One of the churches I attended prohibits women from “leadership” positions. For example, woman may not serve as an usher, pass the offering plate, or lead worship. I wrote a letter to the deacon board challenging them to rethink this unofficial policy. Silencing women’s gifts cripples the church’s ability to function properly.
The letter prompted a heated deacon board meeting and a letter in response, listing all the things women can do in the church. It affirmed that men and women are different, and that God calls men and women to use their gifts in gender-specific contexts. The crux of complementarianism is that men and women are different, those differences are good, and together, those differences complement each other.
In a counter-intuitive way, complementarianism tries to preserve the unique ways women serve the church by forbidding them from serving as a man serves.
As far as stereotypes go, many women do enjoy taking care of children, cooking for the potlucks, and mentoring other women — traditional “women’s work.” But ironically, complementarian churches don’t operate in a complementarian way. In complementarian churches, there’s no such thing as work that’s exclusive to women only. There’s no such thing as “women’s work.”
Yes, complementarian churches value women counseling and teaching other women, but men may counsel and teach women too. Complementarian churches value female nursery workers, but men may work with preschoolers and all other ages too. Complementarian churches value women’s contributions in cleaning, cooking, and other behind-the-scenes work, but men may do all of those jobs too.
In complementarian churches, there is nothing a woman can do that a man is prohibited from doing, while there are a myriad of things men can do that women are prohibited from doing.
That is the injustice egalitarians want to rectify.
It’s erroneous for complementarian churches to argue that they support women’s work as something special and equal to men’s, because in complementarian churches, there is nothing exclusively female and off-limits to men.
True, perhaps few men will volunteer to work with four-year-olds or bake a casserole, but if a man wants to teach first grade Sunday school or clean the church, nobody’s going to tell him, “No, you can’t, because you’re a boy” (and then slap him with a Bible verse for good measure).
If there’s no such thing as exclusively “women’s work,” then there’s no such thing as true complementarianism: true complementarianism requires distinct femininity and distinct masculinity to operate. But if men are permitted to do whatever women can do, where’s the distinct femininity? Where’s the complementarity?
If complementarians were serious about preserving distinctly feminine roles, they ought to feel just as comfortable telling men, “Nope, can’t, you’re a guy” as they do telling women, “Sorry, but you’re a girl.” That sounds more like “separate but equal.”
Or, as an alternative, why don’t we stop bickering about which gifts belong to which gender and simply use all the gifts God gave us regardless of gender? The church shouldn’t be about “women’s work” or “men’s work” but Christ’s work. So let’s get on with it!
Bailey Bergmann Steger graduated summa cum laude from Hillsdale College with a B.A. in Christian studies and an M.R.S. in a quirky relationship with her chemist husband, Erich. She’s particularly interested in patristics and wrote her thesis on the early church’s view of femininity and spirituality. She works as a kindergarten teacher at an inner city school and writes at www.weareezer.com.
Help Jory Micah and her Guests Break the Glass Steeple by Following Her Blog
(Insert your Email to the Right or Below)
Find Jory Micah on Facebook: HERE.
Find Jory Micah on Twitter: HERE.