Male Dominance Gender Roles versus Complementarian Gender Roles

8:13 am | Uncategorized

I make little secret of the fact that I grew up in a church that can be properly called Fundamentalist. This church was fiercely independent and did not consider itself to be Evangelical. They called themselves ‘Fundamentalist’ and wore the term as a badge of honor.

However, they also tended to promote a stricter, more legalistic, and in some ways more traditional view of gender roles. This view over-emphasized the male headship in a way that tended to put an excess of rules upon women and gave them less freedom. This is the view that Wayne Grudem describes as ‘male dominance,’ an errant interpretation of gender relationships that neglects checks on male power by insisting that whatever a man says goes without question, and that the wife is to submit to the man’s will regardless of the situation.

From my perspective, complementarianism is a refreshing and desperately needed corrective to traditional and Fundamentalist views on gender relations. Complementarianism corrects many of the false dualisms that elevate men into a higher place in human relationships than God created them for. It further makes a corrective against selfishness on the part of men, humbling them by causing them to realize that headship is not a calling so they can be served, but that as the head of the family they are to serve the family in the same way that as Jesus Christ is head of the church, he still humbles Himself and washes the disciples’ feet. It also gives men a vision of his calling as a man, by emphasizing his role in being willing to give of himself wholly and sacrificially for the sake of his marriage and family just as Jesus Christ sacrificed himself for the church.

Note: I’m using the word ‘traditional’ to denote the extreme view of ‘male dominance.’ It is unfortunately quite common when people seek to criticize a commonly held view to label it ‘traditional’ and then seek to disparage it. In the Christian debates about Biblical teaching on gender, it is just as common to conflate ‘traditional’ with ‘complementarian’ as it is to conflate ‘egalitarian’ with ‘radical feminism’ for this very reason. Clearly the word ‘traditional’ has been unfairly abused in debates about many discussions as a way to unfairly caricature a position by reducing all opposing views down to the most extreme straw man, which is then is easy to refute. It also carries a load of rhetorical baggage: anything traditional is old, dogmatic, holdovers from an older and perhaps Victorian era, cultural relics that should be discarded. Given the amount of rhetorical force and baggage surrounding the word ‘traditional,’ we should exercise caution in how we use the term to avoid confusion and unnecessary assumptions.

Here are a few areas where the ‘male dominance’ view and the Complementarian view contrast:

Source of Gender Strife in Marriage:
Male Dominance: Lack of submission on the woman’s part to the man’s leading
Complementarian: Gender strife is the result of human sin

View of Authority:
Male Dominance: Male authority is supreme.
Complementarian: God’s authority is supreme. The man, given authority in the home by God, is accountable directly to God for how he treats, neglects, or abuses his wife and family. The man is also accountable to the church: if a man is neglecting or abusing his wife and family, the wife should be free to bring the matter to the church and church discipline should be invoked.

Meaning of Male Headship:
Male Dominance: The man, as the leader of the household is to be served.
Complementarian: The man, as the leader of the household, is called to sacrifice for his family unselfishly and attend to the family’s needs before his own.

Views on Clothing:
Male Dominance: Extremely legalistic dress codes that are often non-sensical. Women shouldn’t wear pants, skirts should come below the knees, what types of clothing can and cannot be worn, negative view towards provocative clothing even for the private pleasure of husbands and wives etc.
Complementarian: While granting freedom and grace to the issue of clothing, Emphasizes the virtue of modesty and the importance of wisdom in making decisions about what clothing is appropriate or inappropriate based on what is culturally acceptable on the one hand and a need to avoid unnecessarily provocative clothing on the other.

Roles in the Church:
Male Dominance: Very limiting of women’s role’s in the church - no teaching roles whatsoever should be given to women, no authority on any matter should be given to women.
Complementarian: Bringing a Biblical corrective by recognizing the roles women have been given in the church, allowing them opportunities to minister directly with women, and also to minister to the body as a whole alongside men.

Views on Sex:
Male Dominance: Negative, ascetic
Complementarian: Sexuality is encouraged within marriage and considered holy

I have found that in practice, complementarian churches give a tremendous amount of latitude to women for ministering to the body. The biggest exception to this is that neither the role of an elder or pastor is open to women. However, I believe even this is something of a misnomer, as the wives of the elders and pastors are themselves ministers to the body. The mistake I see here is that we continue to atomize men and women without realizing that God has called them ‘one flesh’.

An example of this is the way I see Sunday Schools structured. At my church, every Sunday School class has a shepherding couple the ministers to the needs of the class. Each Sunday school isn’t led by an individual, but by a couple working as a team. So the question of male or female headship is basically irrelevant to ministry of the class. I see much greater wisdom in this approach than simply saying that only men should have authority over Sunday School, or on the other extreme saying that such an office is open to an individual alone, whether that individual is either male or female.

In the end, it is important to realize that most of the models for human relationships that are proposed will work perfectly fine if we make one critical and often fatal assumption: that there is no human sin. If there were no human sin, it would hardly matter what framework for gender relationships was best. But no framework is perfect in practice because when it comes down to it, all people, without exception, are inclined toward sin, both men and women alike. Every attempt to put a gender relationship model into practice will suffer from fallen human passions, pride, lust for power and dominance, anger and resentment. These problems are universal and unavoidable, particularly in a marriage relationship.



RSS feed for comments on this post

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time...

4 sp@mbots e-mail me