December 2, 2015

Is Complementarianism beautiful?

"I don't understand how you can say these things about Complementarianism, it's the most beautiful thing about my Christian walk." Is a common refrain these days. For a great many people, they can't imagine how their beloved and most favorite teaching can be twisted to hurt others. Then when I cite actual examples of what their teaching looks like outside of the context they know, their first defense is: "No true Complementarian would ..."

Here's the thing - your teaching says that "men are the leaders in the church and in the home" some go so far to say that "husbands are the New Testament equivalent of Old Testament Priests (which were always male.)" So, what are single men? What about single women? Some teachers say that "in general, single women should not submit to single men, but in mixed group studies, single women should defer to single men" (the word "defer" has the dictionary definition meaning "submit"). In many ministries, women are told that they cannot lead their own ministries, but they can fulfill their gender role of being a helper by finding a ministry lead by a man and help him in much the same way that a youth minister's wife helps her husband and a pastor's wife helps her husband and elders'/deacons' wives help their husbands - so if a craft needs to be pulled out of a hat, or a snack needs to be prepared, or something needs to be cleaned, that's what single women are expected to do to help single men who lead ministries.

In youth group, should the girls ever volunteer to lead prayer, they would always be swiftly reminded that "God really wants to hear from the boys." It's at that point where girls are constantly told to step back and step down so that the boys can step forward and step up as the next generation of leaders in the church. I'm reminded of a blog I read some time ago about the youth group where the boys were all guided in leadership-oriented activities, culminating in giving an actual sermon to the adults on Sunday. The parents gushed about how well their sons did; though no mention was made of what the daughters got to do. Since the highest calling for women is to be wives and mothers, it probably would have been something in that vein. At any rate, complementarianism separates boys from girls, telling the boys that they are special and get to serve in visible capacities, while the girls are different and they get to serve in less visible capacities.

Most of the time when people think of Complementarianism, they fail to realize it's implications outside of the marriage context. Thing is, men are men whether or not they're bachelors, married, or widowers. Women are women, whether or not they're bachelorettes, married, or widows. Complementarianism isn't just about the relationship between married men and women, but the differing roles of men and women in every stage of life. Which is why it's so awkwardly taught and applied to everyone else. Look around your church and ask yourself some questions: "Do my beliefs allow me to ignore anyone who isn't married because they aren't living up to their highest calling?" "Do my beliefs make it possible for me to treat people who are married better than those who aren't?" "Do my beliefs have to be applied completely and equally to all men and to all women so that there are no exceptions (everyone should be married, without exceptions; everyone should have children, without exception, only men should be pastors, without exception); or do my beliefs accept the ambiguity that faith presents while living out ancient teachings in a modern context?"

Complementarianism has flaws. When it's taught poorly, it can be abused in many ways. It can be used to tell high school girls that they're not allowed to have and pursue their dreams, it can be used to tell high school boys to stay out of the kitchen and to not follow their passions, it can be used to tell singles that there are doors that they can't enter and levels they can't reach because they aren't married, it can be used to pressure married couples to live in a specific way that might not suit their unique relationship to each other, it can be used to keep elders in the dark about how to live alone without their spouses to fulfill their roles. It can create the foundation upon which abuse thrives in almost every single form abuse takes. It's what happens when an abused wife goes to the church elders for help and is told to return to her husband and submit more. It's what happens when a husband makes all of the decisions about the finances and uses them to control his wife and keep her in the dark about his mounting debts. It's what happens when a husband criticizes his wife when she can't keep up with the house and the children and the last minute special event preparation out of the blue ('You don't mind, do you dear, but I invited the team and three clients over to hash out the final details over dinner' type thing.)

Not long ago I was asked if I had ever seen Complementarianism, male headship, gender roles, etc. modeled successfully as written in Scripture; specifically as women gracefully submitting to their husbands as the church submits to Christ and as husbands love them like Christ does the church and lead them in servant-leadership. My answer was: "Never." When I considered the marriages of the people I personally knew, the ones that were the most Complementarian were the ones having the most difficulty. When I considered the non-religious and Egalitarian marriages, they were thriving. Is it possible that every Complementarian I know just isn't a true Complementarian? Some of them really try their best, but it just doesn't work. My money is that the fault lies in Complementarianism's teachings, not in it's adherents (though, they are members of the human race and we've perfected getting things wrong, it's just statistically improbable that all of them could be having difficulties that can be blamed on human error.) I think that when it comes down to it, nobody can be a true Complementarian because it doesn't guarantee happier, healthier, more successful marriages just because it's hinted at in various out of context passages in the Bible strung together. (Where is it written: "The man who leads and the woman who submits will have a successful and happy marriage until the end of their days"?)

One of my shows has this line - "Blessed are those who walk in unison." Truth be told, I've always enjoyed scenes where an elderly couple is walking through the park side-by-side. Neither one leading and neither one following the other. Just together. It's the sort of thing that Priscilla and Aquila seemed to model in their own relationship - both making tents with Paul, both teaching Apollos the scriptures more accurately. They were in it together. I'd like to imagine that Aquila helped Priscilla just as much as Priscilla helped Aquila, losing track of who is supposed to do what so they do everything together. I never liked the idea where guys walked a few steps ahead of their wives, who followed along silently. It never looked like the kind of relationship that Jesus hoped that believers would develop - but it's an apt description of the result of Complementarianism's results when there's no check on it's teachings or balance on it's perspective. You see, I don't understand how you can say Complementarianism is beautiful; but that's probably because I see it from a very different perspective than your own.

1 comment:

  1. Istm that only Jesus Himself could actually make it work.