Someone asked me this question the other day.
I recently read a complementarian article that compares women’s subordinate roles in the church with that of the occupation of a police officer or other authority figure in society. The complementarian position is that even though these individuals have authority over us, we are still equal in value before God. . . There’s something that doesn’t ring true about this comparison but I’m having a hard time disputing it. Can you help me?
Here’s what I wrote back.
The main problem with the police officer analogy is that in many countries today anyone who wants to join the police force, meets the requirements, and passes the tests can become a police officer. But, according to many complementarians, women can never be in certain positions of authority in the church. Let me add that, in healthy societies, the authority of police officers is regulated and greatly restricted.
Furthermore, corrupt, abusive, or inept police officers should be sacked and lose their authority. But many complementarians believe that all men have a greater level of authority than women regardless of morality and competence.
Photo is of Admiral Michele Janine Howard of the USA Navy.
I’ve heard people use the position of a ship’s captain in a similar way. Complementarians who use this analogy point out that we need a captain in charge so that the ship will run smoothly, but that the captain and their crew are equal as human beings. This analogy also falls down.
A capable sailor may one day hope to become the captain of a ship. But, according to complementarians, a woman, no matter how capable, can never hold certain leadership positions in the church.
Complementarians say that men and women are equal in value before God. Yet most do not give men and women opportunities to function as equals.
Many complementarians also say that women are equal to men in being (ontology). Yet they further say it is because of their being, their female-ness, that all women are immediately disqualified from certain ministries that some may, in fact, be perfectly suited to. This doesn’t make sense.
The “equality” of complementarians is theoretical or spiritual rather than practical, and there is a cap on what women can be and what they can do based solely on gender. But how can the theological and spiritual principle of the equality of men and women simply be theoretical and not have a practical and sociological outworking in the body of Christ?
Complementarians insist that being male is one of the primary prerequisites for ministries such as being a senior pastor or a teaching elder, and that women are automatically disqualified regardless of ability, talent, or experience. This is not equality.
Complementarianism is a form of sexism. Analogies used by complementarians are designed to mask this sexism and may sound plausible at first, but they don’t stand up to a closer look.
What other analogies used to support complementarianism fail under scrutiny?
Postscript: May 20 2018
The Analogy of Different Roles in Soccer
On Twitter, J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, defended complementarian gender roles with this analogy: “Ronaldo is not allowed to touch the ball with his hands in a soccer match but his goalie is. Does this distinction of roles mean the goalie is superior in essence to Ronaldo as a player?”
My response on Twitter: Ronaldo is playing a position that suits his ability. Hopefully, the goalie is playing his position because he has a superior ability as a goalie. In the church, we need to have people in ministries that suit their abilities, and gender has little to do with ability.
Also, Ronaldo touches soccer balls with his hands every day, just not when he plays a certain position during a match.
Postscript: September 25 2020
The Analogy of Teachers and Students
Someone sent me an email today and brought up the example of a hierarchy between teacher and student. This example was given to her to illustrate that a hierarchy of authority is normal between men and women and it doesn’t mean the sexes are unequal in worth: “Just like how a teacher has more authority than a student but both are still equally image-bearers.”
Here’s my response: Interestingly, Jesus says that a student is to become like their teacher when they are fully trained: “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).
The problem with the complementarian argument is that a woman can never have the same level of authority as a man no matter how well trained or competent she is.
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