Because Christianity is bigger than Biblical manhood or Biblical womanhood (Blog of Retha Faurie)

We should get more specific terms for complementarians. For one thing, some mutualists call themselves non-hierarchal complementarians.

For another, some couples live a marriage of mutuality and equality in decision-making, but does not believe in female pastors or elders. Others believe women can preach or even be president, but wives should submit to their husbands at home.

Why would specific terms matter? For one thing, painting with a too broad brush comes close to false testimony. For another, it may be easier to influence someone on one topic if he know tho pair of you are discussing that one topic, you are not trying to bring down his entire world view. Complementarians could also, with proper labels, more easily avoid endorsing some very strange ideas of their allies.

Here is my suggestions, but not for category names. I am sure others could come up with more creative, accurate names. These categories of belief could, in my opinion, be separately labelled:

Marriage hierarchists believe a wife should submit to her husband in the home, with the husband leading. Even then, there are degrees to how they understand submission.

Covering hierarchists believe every woman should be under a man. They believe, of course, in marital hierarchy. But they also believe the unmarried should be under a father or brother, and the widow under a son.

Church restrictionists believe there are certain authoritative church positions women should not hold. Even then, it would be useful to have terms to distinguish between

a) “women could preach, but under a male head pastor”

b) “women cannot preach or be pastors”

c) “women cannot be pastors or elders”

d) “women cannot be pastors, elders or deacons”

e) “women cannot even read scripture in church, or do announcements”

Gender role proponents (Generally called “Biblical manhood and womanhood”) say that there are non-biological things which all Christian men have to be and women should not, and others which believing women have to be and men not.

Isn’t say, believing in marital hierarchy, being a gender role proponent? No, because even if a husband should lead his wife in marriage, it says nothing of the behavior of an unmarried young male or an aged widowed lady.  Gender role proponents say there is a complementarianism that influences how even the unmarried and widowed, and the men and women with no desire to be preachers, should live.

Servantists: Believing the male gender role is to lead in serving, sacrifice, and love, could be servantism, but in my opinion no complementarian actually pay more than lip service to it. Do anyone actually believe that the wife should ensure she spend less time serving the husband than vice versa, so he can lead on that score and she does not usurp his role? When the man is somewhat rude because he is in a bad mood, should the woman not lead in love by presenting love into this situation where the man did not? Should she sacrifice less (time, career opportunities, surname, whatever) than the man does? (Believing men should love, serve, and sacrifice, and women should too, is service egalitarianism. Believing women should serve more and sacrifice more is reverse servantism.)

Public restrictionists believe women should not have leadership tasks in politics or at work.

Gospel genderists believe that the message of Christ is compromised if complementarian ideas (Which complementarian ideas? Marriage hierarchy, covering hierarchy, church restriction, gender role living or public restriction?) are not lived out.

This blog, for example, have never said anything about church restrictionists, type a). The comments on marriage hierarchists and church restrictionists, type b), are rather tentative. It is “you could add this to your understanding”, not “stop submitting.” But I make no secret about disagreeing with gender role proponents. And a gender role proponent who quote (for example) Eph 5:23 to me when I oppose so-called Biblical manhood and womanhood is throwing down a red herring.

Such a distinction will also enable those who are, say, marriage hierarchists, to ask a public restrictionist: Why do you think women should not be employers to male employees? Or a church restrictionist could ask a gender role proponent: Now what does your doctrine mean to my unmarried 22-year old daughter and my 19-year-old son? What should they be to comply, and where in the Bible do you get it?

Could you suggest other complementarian ideas to distinguish between? Or perhaps better names for the different complementarian ideas?


PS: I made a minor edit to the sentence that used to say:  “…I oppose Biblical manhood and womanhood…” It is now: “… I oppose so-called Biblical manhood and womanhood…”

Comments on: "You are complementarian? What do you believe, really?" (14)

  1. Don Johnson said:



  2. Michelle said:

    This is great! Complementarianism certainly is varied in both belief and practice. Thank you for taking the time to write these out. I’ll see whether there are any additional variations I can think of.

    I also need to think about what you say about the type of complementarian someone is and the way that can influence conversations an egalitarian believer may have with them. That’s definitely food for thought.


  3. Andromeda said:

    How can anyone still believe women need to always be under a man? That is more in line with Confucianism than with the Bible.


