One of the great tragedies of our day has been the perpetual parade of testimonies of women who have been abused by men within the corporate world, the political world, and yes, even within the Church. These women bear deep wounds as a result of sexual assault, rape, and various other forms of sexual misconduct. Sadly, in some cases, the wounds are inflicted upon girls—who shouldn’t be forced to deal with the horror of such sin. Such men are monsters and deserve to be punished for their crimes. This parade has been long and dark.
Another tragedy has been the confusion that has surrounded this parade. The confusion has erupted, not as a result of an unwillingness to address the problem, but on the basis of how the problem should be addressed. Such controversy has arisen within evangelical circles as social justicians are suggesting that the answer is activism, deconstruction of power structures, and a redefining of key doctrines like complementarainism. This tragedy will only worsen if we continue to take out our frustrations upon complementarianism.
What Is Complementarianism?
At this juncture, we need clear definitions and we need to be sure that throughout this controversy within evangelicalism that we’re working from the same dictionary. It serves little purpose to have an honest conversation without working from the same set of terms.
While The Danvers Statement (1987) deals with the issues of complementarity, it’s not as robust as many would prefer. Bruce Ware has provided a helpful distinction between complementarianism and egalitarianism on the CBMW.org website. In order to discuss these issues, a couple of definitions and distinctions are necessary.
First of all, when discussing the issues of complementarianism, we are referring to the English word complement not compliment.
Complement is defined as “a thing that completes or brings to perfection.” The other word, compliment although similar in spelling, refers to “a polite expression of praise or adoration.” Eve did not speak praises to Adam, but she did complete him as his helper and mate. Eve’s presence drove away Adam’s loneliness, as God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18).
- Complementarianism = Both men and women were created equal in value and dignity as image bearers of God, but although equal, God has sovereignly designed specific roles and responsibilities for men and women that are distinct, unique, and both are for the glory of God.
- Egalitarianism = Both men and women were created equal in value and dignity as image bearers of God, and since they are both equal, women should be free to do what men do, serve where men serve, and exercise her gifts right alongside men in the spheres of society, home, and the Church.
Within the complementarianism camp, there are a couple of different positions:
- Narrow = The idea that women have distinct roles that differ from men in a narrowly focused area of the home and narrowly focused in relation to the office of elder within the church, however, women should be allowed to exercise her teaching gifts alongside men in the local church and beyond so long as she is not ordained to the teaching and shepherding office of elder.
- Broad = The idea that women have distinct roles and such roles and boundaries are not oppressive nor discriminatory. They are for her good and the glory of God as put on display in a broad sphere including the home, the church, and the society as a whole. Such boundaries in the church would prevent her from ordination to the office of elder as well as the function of preaching and teaching the Word to a mixed audience in the local church and beyond—because of the biblical texts such as 1 Timothy 2:12-13.
As you can see, evangelicals disagree on these matters—some of which derail completely into the world of what has become termed evangelical egalitarianism (which some would argue is not evangelical at all). So, as always, words matter as does our theology.
How Is Complementarianism Under Assault?
The issue here is not centered on worth or value or even the dignity of women. The issue is centered upon what women can—or in some cases, can’t do. The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 would fall into the narrow complementarian camp as it points to the office of pastor in article VI and states, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” In other words, it simply doesn’t go far enough on these issues.
Some popular voices and leaders within evangelicalism are suggesting that by raising women to the highest levels of denominational levels and appointing them to teaching and administrative roles at the seminary and denominational level—that this will reverse the curse regarding the sexual abuse crisis regarding women within the Church. Does this make sense?
In other words, the very clear teaching of complementarianism is being assaulted in order to help prevent women from being assaulted. Consider what Beth Moore said to a cheering audience in Dallas recently at the ERLC’s Caring Well conference:
In much of our world, complementarian theology has been conflated with inerrancy. Case in point: Notice how often our world charges or dismisses egalitarians by saying they have a low view of Scritpure. Because unless you think like us about complementarian theology they do not honor the Word of God.
It seems clear that Beth Moore has an agenda. While she admitted that it wasn’t the fault of complementarian theology, but rather a sin problem that precipitated the sexual abuse scandal, she goes on to open the gates wide to egalitarians on the basis that abused women need other women to turn to within the ranks of SBC churches and seminaries. She went on to say:
Far too many SBC congregations and SBC seminaries so few women are in any visible area of leadership that when women who are being abused by the system itself, or within it, by people who are in places of power, don’t even have a female to turn to. They don’t even know where to go.
Notice the language that she carefully and with great intentionality employs. She points to a system (to imply that it’s corrupt). She points to people of power (to suggest that our current system needs to be deconstructed) and she points to the lack of female leaders (to suggest that we need to raise women up to such levels of leadership). Then in a striking move, she points out that abused women don’t have any women to turn to!
Is the problem male predators or the lack of women leaders? It seems that Beth Moore, like many others, is missing the mark. She is conflating two different issues and drawing misguided conclusions that place a bullseye upon the doctrine of complementarianism.
