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Contrasting viewpoints maintain either that women and men should share identical authority and responsibilities in marriage, religion and elsewhere (Egalitarianism, or that men and women are of intrinsically different worth (a position usually known as chauvinism, usually male, although female varieties do exist).
Complementarianism holds that “God has created men and women equal in their essential dignity and human personhood, but different and complementary in function with male headship in the home and in the Church.” Proponents of Complementarianism generally see the Bible as the infallible word of God.
The complementarian position is seen to uphold what has been the most traditional teaching[on gender roles in the church. However, the terms traditionalist or hierarchicalistare usually avoided by complementarians, as the former “implies an unwillingness to let Scripture challenge traditional patterns of behavior”, while the latter “overemphasizes structured authority while giving no suggestion of equality or the beauty of mutual interdependence”. Therefore, they prefer the term complementarian, “since it suggests both equality and beneficial differences”.
The Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church both advocate complementarianism with regards to the social doctrine of the Church. The former, for example, asserts that “God gives man and woman an equal personal dignity” but also that the harmony of society “depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out.”
In contrast with adherents of Biblical patriarchy, some complementarians are open to the possibility of women assuming leadership roles in civic and commercial life.
Roles in marriage
The complementarian view of marriage asserts gender-based roles in marriage. A husband is considered to have the God-given responsibility to provide for, protect, and lead his family. A wife is to collaborate with her husband, respect him, and serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation. Complementarians assert that the Bible instructs husbands to lovingly lead their families and to love their wives as Christ loves the Church, and instructs wives to respect their husbands’ leadership out of reverence for Christ The husband is also meant to hold moral accountability for his wife and to exhibit a sacrificial love for her. The wife is meant to respond to her husband’s love for her with love in-kind and by receiving his service and leadership willingly.
An example of the Complementarian view of marriage can be found in the Southern Baptist Convention’s Baptist Faith and Message(2000):
The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to his people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.
— Article XVIII. The Family. Baptist Faith and Message 2000
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood teaches that “Christ is the supreme authority and guide for men and women, so that no earthly submission—domestic, religious, or civil—ever implies a mandate to follow a human authority into sin.”
The expression Sponsa Christi is sometimes used by complementarians, who note that Paul of Tarsus himself advocated such views. Accordingly, the Christ symbolizes the bridegroom, while the Church (Ecclesia) represents the bride.
Roles in the Church
Based on their interpretation of certain scriptures Complementarians view women’s roles in ministry, particularly in church settings, as limited. The complementarian view holds that women should not hold church leadership roles that involve teaching or authority over men.[ For instance, Frank Page, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, a large conservative denomination has written that “…while both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of Pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” According to Complementarianism, women are not completely forbidden from speaking within a church since Paul speaks about women prophesying inside the church.
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood holds that “[i]n the church, redemption in Christ gives men and women an equal share in the blessings of salvation; nevertheless, some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men (1 Cor;11:2-16; 1 Tim 2:11-15).”Some believe that women should be ordained neither as a pastor nor as an evangelist, while others believe that it is acceptable for women to be evangelists but not pastors. This would not support placing women in leadership roles in the church or family that would imply or provide some authority over men. Which other specific ministry roles are open to women varies among complementarians.
Being critical of the egalitarian position, Southern Baptist theological Albert Mohler stated,
The arguments used in support of the ordination of women require the dismissal or “reinterpretation” of specific biblical texts which disallow women in the teaching office. The same is true of arguments for the ordination of divorced persons–and for homosexuals
Roman Catholic complementarianism has generally advocated roles for women as teachers, mothers and nuns. Some traditionally Roman Catholic countries have been called matriarchal because of the high value that was placed on women, and there are numerous women who have been beatified and who are venerated among the saints. However, the Roman Catholic Church restricts ordination to men, since “The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry.”
Christian denominations that support complementarianism include many conservative Protestant denominations (as well as many non-denominational Protestant churches), the Catholic Church, and the Eastern Orthodox churches. These groups of churches that support forms of this position specifically include the Southern Baptist Convention,Eastern Orthodox Church, Presbyterian Church in America,[ Anglican Diocese of Sydney, Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod,[ Roman Catholic Church, Conservative Mennonites, Newfrontiers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Evangelical Free Church of America, Christian and Missionary Alliance,[Sovereign Grace Ministries , the Calvary Chapel movement.
“In the Divine plan for creation, men and women have distinct, diverse missions. These missions complement each other, and together bring the Divine plan to harmonious fruition. The role of one is neither higher nor lower than the role of the other: they are simply different.”
Within Islam, “a tension exists between the egalitarian view that believers are judged on the basis of merit and the inegalitarian view that women and men should fulfill distinct, complementary roles in the family and society”.
Parachurch organizations that have been described as complementarian include Focus on the Family, Campus Crusade for Christ, and Promise Keepers. Focus on the Family and the Promise Keepers do not take a position on women in the church, but both believe in male headship in the family. Campus Crusade for Christ “has not taken any role of women in ministry”, though its FamilyLife organization directed by Dennis Rainey sponsors “Weekend to Remember” marriage conferences which reportedly teach male headship.
Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Complementarian movements within feminism
New feminism is a predominantly Catholic philosophy which emphasizes a belief in an integral complementarity of men and women, rather than the superiority of men over women or women over men.
Difference feminism is a philosophy that stresses that men and women are ontologically different versions of the human being. Many Catholics adhere to and have written on the philosophy, though the philosophy is not specifically Catholic.
It is argued by some who disagree within Christianity, such as Christians for Biblical Equality, which note that complementarianism “sidesteps the question at issue, which is not whether there are beneficial differences between men and women, but whether these differences warrant the inequitable roles, rights, and opportunities prescribed by advocates of gender hierarchy.”
In February 1989, R.K. McGregor Wright put out “Response to the Danvers Statement,” an unpublished paper delivered to theChristians for Biblical Equality Conference, St. Paul, which was later revised and republished. In 1990 Christians for Biblical Equality published a statement “Men, Women & Biblical Equality,” in Christianity Today.