The Gospel Coalition, Complementarianism, and Child Sexual Abuse


I have been blown away by the amount of sexual abuse happening in the evangelical church – particularly in local churches that are somehow associated with complementarianism and various forms of Christian patriarchy.

In all honesty, I started this blog because I wanted to see women in ministry get better jobs in the church and be treated as equals in “authority.” That was my “axe to grind” with complementarianism, but after diving deeper this past year, I am shocked at how the doctrine seems to be indirectly destroying lives in the Church that I love, as well as greatly hurting our Christian witness to the world.

Just yesterday I read the following:

Fellowship Bible Church of Brentwood TN, a proud member of The Gospel Coalition, is being sued due to their response to the rape of a 3 year old child by a volunteer teen in their youth program. This teen raped the child in a bathroom and pled guilty to aggravated sexual battery. So, this is not “he said/she said.” It happened. Here is the report from News Channel 5: Family Files Lawsuit After Sexual Assault of 3-Year-Old At Church (Source).

For those of you who are unaware, The Gospel Coalition (TGC) are “loud and proud” complementarians. This organization stands against sexual abuse, of course, but here is what’s disturbing – TGC has made a point to delete comments on their social media site that expose other organizations which they support that have sexual abuse case allegations (Source).

According to the 3-year-old child’s family representative and court documents, the child did not want to go back to church the next Sunday. When the parents asked why, the child told them what had happened. When the parents told the church what had happened, the church accused the child of making the whole thing up. The church later pleaded with the family not to file a lawsuit (Source).

What does any of this have do with complementarianism, one may ask?

Complementarianism strongly promotes “authority” hierarchies. A select few men are at the top (pastors and elders essentially). Below them are men in general (even teenage boys are sometimes given more authority than grown women). Below men are women. Below women are children. Yes, children are at the bottom. They are the least important.

How do I know this? Well, because I grew up in the evangelical church and was a children’s pastor for two years in the evangelical church. My team was made up of mostly women and teenagers. In general, children’s pastors normally make the the lowest salary among full-time church staff (even when their jobs are often most difficult).

Everyone knows that we put our money into what we value. The more money we put into something, the more we value it (Matt. 6:21).

Most children’s pastors are women. So while the good ole’ boys rise up to powerful positions in the Church, women and children are often an afterthought to the work of the “real ministry.”

Obviously, the Fellowship Bible Church was no exception, as the news report states:

The lawsuit alleged that the church did not adequately protect the children by not completing adequate background checks, not lining out policies and procedures, and not providing adequate training (Source).

When women and children are simply afterthoughts, the bottom of the power hierarchy, it is only a matter of time before they get abused by teenage boys and grown men – especially when these power hierarchies are given “biblical” and “religious” stamps of approval by both men and women in the congregation.

As I stated in my last blog post, complementarianism is only about 25 years old and is an American theology that has convinced thousands upon thousands of Christian women to lay down their spiritual authority in Jesus Christ to be governed by husbands, male pastors, and male elders.

The truth of the matter is that many complementarian/patriarchal churches and organizations are in the business of protecting very powerful men in both mega churches and small churches all over the United States. Who cares about a three-year-old child being sexually assaulted when we have mighty “spiritual pedestals” to uphold and tithes to collect. 

Of course the TGC is going to delete comments that expose their own. They have a business to run and a theology to protect. Most of us have a business to run and a theology to protect, don’t we? Yet, I would be the first to lay down my blog and theology if I found it to be harmful to women’s and children’s lives.

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  • There are MANY reasons that we need to change the narrative of the Church and force ourselves to have hard conversations regarding gender equality and complementarianism- but the abuse that has been built into the church is the MOST important reason.

  • Most complementarian churches refuse to even refer to female children’s pastors as “pastors.”
    Great article, thank you.

  • To be fair to TGC they would probably be legally culpable if they were to leave comments making allegations of illegal activity on their website. Would you leave such comments on your site if they weren’t naming convicted offenders? I certainly wouldn’t want to lay my site open to legal action nor would I want to provide an place for unsubstantiated rumours to ferment. If they are deleting names of convicted offenders who have yet to serve their time that’s another matter.

