Monday, April 23, 2012

Social Distortion - The Distinctive of Complementary Gender Roles

A guest editorial post by my husband, UnReformed.  We realize that some readers will disagree, but we want to learn and encourage others to learn to stay in the room with disagreement and tolerate beliefs that are different than their own...So here goes!  ~ Sophia
UPDATED BY REFORMED 4/23 @10:00p.m.

For years after I got married both my wife and I listened to Dr. Laura on talk radio. We both enjoyed her no-nonsense approach to offering advice, and because she typically dealt with marriage, children, and relationships, being a young couple with a budding family we felt it time well spent. 

One of the primary precepts of Dr. Laura’s moral code was that children should be raised by their families. It did not necessarily mean it fell to the wife. But simply that children being thrown into institutional daycare as infants and toddlers was an atrocity. When we were first starting out, we got into a rental contract we couldn’t afford and had to send our 1 year old into a daycare for 9 months so my wife could work. It was absolutely heart breaking for her to drop him off each morning and not much easier for me. It came to a head (in my mind) when I went to pick him up one afternoon around 4:00 and walked into the backyard to find my 16 month old son sitting on the concrete playing by himself with a half dozen other little children between 2 and 4 years old around him. He looked dejected and lonely playing by himself as he was far younger than most of the kids….. It was absolutely heart breaking thinking that I was sending my 16 month old little boy out into the world to fend for himself. Shortly thereafter I developed a game plan, my wife quit her job and we pulled him out of daycare for good. 

Since then my wife has been home with the critters. She stays with them during the day to support, love, teach, guide and when the need arises discipline them. I go out each day and slay dragons to put food on the table. In that regard we operate in traditional roles. 

However I do not see my wife as weaker or easier to deceive. If she is more naïve than me it is because I have lived a VERY hard life and because of this am supremely cynical. She is far less naïve than most men I have met and has intellectual and social gifts that overshadow mine tremendously. I dare say I admire the optimistic prism through which she sees the world and people and if that is naiveté then sign me up! 

I say all this to point out that we live out traditional roles in regard to the work place and household. However beyond these superficial situational roles, the distinction disappears. 

The distinctive of complementary roles is to me a paradoxical concept. If one is the head and the leader and the other is the helper who is submissive, where does equality fall into that equation? You always hear pastors say that men and women are “equal but different” in regard to gender roles however they proceed to say that women are more easily deceived, the weaker vessel, the helper, a good one is submissive, respectful of her husband etc…. What is said about men? That they are priests and kings of their household, and that they are the “head” of their family. 

So submissive, naïve, weaker helper is equal to Strong, King Priest, and Leader? 

Although any complementarian pastor may be getting red faced and angry saying that I am misrepresenting the issue and that men must be like Jesus willing to sacrifice their lives for their wives and live as humble servant leaders. There is still an undeniable paradox in the descriptive tone regarding men and women. Men are Kings, women are helpers. Men are Priest and Leaders, women are to be submitted. Another relatively severe problem is that Jesus came to earth because he knew that we couldn’t be like him. We will always fall short right to our dying day. So when you recklessly tie Christ like behavior from men as a necessary component to healthy relationships in marriage where you’ve already stoked chauvinistic thinking in the men empowering them with a kingship, a priesthood and executive leader in their abode….. Well then you can venture a guess that oppression is going to happen at least in a fair number of occurrences…. Thinking anything else would be naïve… and we all know that men aren’t naïve right? 

I’ve had this argument with people before and the “goto” for men (women rarely argue this issue) is Paul’s numerous statements in his letters diminishing a woman’s role in the church. 

We love to contextualize scripture. Mark Driscoll rented the entire city of Ephesus for a day and globe trotted around Israel so he could develop documentary styled video clips to contextualize his Luke, and Revelations sermons. And pastors love to bring historical & cultural tendencies into context to help parishioners understand better the power or meaning of certain verses. And we do this recklessly so that it seems you can get whatever meaning you want out of whichever verse you want. Like last week I wrote about the "tough text" where Jesus said “Do not make any vows” (Mathew 5:34) and Mark Driscoll was able to postulate that what Jesus meant by “Do not make any vows” was that he sometimes wants us to make vows! Like vows of submission to authority as members, or vows to submit to discipline from leadership..... or making vows to be leaders as part of Driscoll's RMT tour. Driscoll used “context” to establish that Jesus meant the exact opposite of what he said. No means yes in the right context!

