on it. I take your symbolic mapping as spiritual facts, at least provisionally and for the sake of argument. Then, I work through it normatively, trying to maintain the full range of my normative convictions, arrived at in good conscience through prayer, reflection and discernment. These normative convictions, like all of my convictions, are tentative. But I don't see anything here that challenges my normative convictions about issues like women priests...and so I think through the impact with an eye toward normative justification. In some sense, that procedure may be suspect. I'd embrace a more empirical procedure, of actually investigating the impact of women priests. And I'd embrace a more 'neutral' sort of imaginative speculation, without an apologetic objective for either normative position. But failing that, I'm open to just suggesting why it would be awesome, theologically and practically, in an effort to counterbalance those who suggest that it would be a catastrophe, or that it is simply impossible and inconceivable. I've long thought that anytime anyone tells me something is inconceivable, they just aren't imagining hard enough ;)

    Anyway, I really appreciate your reflections, and the effort you've put into sharing them and interacting with me. It is good food for thought.

  57. Hi Dan, I noticed a number of claims in your post that actually perpetuate misunderstanding. These may be things you haven't realised yourself.
    Firstly you have mentioned the disparity between men and women in regards to unpaid work and compensation for paid work. Those two myths have been debunked for a long time, regarding the disproportionate unpaid work, the surveys that historically were used for measuring this had a couple of fundamental errors. The first is the time stacking, a simplistic example would be a woman would perform 10 hours of child care, an hour of food preparation (including lunch for her and her charges) and 3 hours of cleaning, washing and so on. Totalling 14 hours of unpaid work each day. In actuality she would do the 4 hours of 'chores' whilst performing 10 hours of child care for a total of 10 hours of unpaid work. The second error was the ignoring of any outdoor work, particularly any that was seasonal. If you spent 1 hour a day for 3 weeks of the year shovelling snow this wasn't counted. If you spent 8 hours a year clearing the gutters of leaves, it wasn't counted. If you washed the cars once a month, it wasn't counted. Anything less regular than 1 hour a week was discounted. The 2 hours of mowing a fortnight, discounted.
    In regards to the compensation for paid work, usually given as anywhere between 60 to 80 cents in the dollar is technically correct. If you add up everything all women make and everything all men make you will find that discrepancy but once you frame it on an as position basis you find that it disappears. Men will travel on average an hour more each day to work, they will work in more dangerous (and therefore better paying) positions, they will forego family time in order to work longer hours so they can provide more financially. Even in degree organised subsets they will take the more time demanding, and therefore higher paying jobs, an easy example is the criminal justice degree. Men coming out of University will usually start out in positions like Police or Corrections Officers, women with the same degree will take on paralegal or legal assistant. Which of these jobs pays more, yet also comes with the negative lifestyle restriction of shift work?
    Additionally you seem to be blaming men for being rapists (as opposed to rapists being rapists) and propensity for violence, yet men are the victims of more than 50 percent of domestic violence and in non reciprocal domestic violence (that is DV where only one person commits acts of violence) women make up 70% of the aggressors. As for economic power, women are in control of 80% of household spending, you think advertisers, businesses and their lobby groups haven't noticed that? Or perhaps political power? More than 50% of the voting population are female and when women run for office they are equally likely to win, women are also more likely to vote as a bloc. As for elected leaders we have Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, even our own Ms Gillard was adamant that our troops would stay in Afghanistan. I'm not sure that there is any basis to state that normative egalitarians are pretending that some sort of equality has been achieved.

  58. In Richard’s post we have two operative adjectives: ‘relational’ and ‘hierarchical’. To many these words take on a very particular meaning—one is clean while the other is unclean. One is of wholeness, while the other connotes inequality and abuse. Of course these words don’t really point to these things, but for many this is indeed what they have come to mean. For instance, hierarchy, is it not, too, a form of ‘relating’? Certainly it is. It is relational. It might not be a form of relating that you like. But to say it’s not the best way of relating would be to beg the question in this touchy issue. Also, the usage of ‘relational’ most likely still holds some hidden hierarchies. These might be vertical and not horizontal—but again such metaphors don’t really mean anything. (why is vertical ranking better than horizontal?). The ranking among the ‘relational’ group might well be among natural abilities or toward what feels cool or seems to work with the spirit of the day. Maybe the ranking is completely helter-skelter, with no rationale whatsoever. This is still a form of ordering and a rule of organization, therefore a hierarchy. Yet setting these particular words in front of ‘complementarianism’ in the fight over whose version really expresses the ‘right’ view is somewhat disingenuous and only really succeeds in “preaching to the choir”. In the end, we always find a way to justify what we want and rarely do we take a sober look at both sides of the issue—to sip deeply from the many declension narratives on all sides.

  59. I agree. That's an excellent book in that it addresses the issue from a purely Biblical perspective.

  60. Crucial, wonderful exposition. Thank you.
    I do have a question, though. Don't you think that questions concerning "complementarianism," more generally, will persist? I mean that the sexual difference is inherently complementary, in its most fundamental expression. I suggested (earlier comment) that that fundamental sexual complementariness is also expressed in further layers of gender-related biological expression, which apparently affect leadership orientation. (I know of no literature, but prima facie evidence is striking.) If you're interested, take a look at that earlier comment.

    Also, the question of "leadership" is tied here to the issue of authority. Please note that I absolutely oppose the idea that women should be subjected to male authority! The interesting and important question, I believe, is whether these is a largely biologically based orientation that affects choices of leadership types.

  61. I think the complementarian position can better be established not in terms of what gifts have been divinely bestowed on the respective genders, but in terms of Aristotelian proper function. A complementarian need not hold that women haven't been given the gift of leadership, but merely that men, as a norm of nature (not necessarily as a universal divine fact), properly function when they willingly accept the responsibility of Christ-like servant leadership within a church and/or family. A complementarian may also need to hold that it is a generally true norm of nature that women properly function when they willingly accept the responsibility of Christ-like servant nurturing within a church and/or family. One can accept these claims while denying that men have divinely and universally been given the gift of leadership; first, because these are expressed merely as natural norms (not as universally true of all men and women) and, second, because it is consistent with the fact that one has a responsibility to lead that one doesn't have the gift of leadership.

    I am agnostic as to the truth of these claims, but worry that there is a lack of common sense in the egalitarian pressure to refuse to accept that men and women, as a natural norm, have different natural inclinations.

