The Puffing Up of Complementarian Theology

The Puffing Up of Complementarian Theology

“Pride is a wonderful, terrible thing, a seed that bears two vines, life and death.” The previous quote is not from the Bible. It’s a quote from the beautiful, bittersweet short story, “The Scarlet Ibis” by James Hurst. The line is spoken by Brother, the narrator of the story, who flashes back to a time from his early childhood, a time marked by hope and fear, love and hate, pride and shame. Brother reflects on the war fought within himself; a battle whose catalyst is the birth of a baby brother with special needs. From the moment his baby brother arrives, Brother searches for signs of normalcy. He longs for a playmate and an equal, a built-in forever friend with whom he can wrestle and race. When his baby brother’s disabilities threaten that dream, Brother’s war, fought on the battlefield of his heart, begins. Brother gives his baby brother the nickname Doodle, and we, the reader, venture with him back to a time in a lonely swamp beneath the canopy of a massive tree and watch as Brother pushes Doodle to be normal, to be like him. His shame in having an invalid brother motivates their trips to Old Woman Swamp, where Doodle is content to play in a land of make-believe, a land where everyone flies and families stay together forever. Brother escapes into the sanctuary of Doodle’s world, but is always drawn back to reality by the shame he feels for Doodle. While Doodle benefits from Brother’s lessons and eventually learns to walk, Brother’s pride in having a part in this accomplishment puts forth a new fruit; new goals are made and a harsh push to teach Doodle other “normal” abilities, like swimming and rowing a boat, begins again. “Pride is a wonderful, terrible thing, a seed that bears two vines, life and death.” This wisdom is unfortunately realized too late for our narrator and Doodle, as the story’s heartbreaking conclusion makes this a work with true literary immortality and a timeless theme. Pride is a wonderful, terrible thing. God knows the dangers of pride. The Bible, too, speaks of two different types of vines when it comes to pride. 1. Pride over a job well done and 2. Pride which leads to self-righteousness. God hates the second type of pride because it is a hindrance to seeking Him as explored in Psalm 10:4. Self-righteous pride leaves no room for the type of humility God values and describes in Matthew 5:3 where it assures blessings for those who walk humbly. Like the thematic message in “The Scarlet Ibis” the Bible also talks about the destructive outcomes of pride. Proverbs 16: 18-19 “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be lowly in spirit and among the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud.” Pride steals God’s glory. It places undo credit on the individual, forgetting God’s grace and sacrifices for humankind. Complementarian theology is a proud theology . It boasts of male prominence and privilege and preference. It puffs up, but it never edifies. When a complementarian pastor writes a single sermon with multiple points of reference on the importance of the man, the husband, and the father, he is perpetuating a self-righteous, prideful response in the men who hear that message. Recently I witnessed this first-hand while visiting another church. The pastor took the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and made it about how Jesus fed the 5,000. He focused on the distribution of the bread among the male disciples who then delivered the bread to the male leaders of each family who then distributed it to the women and children. He loosely tied this act to the importance of men as “heads of households” working to provide for their families while women maintained the home and children. What started out as a teaching on the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 by Jesus ended with a message on the esteemed role of men. Instead of unpacking the miracle and revealing the bread’s symbolism for the infinite replenishment of Jesus’ provisions of grace and love and mercy, we were left pondering the connection of an ancient culture’s patriarchal hierarchy to men’s roles and duties today. When sermons speak of spiritual leaders, headship, and pastor husbands, when there is a pointed effort to remind husbands and fathers of their “godly” duties, and when men are applauded for simply being born male, God’s role becomes smaller and smaller; God’s voice becomes fainter and fainter as the puffing up of men pushes God into the margins. Complementarian theology is destructive. God wants his children, sons and daughters, brought near...