However we steer clear of contextualizing Paul. The church loves to study the Apostolic Letters. And the church loves to impart the full weight of prophetic scripture to his words. I honestly fear that too much focus is put on them as the basis for a lot of what churches consider their ‘doctrine’. This ends up nullifying or at least limiting the power of the Gospels. And to those outside the main of the church It is a clear and obvious trend that a fair number of people inside the church seem more like followers of Paul than Christ these days. 

And it is understandable why. 

Paul spoke in clear terms. Jesus spoke in riddles. Paul said ‘do this, don’t do that’. Jesus said ‘believe in me’. The doctrine of Paul fits into our modern task oriented, productivity based world much better than the doctrine of the Gospels and sadly it shows. 

But I would dare say that, when Paul said things like women aren’t supposed to lead, or that women are easily deceived and naïve or that women should be submissive helpers etc…, you have to apply almighty context to these statements and to Paul. Not to say that Paul didn't mean what he said. I would never suggest that a man from the Bible meant something radically different than what he said! But what is his context? What was the cultural mindset out of which he made these statements? Were woman treated with respect and honor. Did men believe in servant leadership to their wives?

NO! Women were viewed as just a notch above livestock! 

Daughters were sold to the highest bidder, women who had sex prior to marriage were killed, women who committed adultery were killed, if a woman was raped her assailant had to merely pay her dad a fee and he could keep her, if a man died before producing an heir, his brother took ownership of his wife, and their eyewitness accounts were not recognized by the courts. So if a woman saw a man murder another man, and went to tell the police, they would essentially brush her off.

"Silly, easily deceived woman, what does she know?"

Paul lived right in the middle of an era not unlike fundamentalist Islam (from a gender roles perspective). And he was a celibate priest, raised in an ultra-conservative Jewish family who was hyper zealous about religious tradition. So Paul was not only living in an era similar to Islamic fundamentalism, but he was a religious cleric in that culture.... prior to his conversion.

So is Paul the pillar through which to establish the stature, and strength of women in the church? NO!

Bible based models for women’s roles in the church will ALWAYS render a stone- age looking culture because the Bible was written thousands of years ago when views towards women were crude and ignorant. Do it with anything… slaves, racial purity, racism, treatment of the disabled etc…. Bible based models will always yield something out of the stone- age, because the books were written ages ago. 

So where does this leave me? I don’t know. I know that something seems amiss about the way the church supports complementarian roles and something seems amiss in the way it is practiced. Unless I cherry pick the verses that I want to cherry pick, I cannot come to the same conclusion that Piper and Driscoll and the Catholic church are arriving at. Jesus Christ empowered women, stood up for them, protected them and leaned on them. Nothing about Christ and the Gospel's leads me to a diminished helper role for women.... Only if I have my exacto knife out sifting through Paul's letters do I find the scriptural support I need.... and then only in short little snippets which I must cut and paste together to create my framework.

If relationships within the church resembled the way the church describes it with humble servant leader men sacrificing their life in honor and admiration for women, I could/ would lend it some currency. But in my own experience, the louder a church beats the drum of complementary roles, the more oppressive its culture seems to be. 

My own take is not completely formed yet. I believe that women are endowed with and seen fully as equals in God’s eyes because of the way Jesus treated them. I do not see anything in Genesis or the Gospels that would lead me to believe otherwise. I believe women’s limited roles in the church and supposed limited roles within the home are a remnant of cultural chauvinism in society and the church and think that Paul’s writings are simply a tool men use to advance a self centered agenda. 

I know that what I saw at Mars Hill was oppressive. I know that men in leadership expected their wives to “mind their place” and that the drumbeat was so loud and so steady from the church that no one I knew was modeling servant leadership when the church was constantly telling them they were kings, priests, and leaders. Understanding that many were not leaders it seemed like they resorted to a form of bullying to establish their “authority” in the home. So in practice they were failing horribly…. I cannot imagine how much worse it would be for a single woman in that church…. Erin’s story over at my wife’s blog gives me a fair idea. 

Any man who needs his wife to be submissive to him isn’t much of a man in my book. A man is not strong if his wife is weak and submissive. I’d say anyone who needs someone they love to bend their knee to them is an insecure little wimp if they are not willing to earn respect first. Often these complimentary churches push young men and women into marriages when young men still rely on mommy to cook and clean for them.... Yet wives are supposed to honor and respect their wisdom? Because he's equipped with male anatomy? This entitlement attitude, "I'm the leader cuz I'm the man!" attitude typically yields unhealthy dynamics with insecure chihuahua type men lording it over their wives who quietly resign themselves to submission. Largely because every other woman, man and leader in the church is telling them to do so..... Your support will help him become great! Is one of the twitter comments I saw.... yeah or it will embolden him into a tyrant or despot.

