Church Fathers, a miniature from Svyatoslav's Miscellany wikimedia

Orthodox Church Fathers
An 11th-century miniature from Svyatoslav’s Miscellany
(Wikimedia Commons)

Mary Kassian is a well known complementarian.[1] In her blog post dated the 7th of April, 2011, Mary explains the term “complementarian” and writes: “It simply means someone who believes that the Bible teaches that God created men and women with equal, yet distinct roles. We are equal, but different.”[2]

According to complementarians such as Mary Kassian and John Piper, one of the major expressions of these “distinct roles” is that that men have been ordained by God to have the roles of authority and leadership in the church and in the home, and women have the role of submitting to male authority.

I call myself a Christian Egalitarian. I too can see that God has created men and women with differences that complement each other. My beliefs differ to those of complementarians, however, in that I believe these differences do not mean that men have all the authority and women have none, simply on the basis of gender. I am in fact a non-hierarchical complementarian, whereas the position of Mary Kassian, John Piper and others is that of a hierarchical complementarity.

Kassian goes on to say that her brand of complementarianism represents the “traditional, orthodox, historic belief” on gender. This simply isn’t true.

The usual belief of the church, for much of its history, has been that:

  1. Women are inferior to men: spiritually, mentally, emotionally, intellectually, physically, etc.
  2. Women are more easily deceived than men, potentially more evil, and pretty much solely responsible for The Fall.
  3. The only worthwhile purpose or role of women is as mothers and housekeepers, and for serving their men.

Many of the early church fathers and later theologians have said the most terrible, derogatory things about women. This ignorant and hopelessly biased position of the church against women, like it or not, actually represents the traditional and historic belief on gender by the church.[3] The complementarianism that Mary Kassian writes about is a relatively new idea in the church[4] and has little in common with traditional or historical beliefs.

One profound difference between complementarianism and traditional, historic beliefs on gender is that, previously, many theologians used Genesis 3:16 as their primary justification for the subjugation of women. This is where it says that the husband will rule over his wife. Most contemporary Christian theologians, however, believe that Genesis 3:16 is descriptive and not prescriptive. That is, they believe Genesis 3:16 shows that male domination and rule is a consequence of sin and is neither God’s ideal nor injunction for human relationships.

Complementarians distance themselves from post-fall Genesis 3:16 and base their premise of male authority and women’s submission on the pre-fall “created order” recorded in Genesis 2:21-22. This is where we read that the man was created first, before the woman. It is a significant departure from traditional beliefs not to use Genesis 3:16 to support the concept of male-only authority.

Complementarianism also has little in common with New Testament ideals. The New Testament teaches that the authority to minister is given by the Holy Spirit through the distribution of his gifts and abilities. This spiritual authority is not an authority over another person or over a group of people, rather it is the spiritual authorisation to effectively engage in certain ministry functions or roles. As stated numerous times on this website, the New Testament identifies certain women who had significant ministries and were church leaders. These women were respected, valued, and endorsed in their leadership ministries.

The New Testament also contains the seed ideas for social change. These changes include the possibility for egalitarian marriages of mutual honour and submission. Tragically, the Christian Church has been appallingly slow to understand, embrace and promote the true equality of all believers, regardless of gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status.

Mary Kassian states that complementarianism is the church’s traditional, historic belief merely to validate her position. Complementarianism, thankfully, doesn’t even come close to representing the tremendously oppressive “traditional, orthodox, historic belief” of the Christian Church towards women. However, the fallacious understanding and application of “equal but different” by complementarians does little to encourage and promote the freeing New Testament ideals of genuine equality and a caste-less Christianity. Complementarianism and historic beliefs do have something in common: they both limit and suppress women under the flimsy pretext of male-only authority.

Redeemed men and women are different and equal—no buts!


[1] Mary Kassian is an award winning author, internationally renowned speaker, and a distinguished professor of Women’s Studies at a Southern Baptist Seminary. (Yet I often find her assertions and arguments illogical.)

[2] Mary’s article first appeared on the 7th of April on her blog here.

[3] I avoid using the word “orthodox” because of different usages of that word in different Christian denominations.  However many Early Church Fathers, medieval church theologians and even a some more modern scholars would view the complementarian assertion that “men and women are equal” as unorthodox.  These same theologians, however, would not have a problem with the complementarian concept of male-only authority.

[4] The term “complementarianism” probably dates from 1977 when George W. Knight III published his book, The New Testament Teaching on the Role Relationship of Men and Women (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1977). Before this, however, egalitarian Christians were already stating that men and women “complement” each other.

© 20th of April 2011, Margaret Mowczko

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