Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

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Mary Kassian recently posted an article on her website entitled Dora the Doormat: And other Scary Straw Women of Complementarity. In her article, Kassian discusses caricatures and stereotypes of complementarian women and explains that these extremes do not fairly represent complementarian women. (Update: Mary’s article is no longer on her website but can be accessed here.)

Men and Women: “Equal but Different” or “Different and Equal”?

Complementarians believe that men and women (on the basis of gender alone) are “equal but different”. They explain this “difference” by teaching that all men have been ordained by God to be leaders and authorities, and that all women are designed by God to be submissive and responsive to male authority.[1] I find the complementarian idea of “equal but different” contrived and inaccurate. Christian egalitarians, on the other hand, believe that men and women (on the basis of gender alone) are “different and equal” – no buts!

Two Important Women of Complementarianism

One tragic “stereotype” of complementarianism that Mary Kassian does not acknowledge in her article is the abused woman. The complementarian concept of male-only authority makes too much room for the abuse of wives and women by men. Many men who dominate and mistreat their women believe they have been created superior to women and have divine permission to dominate their wives. The Christian church has been notoriously insensitive to the betrayal, cruelty, and pain experienced by many women whose husbands hold traditional and negative views of women.[2] Why did Mary Kassian leave out the abused woman in her article?

Another victim of complementarian theology is the woman who is called and gifted by God for ministry but ignored and overlooked by her church. Many godly women who have leadership and teaching abilities are deterred and prohibited from being leaders and pastors on no other basis except for their gender. Complementarians ignore the Bible verses that show that women were church leaders in the New Testament church and they focus on just one or two verses (verses written to two troubled churches) that silence women.

Numerous gifted and capable women have been denied recognised ministry positions and opportunities by the church. These women usually look for needs to fill, and they minister unofficially, often with little support. I would have liked to see how Mary Kassian deals with these suppressed and unsupported women ministers in her article. It seems that some (much?) of Mary Kassian’s satire is insensitive to women who are stifled and trapped in ill-fitting, subordinate roles.

The Straw Woman Argument

Mary Kassian complains that complementarianism is maligned by straw woman arguments. Mary describes this type of argument: “A straw woman is the female version of a straw man. A straw man argument is one that misrepresents a position, knocks that position down, and then concludes that the real position has been refuted. It’s a common but faulty way to argue against an idea.”

Despite Mary’s recognition that a straw man/ woman argument is a faulty way to argue, I frequently see complementarians, including Mary Kassian, use egalitarian or feminist straw women in their arguments aimed at dismissing and discrediting Christian egalitarianism.[3] These “Christian feminist straw women” include: the self-centred, career-obsessed woman; the immodest, promiscuous woman; the neglectful, time-strapped mother (because she has interests outside the home); the bossy, unsubmissive wife; the aggressive, man-hater; the scripture-tampering heretic; the sexually-confused, androgynous woman; the woman who thinks nothing about having an abortion.

I have rarely seen these kinds of women in the evangelical church. These extremes do not come close to fairly representing evangelical Christian egalitarians.

A Real-Life Egalitarian (Mutualist)

I am a true-life example of a Christian egalitarian, or mutualist, not an extreme caricature or a scary straw woman. I am respectful, considerate, and helpful to my husband. I was a stay-at-home mother when my children were young and then worked part-time at the school they were attending. I do not hate men and I am not at all aggressive. I hope that I can be described as modest and virtuous. I love being a woman and am comfortable with my sexuality. I believe that having an abortion (when the life of the mother is not at stake) is horrible. Moreover, I am devoted to God and love reading and studying the Bible. And I believe that the Bible teaches that men and women are wonderfully different and completely equal!


[1] Complementarian John Piper narrowly defines masculinity and femininity purely in terms of male authority and female submission. (Chapter 1 in Rediscovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, John Piper and Wayne Grudem (editors), Westchester, Il: Crossway Books, 2006.)

[2] Mary Kassian claims in her article that complementarianism represents “traditional, orthodox, historic views on gender.” However, for most of the church’s history, it has been taught that women were inferior to men in almost every regard. Many Christian theologians have used appallingly strong language to express their disgust of women. I have examples of this here.

