Complementarianism is the belief that God made male and female different and gave them different but complementary roles in the Church and in marriage. It is also understood as the opposite of egalitarianism, which, aside from acknowledging the obvious reproductive differences, holds that God hasn’t given men and women different roles in the Church or in marriage.
Egalitarians will sometimes accuse the complementarian position of being inherently misogynistic. They say, if men are told they are to lead in their marriages and in Church as well, that will puff them up, and get them thinking women are inferior, and then men will feel free to lord it over and even abuse women. Dr. Wm. Dwight McKissic, Sr. is shown presenting this argument in the recent By What Standard? documentary where he puts it this way:
“This whole sexual abuse scandal thing is a judgment of God on Southern Baptists, because once you devalue a woman to say she cannot preach on the Lord’s Day…you are telling men it is okay to abuse her, like has been documented.”
I was struck by the irony of this accusation coming from a pastor. Wouldn’t this same line of reasoning argue against leadership of any kind? If you put a pastor up on a pulpit and tell him he can preach but his parishioners do not have that same calling, then won’t that get him devaluing his parishioners such that the pastor will feel free to lord it over, and even spiritually abuse, them?
It only follows, right?
Our example of leadership
Or might there be a way for someone called to a leadership role to be able to lead without abusing followers?
In her Dec. 10 Christianity Today article, “What if I’m not the ‘submissive’ type?” Rebecca McLaughlin shows how the male leadership God’s prescribes is the very opposite of misogyny.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). How did Christ love the church? By dying on a cross; by giving himself, naked and bleeding, to suffer for her; by putting her needs above his own; by sacrificing everything for her. I asked myself how I would feel if this were the command to wives. Ephesians 5:22 is sometimes critiqued as a mandate for spousal abuse. Tragically, it has been misused that way. But the command to husbands makes that reading impossible. How much more easily could an abuser twist a verse calling his wife to suffer for him, to give herself up for him, to die for him?
Our example of submission
Just as complementarian leadership is nothing like how egalitarians portray it, so too complementarian submission isn’t what it has been made out to be. On the January 2nd episode of the What Have You podcast, Rachel Jankovic addressed submission, and while she did so in the context of feminism, her point is equally applicable to egalitarianism. Jankovic said:
“The central heresy of feminism is to believe that submission equal inferiority. We believe that Jesus submitted his will to the Father’s without becoming less than God. [So] it is actually really important that we believe obedience and submission do not mean inferiority.”
The leadership husbands and elders are called to is not the dominating, power-corrupts “leadership” of the world, but the dying-for-his-bride servant-leadership of Christ (Luke 22:25–26). And the submission that wives are called to does not make them any less the Image of God than their husbands (Gen. 1:27). Just as Jesus’s submission to his Father’s didn’t diminish Him, so too our own submission – whether as a wife to her husband (Eph 5:22) or a congregation to our spiritual leaders (Heb. 13:17) – isn’t about inferiority. It is, instead, an opportunity to imitate Christ!
Whether men or women, pastors or parishioners, we are all called to submit to the will of our Father. So why would any Christians think submission is inherently bad?