  62. It's too bulky to be used as a label, but I stopped using the word complimentarian a while ago in favor of "teaching the unique submission of women". I think it's both precise and clear.

  63. I don't think complementarians need to deny mutual submission. Jesus, after all, both led and submitted, and Ephesians 5:21 is explicit.

  64. Sure thing, and thank you. This has me interested in a sustained reading of Jewish temple theology, through contemporary liturgy, and into a deeper reflection on the full meaning of women priests. Take care.

  65. I've never encountered a complimentarian who didn't deny that Ephesians 5:21 applied to husband's dealing with their wives. Perhaps there are some out there, but every single complimentarian I've discussed the matter with has held that the wife is called to submit while the husband is called to lead.

  66. "We don't have to get Aristotelian to hold any of this, just engage in attentive reading of the test."
    I've sure enjoyed and learned from your comments, but can't let that go.

    In Thomas' day the recent importation of Aristotle's work into the West represented the best and most current conceptual framework available to a theologian. "Just engage in attentive reading..." There is no "just." Thomas' framework has had, and continues to have, enormous significance for this question, which I was so pleased to see explained. Finding good--or at least acceptable--contemporary frameworks is just as important as reading the original text well. I think you'll rightly note that you just overstated what was a fine and important point, as I think may be the case for Suzanna.

  67. Susanna:

    You focus too much on intellectuals, who like to rationalize intuitions that are already there. I'm saying that premodern people had very different intuitions than moderns, and this had nothing to do with whether they had read Plato or Aristotle. The intuitions came first and the explanations of P and A came later.

  68. The point is that putting men and women into different roles is not inherently unjust if you start with premodern assumptions about the world. You are right that this by itself doesn't mean that men alone are suited for pastoral ministry.

    However, it is important to clarify our assumptions. If I start with premodern assumptions and our host starts with modern assumptions, we're just going to argue past each other. So, fundamentals are important.

  69. Again, this is simply incorrect. Plato and Aristotle are particular rationalizations of premodern intuitions, but the intuitions came first.

  70. Second, close reading of Genesis 1-3 should make clear that clear differences of gendered vocations are in place from the outset.

    I'd add that the essentialist and teleological ways of thinking which are found in the Biblical text are also found in all premodern societies, regardless of whether they had contact with Plato and Aristotle. Again, as Alastair says, this isn't to defend all particular manifestations of this premodern manner of thinking.

  71. Don't be a dick. I haven't read much Piper and Grudem, so it would be irresponsible of me to answer for them. I have read some Wilson and so was able to give an answer.

  72. Thanks for the response, Tracy.

    In addition to questioning her accuracy of her claims concerning the Church Fathers (for instance, has she paid attention to the way that the word ‘equality’ functions in their wider theological vocabulary—besides, complementarians aren’t necessarily averse to using the term to describe their convictions), I was taking strong issue with Suzanna’s suggestion that everything hinges upon Aristotelian (and possibly also Platonic) infections of Christian doctrine. Her underlying claim is that the entire position of complementarians rests upon: 1) a clearly demonstrable misreading of Genesis 3:16 (something that the assured research of theological science has apparently comprehensively refuted—if only theology were so straightforward!); 2) Aristotle’s sexist and biological inaccurate theory of women. She goes so far as to suggest that if we were ‘to rid ourselves of Aristotle’s inferior woman … the debate would end tonight.’

    To me, this has all of the hallmarks of a classic conspiracy theory. It is suggested that, despite all appearances, a theological position whose most prominent formulations arise from American evangelical Protestantism in the second half of the twentieth century actually finds its primary root in a belief that a thirteenth century Italian Dominican adopted from an ancient and pagan Greek philosopher. Beyond being rather implausible (few American evangelicals that I know of are well read in Thomas), this sort of conspiracy theory has the effect of dulling our ears to the actual reasons that complementarians give for their beliefs, reasons that generally have nothing whatsoever to do with a commitment to Aristotle. I think that we should have more respect for opposing viewpoints than to dismiss them on account of such spurious ideological lineages.

    If there is a significant group of complementarians to be found that are openly camping out on Aristotle’s confused theory of womanhood, then I will be prepared to temper my criticisms. However, until such a group is located, I think that it is important to engage with complementarians on the grounds upon which they explicitly base their position, most typically the reading of Genesis 1-3 and key passages in the Pauline epistles. As it is, Suzanna just leaves us with a gross caricature of her theological opponents.

    Besides, even if we granted (entirely for the sake of argument), that the idea of man’s priority in the creation were originally introduced into the Christian tradition through Aquinas’ appropriation of Aristotle’s mistaken viewpoint, this does not mean that the idea is without biblical merit. Aristotle can be completely wrong, yet the idea still could find a measure of justification on other biblical grounds, grounds quite different from those originally suggested. In other words, we need to engage with the idea on its own terms relative to the Scripture, not by employing the genetic fallacy.

    Analysing the various ideas and strains of thought (or historical social, economic, or political conditions) that have influenced readings of key biblical passages and our theological understanding of key subjects is incredibly valuable. Done carefully, it has the power to illuminate current problems in helpful ways. However, done irresponsibly, it can be used dismissively to explain away opponents’ viewpoints without attentive engagement, which is what I believe that Suzanna is doing here. Without producing evidence to back up her case, she has claimed that contemporary complementarians (unwittingly?) depend upon Aristotle’s view of women. Even though her analysis of Aquinas’ use of Aristotle is illuminating, the way that she is using that analysis in the present discourse—which seems to be the principal point of her comment—is very academically irresponsible.

  73. Alastar,
    Thank you for such a thoughtful response. I smile to have made the original point to you (neglecting the crucial role of conceptual frameworks...). To the extent that Suzanna was "dismissively explain[ing] away opponents' viewpoints without attentive engagement," I acknowledge the force of your points. I too pushed back--from another direction--on her sweeping statements. But, to this: "If there is a significant group of complementarians to be found that are openly camping out on Aristotle's confused theory of womanhood, ...I will be prepared to temper my criticisms." In all seriousness, have you watched any teaching on Catholic TV (EWTN)? Thomas is still the Doctor Communis of the Catholic Church. Is the Catholic Church "complementarian"? I guess it's tough to say anything helpful about a billion people, all at once.
    Your learning so far exceeds my own, that I'd better keep it to these bland remarks.
    Many thanks!