Speak

Speak

How can the violation of a woman’s mind, body, and soul result in a 6 month sentence for her rapist? How can 3 felony convictions ultimately result in only 3 months of time served?   What message does this lenient sentence send to young boys, teens, and men about the sacredness of a woman’s ability to have complete control and power over her body and what happens to her body?   While we can’t directly impact the judicial system with our religious teachings, we can impact the way in which we teach men and women to see one another in our churches.   We need to remove the privileged teachings of any theology which advocates male authority over women. Why are more believers not speaking out against teachings which instruct women to position themselves beneath men in the home, church, marriage, and beyond? While the specific case of the Stanford rapist isn’t directly related to religious teachings, we, as believers, have to examine what we are doing to contribute to the culture of privilege which allows for the continued abuse of women nationally and globally. We have to examine the consequences of doctrines which give men authority over women but fail to include a “how to” guide for using said authority appropriately.   We should be advocating for teachings which honor a woman’s freedom in Christ, which empower her gifts, which put her on equal grounds of authority in her home, marriage, and church.    When I think about teaching my daughter to “submit” to male authority, a pit forms in my stomach because I know men are human, fallible beings. I know there is not a single verse or scripture which assures me of a man’s ability to not abuse his power while there are many which warn against the possibility of abuse occurring because God knows the dangers of power and privilege in the hands of imperfect people.   When I think about teaching my son to assert his authority as a man, an even bigger pit forms in my stomach because I am terrified of how wrong that message could unfold in his life.   When I read the words of the woman victimized, my heart hurts for her. I feel moved to add my voice to the many thousands of voices crying out against this injustice.   “Show men how to respect women…” she writes.   Yes let’s do that. Church, let’s show men how to respect women by doing away with patriarchal hierarchy which invites abuse and privilege.    Let’s teach boys and men it’s not about the hem-line but the heart.   Let’s teach boys and men to see girls and women as someone’s daughter, mother, sister, aunt, or grandmother, and because she’s a creation of God, she is part of his family, as well. Let’s teach men respect for women by teaching them about the women in the Bible! Let’s teach them about Jael from Judges and Abigail in 1 Samuel and Ruth and Esther and Deborah and Mary and Martha and Hagar and Dorcas and the dozens of women whose stories go untold from the pulpits and classrooms of our children.   “You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.”   Church, let’s give women their voices back. Let’s invite women to every decision making table in our churches. Let’s show women their voices matter. When we set women free to teach and lead and serve in every arena of church, we are sending the message to the world that women’s voices matter.   “The fact that Brock was an athlete at a private university should not be seen as an entitlement to leniency, but as an opportunity to send a message that sexual assault is against the law regardless of social class.”   Teaching privilege and entitlement of any kind is dangerous. Racial privilege, social privilege, and gender privilege are all slippery-slopes that we do not want to perpetuate in the Church with messages about male-headship, husband pastors, and spiritual leaders.   We need to do away with archaic cultural models of power and lean in to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Teachings which assure all believers of our complete freedom in Christ. Teachings which honor women. Teachings which call for us to do unto others. Teachings which direct us to love one another as Christ loves us.   “And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought...

Always Remember…

Always Remember…

My mom got her first email account in 2008. After receiving a few emails, I decided to create a folder for her messages. I named it “mama,” and from that day, I filed any message from her in this folder. Looking back, I had no motivation for doing this. I just did it. Today, I am so thankful I did. This Sunday will be my fourth Mother’s Day without my mom. It will be the fourth Mother’s Day where I will celebrate her in spirit only. It will be the fourth Mother’s Day of longing. Longing to hear her voice. Longing to see her face. Longing to feel her arms wrap me in the type of therapeutic embrace only a mama can provide. It will be the fourth Mother’s Day of missing her. Missing the daily phone calls and emails. Missing the drives home for weekend visits and trips to our shops. Missing her encouragement and support. Missing her loving on the kids. Missing her so much because my life never knew a second without her in it until she was gone. It will be the fourth Mother’s Day of remembering. I’ll remember her smile and her laugh. I’ll remember her delight for her children and grandchildren. I’ll remember the feel of my hand in hers. I’ll remember her presence during every important milestone of my life. I’ll remember a love so pure and so constant that my breath catches to realize I had the privilege of experiencing it for 35 years. It will be the fourth Mother’s Day of Memaw memories. The kids and I will look at pictures and remember. We’ll remember her playing pool balls in the club house with Matthew. We’ll remember her trying to take a nap with Mason only to have Mason touch and name each part of her face…Memaw’s nose, Memaw’s mouth, Memaw’s eyes…over and over. We’ll remember her pulling the both of them around and around in the wagon. We’ll remember her climbing on the playground and pushing them on the swing. We’ll remember Bop and Little Girl. We’ll remember Play-Doh and Old Maid and Dr. Suess. We’ll remember hair dryers after baths and rock-a-by-babies. We’ll remember this little piggy and forehead bumper and twinkle, twinkle little star. We’ll remember prizes and treats and toys. We’ll remember every cuddle and kiss and whispered I love you. It will be the fourth Mother’s Day of opening the “mama” folder and reading her words. Words of love… “Give the babies a kiss and hug for me. Here’s one for my little girl too HUG, HUG, HUG. I love you all so very much.” And her words of faith and wisdom… “Dad is such a loved man by so many people and I think when God is ready to take him it’s because he really needs a wonderful, gracious, generous, kind and loving person to enter his kingdom. He knows how much we love him but God loves him even more.” And her message to her girls… “I love my girls so much, you guys are so thoughtful and caring and have such big hearts. We were blessed when God gave us our girls.” And her don’t forgets… Don’t forget that I love you so much and can’t wait until you come home. Pooh you help me each day, all the calls and talks and just to know you care means so much to me. You’re not here close but always remember I keep you close to my heart each and every day. Love Mama” Yes, Mama, I will always remember. I can never, ever forget.  ...