  4. Retha, I love how you are able to break down these ideas, show a sensible way to think about them, and build them up again in a way that makes sense. Great ideas!

    I personally know marriage hierarchalists who won’t go along with the term “hierarchalist” (even though that’s exactly what the position is). I guess I’ve been calling them “male-leadership-in-marriage proponents” but that’s quite the mouthful. Sorry I don’t have a better suggestion yet.


  5. “But I make no secret about disagreeing with gender role proponents. And a gender role proponent who quote (for example) Eph 5:23 to me when I oppose Biblical manhood and womanhood is throwing down a red herring.”

    Please remember that you do not oppose Biblical womanhood and manhood. You oppose the gender hierarchalist view of what Biblical manhood and womanhood is. 🙂


  6. Tiro3, should that rather be “oppose so-called Biblical manhood and womanhood?”


  7. SO, if you believe in so-called biblical manhood and biblical womanhood, can you give me but one single Non-Biological trait that belongs exclusively to man (no woman on earth has it, and it has nothing to do with our biology) or exclusively to women ( no man on earth ever has it, and it has nothing to do with our biology). I have issued this challenge before, and received no answer, because there is none. Every person has an individual soul. Every person is unique. every person is to be responsible to God for his or her own life. He or she cannot blame others for what they do or not do. To believe in dividing all humanity into 2 classes is to deny the individual personhood. In the current Christian climate, which has been taken over more and more by male centric “leaders”, so much rests on a faulty foundation: that man has man’s “role” and woman has woman’s role, which logically leads to double standard, sexism, and a gender caste system. There is no other way to describe it. Saying we are equal but this that and the other all day long does not make it true. I have a name for people who say women are equal to men, but they cannot…..(you fill in the blanks) as Complementarians with the Big Buts.


  8. Michelle said:

    Yeah, I don’t believe there is any such thing as “biblical womanhood” or “biblical manhood”, even absent hierarchy.

    1. Christ was sent to save all of us, and sent to live out his life as an example for *all*, regardless of sex/gender

    2. When someone takes a particular action, how do you isolate the variable of biological sex as causation? How do you eliminate: age, economic status, ethnicity, religion, education level, profession, where the person grew up, size of person, physical fitness of person, something in the way the person was brought up, an event that happened in the past to the person (of which you may or may not have any knowledge), the person’s health, etc.?

    There’s a reason the social sciences are generally trickier than, say, physics or chemistry. It’s much more difficult to sort out someone’s motivation. Was I motivated to write this comment because I am a woman? In part, yes–another part of it is that I’ve been exposed to complementarian christianity, which claims that it can know who God made me, without even *getting to know me*, because, after all, God made me…a woman. End of story, right? Otherwise I’d never have reason to comment.

    BUT there are other women who are women, who have been exposed to complementarianism, and (another ingredient here) believe that men and women aren’t as simple as categorizing them (“biblical -hood”) would lead one to believe, and they aren’t commenting here (with the exception of Mabel 😉 ). Maybe it’s because they don’t know about this blog. Maybe it’s because the blog does not strike a chord with them. Maybe they have dyslexia and are uncomfortable posting on a blog. Maybe one of the women is still trying to sort all this out. Maybe another one is just uncomfortable speaking up in general, even on the relatively anonymous Internet. One may be abused, still in a relationship, and trying to stay safe while she learns about her worth in God, and that she does not deserve the way she is being treated.

    Or maybe she just doesn’t have the keen sense of justice that I have, despite the fact that a pastor at my former church claimed that as a masculine trait. But in any case, we can’t know, because we don’t know the woman who isn’t commenting here, and she isn’t talking with us.

    Just about any action and its motivations can be broken down like this. We really don’t know for certain.


  9. Michelle said:

    Oh! I can’t believe I left out cultural expectations–that’s huge! Cultural expectations of the place(s) in which you were raised, where you’ve lived, and the place in which you currently live, breathe, eat, and take actions. Most cultures (I think most) have certain expectations of females and certain expectations of males. Opposing those expectations is a risk. Sometimes large, sometimes small, sometimes in-between. And of course within the culture(s) there are subcultures. So, yeah…too much to untangle, in my opinion.