  74. Thomas is indeed a hugely significant figure in Catholic thinking. However, in my many interactions with Thomists, I have yet to encounter one who holds to his understanding of womanhood (although the Roman Catholic Church is broadly 'complementarian'). Like Luther's views on the Jews among vocal Luther fans, most Thomists would firmly reject Aquinas' teaching on this particular point.

  75. Just to clarify, I didn't bring up Piper and Grudem.

    Griffingulledge did in approvingly citing here the CBMW and below in saying: "Have you even read "Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood" by Piper and Grudem? I'd be shocked to hear you say yes. SHOCKED."

    So I'm responding directly to his comment and his cited representatives for complementarianism. Not sure what Rachel Held Evans has to do with my responding to Griffingulledge's citation of Piper and Grudem as complementary exemplars. Seems your beef is more with him than me, but you responded to me and brought Rachel in.

  76. It wasn't just your comments that I had in mind. I was identifying a more general set of concerns. Here are the things that prompted me to make the comment:

    1. Your post, within which complementarianism is treated as a fairly unitary position.

    2. Rachel Held Evans' post, which you link at the beginning of your own, which is considerably more problematic than yours in these respects.
    3. Griffingulledge's comment and yours that follows it, in which you both focus on Grudem and Piper, in a conversation that lacks attention to the wider diversity of complementarian positions except as a dismissing tactic.
    4. My more general disappointment about the consistent focus of the debate upon such figures and my hope for a more wide-ranging discussion of Christian teaching in this area.

  77. Hi Alastair,

    Sorry to add another comment to this, but I have a post coming out tomorrow that I think you are going to, well, hate. I'm staying with this ontological ineptitude thing, and while I do think it names and calls out and important aspect within complementarianism I keep mentally coming back to your comments here, about how 1) ontological inaptitude may be better than ontological ineptitude, 2) how a straightforward reference to hierarchy is misleading, and 3) how this leadership thing is all pretty vague and messy.

    Now I can, and largely do, agree with all that. So I'm trying to tease out where, exactly, you and I might differ. That is, I don't think I can match your talents in describing gender roles in robustly theological and biblical ways, but what I can't get clear on in reading you is how you see it all "cashing out" in practice.

    For example, to be very concrete and crude about it, do you think a women can preach a sermon for the church?

    It's stuff like that I'm wondering about. What, exactly and specifically, should women be prohibited from doing in the church? And how exactly are those prohibitions connected, if at all, to the theological vision you've been articulating in this thread (and elsewhere)?

    For example, it seems to me that I can see a woman preaching in my church and endorse just about everything you've described here about men and women. I don't see the obvious theological connections to your views and prohibitions of this sort. So maybe there aren't any. So some clarification about this--how your theological vision concretely cashes out in prohibitions and/or inclusions in various church practices from preaching to pastoral care to administrating the church workplace--would be helpful to me.

  78. In regard to the pay gap, you have cited a document showing raw numbers, it doesn't account for any controls such as hours worked or years of service, that across the board men work 56% of all hours worked already begins to demonstrate where such numbers fall down.
    I found that chore graph interesting in that it did account for non-housework chores yet the nsf.gov link below clearly states that theirs doesn't, also for a gap below 1 hour. Again 1 hour being the additional work travel time men take on average each day.

    I was kina hoping you wouldn't ask for sources simply because there are so many, it gets exhausting listing them all.
    Chore Gap
    links to
    Pay Gap
    Even women's aid groups show it at 7% rather than 77%
    The next link shows what sort of choices are made in regards to work


    Several of these articles link into other reports but the two best to begin with are the top two. If you need more I'm happy to get them.

    I'm glad you stated that you aren't blaming men for the culture of rape, I was confused by the statements that women are exposed to a degree of sexual violence that men aren't (once you include prison rape and 'other sexual assault' which is the FBI's term for forced envelopment) you will find more male victims than female victims in the US and "that men (in general) need an additional push to actively dismantle things like the culture of rape". I guess my response was based in the experience of advertising campaigns that tell men that only we can stop rape, comments that all men are potential rapists and the constant denial that men can be the victim of rape or that only men perpetrate rape in main stream media and my own education experiences.

    Should we be a part of ending this so called rape culture? Absolutely, but I think that is going to remain an increasingly difficult job when we deny or ignore so many victims simply because of their gender, and when wider society has it's sights set on the goal of "anything that makes you happy" which permits and even encourages every every sort of sexual expression beyond heteronormative despite their long term destructive natures. Both of which leave many people confused about what is acceptable behaviour and the first of which does nothing to encourage men to stop a culture that they aren't part of.

    Finally, my apologies for posting as a guest, on these topics I do feel vulnerable to attack either through direct physical means or through false accusations designed to destroy reputations. I wouldn't be the first.

  79. Very interesting. I should try respect and listening, but you can't make it through the book because you find it 'wanting'. Way to listen. See what I mean? It's hard to respond to points of view when our own arrogance leads us to refuse even engaging it.

  80. Right, which is why Margaret Mead found that all cultures arrange gender issues differently. Sometimes it's men who are considered weak, other times it's women etc. If we look around the world and say, "This is how it's always done," we risk calling sin God's perfect will. A proper understanding of Genesis 3:16 goes a long way. The modern rendering, the woman desires to control the man, is in perfect opposition to the patristic era. How can we talk about traditional theology and how the church has always denied women their place in teaching the church, when we invent our own theology as we go?

  81. Oh, so you like Nietzsche? He is famous for his "Will to Power" which allowed out instincts free reign; if you had the will power to subject everyone else, you were good to go!

  82. Ah, yes, the inferiority of the woman that crept into the church in the 2nd century. We find it in writings of Clement of Alexandria, a philosopher turned theologian. We find it also in the writings of Chrysostom (who nevertheless said the woman's subjection began after sin for, "neither God or the man said anything about subjection to the woman," at creation, instead the man said she was “bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh,” which signified her equality with the man. Homilies on First Corinthians, Homily XXVI.), Jerome designed inferiority only to the married woman; virgins were equal to the man by creation, as were continent married women.

    The primacy of the man that found its way into the church does not prove that the early church taught creation based subjection, It proves how the church struggled with the cultural infiltration while trying to remain faithful to apostolic tradition. Try to find one writer from the first-second centuries who actually says that God created the woman to be the man's subject. The fourth century church was already in the clutches of Rome; to prove your point, you have to go closer to the origin, such as Clement of Rome, who incidentally wrote about mutual submission [the body literally breathing together]. What is most important to note is that women deacons disappeared in the 13th century, right after Thomas Aquinas wrote his Summa Theologica. Before the twelfth century, the church records (such as tombstones, mosaics, letters ect) show evidence of women as deacons, elders, and bishops. If you want to prove your point, you need more than just two obscure quotes from the patristic era.