  • Complementarianism among the larger evangelical movement may be only about 20 years old, but it existed in the more fundamentalist American churches long way before that because I grew up on that crap in the (white) Missionary Baptist churches (ABA & BMA). I get infuriated still when I think about the rubbish I was taught about women at home and church.

    That said…

    Even given that environment, my dad was “excluded” (excommunicated) due to sexual deviancy that he got caught doing. It was kept pretty quiet, but more to protect me I think as I was a teen. It was a few years later when that deviancy manifested itself as pedophilia. You know, that man knew the Bible inside and out, but I don’t think he considered himself under any authority. He was always right, and he was always the victim. And I wonder sometimes (because I can see so much now in hindsight) just how many boys he molested before he got caught.

    Anyway, that is the face of Christian patriarchy to me. Gut-wrenching and infuriating.

  • Hey my friend, as I’ve said before the rhetoric of comp theology and it’s practice often has glaring inconsistencies. Men are the supposed “protectors”, but most often they are the “protected.” They are especially protected from the consequences of sexual misconduct and abuse. To acknowledge that they would have to confront their own theology and misogyny.

  • Jory, thanks for this post. First, I think its absolutely devastating and a tragedy what took place and how the church responded to this situation. However, after reading your description of what “complementarian” theology is, I think there are some crucial areas that are missed. Admittedly, I served at an A29 church and come from the reformed theological position. I also have some incredible friends who are main line speakers at conferences who are not reformed and are considered pastors. While this is a much larger discussion which I would be more than happy to dialogue, I’d encourage you to read John Piper and Wayne Grudems book, “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womenhood”. While we may not agree at the end, I hope this brings a little more clarity to what the mainline complementarian theologians would argue for based on the Biblical text.

    Thanks for considering and again, thanks for your honest post.

    • This book merely lays out complementarianism with a ‘gentler’ façade. Many books counter this – William Webb: Slaves, Women and Homosexuals;Craig Keener: Paul Women and Wives; Philip Payne’s books too. Grudem has embraced (what some would call heresy) the idea of the eternal subordination of the Son, linking this with the eternal subordination of women. Kevin Giles has demolished this as unorthodox. It is logically impossible, as Giles points out, for someone to be equal in substance but somehow subordinate in function. You might find these books worthy of studying. Also note how many great scholars do not hold to the subordinationist view from FF Bruce on…..

    • Is that the same Wayne Grudem who arbitrarily lists all the ministries, tasks and responsibilities that women may or may not be involved in, because they are women? (In essence creating legalistic rules and petty regulations that are not even found in the Bible) Why is it ok for a woman to lead the congregation in worship but not to teach from the Bible? Christ came to set us free and in Him there is now “neither male nor female… We are one in Christ.”

    • Is John Piper the one who says women should not be police officers as they would have to have authority over men? Is this the John Piper who puts all the blame for lust on women who tempt men, (in a speech which I will not quote as I find it so distasteful)?
      In a Christian organization of which I and my husband were part for many years, the Director, a charismatic leader, but a bully and a narcissist to boot, sexually assaulted a woman and was found guilty in court. Did the wider church or some of the leaders in the organization sack him? No. Did other victims come forward? No, because they were told they would be harming the work. Was she accused of trying to seduce him? Was she called Potiphar’s wife? Yes. The male perpetrator was somehow the victim, while the victim became the one to blame in some quarters. The church needs to recover its moral compass and deal with this evil which is exacerbated by the resurgence of patriarchialism. I have noticed how widespread it is. Above all, the Name of Christ must be defended , and such wickedness recognized and dealt with.

    • Greetings Joel, I agree with you that “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” is an excellent resource for anyone trying to understand the theology behind complementarianism. I have studied it, and I don’t agree with the writers’ conclusions. Nonetheless, I believe that we should all be students of the Word, and look to God to reveal to us the Truth. As much as I disagree with the book, I would still recommend it to anyone interested in evaluating comp theology.