  10. Michelle, it should be simple. Treat each human being as an individual, not a stereotype. What people pass for “biblical manhood” and “biblical womanhood” is all stereotypes, generalizations and downright sexism. THere is only biblical personhood. No double standard, no caste system.


    • Michelle said:

      Heh. Yes, the idea of treating people as individuals is simpler, I’ll agree. But the reality of the practice of it is so much messier because of the complexity of people. Wouldn’t it make life so much simpler if we could just look at a person, observe to which category they belong, and then we would know how we should treat them? How they will behave and what they will think in a given situation? 😉

      I will also note that the Bible is not the highest authority for christians. We are not “people of the book”, though as much as I hear the word “biblical”, I can see why that might be a common misconception. What we are aiming for here is not “biblical personhood” (this is not meant personally–I do not mind the term), but no less than to be the body of Christ here on Earth: to be Christ-like is the way we should all be aiming to live our lives. “Biblical” anything falls short, IMO.


      • Michelle, a big “Amen!” to that comment. “Biblical personhood” is wordplay, not a statement about the importance of being biblical.

        Great insights, everyone. I am learning from you!


  11. Here is more evidence that complementarian beliefs vary widely. Faith Martin writes in “A response to Recovering Biblical manhood and womanhood” that the 22 authors differ on many points.

    Click to access response_to_recovering_manhood_and_womanhood.pdf

    According to her:
    Raymond Ortlund Jr. takes a biblical feminist to task for believing that both men and women are needed for the full image of God, but Dee Jepsen and Elisabeth Elliot apparently believes the same as said feminist.
    J.I. Packer say women may use teaching gifts in church, and Grudem and Piper seemingly agree within limits. George Knight and Douglas Moo strongly disagree.
    Piper and Grudem say submission is not an absolute surrender of the will, but a disposition to yield to the husbands guidance and follow his leadership. Elisabeth Elliot disagree and George Knight strongly disagree.
    The authors recommend Susan Foh’s writings, but Foh gave a negative review of the book. Foh, unlike the authors, is seemingly not sure that church and marriage gender roles carry over into all areas of life.
    The male writers seem to say gender roles are innate, part of human nature, easy to live out, but the women talk of how much of a struggle it is to fit into their role.
    (My take on why male writers would call it innate while the women struggle: Leading complementarian teachers are people with an inborn skill for leading and teaching. A male among them can easily believe most men are born like him, and therefore God was right to give those roles to men. But a woman among them would struggle to stay in her “womanhood role.”
    And since when is “this is part of human nature” a good argument, even when true? Selfishness, lying and all other manners of sin is also part of human nature.)


    • Michelle said:

      Yes! I recognize and have long appreciated the wordplay in “biblical personhood”. 🙂 Thank you for your kind response.

      Thank you for sharing your insight on why male complementarian writers may feel that a man’s call to lead is innate, while women complementarian writers may find a woman’s call to follow to be a struggle. That makes sense.

      And yes! Yes! A hundred times yes to your observation about “this is human nature” being a questionable argument! I’ve wondered about that many time, particularly as these are often the same people who argue for…the totally depraved nature of humans, or some such. I don’t buy that, either. We’re tainted and twisted by sin, certainly, but God did not create us as wholly bad. How much sense would that make?

      The new trend is to call BM/BW “gospel masculinity” and “gospel femininity”. I level the same complaints against it. We aren’t to be worshipping the Gospel just as we aren’t to be worshipping the Bible. If God had chosen some other way to save us, there would be some other Gospel, and we would not be supposed to worship that, either. The Gospel helps bring us to Christ. Oy, folks….

      I’m wondering whether to refer to this…way that some christians have gotten off track as “the cult of gender” or just refer to gender as an idol in these circles, when I write.

      Aside: It ticks me off that, as central as the gender rules often are in practice in these churches, none of the mainstream churches thus far list it on their website (the Southern Baptist Convention with its “Baptist Faith & Message” document is an arguable exception) in the same place where they list their more orthodox, central beliefs (We are broken, God saves us through Jesus Christ, and the like). In practice, the gender rules belong there as they are central, and people who don’t want any part of those practices would find it helpful if churches who believe gender roles are a crucial part of the Gospel would be up front about it. Of course, I’m sure it’s left out because they don’t recognize is as being as central to their practice (and so their beliefs) as it is, and/or they know that a number of non-christians rightfully find their sexism cloaked in religious terms repugnant.


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