Complementarians Aren’t Inherently Patriarchal

But they can be paternalistic. Here’s how to fix that.

Old controversies never die; they simply reinvent themselves. So it’s been with the evangelical gender wars, rekindled last fall by Kristin Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne, which traces the rise of militant masculinity in evangelicalism.

The debates were further fueled by Beth Moore’s very public exit from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). She cited an over-emphasis on the “man-made doctrine” of complementarianism. Next came Beth Allison Barr’s The Making of Biblical Womanhood, followed by the announcement that Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church (in the SBC) had ordained three long-serving female staff members as pastors.

While the alliances and battle lines have been predictable, the discussion has taken on new intensity, with neither egalitarians nor complementarians pulling punches. The subtitle of Du Mez’s book goes as far as to suggest that conservative white evangelicals “fractured a nation.” Barr, too, cuts to the chase: “Complementarianism is patriarchy, and patriarchy is about power. Neither have ever been about Jesus.”

One difficulty in evaluating the charge of patriarchy is that complementarianism itself is difficult to pin down. At its most basic, the view makes two claims: First, that men and women are equal image bearers worthy of equal honor and value; second, that men and women hold different roles, with men exercising a “headship” that corresponds to a particular kind of authority in the church and the home. But while the word complementarian has traceable roots (as well as a parachurch organization devoted to its advancement), its beliefs work out differently across church traditions.
Like evangelicalism, …

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