Be the Example

Be the Example

        Let no man despise your youth; but be an example to those who believe, in word, in your way of life, in love, in spirit, in faith, and in purity. 1 Timothy 4: 12 I’ve seen several memes over the past few weeks which address the HB2 Bill.  After one meme, which said gender confusion could be solved by simply looking in one’s underwear, I felt the familiar rumblings of the Holy Spirit, and I responded. “I wish it was that simple for the dozens of teenagers I’ve seen tormented by this struggle over my 10 years of teaching. When we remember children are involved in this, not as victims of men dressed as women coming into the restroom, but as the person who IS fighting a battle with gender identification, perhaps our compassion will return.” I feel compassion each year when I have to sit through our county’s annual suicide prevention training. A training which shows the faces of innocent kids as young as 10 who take their lives, a training which reminds us the rate of suicide for LGBT teens and adolescents is 300-400 times higher than their peers. I feel moved by the Holy Spirit when I see memes address this issue in a condescending way, and I remember Jesus’ example. I remember Jesus touching the leper.  I remember Jesus eating at Matthew’s house with the sinners.  I remember Jesus showing grace to the adulterous woman in the temple.  I remember Jesus witnessing to the woman at the well despite her multiple divorces. I remember Jesus, and I wonder how we can say we follow the one who walked in light and then support social media posts which contradict that.  I wonder how we can say we feel for the marginalized yet we “love”  and share memes which perpetuate a bullying mentality toward those who are suffering. People are suffering.  Children and teens are suffering. People are dying; children and teens are choosing death to escape the suffering. It’s time for people to educate themselves on life/death topics like this one. It’s time for us to be an example by shining our lights, not like spot lights on the sinful, but like beacons of hope and love for the hurting, the lonely, and the...