And ultimately it rolls gender equality back into the stone age. Secular society cringes in disgust as the church pushes gender roles back to the 30’s, 20’s past women equality into the 1800’s with its so called “gospel centered” doctrine. Secular people are not fooled. “It has nothing to do with the Gospel or Jesus” one secular friend of mine said the other day. “It’s the frickin Elks Club with a crucifix! What a joke!” 


  1. I'm actually applauding...and I'm amazed at how much of your conclusions match mine, even right down to the part about knowing it's wrong but not knowing where it leaves you...there really isn't much in the way of churches that are "Reformed" but do not practice this brand of opression. It's why I'm content to sit in just about ANY church but those churches. It's why I started questioning ALL reformed doctrine and the way it is applied.

    I don't suppose you have a rant about "The elect" and "Only picking the low hanging fruit" - "If they don't accept Jesus it's because they aren't elect" thing? I'm not sure I fully agree with its praxis, either. Might just be the way Mark Driscoll explains it that turns me off.


  2. Hey Angie, yeah I suppose I do. Elect and predestination dove tail into the "God is on mission" thing for me... To me its sort of like small minded finite beings trying to box in concepts from an infinite all powerful being outside of time. And drawing it out so they seem like "the chosen ones"

    There is an arrogance in that view... and this arrogance always leads to the exclusion of others. That is invariably where I have problems... When some are excluded or cast off for others. Jesus didn't teach that. He taught to run to the outside and to hell with status quo.. I think God is way bigger than the doctrinal box we like to package him up in.

    I'm sure I can come up with something... We've got another month till my next big proposal hits the streets and we ramp up our pursuit effort so I have way too much time on my hands. Stay tuned.

    1. You are such a blessing, UNReformed. Thank you for being so transparent and so gentle of a man. But I also feel your pain and anguish. I have learned so much by your blog and it helped me to shift my way of thinking. I know that coming through this blog was predestined by God. It saved me from reaching insanity! Reading each of your stories has taught me to ReThink and ReThink about how many pastors like Mark Driscoll and leaders have been spiritual abusing and manipulate people for their own selfish gain. You guys taught me to stay very close to Jesus. For many years, I have asked questions about how pastors and leaders lead a church. I was told that I am too cynical for asking too many question, but to simply trust Jesus. I started to feel disturbed and troubled by how pastors and leaders do unbiblical things in the church. So I was told not to question but to obey and do what is asked of me unto Jesus. But because I love Jesus, I did exactly that. But Holy Spirit turned my heart toward God and asked Him those questions that pastors nor leaders couldn't answer, I was being tormented. I turned to the Bible and started to cry out to God for answers. I started to search scriptures and crying out for understanding, wisdom, insight, and knowledge. God has given me peace because the Bible is the only thing sane and what makes perfect sense. Many pastors and leaders of the church of God will have to give an account for the hurting God's sheeps. Please read Ezekiel chapter 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14.....Greed, love of money, power and control, distortion, pride, has entered into many of these pastors and leaders hearts. They are misleading, not teaching scriptures, wrong counseling. That is why I believe that you were all 'exiled" by God. God loves you all so much that He pulled you all out from there. Though the pain is deep, but He is healing and restoring. Amazing!
      Very, very few pastors and leaders are faithful to God's commands. Very few Shepherds that care and love God's sheeps.
      But you have only one Shepherd and that is Jesus Christ. He is jealous for you and longs for a deep intimate relationship with you.
      I don't know you nor your wife Sophia, or anyone here on Mars Hill Refuge. But God has put a love for you all and a burden to pray for you all and those captive in Mars Hill Church.

      Here is a website by a group of Women of God.....

      These women are being used by God in an Amazing way. I pray that it will bless you and your wife, along with Mars Hill Refuge. I will continue to pray that God will continue to strengthen and encourage you in HIs spirit.

      God's blessing upon you and yours......

    2. In case you have a is the website again....

  3. Thank you for this, UnReformed. I like the way you point out how Paul's writing style is so pointed, whereas Jesus did indeed speak in parables and riddles. We have to read the whole Bible in context.