  83. Okay, that's becoming more clear. So a woman could preach, in a sort of generic congregational assembly, but couldn't be, like, a bishop. Correct? Because a bishop would exercise a pastoral authority over the church (binding and loosing if you will), and to keep the symbolism consistent with the gendered metaphor of "Father" in Scripture the bishop should be a man.

    I think, here, at this point, you and I might start parting ways. I appreciate what you are articulating here, the important role you see in the congruence of gendered symbolism in the church and the bible/revelation and how if that congruence is distorted or discarded how something vital would be lost.

    Something may, indeed, be lost, but here I assume a confessional posture to say I can't get my head around the importance of the symbolic gender congruence. For one biblical reason and for another experiential reason.

    The biblical reason is that, while God may be symbolically/grammatically "male," Jesus seems (as I read him) to blow up any attempt to replicate those symbols in human hierarchies. "Call no man on earth Father." I take that command, and I'm laying my hermeneutical cards on the table, to trump just about everything else. Which means everything you've basically argued for. Sorry about that. I just want to be transparent about what I'm doing. I would add to this hermeneutical move, in a supporting and reinforcing role, Jesus's prohibitions about "lording over." "It shall not be so among you."

    The experiential reason has to do with how hierarchies affect the hearts and minds of human beings. I'm convinced that hierarchies are inherently pernicious. That may be my liberalism showing through. Regardless, I believe this to be one of the reasons Jesus leads "from below." It's the only way to deal with the sin of human arrangements, particularly and especially hierarchical arrangements. I don't see this as a liberal move as what I have in mind here is kenosis, something deeply, deeply cruciform. Something radically offense to both liberals and conservatives. No one--no egalitarian or complementarian--wants to lead the way Jesus led.

    In my mind, then, there is a congruence here between the biblical witness and empirical reality which rings "true" to my mind. And so here I stand. Warts and all.

    BTW, you and I really need to get together for a long conversation some time. :-)

  84. Guys, when you talk about someone, at least spell the name correctly, ok?
    You think I'm wrong? You talk in circles, do not address the question, and think you are proven right. It doesn't work that way. In 1990s theologians returned Genesis 3:16 into a consequence of sin as a direct result of the challenging of Thomas Aquinas twofold subjection. You can read any theology book from 1980s and older and you will find that Genesis 3:16 was believed to be a commandment from God. Just look at the confusion the twofold subjection caused in theology after its creation:

    In the eighteenth and nineteenth century Protestant theology, the twofold subjection
    of the inferior woman was a central theme. Matthew Henry (1662-1714) believed the woman
    was equal due to her origin from the man (Gen. 2:22) but also that the woman’s
    creation for and from the man was the reason for her subjection (1 Tim. 2:13; 1
    Cor. 11:8-0). Furthermore, Henry believed it was due to the Fall the woman was
    forbidden from usurping authority (Gen. 3:16), for she who had been equal from
    creation, was made inferior due to sin. Yet, Henry maintained also that the subjection
    after the Fall “ought never to be complained of, though harsh; but sin must be
    complained of, that it made it so,” for had the woman not taken the fruit she
    would never have complained of her subjection which begun at Creation. Because
    of Thomas Aquinas’s twofold subjection, Henry used 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians
    11 to create the subjection which he did not find in Genesis 2, which caused
    the contradiction in his theology. [1]

    Adam Clarke (1760/2–1832) believed the woman was created
    neither inferior nor superior, for she was in all things like and equal to the
    man, (Gen. 2:18) with equal powers, faculties and rights (Gen. 2:21). And
    although the “woman had probably as much right to rule as the man” the
    subjection to the will of her husband is part of her curse (Gen. 3:16). Yet, he
    believed also that because “Adam was first formed, then Eve,” by “this very act
    God designed that he should have the pre-eminence.” (1 Tim. 2:13) But most
    importantly, Clarke adhered to the Aristotelian dogma according to which it is
    the structure of the woman’s body which shows her inferiority to the man.[2]

    Albert Barnes (1798–1870), who wrote as the women’s rights
    movement was being formed, made the woman a complete contradiction. Barnes
    believed that the woman’s creation from the man made her the man’s equal (Gen.
    2:20),[3] but because she took the lead in transgression, she was subjected to her
    husband’s will (Gen. 3:16). Although the woman was not to be regarded inferior
    in rank and nature because she was created from the man, Adam’s prior creation
    signifies that “the woman should occupy a subordinate situation, and not usurp
    authority,” (1 Tim. 2:13) the veil being “the usual and appropriate symbol of
    their occupying a rank inferior to the man.” (1 Cor. 11:3, 9) It is not
    possible to reconcile the contradictions in Barnes’s text, but if we remove 1
    Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 11 from the equation, we find that Barnes affirms
    that the woman was created an equal and was subjected as a result of the Fall.

    [1] Matthew Henry, Matthew
    Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible:
    New Modern Edition, Electronic Database, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.,

    [2] Adam Clarke, Adam
    Clarke's Commentary on the whole Bible, Electronic Database, Biblesoft,

    [3] Albert Barnes, Barnes'
    Notes on the New Testament, Electronic Database, Biblesoft, 1997.

  85. Academically irresponsible? You do know that Thomas Aquinas entire work is a synthesis of Aristotle's works and medieval theology, Thomas considering Aristotle's logic the result of an uncluttered mind? You do know that Thomas Aquinas helped translate Aristotle's works, brought back from the Orient by crusaders, into Latin after their thousand year absence from Europe, wherefore he created his synthesis? What about this is irresponsible? That no one calls the woman a "misbegotten male" does not mean that it is not the reason for the woman's inferiority, which up to the twentieth century was the reason for the woman's subjection. Sociology got rid of the inferior woman, which left theologians with quite the task: why did God subject the woman to the man. The "why" is still missing.

  86. What premodern assumptions could you be referring to? That women are ontologically inept in the spheres of leadership?

