On Complementarianism, i.e. Patriarchalism

Rachel Held Evans

Scot McKnight introduces in the paragraph below a very good text written by Rachel Held Evans on complementarianism. I quote, approvingly (I add this in the spirit of full disclosure 🙂 ):

For a long time I have said a number of times that I don’t like either “complementarian” or “egalitarian,” since the former is not really what is meant and the latter is too tied into modernity. I only begrudgingly accept egalitarian and prefer the term “mutuality.” So, what Rachel Held Evans said recently is precisely how I see things: complementarianism, at the bottom, is patriarchy. It is hierarchicalism.

Rachel starts from her own family experience, as one who grew up in a complementarian culture. In spite of this, she and her husband ended up like this:

We make decisions together. (No one holds a trump card.) 

We share household chores. (No one gets out of doing the laundry or helping with the yard work based on gender.)

We don’t impose gender-based absolutes on one another. (I like football more than Dan, and nobody’s particularly concerned about that. Roll Tide!) 

We don’t have a single leader.  Dan likes to say that “leadership” requires context. It’s not something you are; it’s something you do. So depending on the circumstances, sometimes I lead, and sometimes Dan leads. Sometimes I support, and sometimes Dan supports.

And, here are the reasons why she believes that, as Russell Moore rightly argues (and complains, as any good Southern Baptist should), complementarians are loosing ground:

1. They are losing ground because more and more evangelical theologians, scholars, professors, and pastors are thoughtfully debunking a complementarian interpretation of Scripture and doing it at the popular level through books like The Blue Parakeet (by Scot McKnight), Discovering Biblical Equality (by Ronald Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, Gordon Fee),  How I Changed My Mind About Women in Church Leadership (by a who’s who of evangelical leaders), through evangelical colleges and seminaries that celebrate women’s giftedness to lead and are producing record numbers of female graduates, and  through organizations like Christians for Biblical Equality

2. They are losing ground because their rhetoric consistently reflects a commitment to an idealized glorification of the pre-feminist nuclear family of 1950s America rather than a commitment to “biblical manhood” and “biblical womanhood”—terms that many of us recognize as highly selective, reductive, and problematic. This reactionary approach often comes at the expense of sound biblical interpretation. (I touched on this in a post about Mark Driscoll’s interpretation of Esther and Vashti a few months ago. We’ll be talking about this a lot more in the weeks and months to come.) 

3. And they are losing ground because, at the practical  level, evangelicals are realizing that complementarianism doesn’t actually promote complementary relationships, but rather hierarchal ones

Complemenarianism is patriarchy—nothing more, nothing less.

As I have said, I fully agree, and I encourage you, whether you agree or not, to read Rachel’s entire blog post.

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

5 thoughts on “On Complementarianism, i.e. Patriarchalism”

  1. Patriarchy can be seen in politics, economics and any other areas were a simple and rigid hierarchical structure is sadly still required. Religion sometimes will end up aping the secular. It is when literalists come in handy to justify the reality taking the matter back in the context of ancient times.
    Any other solution such as contextual complementarianism would require too much effort and would require “dangerous” shifts in ideologies.


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