Complementarianism and the Cult of Domesticity


Have you ever heard of the Cult of Domesticity? The idea originated in the 19th century and is centered on defining what true womanhood means.

The similarities between modern day Complementarianism and the Cult of Domesticity are remarkable, which makes me wonder if much traditionalism in America stems from this extremely powerful movement in the Victorian era.

The Cult of Domesticity insisted that womanly characteristic resided in piety, purity, submissiveness and domesticity.

The home was a woman’s throne, her husband was her king, and her children were her glory. The Victorian woman was expected by both culture and religion to be the moral compass of the home, maintain purity, submit to her husband fully and without question, and maintain an orderly home.

A woman was looked upon as vulnerable, which is why her proper sphere was in the safety of her home. It was thought by culture and religion that a woman should focus all of her efforts on nurturing her family and her personal spirituality. Submission to her husband was a vital part of her existence; she was utterly dependent on him. The social pressure to comply with this ideal was enormous. Any person who questioned the Cult of Domesticity was looked at as a person who questioned God Himself and harsh judgement was theirs to bear.

Just as many modern Christian women have found comfort and contentment within the Complementarian movement, it is more than probable that many Victorian women accepted, delighted in, and enforced their roles within the Cult of Domesticity.

The point of this post is not to discredit women who have found their natural habitat to be that of the home or to shame women who have found one-way-submission to their husbands to be their “cup of tea,” but to demonstrate how cultural preferences turn into theological movements without adequate universal and timeless biblical evidence.


Let us begin with Jesus, since this is the place all Christians should begin when formulating theology. Our Savior never treated women as vulnerable or weak. He never talked down to them as social inferiors or looked up to them as moral superiors. He walked with women, allowed them to sit at His feet as only male disciples did in Jesus’ day, and empowered them in front of their enemies (John 8:1-11).

Jesus never once taught on “biblical womanhood” or “female roles.” His goal was to usher in the Kingdom of God to all people; not to establish narrow-minded doctrines that would attempt to place all women in the same role despite their giftings and personalities.

There is no doubt that the Apostle Paul seems to be more patriarchal in his thinking than Jesus was, but I beleive it is a mistake to assume Paul was establishing universal and timeless doctrines within his letters to his churches. Both Complementarians and the Cult of Domesticity completely ignore some very crucial statements Paul makes, as well as some very important female leaders Paul mentions.

First and foremost, Paul states, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28).” I realize that many Christians argue that this verse simply means that all can obtain salvation despite social or racial status and I would agree if Paul did not praise many female leaders who worked alongside of him as leaders in the early Christian Church. 

  • Philippians 4:2: Paul refers to two women, Euodia and Syntyche, as his co-workers who were active evangelicals, spreading the gospel.
  • Romans 16:1: Paul refers to Phoebe as a minister or deacon of the church at Cenchrea. The Greek word which describes her function is  “diakonos” which means literally “official servant.” She is the only deacon in the Bible to be identified by name. Some translations say “deaconess;” others try to obscure her position by mistranslating the Greek as a simple “servant” or “helper“. Paul later refers to Phoebe as a woman, calling her “our sister.” This prevented later church leaders from hiding her gender as they did with Junia by changing her name and implying that she was a man.
  • Romans 16:3: Paul refers to Priscilla as another of his “fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (NIV) Other translations refer to her as a “co-worker“. But other translations attempt to downgrade her status by calling her a “helper“. The original Greek word is “synergoi“, which literally means “fellow worker” or “colleague.” It is worth noting that Paul refers to Priscilla and her husband as “Priscilla and Aquila” in this passage and as “Aquila and Priscilla” in 1 Corinthians 16:19. It would appear that the order is not important to Paul. As in Galatians 3:28, he apparently believed that there is no distinction between male and female among those who have been baptized into Christ.
  • Romans 16:7: Paul refers to a male apostle, Andronicus, and a female apostle, Junia, as “outstanding among the apostles” (NIV). Every Greek and Latin church Father until Giles of Rome (circa 1000 CE) acknowledged  that Junia was a woman. After that time, various writers and translators of the Bible resorted to various deceptions in order to suppress her gender (Find source here.)