  87. The Catholic response to the changing of the
    interpretation of Genesis 3:16 is seen in that although Rev. Regis Scanlon
    refers to Thomas’s twofold subjection, he views the verse as a description of a
    “bad” subjection given to Eve as a punishment and “a constant threat” from
    which the married couple escapes, for the husband’s authority is given to bring
    about mutual submission based upon their free commitment.[1]
    I.e., Scanlon no longer agrees with Thomas’s view that Genesis 3:16 mandates the
    man to rule over the woman

    [1] Rev. Regis Scanlon, Women Deacons: At What Price? Catholic
    Culture, http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=3439&repos=1&subrepos=0&searchid=482727
    (accessed June 29, 2009).

  88. Thomas didn't come up with his "womanhood" out of the blue. Had Jerome not changed Genesis 3:16 in 404, Thomas would have had no reason to answer the rhetorical question whether the woman should've been created before sin because her subjection began after sin. Jerome was not the only one who has tampered with Genesis 3:16. Every time theology has changed so has this verse:

    How many times can a verse be changed in Bible translations before anyone notices that something fishy is going on? Is it possible to do it, say, nine times over the course of sixteen centuries? Yes, it actually is. Genesis 3.16 has been changed numerous times over the centuries. With every major change in theology, this one verse has been changed in both wording and meaning. But why this particular verse of all the verses in the Bible? Because it is the only verse in the Bible that talks about the man‟s rule.
    The first change was made by Jerome in the beginning of the fifth century in his newly created Latin translation. Instead of providing a literal translation, he decided to express the meaning of the verse as the patristic church understood it. In the Vulgate, Genesis 3.16 tells us that the woman was placed under the man’s authority for Jerome thought the verse said God caused the woman to turn to the man as a punishment for her sin. For about a thousand years, the Latin translation was the only one available. When the reformers decided to rid themselves of the obsolete language in favor of languages actually spoken by the people, the meaning of the verse was changed again. The German reformer, Luther, changed Jerome‟s paraphrase with a small addition of his own: he added the word “will” to the text making the woman‟s will subject to the man as a punishment for her sin; Calvin agreed with Luther for he thought the verse said the woman would desire only that which the husband wished, as her punishment was servile
    subjection.xxiii The creators of the Geneva Bible decided that it was the woman‟s desire that was subject to the man while Luther‟s English contemporary Myles Coverdale chose the word “lust,” making the woman literally lust after the man. The King James Version scholars must have felt uneasy about using such a crude word for they chose the more polished word “desire,” setting precedence for four centuries of translations. A deviation from the norm - and the Septuagint itself - is found in the nineteenth-century English translation of the Greek Septuagint in which the woman‟s submission is said to be to her husband. The latest change, made at the end of the twentieth century, is found in the footnotes of The New Living Translation: the desire is now understood to be the woman‟s desire to control the man.

  89. Roman Catholicism believes the Pope represents Christ on earth; Eastern Orthodoxy rejects the Pope as the representative of Christ on earth. Which tradition is correct? In other words, either we have traditions that came later and not from the apostles, or we don't. Pick one.

  90. It just surprised me. I wanted to make sure Tracy knew it was I who was responding to his post, hence the question :)

  91. You know Tracy, I find it interesting that in anthropology, complementarity refers to something quite different. From Margaret Mead's book "Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in a Changed

    Or she [the mother] may treat the child as one who is different from herself, who
    receives while she gives, with the emphasis upon difference between the
    mother’s behaviour and that of the child as she cherishes and shelters and
    above all feeds a weak, dependent creature. This patterning of the relationship
    may be called complementary, as each of the pair is seen as playing a different
    role, and the two roles are conceived as complementing each other… To the
    extent that the child’s whole individuality is emphasized, there is symmetry;
    to the extent that its weakness and helplessness are emphasized, there is
    complementary behaviour; and to the extent that the mother gives not only her
    breast, but milk, there is the beginning of reciprocity. But cultures differ
    greatly as to which they emphasize most.[1]

    [1] Mead, 64-65.

  92. The reason gwally had such hard time reading it was because the book is so filled with contradictions that I could use it to drain my pasta. Really, you need to find another book, because RBMW isn't one to be trusted.

  93. Hmmm... I should've been more careful with my metaphor. RBMW is so full of contradictions that it is like Swiss cheese: so full of holes that I could use it to drain my pasta. And why is it that you respond to gwally's post, but no mine? Do you have nothing to say?

  94. Actually, I think you're (partly) right - and I'm a left-leaning feminist who stopped going to church a decade ago. I don't really agree with dividing all the ways of viewing the world into two distinct camps - people and world views are far more complex than that, and there are way more options than just God-ordained gender roles vs. sex "being a fairly arbitrary arrangement of atoms."

    However, I have found that many disagreements between myself and the fundamentalist world of my youth come down to the basis from which we are viewing the world and determining morality :is it based on these abstract "forms, essences, purposes"/"the Word of God" or lived reality, which tends to be centered around questions of whether or not something is causing tangible harm or doing good. Really, we probably both use a bit of both, but for most people, one way of looking at things is the trump card.

    I come down very hard on the "Does this help or harm people?" side of the question when it comes to right and wrong, and yes, I do in fact inhabit a radically different universe than those with what you call a pre-modern view. (And it's not that I don't understand that viewpoint - I was raised in it, and it damn near killed me - I just think it's dreadfully and terribly wrong.) I've gotten much better at figuring out when this is the case in a conversation, and recognizing that we're going to have to just agree to disagree. If there's what you call a "traditionalist" in a room with me, and we were to talk about gender roles, one of us would have to make a pretty fundamental shift in how we interact with the world to even begin to productively discuss our differences - which is why I stopped having the complementarian vs. egalitarian (or whatever you want to call it) debate years before I left church (and I was in churches where people were all over the map on this, so it actually came up quite a bit.) It wasn't that we disagreed on a particular issue - we disagreed on the terms of the discussion, making the whole thing an exercise in futility.

  95. Susanna, it seems to me that you are in serious danger of moving towards an argument based upon silence, the more that you push back the date of the teaching of the priority of the man in church history, even before figures such as Clement of Alexandria (150-215). I mean, just how many church writings that extensively treat the subject of women do we have before that point?

    However, since you ask for a first century writer, perhaps I could draw your attention to the Apostle Paul:

    ‘The head of the woman is the man’ – 1 Corinthians 11:3

    ‘For a man indeed ought not to have his head veiled, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man: for neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man’ – 1 Corinthians 11:7-9

    ‘But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness. For Adam was first formed, then Eve’ – 1 Timothy 2:12-13

    I would also draw your attention to the account of Genesis 2, which I discussed in my comment above. In your conspiracy theorizing about the corruption of the teaching of some early church about which we have rather limited evidence, you are at risk of explaining away or failing to engage with the evidence that we do have.

