Why Complementarian Men Need Complementarian Women
Being outnumbered by men has always been part of my life. I was raised in a family of brothers. I’m the mother to three sons. I’m also the only female editor at the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), so I’m all too familiar with what it’s like to be the only woman around.
Amid the recent “civil war” among complementarians about the Trinity and Christ’s subordination (recap by CT here), Christians following the back-and-forth on social media have been asking—where are all the women? Well, here’s one of them. I can tell you from personal experience that being the only woman in a room of complementarian men doesn't mean that I’m ignored, overruled, or seen as a token female. At CBMW, I’m frequently called on to provide my unique perspective. More often than not, my male colleagues yield to my opinion. (And yes, that is consonant with our views.) More often than not, they’re interested in how a woman might perceive what goes up on our site. Even as we work through this Trinity debate, I’m hardly a doormat in these conversations.
From its inception, CBMW has included women—from drafting the Danvers Statement in 1987 to speaking at present-day conferences. The female voice has not been silenced. It has been preserved and heard. Nonetheless, even though women are present and accounted for in our camp, we need more women to speak up and participate in the Trinity discussion and other debates, as well. We acknowledge that our view can easily be distorted by well-intentioned people—and we acknowledge that we haven’t always gotten practical application quite right—but that doesn’t mean we want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Just a year ago, I wrote about the rise of conservative Christian women writers and bloggers. And yet, as we address the current debate—which relates directly to both genders—it is men whom we hear from the most by far. Those who view complementarianism as veiled misogyny will say, “of course men will dominate.” But to those of us on the inside, we see the gender imbalance not as an extension of our beliefs but rather as a practical hurdle to overcome. When we talk about female identity and vocation—in marriage, at home, and in the church—we need women to shape the conversation alongside men. My male colleagues think so, too.
Though the debate has overwhelming taken place among male theologians and pastors on Twitter (again for a fuller explanation, see CT’s backgrounder), a few women have spoken up to get involved. Aimee Byrd, Hannah Anderson, and Wendy Alsup have actively participated in the recent discussion, including a substantial post on the issue on Alsup’s site, Theology for Women. Their post takes issue with some of the characterizations posted on CBMW and shared by other theologians.
While I appreciate their contribution to the discussion, it’s notable that most of the women’s voices in this debate have been critical ones. For a more robust conversation, I believe that we need women from both ends of the complementarian spectrum to join the male voices who often lead these conversations. I would like to see women from institutional and traditional positions also speak up as active participants.
The debate—which began with Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem—has been called a Trinity fight, battle, and throwdown. As much as theologians thirst for these kinds of deep dives into doctrine, declaring one another heretics isn't all fun and games.
What is the path forward? I don’t have answers to the Trinity debate, which I’m still analyzing and processing. But setting aside our theological differences—which matter immensely—we all have something to learn from meta-level analysis of the conversation itself. (And I should qualify that these following comments are addressed at the larger debate and not at anyone in particular.)
To those complementarian friends taking issue with Ware’s and Grudem's understanding of the Trinity, I would suggest that you consider how your frustrations might inhibit your ability to share your views winsomely. Those of us on the other side of the debate aren’t maliciously ignoring you. We simply don’t always know how our ideas impact you. And even if you disagree vehemently with our views, we don’t want to be labeled as heretics or deemed unfit for a teaching position (which is what happened to two male theologians currently caught in the debate).
To those complementarian friends who, like me, are defending this view of the Trinity, I would suggest that you listen to what’s being said by those who disagree with us. We might feel misrepresented when they critique our views. But wouldn’t we rather be wronged for the sake of unity among our brothers and sisters (1 Cor. 6:7)? We need to understand how our words and ideas have been perceived, and how those perceptions affect others. As women who are not at odds with complementarian teaching, we should use our position of relative “privilege” to try and understand those who feel more conflicted.
To those outside the debate, these principles of discourse still apply. Most of us hold an opinion about men and women and their relationship to one another, whether we’re egalitarians, or complementarians, or some subset of either camp. Regardless of our position, we need to listen carefully to those with whom we disagree and affirm their concerns, even as we hold different convictions. It might seem like an obvious thing to do, but in this time of polarized politics and widespread divisiveness, civil disagreement is a dying art. We Christians should be modeling it to others.
In the midst of this particular civil war among complementarians, I believe that peace and unity are still possible. Perhaps it begins with where CBMW started in the first place—with men and women working together for the cause of Christ, unified around our shared identity as image bearers of God, both male and female.