      • I think Joel may have just “mansplained” complementarianism to you.
        It didn’t seem to dawn on him that you were already quite familiar with complementarianism, or that you had already read RBMW.

        I’ve not read RBMW myself, but I’ve read enough summaries, defenses, or rebuttals of its content to get an idea of it.

        I come from a complementarian background. Both my parents were complementarian, though this set of beliefs were not really referred to as such widely when I was growing up. But I am very, very familiar with complementarianism. I later rejected complementarianism when I got older.

        I sometimes come across Christian complementarian men on other sites who argue with me as though they think I’m not familiar with comp or with comp apologetics, but I’m very aware of what they believe, and I’ve read their arguments in support of their view many a time.

        I find it funny, or sometimes annoying, how they assume if you just really, really understood comp, you would embrace it. The only way you could criticize it or reject it, they believe, must be because you don’t understand what they really teach or or think.

        Another funny thing about that is that a lot of complementarians cannot even agree among themselves on when, how, or if women may teach, lead, or what have you.

        So, if you criticize the particular complementarian view point of “Preacher John Doe,” for example, another comp may say to you in response, “Well, John Doe’s belief on thus a so a matter does not count, because that is not what I, or all “true” complementarians, really believe!”

        You can therefore never fully defeat a comp or complementarianism itself in a debate or argument with them, because they will shift the goal posts, or claim the view you’re arguing against is not a true representation of complementarianism. This is one reason I find debating them rather tedious.

        • HAHA Christian…YOU SAID IT! My friend just wrote a post called “Not All Comps” and he talks about how all comps say, “Not me, I am not like that…” LOL. So funny. His name is Nate Sparks if you want to google it.

          I wrote a post one time to Douglas Wilson’s daughter in which I talked about this very thing. Have you ever seen “Big Daddy?” It reminds me of when they are playing cards with the little boy and he says,”I win!” And they are like, “Why do you win?” And he is like “because I win!” LOL…good times and yes, quite tedious.

    • There is the ‘reformed theological position’ that is A29, etc, and there is also the reformed theological position from which Mary Steward Van Leeuwen comes. She wrote “Gender and Grace” in 1990. I become weary of people misrepresenting, by avoidance, a full spectrum of Reformed thought.

      So if you want to talk about ‘some crucial areas that are missed’, you might start there, Joel.

  • Sexual abuse of children is intolerable anywhere, most especially from one in a fiduciary relationship (relx of trust). As a former child abuse investigator, I’ve sadly seen it up close too many times. There is no excuse for a lack of backgrd screening & I hope the parents file a lawsuit. Every church should know better and be safe havens. Finally, I question your statement that complementarianism is only about 20 years old. I share your righteous indignation on this topic, though.

    • Complementarianism was written in the early 1990s by John Piper & Wayne Grudem. Feel free to google it. It was a response to evangelical feminism. 🙂

      • In 1975, Susan Foh introduced the now widely accepted complementarian interpretation of Genesis 3:16 – “your desire will be for your husband” as a “desire against your husband to dominate him.” Suan Foh presented the NEW view of Genesis 3:16 as a response to feminism. That’s not the traditional, historical interpretation of Genesis 3:16. Prior to Foh’s introduction of her interpretation in the 1970s, that was not the interpretation used or accepted by Biblical scholars and translators (MEN) for centuries.

        Bible translations and lexicons prior to the 1970s Susan Foh interpretation refer to DESIRE as a “longing for.” The Hebrew word translated “desire” is used three times in the Old Testament: Genesis 3:16, Genesis 4:7 and Song of Solomon 7:10. In the Song of Solomon 7:10, it refers to sexual desire which is the traditional interpretation of it.

        A woman, Susan Foh, introduced one of complementarianism’s foundational teachings. However, another one of their foundational teachings is that women can’t teach men. Evidently, they don’t mind a woman teaching men as long as she’s pandering for their agenda.

