Sunday, September 9, 2012

Complementarianism (analysis)

This one's a little longer, but it mentions both Mr. Darcy and righteous prostitution (though thankfully not in connection with one another).

I like complementarianism. I think it boldly speaks to several unpopular Biblical truths. For one, all people were not created equal. A single glance at a high school yearbook is enough to tell you that “God does not value intellectual or aesthetic equality among people.” (Piper, Grudem) Furthermore, men and women are undeniably different and they are different in ways modern feminists (myself included) don’t like to admit. The chick flick, timelessly popular and almost always as anti-feminist as fiction can be, proves that there is something to the Biblical assertion that that which is masculine should protect and lead that which is feminine. You’ll note that Mr. Darcy is the one with 10,000 pounds a year, saves Elizabeth’s family from ruin, and who takes all the initiative in the relationship.
Biblically speaking, complementarianism addresses important issues about creation order and the word “helper.” It incorporates I Tim 2 with ease and manages I Corinthians 11 with aplomb. As far as views about women in the church go, it’s a bold one.
Bold, but, in my opinion inadvisable. However much I like complementarianism, I can’t subscribe to it: it simply has too many inferences, too many ifs, too much reading into what isn’t there rather than what is—and too much trouble with reality. Even complementarians don’t actually live like complementarians these days. Most wives do an awful lot of initiating in relationships and very few husbands, complementarians or not, expect their wives to submit their wants and needs fully to them—without the husband himself coming to the table with the mindset of mutual submission. Moreover, a black and white view like traditional complementarianism lends itself to harmful generalizations that do not address the complexity found in men and women separately as well as their relations.
Many of the same verses the egalitarians struggle with, are problematic (sometimes more so) for the complementarians. Whereas egalitarians have a ready answer for the morass that is I Corinthians 14, complementarians remain unable to uniformly defend verses 34 and 35: “…women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak . . . If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” Never mind the argumentation that starts with, “Does not the very nature of things…”
Perhaps the biggest problem I see with complementarianism is with its results. Though in essence it upholds the dignity and value of women, this fact gets lost in the mess between what is cultural and Biblical. I hope I don’t sound too simplistic when I say it is very hard to separate the Biblical portrayal of femininity from the many different cultural portrayals dealt with in the Bible, particularly when you consider the 180 our culture has taken from past cultures’ portrayals of femininity. The Bible does not directly answer the question “What is femininity (or masculinity)?”
Complementarians are concerned about the “strain on the humanity” of men and women who deny traditional gender roles, but bigotry and sexism festers in the meanwhile. (Piper, Grudem) When a young woman serves communion at her church, when a seminary-trained college professor gives a guest sermon, when women voice their opinions in the church, the reaction should never be wrath and bile. Yet in complementarian churches, that is exactly what is stirred up, rather than peaceful debate over the issues raised, a searching of the scriptures. Furthermore, complementarianism does not encourage women to take charge and be strong and that is unforgiveable. The superwoman from Proverbs 31 needs serious leadership skills and a church that is willing to nurture that within her.
While I admire complementarianism for searching out tough Biblical truths and defending them to the best of their God-given abilities, I am disappointed by their inability to accept other Biblical complexities about right and wrong. The mess that is the history of God’s people is proof enough of the existence of shady gray spaces: Tamar rightfully posing as a prostitute in order to sleep with her father-in-law, for example.
In the end complementarianism has a lot of integrity and truth to it. But today’s Christians need their church to be not only bold, but willing to admit weakness and fallibility. Crazy gifts—both the extravagant perfume-to-the-feet kind and the talent for wise leadership wielded wielded by an Old Testament Judge —are staples of the Bible, and we would do well to have flexibility toward those seeking to serve God in whatever way they feel called. Unlike Jesus, complementarians trade hospitality for the hardline and that benefits no one.

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