There’s lots of conversations about Complementarianism these days. It may have started with Rachel Held Evans’ blog post “Will the Real Complementarian Please Stand Up?” which outlines and hotlinks to all the arguments about complementarianism you could ever want.
To define the term, Complementarianism is the belief that God has specific expectations regarding gender roles and that men and women are “complements” to each other as they both are better at certain things. Oddly enough, leadership of the household is the man’s quality. How unexpected!
While I appreciated the brutal honesty of Rachel’s piece, I’m not post-evangelical so I don’t fit into her tribe of folks. More to my persona, I resonated with what the more academic Dr. Richard Beck wrote in response entitled “Let’s Stop Calling It Complementarianism” which I think names the issue more to my kind of thinking.
Dr. Beck claims that to call it “complementarianism” actually falls short because there really are two forms of complementarianism that are intertwined. The first form is simple division of gender roles:
Generally speaking, complementarianism has two parts. The first part is that, according to complementarianism, a man and women are endowed with certain gifts and skills that, when combined in a heterosexual marriage, “complement” each other, two puzzle pieces that fit together to make a whole that reflects the image of God.
This aspect of complementarianism–that a husband and a wife “complement” or “complete” each other–isn’t inherently hierarchical/patriarchal because there are egalitarian arrangements where this sort of thing happens all the time. The Apostle Paul’s famous body metaphor for the church comes to mind. We can also think of any team or organization where our various gifts, skills and interests are lined up in a way that is “complementary”–you do that and I’ll do this because I’m good that this and you are good at that–to get the best result for the group.
Here we see that perhaps the best form of complementarianism is this one: just saying that men and women have certain gifts. While the science may or may not work out, it is generally recognized. And it doesn’t mean that a woman with power saw skills can’t be partnered with a man who likes to clean the kitchen. It just means that the best form of a relationship is with another who complements you (and compliments you on occasion). I’m not supporting this belief, just reporting on its best form in my view.
Sadly, this form is not complete without the second half of the belief system…and that’s where the problems really lie. Dr. Beck continues:
If that is all complementarianism was naming then it would be well named. But that’s only half of the complementarian position.
The other half of the complementarian position is this: men and women have different gifts that combine to reflect the image of God and God created the man to have the gifts of leadership. That’s the critical part. That is, when God divided up God’s nature between the genders God gave the attributes of leadership to the male, putting him “in charge.”…
It is this additional bit, that God gave the gifts of leadership to men rather than to women, that carries us well past the boundaries of what might properly be called “complementarian.”
Dr. Beck argues for a better term called hierarchical complementarianism, basically naming that it sees men as better equipped than women based on gender rather than gifts.
Specifically, it distinguishes between the sort of complementarianism that egalitarians believe in, what might be called relational complementarianism, from the kind that hierarchical complementarians believe in, a complementing that isn’t organic to the relationship (the relative gifts of the husband and wife) but is, rather, a fixed and preordained power-relation with men placed in leadership over women.
This is why hierarchical complementarianism is a form of patriarchalism. Hierarchical complementarianism is founded upon the belief of ontological ineptitude. To say that men and women are “complements” of each other and that men are given the gifts of leadership in this arrangement is to argue that women are ontologically inept when it comes to leadership. That is, women are permanently lacking and incompetent in leadership spheres (ineptitude) because of the kinds of beings they are, namely women (ontology). That is the belief at the heart of hierarchical complementarianism–ontological ineptitude–that reveals its patriarchal nature.
Thinking of the female pastors in my life (and I owe the entire existence of my ordained ministry to several women), the word “inept” doesn’t figure into their stories of their ministries in the slightest.
I can’t find anything that gives an official United Methodist position on complementarianism specifically (other than that we ordain women, so that should answer that question…). But there’s this section of our Book of Discipline that gives theological warrant to how we view the different ministries of the church:
¶ 130. The Unity of Ministry in Christ—There is but one ministry in Christ, but there are diverse gifts and evidences of God’s grace in the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:4-16). The ministry of all Christians is complementary. No ministry is subservient to another. All United Methodists are summoned and sent by Christ to live and work together in mutual interdependence and to be guided by the Spirit into the truth that frees and the love that reconciles.
Even though female pastors are vastly vastly shamefully underrepresented in the Top 100 United Methodist churches, all ministries are–using Dr. Beck’s terms–functionally complementarian: we have different areas of ministry and missional concern due to the nature of our relationship (our connection). It is in our connection and our seeking to overlap a little but give independence and interdependence to the parts that make us a coherent whole with no ministries greater than others.
Complementarianism as a church? Sure, it can work functionally. But as a hierarchy, it falls into the same trap as gendered theologies: way short of how God’s gifts are manifested and way short of the call for all to follow Christ who did not lay out different tracks for men and women and who is equally followed by both genders without regard to special hierarchical powers, regardless of the patriarchal historical context.
So even in its best form, complementarianism is just simply patriarchy. While the academics can call it hierarchical complementarianism or ontological complementarianism, I think we’ll just stick with calling it patriarchy.
Thoughts?(Photo: “Man and Woman in Red” by epSos.de, shared under Creative Commons license from Flickr)