Egalitarians Are Not Confused: A Response to Jason Meyer (The Gospel Coalition)

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Yesterday Jason Meyer released a post over at The Gospel Coalition titled “A Complementarian Manifesto Against Domestic Abuse (Source).” He used a tactic I see complementarianism use quite often, which seeks to make egalitarians look like confused extremists.

I am constantly engaging with complementarians in debate and many of them seem to think egalitarians do not truly understand complementarianism, and if we did, surely we would be more accepting of it.

Often, complementarian males encourage me to read the book “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism” as if I have never read it. I have read the book. In fact, I refuted the book and the entire doctrine of complementarianism in my master’s thesis (Find Here).

Egalitarians are not confused when we associate complementarianism with domestic abuse. We understand that complementarianism stands firmly against abuse of any kind, yet many of us still find the doctrine guilty.

Complementarianism can be seen as a weapon. Sure, the weapon in itself does not hurt people. Sinful human beings hurt people. Yet, someone has to provide the weapon to the sinful human being. Complementarianism provides the weapon to the most powerful and the most vulnerable are the ones who pay.

Even Meyer’s admits,

We ask women in complementarian marriages to take the most vulnerable position in the relationship, which can quickly become a dangerous position when our views get distorted.

Here is the thing Meyers fails to acknowledge; humans will always distort views because we are sinful people. Even egalitarianism gets distorted to various degrees, but its distortions do not normally (if ever) lead to abuse of the vulnerable. 

Why would any Christ follower ask a woman to take a “vulnerable position?”

Sure, sometimes Jesus calls us to be vulnerable, but it is Holy Spirit that beckons us to “get low,” not another human. There is no danger in giving all authority to Holy Spirit, but there is tremendous danger in giving too much power to humans (male or female).

However, I would argue that there is even greater danger in giving more power to males than females because males are physically stronger than females and can literally rape or kill a woman with their bare hands. As Christians, we are to make people less vulnerable, not more vulnerable.

I love my husband, Luke. He may be the most sacrificial human being I have ever met. He lays down his life for me often and I trust him enough to submit to him often. However, Luke is not Holy Spirit, Jesus, or God and he still has sin and selfishness running through his blood. If I give him authority over me, even with his selfless personality, he will sometimes make self-centered decisions.

I wonder, if my husband, who is naturally a selfless person, will sometimes make selfish decisions; how much more will other women’s husbands who do struggle with the sin of selfishness?

As I stated in my master’s thesis,

In sum, Piper and Grudem challenge evangelical feminism with the notion that men and women are equal in value, but equipped by God to function in different roles. Male and female life-positioning represents an orderly and simple approach to submission; woman submits to man, man submits to Christ, and Christ submits to God.

While this argument may be appealing to some because it is clean-cut and logical to the human mind, there is an enormous amount of fault with this so called “biblical mandate;” mainly that God is not a man and men are not God!

Complementarianism, even in its purest form, will lead to all sorts of injustices against women because men are not Jesus Christ. Yes, husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, but this means laying down authority and equalizing power for the sake of the more vulnerable.

Men naturally have the upperhand over women because they are almost always bigger and physically stronger. Why would the Apostle Paul give them even more power over women (in an already male dominated society of ancient Rome and Greece) by suggesting that they are superior in authority?

Roman and Greek men already believed themselves to be superior in authority. There would have been nothing countercultural about Paul’s words in Ephesians 5 if “head” did in fact mean “authority over.”

The Kingdom of God is always about laying down power for the sake of the vulnerable.

Yes, men should protect and fight for women and that is exactly what egalitarian men are doing. Complementarian men are first putting women in a vulnerable place, then protecting them. This makes no sense. If we want to protect women from being abused, we will remove them from vulnerable positions and resist the temptation to interpret the Bible to fit a male-centric view of the Trinity.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

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24 Comments

  • Awesome post. I really dislike when I’m told that I just don’t understand complementarianism. It’s very condescending. My “favorite ” was a comment from a guy I was trying to converse with that said well if your husband is follower of Christ who wouldn’t want to submit to that. He kinda made my point cause who can be Christ like all the time. No one! Anyway great post.

    • Yes, these types of comments are very condescending. Unfortunately, complementarianism often fosters condescending of others who don’t agree with them – especially women (in my experience).

      Thank you for reading Kaitlynn!

  • From the Jason Meyer article: “God calls the man to take the lead in loving his wife in a lay-down-your-life, Christlike manner. God gives the woman the responsibility to receive that loving Christlike leadership in a submissive and respectful church-like manner.”

    I wonder if I’m reading the second sentence correctly? Woman are to submit [the husband’s leadership] in a church-like manner ? – perhaps he meant Christ-like there. In any case, it’s still troubling. It seems to suggest that Christ’s love is mediated through the husband.

    • Yes Olivia, you read it correctly. Comps believe that husbands symbolically represent Christ and wives symbolically represent Christ’s Bride (The Church). Therefore, the logic is that wives submit to husbands as the Church submits to Christ.