    And, yes, there are some references to the ordination of women to certain offices within the early Church. The New Testament, in passages rubbing shoulders with those restricting women from exercising authority over men, speak of formal offices for deaconesses, widows, and elder women and recognizing a female apostle in Junia. However, along with the references to such roles as virgins in the early church, what we also see is a distinction between the way that such roles would function compared to their male counterparts. These are not gender neutral ministries. I would like to see a return to such offices, but we must recognize all aspects of the evidence here and not treat such offices as presenting men and women’s ministries as functioning in entirely the same way and having the same meanings and prerogatives.

    You made the bold generalizing claim:

    ‘Creation based subjection was created by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, who translated Aristotle’s works into Latin and created Summa Theologica, which synthesizes Aristotle with medieval theology. None of the church fathers taught creation based subjection…’

    All that I need is a single quotation from a single early Church figure to prove that this claim is inaccurate. And Theodoret and Ambrose are hardly obscure and marginal figures. I don’t need to argue that this was the prevailing view—and that was never my claim—just that it existed. Besides, as I observed above, the Apostle Paul teaches the headship of man on the basis of creation, so I don’t see why we are focusing on the early Church Fathers.

  96. Susanna, I am acquainted with Aristotle and Aquinas, so please don't patronize me here. If you read my comment, you should see that the academic irresponsibility that I accuse you of does not have to do with the way that you emphasize the influence of Aristotle on Aquinas, but upon the way that you claim that this influence is so fundamental to complementarianism that, if we reject Aristotle's understanding of women, complementarianism collapses. I am surprised that it should be news to you, as you have clearly read in this area, but most complementarians firmly reject Aristotle and Aquinas on this point. Perhaps you could engage with such positions that actually exist, rather than with a strawman founded upon the genetic fallacy.

  97. Susanna, I am sorry that I misspelled your name. I followed the spelling that Tracy used in her comment and didn't go back to check whether it matched with the proper spelling. I guess that I am not the only one to have had my name misspelled in the course of this conversation! :-)

    All of the issues surrounding the historical form and development of positions on this subject are interesting. However, they really are besides the point. Most complementarians don't ultimately ground their position on the historical tradition so, however effectively you may be in deconstructing historical positions, the complementarian position will still be left standing until you show a willingness to engage with it on its own terms.

    I also think that you have a fundamental misunderstanding that afflicts your readings of these historical figures. I, like many other complementarians and along with numerous historical theologians and exegetes, firmly hold to the equality of men and women in the creation. However, 'equality' does not function in the loaded sense that it does for contemporary egalitarians. Men and women are equal in nature, in dignity, and honour. However, men have a created priority in vocation. This priority in vocation is not of the 'lording over' kind suggested in readings of Genesis 3:16, but an authority for service. There isn't a static hierarchy of being within which men stand over women either. Your failure to engage with such positions on their own terms leads you to see contradictions between points that those who actually hold the positions keep in close mutually-informing relation.

  98. I pick neither. However, both represent primary traditions of Christianity. The fact that they don't agree entirely doesn't mean that we must reject one or the other in their entirety. Also, when two such deeply rooted traditions agree on a particular point (opposing women priests, for instance), we probably ought to sit up and take notice.

  99. It should also be pointed out that your insistence that we locate an explicit rationale for the priority of the man in the exercise of authority in the earliest Church is not an approach that we take with most other doctrines. The fact that there is no detailed and clear articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity or that of the person of Christ in the first couple of centuries of the Church does not invalidate those doctrines or undermine the significance of the worship of Jesus in the early Church. Likewise, the priority of the man in the exercise of authority in the Church's teaching and practice does not ultimately rest on a fleshed-out ideological rationale, whether that comes from secular sociology, Aristotelian anthropology, or even deep Christian reflection on Scripture. It is a stated fact and a followed practice before it is ever conceptually articulated and defended.

  100. Alastair --

    "I am surprised that it should be news to you, as you have clearly read in this area, but most complementarians firmly reject Aristotle and Aquinas on this point. Perhaps you could engage with such positions that actually exist, rather than with a strawman founded upon the genetic fallacy."

    I don't believe she is participating in that fallacy that you attribute to her. In some ways it sounds like you are talking past each other.

    I think she is saying that if Aristotle's understanding of women never existed then the tradition of patriarchal understanding that we have today might not exist. If it wasn't passed down through dominant tradition of the church there would have been no outmoded explanations for patriarchal perspectives to throw out in a search for more compelling reasons to remain patriarchal (though the explanations you say no one uses anymore are certainly the same reasoning that was presented to me growing up). I feel like you are working from a modern-scientific sort of position/rationale (i.e., not giving proper due to the past for where we are today). It sounds like you are divorcing yourself from the previous patriarchal logic altogether and working from an assumption that even if the last many centuries hadn't been patriarchal there would still be theologians today that would arrive at the conclusions that you hold. We don't know that -- since the positions that are held today (by anyone) cannot be even remotely separated from the long church history of positions (both those affirmed and reacted to).

    Your claim that she is dismissing your current argument and going to the history of patriarchal-ism may be true. Though from my perspective that is not what she is going -- instead she is insisting that one must grapple with that before/together with current views because they are all connected. She is asking you question the assumption that the current view of complimentarians is such because that is clearly what the text says, or because that is what was looked for in the text. Clearly, that leads into a whole other rabbit trail, but the reality that complimentarian tendencies/assumptions already existed for many centuries cannot be ignored. The current positions of complimentarians are not the result of pure unbiased study (same goes for egalitarians) of the text. There is a lot of baggage in tow on both sides. So insisting that one seriously take that into account when doing current studies is not a strawman argument or dismissive, necessarily.

    Either way, Is it possible that you are being dismissive of her point by saying that it doesn't matter what people in the past have said because that's not *specifically* how we do it now. I believe she sees the two as thoroughly connected (as do I).

    I think when talking about egalitarianism/complimentarianism at this level it's not always helpful to bring in the, "But Paul talked about hierarchies as well, so why are we only talking about the early church." My guess is that we are familiar enough with the vast and well thought out interpretations of the texts in Paul's letters (not to mention the rest of the Bible) that it becomes a non-starter to simply rely on that.

