The Complementarian-Egalitarian Divide

David Gushee, the Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, wrote an article for the Associated Baptist Press dealing with issues faced by those who take an complementarian position on the gender issue. He wrote:

I am convinced that all positions of service and leadership in the life of the local church should be open to women or men based entirely on calling and gifts — an egalitarian view. But in this column I am not going to rehearse the arguments for or against this view.

Instead, motivated by my experiences, I want to ask complementarians — those who believe that the role of women complements, but is not the same as, the role

Gushee asks four questions of those who take the complementarian view:

1. Are you successfully communicating to young men the conviction that a complementarian perspective must elevate rather than diminish the dignity of women, and therefore inculcating a moral commitment on their part to act accordingly?

2. Are you absolutely clear on which positions of Christian service (you believe) are barred to women?

3. Once you have determined what positions of Christian service are barred to women, you have therefore also determined which positions are permitted. Are you active in encouraging women to pursue the positions that are permitted?

4. When women occupy positions of church leadership that parallel those of men, are their positions named equally and are the individuals involved treated equally?

Read Gushee’s rationale for the four questions by visiting the web page of the Baptist News Global.

These are important questions. In the article, Gushee expands the intent of his questions and provides a rationale for the four questions. I agree with his views and believe that these questions expose a fundamental weakness in the complementarian view.

David Gushee has also written two additional articles on issue of the complementarian-egalitarian divide: The gender debate is ultimately about Jesus and On the frontiers of gender and racial integration. Both articles are worth reading.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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8 Responses to The Complementarian-Egalitarian Divide

  1. Peter Kirk says:

    >Are you successfully communicating to young men the conviction…?Shouldn’t he also be asking “Are you successfully communicating this to young women?” After all, if women are not also convinced of the complementarian position, they will either vote with their feet, for another church or none at all, or they will be resentful and rebellious, undermining the men in their church whose positions they aspire to.


  2. >Peter,Thank you for your comment.Gushee is writing mostly for Southern Baptists, but his views applies to all. In commenting on his first question, Gushee said: “It has been my experience that a context of male leadership, and steady teaching that reinforces it, can sometimes lead young men to a rather boorish attitude toward the women in their midst.” I think both men and women should recognize that in the eyes of God both men and women are equal.Gushee also wrote: “Many young Christian women, and even some sensitive young men, come to associate the complementarian position with outright sexism and male chauvinism, and therefore reject it. If one accepts the complementarian view, it become important that this view does not become sexism.Claude Mariottini


  3. MLM says:

    >Thanks for the post. I found your blog by way of Wayne Leman’s which I found by way of Denny Burk’s…anyway, as a graduate of Mercer University, I was pleased to read Gushee’s article. Thanks for posting it.


  4. Christian says:

    >God is Love! May your experience God’s Love anew this Day 🙂 God Bless You


  5. >Dear MLM,Thank you for visiting my blog. Mercer is a great university. I have several friends, people who studied with me at Southern Seminary, who teach at Mercer.I visited your blog and I liked the content of what you write. I notice that you have a section in your blog titled “Romantic Rentals.” I looked and you don’t have my favorite romantic rental: “Random Harvest.” Have you seen it? You should!Claude Mariottini


  6. >Dear Christian,Thank you for visiting my blog. God loves you too. I experience God’s love every day and that is a blessing that cannot be expressed.God bless you too.Claude Mariottini


  7. >I’m not sure how the mere existence of these questions reveals a weakness in the mere view of complementarianism. What they reveal is the all-too-human tendency to read a view in terms of actual views people have held that seem similar and have been common in history. Complementarianism as its defenders have defined it is not the traditional view of men’s and women’s roles in the family and the church that you find in, for example, Augustine. It’s much closer to egalitarianism than Augustine is. But many will hear it and accept a stronger view like Augustine’s. Many will state its principles and mean something more extreme. That isn’t a problem with the view. It’s a problem with how society has operated, a problem that complementarians are seeking to overcome. It’s just that a lot of the energy complementarians are exercising is in fighting the tendency to move closer to egalitarianism, which leaves less time to emphasize what complementarians and egalitarians agree on. But I would say that in my experience many complementarians do seek to do what questions 3 and 4 are asking, at least some of the time and to some extent. But they are generally good questions to ask, and that very fact reveals that it isn’t the view itself that’s the problem but something else. The very possibility of raising objections that complementarians aren’t acting consistently with their views shows that the problem isn’t the view but the actions.I also have a picky point that unfortunately will take some time to explain. I can see how someone could have the view that women are permitted to occupy certain positions while also thinking that those positions are better filled by men. For instance, one might think the role of child-rearing can be done by either men or women but is better filled by women, if one thinks women are naturally better suited for the role, all the while not denying that men are capable of all the tasks that are actually necessary to raise a child. It seems that one could consistently say the same in reverse. I’m not sure I think this is true of any actual position, but I think we ought not rule it out as a possible view.The result is that questions 3 and 4 could be answered “no” without violating any principle of consistency. Someone might not be encouraging women to read scripture publicly, even if they think it’s permitted, because they think it ideally would be done by men. A better question 3 would be to phrase it not in terms of what is permitted but in terms of what is morally worth pursuing full equality on. The same sort of thing goes for question 4.


  8. >Jeremy,Thank you for your very insightful comments. The writer of the article was writing primarily for Southern Baptists. Some Southern Baptist churches have adopted a view that women cannot serve as pastors, deacons, and cannot even teach men.I agree with your comment that the whole problem is how complementarianism is practiced in churches. Women are excluded from certain positions not just because people believe they are better filled by men. Women are excluded because it is believed Scriptures teach such an exclusion. Personally, I believe the Bible does not forbid a woman to be a deacon, a pastor, or a leader in the church and here is where I differ from the complementarians.Claude Mariottini


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