        Suggested Reading:

        • Thanks for sharing. I was going by when the book of “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” was created in the early 90s, but this is interesting. 🙂

  • Really interesting post, again. I was beginning to think it was a stretch to link sexual abuse within the church with complementarianism but after reading some of the comments (which have given me more reading to do!) I can see that it’s a doctrine which creates an environment where these issues are downplayed and a structure for perpetrators to hide in. Thanks for writing about this stuff. It is opening my eyes and helping me think things through.

    • Andrea,

      I’m not picking a fight, but do you really think it’s fair to say that complementarianism leads to an environment that opens up sexual abuse?

      Consider this: take all of the children who are, sadly, abused in churches (Protestant and Catholic). Did you know that the rate of students who are abused in public schools is estimated to be 100 times that? You are *far* more likely to be abused in a public school than in a church. Yet, 75% of teachers are female. 1/3 of the abusers of children in public schools are female. What accounts for this? Are female teachers creating an environment where abuse happens? Or, are we going to talk about the complementarian principal system, or something like that?

      Why can’t you just say that you disagree with complementarian theology on theological/Biblical grounds, without saying that it leads to sexual abuse?

  • I’m encouraged that you are focusing so much on the good of others as they are being demeaned by complementarian theology. There are many good people in those churches, but the system is corrupt and toxic, and that’s the problem.

  • I am grateful that the Body of Christ is having this discussion, but I have been grieved by the level of analysis that is sometimes shown on this blog. I posted a few times in a previous blog posting where Mrs. Micah said that she would not even read a work by a leading complementarian – but, she wants to be respected regarding her perspective on this debate. How can you be taken seriously when you refuse to engage the work of others, even those you consider to be in error?

    These last few posts continue that trend. Several individuals/ministries that are complementarian who have had public, moral failures are being highlighted. “They’re a complementarian…and look what sin that led them to!” What about the majority of complementarian churches that would have cried out against the sexual abuse of a child? What about the numerous scandals stemming from egalitarian churches (e.g., the Assemblies of God)?

    Furthermore, how can anyone say that complementarianism started 25 years ago? Love it or hate it, this doctrine has been around for hundreds of years, even if the name “complementarian” was not attached to it. However, to say that it began when evangelicals rallied around that particular term is like saying the Trinity didn’t come into existence until it was defined and expounded in fourth century creeds. Wikipedia (just to use a common source) defined complementarianism as “a theological view held by some in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, that men and women have different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and elsewhere.” This view did not start with Grudem and Piper, although they were significant figures making it more visible in the evangelical world.

    Anyway, most people on this blog will “Amen!” whatever Mrs. Micah says, but I’m grieved by the use of a story of a child’s sexual assault to further an attack on complementarianism.

    • I am not sure where you got that “I would not read a work by a complementarian.” I have refused to read books by complementarians I have already read,but I read complementarian work all the time. Have you read my master’s thesis? I had to read complementarian work to refute it and still do, so that is probably why people are able to take me seriously.

      Also, you are seeking to “shame” me by saying you are grieved by this blog. This blog is voluntary. You do not have to read it. If a blog grieved my heart, I would avoid it. I have no idea who you are and it is trollish that you have chosen to hide your identity with no pic and an anonymous email. I struggle to take your ridicule seriously due to this.

      Further, the book of comp. theology was written in the early 1990s, so the doctrine is about 25 years old. You are right though, that patriarchy has been around since the fall of mankind and is the result of sin (Gen. 3:16), which is all comp. theology is wrapped in a pretty bow.

      Lastly, I will continue to speak out against the abuses I think comp theology leads to. That won’t change because I am a justice fighter. You should be more grieved with the abuse women and children are facing than me attacking a silly theology. I never attack people. I attack theology.

      God Bless.

      • Wait a minute!