  101. The existence of a PRACTICE is more important than dogma, with this we all agree. You say there was no explicit rationale for the priority of the man, which is true, because the PRACTICE of the church was equality. We have plenty of evidence of women and slaves serving as leaders in the church. We find it hagiography, tombstones, even Tertullian speaks of officeholding women. The rationale for the man's priority shows up quite conveniently with the infiltration of Rome into the church. It is found in the same time period when the bishops donned the senators outfit to better "fit in," and when the freeborn men began to refuse to be considered the equals of women and slaves. All of this can be easily found in any church history book.

  102. I read through Ignatius, Irenaues, Clement of Rome, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Lactantius, the Capadocian Fathers, Jerome, Chrysostom, Augustine; none speak of creation based subjection - except Augustine, who we all know used Plato's body-sould dichotomy

    Let's begin with Jerome. In his book "Against Jovianus" Jerome spends considerable time defending creation based equality because he wishes to defend virginity as God's ideal. Jerome wrote: “And that after displeasing God she was immediately subjected to the man, and began to turn to her husband.” (Against Jovinianus, Book I, 27). Now why would Jerome write this if the woman was subjected to the man FROM creation?

    Also Chrysostom, believed that the woman was subjected because “she made an ill use of her privilege and she who had been made a helper was found to be an ensnarer and ruined all then she is justly told for the future, ‘thy turning shall be to thy husband.’” (Homilies on 1
    Corinthians 11, Homily XXVI.)

    Both Jerome and Chrysostom saw Genesis 3:16 as a commandment from God, not a consequence.

    Let's look at Chrysostom, who talks about the primacy of the man you mentioned.

    If it be asked, what has this to do with women of the present day? it shows that the male sex enjoyed the higher honor. Man was first formed; and elsewhere he shows their superiority. “Neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man.” (1 Cor. xi. 9) Why then does he say this? He wishes the man to have the preeminence in every way; both for the reason given above, he means, let him have precedence, and on account of what occurred afterwards. For the woman taught the man once, and made him guilty of disobedience, and wrought our ruin. Therefore because she made a bad use of her power over the man, or rather her equality with him, God made her subject to her husband. “Thy desire shall be to thy husband?” (Gen. iii. 16) This had not been said to her before… The woman taught once, and ruined all. On this account therefore he saith, let her not teach. But what is it to other women, that she suffered this? It certainly concerns them; for the sex is weak and fickle, and he is speaking of the sex collectively. For he says not Eve, but “the woman,” which is the common name of the whole sex, not her proper name. Was then the whole sex included in the transgression for her fault? As he said of Adam, “After the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of Him that was to come” (Rom. v. 14); so here the female sex transgressed, and not the male.Shall not women then be saved? Yes, by means of children. For it is not of Eve that he says, “If they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.” What faith? what charity? what holiness with sobriety? It is as if he had said, “Ye women, be not cast down, because your sex has incurred blame. God has granted you another opportunity of salvation, by the bringing up of children, so that you are saved, not only by yourselves, but by others.” (Homilies on First Timothy, Homily IX)

    Because it seemed irrational that women should earn their salvation through works, and because virginity was so highly valued in the fifth century church, Chrysostom felt compelled to explain the inconsistency, but he could only conclude that “this is the amount of what [Paul] says.” In other words, the meaning of the verse was already corrupted at this point.

    Look closely at what Chrysostom says: "Therefore because she made a bad use of her power over the man, or
    rather her EQUALITY with him, God MADE HER SUBJECT to her husband. “Thy
    desire shall be to thy husband?” (Gen. iii. 16) This had NOT BEEN said
    to her before… The woman taught once, and ruined all. ON THIS ACCOUNT
    therefore he saith, let her not teach"

    To be continued..

  103. Why do I spend time talking about church history? Because we don't do theology in a vacuum. Our theology is a compilation work created by all the teachings handed down to us. We don't create theology without those who have gone before us. But let's consider what Paul the apostle had to say on the subject, since you mentioned it.

    First of all, 1 Corinthians 11 does not use the word "veil." Tertullian was the first one to talk about a veil, and he was an African theologian, who was defending a regional tradition. What the verse DOES say, is that woman should have authority over herself. The Greek is really clear on that: exousian echei epi tees kephales. This construction puts the authority over "kepahle," it does not cover the head, or talk about any external covering. Kephale was used of the whole person as well as a literal head.

    Genesis 2 does not even whisper about subjection. The term "ezer" does not make the woman a helper, for the help was a woman. Nowhere in the Bible do you find anyone talking about the woman as a "help" to the man. She is always called a woman, because the help she provided was the ending of the man's loneliness.

    The phrase "from the man" is connected to "bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh," which always refers to close kinship when used in the OT. The woman is a human because she was created from the man, she is his equal as a human. The same phrase cannot make her his equal AND his subject at the same time. Either the woman is an inferior creature, not quite the same as the man (not equal as a human), or she is the man's equal in every way (as human as he is).

    That the woman was created for the man does not mean she was created to serve the man; we are ALL created to serve each other: Gal 5:13-15 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." NIV

    The woman was created because the man was alone. That is the ONLY reason the Bible gives for the woman's creation. From Genesis 1, it becomes eminently clear that all humans are created in the image of God, and therefore equal.

    Now do you see where you get your idea that the woman was created the man's subject? It is from Thomas Aquinas. You admitted as much yourself.

  104. Thank you, Ben! Yes, you are absolutely correct in your analysis. This is a blog, I cannot share all I know on the subject, and yes, that may make me sound as if I am dismissing a lot of information. Naturally I am, but not because I don't believe the information is important. I asked you to consider two things:

    1. Why is Thomas Aquinas asking the question whether the woman should have been created before sin since her subjection began after sin in the 13th century?
    2. Why did he use Aristotle to answer the question?

  105. "Most complementarians don't ultimately ground their position on the historical tradition." I'm not sure what you mean by this. Every complementarian I know uses the argument that the church has never ordained women (which isn't true, which you and I both know). One of the most important tenets of theology is the confirmation from tradition. Bible comes first, tradition second. The Bible should correct our traditions, not the other way. If complementarism doesn't wish to ground their position on historical tradition, are they really part of the same church?