    I too am Unreformed, despite being surrounded by people who seem to lap up the New Calvinism. Over the last while I have renounced complementarianism too. I was first made uneasy at a weekend I attended where the speaker (quite a well known New Calvinist preacher) told us which parts of Timothy were 'cultural' (e.g. women covering their heads was a cultural thing) and parts that weren't (e.g. women not teaching a man -that's an eternal truth apparently). I realised he was picking and choosing...but how did he know?

    I am meeting up with my pastor soon to discuss my views: although he is firmly of the Reformed stamp I feel the need to share that there is another way of seeing things! And it is every bit as Biblical.

    Thank you.

  4. Hi, Mary. i hope it goes well when you talk with the pastor. But really, it doesn't matter what your pastor thinks. To be in an environment that espouses something as intolerable as discrimination for God (which is what it is) will surely be beyond frustrating for you (to the point of your toes curling backwards).

    But God is so much bigger and beyond such thinking. God in you is so much bigger. You priest of God, you.

  5. UNreformed, this is perfect. It's what I have been trying to write for ages for my personal blog. Now I think I will just link people to this post. Amazing. Seriously. Thank you!

  6. This was a really interesting post! It struck a cord with me because of how I was raised. My parents had a very similar approach to yours; they didn't claim to have all the "clobber verses" all figured out, but they simply lived out their marriage according to what worked, made sense, and felt right to them. The result was a marriage that was essentially egalitarian. They never taught me about complementarianism, egalitarianism, gender roles, or anything else, but I grew up to be an egalitarian simply by watching how they did life together.

    As an adult, I then faced the same struggle that you did. I knew egalitarianism made more sense, but there was all this stuff from Paul that I somehow had to reconcile. I feel your pain.

    It's worth pointing out that there are "undisputed" Pauline letters, and disputed ones. The undisputed Pauline letters were most certainly written by him, but the disputed ones are suspected to have actually been written by someone else, possibly one of Paul's disciples at a slightly different point in history.

    ALL of the gender clobber verses are found in the disputed Pauline letters. NONE of them are found in the undisputed letters. That floored me when I first heard of it (not least because the disputed letters were most likely written during a period when the Roman society was having a HUGE backlash against Christianity for being so egalitarian, and Christians had to be super careful not to stir up trouble).

    I thought those tidbits might be helpful in your understanding of the situation. Though I've known about them for years now and still don't quite know how to parse them! :)

    Also check out Christians for Biblical Equality. They have tons of resources about accurate translation and application of those troubling Pauline passages. I know you fear contextualizing something too much, but reading some of the material at CBE and also helped me see that the rules of exegesis universally applied to scripture are often NOT applied to the gender verses. And that, my friend, is something to think about before assuming that you can take those verses at face value. :)

  7. I am a 27-year-old single man who was raised in a fundamentalist family and has been tied to church culture since a young age. I have been attending Mars Hill Bellevue for about 4 months. Through much prayer and journaling and many honest and beautiful conversations with close friends I have come to the belief that Jesus wants me to be a part of that body. From my brief observations over the past few months I find the author’s words concerning the Complementarian culture at Mars Hill to be entirely true. In fact, he describes the effect of that culture on the men and women of the church with startling clarity and conviction. I could not have said it better myself. Please pray for me as I continue to attend Mars Hill and wrestle with the words and attitude of Mark Driscoll and his oppressive DNA that extends down to every level of the organization. I do not fully know why I am there. But I believe Jesus is there with me.

    Thank you.

    1. As a 10 year veteran of Mars Hill and having been safely out now for four years, I would encourage you to tread carefully. My husband and I are still working through the bad (dare I say false?) teaching we received there. Even though I mentally disagreed with a lot that was said while I was there the corrupt teaching still sunk in and withered my soul.

    2. So that would have been 1998 to 2008, Anonymous. That was around the time I was there myself.

      A Hobbit, my advice is that if you feel you should be at MH avoid getting drawn into the leadership culture at any level. Attending? Okay. In a CG group you like? Okay but don't get too involved and wait and see. I found most CG stuff awkward and perfunctory except for a short period in 2004-2006, which was before quality controls really locked down on what small groups could do.

    3. To Anonymous and Wenatchee the Hatchet,
      Thank you for your wise and kind words. I have been treading carefully during my time at Mars Hill and I will continue to be cautious and make sure I’m safe. Also, I have no desire to be in “leadership” at Mars Hill in any way. From what I’ve noticed while getting to know people in my CG and watching the attendees at events I think the people at Mars Hill are afraid and weary. People who “serve” in any capacity seem exhausted and the women of the “church” seem afraid to voice their concerns. I have not publicly voiced these concerns myself but I see this all through out Mars Hill.

