I’m finding the label complementarian to be a tiring label to have. I’m tired of this teaching being skewed by culture wars and voices from the other side of the Atlantic. I’m also generally a bit fed up with much of American Christendom at present. I’m tired of the constant need to defend our view from views that aren’t ours and actions that aren’t ours and voices that aren’t ours. Fed up with all of that.
All of that pales in comparison to being tired and fed up of the misogyny that seems to exist within this camp of which I find myself. And if I’m tired of it, goodness only knows how fed up women must be of it.
The latest example of Christian complementarian leaders being mean has been towards Aimee Byrd following the release of her latest book. It was shameful stuff. I was encouraged to see, that despite the predictable silence from some quarters, there was a response from other pastors in the same denomination in addition to voices such as Stephen McAlpine (and again here) and Ed Stetzer. Both of those made an appeal for men (and I guess complementarian men in particular) not to be silent. Ed said,
Third, we men have a responsibility to step in and speak up when we see inappropriate behavior or speech concerning women. This is not just a complementarian issue; it’s a Christian issue and it’s a Christian responsibility—which means that is is also my responsibility. Men, let’s make it inconceivable that anyone in our contexts would make backroom comments about women’s appearance and inappropriate humor in general. Let’s not be afraid of our social status to the point that we don’t speak up.https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2020/june/complementarians-closed-rooms-aimee-byrd-beth-moore.html
While Stephen wrote: “Don’t comfort yourself that somehow your silence should be taken that you do not share their views and that, naturally, you would never talk about a woman like that. That may comfort you, but it’s a false comfort, and no comfort at all for the likes of Aimee Byrd.”
A couple of weeks ago, I preached a message about injustice with the second issue being violence against women. One of those ‘acts of violence’ is bullying and an attempt to shut women up simply because they are women. So I feel convicted within my own little corner of the internet to not be content with silence and thinking myself, that’s not me. As I’ve written before there’s no excuse for being mean and leaders who are mean in that nasty, abusive, insulting way should not be leaders at all.
And that’s where the tiredness sets in – on having to time and again point out that this complementarianism is not my complementarianism. Not so long ago Jonathan Leeman wrote a thought-provoking series of articles titled Complementarianism: A Moment of Reckoning. It’s a bit of an in-house argument but I think this moment should be a more important reckoning. The house needs cleaning out of misogyny and sexist behaviour. It’s sinful, plain and simple. I fully agree with Stephen McAlpine when he says,
This kind of language, tone, and attitude simply apes the ungodly attitude and language of the world. Actually it doesn’t ape it, it is the ungodly attitude and language of the world. This is what ungodly manhood looks like without the rude and sweary bits that Christians seem to avoid in the mistaken conviction that it absolves them. Hey it might be toxic, but it’s godly toxic!https://stephenmcalpine.com/unbiblical-manhood/
For some, the litany of examples is long enough for them to insist that it must be the fault of the theology. It simply creates a space for this sort of sinfulness and idiocy. I’ve heard that and share some sympathy with it but that’s where I again find myself working hard to point out the difference between the distortion and the real thing. As Kevin DeYoung wrote and it’s something that I deeply resonated with (see the sentence in italics), so much of this just doesn’t match what I’ve seen and heard from the women I’ve been privileged to be in a church with.
My parents love each other. My churches have been full of godly, intelligent, flourishing, strongly complementarian women. Most of my friends have very good marriages. Whatever I know to be true in my head about abuse or whatever I’ve seen of sin and dysfunction in marriages in nearly 20 years of pastoral ministry, there’s no doubt that it still feels deep in my psyche like most husbands are bound to be pretty good and most complementarian men are apt to be fundamentally decent. I don’t have a bunch of stories of boneheaded complementarians. But I don’t deny they are out there—men in our circles saying and doing cringey, offensive, or genuinely sinful things toward women in the church. That I don’t see them doesn’t make them unreal, and that other people have seen them does not make them ubiquitous. My point is we should all be aware that we tend to assume our experiences are normative and the divergent experiences of others are exceptional. This should make us quick to sympathize and slow to accuse.https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/four-clarifying-i-hope-thoughts-on-the-complementarian-conversation/
But I do wonder, now more than ever, if I don’t need to ditch that label, complementarian. For good. Aimee was asked this question and she answered,
I do see the pastoral role as a place for qualified, ordained men, but not because men are naturally better leaders. I see pastors as representatives of Christ, the best man. Nonetheless, I can’t identify with complementarianism, because I believe it’s a movement with a lot of doctrinal error, even first-order error. There are distinctions between men and women, of course. But we need to talk about all this with humility.
I feel that – there’s too much baggage.
I’m not sure I’d give the same reasons though as Aimee does for seeing a pastoral role for men. I certainly have a deep reluctance to say I’m an embodied visible representative of Christ, the best man. I mean who wouldn’t? Instead, I think Aimee actually gives a better answer and the one I would give in her next response.
We don’t fully grasp the beauty of our creation as men and women. Do we view one another as brothers and sisters who are called to promote one another’s holiness? Do we see the spirit of reciprocity that comes across in Scripture? Do we see that beautiful picture that Paul gives us in Romans 16, with all its exhortations to greet friends and co-laborers in the gospel? He’s giving a beautiful picture of the theology he teaches, where both men and women serve under the ministry.
That’s the conviction I still hold. That the Bible does envision differing roles in the household of God for men & women but this is not a hierarchy and definitely not, God forbid, patriarchy. Instead, I think it’s actually a beautiful vision of men and women working together for the glory of God. In much the same way that fathers and mothers working together in the family is a beautiful thing. Alongside our relationships to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, we relate to spiritual fathers (I’d call those men elders) and mothers in the church. They’re both needed but they’re not quite the same.
But be that all as it may, this post was not to defend or define but simply to say that on this issue – I’m with Aimee.