Harmless Complementarianism?

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

6 Responses

  1. I’m not sure how you’re defining “direct harm.” I know that for me, as a woman, I found the concept of ontological equality with functional subordination incoherent. Ultimately, if I am to be under male authority because I am a woman, and for that reason only– and if a man is to be in authority over me because he is a man, and for that reason only– then I am not his ontological equal, but am ontologically designed as lesser to the male. That is, I am unable by my very nature to do something (take a certain kind of authority) that he is able by his very nature to assume. That’s not equality.

    And please don’t say that because I can be a mother and a man cannot, that this is the same thing, because it isn’t. There is a corresponding role to motherhood (i.e., fatherhood) that a man can be but I cannot. However, being under authority is not a corresponding role to being in authority. It is a lesser, subordinate role. That’s what the words themselves mean.

    What this did to my psyche and self-image, while I believed it, I would classify as “direct harm.” Not abusive harm, perhaps, but harm nonetheless.

    • I struggled with that phrase “direct harm.” I wanted to show some grace that it does seem to work for some without whitewashing how flawed the premise is. I’m with you on the whole idea of ontologically equal but not equal in opportunity not really making any sense, but somehow it does for many (including many women). Maybe “obvious harm”, or “abusive harm” as you use, would be better?

      • I agree that it seems to work for some. I think the main reasons are: 1) some couples fall naturally and according to temperament into husband leadership, and so they don’t really question the paradigm; and 2) many complementarians only give lip-service to male headship as a theory, while practicing egalitarianism in their real-life marriages. In any event, I agree that “abusive harm” might be a better term. As long as one doesn’t think too much about the contradictions, it’s possible to hold simultaneously the belief that women are ontologically equal and that they are also subordinate to men in the church and home. It’s just that the contradiction remains, and most of the time, in some way, the deeply held belief that women are subordinate will come out in the way women view themselves and men view them. The main way I’ve seen this work out is that complementarian men can hardly help “mansplaining” to women from time to time– no matter how equal they claim they believe women are.

    • Anna says:

      You are absolutely correct. It is incoherent and illogical. Complementarians absolutely believe that women are inferior to and lesser than men. Then they lie and say the genders are equal with different roles. In fact, they even state that women flourish in these comp relationships.
      Not SO!! This belief is harmful to all women on so many levels.
      Maybe I am overly cynical, but I think the term Complementarian was coined deliberately to manipulate and deceive people (after all, women are easily deceived!).
      This nonsense will not stop until women get up and walk out of these churches.
      If my salvation is dependent upon being a complementarian, I will end up in the lowest part of Hell. 🙂

  2. D. Warner says:

    When I hear complimentarians trying to sell what they see as ‘beautiful’ – I just don’t see it. I find it ironic that they use the moniker ‘Complimentarian’ when it is far from it. It is hierarchical. One could argue that ‘complimentary’ doesn’t necessitate equality – and that’s true, yet Complimentarianism tries to sell women as ‘equal value’, while clearly displaying the man as the dominant portion.

    I don’t subscribe to any ‘lables’ per se in this debate, but I strongly believe marriage is a partnership. One where God designed us to support and bring out the best in each other, for His glory. Quite simple really.

    Complimentarianism may seem noble this from a male perspective, but I don’t believe God created women to be a damsel in distress waiting for a man to save them. God created women and He is the one who empowers them, not the complimentarian husband.

    Why would God empower a single woman to successful in life, work, ministry,etc, just to then decree that once she is married that empowerment is no longer valid.

    Within a marriage partnership, it is about both parties bringing all their skills to the table and working together to move forward. Both with sacrifices, both with submission, both with grace – where the unity is greater than the sum of the parts.

    I am a stay at home dad. I am not emasculated by my wife or her career. Some aspects of our marriage fit neatly into a complimentarian mindset. The difference being that those ‘roles’ are not because we’ve tried to shape our marriage into ‘pre-ordained box’ – it is simply because that’s how God designed us to best compliment each other. All for His glory.