I've recently waded into the "Complementarian - Egalitarian" battle that's being waged in Evangelical Protestantism. (See, e.g., the Complegalitarian blog site.) Though I am not well read in the area,1 I do not lack thoughts or opinions on the subject! And, per an earlier post, I've been to a church that is on the front lines of this battle.
Anyway, here's a salvo from me:
Note: Had I first read the introduction to Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy (Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, Editors), I might not have written this post, since in it the editors discuss the subject I address here, though not exactly as I have done. And as the subtitle of the book indicates, egalitarians regard themselves as complementarians, but without the hierarchy that restricts church and home leadership to men.
Why is the "only men can be church leaders and teach other men in church" position called "Complementarianism"?
While there are certain biological roles and functions for which men and women have complementary functions, Christian "Complementarianism" also uses these biological differences to restrict certain church roles and functions to men, even though men are allowed to do in church everything that women can do (including the women-assigned things in Titus 2:4-5 - i..e, men can so instruct these young women as well). Such a "Complementarianism" seems to be saying: "All Christians are equal, but some are more equal than others." (Cf. the commandment in Animal Farm being changed from "All animals are equal" to "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."2) This, despite what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Galatians 3:26-28 and Colossians 3:10-11 about such former distinctions being done away with in Christ and all believers being one in Christ.
Hence, I would suggest an alternative term for such a position. Here are some candidates:
- "Subordinationism." But since "lay" men are just as "subordinated" to male pastors, elders, and deacons as "lay" women are, this is probably not a good alternative.
- "Restrictionism." This might be a valid alternative, since whereas "lay" men can become "clergy" and hold "church offices" and teach others, both male and female, it's not similarly open to women to enter or achieve the same rank or position or place of authority.
- "Patriarchalism." This formerly-used term most literally means a society headed by a "father." But since it also means a system or organization whereby power is held by and transferred through males, it might be the best and most accurate alternative term for so-called "Complementarianism."
(Note: When I talk about importing the husband-wife relationship into the church realm, I am not thereby saying or assuming that the husband-wife relationship has to be patriarchal, though there does seem to me to be Scriptural support for that, with the husbands' mutual respect and love and self-giving reciprocating the wives' and children's non-leadership or lesser-leadership roles. What I'm saying is that "Complementarians" seem to be imposing that model onto church roles and offices and tasks when they give men authority over women while denying a woman an equal right to be in authority or a pastor or a teacher of men.)
Maybe "Complementarians" would be offended if "Egalitarians" insisted on using "Patriarchalism" again, a term that more accurately describes the negative aspects of "Complementarianism." Is it the desire to dialogue without offending the other party that causes "Egalitarians" to acquiesce and accept the "Complementarians'" somewhat-euphemistic self-designation?
1 I haven't read many of the latest articles written about this, but I have in the past owned and read several books on the subject, though I've subsequently sold or given away most of them. I have yet to read much of the largish (500+ pages) Discovering Biblical Equality, but have read most of the second edition of Two Views on Women in Ministry, as well as the first edition of Women in the Church: An Analysis and Application of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (and own the second edition as well). I've also read several responses and rebuttals to and from the opposing sides.
2 George Orwell, Animal Farm, Chapter X