      They conveniently ignore Eph. 5:21 which tells husbands and wives to submit to one another by saying that this verse is an intro and the rest of the passage is the in depth explanation of what that intro means.

      • And they ignore the idea that, as human beings and not God, husbands *cannot* perfectly image God — and that’s why God spelled out just what qualities of God husbands are supposed to image:

        “25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing[a] her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.” (Ephesians 5:25-30)

        As soon as one quotes that to a complementarian, they point out verses 22-24: ” Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

        The observant reader will notice that the first passage I quoted is directed to husbands. This is what husbands are to do. The second passage is to wives. As much as some husbands adore that passage, it has nothing to do with their duties as husbands. They are never once in the entire Bible commanded to take control of their wives.

        Quite the opposite; husbands are told to love, cherish, honor, nourish, love their wife as their own body, live knowledgeably with her, be faithful to her, and so on. There’s not a single passage addressed to husbands in the entire Bible that supports a husband being “above” his wife in hierarchy or being in charge of her. For a guy who supposedly put husbands in charge, Paul was very careful in his counsel to husbands to instill some humility, love, and tenderness, not to be in control of a wife but in partnership with her.

      • I guess one of the more disturbing conclusions that follows from this kind of thinking is that, following this logic, women are implicitly discouraged from becoming Christ-like and becoming a disciple of Jesus, of taking active initiative and ownership of themselves. In this framework, a woman’s dignity derives from the care and service of the “male head” , and isn’t actually rooted in the fact that women are created in the image of God. Being baptized into one body, the body of Christ, means that we are all, male and female, called and redeemed for the same purposes.
        Jesus, deliver the church from this legalism, and this dead letter of the “law”.

  • I don’t know where to begin on this one. I read the Jason Meyer article, and I have to admit that I am not even sure if the author himself understands what he is saying or inadvertently permitting. For example, women are told that God has given them the responsibility to receive loving Christ-like leadership from their husband. Questions: Who gets to determine if that “leadership” is loving and Christ-like? And what is a wife to do if the “leadership” is abusive? Who gets to determine if the husband is exercising “Hyper-Headship,” defined as self-serving lordship? A major flaw I find in complementarianism is that typically the one/s in charge with all of the power are the ones who answer such questions. Of course, the wife is in the most vulnerable state because she is at the mercy of those with assumed authority over her. It sets her up for abuse.

    • Yes, the fact that complementarianism is a system with NO practical accountability for husbands and no real-world recourse for wives is one of many things that demonstrate how unbiblical it really is.

      In that system, women are firmly held accountable for submission to their husbands — there are books, conferences, admonishments from the pulpit and surrounding subculture. You don’t see anything like this kind of focus on husbands not abusing the power to which they believe they’re entitled. It might be mentioned in passing as a sort of CYA or nod to the concept that men and women are “equal even in different roles,” but husbands are not held to account in that system. They just aren’t.

  • I also take issue with this statement in the Meyer’s article, “The flourishing of the wife requires the husband to love her in a servant-hearted way.” I am married to my high-school sweetheart, and we are going on 12 years of marriage, so I am all about being loved and loving in a servant-hearted way. It is healthy and good for marriage as well as for any relationship. However, my hope is that my flourishing would have more to do with my obedience to the Spirit and walking in my giftedness and my call. May I flourish because I know who I am in Christ and that I am treasured by God. Women, PLEASE never allow your flourishing to be based on the love you are receiving from a man, unless He is Jesus the Christ! Complementarian family, please leave room for God, and do not leave the flourishing of a women contingent on her husband’s love.

    • Great thoughts Leah. The theology is concerning and especially pushes aside single women who are not married at all. Most comps tell single women to “submit” to either their father or male pastor/elders until marriage, so women end up submitting to men in general (not just their own husbands). It is a flawed system and it keeps women down. Yet, some women buy into it because they don’t want the responsibility of co-leadership. It ends up hurting them in the end, though, because God created women as leaders too. These women lay down their rights in Jesus Christ.

  • Thanks for a thoughtful rebuttal, Jory. I agree that the problem with complementarianism is the tendency for it to always lean toward one side. That’s because the scale is already tipped to favour those in power. And how difficult it is to try to even out those scales by adding more “submission” to the other side. I can’t help but see that the introduction of Christianity into a culture results in a trajectory of greater and greater protection, respect, equality, and freedom for women. But let’s not stop at urging husbands (and by default, men) to make authoritarian decisions with a whole lot of love. That would be like agreeing masters could still keep slaves as long as they treated them nicely. Instead, let’s truly let the Kingdom of Heaven shine through mutual submission, agape love, and equality in every relationship.

  • A few thoughts:

    Meyers writes: “Complementarians believe men are called to use their God-given authority to serve women in a Christlike, servant-hearted, lay-down-your-life way so that women in the home and the church will flourish.”

    Non-hierarchicalists would agree men should love in the manner he describes, women, too. Where mutualists disagree with comps is on the issue of hierarchy. Meyers should not equivocate on the authority comps believe should be conferred on males.

    Meyers writes: “Who could even conceive of making an argument for how domestic abuse glorifies God?”