  8. I by no means agree with Mars Hill's implementation or "living out" of the roles that God has defined in the Bible. This is to clarify what I'm about to write. First, because of your bad experiences, you've defined the word "submission" in your thoughts as something pejorative, wrapping in the emotions that arise through those memories. I conclude this because you are negating very plain statements for wives to submit to their husbands in chapter 3 of I Peter. It's a good thing.

    Secondly, your whole train of thought is bent on showing social progression as the standard for how men and women are to be defined and how they are to relate to one another. Scripture should be your standard. If you question the Apostle Paul's letters, then you're going to dig a hole in your faith you won't be able to close up. What we have from him is Scripture: if he was wrong, then the Apostle Peter was wrong since he backs him up as a true Apostle of Christ, and on and on and on--to the point that eventually people will just rewrite clear, accurate translations to make it fit today's social "right and wrong". It's already been done through the TNIV.

    Lastly, we both know that Mars Hill has some serious problems. Now, the problem with your current thinking, is that you're using a red herring argument for your posts. Here it is:

    Since Mars Hill is terrible, no good, very bad church, and I now see the light because I left, all my posts will be wonderful, all good, very right truth.

    I'm not discounting the painful experiences you've had, but your painful experiences and how much you dislike Mars Hill, don't justify distorting Scripture and making it fit what you think it should say. Once you go down that road, you're companion, whether you realize it or not, is Mars Hill, because you're doing the same exact thing they do; and look where that has gotten them.

    1. Kevin: "Scripture should be your standard. If you question the Apostle Paul's letters, then you're going to dig a hole in your faith you won't be able to close up. What we have from him is Scripture: if he was wrong, then the Apostle Peter was wrong since he backs him up as a true Apostle of Christ, and on and on and on--to the point that eventually people will just rewrite clear, accurate translations to make it fit today's social 'right' and 'wrong'."

      Kevin, I am so glad that you brought this up because I am so sick and tired of people not using scripture as their standard and questioning the Apostle Paul's letters!

      I am so tired of Western culture blatantly disobeying the doctrine of the holy kiss which is thourougly established by the Apostle Paul and completely backed up by Peter.

      It is scriptural for men to greet one another with a holy kiss. It doesn't matter in the least that our culture considers it wrong for men to kiss one another, in greeting or other wise. What matters is that we obey scripture. It is wrong for us to write off this important command from the Apostles Paul and Peter because our cultural preferences don't agree. I mean really. Not obeying this command from the Apostles has opened the door to not obeying other scriptural commands like women braiding hair or wearing jewelry and not covering their heads.

      This is such an important command that Paul mentions it 4 times! 4 TIMES! He mentions it far more than wives submitting so it MUST be a more important doctrine than submission doctrine.

      Kevin, I'm sure that if you are not obeying the doctrine of the holy kiss it is only because squeemish preachers (who don't want to deal with the hard issues) have refuse to teach it to you. But I'm also confident that as I lay out these scriptures for you that you will jump in and obey with all the zeal you have in trying to get women to obey doctrine concerning submission.

      Here are the places in scripture concerning the doctrine of the holy kiss:

      Romans 16:16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.

      I Corinthians 16:20 All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

      II Corinthians 13:12 Greet one another with a holy kiss

      I Thessalonians 5:25 Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss.

      And here is Peter backing up Paul's doctrine of the holy kiss.

      I Peter 5:14 Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace be to you all who are in Christ.

      As you see, the plain reading is abundantly clear and I know you will start obeying it immediately now that it has been laid out for you.

      (For those who don't know me, this comment is pure sarcasm.)

  9. Definitely love how you've brought out that what is taught about manhood and womanhood limits human beings in service to God. I would also note that we are called to "submit to each other out of reverence for Christ" , and that chapter makes so much more sense in the NLT.

    Also, though I can't get my head around female eldership (and you are free to disagree with me- it isn't an issue that will bar either one of us from heaven despite how it is presented by many "complementarians"), and I personally believe men and women are different because men can't become pregnant (though advances in science may change this lol), I do think "What Paul REALLY Said About Women" by JTBristow is one of the best exegesis-es of the topic I have read so far. Check it out!

    PS- "complementarian" isn't recognized as a word by my computer- though I probably am one by definition, I hate how it is being interpreted, and I am totally in agreement with Scripture that women and men should serve as deacons. That would bar me from being "complementarian" in some circles though not in others! Craziness. Instead of inventing a term, maybe we should get back to being interdependent adults under GOD. ;)