        1. In your September 29, 2015 post (“What does “Husband Headship” Really Mean?”) you cited a work by Richard Cervin (1989) that critiqued Wayne Grudem at some points. I posted a response, saying that Grudem had responded to that work the following year and more recently, and I asked why you didn’t reference that response. My point was, even if you disagreed with Grudem (which is fine), honest academic work means you just can’t cite a critique of someone and ignore the person’s response. You can’t act as if the first salvo ended the war. You stated: “Grudem is not a credible source in my opinion: then or now” and “I would not respect a scholar who used various Bible texts to support enslaving or limiting a person based off their skin color, so why would I respect a scholar who supports limiting a human based off their gender?” In other words, you refused to even engage his response.

        2. I am not trollish. I rarely reply on this blog (this is the second posting I’ve responded to). And let’s be honest – it’s not my anonymity that you don’t like. You respond to plenty of people on this blog who don’t have pictures, etc. Rather, you don’t like the fact that I am trying to engage you intellectually and disagree with you at some points. You’re right, though: reading this blog is voluntary. And, so is posting a photo and email.

        3. I don’t understand what you mean by “the book of comp. theology was written in the early 1990s, so the doctrine is about 25 years old.” Do you realize how that makes you look? The article you cited in the aforementioned post was in the 1980s. Grudem was writing about this stuff in the 1980s. Another posting on this post (K. Martin, no picture) mentioned a work from the 1970s. George Knight defended complementarianism in 1977. Origen (3rd century) was complementarian; John Gill (18th century) defended complementarianism; Albert Barnes (18th century) defended complementarianism. I respect your concern about the doctrine, and perhaps you want to cast it as a “new” doctrine in order to make it seem less imposing, but I can’t understand why you would say it started in 1991 because Grudem and Piper wrote a book.

        4. Complementarianism leads to child sexual abuse? Is that your strategy?

        • 1. Grudem lost credibility when he wrote an entire piece that was not true, using example after example of falsehoods to prove his case that “head” means “authority over.” Grudem is not a real scholar in my opinion.

          2. If you want me to be honest, it is not your lack of pic and name that bothers me. It is your “shame on you” tone. I engage with intellectuals daily who don’t agree with me, but many don’t act like they are “sad” and “oh so disappointed” in my conclusions. We talk like adults to each other. If you want to engage with me, please save the religious shaming and write like an academic. I also don’t like being talked down to on my own blog,”Do you realize how that makes you look?” is a condescending question.

          3. Complementarianism became popular when “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood was written.” If I am correct, Grudem and Piper made up the term Complementarianism.

          4. This is not a “strategy.” It is what I truly believe.

          Please change your tone with me or I will block you from this site.

          • 1. I *would* say that your tone is not the best (e.g., calling me “trollish,” saying that you cannot take me seriously), but you’ll say that it’s your blog and you have the right to do what you want.

            2. My statement “Do you know how this makes you look?” was not meant to demean you, and I apologize if it came out that way. It was a way of saying that claiming that complementarianism started in 1991 takes away from otherwise reasonable statements you make. In your recent response, you’ve amended it to “complementarianism became popular” and “Grudem/Piper coined the term.” That’s better than saying “it started in 1991.” Again, the popularity of Trinitarian thought and terminology came after the New Testament, but no one would say it started in the 4th century.

            3. I *am* disappointed that you’re saying that complementarian theology leads to sexual abuse. I’m not shaming you – it’s sincere disappointment. This is not a way to dialogue.

            4. I am academic. Meaning, I engage views even if I disagree with them. Grudem is THE leading representative of complementarianism today. Love him or hate him, you have to engage him. Isn’t that the hallmark of academia? Besides, if you’re into academic integrity, why would you favorably cite Richard Cervin who *demonstrably* misquoted Grudem in his critique? You went all the way back to 1989 to find an anti-Grudem source, and I just don’t understand why you won’t do the academic work of reading Grudem’s responses (if even to say that you find his responses weak).

            5. I made a comment about complementarianism and the link to child sexual abuse below (to Andrea).

            6. I’m open to being blocked. I read somewhere that The Gospel Coalition is doing something similar.

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