  106. I thought you said in an earlier post that tradition doesn't matter for complementarism? Which one is it?

  107. Thanks for the substantive reply and clarification. I agree with several points and yet still find myself disagreeing with conclusions. We clearly have very different attitudes toward biblical interpretation which would be more interesting to discuss in another forum (partly why I find internet exegesis unhelpful and usually refrain from attempting). You pose an appropriate challenge to those who accept your hermeneutical assumptions but don't directly engage your interpretations, but again this challenge assumes that everyone will agree on that very specific use of scripture. I make no attempt to protect myself from challenge and have no doubt that you have catalogued a through scriptural commentary that far exceeds mine. That difference may (however inadequately) hint at the direction of some of these comment conversations. Additionally, I've noticed that questions usually only flow one direction: toward you, not away from you. Conversation always holds open the possibility for mutual conversion, and that can't happen if we don't use questions marks. Good luck to you in your studies!

  108. Katherine's book is outstanding. Her finding of the connection between growth and the head is profound, and shatters the concept that the head rules. The body is connected to the head and grows into it. No authority needed.

  109. Just in case it wasn't clear in my previous comment (which now that I read through it again it's not very clear) I wasn't just clarifying/defending your analysis, I also generally agree with it. I'm very much an feminist/egalitarian/mutualist.

  110. How does the husband submit if he leads? Or perhaps leading isn't antagonistic to submission if submission refers to co-operation. A leader and a follower must co-operate. But if submission refers to obedience, the leader cannot submit. So which one is it?

  111. In addition, how can a husband have the right to command his wife, if love does not seek its own? (1 Cor 13:5) Self-seeking is a work of the flesh (Gal 5) How can a man demand that his wife follow his preferences? If a wife has the right to dissent when it comes to unbiblical practices, why must she always obey the man's preferences? Does the husband not need to consider also her interests, and in humility place her above himself (Phil 2)?

  112. The real question is whether the kind of premodern thinking you're talking about is essentially more Christian. The concept of ideal "forms" is not from the Bible, but from Plato. Personally, I find very little evidence in the Bible supporting Platonism, unless it is assumed and thus read into the texts.

  113. Nice to meet you Ben! I find it interesting how these two questions of my are approached with the attitude of "You're wrong!" without an effort of actually explaining why Thomas would feel the need to ask such a question and why he chose Aristotle as his answer. If the church has always believed in creation based subjection, why did he ask such a question, and if defending the position, why did he not choose ANY of the church fathers. He had read them, it is obvious from the Summa. To dismiss the testimony of one of the most widely read church doctors, and say that he has no bearing on the question is to set ourselves up as judges: WE decide that he has had no say on our theology, wherefore we don't need to consider him. The incredible influence Thomas had on all theology for the 700 years that followed is clearly seen. There were, after all, very few theologians in this era.

  114. I personally find the whole discussion to be problematic. If husband and wife are both living up to the call all Christians have to submit to one another and love each other, then why all this need to parse out a heirarchy? None of us should be over another; that's the way of the world. This whole idea of men over women has been tried by people across cultures and religions for millenia. It's never worked. It's always, always, always resulted in the oppression of women. Apparently it's like communism - a great idea that's just never been done properly.

    The bottom line for me is that the ways of God do not depend on the goodness of man to work. They have a power all their own. The teaching of the unique submission of women relies on the goodness of men not to devolve into oppression and abuse. Therefor, the teaching is self-evidently not from God. OTOH, the radical Christian teaching of the equality of men and women, despite being imperfectly implimented and often supressed has born such fruit that the places in the world where women are most free and respected are all places where Christianity has deep roots. That is the power of God at work.

  115. Great insights Rebecca! There is no place for a pyramid of hierarchy within a circle.

  116. I have a very keen interest in the use of language, so this article is quite an exciting find for me. After having read it, and a good chunk of the comments, I have comments of my own and a question or two (or maybe more).

    1. Some of these people (you know who you are) have *way* too much time spent on the internet. ;) (I suppose that is knock against myself as well, considering that I took the time to read all this.)

    2. Adding adjectives to nouns only increases the clarity of that particular label in an academic sense (even that is questionable); and in everyday discussions, it is quite the opposite—it actually muddies the water considerably. The vast majority of people couldn't care less wether you consider yourself a "relational or hierarchical complementarian." By the time you get done explaining what exactly is meant by those terms, the person whom you are lecturing will have driven to McDonald's and back with Big Mac meal. It's an entire system based on the Idol of the Marketplace (God help me from starting a debate on what Bacon actually meant by that.)

    3. Creating a "new and improved" label for someone's opinion does not help you learn to understand and grow to love that person as a unique child of God. Such sweeping pigeonholing only further enables us to marginalize and dismiss a person based on our preconceived (and often erroneous) interpretation of his personal philosophy or theology. In very few cases, it may allow us to lovingly, actively engage with that person as real, thinking, feeling being—but I opine that it overwhelmingly discourages that kind of behavior.

    1. Does this new label change how you view people for the better? Does it allow you to see how the Spirit is working and breathing Life into them as they are being transformed into a clearer reflection of Christ? Or does it enable you to dismiss them?

    2. How much do you think having this new label actually matters? Does it transform you in any way? Does it increase your joy to have it? Will it draw others to consider your views more carefully? Or is it going to be obsolete by the next Miley Cyrus scandal?

    3. Does it challenge you to be the best egalitarian or relational complementarian or mutual submissionist or whatever-random-term-that-I-can-come-up-with that you can be? Will it effect grace and shalom in the lives of those who use it? Or will it divide and feed fuel to the fire of the tongue?

    All that being said: I like the phrases. Hierarchical complementarian at least. Relational complementarian is too vague and imprecise. It's like saying "We have a relational approach to ministry." What? Just say "We value people over procedures" or something like that. Now we understand. Fanciful wordplay has its place (and I enjoy it a lot), but rarely does it change hearts. Getting to know someone, and why he or she has arrived at any particular conclusion is of vastly greater import than finding a term to nail to the forehead. in my opinion at least.

  117. If I can add to the resource list: Dale Martin's Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation explores the myth of textual agency, the ethics of desire and marriage, and socio-literary readings of texts. Also, much anthropological work troubles the generalized statements made by numerous commenters about premodern societies and the inevitability of patriarchy. Biologist Mark Clark (who taught Conflict Resolution at George Mason) wrote In Search of Human Nature, in which (among many other things) she discusses different cultures (some that rank and some that don't), the recent rise of patriarchy and civilization, and questions latent biological assumptions about sex and gender.

  118. How about we drop complimentarianism as a label, because it's about as poisoned at this point as "southern baptist" when it comes to equality and respect for other human beings.

  119. Someone please talk some sense into the nutcase who wrote this http://christianstudies.wordpress.com/2011/05/07/does-kephale-mean-source/ article

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