[3] Some complementarians prefer to use the term “Christian feminism” in their arguments against egalitarianism, rather than the term “Christian egalitarianism,” possibly because the word “feminism” recalls aggressive, ungodly attitudes, and behaviours of strident women. By using the word “feminism” (with its unfortunate negative connotations), complementarians make it more difficult for Christians to gain an empathetic understanding of authentic equality or mutuality in Christ.

© 27th of April 2011, Margaret Mowczko

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Women, Teaching and Deception (1 Timothy 2:12)
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8 thoughts on “More Scary Women of Complementarianism

  1. Disingenuous, insincere, inaccurate and duplicitous are the terms I would use. The article by Mary Kassian is disappointing in many ways. Because the inaccuracies are so glaring it causes me to wonder if this is yet another example of how women submitted to comp leaders must capitulate to their directives if they wish to operate in any kind of public writing ministry.

    I say this because I have experienced long ago that type of pressure from pastoral leadership when I founded and wrote in a Christian publication. In fact, they tried to convince me that because I was a woman, the paper rightly belonged to the local church and it’s leadership. Thankfully, I listened first to the Lord that time and left that church and kept the newspaper. However, that had already been done to me a few years earlier when I had founded and run a Christian Rehab House. We successfully helped many people, some becoming Christians receiving local unsolicited donations to keep it going. That is when the local church stepped in pointing out that women couldn’t be ‘shepherd’s ‘ (though I never considered myself such). They took over the ministry and kicked me out on the street. I had been running it without any personal money. It failed less than a year later because they didn’t have what it took to operate it. And they had kicked out the one the Lord choose to run it. 🙂

    This is the type of thing that gender hierarchalists do to women who want to serve the Lord. It really isn’t uncommon. It is just hushed. And it is a viable threat to any women they ‘allow’ to do something usually considered a male’s responsibility and right of service.

  2. TL. Thanks for sharing your stories. It is a sad reminder that behind all the rhetoric there are real ministries and real ministers being suppressed and restricted, and down-right sabotaged and prohibited because of faulty Comp theology. 🙁

    Comp theology is hindering the work of Gospel!

  3. My internet friend Hannah Thomas has written her own parody of Feminist straw women here.

    Have a look!

  4. “I have never met any of these, supposed, “Christian” women in real life. Apart from the rare example, these women exist only in Complementarian straw-woman arguments. These extremes do not come close to fairly representing Christian Feminists and Biblical Egalitarians.”

    I haven’t either, and yet if you look closely at what they say, they claim that they see these women all the time: how they are ‘invading’ the church, and how, of course, people are enabling them. I have yet to come to a church that doesn’t encourage the spirit of ‘family’.

    You seriously have to wonder what circles she runs in. No offense, but if she seriously thinks this is true, you have to wonder if she is looking for evil to make sure this is all she ever sees – to use the phrase – if you look for evil that is all you will see. I guess that makes her a negative nanny!

    Women teaching – especially teaching men – is one reason they refuse to debate with egals or anyone else. They prefer to take pot shots instead.

    Abuse of women? They took down John Piper’s own words, and made no comment about it at all.

    I think she was attempting the abused woman with Dora. She took a stereotype of what they see as a portion of her life, and basically mocked it. “Go home and submit more” is what does happen, and she instead insulted the abused instead. When someone decides to present the ‘deprived’ side of mankind as almost a side note with a sentence, and then spends chapters – or books – on authority, leadership and submission, you have a problem.

    It’s easy to make fun of the most extreme examples they can come up – they are good at that – unfortunately in real life, they wouldn’t have a clue. It doesn’t fit the formula.

  5. Hannah,

    I agree that Dora the Doormat is a circumspect attempt at stereo-typing the abused woman; however Mary Kassian avoids directly linking Complementarianism with the issue of abuse.

    I personally know several Christian women who put up with selfish, immature, demanding husbands, and believe they have no right to say “no” to their husband’s wishes. These women also believe they have no right to pursue their own wishes. These are not caricatures, these are real women: women I know and love. Unlike Mary Kassian, I do not mock these women.

    These women believe they are being obedient to God by obeying their husbands. This is what churches who hold Complementarian and traditional views of women teach.

  6. Proud selfish career-obsessed woman here!

  7. Umm . . . are you referring to yourself, Helen? 😉

  8. […] Mary Kassian and More Scary Straw Women of Complementarianism […]

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