The Lost Voices: Patriarchal Exclusion in Community Outreach Missions

The Lost Voices:  Patriarchal Exclusion in Community Outreach Missions

We live in a neighborhood which is within walking distance to the largest Baptist church in our county.  Although we don’t belong to the church or attend services there, we do participate in the sports programs, which also serve as a major outreach for our community. When we registered our son Matthew for his first soccer league at age four, we opted for this church’s league for two reasons.  One, we’d be able to walk to practices, and two, we valued the Christian perspective of the program.  My husband and I felt Matthew would learn about the game of soccer while hearing more about God.  When children carry God with them into every arena of their lives, it’s a win, regardless of the final score. Our experiences that first year with the soccer program were so positive, we decided to sign Matthew up for additional seasons.  He played in both the spring and fall leagues for the next three years.  He formed friendships and bonded with his coaches. His soccer skills improved, and he looked forward to every practice and game.  Most importantly, he heard about God in a nontraditional setting.  The Bible appeared on a soccer field, and the word was taught while he and his teammates sat on the grass, drinking from their water bottles and wiping sweat from their faces. My son isn’t the only child to benefit from the church’s outreach.  On average, the seasonal soccer and basketball leagues host over 3,000 children from the area.  Some of the families are members and enjoy their church’s programs, others attend a different local church, while others have no church home at all.  Many are Christians, like our family, but just as many are not.  It’s a true opportunity to meet people where they are, to bring the gospel to every family and child who steps foot on the fields and courts. When Matthew reached the minimum age to play basketball for the church, my husband and I joined the ministry as coaches.  After layup drills and scrimmages, we gathered the boys together to share the week’s devotional.  Bridging the world of sports with the word of God through devotionals on sportsmanship and teamwork taught each player the invaluable, real world application of scripture.  It reinforced the living, breathing, timeless nature of the Bible. The indoor facilities of basketball also allowed for halftime testimonials from members of the church which were not possible during the soccer seasons.  My husband and I were unable to view these testimonials our first season because we were in a different room with the players.  This past season, however, I observed the games as a parent, not a coach, so I was able to see the halftime outreach ministry firsthand. For six weeks I heard witnesses share their various faith journeys, and although each of their testaments was unique, one unvarying similarity made the outreach the same; all of the witnesses were white men.  For six weeks, the recorded attestations of white males in the church played during every halftime of every game, games which began at eight o’clock in the morning and concluded late in the evening. Although thousands of members from our community attended these halftimes by day’s end, men and women, boys and girls, representatives from every namable minority, the outreach represented a single voice and perspective. The homogeneous nature of the outreach was no accident but a product of a theology of patriarchal exclusion known as complementarianism. Complementarian theology creates boundaries of authority in many evangelical churches nationwide.  There’s an understood and accepted hierarchy of spiritual headship which begins with God the Father, proceeds to man, and ends with woman.  A separation of roles based on gender strengthens the church’s patriarchal hierarchy by disallowing women in positions of spiritual leadership over a man. Jory Micah, popular egalitarian blogger and online professor for SUM Bible College and Seminary, further explains this exclusion in her post “The Actual Four Dangers of Complementarianism,” Complementarians continue to interpret the Bible in such a way that limits God’s daughters in how they can serve the Kingdom. Often, they can be children’s pastors, but they cannot be youth pastors. They can sing God’s message as worship leaders from the stage, but they cannot preach God’s message as teachers from the stage. They can be famous preachers that write Bible studies, books and lectures (that both men and women learn from), but they cannot be teaching pastors or elders at their local churches.  (jorymicah.com) The limitations of complementarian gender roles extend to community outreach, as well.  Women forego the opportunity to witness to audiences which may include men because complementarian...

We Believe…

We Believe…

Since posting a letter I wrote to a local men’s ministry, “Men of Armor,” I have received many requests to post it here, as well. This is my response to an email we received from a local men’s ministry. The last line of their message reads, “Men, please lead the way by registering to attend with your wife…” Good morning. While I appreciate the outreach your ministry is providing, the consistent devaluing of women and our roles in marriage and ministry is sad to me and contradicts the life and teachings of Jesus. (I wrote to you previously about my concern over the use of a ministry which included Mark Driscoll) The last line of an otherwise positive email marginalizes wives and completely ostracizes single moms. Directing husbands to lead by signing up for the seminar for both themselves and their wives implies 1. Wives are not permitted to register for a class without her husband’s covering/permission and 2. Only male lead families need sign up. Our family believes Jesus is the only leader and high priest of the home. We believe women are God’s image bearers. He calls us daughter. We believe women are gifted and equipped to lead in all areas of church life and home life. We do not believe the teachings of male spiritual leaders is biblical as spiritual leader is not a title that appears in the gospels. We believe God is working to free all of the oppressed and marginalized so we may work as the complete body of Christ to share His good news. We believe patriarchal hierarchy ended with the new covenant. We believe we are all free in Christ, and complete freedom can never exist for women in homes and churches when they are taught to follow a man’s leadership instead of the voice of God to which she acquired direct access when the veil was torn. We believe Jesus put women in a position to lead and teach multiple times in the Bible. Jesus, God incarnate, was born to a woman, thus setting her up to disciple others for the rest of her life. Jesus admonished his disciples when they tried to intervene and prevent Mary from doing a good work in His name. Jesus ignored many religious and cultural laws when he spoke directly to the woman at the well, giving her the best witness in all of the Bible by allowing her, a woman, to be the first person to whom he revealed himself as the messiah. Jesus showed grace to the adulterous woman, speaking to her alone and directly. He allowed the hemorrhaging woman to touch His garment, and instead of reprimanding her for not coming to him under the covering of her husband, He heals her. The people to discover the empty tomb were women. The first person Jesus appears to post resurrection…women. God calls for His daughters to be brought to Him, not pushed further away from Him. Elevating men above women who are equal creations of the same God is dangerous. We will not support a ministry that attempts to reconstruct a veil of male authority, thus separating God’s daughters once again from their father. I’m happy to have constructive dialogue with you about this topic. I feel as passionate about the dangers of patriarchal ministries as you feel about the importance of men armoring up. I feel I’m directed by the Holy Spirit to speak out against teachings which place anyone other than Jesus is places of leadership/authority in women’s lives. Humbly His, Carrie...

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