Male headship is not a product of the fall. It’s an aspect of God’s blueprint for his people that predates the fall. When we examine the creation account, we see that Adam was created first and then Eve. It was Adam who was given charge of naming all of the animals (Gen. 2:20) and Adam likewise named Eve—his wife (Gen. 2:23). Adam was given charge to work (another responsibility of man that predates the fall). Adam’s headship was God’s plan and we find the commentary on this in various places in the New Testament—such as Ephesians 5:31 where Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 as he describes the mysterious relationship between Christ and his bride the Church. In that passage, Paul drives home the responsibility of the husband to love and lead his wife. Once again, this is not a post-fall responsibility—it predates the fall.
How Is This an Assault upon the Church?
First of all, when complementarianism is attacked, we should see it as an assault upon biblical truth. So, a move away from complementarianism is a move away from the Bible. That’s always dangerous. If we truly care for the little girls and the women within evangelical circles, wouldn’t we want to cling tightly to the text of Scripture instead of promoting a road that’s filled with dangerous potholes that ends in utter disaster? The egalitarian road is unbiblical and harmful to women in the sense that it asks women to do what God never designed them to do. Such burdens are harmful. One of the worst ways to harm the little girls and the women within the Church is to lead them down a path that is simply put—unbiblical.
Secondly, to assault complementarianism and to suggest that people who are committed to a firm (broad) complementarian position are to blame for harming women is to charge God with sin. Who is ultimately responsible for complementarian theology? It’s God’s theology! God created male and female and he created them differently. One of the aspects of God’s good design from the beginning is the way Eve complemented Adam in her differences that were used to be a help to her husband.
God’s design in a broad complementarianism glorifies him with this radiant imagery that points to the relationship between Christ and his bride—the Church (see Ephesians 5 and the idea of headship put on display clearly). To suggest that it’s somehow the catalyst of sexual misconduct, abuse of power, and the assault of women is to charge God with sin. To which Paul, when teaching the hard truths about the doctrine of election, stated pointedly, “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God” (Rom. 9:20)?
We are dealing with ultra sensitive matters at this juncture in this controversial debate. Not only must we use logic, we must be firmly committed to careful biblical hermeneutics and exegesis. In the process, we must come to conclusions on these matters pertaining to sexual abuse scandals, complementarianism, egalitarianism, and leadership boundaries through a God honoring handling of the Bible rather than emotionalism or pragmatism.
To Beth Moore’s point, I would ask an honest question. When she states that abused women in “the system” have no women to turn to, I would ask—why not? Do they not have a local church to turn to? Do they not have faithful women within their local church to care for them? Do they not have biblical elders who desire to shepherd their souls? Have we minimized the importance of the local church?
In the case where false teachers and wolves have sought out victims within the context of a local church, while the abused women may not feel that they have any pastors to turn to (in the immediate context of their abuse within their local church), they will have women who will care for them within their church. Beyond that point, they will have the authorities to turn to (according to Romans 13) who have been instituted by God for the protection of the abused and the process of executing justice in our broken world. Such abusers and wolves should fear the sword.
Placing women into leadership positions will not solve this problem. The reason that assaulting complementarianism assaults the Church is because when people move away from a firm complementarian position—it leads the Church to embrace various forms of egalitarianism which will always be a step in the wrong direction.
Furthermore, it misses the real point altogether. Men who commit crimes of sexual assault and abuse their power with sexual advances and misconduct toward little girls and women within the Church are not true complementarians. They are wolves. Simply put, they are monsters who prey upon the weaker vessel to satisfy their own sinful desires. They do not represent true complementarian theology.
Complementarianism serves to protect women from home intruders and spiritual wolves, heretics, and false prophets. This is God’s plan for both the home, the local church, and the society as a whole. It is God’s design for spiritual men, led by the Spirit of God, to faithfully lead in both the physical and spiritual spheres.
We must make sure the whole wide world knows that abusive men are not overly passionate complementarians, zealous complementarians, or aggressive complementarians — they’re not complementarians at all. Such a man has abandoned his post as provider and protector resulting in the abuse of women, and in some tragic cases—little girls.
Stop assaulting God’s truth in order to press a political agenda fueled by social justice which is very sympathetic to the egalitarian position. Any assault upon complementarian theology is an assault upon God’s Church. In many ways, we can look at this theological distinction through a positive lens that focuses upon what women can do. Being equal in value and dignity as image bearers—women can do many things for God’s glory. In fact, women have a high calling within God’s creation. However, we must not view boundaries as a bad thing since such fences in Scripture (1 Timothy 2-3 and elsewhere such as Genesis 1-2 and Ephesians 5) serve for the care of God’s people, God’s Church, and to promote the glory of God.
Any evangelical group, including the Southern Baptist Convention, that desires to open the gates to any form of egalitarianism in the name of caring well for women who have been assaulted are doing nothing more than assaulting the very bride of Christ. Since God has not been silent on this in his Word—we must not sit back and remain silent on such a vitally important theological matter. God’s Church needs faithful men and women who will speak up and tell the truth about God’s good design for men and women—designed and created in both appearance and function for the glory of God.