Complementarians continue to ignore the clear historical evidence that Junia was in fact a female apostle because her existence is a tremendous blow to their agenda. Anyone who has studied theology even remotely knows that the role of an apostle in the early church was the highest ranking position of authority. Junia would have preached, taught, led, and encouraged both men and women in the early Church and Paul was proud to co-labor with her.

John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and the rest of their gang believe that they have formulated a flawless theology and have used their wit and intelligence to convince thousands to follow their lead. But many theologians and Christian thinkers are asking critical questions that none of them are able to answer. Could it be that “The Gospel Coalition” doesn’t know everything after all? Could it be that the Cult of Domesticity and American traditionalism has crept its way into Complementarian hermeneutics?


It is fine for Christian men and women to prefer a more traditional lifestyle, but it is not OK to teach that the traditional lifestyle is God’s way for all Christians. I have heard Piper deny that Complementarianism is the same as traditionalism; but frankly, I don’t beleive him.

I would say Piper and his buddies are old fashioned kind of guys and I think that is respectable if their wives are also old fashioned kind of gals, but what is not respectable is convincing the Body of Christ that God is an old fashioned kind of God who expects ALL women to find their complete fulfillment in assisting and subservient roles in the home and church.

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  • “Paul states, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28).” I realize that many Christians argue that this verse simply means that all can obtain salvation despite social or racial status…”

    This one’s straightforward. All of those groups — Jews, Gentiles, and the rest — had salvation before. It would involve things like joining the Jewish nation, or lesser access to the temple, or circumcision (depending on which group you belonged to), but they still could *all* have salvation even under the Old Covenant.

    It makes no sense, then, to say “Now all these people can have salvation, which they already had before.”

    I have heard people say, “Now they can all have full salvation.” But again, despite earthly inequalities and requirements, they all had salvation before — something you can’t have “partly.” It’s like pregnancy — you have it, or you don’t.

    So I ask such people, “If you believe they now have full salvation, well, we agree that they all had at least some sort of salvation before. What EXACTLY has changed in the nature of their salvation?” And they have to admit, at some point, that what has changed is that human prejudices no longer apply to believers. Meaning, all believers are now equal *on earth* as they have always been equal *in heaven.*

    Galatians 3:28 doesn’t change anyone’s salvific status since they all had access to salvation already. It changes people’s earthly status, from unequal to equal.

  • “…what is not respectable is convincing the Body of Christ that God is an old fashioned kind of God who expects ALL women to find their complete fulfillment in assisting and subservient roles in the home and church.”

    Love this post! I believe that God is a God of creativity and diversity, and that both men and women are created to express that diversity rather than be conformed to a particular cultural ideology.

  • The Cult of Domesticity—that cracks me up! In context Gal 3:28 appears to be
    a unity verse…we are one in Christ, regardless of our differences in any category. What has
    become a bit compelling to me is that in the “gifts lists” nothing is said about which are for men
    and which are for women. The Holy Spirit gives the gifts as He wills and he doesn’t say, oh,only
    men can have this one. I never thought about that before.

  • Logical, concise, compelling. Former complementarian trying to break free from years of struggling with my theological position. Being a stay at home dad and researching complentarian perceptions of guys like me was the impetus for my journey. I listened to Driscoll regularly, read his books and even visited Mars Hill during our trip to Seattle for our anniversary. Ironically enough, we were there when we was doing his Peasant Princess series, the famous one where he said Stay at Home Dads deserved church discipline. I’ve suffered from anxiety because I have the fear that my family will be singled out, or we will be considered less Christian (certain family members have already voiced their negative opnions) because of our family structure. More than ever I have recently been able to see Complementarianism as just the next iteration of patriarchy and another attempt at subjugation women in the name of God. I don’t know where this journey will take me, but writings like yours give me hope that there is a place in the household of God for people like me.
    Thank you

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