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Who Speaks for Complementarian Christians?

Who Speaks for Complementarian Christians?


Apr 5 2013
For me, it's not the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. It's the local church.

In admitting that she is routinely criticized for painting complementarians with too broad a brushstroke, blogger Rachel Held Evans recently asked: "Does the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood represent you? If not, what organizations or leaders do? Who are complementarians looking to for leadership these days?"

As a complementarian, I'm not interested in mounting a defense of male headship, and I don't want to become the poster child for complementarian theology. I myself am only held fast by exegetical threads. What's more, I am frequently embarrassed by the illogic and cultural bias that tends to frame some of the complementarian sound bytes (Boys shouldn't play with dolls, Dads who stay at home are man-fails, Christianity has a masculine feel, and so on).

Yet it's a fair question to ask: Who am I taking my theological cues from? If the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood doesn't speak for me, then who does?

Evans isn't the only one asking about today's complementarians. When I wrote "What You Don't Know About Complementarian Women," a commenter remarked, "Complementarians??? Good lord, people! What's with inventing all this terminology? Can't wait for the day when a brave soul publishes a Christian lingo dictionary."

These theological terms -- complementarian/egalitarian -- describe our theological understanding of gender roles in the church and family. They aren't our regular Sunday fare, and standard definitions often fail to capture the broad ways people live out each approach.

So who is it that represents my stance? I have two answers: Stanley Hauerwas, and Kyle Hackmann. They haven't laid out a thorough outline of what I think it means to be complementarian; instead, they articulate the need for us to understand theological principles like these within the context of the local church.

Hauerwas, theological ethics professor at Duke Divinity School and Time magazine's Theologian of the Year in 2001, is by no means a complementarian. However, Hauerwas loves the church. And so do I.

In his memoir, Hannah's Child, Hauerwas explores the trajectory of his theology. What immediately becomes plain is how the church stands central to his work:

I am not interested in what I believe. I am not even sure what I believe. I am much more interested in what the church believes. I have discovered that this claim invites the skeptical response, "Which church?" I can reply only by saying, 'The church that has made my life possible. The name of that church is Pleasant Mount Methodist, Hamden Plains Methodist, the Lutheran church at Augustana, Sacred Heart, Broadway Christian Parish, Aldersgate United Methodist, and the Church of the Holy Family."
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