Since the coining of the word Complementarian by Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) in the mid 1980’s, complementariansm has become the dominant, politically correct language for what I refer to as modern patriarchalism. It is like a virus of epidemic proportions that has infected almost all fundamentalist and evangelical style churches who subscribe to gender based hierarchal church and family role identification. Patriarchalism, has been the dominant form of gender control and leadership in the church and family for the past 1800 years. The word complementariansim came into existence at a breakfast meeting of the founding members of the CBMW in 1986. Some of the attendees were part of the writing of the Danver’s Statement, which is the written creed of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The CBMW was organized with the single purpose of supplying organized opposition to allowing women to become involved in the leadership of the church and family, which they (CBMW) saw as a threat to their male hierarchical control model of church and family leadership. In other words, they believed in a patriarchal form of church and family life leadership and control but were looking for a “nicer, more modern” word to describe their gender control beliefs than the word patriarchal. This politically correct word, complementariansim, a word they invented, then exploded like a West Texas wild fire during a seven year drought, fueled by the massive amounts of fear by men who did not want their traditional power structure in the church and family diminished in any way. They simply did not want to share their male only leadership and they did not want to admit that women were just as capable and just as gifted in leadership as these men viewed themselves being. The complementarianism wild fire was then pushed by the growing winds of modern political correctness, another new concept of defining groups of people and political views that became popular during the Jimmy Carter years. The concept of political correctness was used by the Clinton administration to such an extent that it is now one the dominant political guidelines of liberal political thought and practice that actively guides politicians’ rhetoric. The complementarian wild fire burned its way through most evangelical and fundamental churches in the United States in just a few short years as it consumed and replaced the traditionally understood patriarchal system, along with repressing the small but growing groups of Christians who identified themselves as biblical egalitarians. This concept, political correctness, has now replaced the traditional uses of many words in the English language with words that have had no previous defined usage in these areas. The end result is that the word complementarian, which could have had a very positive, powerful meaning in the gender equality discussion, has become a corrupted word of negativity relating to gender equality.
In the blog post “Let’s Stop Calling It Complementarianism” , Richard Beck, professor and experimental psychologist at Abilene Christian University, proposes a division of the word complementarianism because of the tendency of both sides to include some complementarity in their descriptions of how they each view themselves. He says that one side of complimentariansim is this:
“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.”
He then describes the other side of complimentariansim:
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.”
And he follows the above statements with a personal thought:
“(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.)”
This statement is the most powerful argument I have heard for rejection of both complementarianism and patriarchalism as being what God wants mankind to practice! I agree with this statement 100%! He has just laid a solid understandable theological foundation to the entire discussion of rejecting the patriarchal and complementarian practices of the vast majority of the Churches of Christ, to which my family belongs. In that statement, he also calls into serious theological question the traditional understandings of 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:11-15, 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1, not to mention 1 Cor 11 and Eph. 5.
He then defines the two sides or divisions of complementarianism that he sees in the real world church in this way:
“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.”
I absolutely agree with him on how the Christian community as a whole is dividing itself at the present time. We are seeing churches move from a more traditional, but not openly labeled, patriarchal practice to almost stating they are complementarian in practice, while maintaing a status quo of traditional patriarchal practice. That is a hierarchal complementarian practice. We are also seeing churches move the other direction into what is presently known as gender inclusive worship while maintaining a complementarian practice of male leadership in the pulpit and eldership. This is apparently becoming the real world example of what Beck refers to as relational complementarianism. Personally, I do not believe either of these concepts are what Jesus wants and, as stated above, neither does he. I would love to see our churches recognize that Jesus does not want us to be patriarchal, hierarchal complementarian, relational complementarian, or egalitarian. Jesus wants us to just be his followers as described by Galation 3:26-29, 1Cor 12, and Eph 5:21. However this is the ideal. In the real world, our reality is that the churches of Christ will not move out of their present positions until they have leaders who will not be afraid to listen to Jesus first, then teach about how we should really be, and then provide true servant leadership, with some of them possibly being required to give up their leadership positions in favor of moving women into positions of leadership. These male leaders will be the ones who “smell like sheep” (“They Smell Like Sheep” by Dr. Lynn Anderson). They will be the true servant leaders of the churches of Christ who make it possible for the church to move toward the ideal that has been shown to us by Jesus. These men will never not be leaders (most elders, whether active or not, are regarded as leaders by the members) but they will be the men who will step aside and mentor new leaders as we move into a position of just being Christians who gather to worship, teach, praise, lead, and follow regardless of gender. The church will become as Richard Beck states in his blog:
“Thus, in conforming to the image of Jesus every person, of whatever gender, is called to reflect the full image of God.)”
(I have written one other blog regarding Complementarianism as we practice it in the 21st Century Churches of Christ titled “Equal BUT Different: An Oxymoron”. This older blog post can be found on my other blog site on the Clarksons.org web page. It is named Wiley’s Ways and is on the