    John Piper intimates this in a video about a wife’s submission and enduring abuse for a season and no leading complementarian individual or group to my knowledge has opposed him.

    Meyers writes: “Egalitarians sometimes fail to distinguish between genuine complementarianism and extreme distortions that cease to be complementarian at all.”

    I wish claims like this would be supported with evidence. Who are the extreme distortions egals reference? Doug Wilson? John Piper? Mark Driscoll? CBMW? Owen Strachan? Who among hierarchialists decides who is extreme? What are the practical differences between hyper and genuine complementarianism? Comps are not answering these honest questions.

    Meyers writes: “egalitarians need to avoid the fallacy of the excluded middle.”

    Meyers chart appears disingenuous because if headship is, as Meyers writes earlier, using your authority to serve others in a Christlike, servant-hearted, lay-down-your-life way so they may flourish, then egals have headship. What egals don’t have is prescribed hierarchy.

    Meyers writes: “Represent our views carefully and accurately in a way that maintains the middle instead of excluding it. Represent the real core of what someone believes before responding to it. It’s a matter of integrity.”

    Meyers is guilty of what he is admonishing egals against. If headship is loving and serving so others flourish, then egals have headship. What egals acknowledge they don’t have is a hierarchy, uni-lateral male authority.

    A gradation chart better reflects Comps and Egals using Meyer’s hyper-headship as a starting point.

    Hyper-Headship—–Self-serving authority
    Complementarianism—–Benevolent Male Authority for Female Flourishing through Submission to Male Authority
    Egalitarianism/Mutuality—–Mutual Responsibility to Serve, Love, and Honor for Flourishing of Other

    • Complementarianism isn’t benevolent male authority by definition, for the simple reason Jory mentioned — men are not God. They’re sinful and when married they *will* sin and be selfish and power-hungry. It’s the nature of sin and sinfulness. This authority, when required to be exercised by males only, is by definition not benevolent.

  • “I am constantly engaging with complementarians in debate and many of them seem to think egalitarians do not truly understand complementarianism, and if we did, surely we would be more accepting of it.”

    My experiences are similar. It’s as if the complementarians have reached a higher understanding of God’s Word, biology, life, etc. being much wiser than egalitarians.

    • Many egalitarians have told me this is common, but the Bible says that God uses what others deem as foolish to confound the wise! 😉

  • This is a year old, but I think makes the same case based on a recent pop culture phenomenon (50 Shades of Grey).

    “Women living under complementarian Christianity are told regularly that God’s intention for humanity is that men should hold exclusive power in the home and in church. They are the decision makers and the ones responsible for the well-being of the women and children under them. A Christian woman in the complementarian world is left hoping for a man like Jesus because that is exactly what it takes to guarantee gender hierarchy NOT be abusive.”

  • Hi
    While as you know I do not agree with or want to defend the extremes and mistranslations part of complementarism, I do want everyone to think about one point. If submission to leadership led to abuse, corporations would have a real problem. And sometimes they do— from slavery and other abuses now outlawed to continuing issues. There are protections in the law and strong reporting requirements of managers for this reason.

    Women are smaller than men on average., that’s biological not complementarism. The church and family need the same strong protective structures as subordinates in organizations have. Even in egalitarian churches!! There must be strong requirements to report to civil authorities and not to investigate or even interview–it messes up evidence. Just turn it over. Domestic violence laws exist to protect– we all must use them. The mistake happens when church leaders try to handle in a church. I know the scripture they will quote re disagreements between Christians being handled within but as soon as the law may have been broken it must be handed to Ceasar. Period. Thanks.

    • Complementarianism is harmful even when there is no abuse present. There is simply no way that a relationship in which one person always has to get his way, while the other always has to give in can ever be healthy. I would never accept those terms in relationships with friends, and DEFINITELY would not accept them in a relationship as intimate as marriage. And for the church to imply that women HAVE to accept those terms because of the bible is wading into spiritual abuse in my opinion. The fact that churches do this grosses me out to no end.

      Secondly, I don’t see how comparing hierarchy in marriage to hierarchy in business is helpful to you argument. I don’t know any CEOs who make business decisions based on what is best for the workers–they make decisions based on what is best for their bottom line. In fact, the goal is to get as much productivity out of workers for the least amount of investment. Is that what complementary husbands are supposed to do? Yuck!

      Finally, I can’t help but believe that the insistence on hierarchy in marriage that is pushed in conservative circles isn’t contributing to their problems with sex in marriage. All the comp blogs for women seem to constantly beat the drum that wives have to have sex whenever hubby gets the urge, regardless of their own needs, comfort or feelings. It seems like comp marriages have a lot of problems in this regard, with wives just not wanting sexual activity on a regular basis. I know for me, if my needs and wellbeing were not much more than an afterthought in my marriage, I probably wouldn’t want to get busy all that often either. Knowing that your needs always must come second is kind of a libido killer.

      And, according to the CDC, a strong belief in general roles is a red flag for domestic violence. There is just no way to honestly say that this can be healthy.

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